Monday, July 28, 2014

Dan Brown 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.


        Although published sixteen years ago, Digital Fortress by Dan Brown could not be more current. It's a thriller about codes, code breaking, the NSA, and espionage.

        Don't start reading the book unless you have time to finish it as the plot is a masterclass. You will be annoyed if interrupted and almost incapable of putting it down. It's fast-paced and fascinating.

        I don't want to ruin it for anyone so I dare say no more.


Monday, July 21, 2014

My Writing Life by Ellen Gilchrist


From Kate's Writing Crate…

         Ellen Gilchrist lives her life on her own terms. She married four times, gave birth to and raised three sons, and has twelve grandchildren. She studied writing with Eudora Welty. She lives alone happily writing, teaches college students to write better, and then immerses herself with family and friends for balance.

She started writing seriously at forty, winning a National Book Award. To date, she has written novels, essays, short stories, and novellas including a collection of over 50 essays entitled The Writing Life which captures both her joy of writing as well as teaching writing.

On page 68, Gilchrist states: "Why do I come back to the typewriter so headily each morning? Because it feels good. The brain is easily addicted to feeling good and nothing on earth, with the exception of great sex, feels as good as having written well and truly in the morning. Actually it is better than sex because you control the whole activity and the afterglow can last for years if the work is published and other people profit from it. The lasting pleasure is not in their praise but in your knowledge that you have contributed something of value to the culture from which you derive your being."

        Gilchrist lives with élan as we all should.

In her essay "How Books Still Change Our Lives," Gilchrist brings you into not only her cul-de-sac neighborhood, but up the hill into her home made mostly of glass. The description of her house, the music she loves, and her reverence for art and her artist friends/neighbors give readers a look into her delightful, creative life.

        In her essay "The Shakespeare Group," she shares that seven or eight friends—poets, writers, an actress—meet at her home every Sunday afternoon to read the plays of Shakespeare aloud. One play every Sunday from beginning to end. Just for fun. Three times through as of the writing of this essay.

        As she notes, "…need to read all thirty-eight to learn that even the greatest writer who ever lived was a novice to begin with, and then got better, and better, and better and better, until he became the best, past, present, and forevermore." (page13) "No one could tire of them. They are not only plays. They are great poetry and they contain novels, essays, stand-up comedy routines, satire, metaphor raised to the tenth power." (page 14)

        As a writing teacher, Gilchrist considers the writing profession from a new perspective. How to inspire students? She highly recommends reading On Writing by Ernest Hemingway. She notes, "If you want to learn how to make characters move around and do things, open up Huckleberry Finn to any page and start reading. No one does it better than the old master, Mark Twain." (page 122)

        Other creative advice from Gilchrist: "Create characters. Think up something for them to do. Start writing. Tell the story and be sure to make it ring true. Believe in the story your imagination gives you. Stick to it. Don't worry about what anyone is going to think when they read it." (page 125)

But she also reminds her students that "Love and marriage and children and broken hearts and disappointments and dreams that don't come true are the stuff of poetry and fiction." (page 139) "…you have to be living a life full of other interests besides writing at the same time that you are writing every day whether you are inspired or not." (page128)    

        The gift she gives writers, besides her books, is the knowledge that we can give ourselves a creative life like hers. We can write in the mornings to give our days an afterglow; we can read Shakespeare plays aloud and in order, along with reading other classics, to appreciate and learn from great writing; we can listen to music we love; gather together with other writers and artists; and be inspired by the happenings in our own lives.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Inspiring Quotes 3

From Kate's Writing Crate…


Here are some quotes that inspire me:



Genius…means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.

                                                        --William James



Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you think yourself.

                                              --James Fitzjames Stephen



I never know when I sit down just what I am going to write. I make no plan; it just comes, and I don't know where it comes from.

                                                        --D. H. Lawrence



I think the writer must serve the inarticulate.

                                                        --Nelson Algren



If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things.

                                                        --Henry David Thoreau



A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage.

                                                        --Sydney Smith



As soon as you connect with your true subject, you will write.

                                        --Joyce Carol Oates



I am convinced more and more every day that fine writing is, next to fine doing, the top thing in the world.

                                                        --John Keats



Essays are experiments in making sense of things.

                                                        --Scot Russell Sanders



Man's mind, stretched to new ideas, never goes back to its original dimensions.

                                                        --Oliver Wendell Holmes



What quotes inspire you?

Monday, July 7, 2014

My First Novel edited by Alan Watt

From Kate's Writing Crate…

        If you are looking for inspiration while writing your first novel—or any novel—read My First Novel: Tales of Woe and Glory edited by Alan Watt. In it, twenty-five writers share their behind-the-desk experiences.
         While the title is My First Novel, several of the writers question what is meant by first novel. Is it the first novel you write? The first novel accepted by an agent? Or the first novel published? Rarely are they the same novel.
        As Aimee Bender notes on page 13, "The drawer is perhaps an active part of the writer's life as the non-drawer, the pages that see the light and go to people. In my view, it's important not to work on everything, to put things aside that are not clicking…"
        Allison Burnett on page 29 shares, "A lesson I like to pass on to young writers: hard work is rarely wasted. Hold on to every scrap you write. You'll never know what you'll make of it down the road."
        And writing isn't the only important part of novel writing as explained by John Dufresne on page 56. "I learned that what you take out of a novel is as important as what you leave in. You can't free the angel until you carve away the stone. Overwriting is essential, and so is ruthless editing."
        On pages 139-140, Dave Newman states, "Time, for writers, is measured in two things: the amount of words we read and the amount of words we write…What I should have done was write my novel straight through then I should have written some poems then another novel then some more poems then more stories and so on."
        Mary Otis thinks on page 147: "Writing a story seems to be about intention and availability—not only to the story itself, but availability to daily life…The trick is that you never know where you will find what, so I try to dwell in a place of possibility, and often the world feels like it is leaning in, conspiring with me to write the story."
        Cheryl Strayed discusses her writing process on page 168. "I wanted to write the best novel that has ever been written in the world, but I finally had to let go of that and simply write the best novel I could write. A novel, I acknowledged, that might end up being mediocre at best, that might never be published or read or loved. Embracing these facts—that I could only write the story I wanted to write and only to the best of my abilities—was extremely liberating and important. It was what allowed me to finally get to work and write my novel."
        If you need inspiration as you write your first novel and you are online, visit Subtitled: Reading and Writing with Friends. Here many authors share their stories behind their first novels.
If all these authors can persevere and succeed, so can we!


Monday, June 30, 2014


From Kate's Writing Crate…


        While driving around running errands, I heard on the radio that June 25 is a half holiday. Since it is exactly six months to Christmas, someone named it Leon Day which is Noel spelled backwards.

        I find Leon Day reminiscent of the holiday for an entirely different reason. At the end of June, thousands of fireflies put on a light show in a nearby old apple orchard that rivals most Christmas decorations.

        Walking down a row between trees, I feel as though I am deep in outer space. On both sides of me, the fireflies flash from ground level to as high and as far as I can see mixing in with the light from the stars. Some fly close by; others are hundreds of feet away, but all as bright and magical as the twinkling lights on Christmas trees.

I also feel a bit like Gulliver might have if he had arrived in Lilliput on an Opening Night and if they had paparazzi.

        This light show is a romantic affair or a giant pickup scene depending on your outlook as the fireflies are searching for mates by madly flirting using flash patterns interspersed with steady glowing to attract attention. However, nothing is ever as simple as it seems in Mother Nature's world. There are femme fatale fireflies that mimic the patterns of males from other firefly species to draw them in only to devour them.

Seduction teaches tough lessons sometimes as attracting attention may lead to other downfalls. According to Wikipedia, forensic scientists use firefly phosphorescence to detect magnesium. It's also thought that the Baroque painter Caravaggio may have prepared canvases with a powder of dried fireflies to create photosensitive surfaces.

        Writers use fireflies as well although without killing any of them, I hope.

Songwriter Adam Young wrote "Fireflies" for Owl City. I'm transported to the apple orchard whenever I hear it.

The Sci-Fi show Firefly, created by Joss Whedon and starring Nathan Fillion (now on Castle) and Gina Torres (now on Suits), is a fun adventure show set in outer space. Their ship is shaped like a firefly. I recommend the series along with the follow up movie Serenity

There are lots of books about fireflies as well as many that mention them.

For children, authors Julie Brinckloe and Margaret Hall both named their books Fireflies. The former is a story about the dilemma of catching fireflies in jars; the latter is a more scientific look at the bugs.

For summer reading, enjoy Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah and The Summer of the Firefly by Joan Gable. I haven't read either yet, but Cheryl gave me Hannah's book and Gable's came highly recommended by another friend—the best kind of books!

Fireflies take me right back to my childhood—endless summer days, cookouts, and catching them at twilight armed with only a jar and a lid. We had a strict catch, enjoy, and release program in place so no guilt, only fun and a captivating light show.

Do fireflies bring back memories for you?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Katie Fforde 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.


        If you want some light beach reading and you enjoy books by British authors, try Living Dangerously, Stately Pursuits, and Practically Perfect by Katie Fforde.

        The characters are charming, the romantic situations complicated, and the grand homes and countryside provide beautiful backdrops. Enjoy English manners and tea breaks along with the love stories.

            Who knew saying yes to an invitation for a "cozy evening, just a few friends" from a long-ago school chum was a pretense to get Polly Cameron to even up the numbers at a formal dinner party? Or that it would lead to romantic disturbances in Polly's life?

A potter by trade who works at Whole Nut Café to make ends meet, Polly dresses in her own style with a wardrobe filled with pieces from second-hand shops. Her dinner partner, widower David Locking-Hill, is a man of means not sure what to make of Polly. Ever the gentleman, he does his best to make the evening pleasant, but they have little in common.

Fate doesn't care. In Living Dangerously, Polly and David meet again at a charity auction. Then while on a date with another man, she prevents David's son from driving drunk by driving him home in a violent storm. Their lives become more and more entwined. Polly can't believe it will all work out, but David is intrigued by the possibility.



After finding her boyfriend in bed with another woman and needing a change of scenery, Hetty Longden's managing mother has arranged for her to care for her great uncle Samuel's country manor while he recuperates from a serious operation in Stately Pursuits.

Not content to merely house-sit, Hetty sets about trying to raise money to pay for necessary repairs. Meeting neighbors who agree the manor should be saved, they work together setting up a boot sale (yard sale) then decide the place could be rented out for events.

Unfortunately, Connor Barrabin, Samuel's heir, shows up and puts a spanner in the works. He thinks Hetty is out of her depth, but she's determined to succeed. He reluctantly helps out; however, complications pile up until Hetty has to take drastic action which leads to more trouble.




        Practically Perfect is for dog lovers as Anna, an interior designer, takes in a rescued greyhound named Caroline while she fixes up a cottage for resale. The villagers are ever-helpful as she makes a new, if temporary, life there.

        As she heads to the open market for the first time, Anna brings a leashed Caroline along. Everything is going well until a car backfires startling Caroline into running away. Anna's purchases go flying as the leash is wrenched off her wrist. Frightened for Caroline, Anna calls for her frantically as she quickly disappears.

Luckily, a stranger is able to catch ahold of Caroline's leash. Unfortunately for Anna, he's the recently named rehoming officer for the local greyhound rescue center who is not impressed with Anna's handling of the situation. Will Anna overcome this disastrous meeting?


Monday, June 16, 2014

Authors' Referrals

From Kate's Writer's Crate…


The best storytellers ground readers in their fictional worlds—no matter how familiar or foreign—with specific details. Once given believable foundations, most readers will follow the plots and admire or distrust characters as the authors hope.

How much more fun when some of the specific details reference actual books, movies, music, TV shows, locations, and meals. If authors I love mention real details, I'm willing to check out their referrals.

        Here are some examples:


        In The Last Enemy, author Pauline Baird Jones places a stack of books on the nightstand of Dani Gwynne, a woman in the Witness Protection Program. When her room becomes a crime scene, two US Marshals catalog her reading material:

"Interesting mix. JD Robb, Tom Clancy, Tonya Huff, Alistair Maclean…Orson Scot Card…Louis L'Amour…the Bible…and Lord of the Rings…" (page 24)


        Jennifer Crusie uses movies, music, and food, especially Krispy Kreme donuts, as running themes in her novel Bet Me. The two leads, Min and Cal, end up at a revival movie theater showing Big Trouble in Little China. They also go out to dinner. Min so enjoys the Chicken Marsala, she is determined to make it herself. The many results are funny and disastrous as she tries to make it diet-friendly, too. Both of them love Elvis, but it's Costello for Cal and Presley for Min. Costello's "She" plays a part in the plot as does Cal's version of "Love Me Tender" which starts off as a snarky joke and ends as a declaration of sorts—this is a Chick Lit romance after all.


Kresley Cole uses The Amazing Race as a template in Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night, the third novel in her Immortals After Dark series. In this version, the tasks undertaken by vampires, werewolves, Valkyries, witches, and many other creatures are always dangerous, but the prize is worth the risk. The winner can go back in time and rescue two people they loved who died.   

In the series, one character loves Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs. Cole also references musical groups like Crazy Frog as ring tones.


The Golden Treasury by F. T. Palgrove is a collection of classic poems by Milton, Keats, etc., carried by numerous characters in some of the 56 charming romance novels written by Essie Summers. (See book review posted on 2/11/2013.) Robert Burns is often quoted from The Golden Treasury. I was pleased to find a pocket-sized version of it in my grandfather's library.

All of Summers' books are set in New Zealand, a place she describes so lovingly from the sheep stations, mountains, and lakes to the cities near the sea, all filled with such friendly people and delicious meals, that her readers dream of visiting there—including me. I gave four of her novels to a friend who traveled to New Zealand six months later. Several others on the tour were also drawn there by Summers' books—and everything she wrote about her home country was proven true.


Do you follow up on referrals made by your favorite authors?