Monday, March 23, 2015

Christina Bartolomeo's Novels, Filled with Insightful Asides, Provide Masterclasses

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.
I love novels filled with insightful asides. If they also appeal to you, try one or all of these novels by Christina Bartolomeo:
The Side of the Angels: A novel about the good guys, the bad guys, and how a woman learns to tell the difference is the story of Nicky Malone whose past and future come together during the cold of winter and the warmth of the holidays.
…Sometimes it seems to me that, for every happy couple fate brings together just in the nick of time, there are five other pairs who miss each other by inches or miles. Do human beings just not want to be happy, deep down, or is it that we snatch at the easiest, most comfortable happiness, not the hard-won kind? (page 29)
…With a stack of books by your bed, you can survive any heartbreak. In the watches of the night, reading soothed me as hot toddies or Valium never could have. (page 65)
...I wished I had the sort of memory eraser that aliens use when they are returning abducted humans in science fiction films. But that’s life, I guess. There’s never an alien handy when you need one. (page 91)
…Maybe I was just suffering that strange malaise that affects people who have seen love end badly. It was powerful and enchanting, this wish to rewrite history, this wish to make it all come out the way you thought it would when you first found him, when you were all in all to each other. (page 214)
…You see couples like this. You see them at a coffee shop or walking slowly along a paved path at the river’s edge, or helping each other up the steps of a medical office building, talking and talking. I wanted to be half of one of those couples…I wanted code words again and secret language, midnight fights and long car rides filled with mishaps. I wanted that joyous ease. (page 270)
Snowed In is the poignant novel about love lost and found in the life of Sophie Quinn.
…In some bedrock, unspoken way, my parents loved me. As long as they lived, I wouldn’t be in want or entirely alone. That can make the difference between courage and despair, in those moments of decision that every life holds. I felt that such moments were coming for me. (page 209)
…Well friendship was much less complicated than marriage. You could always call a friend and say, “I need this,” and there’d be no questions asked. You couldn’t always tell a husband what you needed, or count on him to listen if you did. (page 220)
…A woman who doubts her husband is not a woman who should be meeting a man she cannot trust. (page 241)
…We laughed a little and I sensed it again, that current between us, that sense of being two people who spied on the world from our own secluded vantage point. (page 315)
Cupid & Diana: A novel about finding the right man, the right career, and the right outfit is about Diana Campanella, her vintage clothing shop The Second Time Around, and her complicated family.
…For real value, give me a guy whose face has character and who had to wear glasses at an early age; that’s the sort of thing that instills sweetness and empathy. (page 20)
…I like hearing lurid accounts of other people’s breakups. It makes me feel less of an underachiever. (page 52)
…All the delicate negotiations and trials of love were ahead of us, if we were among the lucky ones who lasted more than a month. (page 218)
          I think we are lucky Christina Bartolomeo wrote these lines (and many more) as they are timelessly true.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Make Time for Rewriting

From Kate’s Writing Crate…


The best way for me to write well is to write essays, columns, and posts as quickly as possible. Get down every idea. Capture the energy I feel about the topics on the page. I don’t worry about punctuation, perfection, or organization; I just write. This is the exhilarating part. Be fearless! It’s fun!

If I’ve interviewed someone for an article, I also write the first draft quickly as I weave the person’s quotes into my prose.

When I run out of thoughts while writing, I stare at the ceiling or out the window. If no new thoughts come to mind, I start to rewrite.

          At this point, rewriting means I read my first sentence looking for unnecessary words and awkward phrases then omit or improve them. I move on to the next sentence and then the next until a new thought comes to me. Then I go back to writing.

I repeat this process until I reach my daily goal for long projects or “complete” the essay, article, column, or post by getting all my thoughts down.

But no piece is finished until I rewrite it.

Since I’m also an editor, I love this process. However, I wait at least a day, usually longer, before I focus on rewriting. Errors and awkwardness jump out at me when I work with fresh eyes.

Again, I reread my sentences omitting unnecessary words and rewriting or deleting phrases and sentences, but now I also look for clarity. I reorganize sentences and paragraphs as leads are often buried two, three, or more paragraphs into the piece.

Rewriting means letting go as well as improving what stays. I delete or save for another piece between a third and half of my work.

Then I concentrate on spelling, punctuation, and word choices. For ideas, I refer to The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale or the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. (If interested in these books, see my post dated 6/9/2014).

Reading pieces aloud helps with rewriting, too. I’m often surprised when what reads well on the page doesn’t work when I listen to the words so I don’t skip this step.

Rewriting helps keep errors from living eternally in published pieces so it can be difficult to stop, but deadlines must be met. To submit the best work I can produce, I schedule in the time to put pieces aside then go back and rewrite them.

Be aware that rewriting takes more time than writing. I timed myself in a post dated 10/7/2013. Roughly, I spend one third of my time writing and two thirds rewriting. 

I’ve never regretted a minute of the time I spent rewriting. It not only elevates my writing, it’s the mark of a professional.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradury

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I think anyone interested in becoming a writer should read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury.

These books will also energize anyone who is already a writer. I often pick one of them up, flip open to a random page, read for a while then jump into writing.

          In Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury not only encourages writing, he also shares his story of becoming a writer then working hard to become a better writer. Read his work. His dedication and creativity are astounding.

He’s inspiring—hard not to be when he begins his essay “The Joy of Writing” on page 3 with:

Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.

          Bradbury notes on page 13:

In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon the truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.

Tiger-trapping. How exciting that makes writing sound! We are brave. Capturing truth. Following wherever our creativity leads us. Zest and gusto indeed!

However, sometimes writing is a quieter craft as seen in one of my favorite essays, “How to Keep and Feed a Muse” on page 31. On pages 32 & 33, Bradbury states:

…to keep a Muse, you must first offer food. How you can feed something that isn’t there is a little hard to explain. But we live surrounded by paradoxes…

…in a lifetime, we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events…These are the stuffs, the foods, on which The Muse grows.

…Here is the stuff of originality. For it is the totality of experience reckoned with, filed, and forgotten, that each man is truly different from all others in the world.

          Bradbury also makes this recommendation to writers on page 36:

Read poetry every day of your life…it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough…it expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition.

          In this book, I discovered Ray Bradbury also wrote poetry. Eight of his poems are in the back of the book including my favorite “What I Do Is Me—For That I Came for Gerard Manley Hopkins” on page 137. I think a framed copy should be in every nursery and read nightly to every child so he or she can be “the only you that’s truly you on Earth.”

          For a writer or not, that’s the best life goal.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Sitting at My Desk

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          In the winter, I sit at my desk more often. Dedication? Boredom? Cabin fever? Don’t know, but I can’t just sit there without writing. I have the time, the opportunity, so, even without inspiration, I write.

          I entice myself to sit there by putting a birdfeeder outside my office window. I think of it as an ‘air-quarium’ as all the color and activity soothes, mesmerizes, and entertains without have to clean out a fish tank.

          I may watch the birds for a moment or two or for a while—however long it takes until I start writing. The birds keep me from walking away too quickly.

          More writing is pulled out of me when I give it a venue. Thoughts—conscious, unconscious, or from my muse—appear on the page. I often surprise myself with phrases, sentences, and topics I don’t remember choosing.

This is my favorite kind of writing. It may or may not lead to essays, blog posts, or other projects, but it’s always gratifying. I have done my work. I have written. 

          This is what makes us writers. Lots of people write when they have assignments, speeches, or reports. Writers write without these goals just to discover and capture thoughts or distill our lives. It’s how we function.

          I love the feel of a pen in my hand. The way it sits between my thumb and forefinger while resting on the writer’s callous on my middle finger. I love the blurry lines of ink filling my notebook as I scrawl across the pages. I love the stacks of notebooks I have filled over the years.

          I love the feel and sound of the keyboard as I type in an uneven tempo as thoughts ebb and flow through my mind. I love the ease of saving, printing, reviewing and rewriting then publishing to this blog or emailing articles to magazines.

          This is tangible proof that I’m a writer—not to mention all the pens, notebooks, paper, and toner I have stockpiled—but it all starts with sitting at my desk inspired or not.

          Take a seat. Be a writer.



Saturday, February 28, 2015

Updated Reads for Writers: Pamela Clare & Maryann McFadden Provide Masterclasses

From Kate’s Writing Crate…


I’m updating the first masterclass post I published on September 24, 2012. I was intent on meeting my self-imposed 500 maximum word count, but I did not do justice to these books by combining them into one post.

Here is an expanded review of these books:


Pamela Clare writes historical and contemporary novels including the I-Team series which follows the lives of reporters writing for The Denver Independent.

         The I-Team series started in the story Heaven Can Wait published in the book Catch of the Day. Six books are now in the series (Extreme Exposure, Hard Evidence, Unlawful Contact, Naked Edge, Breaking Point, and Striking Distance) each highlighting one main character, and Skin Deep, following up on a secondary character, but the whole cast appears in every book. (PLEASE NOTE: There are adult situations and violence in these books. Also, Striking Distance is more graphic and violent than the rest of the books.)

          While the newspaper office is their base, the characters are out and about in Denver, the surrounding mountains, an Indian Reservation, and Mexico. Clare uses not only visual descriptions, but distinctive sounds, fragrances, foods, and ambiance to create you-are-there settings.

          The dialogue is terrific. Work discussions are professional—usually. The dialogue changes when the female characters are talking amongst themselves or the male characters are bonding with each other. Conversations between the romantic leads are intense, sometimes outrageous, and often funny.

          Backstories are key to the success of these books. Each character lives according to her reactions to her backstory that is revealed throughout "her" book. The backstories include difficult childhoods and tragic pasts. One reporter is also a single mother struggling to balance her career and caring for her young son.

The plots are tight providing a lot of suspense as the investigations lead the reporters into danger as they expose corrupt politicians, sex traffickers, on-the-run convicts, on-the-take law enforcement officers, thieves of Indian artifacts, and drug cartels.

The men they meet and fall in love with are also shaped by their own backstories and occupations. As these characters are in politics or members of various law enforcement agencies, they are often in conflict with the reporters and their methods of investigation.

Happy endings are in realistic doubt due to circumstances and the characters' outlooks on life—which makes for great reading!



Maryann McFadden writes novels about women who need time and space to make difficult decisions due to changes in their circumstances, relationships, and within themselves. Each woman finds her own path to solitude—not always comfortably—meeting kindred spirits along the way.

          Thoughtful and well-written, McFadden's stand-alone books all take place near the sea or a lake. These settings play important roles in the books.

         In So Happy Together, Claire Noble is a mother who always wanted to be a photographer. Through a summer class, she ends up photographing Cape Cod. Her avocation brings the settings alive. The light, the scenery, objects, and people are all described in brilliant detail so the reader can visualize the shots she is taking while feeling both the wind and the sand as she walks around looking for the right composition. She is also adjusting to new circumstances—her daughter’s first pregnancy, her father’s illness, and her own finance’s ambivalence.

          In The Book Lover, Lucinda Barrett is a first-time author who is working hard to get her book into the hands of readers. Traveling around for book readings, she meets long-time bookseller Ruth Hardaway and her son, Colin. Both Lucinda and Colin have challenges to overcome as they fall in love. She has been betrayed by her ex-husband and he is recovering from injuries received in a war. Will love heal these wounds?

          The Richest Season features two women at the different stages in their lives—a widow who needs care at the end of her life and a woman who needs shelter as she is separated from her husband. A cottage by the sea gives them both comfort as they make life and death decisions.

           The books have happy endings, but not always conventional ones. The settings stay with you--especially if you dream of time away by the sea.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reads for Writers: The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth 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.


          We know when something sounds right or wrong as we read and write, but we don’t always know why. In The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase, Mark Forsyth (The Inky Fool blogger) explains it all in delightful detail.

          With verve and wit, British author Forsyth illustrates figures of speech from alliteration to zeugmas with examples from Shakespeare to Sting.

          On pages 45-46:

“Hyperbaton is when you put words in an odd order…[J.R.R.] Tolkien wrote his first story aged seven…about a ‘green great dragon.’ He showed it to his mother who told him…that it had to be a great green one instead.

“The reason for Tolkien’s mistake…is that adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun…It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses this list, but almost none of us could write it out.

 “…Have you ever heard that patter-pitter of tiny feet? Or the dong-ding of a bell? Or hop-hip music? That’s because when you repeat a word with a different vowel, the order is always I A O.”


On pages 113-114:

“Roses are red. Violets are blue. That, at its simplest, is isocolon. Two clauses that are grammatically parallel…Cassius Clay said ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’…And when Rick tells Ilsa ‘Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of…’”


Forsyth proposes there are formulas to some of these elements that can be used to great effect in our writing, too.

          On pages 23-24:

“…in essence antitheses are simple: first you mention one thing: then you mention another…Oscar Wilde was the master of these, with lines like ‘The well-bred contradict other people. The wise contradict themselves.’…‘Journalism is unreadable, and literature is not read’…

“…these are all just plays on the basic formula…: X is Y, and not X is not Y.”


On pages 70-73:

“Diacope…is a verbal sandwich: a word or phrase is repeated after a brief interruption. You take two Bonds and stuff a James in the middle...a structure of A B A. But you can extend that to A A B A …‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’”


          On pages 92-93:

“When you end each sentence [or clause] with the same word [or clause], that’s epistrophe.

“This means half the songs ever written are just extended examples…Whether it’s Leonard Cohen ending every verse with hallelujah…[or] When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s also epistrophe because it always ends with amore…

“When the music stops, epistrophe can…be…jabbing at the air for emphasis. That’s the sort that Abraham Lincoln used when he said “government of the people, by the people, for the people…”


          Even though I’ll never remember all 43 literary terms Forsyth illustrates, I’m now more conscious of turns of phases as I read and write. That’s why I recommend this book: It’s both a pleasure to read and to use for reference—a true masterclass.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ten Things Every Writer Should Do (By Franz McLaren)

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Hi Everyone,

It's been awhile since I've posted anything to this blog.  Ironically, my blogging partner, Kate, had a brilliant post recently called Does Writing Make You Happy?   I need to take some of her advice.  Life has truly gotten in the way leaving me not much time for anything more than working full time and caring for my 8 kids and our home.

With writing still one of my top passions, I thankfully find the time to read more often than write.  I just read an insightful article by Franz McLaren titled, Ten Things Every Writer Should Do and loved it so much I wanted to share it here with you.

I hope if you're struggling to find the time to write more as I am, you will at least find the time to read when you can and that will hopefully catapult you in to finding even a few minutes to get pen to paper and record some thoughts!   Enjoy the following great bits of advice from Mr. McLaren:

I’ve gotten asked by a lot of other authors about any sort of hints or tips of tricks that I could tell them to help them along.  If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I think that writing is a very personal experience, and therefore the process changes dramatically from person to person.  But, at this point, I have gotten asked enough that I finally decided to culminate all of the tips that I have found most helpful.
The following is a list of the top 10 things I believe a fiction writer should do. Most of these probably apply to all you nonfiction writers out there as well, but I’ll leave the official version of that list for one of you to develop. So, without further ado, here are the most crucial things every writer should do from my perspective:

Know the basics

Every writer must know the basics of grammar, spelling and punctuation. This is not to impress readers with how well we learned in school. If readers are paying more attention to mistakes than to plot, they will not be your readers for long.

Be original

Imitating another author’s style or rehashing an overused plot line is an easy way to lose readers. We have been blessed with only one Socrates, one Mary Shelley, one Stephen King. Many have tried to imitate them. Can you name one? While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it is also a certain path to obscurity.

Want to write

Writers write. It’s what they have to do. Writing requires long hours, tedious edits and rewrites and rarely pays enough to give up the day job. Many have tried writing because it seems a quick and easy path to success. After a few attempts, most find the day job is not so bad by comparison.

Accept obscurity

Writing is a lonely job. Writers spend many long hours hidden away, pecking a keyboard. For a short time, most writers will experience some notice, even admiration, from their social circle. However, as time passes and none of their work shows up on the New York Times bestseller list, friends and family smile knowingly when you claim the title of writer.

Find your audience

Not everyone will like what you write. It’s a fact. Few people south of the Mason-Dixon Line liked the Gettysburg Address. It is extremely difficult to persuade someone to like your work who does not like the genre you write. There are countless groups with interests in everything imaginable. A quick Google search is a good start. From there, try to develop connections that will grow your social circle.

Find a support structure

Writing requires far more self-motivation than the average day job. Writers have only themselves and whatever cheering squad they can put together. Most other professionals are surrounded by coworkers who know and understand the perks and stresses of their jobs. Writers have to seek others who share their compulsion and cultivate a support structure where they can find it.

Get feedback

Few writers can see all the inaccuracies or implications of their work with no feedback. As writers, we see our stories from within. Part of us or someone we have known goes into each character. Places we have seen or imagined have gone into each scene description. However, do they work for our target audience? We will never know unless we make ourselves accessible.

Accept criticism

Not all criticism is negative or valid, but all has the potential for being beneficial. Writers are mostly human. As such, we tend to learn from our mistakes. However, this only happens if we know what our mistakes are. None of us sits down to intentionally throw in a dangling plotline or a contradiction in place or time. Once in, the writer often fails to notice them, but few readers are as oblivious of our mistakes.

Have a thick skin

Because they have to remain accessible, writers are easy targets. They are criticized by those who do not agree with the believability of their characters, the probability of their plots or the choice of genre for their tale. They are subjected to abuse for not eagerly accepting every first draft offered for their opinion. They are vilified as greedy for not accepting a fifty-fifty split for every idea as long as they do all the writing, editing and promotion.

And of course, HAVE FUN!

As long as writing is inner driven, it is only attitude that keeps even its most onerous aspects from being fun. We all know the mental high of the first rush of creativity. Most of us dread the hours of rewrites and editing. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we do not do it for the readers. We write because it’s what we like to do. All jobs have aspects that are less fun than others, but that does not mean that all aspects are not fun.