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.


Monday, February 16, 2015

The Inky Fool--a blog by Mark Forsyth

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I recently discovered a witty blog entitled The Inky Fool: On Words, Phrases, Grammar, Rhetoric and Prose by Mark Forsyth. As a reader and writer, words have always fascinated me—and now so does this blog.

I love to learn new words and tsundoku, from Japan, is my latest favorite since I read about it in Forsyth’s post on January 7th. He shares: “…I’m not entirely clear whether tsundoku is the act of buying a book and not reading it, or the pile of books thusly abandoned on a bedside table. Or maybe it’s both.”

His funny discussion about his two tsundokus inspired me to look at mine. However, I confess I have more than two.

To be perfectly honest, I have a small tsundoku next to the bed and another on top of a bookcase near the bed. There is a medium-sized tsundoku on a table in my reading corner as well as on a chair, but my biggest tsundoku is on the shelves of a bookcase dedicated solely for this purpose in my office.

I never had a name for these piles before. Now I can tell anyone—living here or visiting—who makes disparaging comments about them that they are, in fact, tsundokus. If there is a name for them, then they have the right to exist!

I need to read so books are constantly coming into my living space. I try to keep them in organized tsundokus. The ones I want to read the most go near the bed or in my reading corner. The rest I place in the bookcase for future browsing when I’m looking for something new to read or review for this blog.

While most of my tsundokus may look chaotic, they aren’t. I can keep track of the location of these books as I only buy ones that truly interest me. So while they may sit around for a bit, I will read them…but not right now as The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsyth, The Inky Fool, has captured my attention.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

POST ALERT: Life on Purpose--What to do When Dreams & Goals Fizzle by Kristen Lamb

 From Kate's Writing Crate...
          As I read posts I like on other blogs, I’ve decided to add Post Alerts to this blog so others can read them as well.

          I recommend Kristen Lamb’s post “Life on Purpose—What to do When Dreams & Goals Fizzle” on the WarriorWriters blog ( dated February 9, 2015.
           Highly motivating!

           Feel free to let me know about posts you love on other blogs.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Reads for Writers: Smooth-Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m recommending Lisa Kleypas’ series about the Travis family: Sugar Daddy, Blue-Eyed Devil, Smooth-Talking Stranger, and the yet-to-be-released Brown-Eyed Girl. (It's now been released and Brown-Eyed Girl is NOT worth reading--a disappointing end to this enjoyable series.)

The head of this wealthy dynasty is self-made successful businessman Churchill Travis who has four children: Gage, Jack, Joe, and Haven. He demands a lot from his sons—hard work, successful careers, and business ownership. He leaves the raising of their daughter to her mother even as Haven tries to compete with her brothers.

I always recommend reading books in order to see the growth in characters and relationships. It's important in this series as a crucial character from book one plays a big part in book two.

Also, while the end of Sugar Daddy is especially romantic, I preferred the more in-depth plots in books two and three as well as many insightful asides. Ella, the lead female character in Smooth-Talking Stranger, is a writer so this is my favorite book in the series. Jack is a character introduced in Sugar Daddy who readers got to know much better in Blue-Eyed Devil.

          In Smooth-Talking Stranger, Jack Travis lives the good life: he works hard at the property management company he owns and plays hard—sports, hunting, and dating beautiful women who know the score.

          Ella Varner, bespectacled, cute, and petite, is not one of those women; however, her estranged younger sister, Tara, is model-beautiful and the mother of Luke, a newborn she claims was fathered by Jack. Tara, unable to cope with the baby, abandons him at her mother’s house. The mother in turn calls Ella, the responsible one in the family, to deal with the situation. If she doesn’t, her mother threatens to call the authorities—which is how Ella ended up four hours from home waiting for Jack Travis in his company’s reception area with a fussy baby.

          Jack knows he is not the father, but he admires Ella’s loyalty to her sister and nephew. He appreciates her humor and intelligence. And while she does not look like his usual girlfriends, she still captures all of his attention. He has finally met his match, but knows his usual moves won’t impress Ella.

          Ella is a bright, witty columnist who writes an explicit and hilarious relationship column for a national magazine. (See examples on pages 104 & 164.) She lives with her boyfriend, Dane, who owns a green energy company. They have a comfortable relationship, but he wants nothing to do with babies even on a temporary basis. Now Ella needs to relocate her life until all the details can be worked out with whoever is Luke’s father.

          Ella’s life has not been easy. “To my mother, Candy Varner, everything was an emergency. She was a shock-and-awe parent, the ultimate drama queen. But she had covered it up so adeptly that few people suspected what went on behind closed doors.” (page 2)

Tired of his wife’s tirades, her father left a few years after Tara’s birth, never to return, leaving a gap filled by Candy’s parade of new boyfriends and then a stepfather who tried to molest Ella and Tara. Candy didn’t believe that and blamed her daughters when he left. With a shared background of abuse and continued demeaning comments from their mother, the sisters grew up and went their separate ways to break free from this destructive cycle.

          “Neither of us seemed able to be close to anyone. Not even each other. Closeness meant the one you loved the most would cause you the most damage. How did you unlearn that?” (page 68)

          As an adult, Ella became independent and self-supporting. Then Luke appears in her life. “I had never been so wanted or needed by anyone on earth. Babies were dangerous…they made you fall in love before you knew what was happening. This small solemn creature couldn’t even say my name, and he depended on me for everything. Everything. I’d known him for little more than a day. But I would have thrown myself in front of a bus for him. I was shattered by him.” (page 81)

How much of an effect will Luke have on her relationships when he becomes the center of her life—especially after her sister returns?

To Jack, Luke is part of Ella’s life. Used to caring for his niece and nephew, Jack is adept at caring for a baby. Jack is also thoughtful and funny. He's determined to have Ella in his life and Dane out of hers.

Ella knows Jack is serious about her. “…I was aware of a new kind of power, a seductive power, over someone who was stronger, worldlier, more unpredictable, more testosterone-fueled than any man I’d ever known before. It was like sitting behind the wheel to test a race car. Scary and exhilarating all at once, especially for someone who had never liked to travel fast.” (page 216)  

The book ends with a twist on Ella’s relationship column and a beautiful tribute to a marriage license—the power of words leads to a happy ending.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Does Writing Make You Happy?

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Lots of people say they just want to be happy, but they don’t get too specific beyond that. If writing makes you happy, then write. Simply fit it into your schedule every day.

          Tawna Fenske, who writes the blog “Don’t Pet Me, I’m Writing”, wrote four books in one year that all went on to be published. Her biggest writing secrets: while she does have a fulltime job and a family with pets, she doesn’t have cable TV and knows how to multi-task. (See her post dated January 20, 2015.)

          When I was working long hours at corporate jobs, I kept scraps of paper nearby so as ideas came to me I could scribble them down. Scrap paper I could turn over easily was much less noticeable than a notebook—and no one read my stuff.

          While I do have ideas at random times, my muse only shows up when I am working—and that means uninterrupted writing time. Now that I write and edit for a living, I don’t have a set writing schedule for my personal writing, but I do write every day. My professional writing assignments have deadlines so I have to schedule time around those dates as well as all other aspects of my life.

Without hard deadlines, I’m not always as driven to complete personal projects. (See my post dated November 5, 2012.) Life does get in the way—unexpected illness, appointments, chores, errands, responsibilities, going out for fun, etc. However, writing needs to be on that list!

To make sure I write every day, I keep pens everywhere and a small notebook in my purse, a regular notebook in my book bag as well as one next to my bed, in my office, in my car, and, just in case, one in a drawer in the bathroom. I have no excuses not to write down ideas or sentences that come to me that can lead in new directions or to new projects.

Even if you can only write for minutes at a time between caring for children, cooking, laundry, caring for elderly relatives, and working outside the house, write. When you have a little more time, flip through your notebooks for inspiration so you don’t waste a minute trying to think of a topic. Just write.

Make the most of your writing time however long or short that might be. It will all add up in the end. Every word you write down is part of a life-long love letter to yourself—and that should make you happy.