Category Archives: books

Making Your Characters Leap Off the Page


Phyliss Miranda at Podium Good ShotWe’ve had an unusually long hiatus on this blog.  We’re still trying to work out some of the kinks to doing an multi-author blog.

I thought it would be a really nice touch to open our Program season with a guest post.  What will follow is a post by Phyliss Miranda, who will be speaking at our September 21, 2013 meeting.

A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today award-winning author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

Visit her at www.phylissmiranda.com .

She blogs the first Tuesday of each month at http://petticoatsandpistols.com/

She blogs the first Tuesday of each month at Petticoatsandpistols.com.  Come to our meeting at the Amarillo Senior Citizens’ Center at 1217 S. Tyler.  Sign in is at 9:00 and Phyliss will begin at 9:30.  If you sign up for a box lunch from Baker Bros. before 10:00 you can join us after that for a critique session.

Now I’ll let Phyliss take over.

Suzanne Bogue

I’m honored to introduce you to Nicodemus Dartmouth, my hero, in my September 5th eKensington release The Tycoon and the Texan.

Before we begin with the interview, I’d like to give you the background on both how I selected the plot and Nick’s last name. I truly believe it was a gift from above.

My husband and I have friends who we’ve known for over forty years and vacationed with since their boys and our girls were young.

In 2002, my DH and I were on our way to meet them in Florida when we received a call, thank goodness for cell phones, that Harry had emergency heart surgery. He was in a coma, and the future was uncertain.  We immediately turned our car north and headed for Dartmouth Medical Center where he laid critically ill for weeks.  We were determined not to leave until he and Pat were safely home under their own roof.  And, that we did.

One day while sitting in the waiting room, my attention was drawn to a show on TV, you know the ones up in the corner of the room you have to crane your neck to see and can barely hear, that pertained to a foundation’s auction of bachelors for charity.  That seeded the idea for a story about a strong, multi-millionaire who ends up buying an ugly duckling at his own foundation’s charity ball. Of course, she had to be from Texas and his name had to be as strong and willful as my character, so Nicodemus Dartmouth was born.

Now nearly ten years and many vacations together later, my story The Tycoon and the Texan came out recently andPhyliss Miranda Smaller TheTycoonAndTheTexan eBook needless to say I dedicated it to our dearest friends.

Let’s get on with learning more about Nicodemus Dartmouth. I’m gonna let him tell you about himself first, and then he’ll answer some questions.

I don’t really like being referred to as a tycoon because I see myself as just another hardworking man in his 30’s. I have to admit being a product of a wealthy, widowed mother, who I don’t always see eye-to-eye with, did have its benefits. I worked my fingers to the bone to establish one of the largest construction firms on the west coast, while being CEO of Mother’s charity … the Elliott-Dartmouth foundation.  I own a Double A baseball farm team and love to workout with my players.  Mother is pretty well appalled when I show up at the office with bloody road rash showing through a tear in my baseball pants.  By the way, Josie, the Foundation Director and mother hen, thinks I belong in the dog pound. I have one supporter in the organization, well most of the time, and that’s McCall Johnson, who used to be my secretary at the construction company until I transferred her over to the foundation when I found myself crawling up twenty stories of red iron thinking about her.

Now back to the charity auction that Phyliss mentioned. Mother thought it was a grand idea to auction off bachelorettes, while I told her from the start it was a bad, really bad idea.  She called me into the office to go over the final arrangements, including the table decorations.  I need to be out at the construction company offices arranging for a shipment of material we don’t need to be shipped to Habitat for Humanity, but no I’m standing here looking at a bunch of flowers stuffed in a vase. I won’t even tell you what I think about them because Mother sure didn’t approve of my description.

The auction was a nightmare, just as I had predicted, although it raised a lot of money for the foundation … a good bit coming from me.

The jinx I apparently put on the event began when one of the bachelorettes called in sick and our resident Texan McCall Johnson was forced to step in.  In an unexpected turn of events, and I have to admit a bit of jealousy on my part to boot, I ended up paying what McCall called “a vulgar” amount for a week-long date with her.

That began our adventures … seven days to Texas.

I wanted so badly to show her that our lives weren’t that much different, but at every turn, I hit a roadblock.  From nearly cutting my finger off trying to prepare dinner on my private boat for her to seeing a ghost on Harris Grade coming out of Lompoc, California, something got in my way of showing her that I don’t get everything I want, although she thinks I do.

It took me the full seven days, plus some while visiting her Granny’s ranch in Texas, but I finally succeeded at showing the independent, spirited, uprooted Texan that our lives aren’t as different as it might seem, only to find that we are more alike than I ever dreamed … including our secrets.

I hope you’ll go buy The Tycoon and the Texan by native Texan, Phyliss Miranda, so you can learn more about me and Miss McCall Johnson.  By the way, if I have my way, she won’t be a Miss much longer.

Phyliss Miranda

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Filed under books, character arcs, characters, description, Speakers, techniques, Writing, writing advise

The Elements of Story


A CamelThere are four basic elements of story, whether you are writing a short story or a novel.  The first of those elements is a strong hook.  My favorite example of a strong hook is:

The last camel died at noon.” from The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett published in 1980.

It immediately grabs the reader’s attention and pulls him into the story.  Questions come to mind instantly and one is compelled to find out why the camel died and how the characters are going to make the trek through an apparently scorching desert without a ride.

I’m sure you can think of many more first lines that grabbed you by the throat and dragged you on to the inevitable end of the story.  But a story needs more than just a great hook.  It needs a hero/heroine with a desire he or she wishes to obtain and obstacles to that desire that prevent her from reaching her ultimate goal.  The final element of story is a resolution, a satisfying end.  The hero must obtain their final goal or come to grips with why they didn’t need what they desired in the first place.  All loose ends must be tied up and the villain must be foiled.

A good story is like a series of mountains and valleys.  The heroine starts out her journey on a peak with a goal she wants to achieve. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Let’s take Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as an example.  She lives on a dull farm on the plains of Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and three goofy but sweet farm hands and her little dog, Toto.  Dorothy dreams of a place where there is excitement, a place where all her dreams can come true.  Along comes an old hag of a neighbor who threatens to take her dog away from her and down into the first painful valley of despair she goes.

She eventually finds herself in a place where nothing seems normal, there are frightening creatures and witches who want to destroy her and no matter how beautiful the place is or how kind some of the inhabitants are, her only desire becomes to find her way back home to dreary old Kansas and her Aunt and Uncle.

She meets some good people who try to help her on her way, but they have their own troubles, and being the kind young lady she is, Dorothy endeavors to help them with their problems while they try to help her.  She experiences happy times and sad times, trials and tribulations along the way and eventually she finds her way back to her aunt and uncle and discovers that what she really wanted all along was never far from her.

While this is a simplistic view of the elements of story, it is easy to see what makes the story a classic.  The heart of the story is Dorothy and her desire for a home, and the peaks and valleys of her journey is the road she takes to find true happiness.

Give your characters a goal, an achievable goal and put roadblocks in their way.  Make them suffer, suffer and suffer some more.  But above all, make their journey both internally and externally satisfying.

Happy Writing!

Suzanne Bogue

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In Honor of Black History Month


Black History MonthThe month of February is Black History month.  I did a little research to find out more about some of the African-American writers who deserve to be honored this month.

We are all familiar with writers, such as Terry McMillan author of Waiting to Exhale (1992); and Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Prize winner and author of Beloved (1987) for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. The list also includes such writers as Alex Haley whose book Roots:  The Saga of an American Family (1976) was adapted to a popular television mini-series in 1977.

But the list of African-American writers of note not only includes these famous individuals and those such as poets Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou as well as novelist Alice Walker; it also includes more obscure names–people whose works you might have read and not realized that they were African-American.Black History month in books

Frank Yerby was an historical novelist best known as the first African-American writer to become a millionaire from his pen, and to have a book purchased by a Hollywood studio for a film adaptation.  The book, The Foxes of Harrow (1946) became the Oscar-nominated film “Foxes” starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O’Hara.

Samuel R. Delany is an author, professor and literary critic.  His work includes a number of novels, many in the science fiction genre, as well as memoir and criticism.

Octavia Butler (1947-2006) was a Hugo and Nebulla award-winning author of science fiction.

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was the first African-American poet and the first African-American woman to publish a book. Born in Senegambia, she was sold into slavery at the age of 7 or 8 and transported to North America. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write, and encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent.

The publication of her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) brought her fame, both in England, and the Thirteen Colonies; figures such as George Washington praised her work. During Wheatley’s visit to England, the African-American poet Jupiter Hammon praised her work in his own poem.

This list is woefully incomplete.  It would take far too much time to list every African-American writer–past and present–whose name deserves inclusion in such a list.  During the month of February I challenge readers to visit the internet or your local library to discover the work of more of the gifted writers whose names belong here and share with PPW what you find.  Who is your favorite?  What genre do they write?

Suzanne Bogue

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Research for Fiction? Of Course!


ResearchI’m in the process of writing a piece of historical fiction, based in first century Macedonia. Though the work is fiction, there is a huge amount of research that goes into the development of the story. Clothing, food, religious practices, vocations and geographical studies all play a part in the setting and set-up.

Finding reliable sources can be a challenge. Religious works are usually vague or absent of concrete details, and historical data can be politically skewed and conflicting, and usually relies on the objectivity of the researcher.

In school we were taught to find multiple resources. With the internet, it is easy to find information—often too much is available. The challenge becomes sifting through piles of speculation and opinion to glean accurate information and truth. And even then, how do you know for sure?Computer Research

My rules have become basic. First, as I study through articles and essays, I look for archeological evidence and historical documentation. I compare commonly accepted fact with what the evidence shows. Next, I find corroborating sources. I look for two to three unrelated resources that say the same thing. Thirdly, I look for details within those articles that propel the story I want to tell. Interesting tidbits that don’t help my story are useless to me.

Lastly, I rely on my gut instinct. If the story idea took hold of my brain in the first place, why? What was it that was important enough to latch on and develop? I look for information that develops that hook. If I’m hooked, the reader will be, too.

What works for you in researching for a story?

Kimberly Black

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Writing Contest!


Typewriter Keys

Announcing

2013 Frontiers in Writing Contest

Now open for entries

 For one low entry fee you can now enter multiple categories

Cash prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places in EVERY category.

Go to:

www.Panhandleprowriters.org

Entry rules, procedures and format regulations are listed on the FiW Writing Contest page

Download FiW entry Application and mail along with your entry.

Entry fees can be check or Money order, or pay online using “Payments” on the PPW website.

Sponsored by the Panhandle Professional Writers

 

Writing Contests BenefitsPen and handwritten doc

It costs money; why should I enter? What benefit will a contest be for my writing and me? I’m not good enough so I’ll never win.

Those who are looking at entering writing contests frequently express these statements and questions. I know, I’ve asked most of them myself.

Having entered my share of writing contests let me offer some positive benefits from my personal experience.

1.Training for working with deadlines – Contests give a writer the opportunity to work under a deadline. Most contests will have strict dates for submitting an entry. This is good conditioning for working with agents, editors, and publishers who will place deadlines on your writing.

2.Provides automatic platform – A platform is your audience, those who will read your work. While your mother and “BFF” will gladly volunteer readership, contest judges can provide you with an unbiased and anonymous audience for your writing. And who knows, the judge may be an agent, editor or publisher.

3.Gain feedback – One of the most valuable benefits of a writing contest is the critique. To have the judge’s comments noting any mistakes, suggestions for improvement and yes, even praise can help improve your writing.

4.Build your portfolio – Writing contests are a perfect way to build your portfolio. When seeking an agent or publisher, a few writing clips, accomplishments and certificates may be the edge you need to seal the deal.

5.Increase your confidence – Entering a contest gives a writer the opportunity to gain confidence in their writing. Have you ever written something only to tear it up or hide it in a drawer? Have you ever said, “I could never write well enough to be published!” A writing contest provides an inexpensive way to test the waters of being an author.

6.Avoid scam contests – As with most everything, there are people who take advantage of others. Before entering a contest, research the person or organization holding the contest and make sure they are legitimate. There are a few contests that are no more than book selling scams. When your entry wins, it is accepted for publication in an anthology, with all of the other first place winners, then you must pay an outrageous price to obtain a copy.

Rory C. Keel

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GETTING THE CREATIVE JUICES FLOWING


Typing Paper SkullRecently, I saw a great post on one of my favorite websites, Writer Unboxed, by Barbara O’Neal titled, The 20 Minute Win.  In the article, O’Neal describes how she manages to stay on task with her writing.  She focuses on her work each day as soon as she can possibly get to it by creating a 20-minute window to write. She got the idea from the late Ray Bradbury who said, “A writer should begin writing before he lets the world in.”

When O’Neal sits down for her 20-minute session, she sets the timer and writes whatever comes up.  Sometimes, it’s a blog.  Sometimes, it’s a scene that comes later in her book.  Sometimes, she even writes in a journal.  The point is, she writes uninterrupted for 20 minutes for the sole purpose of getting the juices flowing.Bottle of Creative Juices

This accomplishes two major things.  First, it warms up her writing muscles and gets her into her Writing Work Room.  Second, it reminds her how little time it takes to actually put words on a page if she will just show up to do it.

I decided to try it for myself.  The only modification I made was to shorten the sessions to 15 minutes.  I wrote the first piece in the allotted time. I started with this sentence: “Am I the only one who thinks the term baby bump is obnoxious and unflattering?”  When the timer sounded, I checked the word count.  Three hundred twenty-nine words.  About baby bumps.  I agree with Barbara.  It gets the writing juices flowing.  Can I sustain the pace of 1,316 words per hour all day – every day – when working on my latest novel?  Probably not, but that’s not the point.  The point is if I will just show up to write and get to it, I can actually produce words on the page.

What then shall I do with this newfound way to exercise my writing muscles and get the juices flowing?  Blog of course.  In the very near future, I will post these 15-minute writing exercises on my new blog.  After spending 15 minutes writing with no internal editing, I go back and spend a few minutes cleaning up the prose.  Then, since I’m in the writing groove, I find it easier to get to work on my latest project.   I have a short story with a February 1 deadline and then it’s back to revision hell with my first novel.   It’s a good thing I have writing to occupy my time.  Otherwise, I might end up watching reality TV.  Oh, wait, if I watch reality TV, I’ll have something to blog about!

Try Barbara O’Neal’s 20 Minute Win http://writerunboxed.com/2012/10/24/the-20-minute-win/ and see if it doesn’t get your creative juices flowing.

Matt Sherley

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Quotes from Three Famous Authors


David Morrell, author of FIRST BLOOD, the novel which was later made into Rambo movies, has 25 books, 18-million copies in print.  Morrell says, “The index of a good novel can be measured by how much the reader feels compelled to turn to the next page.”

Jonathan Kellerman, has 37 published books including 4 non-fiction titles.  Kellerman says  “When a thriller is done poorly it is because writers fail to set up characters or threat.”  In his presentation on suspense, he gave as an outstanding example THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (an Alfred Hitchcock movie starring Jimmy Stewart & Doris Day).

Tony Hillerman, author of Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn series, has 27 books, four have been made into TV movies and broadcast on PBS.  Hillerman says the essence of a good mystery/suspense is two things:  (1) characters that the reader cares about and (2) the troubles that these characters are struggling to overcome.

by Harry Haines, (taken from notes at the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference a few years ago.)

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