Category Archives: description

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

Worth A Second Look


RevisingI wrote a story a couple of years ago, and I just fell in love with my main character. He’s a sharp-tongued charmer, fluent in sarcasm and dry wit. He’s a flawed liar with a crooked grin. I loved him.

After a quick first draft and a couple more revisions for polish, I sent him off to a publisher for consideration. He sent me a very polite rejection letter. I tweaked a little more and asked an editor friend for an opinion. More rejection.

I took my work home and placed it on a shelf where it could stew or cure or whatever manuscripts might do when ignored by their creator. I got busy on a couple of other projects that consumed my time.

Then last week something curious happened. I started to get a few projects ready to enter in a writing contest, and my lonely little manuscript began to wave at me, begging to enter the contest, too. It was a fine idea.

I pulled the notebook out and decided to re-read the first ten pages—the only ones that really mattered for the contest. Even if other parts of the story were weak, the first chapter was terrific. I was sure of it.

Until I read it.

What was I thinking? This work in progress was still in its awkward teen years. No wonder it flailed so helplessly in the big world—it wasn’t ready to leave the nest. I decided that ten pages wasn’t too much to iron out for contest. I got to work.

I opened my document. I opened the hard copy with all my margin notes. I read the first chapter—it wasn’t good.

The mood was wrong. My main character was mean, not quirky. His flaws weren’t cute—they were just flaws. I realized that all of my main character’s sardonic wit and charm was in my head, and not on the page.

I resisted the urge to hit the delete key on my laptop. Instead, I reached for my favorite blue ink pen and a thick stack of notebook paper and curled up on my bed with my lap desk. I returned to the place where I first fell in love with the idea of writing down my stories. I let my fingers form the words with imperfect spacing and full, indigo loops. I poured my soul onto the page and connected with my character in a very physical act.

I wrote about a man who had pain that developed from a broken past. He was still scruffy and misfit, but now he had a family and a sense of humor. His methods weren’t efficient and his motives weren’t pure, but he had a mission, and so did I.

In just a few hours, chapter one was revised. My hero was reborn. I can proudly say that he is well on his way to battling his demons and winning the fair maiden. Oh, she’ll teach him a lesson first, the same lesson that a second look taught me. I had to see him with honest eyes—both his good and bad traits—before I could find the man worth loving.

Kimberly Black

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Filed under characters, Contests, description, editors, publishing, rewriting, Writing

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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Filed under basics, books, description, methods, novels, research, story, Writing

A New Tool for Internet Research


As a writer, I’m always looking for ideas that help keep me organized, especially if they don’t involve an excess of paper. I like my research readily available, but I hate to have to carry a huge notebook around with me, with reams of paper wasted because I wanted to print out one paragraph, and ended up with everything on the website.

My new answer is Pinterest.com. Yes, I got hooked a few months ago on the site, and have since “pinned” all sorts of crafts and recipes that I will never try. But then I had this great realization. It’s basically a site that holds hundreds of bookmarks organized in categories with visual cues. Hmm… I can use something like that.

I tried it. First, I created a board with my novel’s title. Then I searched for pictures of people who I “cast” as characters for my novel, and I pinned them. Now if I can’t remember what color eyes my antagonist has, I just pull up his photo, and voila!

My novel takes place in Paris, in several well-known parts of the city, as well as the less-recognizable areas. A few websites pinned, and I have detailed descriptions of bridges, hotels, shops and museums.

I can pin websites for my characters’ weapons, props, vehicles, clothes, gadgets, and languages. If I need to recall something, I just click on the picture and jump to the site with that information. I love it.

If you don’t want your research pins to become public, just create a “secret board” which is a new feature offered by Pinterest.

The only really important thing to remember with the site is that you must exercise self-control. If you want to look up something, you cannot allow yourself to browse through your friends’ newest finds. If you need to see a map of Barcelona, Spain, you can’t let yourself get caught in the newest crock-pot chicken recipe. This is to help keep you organized, thus saving time—not wasting it.

Currently, I have research boards for two novels on Pinterest, and at the end of this month will start another. This new tool has saved me hundreds of pages of paper, several cartridges of ink, and hours of searching for information. It might help you, too!

Do you use Pinterest?  How has it helped you with your writing?

By Kim Black

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Filed under characters, description, organizing, research, Writing, writing advise

Writing Exercises from Photos


When I was first learning to write fiction, one of my teachers laid out a series of random photos and told us to choose one, then tell a story about what was happening in the picture, or set our story within the picture.  I’m challenging you to do the same:

What happened here?  What happens next?

Tell the story of the people who live here.

What happened in this forest setting?  Was it good or bad?

What are they celebrating?  Or tell the story of one of these people.

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Filed under characters, creativity, description, exercises, novels, plot, short stories, story, Writing

Remembering September 11, 2001


In Panhandle Professional Writers we strive to keep our blog free of religious and political slants.  We are people of vastly varied backgrounds and represent the same diversity of viewpoints as are represented in any average American city.  But today is one of those days it can’t be avoided.  So I will keep the comments brief and relevant to writing.

When I think of this tragic day I have trouble referring to it as 911.  The meaning of what took place on this day somehow loses its importance to me.  September 11, 2001 however, is a date I hope the world remembers forever.

For me it’s like November 22, 1963 the date of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Older Americans can add to these memories dates such as December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor day, or the October, 1929 crash of Wall Street.  All these are important dates in American history.  Days we personally remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at the time.

As writers, we have an unspoken obligation to our readers.  Whether you write nonfiction or fiction; if you are writing a story taking place during that time and want to include this date as part of the back drop or in the viewpoint of your characters, or simply to write an account of that day from your own perspective, please remember this:  You can put your character’s personal slant to the subject in fiction, but the account of historical events should be accurate.

Do your research, don’t count on personal memory.  Even the best of us can confuse the details, especially when recalling an event that held such extreme emotion for all Americans.  So do the research to get the facts right.  Your words will last forever.  There are many young readers throughout the world who will not have an understanding of that day.  Their knowledge will be gleaned from what history books and even fiction set in that time period tells them.

This is how I intend to honor the memory of all who lost their lives on that day, by accurately depicting the events and giving voice to all those who lost theirs on that tragic date.

How will you, as a writer, memorialize September 11, 2001?

*Photo courtesy USAfederalholiday.com

Suzanne Bogue

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Filed under characters, description, reading, Writing

On Writing the World


I recently took a trip for my day job employer, going from Lubbock, (west) Texas to Mississippi, and on to points in Arkansas and Louisiana. You wouldn’t think there would be that much difference in the land and culture. You wouldn’t think so.

First thing you notice coming in from the air is that great big river. We have some creeks which run in rainy weather, but nothing to compare with “Ol’ Man River.”

Jackson is carved out of hills and trees, and the drive to Vicksburg is beautiful, but foreign, to a plains boy who’s used to seeing for miles and miles.

Staying at a casino hotel in Vicksburg, I watched and photographed the barges making their way up and down the Mississippi, making that grand turn at the bend.

Over the river in Arkansas and Louisiana, you see the flat ground of the Mississippi Delta. Farmland and trees, bayous and river runs.

It’s the people who make it different, though. Peddling farm implements, I meet agricultural equipment dealers. They have their own way about things. It’s like a tee shirt I saw in a touristy shop. It said, “We don’t care how you do it ‘up north.'” That’s the truth. What works elsewhere just don’t necessarily work in the Delta. And when deer season comes, well, you wait until it’s over. They are serious about deer hunting. And duck hunting. And fishing. You get the idea.

History is different there. It was settled by European interlopers a century or more before my area was. The civil war still echoes. Racial tensions, too. Palpable. Not that we don’t have them in Lubbock, but I was unprepared for their intensity the first time I went.

You may be wondering by now: what does this have to do with writing? Contrast. It’s hard to get a view of culture until you see the differences, really understand that while people hold certain common beliefs and concepts, they are unique in many ways. That contrast can breed conflict or delight, very valuable commodities when you’re penning a story.

If you want to write about the world, get out in it.

Joe Trent

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Filed under characters, description, methods, show don't tell, story, techniques, Writing, writing advise