But now I’m back. England is a happy memory and my American life is calling – overdue reviews, washing, cleaning and shopping, our writers’ group’s release of its fifth anthology, Bible studies to prepare … and did I mention washing, cleaning and shopping? And pulling weeds. The dandelions defeated me before we left, so now I’m just going to mow them down instead of trying to extract them.
Meanwhile, that writers’ group continues to host monthly contests, and I need to come up with a prompt (my penalty for winning). Perhaps something about trains, bookstores, Venetian gondolas, dogs or marriages would work? August’s contest was inspired by someone else’s photograph. September’s asks what happens next after a disturbing opening sentence, and October’s is to write fan fiction based on Tails of Mystery. Perhaps November’s prompt could combine all three …
Here’s a picture, taken on my vacation
What happens next?
Please write it from the point of view of an animal (mammal, insect, fish or bird).
If I’ve been absent from the internet, or only minimally present, this last few weeks, I’ve had good reason. I embarked on a brand new venture, you see – in fact, “A Most Singular Venture,” which just happens to be the title of a wonderful new novel in the Elizabeth and Richard Literary Mysteries Series by Donna Fletcher Crow.
As you’ll see from the cover, Elizabeth and Richard (a couple now pleasingly approaching my own age) are in London as this story begins. Elizabeth is researching locations visited by that well-known classical author, Jane Austen, while Richard is about to start teaching a summer class on Golden Age mystery authors. It’s a great combination, with tasks, characters and mysteries all dove-tailing into a plot that pulls the reader along: Explore London, learn literature, and look for a murderer, all within the covers of a single, enticing book.
But where do I fit in? And how did this singular venture keep me from the internet? Well… that’s where my own most singular and delightful venture starts, with author Donna Fletcher Crow inviting me to reawaken my editing dreams after reading my review an earlier novel in the series:
How could I resist? I didn’t even try. The chance to read Elizabeth and Richard’s latest adventure before anyone else? The chance to get to know one of my favorite authors better? And, yes, the chance to call myself an editor again… I spread those wings with eager delight and had a most wonderful time.
Watch out for A Most Singular Venture, coming later this year to a bookstore near you. And get ready for the adventure with a thoroughly enjoyable Jane Austen Encounter. Then spread your writing wings and feather your quill for a writing exercise:
Think of a famous person and a place that person is connected with.
Think of reasons why a group of people might visit that place?
Make a list of ways you can connect their visit with the person
Do they go to sites your famous person frequented?
Do they get involved in the same sort of business?
Or perhaps they see a ghost?
travel in time?
read a book?
endure the same problems?
A story, a paragraph, an essay, or even a novel… whatever you have time for. Enjoy!
How cool is that? I wish they could offer me the gift of time as well as a pretty badge. Then I might catch up on all those books still unread and unreviewed, but I’m working on it. Meanwhile, I’ll add some thyme, rosemary and sage while I cook dinner. And I’ll dream that one day Goodreads might give me a slightly different badge – one that says TOP 1% of WRITERS instead of reviewers. How cool would that be?
Of course, if I wrote more, or wrote faster, I’d have a better chance of being well-known, which brings me back to that precious gift, not yet downloadable, of time. So… what would you do if you had more time? Use a writing prompt perhaps? Why not try this?
Write a sentence beginning, “If only she/he had the time…”
Write a sentence ending with the phrase, “but he/she wished she/he had the time.”
Write a sentence with the phrase, “if there were only enough time” somewhere in the middle of it.
Which sentence do you like best?
Which timelessness inspires you?
Now write a short story, character study, scene, snippet or poem, where every sentence includes some similar reference to the absence of time. (No cheating though. It’s got to be time, not thyme.)
I’m getting better at taking selfies–really I am–though I doubt they’d help me sell any books if I stuck my image on the back. Aging, graying, not quite sure which direction to look in–would you buy a book photographed by me? More importantly–from my point of view anyway–would you buy a book written by me? And can you write a selfie?
Photographic selfies come–or at least they came–in many forms. Here’s my first one, taken through a mirror.
Hmmm, a little blurred isn’t it, like one of those out-of-focus stories that never quite gets to the point, or has so many points the reader can’t find them? Next came the camera-on-the-computer selfie, with me so proud, holding the first (of many) proofs.
Are you looking at the books or the writer here? If you read my stories, will you see my characters or me? Then I ponder: Even if my opinions don’t totally obscure the scene, they can still distract (and detract from the best-told tale). But At last I got a phone with a backward-facing lens–my chance to take a real, modern-day selfie. What do you think?
Look up, look down, look straight, left, right, or somewhere: Choose an angle, I guess, but surely don’t choose this one, in writing or photography, from which I conclude, points of view are really quite important.
I tried again. Does this one work…
…or should I have chosen a background that made sense? Set a scene that’s understandable for the reader or the viewer–that’s one to remember.
And then there was this. What do you think?
(No glasses – the wonders of cataract surgery earlier this year!)
Someone suggested that everyone we write about lives in our heads (unless we’re writing biographies I suppose). So all those characters entering and leaving rooms, victims and perpetrators of crimes, male, female, adult, child… are they all me? Is every character study in my novel a selfie from some hidden part of my mind?
I don’t know the answer, but the question did inspire a writing exercise:
Imagine yourself entering a room–to win a writing prize perhaps, or to stop your child from crying, or…
Describe your entry from your own point of view–are you confident, scared, excited… how do you walk? Is your breathing slow or fast? Where are your eyes focused? What are you doing with your hands? And what are you wearing; how does the fabric move with you, or the wind blow your hair?
Describe your entry from the point of view of someone who’s glad to see you–parent, child, spouse, best friend, eager recipient of your benevolence… Who or what do they see, hear, or smell, and what thoughts fill their minds?
Now describe your entry from the point of view of someone who’s not pleased to see you–the person who hoped to win the prize, the cat who hoped to stay with the child, the monster returned to its closet…
And finally, turn one of those descriptions into a story.
No book reviews, no blog posts, and I’ve almost disappeared from Facebook and Twitter: What could be going on? Meanwhile the deadline for the Writers’ Mill Journal, an (almost) annual publication from our local group of writers, came and went and…well…that’s what’s been stealing my attention and my time.
For my sins I’m compiler and editor in chief, and we had lots of pieces to be compiled, carefully stored online by our intrepid computer guru, Rom. Now we have a large document with nine sections, nearly 60 pieces of writing, and around 35 pictures. But we, at last, means more than just me; and I’m looking forward to a little more spare time, since I’ve finally sent that doc to our intrepid team of editors. Six editors. 200 pages. Around 35 pages each.
Of course, the journal is only almost complete, as you might see from the heading to this post. It’s one thing to ask our brave authors to write, and write we do, most wonderfully (see last year’s journal above – enjoy!). But asking us to write about ourselves; that’s an entirely different matter. So the author bio page languishes, while sentences and paragraphs drift in email replies to be added to those author names.
First person bio or third is the first question to be asked of course. Does
Joe Soap says, “I’ve been writing since I learned to wash my face…” work better than
Joe Soap has been writing since…
I’m going for third person–at least, that’s what I said–though several writers insist on first. What do you think? Which sounds more professional to you?
Then there’s the question of one sentence, or two, or a paragraph or two, or a page. For myself, I’ve got bios of varying lengths on almost every website, Facebook and Twitter included, all different, and mostly out of date. I’ve got a mini-bio in the signature line on my emails, also out of date (depending on whether I’m writing from my computer or my phone). I’ve got bios on my books, bios in the back pages of as yet unpublished books, bios on publishing websites, bios re-edited, bios…
But we’vegot 200+ pages, and every page costs, and we run this on a money-less shoe-string. So I asked our authors for just one or two sentences, or maybe three or four.
I sent a sample:
Joe Soap has been writing since he learned to wash his hands. He’s the author of several unpublished books, has taught laundry techniques in high school for many years, and can be found online at joesoap.com.
And the answers are still slowly trickling in.
Meanwhile, here I am, finally finding time to write a blogpost. Since most of my readers write, which makes you authors of a kind, I’ll set an author bio challenge this time:
Write (or find your latest) author bio, in all its multi-paragraph glory: Who are you? Then…
Pick out the section that describes how long you’ve been writing. Which words are most important? Rephrase them in one short sentence.
Pick out the section that describes what you’ve done with your life. Which detail is most important. Rewrite it in one short sentence.
Pick out the section that describes why you write. Which words are most important? Rephrase them in one short sentence.
Pick out the section that describes what you’ve written. Rephrase this in one short sentence.
Pick out the section that describes where you can be found online. Which place is most important, or easiest to find, or best linked to everywhere else. Mention this in one short sentence.
Now combine your first and second sentences, second and third, third and fourth, and fourth and fifth.
Combine the resulting sentences, shortening, deleting, and EDITING until you have just two (one short and one long is good).
Now you’ve got a nice brief author bio that might even fit on Twitter!
So here’s mine:
Sheila Deeth has been telling stories since before she learned to write. She’s the author of contemporary novels from Second Wind Publishing, childrens animal stories from Linkville Press, and The Five Minute Bible Story Series from Cape Arago Press, and she blogs at…well…here ’cause you’ve found me!
I guess I should go update all those other random bios wherever they lurk now. But first, I’ve still got 35 pages to edit…
My soon-to-be-released children’s book is called “Tails of Mystery.” It tells the stories of a dog and his friends solving mysteries around their neighborhood. It doesn’t have a cover yet, but here’s the dog – he’s called Fred.
Another soon-to-be-released volume will be the fourth edition of our local Writers’ Mill Journal. One of the headings for submissions is “It’s a mystery.”
Meanwhile, our next writing contest is titled “A simply misunderstanding.”
So I wonder what great mysteries these misunderstandings might weave – which leads to this week’s writing game:
First, write the numbers 1 to 7 down the side of a sheet of paper:
At number one, write down who is going to misunderstand something.
At number five, write down the dire consequence of the misunderstanding.
At number seven, write down the resolution – all is calm, mystery solved, misunderstanding corrected.
Back to number three: What did your protagonist misunderstand? What incorrect conclusion did they draw?
Number four: How did they act on that conclusion and how did it cause the dire consequences at number five.
Number two: How did they come to hear/see/learn the thing they misunderstood?
Number six: How did they come to realize they’d got things wrong, and how did they fix it to land us at number 7.
Weave what you’ve written back together to make a short mystery about a simple misunderstanding.
We have crows in the pine trees shading our garden – very noisy crows. They’re so noisy they make me jump every time I went outside to water the flowers. But they made me jump even more when one flew too close over my head and… at my feet I saw this:
By nightfall my new friends had hidden under ferns. I worried the local cats might find them, or maybe raccoons or coyotes. But the next day they were still there, like Peter and Paul, preaching silently while their parents crowed loudly overhead:
Another day passed and the bird-lets still survived, still flightless, voiceless, and fluffed. The brave one stared over the edge of the wall and stepped off, wings flapping, almost aloft till it tumbled softly to earth. Then it meandered across the grass, stumbled over another flower bed, and began to find its way back. Meanwhile marauding squirrels passed too close and were dive-bombed by mom.
The wanderer tried to climb the tree, back to its nest I suppose. Wings flapping almost usefully it must have risen at least a couple of feet before it fell down.
Then it came back to its friend, back to the steps, back to the fence. It jumped and missed and tried again, and tried and tried again until it made the first bar, second bar, top of the rail, then across to the highest fence-post; poor little brave bird. Then it sat and waited while poor patient mom tried to find a place to feed it from.
And then they were gone. I hope they flew. I’m really no fan of those noisy crows, but I did not want my garden’s fluffy visitors to be anyone’s feasts. I hope they flew safely to their nest and beyond.
So today’s writing prompt is this:
Think of a book title
Change one word
Then use it to inspire an essay or short short story
I finished reading a novel recently. It was a really detailed novel; the sort of tale that tells exactly what a woman was wearing and why they chose each garment for what intended effect before she left the house this morning, which she did with a longing gaze around each of the rooms she passed through, remembering the appearance and provenance of each item of beloved furniture. Then someone shot her and she died.
The novel qualified as a pretty slow read; probably a frustrating one too. After all, as a reader I invested enough thought to follow those various pages, only to find the character didn’t matter. The scenes were vividly real. Her thoughts rang convincingly true. But I felt side-tracked from a story that continued by following someone else. Perhaps it’s just me.
Still, it reminded me of a writing exercise we did a while ago in our group, so I’ll offer our question of details here, for your reading and writing enjoyment:
Imagine you’re standing in the doorway to an office. Inside the room is a desk. Behind the desk is a chair. Behind the chair is a window. There might be some shelves or filing cabinets against the wall. What can you see? Make a (clear and detailed) list.
Now imagine a character standing there instead of you. Who is he, she or it?
add to the list and take your pick.
There’s no one else in this office right now, but give your character a reason to be there:
She got a message demanding her presence
He’s determined to get his revenge
Something’s hidden; she’s going to find it
She needs a way to make her dad agree
Now write a paragraph in which your character enters the room. Which things do they notice and what do they ignore? Which details matter from your original list? If your character’s too scared or too busy to look out the window, do you really need to describe how tiny the people seem down below, or the color of the curtains?
Our writers’ group had a fantastic meeting last week, and a chance comment from the speaker about book blurbs and elevator pitches inspired us to try writing our own blurbs before the meeting ended. This left us unable to do the writing exercise I’d planned, but that’s fine; it happens all the time.
Meanwhile, here’s my WordPress blog feeling sad and unattended, while those writing exercises wait undone. But perhaps I could try storing them here to use when I need some inspiration. And maybe… just possibly maybe… someone else might want to use them too. So, to set the ball rolling, here’s that writing exercise we didn’t do:
I read a blogpost that listed ways our features reflect our emotions. Starting with eyes. What do eyes do when you’re
What do mouths do? Necks? Arms? Heartbeats? What do our feet do?
I see your eyes grow round if I surprise you. I can’t see my own eyes. How would I describe the effect of an emotion on my body.
Can I smell my sweat when I’m scared?
Can I feel the corners of my mouth turn up or down?
How does my heartbeat sound?
The prompt for our writers’ group’s current contest is isolation, so… Write a paragraph about an isolated character. Choose where to place him/her/it, and include at least one emotional response. Make sure the response is described from the character’s point of view, and includes some physical manifestations of emotion.