Dripping Ink – Questions for Self-critique

The Writer Has the Last Word

It is my very great pleasure to share an article by Caroline Totten of The Greater Canton Writers’ Guild, Inc.  The following article was featured in the September newsletter.  Information regarding the Guild can be found at:  http://cantonwritersguild.org/

Dripping Ink by Caroline Totten

Questions for Self-critique

Do your demons imitate the gods by grabbing and holding attention? (Your demons are ideas that keep poking you in the eye. If the idea arouses laughter, tears, paranoia, fright, curiosity or indignation, etc., you have acquired a point of view, which may boil into a plot.)

Does the plot offer an opportunity to provide fresh insight into the theme? (Ideally, the plot begins with a distress signal in the middle of the story. The action is already in progress and tinged with an emotional element in the main character. Usually, the setting fits the character and supports the viewpoint.)

Is the character(s) consistent in the context of the plot? (Draw the emotional tone from your personal experience and place it in the persona of the protagonist, the main character. The conflict may be psychological, physical, or ideological, or a combination of these elements.)

Here are a few aspects of the reader/author relationship to keep in mind. By being a writer, or hoping to become one, your entire self becomes an instrument to observe and record human experience. When you extrapolate heartache, joy, fear, whatever, and put them into your character, you are actually putting the reader in touch with his emotions. (Numbness, repression, or suppression are emotional factors.)

Psychologically, mystery, or suspense stories excite the mind of the reader.

Horror stories, by a circuitous route, help the reader release his fear.

Adventure stories encourage bravery.

Love stories release hormones that tenderize the heart.

Fantasy encourages imagination by offering another way of perceiving the resolution of conflict even though at the outset, the reader may be looking for escape.

Humor may release attitudes that might otherwise be socially rude or crude.

Actually, stories that contain violence, corruption, and greed may contribute to the reduction of these elements and/or act as a catharsis for the reader.

Reading fiction is not an idle past time. Its factual component may differ from nonfiction, but the result is similar. The point of view alters the reader’s perceptions.   Effective writing heightens awareness of the subject by allowing the reader to participate in the physical and mental experience of the character. Most effective stories show the character in action. In some cases, “thinking” by the character rather than dialogue or confrontation may be the entrance into a story. The approach depends on the genre, your style, and editorial desires. (At times, magazine and book editors don’t know what they want until they see it.)

Before CK One, There Was Tabac Blond

Vintage Tabac Blond

Vintage Tabac Blond

The year is 1927. John Welles and his two best friends, Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby, are planning a clandestine night on the town. Their destination is a speakeasy hidden on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland. For the young medical students, the night will be both thrilling and disastrous.

Before John slips out for the night, he sneaks a dab of his Aunt Prudence’s perfume. This might seem like an extremely feminine thing to do until you become familiar with the scent he chooses to borrow.

One of my favorite subjects researched for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was perfume from the early 1900s. It is how I discovered Tabac Blond. The perfume was perfect for Prudence, a rebel-before-her-time class of woman who smokes, and John, by the simple fact that he’s male. Let me explain.

Ernest Daltroff

Ernest Daltroff

Tabac Blond was created in 1919 by perfumer and founder of the house of Caron, Ernest Daltroff. The fragrance was intended for women who smoke cigarettes, the symbol of women’s liberation and Parisian chic. What made Tabac Blond appealing were the leathery top notes, usually found in men’s fragrances, blended with a feminine floral bouquet. The added scents of undried (blond) tobacco leaves and vanilla made it desirable to both men and women.

Many reviewers insist upon a decanting of vintage Tabac Blond complaining that the new version doesn’t present as well. I’ll have to take their word for it as I do not own either and have yet to experience them in real life. It is, however, my goal to do both.

Artwork inspired by Tabac Blond

Artwork inspired by Tabac Blond

If you’re a lover of rich, exotic, glamorous perfume, Tabac Blond may be for you. Don’t let the price tag deter you from your passion. Whether you purchase the new version or a vintage decanting, there will be a small investment. I believe this is testimony to the allure of the fragrance. Be warned, however: wearing Tabac Blond may encourage behavior such as wild dancing, excessive drinking, and dressing like a flapper or F. Scott himself.

Yesterday’s Perfume

Perfume Projects

Writing What You Hear – Dialect & Accents

There is a character in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, who is Mexican.  For a minor character, Lucia is one of my favorites.  She’s smart, classy, and in charge of all that goes on around her.  In short, she’s the perfect foil for her boss, the intelligent, elegant divorcée, Prudence Mayfield.

Prudence is nobody’s fool, but Lucia keeps her in check when needed. She pulls no punches with her employer and sometimes their conversation is quite spirited. My initial attempts at writing a Mexican dialect were hilarious and amateur. I needed to find a way to convey Lucia’s nationality without her dialog sounding cheesy or offensive.

Assistance came from a video on Howcast by voice and speech coach Andrea Caban. My mistake was that I never consider the posture of the mouth or the musicality of the dialect when writing for Lucia. The breathy S sound at the end of words, the hard R sound, and the nasally tone were exactly what I wanted for my character. How could I put that on paper without writing ridiculous phonetic spellings that would drive the reader insane?  By describing Lucia’s accent.

Originally, the only phonetic spelling I was going to use was jew for every time she said you.  I have since decided against this so I don’t offend potential readers.  Still, when I read Lucia’s comments out loud, I always do so in her accent. I’m confident the suggestions employed helped me to better express her dialect on the written page.  Please share your experience writing a foreign character’s dialect.

Recommended sites for writing dialect/accents:

How To Do a Mexican Accent

The Dos and Don’ts of Dialect

Andrea Caban – Dialect Coach

Christmas Morning Hot Cocoa

Christmas Day has a special quality that is difficult to describe. For me, as a child, it began long before the day arrived. My excitement was wrapped up in anticipation of my family gathering in the morning and spending the entire day together. I admit the presents were a bonus, but what I’m talking about is the sacred, magical characteristics unique to Christmas.

Creamy Hot Cocoa

Creamy Hot Cocoa

I tried to capture the essence of what I mentioned above in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. The year is 1917 and Johnny is still a boy living on the farm with his family in Harford County, Maryland. The morning is almost ruined by an unwelcome visitor before Johnny’s stepmother, Collie, comes to the rescue.

Collie surprises the family with slices of pound cake and hot cocoa in addition to their usual fare. The food in this scene came from a memory I have of my mother waking my brother and me with slices of pound cake and hot cocoa one summer morning. I thought the rich cake and hot beverage would translate well to winter dining.

Sometimes the terms hot chocolate and hot cocoa are used interchangeably and incorrectly. Hot chocolate is milk and cream based with vanilla and shavings of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate. In some recipes, the quantity of chocolate used can make the drink so thick one has to spoon it out of the cup. Hot cocoa, on the other hand, is made with water, a little cream, sugar, and cocoa powder. This version is thinner with a more concentrated chocolate flavor.

For my novel, I chose to include the recipe my mother makes. It’s somewhere between the above-mentioned methods. My best memories of hot cocoa are made with the following recipe. Enjoy!

One 8 – 10 oz. mug per person

Whole Milk

Sugar (I use raw sugar)

Hershey’s Cocoa


Use one mug to measure out the quantity of milk needed, enough for each person, into a saucepan. Add 1 t. vanilla per person to the milk and warm on the stove. While the milk/vanilla is heating, measure 2 t. Hershey’s cocoa into each cup and 2 – 3 t sugar (depending on how sweet you like it.) When the milk/vanilla mixture is steaming, ladle it into each cup. Stir until sugar and cocoa are thoroughly mixed in. Garnish as desired.

The Debt to Pleasure – Book Review

Thank you, Lugo Mez (My Emerald Heart), for recommending The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester.  What a deliciously wicked tale, involving food, told from the villain’s perspective.  I enjoy a well-written bad character, the one I love to hate, and this book certainly doesn’t disappoint.  The clues leading up to the conclusion are well-placed within the ramblings of madman connoisseur, Tarquin Winot.  The recipes for food and drink are simple, elegant, and not to be ignored lest you bring the wrath of Tarquin down upon yourself.

I don’t own this book, but I must have it has part of my private library.  The fact that I’ve already read it doesn’t diminish its desirability in any way.  This one is definitely going on my Christmas list.


Disaster of a Book

Special Topics in Calamity Physics should have been cataloged as a YA book. It might have appealed to a clever teenager. The book reads the way a teenager talks with endless paragraphs of non-sense ranting. I like a little mystery in my novels and a few quirks in writing, but trendy writing with endless gimmicks is annoying. This book reminds me of the movie Heathers or any other teen movie from the 1980s.

We’re supposed to believe that Blue van Meer is intelligent enough to be valedictorian and secure a place at Harvard, but she’s too stupid to navigate the world of Blueblood snobs. Add in her pretentious, obnoxious father (no, wait-that’s every character) and you’re in for an extremely boring read.

By part two, I stopped reading anything in parentheses. By part three, I read only the dialog and the first and last sentence of each paragraph. Didn’t miss a thing, still got the gist of the story. The mystery was more what’s going on than actual who did it. The worst part was waiting for Blue to catch up to what I already figured out. It made for very tedious reading.

I finished three other books while slogging my way through Calamity. All I can think is, “There goes several hours of my life I’ll never get back.”

The Pleasure of Unexpected Surprises

I married into a family of car lovers. My only requirements for a vehicle are automatic transmission, air conditioning, and reliably get me from point A to Point B. For them, the purchase of a car is met with the same excitement one feels when bringing home a newborn for the first time.

One Sweet Ride

One Sweet Ride

My husband’s family loves to watch NASCAR, a sport devoted to cars. They sit glued to the television as the parrot-colored cars speed around the track over and over and over for hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles. After the National Anthem reverently sung by a country singer, impressive military jets soaring past, and the thrill of the classic line, “Gentlemen, start your engines,” you only need to watch the first and last lap to get the gist of what is going on. My in-laws would remind me there are spectacular crashes not to be missed.

So, if I have completely failed to understand their love of cars, how is it that one of the best days of my life was spent with my husband, Will, at a car show? The answer is that it had nothing to do with the cars and everything to do with the man who loves the cars.

This past Saturday, my best fella and I attended the annual car show hosted by Holy Cross Lutheran Church. The crisp fall day was perfect for walking around the church parking lot looking at a variety of vintage cars. The small sized ensured that a non-lover of cars like myself wouldn’t be bored.

A silver and black, 1969 Camaro was the first vehicle to catch my eye. Instead of the grease and oil smell of a garage that I expected, I leaned in through the open window to inhale the sun-warmed aroma of the pristine interior. Like old-book scent, to which I am addicted, the smell of the car exuded history.

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Baby You Can Drive My Car

William, whose automotive knowledge obviously exceeds my own, kept walking away from the cars before I was ready to leave. I had to examine the front, each side, the back, the inside, and any little detail that caught my eye before I could move on. He laughed at me when I told him to either go on without me or slow down.

Our afternoon included delicious free food, a raffle of automotive-themed prizes, and the friendliest church members I have met in a long time. Still, the best part of my day was the fact that I spent it with Will. A couple child-free hours with the man I love doing what he loves best went a long way to recharging my own batteries.

He said, She said – He complained, She admitted

And the debate rages on. I’m talking about using dialog tags other than said and asked. It wasn’t so long ago that said is dead seemed to be the rule of the day. While everyone agrees that too many dialog tags are annoying, people tend to waver on whether or not to stick with said and asked or mix it up with more descriptive verbs such as complained, boasted, and grumbled.

A few tags that appear to slip under the said/asked radar include whispered, yelled, and shouted. I suppose that’s because they are either extremely passive or aggressive; on opposite ends of the said/asked spectrum.

Then there is laughed and chuckled. People will argue that you can’t laugh or chuckle while speaking; it only occurs before or after a person is done talking. I would have to disagree based on personal experience. Laughing while talking doesn’t have to hinder the speaker. Short sentences can be spoken with a lilt to one’s voice that I would definitely describe as a laugh.

So join the debate. I want to hear from you on this subject. Do you think this is a hard and fast rule or a rule to be broken at the writer’s discretion rendering it just a guideline?

UPDATE:  Last week I sat in a seminar with a professional editor who actually suggested using dialog tags beyond said and asked.  She agreed that too many are burdensome to read, however, she pointed out how they help a reader keep track of who is speaking in a long conversation of two or more people.  I maintain that when used correctly, dialog tags beyond said and asked do not distract the reader.  Rather, they enhance the story and the writing.  In either case, I’d still love to hear your opinion, dear follower!


Hugh Griffin’s Peach Pie


Juicy Peach Pie

It is the summer of 1929. John Welles and his girlfriend, Garland Griffin, take a trip to visit her father. It’s a big step in their relationship. She is opening up to John and showing a side of herself he never knew existed.

While visiting, Garland’s widowed father, Hugh, serves the couple peach pie he made himself. The following recipe is the inspiration for the pie in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Although Hugh is, no doubt, a very talented man, it was actually my mother who made the pie pictured throughout this post.

Lightly crisp, buttery, flaky, tender, mouth-watering pie crust is the hallmark of my mother’s pies despite the flavor of filling used. She is such a master at it that I don’t even bother learning how to roll crust myself. Shameful, I know.

Anyhow, I hope you’ll enjoy the peach pie as much as John and Garland!

Hugh Griffin’s Peach Pie


Expert Rolling of the Crust

For the Crust:

2 c all-purpose flour

1 t salt

1 c cold butter, cut into ½ inch pieces

Ice water

Sift flour and salt into a bowl. Work butter into the flour/salt mixture until it resembles coarse meal. A pastry blender or two knives is recommended so mixture stays cool. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time forming a dough ball with your hands. Work quickly to keep dough from warming. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing peaches.


Adding Peaches to the Crust

For the Filling:

5 – 6 good sized peaches

5 T butter

¾ c sugar

¼ c flour

1 t vanilla

1 t cinnamon

½ t salt

Peel and slice peaches into a large bowl. Add sugar, cinnamon, salt, flour, and vanilla. Toss until well coated. Cover and set aside.


Perfectly Assembled

Assembling the pie:

Divide dough ball in half. Roll one half for a bottom crust to fit in a 9” pie plate. Add peach mixture and dot with tablespoon slices of butter. Roll top crust and place on top of peaches. Tuck the edges of the top crust under the edges of the bottom crust. Crimp edges with a fork. Cut slits in top crust to allow steam to escape. Brush crust with an egg wash (1 egg beaten w/ 1 t water.) Bake at 425 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown, taking care not to burn the edges.


The hand that rolls the pie crust rules the world!


The Best Part of Waking Up – a Sunday Morning Reminiscence

Henry gives the corner of my eye sandpaper-tongue kisses. I chuckle, trying not to move. This is the signal for Aria to roll over off her back, stretch, and groan. Then she huffs morning collie breath in my face. She knows I’m awake.  I stretch and groan; an exercise made easier by the sunlight streaming through my blinds. All fifteen parakeets begin chorusing their demand to have the cage covers removed. I place both feet on the warm spot of carpet Aria has just vacated.

“Good morning, everyone.”


Notice the blown out elbows.

I don the world’s rattiest bathrobe and perform morning rituals. The robe wasn’t always so shabby. About twenty years ago, it was the plushest robe in blue and pink plaid flannel over thick white terrycloth. It was part of Victoria’s Secret’s Authentic Country Cotton collection; a Christmas present from Will. This robe and I have seen a lot together, but we’re keeping those secrets.

When Joshua was little, he used to wrap himself in it, tie the sash, and trail a good three feet of it on the floor. Except for the feminine color, he looked like a prince in royal robes. He would hold the collar in both little hands and say, “It smells like you, Mommy.” When he puts it on now, the hem ends just below his knees.


Bath Time

I head to the kitchen to make tea.  Henry and Aria sneak back to the bedroom to recapture the fading essence of Sunday morning.  She curls up in the corner while he walks around her head and shoulders.  After a few nuzzles, Henry grooms Aria’s paws and snout and she licks behind his ears.  I believe she gets the better end of the deal as Henry looks like he’s been drowned after a slaking by her tongue.

Finally, I’m in possession of a tub of tea. We’re Americans; we don’t do anything small including our teacups. Will purchased honey sold on the side of the road in Hartville. It’s in a small Ball jar with a masking tape price tag. This makes it taste homier for some reason. The flavor is between clover and dessert wine and compliments my tea perfectly. Gotta love roadside stands; the best pies, corn, eggs, and honey can be found there.


$8 for a jar of liquid sunshine – quite a deal.

Tea in hand, animals in tow, I head for the living room to read the Bible. That’s when I hear the familiar metallic creaking of Joshua’s loft bed. He’s coming down the ladder. I quickly intercept him in the hallway and guide him to my room. A morning nap in my bed will buy me some more quite time.

As for Will, he’s dead to the world in the back bedroom, banished due to ungodly snoring. The bed is a brand new, high-quality mattress from The Original Mattress Factory, so keep your scorn in check. It’s not as if I exiled him to the garage. Besides, he’s concluded that it’s easier to sleep a few nights alone than not at all with my elbow constantly in his side.

So, I’m guaranteed an hour of peace and solitude. I really could use more sleep, but I hate to waste the morning. Who knows what miracles, spectacular or ordinary, may take place? Think I’ll stay awake and find out.

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