Thank You for Your Support

No, this isn’t a message from Bartles & Jaymes.  This is me wholeheartedly thanking each and every one of my six hundred followers for their support while I continue to build my author platform piece by piece.  Sometime between last night and a few moments ago, I reached this exact number of followers.  I can’t begin to tell you how incredible that made me feel.  Perhaps because it’s such an exact number, I believe I’ve achieved quite a milestone.

As every writer knows, the grueling road to publication is often a long and hard one.  Very few people experience success right out of gate.  I don’t know about others, but on any given day, I fluctuate between insecurity and euphoria about my writing.  I’m pretty sure I’m going crazy at times!  Still, I’ll press on because there is no way I’m going to abandon this endeavor.

Besides, I can still brag, “Hey, I wrote a book!”

What Can You Show Me?

What Can You Show Me

Some day, I want someone to tell me where the advice Show, Don’t Tell came from.  I’m pretty sure all during my childhood, I never once said, “Mommy, show me a story.”  Until then, I’ll dodge the flack I receive for that comment and do my best to conform to the rules.

With that being said, I’m stocking my Writing Toolbox with the post Show, Don’t Tell: Revealing True Emotion In Dialogue by Angela Ackerman of Writers Helping Writers.  Ms. Ackerman supplies five very helpful tips on how to do this.  She even goes one better when she responds to the same question asked by another follower and myself.  Her example of how to employ her suggestions are detailed yet easily understood.

I believe we can all benefit from this.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir is an enjoyable read. I’m not sure it was the best choice in books as I was still coming down from my high after Night Train to Lisbon, but light reads are good for balancing out the heavy stuff.

Written mostly as journal entries by abandoned astronaut, Mark Watney, the endless explanations on the necessary procedures conducted to survive life on Mars were tedious. I often felt as if I was reading an article from National Geographic or a really interesting survival manual. I skimmed a few descriptions until I found the story again.

Andy Weir has proven that he knows his technical stuff, but he delivers it inelegantly and without passion. I don’t need to know exactly how many molecules of various elements are produced when splitting hydrazine nor do I need to know how much power is required to do so. All I need to know is that it’s dangerous. Besides, how many of us could actually refute the science?

untitled (5)The diary entries came across as mild locker room humor mixed with surfer dude attitude and undermined any real tension in the plot. We’re told this is how Mark Watney deals with stressful situations. A more professional approach on the part of the main character with less “ugh, whee, yay, and boo” in his responses would have gone a long way to making me believe in the seriousness of the situation and that he was a highly educated person suitable for space travel.

We’ve been here before with Apollo 13, Castaway, and mostly recently, Gravity. Even Robinson Crusoe was a survivor story. The Martian lacks in respect to these stories because beyond saving Mark, there is no human side to the story. There is no wife or girlfriend waiting on Earth, no foul play to his situation that he needs to discover, not even a friend to whom he needs to make an apology for having spoken harshly. In short, there’s not much in the way of human interest for Mark Watney.

The second way in which The Martian differs greatly from these stories is that it’s pure fantasy. Obviously Apollo 13 is real and the other tales could actually happen. Travel to Mars and/or survival on Mars is still pretend. I find it’s easier to relive historical tragedies than get caught up in the drama of make believe. But that’s just me.

The story was mildly predictable in terms of the sequence of trials and tribulations Mark had to endure on Mars. No sooner would he triumph, I’d turn the page and right on cue the next crisis would appear. The constant up and down was interesting but not as suspenseful as everyone is claiming. This is most evident when thirty pages into the book, Mark wonders if he’s going to blow himself up undertaking an experiment. With about 92% of the book left to go, I’m pretty sure he’s not going to die. Result: zero tension.

Still, Andy Weir’s book is fun. If you’ve worked your way through all your DVDs of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Dr. Who, I recommend reading The Martian. If you’re not a reader, you can wait for the movie which, according to IMDB, is due out in November, 2015.

Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier

imagesURRVLO8TToday I finished reading one of the best examples of literary fiction I have read to date. Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier, pseudonym for author Peter Bieri, follows the story of Swiss language professor, Raimund Gregorius.

An unusual encounter with a beautiful Portuguese woman is the catalyst for Gregorius’ journey to Lisbon. His roadmap is a book by Amadeu de Prado called The Goldsmith of Words. So elegantly written are the passages of this fictional book that many have gone in search of it as well as its equally fictional author.

With Prado’s words guiding him, Gregorius delves deeper into the mystery surrounding the life of the enigmatic author, doctor, and resistance fighter during Salazar’s dictatorship. He meets friends and relatives of Prado who piece by piece put together a picture of who Amadeu Prado was.

Upon conclusion of the novel, I felt as if I was leaving old friends behind. Traveling with Gregorius from his mundane existence in Bern to the rediscovery of life in Lisbon proved to be extremely satisfying. The philosophical questions posed in the book are not for the timid or easily offended. Still, I would highly recommend Night Train to Lisbon as an extremely worthy read.

Welcome Home, Dr. Welles

I’d like to share one piece of inspiration to which I returned repeatedly while writing my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.

Welcome Home, Dr. WellesThe Lark Ascending, by Ralph Vaughn Williams, is an exquisitely beautiful and haunting piece of music that perfectly captures the joy of returning from war and the pain of what had to be endured.  I believe it was nothing short of Divine coincidence that this piece played while I attempted to write what my main character, John Welles, would have experienced as he returned from the European theater of World War II.

John’s participation in the war was brief due to a horrific tragedy that leaves him scarred both physically and emotionally.  Nothing could have prepared him for the burden he must bear; he alone is responsible for the terrible secret.  His one wish is to escape the pain he caused by seeking refuge with his family.  Unfortunately, the memories at home plague him every bit as much, if not more, than his time in the war.

English poet George Meredith’s 122-line poem, also titled The Lark Ascending, was the inspiration for Williams’s musical work.  The poem is a hymn to the skylark and his song.  I admit that I’m no poet and certainly not qualified to decide what makes good poetry.  However, I am pleased that Meredith’s poem led to the creation of music that led to the writing of one of my favorite scenes in my novel.

Please take a pause in your busy day to listen to The Lark Ascending above and read The Lark Ascending below.  Enjoy!

The Lark Ascending, George Meredith (1828 – 1909)

Beta Reading Etiquette

Beta Reading Etiquette

Today’s post is in response to a request I made of one of my favorite writing gurus, K.M. Weiland.  No big surprise there as I am always stocking my Writing Toolbox with posts from her site that I find extremely helpful.  As I said before, I may not always have the advice myself, but I do know where to find good advice when I need it.

That being said, I hope you enjoy K.M. Weiland’s blog post, A Quick Guide to Beta Reader Etiquette.

Vonnegut & Orthodontists

Vonnegut and OrthodontureLast Tuesday, I took Joshua to his orthodontist for a checkup. This usually pleases him because he loves getting out of school early. We stopped by the house to pick up his toothbrush so he could remove the remnants of lunch from between his teeth before heading south for his appointment.

The two gentlemen who own the practice are competent orthodontists. Unfortunately, I can never remember which is which, so I call them Dr. Young and Dr. Old. They would be mortified if they knew this, and their egos would be crushed. I should probably feel bad, but I don’t.

Dr. Young conducted Joshua’s visit. He breezed into the consultation room looking extremely GQ with nary a gelled hair out of place. This is always true of both doctors, although I don’t believe Dr. Old uses gel. He attempted the usual round of pleasantries with my sullen teenager and made the typical mistake of calling him buddy, trying to sound hip.

The discussion centered mostly on the fact that Joshua does not have a permanent tooth below one of his baby teeth. I live in fear of that little sucker coming out. We’re talking an implant and thousands upon thousands of dollars to make sure Joshua doesn’t have a permanent hole in his smile. Much to my dismay, the latest x-ray showed the root disintegrating rapidly.

I asked Dr. Young why Joshua didn’t have a permanent tooth. He launched into a long explanation that began with, “Millions of years ago, when we were all cavemen and had three or four wisdom teeth beyond what we have today…”

I could feel my face hardening into the mask of smiling politeness required to keep me from laughing out loud. Malibu Ken proceeded to explain to us that because our diet has become softer over millions of years, we no longer need as many teeth as we used to.

“In fact,” he said, “in 100,000 years or so, kids will probably have a lot fewer teeth than they do today.”

“So we’re all going to be rabbits,” I replied, clicking my top and bottom incisors in demonstration.

Dr. Young didn’t respond. Instead, he turned to don grape-scented gloves and check Joshua’s teeth. At that precise moment, my eyes locked on Joshua’s. My darling, surly teen executed one of the best eye rolls I have ever seen in my life.

As we drove home that afternoon, I couldn’t get Dr. Young’s words out of my head.

“You know, Josh, between Dr. Young’s explanation of the deterioration of teeth and Kurt Vonnegut’s portrayal of people in his book, Galapagos, in the future, we’re all going to be rabbit-toothed, fur-covered, flippered seal people.”

Now if I can sell the movie script on that storyline, I could probably pay for Joshua’s implant.

Appreciation For vs. Appreciation Of

Appreciation For vs Appreciation Of

Today’s post is a simple reminder on when to use appreciation for versus appreciation of. We all believe we know the rule until that split second when we’ve been tasked with something like the engraving of a plaque to commemorate a co-worker’s achievement. The shop clerk, who usually isn’t an English major and provides absolutely no help at all, stares at you blankly, waiting for you to decide whether the plaque should read appreciation for a job well done or appreciation of a job well done.

Because I care enough to not let you return to the office in shame, I’m going to help you out with this little dilemma. Both are appropriate under different circumstances. Appreciation for indicates a love, an understanding, a feeling as in, “He has a great appreciation for modern art.” Appreciation of indicates a thankfulness, an acknowledgment as in, “The plaque was awarded in appreciation of Bob’s service to the organization.”

I hope this lesson is a helpful reminder. If you should ever forget how to use appreciation for and appreciation of, at least remember my blog address,, where you’ll find all the answers to life’s annoying problems. Well, at least the ones that have to do with writing.

Strong, Silent, and Well Written

Strong, Silent and Well WrittenToday’s addition to my Writing Toolbox goes into the Character Development drawer.  The post I chose to share is one of my favorites because it uses Major Richard Winters of Band of Brothers fame as the perfect example of the strong and silent character.

I have to laugh because yet again, K.M. Weiland is responsible for this brilliant piece of advice.  I forgot that detail as I sifted through my boards on Pinterest while deciding which pin to use.  Ms. Weiland is either going to be flattered or think I’m the biggest suck up in the history of sucking up.  I’m hoping for the first option.

I hope you find this advice as helpful as I did.  Enjoy!

How to Write Strong and Silent Characters

Left-Handed Smoking

Left-Handed SmokingThe following piece of fiction is grittier than what I usually write; the themes are adult in nature.  Like most of the inspiration for my writing, this one comes from out of the blue.

I don’t remember what my mother and I were talking about when the story popped into my head, but I do remember it included one of my Grandmother Huffman’s cousins, Frances Courtney.  Frances chain smoked cigarettes and did little else except drink diet soda.  Her two sisters, Marge the capable and Evelyn the frail, waited on her even though she wasn’t an invalid.  Frances’s one redeeming quality was her rapier wit.  Delivered in a smoke-strangled voice, she would shoot barbs at her intended target that were both funny and true.

More than her wit, I remember the bizarre way Frances smoked her cigarette.  She held it in her first two fingers with the  thumbnail of the same hand wedged between her bottom incisors and her bottom lip curled downward as a resting place for her thumb.  It was an extremely unusual sight and is difficult to describe.  In fact, I believe the cigarette smoldered away in this position more than it was actually smoked.

Imitating Frances’s technique, my mother declared she was going to take up smoking and added the twist of only using her left hand.  After we quit laughing, I asked her something like what would she do with her other hand or what was the significance of left-handed smoking.  Out of that, my story was born.

Grab your favorite pack of smokes, sit back, and enjoy!

Left-Handed Smoking

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