My husband and I went driving through the hills of Palos Verdes last Sunday afternoon. He drives a too tiny for me sports car that he absolutely loves and that I find rather confining. It was a beautiful day outside. The California coastal skies were clear. The ocean waves were gentle and incredibly tempting. For October, it was surprising just how many people were still enjoying our ocean waters.
But the air was overly warm and all I really wanted to do that particular Sunday was to stay inside with a good book. I had just finished writing my latest book and was well into the editing process and I was pretty sick of the whole thing. I still had not come up with a title, although there were several roaming randomly throughout my brain.
As much as I knew that I had work to do, I had grown tired of correcting punctuation marks and hunting for run on sentences. And so, really and truly, the only thing I wanted to do was to read my copy of Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke – You Don’t Own Me. I had started it over a month ago and had just not found the time to get further into it. It had waited patiently for me on my desk for over a month.
So my husband convinced me that the best way to get my book fully edited was to take a ride, clear my head and find something else to think about. “You’ll be sharper after you spend some time away,” he said, not really caring about my head but more about having company on his ride past the beach and through the still green hills.
We started our journey off with me offering up potential titles for my book and him coming up with sillier versions to distract me. To my surprise, he also came up with a few good ones. I was just about to launch into a discussion of why I might actually like his last suggested title when a strange man in a most unusual white car drove into the lane next to us. Our car being a lower to the ground Pontiac Solstice, I found myself having to look upward at the driver. The man, apparently aware of my interest, pivoted his gaze down on me, tipped his hat, smiled and promptly drove off.
“What an interesting guy,” I said. “I love his fedora hat (it was a strange shade of blue), but what the heck is he driving?” I asked my husband, who is well versed in the automobile world and knows far more about cars than I could ever hope for.
“A Morris Minor. A 1950 something model, I think,” he said.
Hitting the gas, while hoping to avoid a P.V. cop or two, my husband took off after the beautifully polished white car. “It’s a British made car. Came out after the war. Think it’s named after the guy who designed it.” (See, I told you he knows a lot about cars!)
“That car is older than me!” I said. “And the guy driving it looked like he could be the original owner.” Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a little, but the gentleman did look really old and his style of dress did not speak of Southern California. I think he might even have been wearing tweed on a ninety degree day!
We followed the car and the interesting character chauffeuring it through the hills for a few more minutes before the man turned off on a side street and we lost him. But in that short time, the infamous Morris Minor driver was tattooed on my brain. My husband and I drove home and I raced to my computer to learn all I could about the car I’d just seen.
A few minutes later, my husband stuck his head in my office door and said, “You need to include that guy in one of your books. Stetson…”
“What about Stetson?” I asked.
“That’s what you should call him.”
And so I will. The man in the blue Fedora, wearing tweed and drive a 1950 something Morris Minor car. Hmm, can’t wait to start. And, of course, I’ll name him Stetson.
My father always said, “Know who you are. In whatever you do, do your best.” By his hard work and example, he instilled in me the importance of integrity and quality. This makes me scrutinize everything I say and write (sometimes to excess). But also causes me to dig a little deeper and write from the heart which makes for a satisfying journey.
When I showed interest in wearing makeup, he made me feel beautiful and confident without it. In his own special way, he taught me that natural and simple is best. So writing, I find, is like learning how to dress and color coordinate. You develop your own style. Mix and match colors to accentuate. Create different looks depending on the season and occasion. Dress to impress or just to chill out. And when you meet a special someone…dress to be “effective.” You want your writing to stand out, but not overwhelm. That would be like wearing too much makeup. Picture the character, Mimi, on the Drew Carey show, or the sea witch, Ursula, in Disney’s, The Little Mermaid.
“Be original. Be creative,” said dad. “And above all, when you speak, don’t ramble.” By which he meant that if someone asks the time, don’t explain how a clock is made. (That’s when I edit, edit, edit).
Many writers speak of having a muse, but I find that although my father is long gone from this world, the words and teachings which he wove into my being continue to guide and inspire me. This leads me to conclude that my dad had a super power: Words.
I hope I have inherited it.
See you next time on July 22nd.
For all you’ve taught me, dad, this one’s for you.
Veronica Jorge – Manager, Educator, and former High School Social Studies teacher, Veronica credits her love of history to the potpourri of cultures that make up her own life and to her upbringing in diverse Brooklyn, New York. Her genres of choice are historical fiction where she always makes new discoveries, and children’s picture books because there are so many wonderful worlds yet to be imagined and visited. She currently resides in Macungie, PA.
In the oceans of writing instruction and advice available to anyone with a search engine I look for everything publishers have to say about current trends. Since you can’t really access publisher’s marketing info — and certainly not Amazon’s sales data — that’s as close to the horse’s mouth as I can get to learn about sales trends. That’s info that helps me help my clients. One offering stands out about contemporary fiction: keep the narrative fast paced. This digital world of FX, Twitter, flash fiction, etc. has our brains wired for lightening fast action. There’s not a lot of room for ruminating on superfluous details of landscape, the nature of family bonds or the sounds of church bells. The story has to gallop from the starting gate to capture and compel a reader. I think we all get that. What’s interesting to me are the narrative techniques an author can use to set and maintain that just-right pace.
Voice and tense are formidable tools to heighten tension, move action and hook and hold the reader. I don’t know what goes into an author’s decisions about what tense and voice to use but I’ll venture to guess it most often comes organically. When a protagonist begins to take shape in the creative sphere of the brain the author hears 3rd Person or 1st Person (which is tricky to write but such fun to read when done well) and the story grows in the mind in the present or past tense. Past tense is most common in fiction (and has been for eons) and is almost always 3rd Person. Present tense is more commonly used with 1st P voice; it creates an immediacy and intimacy that’s very engaging.
I’d never given a thought to 3rd Person present tense. Then I discovered the who-dun-it series of British writer Bruce Beckham. He’s amazing! Set in Britain’s Lake District his detective, Skelgill, is an irresistible mixture of irascible, self-centered, scruffy, generous and intuitive. Every character is roundly drawn and intriguing, the setting is as integral a character as the murderer and the pace never lags. Beckham accomplishes all of this in 3rd Person (omniscient) voice, present tense. It’s an unusual combination but in the hands of this author it is riveting.
It’s how he uses this tool to set and maintain a perfect pace and to draw the reader so fully into his world that amazed me. Reading a narrative described to you by an unknown, unseen, non-judgmental voice as the action unfolds just shouldn’t work. But it does. It’s like having your eyes covered at the movies while a very erudite friend describes what is happening on-screen.
Beckham is a master wordsmith and so uses dialog to show characterization and plot points but the present tense and 3rd P voice puts the reader in a front row seat as the action scenes unfold before our eyes. I didn’t feel as though I was right there — I was right there.
A writer’s choice of voice and tense would have to be dependent, in some part, on the story they are telling. Not every tale will fit just any combination. But it is amazing what a powerful difference the choice can make.
With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new.
I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 25 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching.
Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.
to move to action : stir up : spur on : urge on.
When I first saw this image, I paused. It almost looks as if the words are at war with one another. Just typing incite these days might result in an emotional response: dismay, frustration, and even fury. My author response was quite different. As with all words, the definition of this one depends on your point of view. From where I sit to incite is not political, it defines the core of my craft.
As an avid reader, I instinctively knew what made a story great: breathless action, sympathetic characters, and a plot that could intellectually engage me for hundreds of pages. What I learned as a fledgling writer was that I couldn’t have any of these things without a well-grounded inciting incident. This is the thing, the act, that sparks a literary fire.
Today, we seem to wake up to inciting incidents every morning. They are big, bold, and world changing. For an author, an inciting incident is a means to and end. My job is to see through the chaos and write about the individuals caught up in it. I must craft and communicate insights (noun; the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of a person or thing) into the human condition that has been super-charged by the inciting incident.
I just published a novella entitled The Death of Me that illustrates this part of an author’s job. In The Death of Me, the inciting incident is the brutal murder of a gentle mountain grocer. The crime inflames the hero as a lawman, hurts his heart as the dead man’s friend, and illuminates his prejudices regarding his own community. Given this foundation, I was presented with choices. I could write about the sheriff’s emotional struggle, his procedural training, or his spiritual journey. Each choice would lead me in the direction of a different genre. I chose to address all three, but with an emphasis on the procedural aspects of the sheriff’s story because I am a thriller writer.
Still, the incident of the grocery’s murder would not be as interesting without the insights into those who survived him, loved him, hated him, and those who committed the crime. As the story unfolded, I was responsible for giving the cast of characters individual points of view about death, desire, love, and most of all justice. In other words, insights into the hearts and minds of each character informed the heart and mind of the hero and the reader.
I chose the image above precisely because it is meant to explain one thing but instead led me to quite another thought. This image is about spelling and yet in the context of our world today, in the hands of author’s and artists, there is no war between these two words. One word is not pitted against the other, one word should not be mistaken for the other. Rather the the meaning of the first word should make the second meaningful.
For the last couple of months, my posts here included some of my take on what was happening with the Corona virus and how it was affecting my life–and how the changes had become my new normal.
Then there’s the economy, and all the people suffering because we mostly need to stay at home. Businesses are closing. People are losing their jobs. Where’s the money??
My new normal now also includes worrying about the protests occurring in many places in our country–including areas of Los Angeles, which is where I live. Oh, I sympathize with the protesters who are out there marching peacefully against racial inequality. The death that precipitated it all this time shouldn’t have happened. But now looters are using the protests as an excuse to get out there, break into stores, and steal a lot. And injure others. A lot of businesses in areas near me that haven’t experienced the riots are all boarded up, just in case.
And now here, and in other blog posts I’ve done, I’m wondering what’s next.
I’m writing, of course. Right now I’m working on my third book in the long-running Colton series for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, featuring characters in one of the many branches of the Colton family spread all over the country. I keep thinking about the second one I wrote, when much of the action was precipitated by an earthquake–Colton First Responder.
Are we due for an earthquake as yet another major issue in our existence, like a pandemic and riots? After all, as I said, I live in Los Angeles. And there was an earthquake worth noting in Ridgecrest, a location not far from here, this week.
Other areas may be deluged with hurricanes or other storms.
Or will our next problem–no, read “disaster”–involve something else?
Well, I am a writer and my imagination never stops. And I keep telling it to calm down and imagine instead what things will be like when there’s at least a small semblance of a return to normal.
Although what normal will be next…?
Anyway, I hope that all of you who are reading this are well and safe and not subject to any of those or any other major issues.
Who knows? Next time I post here, things may be quite different… again!
Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, has published 53 books so far, including mysteries and romantic novels. More than twenty-five of them are romances for Harlequin, including Harlequin Romantic Suspense and Harlequin Nocturne. Her latest release is Colton First Responder, for Harlequin Romantic Suspense. She has also written several mystery series including the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries and Superstition Mysteries for Midnight Ink, and the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries and Pet Rescue Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. Nearly all Linda’s current stories involve dogs!
His guilt tore them apart
Can the truth set them free?
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