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Something to Think About

May 15, 2020 by in category Writing tagged as , , , , , , , ,

 Last night all I could think about was the deadline for this blog post. I had put it off all month. At the last minute I was hoping to write something inspirational for both readers and writers. While hope springs eternal,  I found myself pondering – and pondering – what that perfect message should be.

If I’m going to be honest, I knew I wouldn’t come up with anything substantial because I have been distracted. When I’m distracted I usually sit down with a friend at a coffee shop and hash out whatever is on my mind until I’m back on track. Since I can’t do that you’re ‘it’, my friends in a virtual coffee shop. I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing while I’ve been locked down and pondering this post. We’ll start with the garden and move on from there.

Tomato plants. I haven’t actually thought about the tomatoes as much as I have been checking on them. Going outside every fifteen minutes is a nice break from staring at my blank computer screen or at my husband napping on the couch. No matter how often I check, though, the tomatoes still have not turned red and my husband still has not gone back to work.

My fabric stash. Over the last eight weeks I have knocked it down some. Here’s the count: five blouses, a quilt top, a fully-lined summer suit (1 dress that would have fit 15 years ago when I was 25 pounds lighter), and ten face masks. Here’s my question: is sewing my stash like a tree falling in the forest or is it like ‘build it and they will come’? I think it’s the latter. When the day comes to have dinner in a restaurant I will have lots to wear.

Cover with woman sleeping and man looking over a cliff
Book Cover

Work. Honestly, my brain has been mush when it comes to writing a new book. I have an idea but I couldn’t get it to gel, so I looked through my files and reread some of my early work. I had so much fun that I edited and published five novels from the 90s. I also published The Death of Me, a novella I wrote that morphed into a novel (Before Her Eyes). These two works are as different as they are similar. Some times pondering one thing will lead to another. The trick is not to ignore the ‘other’. Productivity: mission accomplished.

Finally, I’ve been pondering important things: the individual versus the greater good, the constitution and ‘guidelines’ as our lockdown stretches into yet another week, another month, another century. My heart is sad for those who are sick and who have died; my heart is breaking for my relatives and friends who are losing their livelihood, home and, well, everything they have worked hard for. I won’t tell you which side I’m on when it comes to hunkering down or opening up. I will only say that I realize that what I have been pondering all along is something readers and writers have always been inspired by: story. No matter what road we choose there will be stories at the end of it. We are writing them now.

These will be tales of tragedy and triumph; there will be something to laugh at and something to cry over.  We will all see these events – and each other – differently. Eventually there will come a time when we put pondering aside so that we can sit with friends at a coffee shop, tell our stories, and hug each other when all is said and done.

SEASONS: The 90s Collection

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SEASONS: The 90s Collection

DREAMS: The 90s Collection

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DREAMS: The 90s Collection
THE RECKLESS ONES: The 90s Collection

VANITIES: The 90s Collection

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VANITIES: The 90s Collection

VOWS: The 90s Collection

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VOWS: The 90s Collection

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Figuring Out What Our Characters Want

October 12, 2019 by in category The Writing Journey by Denise Colby tagged as , ,
Blog title page Figuring Out What Our Characters Want by Denise M. Colby. Black and white background faded photo of people walking around

When writing a story, writers need to ask the question “What do we think our characters want?”

On the surface that may sound like an easy question, but when I was a new writer, I found it very challenging. Probably because I had a hard time knowing what I wanted for myself. 

Never one to make decisions quickly, choosing what to wear or what I wanted to eat for dinner was not always simple. Deciding on what restaurant to go to or what movie to watch was a loaded question in our house, since my husband and I usually came from opposite ends and had to find a compromise. For some reason, as a younger me, I would discount my own desires or not really care. I even had a ex-boyfriend ask me what I wanted once, and even though I had basic goals and dreams, things I liked to do and be a part of, I was unsure how to answer specifically. 

Maybe I was too afraid to be so definitive. Or I wanted to make sure I would be really happy with my decision. Or I liked to blend in with whomever I was hanging out with. Who knows. All that’s to say, asking “What does our Hero want? What does our Heroine want?” over and over made me realize I had to dig deeper in defining myself as well as my characters if I wanted to write a story.

So how do we get inside our characters head and ask what they want?

Background pic of helping hands with words overlaid saying Five Different Techniques to Help You Dive Deep in figuring out what your characters want. Blog post by Denise M. Colby

I worked on five different techniques to help me dive deep:

1. Pay attention to the world around you. Not just in general, but to each individual.

I started paying deeper attention to the different nuances in my friends and family. Never wanting to judge, I purposely didn’t focus on differences or quirks, but as a writer, that’s what makes our characters unique and special. And it’s those quirks that we love in our friends and family, isn’t it?

2. People watch.

Take a look and watch people’s faces for reactions and try and guess what they are thinking. My husband and I love to do our date nights at Disneyland. It’s a great place to people watch. There are so many different personalities to watch and observe and try and figure out a background story for them.

3. Pay attention to what vehicle someone drives. 

I don’t know why, but I love trucks. And when I see a vehicle I like I tend to look at who is driving it and what their story is. I probably could make up a lot of stories this way, but right now I’m focusing on time periods without vehicles, so I’m packing away these observances for a later time. But the exercise has helped me practice defining characters. If it’s not a vehicle, you could pick some other item such as a house, a pet, or clothes. What type of person would choose…

4. Make a decision and stick with it. 

I don’t know why, but this has been difficult for me. I ask too many ‘what ifs’. Just pick one and write from that perspective. If you need to change it later, that’s okay. Decisiveness helps you move forward. Originally, I couldn’t decide on any particular personality and so my heroine was everything. There was no uniqueness that I could specifically use to forward her story. I had to go back and be more clear-cut and unambiguous. Which leads me to my last point.

5. Be more specific with the smaller details.

In the beginning I was really vague with what I thought my characters wanted. It made it harder to write a scene. When I started my second book’s draft, I had defined my characters more before I wrote and had a stronger idea who they were and what they wanted. I found it was so much easier to write from their point of view that way. All those decisions made a difference!

faded picture of people standing in circle with different shoes and title overlay It's All In The Details Blog post by Denise M. Colby

So as you work on your first book or your twentieth, I hope this gives you some fresh perspective in helping you flush out your characters. I had jotted notes down about this blog topic early on in my writing journey. It was one of those aha moments that really helped me break through a hurdle I had in flushing out my story.

Since then I’ve learned more about myself, too. 

Thanks for reading,


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May 15, 2019 by in category The Write Life by Rebecca Forster tagged as , , , , ,

The other day I was musing about muses. This was a rather convoluted process that went something like this:

I want to write but I don’t have an idea. I should write, but I’m bummed because I don’t have an idea. I could write if I had a great idea. I need to get one and until I do, I’ll watch TV. There’s a movie on TV called The Muse. I’ll watch The Muse and get inspired.

This is how the musing went after the movie.

The Muse is awful. She’s demanding, self-centered, and doesn’t care about the writer’s work. Still, the he sees something in her. What does he see in her? I want a muse. I just don’t want a muse like that.

I turned off the TV, obsessed with the idea of getting a muse. I just had to figure out where to get one. Since I’d never actually seen a muse, I decided I better find out exactly what I was looking for.

In the dictionary, the first definition of muse is to be thrown into a deep state of dreamy abstraction. The second is a noun, naming any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology that preside over song, poetry, the arts and sciences. The third definition is the one we think of most often, a human source of inspiration or a guiding genius.

With this information in hand, I analyzed my career and realized that a muse has guided me every step of the way. I have often found myself lost in a dream state inspired by another writer. Their work has more often than not sparked an idea for a book of my own or a shown me a new way of laying a story foundation or become a point of reference for an essential building block.

The second definition – the naming of the goddesses – is a matter of inspirational faith. I have always believed that there is ‘something’ hovering over artists that not only encourages the creative soul, but also gives it the courage needed to present its work to a critical public.

That brings us back to the movie and the third definition of muse: the source of inspiration that we can touch and talk to. For some people this is one person, for me it has been many. I don’t call them muses; I call them friends, lovers, family and colleagues. Each step of my career was inspired and moved forward by the muse of the moment, the one person I needed just then.

There was the high school teacher who told me I wrote well, my husband who rescued by early attempts from the trashcan, my children who proudly said their mom was a writer. As the years went on and the books piled up, there were editors who trained me and readers who cheered me on, inspiring me to be better at my craft. All these people were – as definition three would have us believe – guiding geniuses.

It doesn’t matter if they knew the roll they played in my writing. What matters is that I wrote because of them and never in spite of them. The truth is, all you have to do to find a muse is open your eyes, your mind, and your heart. That muse is there – sometimes where you least expect it.

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It’s My Birthday . . . Again!

June 15, 2018 by in category The Write Life by Rebecca Forster, Writing tagged as , , , , , ,

My birthday is June 16. I only know it’s my birthday because my husband keeps reminding me of the date, asking me what I want, and telling me we should celebrate. He has to do this because, in my family, I am legendary for not remembering birthdays. I forget my sister’s birthday even though we were born on the same day but fourteen years apart. My birthday piggybacks Father’s Day, too. I remember Father’s Day because there are lots of TV commercials for steaks, tools and aftershave. Rebecca’s birthday? Not so much.

There is also the matter of age. After the shock of the first AARP envelope at forty, the assisted living brochures at fifty and the burial at sea pitches when I turned sixty, I started taking birthdays in stride. Seriously, there isn’t much that can surprise me anymore on the aging score.

Lest you think me a birthday Scrooge, let me share the one thing I love about birthdays. I love the memory of them. When I was a little girl my mom threw awesome birthday parties for my brothers and sisters and me. I was number two in a six-pack and birthdays were celebrated with the neighborhood kids, balloons and a big homemade cake. In the backyard, we played tag, hide-and-seek and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. There were prizes for the winners but everyone went home with a gift bag. Even at my own birthday party it was that little gift bag I treasured most.  I adored that there was always more than one thing: a couple pieces of candy, a silly toy that would break a day later, a paper crown. This bag was a treasure hunt, something unexpected, some thing that, in those lean days, mom would never buy just because. Those parties taught me that unexpected gifts can be the best things in the world.

So, in honor of my mother and the memories of those wonderful parties, I would like to give you a gift. Before Her Eyes is a thriller that will hopefully keep you up at night, but it’s also a very personal story, written when both my dad and my father-in-law were ill. It is a gift of my craft and a little bit of me thrown in to boot and it’s all wrapped up in the memory of a child’s party.

ClaimBefore Her Eyes here until July 1:






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What a Dog: why you need a pet in your book

May 15, 2018 by in category The Write Life by Rebecca Forster tagged as , , , , , , , ,

My granddog Tucker & Max roll model

Today a lady wrote to tell me she loved my book Hostile Witness* because I hadn’t killed Max. I’ve been traveling a lot in the last few weeks and it took me a minute to figure out who Max was and why it was so important to her that he was alive. Max, of course, is Josie Bates’ dog; Josie is the heroine of the Witness Series. The reader’s concern for Max made me wonder why a book that includes an animal is richer, more entertaining, and more engaging than one without?

The answer is simple. Pets provide a natural assist in plot, dialogue and emotional content.

Max-the-Dog (his legal name) was originally created as a reflection of Josie Bates, his mistress. Both Max and Josie had been abandoned, had to fight for their lives, and were protective of others. As the series unfolded, though, Max became so much more than Josie’s mirror. Here are four ways Max contributed to the success of the Witness Series:

Max kicked up human action/reaction: Those who attack him were inherently more evil than a bad guy who ignored him. Those who love Max were more admirable because they cared for and protect him.

Max was a great listener:Internal dialogue can be tedious. However, speculation, rhetorical questions, or monologues sound natural when directed at pets.

Max changed the tone: A scene tone can be set by the way a human character speaks to or interacts with an animal counterpart. A whispered warning creates a much different tone than a screaming command; a languid pet conjures up different visions than a playful ruffling of fur.

Max moved the plot forward:An animal’s needs can change a human character’s trajectory. In Privileged Witness, when Josie takes Max out for his evening constitutional they find her fugitive client hiding outside. Without Max, Josie would have no reason to go outside and never would have discovered her client. An animal’s heightened senses can also warn of danger or alert a human to a change in their surroundings without the scene seeming forced.

From The Hound of the Baskervilles to Lassie and Blue Dog, My Friend Flicka and The Black Stallion, The Cheshire Cat and Puss-in-Boots, animals have frolicked as humans, served to reflect human frailties and strengths, and just plain worked their way into reader’s hearts.

So, to the kind lady who was concerned about Max, have no fear. He will never come to a violent end. No matter what happens to him, his presence or lack thereof, will be a decision motivated by story and plot and, of course, love. Max has sat at my psychic feet with every Witness Series book.

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