Showing posts with label tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tips. Show all posts

12 September 2022

The Shapes of Names to Be


Jessica Dall
Author Jessica Dall

I bumped into Jessica Dall when I stumbled upon an essay regarding word shapes. I identified when she confessed to being a name nerd. At one time, I’d written a program that harvested 60 000-some names from the web, including numerous details such as meaning, ethnicity, cognates, and variants. One of the basic rules is to avoid giving characters names with the same leading character (which I’ve flagrantly violated in an upcoming AHMM story). But Jessica brought something new (to me). I had to share her with our mystery colleagues.

Jessica Dall is the author of such novels as Forever Bound and The Stars of Heaven. She has written across an array of genres, though her love of history and romance always seems to find a way into her work. Born and raised in southern California, she now resides in Maryland with her husband and daughter. When not living vicariously through her characters, she enjoys travel, crafting, and helping others with their own writing journey.

You can find her on her web site, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

SleuthSayers, I’m pleased to introduce Jessica Dall.

— Leigh


Name Shapes
by
Jessica Dall

 

Picking names for characters is both one of my favorite and one of the most annoying parts of character building when I’m starting a new book. On the first hand, I’m a name nerd. I love looking at popularity lists and name meanings, finding things that would fit the setting I’m creating. On the other hand, names can really affect how a reader connects with a character—sometimes on a subconscious level. Even in the real world, a 2003 study by the University of Chicago found that traditionally “White-sounding” names received fifty percent more interview requests than identical resumes with traditionally “Black-sounding” ones. And when it comes to fiction, there is the added pressure of making sure that (1) you don’t break suspension of disbelief by using a name that feels wildly out of place for your setting (sometimes even when they would actually fit. See “the Tiffany problem”) and (2) you don’t trip a reader up while they are reading.

While this latter point can be a problem simple from a name being very complicated (if you have a fantasy character named F’thasheewerbhion, the reader is most likely either going to need to slow down to try to sound it out, breaking the flow of the story, or just think of the character as “F…whatever” the entire book) it can also be an issue with even common names that are easily confused with one another (for example, Alex and Alec).

Jessica Dall – Forever Bound

One thing you quickly learn as an author when you’re ask to do readings is that you need to practice out loud. This isn’t only to make sure you get the delivery right, but it is the only way to make sure you have the right amount to read for your time slot. Everyone’s reading and speaking speeds obviously differ, but it is easily possible to read an extra hundred words a minute in your head than reading aloud— a difference that quickly stacks up in a ten-, fifteen-, or even thirty-minute reading.

Part of the way that people can read so much more quickly in their heads is that brains often take in the “shape” of familiar words and phrases and fill in what should be there are you move forward. This is how even several rounds of professional editing can sometimes not catch typos like missing or repeated words. Your brain is expecting to read “top of the class,” not “top of class,” and skips over the fact that that isn’t what’s on the page. It is because of this phenomenon that some writers suggest not starting character names with the same letter. Where F’thasheewerbhion may become “F-whatever” to keep the reader from needing to sound it out, even a “simple” name like Alan might register mostly as the “A” with the reader’s brain filling in “Alan” much like it fills in the missing “the” above. If there is then a “Alice” on the same page, a reader subconsciously doing this would need to slow down and figure out which character is doing what versus getting caught up in the action.

Jessica Dall - Stars of Heaven

Personally, I don’t subscribe to anything that austere. For example, in my most recent novel, Forever Bound, there is both a Cormac and a Colm. While there is possibly some room for confusion, I felt comfortable using both because they don’t have the same name “shape.” While some readers’ brains may take the first letter and run with it, I find it is more common for people to take in the entire shape of the word, even while reading quickly. Because of that, the issue with Alan and Alice isn’t only that they both start with A, but that the shape of the two names is relatively similar. They are an A followed by a “tall” letter (l) and then close to the same number of “short” letters. This makes them visually very similar to a quick reader. Alternatively, “Cormac” is a C followed by all short letters and “Colm” is a shorter name with a tall letter in the third spot. This makes them more visually different even at first glance.

To note, I also took into consideration the fact that these two characters never share a scene together. This separation also makes it less likely for the reader to get tripped up versus in, say, a quick back and forth dialogue. Similarly, I don’t worry about minor characters who aren’t active players in the story as much as I do those often front and center. For example, in another novel, The Stars of Heaven, I have both a João and a John.

Normally, these would be too visually similar for me to feel comfortable using. However, since João is a very minor character, only ever mentioned a few times in exposition, I wasn’t worried about readers getting confused, and thus I felt free to indulge myself (I specifically made the choice since it means that both characters are more or less named John (João is the Portuguese equivalent). Since the book takes place in the eighteenth century, when John was an exceedingly popular name choice, it seemed fitting. I also found it amusing, since both characters are sailors and so linked by the name).

When it comes to naming characters, though, I always suggest writers pay attention not only to if the name fits their setting, but if it will affect readability. A big part of this is paying attention to name shapes. Namely (pun intended), you should look if two names you are using are similar lengths and have tall (e.g. “l, f, b”) short (e.g. “s, r, o”) or long (e.g. “y, g, p”) letters in similar places. Where it’s relatively easy for readers to keep track of who’s speaking when it’s Anne and Alexander having a conversation, it’s going to force some people to backtrack and lose the flow of the story if it’s Alex and Alec. All those little things really help shape the experience of reading the story in a way many don’t think about.

04 September 2022

Bloom Where You’re Planted


Richard Helms
Richard Helms

Allow me to introduce my friend and wonderful writer, Richard ‘Rick’ Helms, author of a zillion award-winning novels and short stories, a man who’s received more nominations than an Iowa caucus. A former forensic psychologist, he oozes Southern charm and he’s witty and modest as well.

He and his wife Elaine live in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he still muscles out superb stories. You can find more about him on his web site. Now read on…

— Jan Grape



Bloom Where You’re Planted
by
Richard Helms

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
— Ernest Hemingway

I wrote my first full-length novel forty years ago. It wasn't published for another eighteen years, after going through dozens of submissions and two different agents. The Valentine Profile is still out there, and—being my first work—it's perfectly horribly awful, and I hang my head in shame every time I think about it. Please don't buy it. Or buy a caseload. You do you.

Despite years of disappointment and an almost legendary number of rejections, I persisted, and wrote four or five more novels, which also weren't published for many years. With each new title, I tried to stretch and improve, and each new book was incrementally better than the last.

I was always reminded of Raymond Chandler’s advice to analyze and imitate. Not surprisingly, most of my first half dozen or so novels are extremely derivative of the authors I was reading at the time—Robert Ludlum, David Morrell, David Hagberg, James Lee Burke, Robert B. Parker, and the like. It takes time to find your voice as an author, so for a while you borrow other people’s voices. There are those who still say—and they aren’t far wrong—that my Eamon Gold private eye series is still just Spenser transported to the west coast.

For years, I didn't even consider writing short stories. I didn't think I had the chops. Like many new writers, I presumed that real authors wrote novels—huge sweeping panoramas of human greed, suffering, conflict, passion, and inevitable death. I earned a Russian Studies minor in college—long story—and might have been influenced a bit by Tolstoy. Somewhere in the recesses of my autistic head, short stories were for quitters who put down Anna Karenina on only page 534.

More than that, though, I was convinced I couldn't say everything I wanted to in only a few thousand words. I thought that was a special skill, like shorthand, and I was playing hooky the day they handed it out.

This is really strange, because my most treasured physical possession is a book of—you guessed it—short stories.

It was my first ‘grown-up’ book. We were moving from Charlotte to Atlanta a week or so after I finished first grade, and our neighbors’ oldest son, who might have been twelve at the time, crossed the street as we were packing our car for the move to Georgia. He handed me a paperback book. He probably said something like, “My mom and dad said you like to read and stuff, and I had this lying around, so you can have it, okay?”

I prefer to remember the moment in the same emotional vein as the Lady in the Lake hefting aloft the mighty Excalibur, presenting it to Arthur. It was a turning point in my young life.

The book was Groff Conklin’s Big Book of Science Fiction. It was an anthology cobbled together from classic pulp science fiction magazines of the 1940s. There were stories by Lester Del Rey, Ray Bradbury, John D. McDonald, Murray Leinster, Fredric Brown, Clifford D. Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, and many more. As we tooled down the blue highways between Charlotte and Atlanta, I huddled in the backseat floor—as kids did sixty years ago—and read about robots and rockets and tiny unconscious homunculi used as currency and a funny alien named Mewhu and a man and a dog transformed into Jupiterian beings and time travel and all sorts of amazing concepts I’d never thought of before.

A lot of it didn’t make sense to me and was confusing, but most of it was amazing and astounding and made my little seven-year-old heart flutter. Groff Conklin’s Big Book of Science Fiction was my gateway drug to adult literature and pulp fiction at the same time. Dick and Jane? I didn’t care if they ran. I wanted to know why they ran. Why were they being chased? What horrible thing did they do? Dick and Jane might have been okay for the other second graders. I yearned for more. Groff Conklin’s Big Book of Science Fiction fed that hunger, and for the first time in my life, I understood that stories didn’t just happen, as Richard Brautigan wrote, like lint. Somebody had to write them.

Groff Conklin’s Big Book of Science Fiction is still my most prized physical possession. It resides in a special place on my bookshelf at home. If the house ever catches fire, I will see that Elaine and the cat are out, and then I’ll rescue the book. Everything else can be replaced. This book can’t, for one reason.

Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon autograph

In 1978, I had dinner at UNC-Greensboro with Theodore Sturgeon and his partner, Lady Jayne. He was a guest of honor at a sci-fi convention at the college. He had written the story “Mewhu’s Jet” in my Sacred Book. I brought the by-then tattered paperback with me, and at a probably clumsy moment I thrust it into his hands and told him the story of how this book changed my reading life—and eventually inspired me to become a writer as well. He took one look at it, and said, “This book has been well-loved”, and he signed the first page of his story.

Sturgeon is long gone now, dead for over forty years. His autograph in my book with the added ‘Q’ with an arrow he used to symbolize “Ask the Next Question” can never be replaced. So the book gets rescued.

As illuminating as it was, Groff Conklin’s Big Book of Science Fiction was also intimidating. To me, the authors in those pages were giants, superhumans endowed with powers far beyond the grasp of mortal scribblers. They captured entire universes in five or six thousand words, and I was not worthy to look upon their visages.

So, I wrote novel after novel after novel. Twenty-five now and counting. Some were squibs. Some were award finalists. Not one of them has ever sold more than 1500 copies. That’s probably my fault, as I am much more comfortable tapping on a keyboard than pressing flesh. A born salesman, I am decidedly not.

In 2006, I decided to start a webzine publishing hardboiled and noir short stories, and solicited submissions on all the usual email listservs, the Facebook and Twitter of the day. Within weeks, I was swamped with submissions, a great number of which had been penned by Edgar and Shamus and Anthony Award winners. I was shocked.

Reading all those stories by such distinguished writers gave me an opportunity again to analyze and imitate. I pulled out my old trusty copy of Groff Conklin’s Big Book of Science Fiction, and I read those stories again as well. As I read, I discovered that the stories that had cowed me so completely decades earlier now made sense. I could recognize the use of a three-act structure and the economy of language in them. I had a little peek underneath the magicians’ capes. I thought, perhaps, I might be able to write in this strange, truncated style after all.

In 2006, I was mowing the grass and came up with an idea for my third Eamon Gold novel. Started working on it, and realized there wasn't enough there for a book, but it might make a nice short story. Longtime buddy Kevin Burton Smith published it on his Thrilling Detective Website, ("The Gospel According to Gordon Black") and it went on to win the Derringer Award that year. I had also written a short story for my own webzine, The Back Alley, entitled "Paper Walls/Glass Houses", and darned if it didn't win the Derringer as well.

No shit, dear readers. My first two published short stories were award winners, and made me one of only two authors ever to win the Derringer in two different categories in the same year. (The other is the incredibly prolific and masterful John Floyd.) Nobody was more surprised than I.

So I wrote another one, based on a failed Pat Gallegher novel, and retitled it "The Gods For Vengeance Cry." On a flyer, I sent it in to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and by golly Janet Hutchings bought it! It went on to garner nominations for the Derringer, Macavity, and Thriller Awards, and won the 2011 Thriller Award.

Yeah. My first THREE published short stories won awards. The fourth, "Silicon Kings" was also a Derringer finalist.

Clearly, it was time to reevaluate my writing priorities.

For almost a quarter century, before Kevin kindly published "The Gospel According to Gordon Black", I had always presumed that I was first and foremost a novelist, however obscure and failed. I had been conditioned to believe the fallacy that novels hold an exalted spot in literature. While I had enjoyed some limited critical acclaim with my novels, the sudden shocking success of the short stories left me wondering whether I had wasted thirty years of my writing life.

It’s a good thing I’m not into regrets.

Over the last fifteen years, I've embraced the idea that I might actually be a short story writer who dabbles in writing novels. I have six Shamus Award nominations (and one win) for my novels, but my short stories have garnered a mind-boggling fourteen nominations, and have won the Thriller, Shamus, and Derringer Awards. One story I wrote for anthology editor and master story craftsman Michael Bracken (“See Humble and Die”, in The Eyes of Texas, for Down and Out Books) was selected for the 2020 edition of Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt’s Best American Mystery Stories, edited by Otto Penzler and C. J. Box.

And the hits just keep coming. Several years ago, the Republican National Convention was held in my hometown of Charlotte, NC. As happens in many cities, Charlotte made a concerted effort to get rid of the many homeless people who cluster each night along uptown Tryon Street, because images of people sleeping on bus stop benches make for bad national TV. I read an article about it in the news, and my first thought was that sweeping the streets of homeless people might make an excellent cover for a murder. Kill a homeless guy, hide the body, and everyone would think he was just given ‘Greyhound Therapy’—a bus ticket and twenty bucks to go somewhere (anywhere) else.  I let the idea cook in my head for a week or two, mostly coming up with a compelling protagonist, and then I started typing. I threw in some stories I’d heard about living on the streets from my hippie buddies back in the early 1970s. The resulting story, "Sweeps Week" (EQMM, July August 2021) won the Shamus this year, and is a finalist for the Macavity at Bouchercon next week.

My wife said, “You know, you might have a knack for this.”

Sometimes I have to shake my head when I realize that one story in EQMM is seen (and hopefully read) by more people than have read all my novels put together. That's humbling, but also exciting. Unlike each new book, which might flop or fly, or even go completely ignored, the stories are being read. Nothing is more important to a writer.

A Kind and Savage Place (novel)

I still write novels. Earlier this year, Level Best Books’ New Arc imprint published A Kind and Savage Place, which traces the evolution of civil rights in the south as experienced by the citizens of a small North Carolina farming community. Next year, their Historia imprint will publish Vicar Brekonridge, a novel based on my Derringer Award-nominated EQMM short story “The Cripplegate Apprehension.” I recently finished a massive novel called 22 Rue Montparnasse, about the Lost Generation in post-WWI Paris, and I’m about ready to set sail on another novel about Laurel Canyon in the 1960s, inspired by the music of the late Nashville songwriter Larry Jon Wilson. None of these, with the possible exception of Vicar Brekonridge, is a traditional mystery story. Writing mystery short stories has freed me to explore other genres in my novel-length works, and to write the more mainstream and historical stories that I’ve back-burnered for years.

For now, though, my plan is to spend 2023 focused mostly on short stories. I’ve discovered that they are intensely rewarding. In what other medium can you come up with an idea on Tuesday, write “The End” on Friday, and people will buy it (hopefully)? In the same way I truly enjoy diving into massive amounts of research for a sweeping historical novel, I love the spontaneous nature of short stories. They’re almost like zen paintings, executed in seconds only after days of contemplation. The typing is only the last stage of storytelling. First, the story has to live inside your head. As Edward Albee once taught me in a master class, “Never put a sentence on the page until it can write itself.”

Living on the autistic spectrum, it would have been easy to stay rigidly glued to the novel-writing path. Comforting, even. Stability, structure, and adherence to a long-standing pattern of behavior is kind of a big deal among my neurodivergent tribe. Gritting my teeth, shutting my eyes, holding my breath, and breaking out and trying something new fifteen years ago turned out to make a huge difference in my writing life, and opened the door to a level of authorly satisfaction I had never known before.

My point is this (and it doesn't apply only to writing): The secret of happiness, I think, is to find your sunny spot and bloom where you're planted. If you beat your head against a door for years without an answer, maybe you're at the wrong door. I spent twenty-five relatively unhappy years working as a clinical/forensic psychologist, but only found career joy when I followed my true calling and became a teacher. Likewise, when I embraced short stories, the flower of my writing career blossomed.

Sometimes, it's a good idea to step back, survey the Big Picture, and figure out exactly where you fit into it, as opposed to where you want to fit. Life has a way of showing you the paths you need to tread, if you’re open to looking for them. A simple jink to the left or right could change your entire life. But, wherever you land, it should be the place that makes you happiest. Living as a tortured literary artist slaving in a dusty garret may be a romantic notion, but it isn’t much fun.

Sometimes, you win by trading one dream for another.

01 September 2022

A Loose Compendium of the Worst Writing Advice Ever


So I recently watched a video by Paul Davids,  a musician I follow on YouTube, with the intriguing title: "The WORST musical advice ever given." Davids, an accomplished musician in his own right, went to a trade show in Anaheim, and recorded a number of musicians, well-known and obscure alike, to respond to the prompt question in no more than thirty seconds. 


The results were pretty entertaining (If you have the time, go take a look. It's not very long, and wellworth your investment), and surprisingly not far off from some of the advice I received when starting out as a new writer. And that got me thinking: what would the responses to this sort of prompt be from writer types?

So I put it out there, and got a lot of interesting responses. I've posted them below, with attribution of at least the name of the writer giving the response, with more if I knew it/could find quickly. So let's take a look, and once we've worked our way through these responses, I'll top it off with my own take on "The worst writing advice I've ever received."

Here we go!

***********

Worst for me? “NEVER EVER use exclamation points.”

I say, what about “Help. I’m drowning.” versus “Help! I’m drowning!”?

For sure, don’t overuse them, but sometimes they’re appropriate.

 – James W. Ziskin ANTHONY, BARRY, & MACAVITY Award-winning author of the Ellie Stone Mysteries. Finalist for the EDGAR, AGATHA, and LEFTY Awards.

Syd Fields in his screenwriting book says avoid bummer endings. And that killed humanist film making in the US per screenwriter/producer Kirk Ellis (John Adams, Into the West). And it wasn't just films that suffered, in my opinion.

 – David Corbett Recovering Catholic, NYT  Notable author of THE ART OF CHARACTER, six novels, dozens of stories, numerous scripts, and too many poems.

Show Don't Tell. In reality it should be Show AND Tell.

 – Robert Gregory Browne, Bestselling author of  the TRIAL JUNKIES series and the FOURTH DIMENSION THRILLERS. Co-founder and Creative Director at Braun Haus Media, LLC.

Over my career as a playwright, a few have suggested I end a play with a “button.” But I’ve learned how hollow those throwaway tags can feel. It’s better to leave the audience with an open loop (some mystery, a question) so they are still “activated” long after “end of play.”

 – Audrey Cefaly, Calicchio Prize-winning and Pulitzer-nominated playwright.

I did a whole presentation on this at @WCSUWritingMFA...but, basically, any "viral" writing rule is horseshit...there is only ONE rule..."does it work?"

 – Matthew Quinn Martin Author of the NIGHTLIFE series, and sometime screenwriter.

I was told early on to get a fall back job.  I disliked the advice and ignored it.  By my mid-20s I was making a living writing freelance, getting grants and being paid to write a feature film.  You cannot retreat if you have a fall back position.  Always go forward.

 – Richard Vetere Author of the novels THE WRITER'S AFTERLIFE and CHAMPGAGNE AND COCAINE. 

"Write what you know." Bad because it's so limiting, and destroys the joy of discovering and exploring worlds (or stories rather) that you don't know...yet.

 – Robert Alexander Wray, Marc A. Klein Award-winning playwright of over a dozen works, including LOOKING GLASS ELEGY and MELANCHOLY ECHO.

There is a great deal of bad advice on Pinterest. Some of the worst is never use big words, do not use adverbs or adjutives, keep all sentences to three words.

 – Art Rickard

You can’t edit till you finish a novel. I get why, but it’s just not my process and I lost time trying to do it this way.

 – Robin Lemke

Any writing advice that tells me I MUST do this or that - whether it's writing an outline, zero draft, or whatever. Leave me alone, I'll write my own way, thank you.

 – Marty Wingate

"Bad" advice: Any pressure or encouragement to plot/outline.

Reasoning: Outlining demotivates me, creates extra work that isn't useful to the process I follow, and (for me specifically) it removes some of the humor/zing/unexpectedness from my work.

 – Kate Baray

Worst advice ever: “Do as much research as possible before you write even one word.” For years, I wasted months on research before writing “even one word.” It was a way to procrastinate and we writers are experts at procrastination. When I finally actually started the writing, I’d often discover that because the plot wasn’t working or the characters didn’t come alive, I’d have to start all over, often not needing or using any of the material. In a workshop facilitated by Elizabeth George, she advised to FIRST spend time & energy on character development/exploration and plotting because readers connect with characters, second with plot, and lastly with the areas that need research. “Focus your time and energy on the actual craft of writing,” she advised, “and not the technical stuff.”

 – Shannon Walker

Write what you know. If that advice had been followed we'd never have had Tarzan, Conan, and many others.

 – Bob Napier

Any absolute rule. Never do prologues or flashbacks

 – Leslie Hall, writing instructor and author of the Kaitlyn Willis Roadsigns Mysteries

"Never use any dialog tag other than 'said'" pisses me off every time. "Said" is too narrow and bland for sarcasm, fury, pain, desperation, or fear.

 – Kat Richardson, author of the bestselling GREYWALKER novels.

Any advice that begins with the words "always" or "never."

 – J. R. Sanders

Two pieces of contradictory advice: 1. If you want to sell a manuscript, read what editors are currently publishing and write something like that. 2. Don't chase trends. By the time you write your story, the editors will be sick of it and switch to a new trend.

 – Thomas P. Hopp, scientist and author of such modern day disaster epics as RAINIER ERUPTS! and THE GREAT SEATTLE EARTHQUAKE.

"Spend more than your advance on promo." Bad, BAD advice. Took me years and cashing in an old IRA to pay it off.

 –Jeri Westerson, author of the Crispin Guest medieval mystery series.

Not me, but a friend was told by his high school English teacher to always use as many qualifiers as possible, that way no one can ever prove you wrong.

 – Larry Cebula

Senior year of college, "First Novels" class teacher: "You seem to be using humor to hide from true emotion." Almost ended me as a writer, took nearly twenty years to recover from.

 – Cornelia Read, author A FIELD OF DARKNESS and THE CRAZY SCHOOL.

"Get a real job."

 – Bill Fitzhugh, former radio comedian, DJ, and author of HEART SEIZURE, HUMAN RESOURCES, and THE ORGAN GRINDERS. 

"Write what you know." Makes for a very boring book.

 – Michael W. Sherer, author of the Blake Sanders thriller series.

"Write what you know." Should be: "Write what you know or can find out."

 –Ed Goldberg

Write what you loathe.

 – Michael Fowles

"Write better."

 – Justin D. Park

"Keep your day job."

 – Elizabeth Sims

"Write while you hold down a job." I wrote a little, but it wasn't very good because I have to do rewrites and "rethinks."

 – Marilyn Holt

"Write what you know."

 – David B. Schlosser

Last, but not least, I received the following from my old friend and fellow Sleuthsayer R.T. Lawton, who has been under the weather lately, and to whom I am wishing the speediest of recoveries. Too good not to share in its entirety! Thanks R.T.!

The worst writing advice I received, came from two different university English professors.

The first professor gave me a D in his creative writing class and told me I would never learn to write. Finding that I had other talents which would serve me well in a subsequent career, this final grade never appeared on my graduation transcript. Don’t ask.

As for the second professor, I had returned from my two years, nine months, twenty-nine days with the army, having been granted a sixty-day drop in order to go back to college. Shortly after arriving on campus, I took some of my war poems to the English Department and conversed with a professor. He read the poems and politely did not encourage me to continue in this endeavor. His point was made, so be it.

This does not mean my current published work is anything close to literary. Let’s just say it is commercially bent and that the two professors merely had a different view on the subject at that point in time as they looked down from their ivory towers.

It was about five years after graduation from university that I read a short story in a biker magazine, told myself I could do better and sat down to write. The process was longhand on a yellow legal pad with many scissor cuts and subsequent joining with Scotch tape, so that no two pages were the same length. The original cut- and-paste method. And, yes, I did hunt-and-peck the manuscript out on an electric typewriter before submitting by snail-mail. The biker magazine bought and published the story. I was on my way.

Had I taken the advice of those two professors, then I would never have had the pleasure of meeting at conferences, chaptermeetings, critique groups and readings all those wonderful people who write. A very interesting group. I would not have had over160 published short stories. I would also not have had the privilege of Edgar setting on my writing desk, nor of being nominated for a Macavity.

Work hard, learn and follow your dreams.

 – R.T. Lawton, Edgar Award-winning short story writer.

***********

And how's that for a last word? 

Thanks to all who chimed in. And if you've got a good piece of bad writing advice, feel free to weigh in in the comments section below.

See you in two weeks!

07 November 2021

Professional Tips – Kindle Edition


e-reader spilling books

Blatant Teaser

If you’re a Kindle owner and avid consumer of ebooks, today’s hottest tip will more than repay the price of your SleuthSayers subscription. This article includes a startlingly simple way to open your Kindle to the vast library of ePub titles available to everyone… except Kindle users.

Most of my comments are directed toward the Kindle PaperWhite. The Kindle Fire is a different machine with different capabilities. For example, you can ‘side-load’ Android apps to read formats and read aloud that the Kindle e-Ink tablets won’t allow.

But first…

Self-editing is at best problematic. Once a draft is completed, we must first rid a text of errors and then refine and smooth the writing. I’m not alone in this, but I may be more prone to skid-reading than many of my colleagues.

In latter stages of the editing process, I read a story aloud and have the computer read it back to me. I’ve discovered reading from different platforms (laptop, desktop, tablet, even a printed page) often reveals bugs that may have lurked for ages, defying me to spot them.

I like to take a break from the computer, load a document on my tablet, put my feet up on the sofa, and either read or let the tablet read to me. Android and Apple app stores offer several free programs that will do this. Most accept the world’s most common format, .ePub, but not the proprietary Amazon formats, AZW, AZW3, KF8, KFX, MOBI, and so on. Likewise, Kindles refuse to read ePub formats, locking readers into the Amazon ‘eco-system’.

One of the early Kindle models would read aloud documents, but what Amazon giveth (albeit for lots of money), Amazon taketh away. When Amazon announced that functionality had returned in later PaperWhite models, they limited it to Kindle commands for the visually impaired and Audible™ books.

Proprietary formats have been a problem throughout the ereader industry, following the same history of word processors, the first practical programs for personal computers. Companies would throw up fences around their products, refusing to write to ‘foreign’ file types and making it as difficult as possible for others to read theirs. The most common ebook format is ePub, the open technical standard published by the International Digital Publishing Forum, a standard Kindle will not read.

eReaders

  • Amazon Kindle dominates about 80% of the North American market, much less so in other parts of the world. Its native formats are .azw and .mobi.
  • Rakuten Kobo (Kobo is an anagram of book) is the only major global competitor to Amazon. They sell worldwide, everywhere except the US. That may change with their partnership with Walmart.
  • Pocketbook is sold mainly in Oceania and states of the former Soviet Union.
  • Barnes & Noble Nook (and Samsung Nook) was one of the first ereaders on the market, quickly steamrolled by Amazon. They have a spotty market mostly in the US.

eFFective (not)

I have a relatively recent Kindle PaperWhite that I occasionally use, but its strict limitations on what I can load onto it usually leave it on the shelf. Seldom do I bother to create .mobi files just for the Kindle. It’s far easier to use an iPad or Android tablet with free third-party apps to read free ebooks.

eAuthors?

I’ve been experimenting loading on Microsoft Word .docx and .rtf files. Using the eReader, I can mark up manuscripts by pressing a word, expanding the range of the word if necessary, and then typing in a note of the text I want to change. Unlike a Word-type app on a tablet where I might change the text directly, I’m restricted to marking up text, but that can be useful.

In-Line Markups
  List of Markups
Kindle screen with notes and highlights
Kindle screen with notes expanded

Usually I note the change, which I then effect when I return to my computer. Initially, I keyed in ‘Del’ for deletion of a word or phrase, but now I simply highlight the words (using the same mechanism), which serves to remind me what has to go.

Kindle notation number in box

The main visual difference is that a note will contain an identifying superscript number in a tiny box. When tapped, the note pops up in a window.

Amazon.com can display Kindle notes and highlights in a browser window, which would be wonderfully convenient for editing but… forget that route for now. Once again, Amazon permits browser viewing of notes only for books purchased from them. Amazon giveth, Amazon taketh away.

In case you’re wondering, that special URL is

SleuthSayers Auto-Magical, Tremendous, Stupendous,
Super-Fantastically All Powerful, Fabulous Kindle Tip

You have a Kindle PaperWhite and would like to read an .epub file on it, one that Amazon won’t allow. If you email it to your kindle.com address, you’ll receive a message like this:

Dear Customer,
The following document, sent at 11:04 PM on Sat, Nov 06, 2021
GMT could not be delivered to the Kindle you specified:
    * ExoticEroticRomanceNo54.epub

Uh-oh. But try the following additional step, which might be a programmer’s ‘back door’. I have no other logical explanation why this works… it just does.

  1. Rename your ebook extension from .epub to .png … that’s right, the graphics format. For example, rename your novel
     ExoticEroticRomanceNo54.epub
               to
     ExoticEroticRomanceNo54.png
  2. Email it to your kindle.com address as usual. You do have one of those, don’t you? It’s mentioned in your Kindle settings.
  3. Transfer should take only moments, but grab a coffee, then see if your story is on your Kindle.

Did it work? Thank us later!

e-reader spilling books

09 November 2020

Sin & Syntax


by Steve Liskow 

I encountered Strunk and White's The Elements of Style in my senior year of high school, and have worn out several copies since then. Practically every writer I know quotes its advice about active verbs and various other nuggets, and that's both good and bad. Strunk geared the book to students writing expository essays for college (He taught at Cornell). It's not good for writing fiction because it encourages a stripped-down style that makes for strong concrete statements at the expense of a unique voice. All writing should sound like it comes from a human speaker, especially fiction writing.

The adults who read to me when I was young included teachers, actors and journalists who loved words and language. Because of them, I hear what I read (and write), and I hear bad writing instantly. It's like having perfect pitch and listening to someone playing a piano that's out of tune. Jack Kerouac said, "It ain't whatcha write, it's the way atcha write it," and he's right. I can name several best-selling authors who tell good stories in prose that would not have survived my tenth-grade comp and lit class. Sadly, some of them label themselves "literary."

These are the books on writing that I've KEPT

Facebook and various websites often present lists of the best books for writers (I even distribute my own list at workshops), and they generally mention the same handful of books.

I disagree with several of the choices, and one book that should top them off like a good head on a beer never shows up.

Go-to books for editing 


Here it is.


Hale published it in 1999 and produced this revised edition in 2013, updating examples and adding exercises and activities that expand your ear and your mind. It's a rare book that examines style concretely and completely. It's fascinating, funny and tough.

Hale divides the book into three parts: Words, which discusses the eight parts of speech; Sentences, which explains subject, predicate, phrases, clauses, length and tone; and Music, which examines melody, rhythm, lyricism and voice. The last section matters because I can't name another book that touches on these issues.

Each chapter has five parts. "Bones" talks about the essential grammar and the logic it's built upon. "Flesh" gives lessons on good writing and offers examples of creative and effective prose. Hale's examples come from mythology, "great" literature, advertising, children's stories and almost anything else you can name. "Cardinal Sins" points out real errors in usage and shows why and how they are bad. "Carnal Pleasures" shows how to break the rules and make language beautiful and effective. The "Catechism" section is new to this edition. It provides exercises, activities and writing prompts that force readers to think about what the words on paper or on the screen are supposed to do.

The book offers five over-reaching rules that encourage flexibility and critical thinking. 

Relish every word. Aim high, but be simple. Take risks. Seek beauty. Find the right pitch. 

The rest of the book shows how to follow them without becoming a drudge.

This is from "Cardinal Sins" discussing pronouns:

Speaking of whose, the one truly unforgivable sin that haunts the use of pronouns is the confusion of whose with who's and its with it's. Pronouns, when they get possessive, act weird. We do not say I's, you's, he's, or she's to indicate possession, so why would we write who's or it's? Possessive pronouns are all apostropheless: my, you, his, hers, its. Who's and it's are contractions of who is and its (or who has and it has). Learn this or die.

Her adverbs discussion includes what she calls "Valley Girl trash adverbs" that "reflect the mindless banter of surfers, Valley Girls, and adolescent mallmouths." "Unless you want to sound like a lightweight," she warns, "stay away from them."

She then quotes "Casino Kaiser Donald Trump" (Remember, this was written in 2013) turning on New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman during her reelection campaign. "I was totally a good friend to her, and she showed totally no loyalty."

Hale's treatment of Cardinal Sins with interjections is both brutal and hilarious. She wreaks havoc on "like," among other verbal tics. She cites British comedian Catherine Tate's entire monologue built from Valley Girl one-word interjections. It's on YouTube, so check it out for yourself.

The section on Music goes where most writing books fear to venture, and it's worth the price of admission all by itself. Written language should sound pleasant or unpleasant to help convey the ideas and meaning, so these chapters show how those devices we learned when studying poetry (alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc.) can carry the ball in prose, too. Her examples and exercises raise the bar on prose writing to new highs.

If I had time for 50 rewrites, I might be able to get there.




18 September 2020

Steinbeck's Writing Tips


John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. The Nobel committee cited his "realistic and imaginative writings" noting his "sympathetic humor and keen social perception." This "giant of American letters" gave us six tips about writing which I list below (from multiple internet sources):

John Steinbeck

  1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it is finished, you are always surprised.
  2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
  3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn't exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person – a real person you know, or an imagined one and write to that one.
  4. If a scene or a sections gets the better of you and you still think you want it – bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave you trouble is because it didn't belong there.
  5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
  6. If you are using dialogue – say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
 Writers don't write the same way. I seem to follow many of these steps, especially #1, 2, 3 and 6.

I follow #2 but using a computer allows me to go back over what I wrote the day before and edit it. That jump starts me to write what follows.

John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Themes in Steinbeck's fiction included fate and injustice, especially to the downtrodden or the everyman protagonist.

John Steinbeck receiving Nobel Prize
 Here is an excerpt from Steinbeck's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech –
"The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit – for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature."
That's all for now. Y'all stay safe.

www.oneildenoux.com

25 August 2020

The Next Best Thing to Being There


We’re all hunkered down these days under house arrest. Some people are binging on Netflix, others catching up on all the cute cat videos they’ve missed. Others still are too anxious to do much of anything productive. I’m lucky in that my life hasn’t changed all that much on a day to day basis since I’ve worked at home for ages. I still walk the dog/s. Do my writing. Listen to music. Watch the old black and white movies that I love. Read. The one big change is that my wife’s been working at home since March. Luckily we seem to get along. Blame that on her more than me 😉.

But, as writers there have been some changes, most notably that in-person events have been cancelled. Most of the conventions and conferences that we enjoy have been zapped, Bouchercon, West Coast Crime (right in the middle of the actual convention), and others. In-store book events and launches have largely disappeared for now. But we live in an age of new-fangled thingies, an amazing age, an age of the internet, Zoom, Skype and other modern marvels.

My virtual acceptance speech for Ellery Queen Readers Award

So, the other day, as I was doing a Zoom panel for a writer’s conference, it dawned on me how cool it is to be able to do this. Not all that long ago it couldn’t have happened because the technology wasn’t there. With something like the Covid pandemic the event would just have disappeared. But with Zoom, Skype and others they just sort of morph into something virtual.

Since the lockdown began I’ve done several Zoom events. I haven’t yet hosted one though I’m thinking about doing that for the Coast to Coast: Noir anthology that I co-edited that’s coming out in September. That will be a new learning curve. But before that I had to learn how to Zoom as a guest. It’s not hard – and it’s really cool and fun. I also did a short (non-Zoom) video for Ellery Queen on coming in second in their readers poll since they, too, cancelled their in-person event in NYC. And I’ve done several panels and interviews and even virtual doctor appointments. As I write this a bit ahead of its posting date just a few days ago I did a Skype interview for a radio station in England. Could we have done that even twenty years ago? Maybe by phone, but with much more difficulty and expense.

E-flyer from Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles first House Arrest virtual reading
Remember long distance phone calls (and long distance could virtually be just across the street in some cases). They were ridiculously expensive. You’d call the operator before your call and request “time and charges,” then when the call was over the operator would call you back and tell you how long the call lasted and how much it cost. And you’d get sticker shock.

The "good old days".
In the near last minute my wife suggested doing a virtual launch for The Blues Don’t Care in June since there were no in person events happening. So we had to scramble to figure out how to do that. We weren’t sure if we should try Zoom or another service or stick to the old standby (yeah ‘old’ standby) of Facebook, which is what we ended up doing. And it turned out better than I had expected. We had a big group of people and questions flying back and forth. Plus I’d toss out tidbits of info on various things related to events that took place in the novel, like the gambling ships that lay off the SoCal coast back in the day. It was fun, if a little hectic, and I think people enjoyed it.

So we make do as best we can. And we don’t have to shower or drive to get to our meetings 😉. It’s also kind of cool to just see someone when you’re talking one to one with Zoom or Skype or other services. My wife’s family reunion was cancelled this year because of Covid but her and some of her cousins get together semi-regularly with each other via Zoom. Like they used to say, it’s the next best thing to being there.

So what’s next? Virtual reality meetings? Holograms? Mind-melding? Beam me up Scotty! There seem to be no limits to technology, but there is still something to be said for meeting people face to face. Standing close enough to whisper something, closer than 6 feet apart. Laughing, talking, sharing good food (and drink!) and good stories. So until we can do those things again, at least we have the virtual world, which is the next best thing.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

I want to thank Living My Best Book Life for this great review of The Blues Don’t Care. Here’s an excerpt and a link to the full review:

"The Blues Don't Care by Paul D. Marks is a mysterious historical fiction set in the WWII time period. It tackles topics like corruption, racism, and many others that we are still facing today. I was taken aback by Paul D. Marks's talented writing style. This story is powerful and Paul did a wonderful job developing his main character, Bobby Saxon...

…I was captivated from the very start. This author tackled so many subjects that few care to bring up. The detail of the story gave me an insight on all the injustices in the 1940's. I appreciated the heart of the story; a person chasing their dream and never looking back. Bobby Saxon is a well-developed character that was able to learn, grow, and hone in on his craft. There is a main secret of Bobby's that I didn't see coming. This is such a fascinating historical fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed!”

https://www.instagram.com/p/CC3_3gxAZq6/
                           


Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

16 August 2020

Professional Tips – The Deadwords


graphic of the word 'deadword'

Facts and Artifacts

Deadwords, like deadwood, take up space but offer little useful. In the negative space graphic above, your eye thinks it sees a word or two that aren’t there. Deadwords introduce noise, dim and distracting dreck that shouldn’t be there. Authors want to move from empty words to more powerful, robust, descriptive writing.

I find it useful to review deadwords and weak words, those bits that clutter writing and dull the senses. I manage to avoid the usual suspects, e.g, some, very, nice, etc, but not so well at others appearing on recent lists: as, like, then, and so on. My bad habits need reminders. Professional colleagues know these tips, but beginning writers might find some of the following useful.

As mentioned before, I know no other crime writers in Central Florida– most are too sensible to congregate in a coronavirus hotspot. Without fellow mystery enthusiasts, I exchange editing with local romance writers. (Hi, Haboob and Sharon.) Whew! I bet my instruction in anatomy is more fun than most mystery authors.

Romancing the Own

Haboob drew my attention to a word not in the list below, ‘own’, as in ‘my own writing’. I used it everywhere– his own, her own, their own instead of simple his, hers, and theirs. In ordinary conversation, I seem to use it as an intensive, an unnecessary one. While that guy Shakespeare got away with, “To thine own self be true,” ‘own’ sucks the lifeblood out of my sentences.

In turn, I found the words ‘breath’ and ‘breathe’ cropping up far too often in the ladies’ romance works. They have good reason– the thesaurus suffers from a paucity of alternative non-technical words. Consider:
She breathed in his scent. Her breath stopped when his fingertips traced her bare skin.
Other than the words ‘pant’ and ‘wheeze’ (Feel the romance!) what substitutes can they use?
She aspirated into her lungs the molecules of his scent. Her inhalation and exhalation respiration terminated when…
Nahh… What’s a girl writer to do? (Leave brilliant suggestions in the comments so I can look like a genius at the next editing session.)

In the following list, I’m not including verbal tics and the clichés in current conversations, such as store clerk acknowledgements, “Perfect,” instead of “Thank you.”

Deadwords
actually/basically/virtually
almost
as
awesome/amazing
awful/awfully
bad
be/is/are/was/were/will be
beautiful
big
down/up on/in
feel/think
fine
good/great
(have) got
happy
interesting
just
kinda/sorta
like
literally
little/small
look/see/saw
(a) lot
most/mostly/much
nearly
nice
of course
often
one of
quite
rather
really
seem
so
some/somewhat/somehow
start/begin to
that
then
totally/absolutely
used to
very
well

Notes:

Many words made the list because they’re weak or indefinite. Further to this…
Down/Up, on/in/into
This refers to extraneous coupling of prepositions. “She climbed up into the attic before descending down into the depths of the basement.” Simply: “She climbed into the attic before descending into the depths of the basement.”
Quite, rather
Victoria and Edwardian literature dominated our home library, so both ‘quite’ and ‘rather’ sound normal to my ears, but virtually no one else’s. *delete*
See, saw, look, think, feel
“When she began to look at some of his writing, she felt certain words could weaken sentences, but she couldn’s see how to find a solution.” Simply: “When she looked at his writing, certain words weakened sentences, but she couldn’s find a solution.”
It/there, is/was/were/will be
“There are many examples in literature,” can be reworded “Examples abound in literature.” Jane Austen came up with the cleverest opening line in romance literature: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” She pulled it off. Me, I should stick to basics.
Shakespeare, Jane Austen… who knew where this was headed! Colorful writing… did we achieve it?

graphic of the word 'word'



John Floyd would be proud of a SleuthSayer coining a compound— ‘deadword’.

14 July 2020

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer —Solitude vs. Loneliness—


There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to,
In my room, in my room,
In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears,
In my room, in my room.
         “In My Room”—Brian Wilson, Gary Usher


Writers tend to work in isolation (unless you’re a TV writer, but that’s another story). We work in our homes, some maybe at a library or coffee shop or on the beach. But ours is a solitary profession. For most of us, when we’re writing we don’t want to be interrupted. We don’t want to be part of the real world, we want to be part of the world we’re creating. We seek solitude. As such it can be a lonely profession at times.

But solitude and loneliness are two different things. Being lonely can be depressing. Having solitude can be invigorating and restorative. Solitude gives us a chance to get in touch with the world, the real world, as well as the world of our characters. It helps us get in touch with ourselves and our creativity.

Nicola Tesla said: “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. No big laboratory is needed in which to think. Originality thrives in seclusion, free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.”



Some people thrive on noise and activity. They can write anywhere: airplanes, libraries, beaches, coffee shops. Others of us need more quiet to get down into ourselves and hit that creative nerve. The older I get the less social I get. When I started writing I had romantic visions of Hemingway et al on the left bank in Paris. Writing and sipping absinthe.  So when I started out I tried drinking while writing. Yeah, that was a good idea. Or I’d go to Joe Allen’s (the L.A. one) and hang with other writers. That was also a great idea. Not much writing got done in either situation. One day, somewhere, somehow I learned that Hemingway didn’t drink while actually writing. Good idea. And these days we live off the beaten path, so alone-time is easy to find. And if I feel the need for human “contact” I can go on Facebook or even, God forbid, call someone on the phone. Or even more rarely actually venture out to meet them. But when I’m writing, I want quiet and alone time. But I’m never lonely in those moments.

Even aside from writing time, these days I like quiet moments. Moments of peace. Solitude. I lived a “wild and crazy” life when I was younger. Sometimes it’s hard to believe what I did and all that I did. But these days I’m happy for peace and quiet.



Some people can’t stand to be alone (England even has a Minister of Loneliness). But we can even feel lonely in a group of people because loneliness is a mindset, not a physical state. Some people hide behind distractions so they won’t have to think about things on a deeper level. Some people have never learned how to be alone and not be lonely at the same time. To keep their own counsel. But it’s good to learn to be alone, to enjoy your own company and your own counsel (whether or not you’re a writer). That doesn’t mean you can’t be social at other times. When I go out with my wife to meet with other people or just on my own to have lunch with a friend or something along those lines, I enjoy it. And I’m into the moment. But when it’s late at night and I’m writing, I’m glad to be alone again. Glad for the quiet of the night and the, dare I say it, solitude.

Pepper at the creek.

When I walk our dog/s (depending on how many we have at any given moment) I like walking them along the creek near our house. That’s often a time of solitude. Mostly we don’t come across other people, but on occasion we do. Often it’s the same people I’ve seen before. We say hi and chat for a few minutes and it’s a nice interlude. But if I don’t run across anyone I simply enjoy the solitude of the walk, stopping and smelling the roses, so to speak, watching the sun glitter on the creek, listening to it flowing, seeing the way the light hits a certain tree or outcropping and how on one day it’s a whole different look than the next. Seeing how much the dog/s enjoy the walk. Looking all around and seeing the world around me. Sometimes it’s not so nice, as when we saw a dead coyote once. It wasn’t pretty and we’ve seen other, smaller dead animals. We also saw a couple of live coyotes only a few feet from me and my dog Pepper. They didn’t bother us. But another time Pepper and I were semi-surrounded by a pack of (about 8) wild dogs. That was scary. They were aggressive, much more so than the coyotes. But Pepper knew how to behave and stayed calm, but not submissive, and we made it home without a physical encounter. We’ve also come across riderless horses (as well as those with riders) and people on ATVs tearing up the landscape, but mostly we’re alone. I feel like I’m digressing but my point here is that we’re never totally alone, unless we’re truly in the middle of nowhere. So it’s nice to have (some of) these encounters, little adventures, but then it’s nice to get back to the solitude of the canyon or return home to the quiet and solitude of the house.

One of the riderless horses we came across
Eventually we found the rider and reunited them.


There’s a place,
Where I can go,
When I feel low,
When I feel blue,
And it's my mind,
And there's no time when I'm alone.
        “There’s a Place”—John Lennon and Paul McCartney

I once decided to take a driving trip up to Canada by myself (unfortunately those pix are not scanned and buried in a box somewhere so I can’t put them up here). I got in my car and started heading north. No itinerary. No particular place to go, as Chuck Berry might say. No motel reservations. I did stop and see some friends here and there along the way but most of the time I was by myself. Listening to music. Watching the scenery. I went rafting in Oregon and drove lonely trucking roads along the way. Stopped at the Log Cabin Motel in Morro Bay. And sometimes it was weird being alone, but mostly it was good.

The Log Cabin Motel, Morro Bay


I've never seen a night so long,
When time goes crawling by,
The moon just went behind the clouds,
To hide its face and cry.
          “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”—Hank Williams

People complain of getting bored when they’re alone, but there’s so much to do. Obviously if one is a writer one can write. But if one isn’t you can read a book, listen to music, learn a language, play games, go on the internet—maybe learn something. Maybe just sit and contemplate the universe. I think it would be good if more people spent some quiet time doing that.

About the only time I’m ever really bored is when I’m trying to find something to watch on TV and nothing catches my interest, which is often. There’s always something to do, something to learn or I can play with the animals. You can also just be alone with your thoughts. Get to know yourself. See what you really think about things. Or maybe just try to quieten your thoughts and enjoy the silence.
And now that Amy’s been working from home since the quarantine, I have more time with her as well. But to be honest, sometimes I’m glad when she goes to bed and it’s quiet and still like it is as I write this. And I’m alone in my world, with my thoughts. It’s not a bad place to be, it just takes perspective.
Buster at the crik.

Solitude helps us unwind and escape from the hustle and bustle of the everyday world. It can be like meditation in that sense. It helps us discover who we really are and what we really want. It can help us reduce stress unless, of course, being alone causes you stress, but then you can try to learn to love it.

As they say, everything in balance. We are social creatures, so you don’t want to be alone all the time and you don’t want that aloneness forced on you. But it’s not bad to be alone some of the time and to learn to enjoy that time. We don’t have to be doing something every minute of every day. Time to reflect is a good thing as long as we don’t get too deep into ourselves to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. You might even meet someone you like there—you.

And just like we need sleep to rejuvenate our bodies, we need solitude to rejuvenate our souls.

~.~.~
And now for the usual BSP:

The Blues Don't Care is getting some great reviews:

"It’s the first entry in what promises to be an entertaining and thoughtful series --- mysteries that not only have the requisite twists, turns, surprises and reveals, but also offer a penetrating look into our ubiquitous all-too-human flaws: greed, corruption, fear of the “other” and, especially, racism."
—Jack Kramer, BookReporter.com

"This is a beautifully noirish book, set firmly in the dark days of wartime and offering a sharp insight into the life and times of Los Angeles, 1940s style. Yes, it’s a mystery thriller, but The Blues Don’t Care is so much more than that, with historic detail, chutzpah, a cast of hugely entertaining characters, a really unusual protagonist and, best of all, a cracking soundtrack too."
—DeathBecomesHer, CrimeFictionLover.com



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com