Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Happy Sheep

Writer: Why is there dancing?

Sheep #1: It's time to click up our hooves.

Sheep: #2: We're rejoicing.

Sheep #3: There's general merriment.

Writer: Why?

Sheep #1: You're almost done.

Sheep #2: You re-read the manuscript.

Sheep: #3: And you were pleased.

Sheep #1: We know. We were there.

Writer: Shhhhhh! I don't want to jinx it.

Sheep #1: (shaking head) Once an actor, always an actor.

Sheep #2: You need to get over these superstitions.

Sheep #3: Time to grow.

Writer: I've got finishing touches to do yet.

Sheep #1: Don't bring us down.

Sheep #2: You'll be done in no time. Stop fiddling.

Entire Flock of Sheep: Submit! Submit!

Writer: Now, just hold on. I want it to be as good as it can be. There can still be changes. Improvements. Clearer voices.

Sheep #1: You're delaying.

Sheep #2: You're afraid.

Sheep: #3: This is sad for you.

Writer: I want to be sure.

Sheep #1: You'll never be sure. You can't be. Give it to others to read - get their input.

Sheep #2: We've read it.

Sheep #3: We've one criticism.

Writer: Which is?

Sheep #1: There's no sheep in your story.

Sheep #2: Not a single one.

Sheep #3: Not even in the distance.

Writer: Sorry.

Sheep #1: Bah.

Writer: I could add one.

Sheep #1: No. We're fine. Don't worry about us.

Sheep #2: We've just been here all along.

Sheep #3: Encouraging you.

Sheep #1: Showing you the way.

Sheep #2: Waiting patiently for you to understand our brilliance.

Sheep #3: We're very bright.

Writer: I know.

Sheep #1: But now...we're bored.

Writer: Bored?

Sheep #2: We're done with this plot. It's time to move on.

Sheep #3: We've only one more thing to say.

Writer: Which is?

Sheep #1: What's next?

Monday, June 28, 2010

One, Two, Three...

I admit it freely and openly: I can get obsessive about word counts. Whew. It's out there.

Back when I first decided try my hand at writing a novel as opposed to writing my games, I did some research as to what length was acceptable for my genre. Excellent, I thought, now I just need to fit my plot and all its little subplots into that many words. How hard could it be?

Stop laughing.


I had a plan.

I thought (logical to the end) that I could allow so many words for my beginning, a larger number for my middle and the same (roughly) amount of words as I used for the beginning for wrapping everything up. This thought gave me a sense of control. Control is good. It also cut the project up into several smaller projects rather than Mount Everest. Excellent. Sit down and write.

Okay, why does no one ever tell you that 10,000 words is really a lot of words? It takes time. And you can't celebrate that first 10,000 with too much confetti because you've got 70 or 80 thousand more still waiting to be written. I became fixated on the numbers. Whenever I opened a new book the first thing I did was look at the page number at the end. 500, 800, 1200. Daunting. No, let's be honest: terrifying. Then there were the 300 page books which gave me a glimmer of hope. Surely if others can do this, then I can too.

I typed on.

The word count on the right of my page became my best friend and my worst enemy at the same time. I'd try to ignore it - tell myself to not keep glancing at it, but to concentrate on whatever scene I was writing. I was successful some of the time, not so much at others.

Then you reach the half-way point. General rejoicing. Then you realize how much of the story you still have to tell and you can feel panic's icy fingers tapping on your shoulder. Stop looking at the word count, just keep writing. The three-quarter point. Time to start wrapping things up. Panic's icy fingers now have the weight of an elephant's foot.

Stop looking at the word count!

You tell yourself that acceptable word counts are guidelines - not a hard and fast rule. Just keep writing. Tell the story.

Stop looking at the word count!

And no, that's not my word count in the picture. It's from Google Images. I'd never show my word count - it would be like showing your underwear in public.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fun Friday

Signs Around the World:

In a Tokyo Hotel:
Is forbidden to steal hotel towels please. If you are not a person to do such thing is please not to read notis.

In a Bucharest hotel lobby:
The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.

In a Leipzig elevator:
Do not enter the lift backwards, and only when lit up.

In a Belgrade hotel elevator:
To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order.

In a Paris hotel elevator:
Please leave your values at the front desk.

In a hotel in Athens:
Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 a.m. daily.

In a Japanese hotel:
You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.

On the menu of a Swiss restaurant:
Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.

On the menu of a Polish hotel:
Salad a firm's own make; limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger; roasted duck let loose; beef rashers beaten up in the country people's fashion.

Outside a Hong Kong tailor shop:
Ladies may have a fit upstairs.

Outside a Paris dress shop:
Dresses for street walking.

In a Zurich hotel:
Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.

In an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist:
Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists.

In a Rome laundry:
Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time.

In a Tokyo bar:
Special cocktails for the ladies with nuts.

In a Copenhagen airline ticket office:
We take your bags and send them in all directions.

In a Norwegian cocktail lounge:
Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.

In a Budapest zoo:
Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.

In a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo:
When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.

Two signs from a Majorcan shop entrance:
- English well talking.
- Here speeching American.

On a Bulgarian web site:
You may visit this webpage, only if you are logged in or it is unavailable.

Detour sign in Kyushi, Japan:
Stop: Drive Sideways.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My First Guest - Margot Kinberg

I'm thrilled to welcome my very first guest post by the astounding Margot Kinberg. Margot's blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist is a wonderful site crammed full of Margot's encyclopedic knowledge of the crime fiction genre. If you haven't visited, please do. Margot is also the author of two mystery novels, her latest being B-Very Flat.

Thanks very much, Elspeth, for hosting me. You’re very hospitable : ). Writing is actually a dangerous thing to do. Oh, not because of any real physical danger (that is, unless you’re writing while driving or operating heavy machinery). No, it’s those writing demons. They appear from what seems to be out of nowhere, and they attack when you least expect it. So if you’re going to be safe out there as a writer, it’s as well to have some ways to deal with those demons. Here are a few writing demons I’ve faced.

The “No Time to Write” Demon

This is a particularly powerful demon for people like me who have “day jobs.” Like a lot of writers, I work full-time. And then there are family obligations, pets, and, oh, yeah, little things like laundry, food and bills. It’s not easy to set aside large blocks of time to write. So I don’t. I wish I could, but that’s not my real life. And even if I do set aside, say, an entire afternoon for writing, that’s almost always when the dog gets sick, the computer crashes or I blow a tire.

Instead, I write in small dollops of time. Even fifteen minutes is enough to sketch a scene, write some dialogue or start planning a chapter. It’s not much, and sometimes, I’m happy to even have fifteen minutes. But it’s something.

I also try to plan time to write. Again, not easy. But I’ve found that if I promise myself that hour after dinner, or that hour in the morning before anyone else is awake, I’m more likely to get it done than I am if I just say, “Gee, I’d really like to get some writing in today.”

I’ve found that it works best for me to be realistic about how much I can write at one time. It means my work doesn’t go as quickly as I’d like, but it also means I don’t punish myself unduly when it doesn’t.

The “I’m Not Making Any Progress” Demon

This one’s related to the first demon. They often visit me together. Most of us would like to make much more progress, much more quickly than we do. I know I would. But really, what do we mean by, “progress?” How do we measure it? For me, that’s the key to dealing with the fact that my work isn’t going as quickly as I’d like.

I consider it progress when I write even one more sentence than I had. I know that may be a nice, juicy rationalization, but it is helpful on those days when I’m convinced I’m never going to get my manuscript done. I even congratulate myself when I go through what I have written and catch and fix some stupid mistakes I’ve made. That’s progress, too.

The “I Can’t Think of What to Write” Demon

Creativity isn’t like gasoline, where you can just fill up when you’re low on fuel. It’s a most fickle muse that always shows up when you aren’t prepared, and has the bad taste to send you to voice-mail when you most need it. When I’ve set aside time to write, but the muse is stubbornly silent, one thing I do is reread what I’ve written. I can make revisions, feel proud if I like what I’ve written, and feel smug that I’m actually writing. Sometimes I even see the muse peeking out at me as I re-read, and I can get going on new parts of the manuscript.

Another way that I cope with this particular demon is work on other aspects of the story (character names, physical descriptions, settings and so on). I work on my story frame, too. That way, I’ve still used my time productively even when the muse is looking over someone else’s shoulder.

Sometimes, I get a visit from the muse when I’m in a meeting, driving, eating dinner or cleaning up. Even Agatha Christie said that the best time to plan a story is when you’re doing the dishes. When that happens, the last thing I want to do is turn away Madame Muse with no acknowledgment. So if I can, I make a note to myself on an adhesive note or even an envelope. I’ve even been thinking of getting one of those voice recorders, so I can record ideas while I drive. My ‘cell ‘phone’s got a recorder, and I do use that once in a while, but it doesn’t allow for long recordings, so if I use it, I have to keep it brief. If I’m with someone when I get an idea, I ask her or him to remind me of it: “When we get to _____, remind me to write that down, OK? I wanna use it in my book.” Most people are really flattered to be a part of the writing process.

The “Help, My Story’s Fallen and It Can’t Get Up” Demon

Writing a high-quality story is not an easy thing to do. I don’t know of anyone who can do that the first time without any revisions, changes or re-thinks. If I did I would be convinced that writer wasn’t really a human. When my story lies writhing in agony, begging for mercy, I usually do one of a couple of things (that is, once I’ve realized it’s going no-where).

I often get really helpful ideas from others’ writing. So I read. A lot. Sometimes, I’ll be inspired by something I’ve read, and that gives me a whole new twist on my own writing. In fact, that’s what’s happened with the book I’m working on right now. The plot needed work, and I got what I think is a very good idea from another book I read, so I’ve gone back and re-worked the story. I think it made a big, positive difference.

Another source of help for me when my story flounders is that I talk about it with my family and friends. I tell them about the story (OK, not the spoilers, but the basic gist) and get ideas from them. I don’t use everything they tell me, but often, I get helpful insights.

I’ve also learned to be unafraid of making major changes – even going back and starting all over. Sometimes, a story stalls because it was wrong from the beginning. I think writers have to be willing to let their stories go if they’re simply not going to work. That’s easier to say than do, because we do get attached to our stories. But sometimes, it’s necessary.

The “I am Never Going to Make it as a Writer” Demon

This one is a tough one, because we can all think of writers whom we see as more talented, more prolific, or more successful. I know I can reel off a list of names without any effort at all. That’s especially true of writers who haven’t had their work published yet. So what does a writer do to keep the faith?

I think the answer to that question is different for everyone. For me, a few things help. One is that I have a very supportive family – I love that about them. I also have some wonderful beta-readers who have faith in me. They tell me when my writing needs work, but they are also members of my “cheering squad.” I’ve also got a group of writer friends (many of whom I’ve never even met in person : ) ) who are going through the same things that I am. That helps. I get a lot of support and help and so many terrific ideas from other writers.

Another thing that helps me is that I keep a blog. When people are nice enough to comment on a blog, that’s a helpful reminder that you have something worth saying. Blogs are also useful ways to connect with other writers, to share your own ideas and (let’s be really pragmatic here) to build interest in your own writing.

There are other writing demons, of course; I’m sure you have your own. What demons have you faced? What do you do about them?

Again, my thanks, Elspeth, for having me. And the wine and chocolate were scrumptious. I promise I threw the wrappers away.

Is anyone really safe? Not necessarily. At nineteen years old, Serena Brinkman, an undergraduate violin major at Tilton University, seems to have a very secure future; she's got good looks, money, people who love her, and rare musical talent. She's also got a coveted Amati violin, a musical rival, friends whose secrets she knows, and an obsessed fan.

Serena's dreams are shattered when she suddenly dies on the night of a major music competition. Serena's partner, sure that her death was not an accident, asks for help from Dr. Joel Williams of Tilton's Department of Criminal Justice.

Williams, a former detective, becomes convinced that Serena was murdered, when he learns how unsafe her world really was. As he works with the Tilton Police Department to uncover the truth, Williams finds that Serena's looks, money, and talent, far from securing her future, made her a target.

Different Paths, Same Destination

You might choose to use this...

or this...

or even this...

You might write here...

or here...

or even here...
(If this place has wi-fi, I'm never leaving)

You might need to hear this...

Or you must have this...


your this...

is your this.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

That First Line

I have been swimming in Dick Francis mysteries for the past few weeks - well, re-swimming, really. It has been an interesting exercise listening to the rhythms of his plots while admiring his tight use of language. He always writes in first person, his protagonists are always male and his first lines always throw you right into the plot's deep end.

This got me thinking about first lines: here's a brief sample of some I particularly enjoy:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.
A.A. Milne - Winnie the Pooh

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?'
Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
J.R.R. Tolkien - The Hobbit

Who's there?
William Shakespeare - Hamlet

"Mrs Whitaker found the Holy Grail; it was under a fur coat."
Neil Gaiman - Chivalry

"All children, except one, grow up"
J.M. Barrie - Peter Pan

Early this morning, 1st January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenous Aires, aged twenty-five years, two months and twelve days.
PD James - Children of Men

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
George Orwell - 1984

James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death.
Ian Fleming - Goldfinger

The last camel died at noon.
Ken Follet - The Key to Rebecca

They both wore thin rubber masks.
Dick Francis - Bonecrack

Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.
Ruth Rendall - A Judgement in Stone

Please share your favourite first line - or your favourites!

Please note: I'm very pleased to be hosting Margot Kinberg of "Confessions of a Mystery Novelist" on Thursday as a stop on her "Magical Mystery Blog Tour". Margot will be writing about those nasty 'writing demons' and how she dealt with them while writing her latest mystery novel "B-Very Flat".

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Uncalled For

Low, menacing laughter is heard in the dark.

Voice #1: We're heeerree!

Writer: Who's that?

Voice #2: We're no one. Ignore us.

Writer: Seriously. I'm not a fan of hearing low menacing laughter in the dark.

Voice #3: Sorry.

Voice#1: Don't say that. We're not actually.

Writer: Who are you?

Voices (all together): We're the self-doubt pixies.

Voice #1: We make you think your writing is useless.

Voice #2: And pointless.

Voice #3: And just plain bad.

Voice #1: Haven't you noticed us? We've been here for quite some time.

Voice #2: We've set up camp.

Voice #3: We've decorated.

Voice #1: We're very fond of our window treatments.

Writer: I thought someone was here. My writing is...

Voice #1: Not going well, is it?

Writer: No.

Voice #2: You're stuck, aren't you?

Writer: No. Not stuck, exactly. Just...

Voice #3: Afraid to go on?

Writer: Yes.

Voices (all together): HIGH FIVE!!

Voice #1: We win.

Writer: I'm afraid you might. What if all this work has been for nothing? What if I've been fooling myself?

Voice #2: Indeed. (long pause) What if?

Writer: I just have to believe in myself.

Voice #3: Yeah, 'cause that's always been easy for you.

Writer: That was uncalled for.

Voice #1: We're uncalled for. No one calls for us. We just show up.

Writer: This sounds familiar.

Another Voice: Hey! Get out of here!

Writer: Who's that?

Sheep #1: It's me. I've got the whole flock behind me. Look out. We're mean.

Voice #1: We're mean too. We carry pointy things.

Sheep #1: We've been here longer than you. We're going to make sure the writer achieves her dreams. We are sheep. Hear us roar.

Writer: This is ridiculous.

Voice #1: Why?

Writer: I write mysteries. I don't write fun, fanciful tales. And yet, I've got self-doubt pixies and sheep battling over me?

Sheep #1: Ironic, isn't it? Go back to work.

Friday, June 18, 2010

It's My Birthday!

Yes, it's my birthday. Here's some fun trivia about birthdays for all of you this Friday. Have a piece of cake and a glass (or two..or three) of your favourite beverage!
  • The melody for the Happy Birthday song was first penned by two sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill. Yes, it took 2 people to write that song.

  • It is thought that birthday celebrations originated in the Roman Empire. And they were largely due to the prominent religion at the time, Mithraism, which was later supplanted by Christianity.

  • Although you might celebrate your birthday every year, your actual birthday (being the same day of the week you were born) only occurs once every 7 years.

  • Children who are on the leap day of February 29th often celebrate their birthdays on March 1st.

  • Germans take birthdays very seriously, sometimes receiving a half-day of vacation. The most common gifts among friends include flowers and wine.

  • In England, when you reach 80, 90 or 100 years of age, you receive a telegram from the Queen.

  • In India, black and white gift wrapping is considered unlucky.

  • The French and Italian celebrate Name Days more so than birthdays.

  • In the Islamic world, green is a good color to use for wrapping.

  • A Golden Birthday happens only once in a person's lifetime. It happens when the person's age and the date of the day they were born is the same.

  • More people celebrate their birthdays in August than in any other month. The two other months in which birthday rates are high is July and September.

  • Close to two billion Birthday Cards are sent each year in the U.S. alone, accounting for nearly 58 percent of all cards sent.

  • The world's largest birthday cake was created in 1989 it weighed 128,238 pounds, 8 oz. and used 16,209 pounds of icing.

  • The most common birth date is October 5 and the least common is May 22 in U.S.A.

  • The day of the week in which the most babies are born is Tuesday while Sunday is the lowest day.

  • Anne Frank's world famous diary was given to her when she was thirteen years old.

  • The children’s day in India is celebrated on 14th November- the birthday of Jawahar Lal Nehru in memory of his love for children.

  • The Sultan of Brunei hosted the world's most expensive birthday party to celebrate his 50th Birthday on 13 July, 1996. The cost was a whopping US $27.2 million. Three concerts featuring Michael Jackson costs US $16 million of the total amounts.

  • Paul McCartney's (who is also celebrating his birthday today) birth certificate was auctioned in March 1997, for US $84,146. It is believed to be the world's most expensive birth certificate.

  • William Shakespeare died on his 52nd birthday: 23 April 1616.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Skippy's 10 Things

Other writing blogs will give you tips on how to improve your writing. How to develop your characters. How to muscle on through to the end. How to be productive.


Today, your evil twin Skippy brings you 10 things to do instead of writing.

10. When was the last time you looked at your high school yearbook? Find it. This will either be a fond nostalgic trip down memory lane or a reason to go buy boxes of liquor.

9. Realize your house will never be as clean as the one you grew up in. Get comfortable with this thought while lying on the couch and watching the dust motes surf the air.

8. Reach into the back of your refrigerator and open that plastic container. You get 10 guesses on what it used to be. Bonus points if it has developed a pulse.

7. Go outside and marvel at how fast the weeds are growing in your garden. Consider how much easier your life would be if it was socially acceptable to just grow weeds instead of flowers.

6. Can you guess how many stairs there are in your house? Try. This might be important knowledge some day.

5. Think about how many writing projects you are presently working on. Although you are not actually writing at the moment, this will make you feel productive. Celebrate this productivity with a cookie for each project.

4. Start composing the thank you speech for the many awards you will receive one day. Practice your winning smile in front of a mirror while holding a shampoo bottle.

3. Turn on the TV and cruise up and down the channels. Remember when you were a teenager and there was always a good show on? When did this change?

2. Find out how many odd socks are sitting where ever you keep odd socks. Notice how the pile has grown since the last time you looked. Nope. Still no matches.

1. Wonder what your pet is thinking. Really wonder. Now, get a bit nervous and slowly leave the room.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Decisions, Decisions (Part 2)

Part One of the story is here: Decisions, Decisions...

Our story continues...

Our hero...

Dons his...





and discovers the...

is really a...




it's a....

He climbs a...



when he...

An unusual sound.

It's a...


It's a..


It's a...

So he flies to...

Where he sees his...

Is it a...

Is it a...


He's lost his...