My Scary Story Is About To Be Theater!

Very soon a little ghost story that I wrote will be performed and available via the magic of the InterHell (I mean internet) via the Penobscot Theater and I’ll post about that as soon as it happens because I’m super excited about it!

But it made me think of all the random ghost stories that have happened in my life that I tend to be pretty chill about. I’ve mentioned some here, but not a ton because I don’t want to be known as CARRIE JONES, THE AUTHOR WHO HAS TOO MANY GHOST STORIES.

Anyway, the quick one I want to talk about was when Em and I were in the living room gathering up her stuff for school and the TV just switched on all by itself. Seriously. Both the remotes were in full view. Nobody was anywhere near the TV or the remotes. No cats. No dog. No humans. 

And it flipped onto this video of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley all in black and white singing a duet . I’ve embedded it here. But to make it even freakier these were the lyrics they were on:

FOR MY DARLING, I LOVE YOU AND I ALWAYS WILL. 

Writing Talk Wednesday: The Scene

The Scene

It’s this element of structure for the story. We all write them, but sometimes it seems like this overlooked aspect of our stories. I’m not sure why this is. It’s not as elemental as the word or punctuation. It’s not as long and sexy as a chapter. It’s not as easily diagramed as a sentence, right?

But it’s so important.

There’s an old book by Raymond Obstfeld called Crafting Scenes and in its first pages he has a chapter called “What a Scene Is and Isn’t.” In it, he quotes the actress Rosalind Russell who was asked what made a movie great.

She answered, “Moments.”

And Obstfeld compared that thought about movies to our thoughts about scenes. He wrote, “The more ‘moments’ a work has, the more powerful it is. Think of each memorable scene as an inner tube designed to keep the larger work afloat.”

And then there is the corollary, “The fewer memorable scenes there are, the quicker that work sinks to the depths of mediocrity.”

So What’s A Scene and How Do You Make It Memorable?

That’s the obvious question, right? A scene is usually action that happens in one setting. But it’s not always. It’s about focus. It can be ten pages or one.

Obstfeld says that a scene does the following:

            Gives reader plot-forwarding information

            Reveals character conflict

            Highlights a character by showing action or a trait

            Creates suspense.

And a memorable scene? What is that?

It’s unexpected.

What does a scene have to have?

A beginning, a middle, and an end.

And the beginning? It’s like a blind date, he says. You have to tell the reader what’s going on and not just expect her to know. It has to hook the reader in, pulling her into its clutches so she wants to keep reading.

So, authors, look at those scenes. Are you hooking people in? Do they want to keep on that journey with you?

And people, look at the scene you’re at in your life. Are you into it? Is it at a beginning place? Are you still hooked into what you’re doing, who you are? Do you want to stay this way? Are you good?

I hope you’re good, but if you aren’t? Be brave. Make changes. Think about who you want to be and what you want the scenes in your life to be like. You can do this.

Brave Thing I’m Doing

Pretty soon, I’m going to have a Teachable class all about the scene. It’s going to be pretty cheap and hopefully you’ll sign up and like it.

Continue reading “Writing Talk Wednesday: The Scene”

Anxiety Is Us: How Can Writers Deal, Part Three

It’s the last of the anxiety posts and … um… I might be feeling anxious about that.

Last Monday, I posted part one of this two-part (now three-part) post which is all because one of my writing students asked: 

“Seems like a lot of us writers struggle with anxiety and low self-esteem. All I can do, apparently, is grind out a page here and there during my more lucid moments. I don’t suppose you’ve got the magic key to overcoming emotional struggles so that the writing gets done?”

Writer who I’m not going to out here because that would be horrible

I have my own way of dealing with this, but my way? It’s not everyone’s way and it’s not that writer’s way so I looked to my Facebook friends for help. 

A lot of people were super kind and gave recommendations. I’m going to share some of more of them.


Start With A Word

What I do is I take a single word, whether it’s an emotion, a description, or anything else, just the first word that comes to mind. Then I build on it. I describe the word. Find synonyms, antonyms, I write what I think that word looks like as an image. Sometimes, I might even attempt to draw it (but I don’t draw well so I usually just laugh at myself for that one). Then I’ll write associations to that word. What does it remind me of? Who does it make me think of? When did I experience it last? 

Then, if I’m still feeling blocked or stuck after this, I’ll do it with another word. And another word. There have been days where I literally only write about words like this.

Allyna Rae Storms

Make It Work for you

I put my anxiety into my work. Writing or creating (painting or making jewelry) I use my extra emotions in my work. I write my fears into my characters, or I let it out into my art work. Some of my best pieces have been created when I have been frustrated, angry, or upset. Music also helps some times. 

Jenn Duffield

Look Beyond

It’s not about you, the writer. Look beyond yourself and just tell the story.

John Scherber

The Five Minute Rule

 I give my students and myself smaller assignments. Write for Five minutes. Revise one page. Then we celebrate these small accomplishments.

Ann Angel

Don’t Let Your Head Kick Your Ass

 I got this way a few times when I wrote the first draft of a short novel not too long ago. When the head kicked my ass a bit too much and my focus went to zero, that’s when I did an outline and wrote up a big picture idea of what would be happening next in my story. Then when I felt more focused, I was able to see the trees in the forest and was able to go back and flesh out my outline. This took all the pressure off me of having to think of the details and just have fun with the overall story ideas. I’m pretty certain that without this approach, that novel would never have gotten finished and I’d still be staring at blank pages.

Rick Hipson

Acceptance

I think acceptance helps a lot with all of this. “I’m feeling anxious today. I’m going to try to write for half an hour anyway.” “I think everything I write is crap. It probably is, but I’m going to keep working on this chapter anyway.” Half an hour here, half an hour there, they add up. I use my timer a lot. “I just have to do this for half an hour and then I can be done.” Whether it’s paying bills, sweeping floors, sorting through old clothes–that method helps me get stuff done. It’s a simple method but it does the trick.

Cathy Carr

Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis is the answer for me. Helps with the anxiety and to fall asleep at night.

Stacey O’Neale
Continue reading “Anxiety Is Us: How Can Writers Deal, Part Three”

Questions People Ask Me About Writing and If I’m Successful or Just Weird

People ask me questions a lot because I’m a writer and I’ve had some success at it. And also because I have no filter.

Last week this student I was mentoring asked me:

Are you a successful writer?

And I said, “I’ve made NYT bestseller lists and some of my books were internationally bestsellers, so I guess so. It looks good in my obituary.”

He then cracked up and inhaled and coughed a tiny bit and I felt bad.

But truthfully, I don’t feel like a successful writer. I don’t feel like an unsuccessful writer, either. Success is what you make of it, you know. It’s about how you define it, not how your c/v or resume or obituary defines it. It’s especially not how other people define it.

You define you. That’s my mantra.

HOW ARE YOU SO PRODUCTIVE?

There’s a lot of clap back right now about not being productive and taking the pause and embracing the gaps and I’m all for that if that works for you. It does not work for me. I live in my moments, I promise, but I actually love creating things and writing things and helping other people create and write things? So, I don’t think of it as being productive. I think of it as doing. And as long as I have energy I want to be doing.

But, um, also I constantly stress a bit about running out of money, so I try to figure out new ways to survive. I should probably get therapy for that, but again – I’m cheap and therapy costs money in the U.S. So, I’ll keep making a podcast, expanding it, being a writing coach, editing, having a Patreon and writing books and making paintings. It’s all fun. It’s all good. I wouldn’t want to not create. I’d feel lost.

What Do You Do When You Get Writer’s Block?

I write something else even if it’s just, “Blah.Blah. Blah. I hate writer’s block. It is the biggest stupid evil thing ever.”

If that doesn’t work, I set a timer and clean for 15 minutes. I tell myself I will have to clean the toilet if I don’t write 500 words. That evil threat usually gets things done.

Are you writing something right now?

Always.

See above where I talk about needing therapy because I have a compulsion to be production. I am so lucky to be a writer. I don’t want to lose that. This means I am always working on something. To be fair, I don’t know how to not work on something.

Are You Short?

No. My husband is just ridiculously tall.

Are you drunk?

Nope.

On illegal drugs?

Nope. I’m just really weird. I am the person at the party that other people point at and say, “You are so wasted,” but I haven’t imbibed at all.

Is Maine Creepy?

Occasionally, but only because I live here.

What’s the Hardest Part About Writing?

Stopping. And worrying that no human will ever actually read it.

What’s the Easiest Part of Writing?

I love everything else about writing.

Weirdest thing that ever happened to you at a public event.

A bookseller bit another bookseller while they were waiting in line to get my book. Actually, one of them might have been a librarian.

Weirdest Thing that ever happened to you in Maine.

There are so many. Ghost stories? Weird noises in the woods. Seeing the Obama family in my town eating ice cream? The naked man at the door. There are a lot of stories.

Do You Get to Work in Your Pajamas?

Yes! Yes! A hundred times yes.

Are Parentheticals demons (from hell)?

Yes, and so are their first cousins, the ellipses….


Here’s the link to this week’s bonus podcast, an interview with Jordan Scavone.

Here’s the link to this week’s regular podcast, Zoombombing, Tiger King and are Your Family Members Killing You During the COVID Lockdown?

AND FINALLY, MY NEW PATREON STORY

And over on Patreon, I’m starting a new story this week! It’s a chapter a month if you want to check it out. It basically costs $1 a month to listen to my story and $3 a month to read it. There’s a new chapter every week. It’s super fun; I promise. AND SO CHEAP. Help this neurotic writer eventually afford therapy and join the community!

WRITING NEWS! 

THE WRITING COURSE OF AWESOME

It’s our very own writing course! 

Basically, it’s set up a bit like a distance MFA program, only it costs a lot less and also has a big element of writer support built in. This program costs $125 a month and runs for four-month sessions and starts in April 2020 

To find out more, check out this link. It’s only $125 a month, so it’s a super good deal. Come write with us! 


NEW BOOK OF AWESOME

I have a new book out!!!!!! It’s an adult mystery set in the town where we live, which is Bar Harbor, Maine. You can order it here. And you totally should. 

THIS IS WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Rosie Jones, small town reporter and single mom, is looking forward to her first quiet Maine winter with her young daughter, Lily. After a disastrous first marriage, she’s made a whole new life and new identities for her and her little girl. Rosie is more than ready for a winter of cookies, sledding, stories about planning board meetings, and trying not to fall in like with the local police sergeant, Seamus Kelley.

But after her car is tampered with and crashes into Sgt. Kelley’s cruiser during a blizzard, her quiet new world spirals out of control and back into the danger she thought she’d left behind. One of her new friends is murdered. She herself has been poisoned and she finds a list of anagrams on her dead friend’s floor. 

As the killer strikes again, it’s obvious that the women of Bar Harbor aren’t safe. Despite the blizzard and her struggle to keep her new identity a secret, Rosie sets out to make sure no more women die. With the help of the handsome but injured Sgt. Kelley and the town’s firefighters, it’s up to Rosie to stop the murderer before he strikes again.

You can order it here. 

Zoombombing, Tiger King, Kittens in Heat – Is Your Family Driving You Mad During Lockdown? This might be why

Zoombombing, Tiger King, Kittens in Heat – Is Your Family Driving You Mad During Lockdown? This might be why

 
 
00:00 / 00:28:44
 
1X
 

Now that we’re all home and living with our significant others because of CoVid-19 aka the coronavirus from Hell, it’s making some of go a little… Well, a little crazy. Why is this? Here we are housebound with the people we love with all our hearts and suddenly just listening to them breathe is making us want to throw knives when we really should just be so thankful that we’re not sick.

Are you feeling this way and freaking out about it? 

Well, you are not alone. Not only is Covid messing with our anxieties, our livelihoods, our health and sending some of us into spirals of depression and grief, it’s also changing our routines and schedules and patterns and that can make us feel kind of vulnerable and off kilter. 

This is where attachment styles come in. In her essay “Coping With an Insecure Attachment Style” on VeryWellMind on carriejonesbooks.blog, Marni Feuerman talks about how our attachment styles can be either secure or insecure and how they arise from our childhood. 

She writes,

“A secure style comes from consistency, reliability, and safety in one’s childhood. As an adult, those with a secure attachment style can reflect back on their childhood and see both the good and the bad that occurred, but in the proper perspective. Overall, they generally feel that someone reliable was always available to them in their formative years. In adulthood, they enjoy close, intimate relationships and do not fear taking risks in love.”

Feuerman

Who are these magical, well-balanced people? They are the ones who are chill and not freaking out about how their significant other is loading the dishwasher, that’s who they are. 

The rest of us have three insecure attachment patterns, she explains, and those are avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized.

THE THREE INSECURE ATTACHMENT PATTERNS

“Avoidant: Avoidant people have a dismissive attitude. They shun intimacy and have many difficulties reaching for others in times of need.

Ambivalent: Those with an ambivalent pattern are often anxious and preoccupied. These people may be viewed as “clingy” or “needy,” often requiring much validation and reassurance.

Disorganized: The disorganized pattern is often the product of trauma or extreme inconsistency in one’s childhood. Disorganized attachment is not a mixture of avoidant and ambivalent attachments—it is a far more serious state where a person has no real coping strategies and is unable to deal with the world.”

Feuerman again

I am ambivalent AF.  Gabby, our dog, is also ambivalent.

What do attachment styles have to do with writing?

Well, when you’re writing about relationships in a dystopian novel or apocalypse, you want to account for those different types of personalities and levels of attachment.

Is your character secure or insecure? What type of insecure?

Knowing that and their background can help you flesh them out and make each character not a carbon copy of you or of your other characters. 

What does this have to do with life?

Well, I think you all know. It’s time to buck up and do the work while we’re social distancing to make sure that we can evolve to the best people we can be and not scream at our loved ones and not repeat bad behaviors. We can’t all afford psychotherapy and we can’t even go see a therapist right now, but a good thing to keep in mind is what Feuerman says,

“To earn security, you have to develop a coherent narrative about what happened to you as a child. You also need to explore the impact it has had on the decisions you may unconsciously have made about how to survive in the world. You have to think critically about how your upbringing affected your attachment style, and work on breaking those patterns.”

Feuerman

That’s hard work, but it’s worth it. Nobody wants a criminal record or to go to jail during a pandemic. You’ve got this. Don’t have Joe Exotic be your end story.

Writing Tip of the Pod 

Think about your main character. Are they secure? Insecure? Why? 

Dog Tip for Life

You’ve got to create a narrative that will help you be the best dog owner you can be. Dogs do this all the time. We’re hurt, abandoned, rescued and we create whole new joyous lives. You can too. Bacon helps. 

Writing Exercise of the Pod

Think about your best friend’s mom. Think about your best friend. What is their narrative? Write it. 

In our random thought (which you hear in the podcast) we talk about:

  1. Tiger King
  2. Zoombombing
  3. Kittens in heat

SHOUT OUT

The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.

Last week’s episode’s link.


WHERE TO FIND US

The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

Last week’s episode link. 

This week’s episode link.

NEWS

Over 180,000 people have downloaded episodes of our podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, you should join them.

NEW PODCAST INTERVIEW EPISODES!

Starting this Thursday we’re sharing bonus interview podcasts with cool people who exist. Check it out and critique Carrie’s interviewing skills.


WRITING NEWS! 

The Writing Course of Awesome

It’s our very own writing course! 

Basically, it’s set up a bit like a distance MFA program, only it costs a lot less and also has a big element of writer support built in. This program costs $125 a month and runs for four-month sessions and starts in April 2020 

To find out more, check out this link. It’s only $125 a month, so it’s a super good deal. Come write with us!


NEW BOOK OF AWESOME

I have a new book out!!!!!! It’s an adult mystery set in the town where we live, which is Bar Harbor, Maine. You can order it here. And you totally should. 

THIS IS WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Rosie Jones, small town reporter and single mom, is looking forward to her first quiet Maine winter with her young daughter, Lily. After a disastrous first marriage, she’s made a whole new life and new identities for her and her little girl. Rosie is more than ready for a winter of cookies, sledding, stories about planning board meetings, and trying not to fall in like with the local police sergeant, Seamus Kelley.

But after her car is tampered with and crashes into Sgt. Kelley’s cruiser during a blizzard, her quiet new world spirals out of control and back into the danger she thought she’d left behind. One of her new friends is murdered. She herself has been poisoned and she finds a list of anagrams on her dead friend’s floor. 

As the killer strikes again, it’s obvious that the women of Bar Harbor aren’t safe. Despite the blizzard and her struggle to keep her new identity a secret, Rosie sets out to make sure no more women die. With the help of the handsome but injured Sgt. Kelley and the town’s firefighters, it’s up to Rosie to stop the murderer before he strikes again.

You can order it here. 

Continue reading “Zoombombing, Tiger King, Kittens in Heat – Is Your Family Driving You Mad During Lockdown? This might be why”

When You Don’t Want to Be A Novelist, Turn to Haikus?

Since I no longer want to be a writer, I am procrastinating and I remembered something I used to procrastinate with. I was a haiku that made haikus out of your blog in some random fashion.

The haiku it gave me is this:

story but our stories
deserve characters who have
seizures or depression

This is quite funny because my first novel, TIPS, obviously has seizures in it. It is also quite unnerving because the WIP I no longer want to write (well, I no longer want to write anything because I am in a mood) has a character who has a form of depression.

It’s like the evil haiku gods are forcing me to to be a writer.

TO THE HAIKU GENERATOR

Leave me alone! I yell.
I am not tough enough for
the endless meanness.

Yep. I wrote that one. But not this one, which I just used another haiku generator to create.

VIRUS – A HAIKU


Distressing fountain
A live, anxious virus flies
betrayed by the shoes

That did not help my anxiety today, but it may have explained a lot about the current pandemic.

Here’s a link to a haiku generator. Let me know if you make something awesome!

I leave you with this.

Beer – A Haiku

Horny public house
A small, sloppy beer vomits
despite the pencils.

There’s just so much to unwrap there, isn’t there?

Stay safe and well and calm, my friends. It’s almost National Poetry Writing Month! We’ve got this.

WHERE TO FIND OUR PODCAST- DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE

The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

This week’s episode link. 

NEWS

Over 187,000 people have downloaded episodes of our podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, you should join them!

WRITING NEWS! 

I have a new book out!!!!!! It’s an adult mystery set in the town where we live, which is Bar Harbor, Maine. You can order it here. And you totally should. 

Continue reading “When You Don’t Want to Be A Novelist, Turn to Haikus?”

The Places We Hide – an Excerpt

Hey, everyone! I realized that I never do book excerpts on here. I know! I know, right? What kind of author am I? Apparently, I am an author who fails to market.

But here’s an excerpt. I hope you’ll read it, like it, and buy it! That’s me marketing. 🙂

The Places We Hide

Chapter One

Hiding women are so similar; most of us are pretending that we aren’t hiding at all and we all seem to do it – the hiding – right out in the open. 

The sky looms over the tops of the little colonials and Victorian houses that line lower Ledgelawn Avenue. The air breathes across the neighborhood like some sort of cold soldier, waiting for things to happen. 

I haul in a bag of pellets off the front porch and into our living room and call for Lilly to hurry up before I open the heavy drapes by the loveseat window. I’m trying to make the room a tiny bit brighter, which is a losing battle, especially given the deep, gray color of the coastal Maine sky. 

            Winter will be fine this year. 

            I tell myself these sort of lies all the time. I tell myself that it is totally healthy to binge on Doritos after a meeting or that other mothers also hate quinoa. I tell myself that our lives are safe and good now. Safe and good. I tell myself that we won’t be found.

            If I was a drinking kind of person, I would be tempted to pour myself some wine, but instead, I just settle into the couch and wait for Lilly to come downstairs. There’s a copy of Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine on the round, farmhouse-industrial coffee table in front of me. It was on sale. Everything I buy is on sale. 

            It’s been over a year though; we’re safe. 

            When I pick up the book, the first page mentions rape. I put the book down and stare at it. Then I turn it over so I don’t have to see the blue cover and the woman’s face up in the sky or the words ‘triumphant national bestseller,’ even though I know those words probably mean that it has a happy ending. Right? 

            Books tend to be liars. 

            No. No, that doesn’t have to be true. For months, I’ve been trying to convince myself that I don’t need to worry about things anymore. Lilly and I have made a life for ourselves. The threat of snowflakes doesn’t change that, doesn’t take away the safety and life that I’ve built. Still, the memories of another winter, a specific winter day, come blizzarding back to me. The screams that I didn’t realize were my own. Lilly in my arms, gasping for breath. Escaping out the window onto the porch roof. Convincing Lilly to jump into a neighbor’s arms. The house on fire behind us. 

            I pick up the book again. Winter will be over eventually. It’s only just starting. Obviously, I need to get used to it – to the short days and cold, the way the memories keep flooding back no matter how hard I try to push them down. 

            “Mommy! I’m ready!” 

            The happy noise of Lilly’s feet tap lightly down the dark-stained tops of the wooden stairs that we just re-stained last week. We painted the baseboards white, hiding the scuff marks of past owners. Moving on, starting over, everyone does it, just not quite so dramatically as we did.

            “Hey there, cutie face,” I say as she rockets over to the couch wearing a glittery rainbow ballerina tutu over her unicorn leggings. She has her favorite pink wool giraffe sweater on and layered over that are the gold fairy wings that I bought her for her Halloween costume. She was a ballerina-fairy-kitty, a Lilly original. Today though, she’s topped her ensemble with a cowboy hat. “You look stylish.”

            She beams. “Do I have to wear a coat?”

            “Yes.”

            “But my fairy wings.” She points at them sticking out behind her. 

            “Need to come off in the car anyways.” I’m bringing her to a play date even though I still worry about not being with her 100 percent of the time. I push the unhealthy anxiety into my shoulder muscles.

            Batting her eyelids, she leans forward. “Mommy. . .”

            “They’ll be crushed. No self-respecting cowboy-ballerina-fairy wants crushed wings, right?”

            “True that,” she says with the fierceness of a fashionista and slings off the wings. She pulls a piece of toast out from the folds of her costume. “My bread is boring.” 

            “Did you put butter on it?” I ask. 

            “No. That would stain my costume.”

            “Not if you don’t put your snack in your costume, silly,” I say, standing up and tweaking her nose. 

Taking her bread, I head to the kitchen and apply some butter pretty liberally. I know that the good mom handbook is against fat in children’s diets and also against excess sugar, but I’m sure that I’ve been not following the handbook for a while now. Relocating your daughter, giving yourself a new name and identity, probably doesn’t fit in with the perceptions of good mom either. 

            “Baby, come in here and eat your bread at the counter,” I call. 

She skips into the kitchen and comes up to the little island/counter that separates the kitchen from our small dining area, which barely fits the table and bookcase that I’d put in it. The table came from Goodwill and had a million marks and scuffs on the wood, but I’d bought some ModPodge, fancy paper, and sponge applicators and made it prettier. It was good enough for us for now. And that is all that matters. Us. 

            Sighing, I head to the addition where the door to the basement, bathroom, and laundry are. I check the door to the little back deck and stare out at the fenced-in yard overlooking a short border of trees and then the town’s ballfield. Everything is secure. I let myself exhale for a second and lean against the big window, putting my forehead against the cold windowpane. I try so hard not to live in fear, to not be paranoid, and I usually think I’m successful, but then it’s habits like these that make me realize that I’m just fooling myself and that underneath the surface of everything is a constant fear made real by routines like this – double checking doors, first-floor windows, always knowing two escape routes from every room that we’re in. 

            Lilly comes in and grabs my hand. “You ready, Mommy?”

            I am. I have to go take photos for the paper and she’s heading to her favorite friend’s house. The beautiful thing about Bar Harbor, Maine compared to Colorado is how quickly the families accepted us and took care of us. Everyone is constantly having playdates and book clubs and gatherings. Allegedly, it’s because in the summer everyone is so overwhelmed by the tourists and then in the winter everyone is so overwhelmed by the nothingness and white grays of winter that they have to gather together in warm places to remind themselves that there is light in the grayness and cold that is the winter world. 

            When we head back to the kitchen, it’s obvious that Lilly has devoured almost all of her bread and has half demolished an apple. 

“You thirsty?” I ask, opening the refrigerator.

            “No.”

            “Want some milk?” I wave the jug in front of her face. It’s one of our running gags because she hates it so much and I always pretend to forget that she hates it so much. 

            She makes a barfing noise while I mock surprise and gulp some milk out of the jug myself. 

            “That’s rude, Mommy.” She crosses her arms over her chest.

            “I am a terrible, terrible human being and should go to prison right this second for such a serious offense.”

            She just sticks her tongue out at me. I put the lid back on the milk and pull out an apple, which I toss to her. She catches it in one hand. 

            “Just in case you get hungry later.” I put the milk back in the refrigerator, inhale through my nose, which is supposed to help with anxiety and fear of it away. I’ve got to tell you though; it’s hard to fear anxiety when it lives inside you like a constant friend. You get used to it hanging around.

            “They always feed me at Michelle’s,” Lilly says, studying the apple. 

            I hug her. “It’s just me trying to take care of you.”

            “You’re such a mommy.” She hugs me back. 

We put on winter jackets, hats, mittens and I resist the urge to recheck the back door and we go. I grab my camera bag and lock the front door behind us. Lilly skips down the sidewalk chanting, “Snow day. Snow day. Snow day.”

            She scurries into our MINI Cooper the moment I hit the fob that unlocks the car. The afternoon air is brisk. We’ve survived many Colorado mountain winters so I doubt a winter on Maine’s coast is going to be a big deal. The ocean makes the island we live on warmer. The snow doesn’t get too deep – not compared to where we were before. 

            Walter Hildebrand, one of those cops that are more a stereotype than they should be thanks to his massive girth and love of donuts, honks the horn at us. It’s a cheerful honk and not what you expect from a patrol car. 

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” he yells out his window, which he’s already rolling up again before we can respond.

            It’s getting closer to Christmas. I’m secretly excited about our first Christmas alone, but also worried because the gifts aren’t going to be nearly as fancy or expensive as the gifts Lilly is used to. She wants a certain doll that costs so much money that I’ve complained about it to everyone I meet. The other big thing she wants is a Lego set that is legitimately the same amount as one week of my small reporter’s salary. And a dog. I grew up poor, lower middle class, but until now Lilly has grown up rich – scared, but rich. Things are drastically different.

            “Buckle up, baby,” I say as she straps herself in. 

            “You don’t have to remind me, Mommy.” She cocks her head in a sort of arrogant way. “I’m a big girl.” 

            “I know.”

            “And I’m very responsible.”

            “I know.”

            I scruff her hair. She smiles at me. And looking over my shoulder, I back out of the driveway onto Ledgelawn. There’s a massive tree in between my house and the neighbor’s house and it makes me nervous whenever I leave. Down the street, Sarah Lowell is walking her big old pittie, heading in the opposite direction from us. Directly across the street, Karol Baker, lifts up his hand in a wave. I toot the horn in reply and Lilly waves enthusiastically at Karol. She loves him because he has a yellow lab that he always lets her pet. 

            “I like this town,” she announces as we drive to her play date. 

Continue reading “The Places We Hide – an Excerpt”

The Haiku That Changed My Life

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH is almost here so I am totally going to theme out this April.

Why?

Because poetry changed my life in second grade. Seriously. 

I was this kid who talked like a Muppet. Everyone made fun of me so I didn’t talk at all in first grade. I was known as THE QUIET KID WHO GIVES HER SNACKS AWAY – SO DO NOT BEAT HER UP.

The teachers couldn’t figure me out. I never said anything. Teachers tend to like kids who raise their hand and talk. 

Then, I wrote a haiku in September of second grade. I had all the syllables right. It wasn’t about Tonka trucks. It was about nature so the teacher, Mrs. Snierson, posted it in big letters on the wall and decided I was gifted. Whew. Did I fool her. 

The poem was:


Spring is fun you see
Because flowers grow with rain
And robins come home.

This is how I learned that teachers are important to writers’ egos.That one poem got me into gifted programs.


That one poem got me noticed.


That one poem put my life on a trajectory that didn’t have to do with silence.

So, yeah, I like poems. 

Poems are how I stopped being silent.

So, I’m going to write poems and talk about poems sometimes in April. I hope you’ll join me!

WHERE TO FIND OUR PODCAST

The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

This week’s episode link. 

NEWS

Over 180,000 people have downloaded episodes of our podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, you should join them.

Continue reading “The Haiku That Changed My Life”

Rebel Reading the Hobbit & Talking Head Syndrome

Rebel Reading the Hobbit & Talking Head Syndrome

 
 
00:00 / 00:23:47
 
1X
 

A lot of time I’ll be reading scenes in books and it will be two characters talking and I’ll only have a vaguely general idea about where they are. Maybe I won’t have an idea at all. We call this evil beast the talking heads syndrome. 

Cue scary music here. 

WHAT IS TALKING HEADS SYNDROME?

No, it’s not about the iconic 1980s group. Sorry!

It’s where there’s a lot of dialogue going on but there’s no actual anchor for the characters. It’s like they are floating in space blabbing at each other. There’s no physical world placement. 

This happens a lot and it’s because some of us are writers who really hear our scenes rather than see our scenes or live in our scenes. It’s also because we sometimes forget to get those anchors in there. 

How to Imagine Yourself in a Scene

To do this exercise you have to step away from the keyboard for a second and stand up. We know! We know! Writers are all about sitting down and putting their butts in the chair and getting the work done, right? Well, give yourself five minutes and stand up in a quiet place preferably not in Starbucks or anything. 

Now close your eyes and think about your scene where there are talking heads.

SMELL

There you are with your characters. Maybe you can even imagine yourself as one of the characters. Possess them like they’re Zac Bagans and you’re filming Ghost Adventures. Inhale. What kind of smells are you smelling? Remember that. 

SOUND

You’re still there with the characters standing in the setting. What do you hear? Remember that. 

TOUCH

Your characters don’t stay completely still for the whole scene, do they? Have them move even if it’s to fidget. Let them touch things. What do those things feel like? Are they hot? Textured? Hands aren’t the only things that touch. Does their hair sweep over something? Does their foot kick against a table? Do their shoulders lean against the rough wood of the wall? 

TASTE

What does it feel like inside their mouth? Dry? Coppery? Do they need to brush their teeth? Please make them floss. Everyone should floss. 

SIGHT

This is the fallback for most writers and it can have some issues. We want to be able to visualize the setting and where things are happening, but we don’t need the buffer of the character seeing what’s happening. 

There are a lot of stories where it says, 

“Shaun looked over and saw the cat dangling from the curtain.”  

Don’t pad the details with distancing words. Don’t tell us that Shaun’s looking. Just have us see. 

Instead write, 

“The cat dangled from the curtain.”  

It’s so much more powerful. 

MOVEMENT

Have the characters move. Give them actions and objective correlatives to their emotional states. 

What are the next steps to Banishing the talking heads?

No, it’s not casting David Byrne to an isolated bunker in Nebraska. It’s also not putting him on SNL. It has nothing to do with him! I promise.

The next step is incorporating what you imagined for tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing, movement into the actual scene. You have to have your characters’ perceptions of the outside world and setting incorporated into that dialogue and action. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper. 

WRITING TIP OF THE POD

Don’t be full of talking heads. Write scenes that come alive. 

DOG TIP FOR LIFE

Be in the moment, man, and actually notice things. 

Note: In the random thoughts in bed section of our podcast we talk about Liberal cheers, famous for being losers, getting thick thanks to the Coronavirus and Shaun binging Swedish Fish, and golf balls. How’s that for random? 

SHOUT OUT

The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song?  It’s “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.

Last week’s episode’s link.


WHERE TO FIND US

The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

This week’s episode link. 

NEWS

Over 180,000 people have downloaded episodes of our podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, you should join them.

Continue reading “Rebel Reading the Hobbit & Talking Head Syndrome”

How to Make a Good Book Better

I am currently being whipped down into one of Dante’s lower circles of hell due to:

  • 1. My deadline crunch on a million things.
  • 2. My dog who has decided that something evil is in the lot behind our house and she must press her body into mine at all times in order to keep me safe. She simultaneously barks while doing this. It is making writing a little – um – difficult? Have I mentioned that she’s a large dog? 
I love my people. I protect them with my furry charm and big bark.

Here are some things I (should) think about when I’m revising. Hopefully, they’ll help you out, too.


I’ve taken them from James Plath’s article “Twenty-One Tweaks to a Better Tale.” 

1. Does the beginning need to be an ending?



Sometimes our beginnings stink. 

Beginnings need to be:
powerful
witty
stunning

This could be a powerful piece of dialogue, a witty description or a stunning scene. 

Sometimes we writers have to amp up, sort of rev our engines before we start the race of the story. 

My engine is revving. Shh…..


Side note: Some of us never get started.

It’s okay to cross entire paragraphs or a chapter out. 

2. Check Out How It Ends



Just like a beginning needs to be powerful or witty or stunning to draw us in like a really good appetizer, the ending has to linger (not in the way heartburn lingers). The ending has to resonate.

Is there a way to echo earlier images or words or a phrase so that it has that extra kick, making the reader realize that there are deeper things going on, that there is a deeper meaning, that this story or poem somehow touches on the truth that is life. 


3. Make Love to the Image

Have an image that resonates throughout the story. In the movie, Brokeback Mountain, it’s when one guy is hugging the other guy from behind him or it’s when he says, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” 

Think about a book like Carolyn Coman’s MANY STONES or THE HOBBIT or CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS. There are central images in there. Do that. Use an image. A strong image will keep your story in readers’ memories. 

4. Is the right person telling the tale?


I mean, I have often written gothic murder love stories from the point of view of Barney the Dinosaur, but it never seems to work. Have you had this problem too? 

Do not be afraid to switch that tale teller to Baby Bop.

I giggle! I am Baby Bop! 

5. Is your narrator talking to him/herself too much?


My former teacher and amazing writer-man Tim Wynne Jones once yelled at me (via email and in a lovely way) because I stopped a fight scene to have the narrator look at her Snoopy shoes. 

Dude. That is just not cool. 


Don’t have the character talk too much internally, but don’t have them not talk at ALL internally because then they are just robotic or perhaps a little shallow.

Nobody wants to read a whole novel from Barney’s point-of -view. It is not super-dee-duper. 


So get some internal monologue in there. 

Everything is super-dee-duper, writers! If a purple dino can dance and have his own tv show then you can revise! 

6. Do you have enough people in your story? Too many? 


I once wrote a story with three characters in it. It even actually won an award, which had actual money attached to it, but it did not get published.

Of course, my agent hasn’t submitted it, but that’s probably because it’s soooooooooo thin. A story with too few characters is like going out to dinner and only getting a cracker. It is not satisfying usually unless it’s a really big, yummy, super-cool cracker.

It’s the same thing with too many characters. I am one of those people who are easily confused. If there are twenty character names in the first two paragraphs I pretty much give up on the book.

Get rid of those unnecessary characters. 

It’s all about me! And my core group of friends! Sometimes you have to trim those expendables. That’s why they call them expendable. They are totally expendable. 

WRITING AND PODCAST NEWS

Over 170,000 people have downloaded episodes of our podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, you should join them. There will be a new episode tomorrow! 

Last week’s episode’s link.

This week’s episode’s link.


I HAVE A NEW BOOK! 

THIS IS WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Rosie Jones, small town reporter and single mom, is looking forward to her first quiet Maine winter with her young daughter, Lily. After a disastrous first marriage, she’s made a whole new life and new identities for her and her little girl. Rosie is more than ready for a winter of cookies, sledding, stories about planning board meetings, and trying not to fall in like with the local police sergeant, Seamus Kelley.

But after her car is tampered with and crashes into Sgt. Kelley’s cruiser during a blizzard, her quiet new world spirals out of control and back into the danger she thought she’d left behind. One of her new friends is murdered. She herself has been poisoned and she finds a list of anagrams on her dead friend’s floor. 

As the killer strikes again, it’s obvious that the women of Bar Harbor aren’t safe. Despite the blizzard and her struggle to keep her new identity a secret, Rosie sets out to make sure no more women die. With the help of the handsome but injured Sgt. Kelley and the town’s firefighters, it’s up to Rosie to stop the murderer before he strikes again.

You can order it here. 


IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, ORDER NOW!

My new book, IN THE WOODS, is out!

Gasp!

It’s with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!

Order this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

In the Woods
In the Woods

ART NEWS

Becoming

Buy limited-edition prints and learn more about my art here on my site.