MS Word Keyboard Shortcuts

Whether you’re working today, grillin’, or hanging poolside, Happy Memorial Day! For those outside the U.S. a belated but heartfelt Happy Remembrance Day!

I hope the following shortcuts will help save you productivity time when you return to the keyboard. I’ve broken the keystrokes into two sections — Windows and Mac — to act as a quick and easy reference guide.

Please note: Today is all about MS Word. For other shortcuts, such as inserting advanced symbols/characters, WordPress, or YouTube, see Writing Hacks: Keyboard Shortcuts. Please ignore my wonky columns. 😉

COMPOSING & EDITING                          WINDOWS                MAC


Create a new document                              Ctrl-N                          ⌘-N

Open document                                          Ctrl-O                         ⌘-O

Save document                                           Ctrl-S                         ⌘-S

Open “Save As”                                           F12                            ⌘-Shift-S

Close document                                          Ctrl-W                        ⌘-W

Print document                                            Ctrl-P                         ⌘-P

Select All                                                     Ctrl-A                         ⌘-A

Copy to clipboard                                        Ctrl-C                         ⌘-C or F3

Paste from clipboard                                    Ctrl-V                          ⌘-V or F4

Delete selection & copy to clipboard             Ctrl-X                          ⌘-X or F2

Undo last action                                           Ctrl-Z                         ⌘-Z or F1

Redo last action                                           Ctrl-Y                         ⌘-Y

Add comment                                             Ctrl-Alt-M                    ⌘-Option-A

Turn revision tracking on/off                          Ctrl-Shift-E                  ⌘-Shift-E

Run spelling/grammar check                        F7                              ⌘-Option-L or F7




Bold                                                         Ctrl-B                         ⌘-B

Italics                                                        Ctrl-I                           ⌘-I

Underline                                                  Ctrl-U                         ⌘-U

Double underline                                       Ctrl-Shift-D                 ⌘-Shift-D

Underline words, not spaces                     Ctrl-Shift-W                ⌘-Shift-W

Strikethrough text                                       Alt-H, 4                     ⌘-Shift-X

All caps                                                     Ctrl-Shift-A                ⌘-Shift-A

Superscript text                                         Ctrl-Shift-+                 ⌘-Shift-+

Subscript text                                             Ctrl-=                        ⌘-=

Increase font size                                        Ctrl-Shift->                ⌘-Shift->

Decrease font size                                      Ctrl-Shift-<                ⌘-Shift-<

Insert hyperlink                                           Ctrl-K                        ⌘-K

Open font dialog box                                  Ctrl-D                        ⌘-D

or Ctrl-Shift-F


Left-align text                                              Ctrl-L                          ⌘-L

Right-align text                                            Ctrl-R                         ⌘-R

Center-align text                                         Ctrl-E                          ⌘-E

Justify text                                                  Ctrl-J                          ⌘-J

Indent paragraph                                        Ctrl-M                         Ctrl-Shift-M

Remove indentation                                   Ctrl-Shift-M                 ⌘-Shift-M

Change to single spaced                           Ctrl-1                          ⌘-1

Change to double spaced                          Ctrl-2                          ⌘-2

Change to 1.5 spaced                               Ctrl-5                          ⌘-5

Remove paragraph formatting                     Ctrl-Q

Open Apply Styles task pane                     Ctrl-Shift-S

Open Styles pane                                     Ctrl-Alt-Shift-S              ⌘-Option-Shift-S


Move up one paragraph                           Ctrl-Up arrow            ⌘-Up arrow

Move down one paragraph                       Ctrl-Down arrow       ⌘-Down arrow

Move right one word                                 Ctrl-Right arrow        ⌘-Right arrow

Move left one word                                   Ctrl-Left arrow          ⌘-Left arrow

Move to top of document                          Ctrl-Home                ⌘-Home or ⌘-Fn-Left arrow

Move to bottom of document                    Ctrl-End                    ⌘-End or ⌘-Fn-Right arrow

Go to dialog box                                       Ctrl-G or F5              ⌘-Option-G or F5

Switch among last four places in doc        Ctrl-Alt-Z

Switch to Print Layout                               Ctrl-Alt-P

Switch to Outline View                              Ctrl-Alt-O

Switch to Draft View                                  Ctrl-Alt-N

Switch to Read Mode View                        Alt-W,F

Split document window/remove split          Ctrl-Alt-S

Display Help                                                 F1


Find                                                           Ctrl-F                          ⌘-F

Find and Replace                                       Ctrl-H or Alt-H-R          ⌘-H-R

Find tab (inside Find and Replace)              Alt-D



Type these special characters into the Find box to search document:

  • Em dash
  • En dash
  • Em space
  • En space
  • Copyright symbol
  • Registered symbol
  • Trademark
  • Section symbol
  • Paragraph symbol
  • Ellipsis
  • Double opening quote
  • Double closing quote


Within the Find and Replace dialog box, choose one of the following special characters:

  • Em dash
  • En dash
  • Nonbreaking hyphen
  • Optional hyphen
  • Nonbreaking space
  • Section symbol
  • Paragraph symbol

I find it easier to create my own shortcuts for special characters and symbols I use on a regular basis. For example, if you want to create a shortcut for the em dash, go to Insert > Advanced Symbol > Special Characters. At the bottom of the dialog box click Keyboard Shortcut and a new dialog pops up. In the Press New Keyboard Shortcut box, type Ctrl-E or whatever is easy to remember. Click OK and you’re done. Easy peasy. The same applies to symbols, only you’ll choose Symbols instead of Special Characters.


Click Replace, then More to expand dialog box

Click Format and a list of different formatting types appear. Search by font, paragraph, tab, language, frame, style, or highlight.

Select the type of formatting you want replaced. A dialog box opens, showing all the formatting options available to search for in that category.

For example, the Find Font dialog box is a copy of the Font Formatting dialog box, with all the same formatting options.

Specify formatting type. Then click OK

Repeat these steps to find additional types of formatting. You can even search for text with both specific font formatting and paragraph formatting at the same time.

Click Replace With

Click Format

Select formatting type (font, paragraph, tabs, language, frame, style, highlight)

This is especially helpful if you need to highlight italicized words for the publisher. In my career, I’ve worked with five different publishers and every house required it be done during final edits.

Click OK

Select replacement option: Replace, Replace All, Replace Next

Click OK

Click Close


I’m curious if highlighting italics is an industry standard.

Where are my Indie authors who do their own formatting? Do you highlight italics? What program do you use for formatting? Is highlighting italics a requirement for that program?

Traditional authors, does your publisher ask you to highlight italics during final edits?


Can I Quote Song Lyrics in My Novel?

by James Scott Bell

A question I’m asked from time to time is about whether or not an author can quote a song lyric in a novel.

If you browse around the internet you’ll find almost universal agreement with this answer: No, you cannot quote a song without getting permission and paying a fee. Hard stop.

Actually, soft stop. The correct legal answer is—as in your first love or first attempt at a tax return—complicated.

The issue is whether a song—which is of course copyrighted material—is subject to the “fair use doctrine” just like other works, such as books. Fair use allows for a small portion of a work to be used under certain circumstances.

So the first thing to note is that there is no statute or court decision that exempts song lyrics from fair use. Zip.


…the rules for applying “fair use” are about as clear as Mrs. Murphy’s chowder after the overalls have been tossed in. (Astute readers will recognize that I have just paraphrased a line from a song made popular by Mr. Bing Crosby. On the practice of paraphrase, see below).

So let’s take it step by step, for as Lennon and McCartney once put it, we must travel a rather long road that is winding. (Paraphrase!)

Here I must add, disclaimeringly, that this does not constitute legal advice (yadda-yadda). Take it as opinion, because unlike Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue in the Steve Miller song, I’m not anxious to take your money and run.

Fair Use Doctrine

In short form, the Fair Use Doctrine allows for quoting copyrighted material, based upon four factors:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Courts have held that all of these factors must be taken into consideration, with no single factor carrying greater weight than the others. It all depends on the specific facts of the case—and on who gets to decide. It’s not clear whether a jury or a judge should be the fact finder (if you’re interested in a scholarly analysis of this issue, you can read this).

So any way you look at this area of law, you’re going to see murk.

A Hypothetical Case

Joe Doakes writes a novel about a rock band whose lead character likes to sing a line from a famous song every now and then. Joe is an indie author, and up goes the book.

Six months later he gets a cease-and-desist letter from a lawyer for the company that handles licensing the song. It states, in effect, Don’t you realize you have to pay for this? Withdraw the book now and pay us $1500 and we won’t take you to court.

Joe consults a lawyer friend, a rock drummer on the side, and true to his rebellious nature the lawyer says, “Let me write a letter for you, and I’ll handle this pro bono.”

The letter goes through each of the four fair use factors, and concludes: The most compelling factor is the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the song. That’s because far from causing you damage, the use is to your financial benefit. It’s free advertising. The lyric is quoted in a favorable light. If anything, this will lead to a portion of readers wanting to purchase or stream the song. Further, as the lyrics of the entire song are widely accessible on the internet, there is no possible way the use of one line in this book will affect the market or value in any way whatsoever. Respectfully yours, Joseph Doakes.

Now the company will have to decide if they want to pile up in-house lawyer fees to tangle with this guy Doakes. Doakes is taking a risk, of course, but he’s willing to do it. He’s a rocker, after all, and one of the things he likes to rock is boats.

It would indeed be interesting to finally get a court decision on this. The argument for fair use is strong, in my humble opinion. But litigation is fraught with uncertainties. Isn’t there another way? I’m glad you asked.

The Paraphrase Workaround

Joe Doakes can avoid the grinder of the courts by way of what I call “the paraphrase workaround.” Examples:

As I drove toward the police station, a song came up on the oldies station. Stevie Wonder was singing about the sunshine of his life and the apple of his eye. I loved that song! But all I could think of was the darkness in my own life and the dead body in my trunk.


As I drove toward the police station, a song came up on the oldies station. The Beatles were singing about going down to fields of strawberries, where nothing was real. Ha! I wished I could go those fields right now, because there was a very real dead body in my trunk.

No muss, no fuss. And, most important, no lawsuit.

Okay, so what if you really, really, really want to use the exact lyric? You can seek permission to quote, for a fee. How hefty that will be is also uncertain, because a company can charge whatever it wants to. I once got permission to quote an entire song, for a reasonable price. The conditions were that the use not be derogatory and that the front matter include their standard permissions language. Done and done.

But I’ve also seen outrageous fees for a single line. Should that happen to you, you can always try to negotiate. Or get Joe Doakes’s lawyer to do it for you.

(A helpful article on how to find who grants licenses for particular songs can be found here.)

Public Domain

One last note. Any song written before 1927 is now in the public domain. More come in each year. So how about this?

As I drove toward the police station, a song came up on the oldies station. Elvis!

Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apart?

Yeah, I was lonely all right. But was I sorry we drifted apart? Was I sorry he was dead and in the trunk of my car? Um, no.

Wait, what? Elvis sang this in 1960. Yeah, but the song was published in 1926. You can now use it any way you please. (You can search for songs in the public domain here.)

This is a lot to digest, I know. But when you’re dealing with copyright law, contra Paul Simon’s advice, you really can’t think too much.

An Unplanned Lane

A few months ago, I bought a walk-behind DR brush cutter to clear several overgrown acres in the back half of our new weekend property in Lamar County, Texas. In our part of the world we usually use tractors with bush hogs dragging behind, but I didn’t want to lay out the capital for such a big rig, hence the DR.

This thing is a beast that chews up saplings three inches in diameter without even struggling to clear its throat. Chest-high Johnson grass and weeds? No problem. It shreds that kind of vegetation with satisfying, crunching sounds reminiscent of a sharp knife cutting through limp celery.

The front stretches out like the hood of a ’76 Ford Thunderbird and the monster cutter is driven by an engine big enough to power that same car. The belt drive will yank it from your hands in third gear, so the only thing one has to do is engage the blade thick as a Roman broadsword and follow…sometimes reluctantly when the terrain forces a veer off the operator’s intended path.

One such unplanned shift in direction took me through a thick patch of head-high thorny blackberry vines and oak saplings, resulting in long, bloody scratches down my arms. However, when I looked back, the new lane was clear as a walking path in a city park.

Hang on, Ethyl, I think this boy’s gonna start reminiscing!

The whole thing reminded me of a scene that locked into my mind about twenty years ago when the legendary Y.O. Ranch in South Texas hosted a weekend cattle drive for outdoor writers and one of their children. Our youngest daughter who was thirteen at the time, nickname Taz, is a natural on horses and she was excited to go.

It was a real three-day cattle drive across that huge 40,000-acre ranch, moving a hundred or more longhorns from one pasture to another. On the first day, cowboys taught the city slickers how to ride, and later that evening kids learned to cook over an open campfire. It was a breeze for Taz, who grew up camping with us and already knew how to ride.

We pushed the herd on the second morning under a gray, leaden sky weeping with rain. The herd’s trail boss made it clear that if “things got western,” kids and dads were to get the hell out of the way and let the real cowboys handle the herd.

Ten experienced cowhands circled the cattle and pushed them into a long string through the first pasture full of prairie savanna grasses, cedars, and ragged mesquite. Mounted kids and dads filled in the loose circle of riders, walking their horses in pace with the longhorns and cowboys who looked to be straight out of casting.

I was riding point with the trail boss and Taz was halfway back when something spooked the tough, rangy longhorns. The leaders instinctively wheeled and charged into a thicket of fifteen-foot-high mesquite trees lining a dry wash. The rest of the herd followed, ignoring the experienced cattlemen’s attempts to stop them.

In the Trail Boss’s terms, things got western.

He spurred his horse and took off to the right and around the end of that big patch of crooked trees, intending to cut the herd’s leaders off and turn them until the rest of the cowboys punched through the dense foliage to help. Reins in one hand and a 35mm camera in the other, I followed right behind him and watched that man sit his horse like he’d been born in a saddle. Not nearly as graceful in the saddle, I held my own and we beat the herd coming through the brush and reined up in a small clearing to experience a scene straight from the 1880s.

The running cattle sounded as if a steamfoller was crashing through the thicket. Branches and limbs popped and crackled, hooves thundered on the ground, and whoops reached our ears both from kids and cowboys.

Then here they came. The leaders exploded through the thicket in a blast of dust and flying leaves with broken limbs and dead branches caught on their horns. The real cowboys popped out on both sides of the herd, doing their best to keep the cattle from scattering to the winds. My breath caught at the sight of a scratched and bloody kid bent low over the saddle horn to avoid the limbs, holding her hat with one hand, and riding like hell.

She passed us and flashed me a grin full of excitement and fun.

The trail boss roared and pointed. “Who the hell belongs to that kid?”

I raised a hand, expecting a good old fashioned dressing down in a cowboy way.

Instead, he built his own grin. “That little gal can ride with me any day!”

They passed, and I looked through a newly cleared lane stomped flat by hooves and huge bodies to see the rest of the kids and their fathers picking their way through the undergrowth.

Under a similar gray sky yesterday in Northeast Texas, I turned after unintentionally following the DR brush cutter through a ten-foot-high thicket of saplings and blackberry vines and the new lane looked similar to the one pounded flat by that runaway herd

So what does all this have to do with writing?

Creating your characters, building a scene, and then setting those fictional people on course is like starting that cattle drive. We’d planned to follow a two-track pasture road that day, an outline if you wish, but the thing turned on a dime.

I hadn’t planned on that lane the other day, just like Trail Boss hadn’t planned on his longhorns cutting a new path through the mesquites, but I was glad for the experience and such satisfying results, both times

My way of writing is to set everything into motion and then follow the plot as it turns when it wants, but those of you who outline may shriek and throw up your hands at veering off your course and abandoning your outline. Planners must push their characters say and do certain things at specific points in a manuscript, but wait a second.

Try this little exercise just once. Let your mind wander through five or six new pages, allowing your characters’ fictional personalities to find their way. They might turn around a sapling (read minor character), a mature oak (one of your major characters), or an unseen obstacle such as a dip or dry wash (clues or an unanticipated incident) and cut a different, open path that you can look back on with satisfaction.

What could a few bloody, mental scratches hurt in the long run?


Reader Friday – 200,000 Scenes – 40 Chapters

Three days ago (Tuesday), my wife and I sold an office building where I had practiced medicine for thirty-five years of my 40-year career.

After a year of foot dragging and wanting me to give them the building, our local hospital finally got serious when they learned another hospital was interested in the property. Within two days we had a signed contract. Now the hospital can demolish the building and enlarge their parking lot.

Tuesday night I lay awake reflecting on what had occupied more than half of my life. I began tallying the number of patients I had seen: 100+ patients /week. 5000+ patients/year. 200,000+ patients in 40 years.

Each of those patients had a story to tell of their pain, suffering, injury, or aging. Each was ready to take on the conflict with the antagonist, and invited me to join the battle. And each visit resulted in a record of their story being entered into their chart – 200,000 stories (scenes) over a span of 40 years (chapters).

I started a new book 13 years ago when I began studying and writing fiction. It’s now time to write “THE END” at the back of the earlier book, those forty chapters of life, and close the book.

Thanks for allowing me to reflect.

Today’s discussion is endings:

  • What is your all-time favorite book ending?
  • What is your favorite ending you have crafted for one of your books?
  • Do you have a dream ending that you plan to work into a future book?

True Crime Thursday – Pee for Profit


By Debbie Burke



Did you ever think pee could lead to riches? Me neither.

However, the owners of Northwest Physicians Laboratory (NWPL) of Bellevue, OR, figured out a way that earned them millions of dollars before the feds caught them.

In April, 2022, Richard Reid, 53, of Astoria, OR, was convicted of five federal felonies resulting from his and his co-conspirators’ scheme to receive illegal kickbacks for lab tests on urine specimens.

According to U.S. Attorney Nick Brown, NWPL officers and Reid knew:

“…it was illegal to profit on tests conducted by his toxicology lab that were paid for by government insurance. The web of referrals and kick-backs increased profits for Reid and his co-conspirators, while inflating medical costs for the rest of us. This is essentially theft from taxpayers.”

The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits physician-owned labs from profiting for services billed to Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE. A statement from the Department of Justice says:

“Paying remuneration to medical providers or provider-owned laboratories in exchange for referrals encourages providers to order medically unnecessary services.” 

How did NWPL’s scheme work?

Reid, VP of Sales, and his cohorts steered urine tests to other labs, resulting in payments from Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE of more than $6.5 million. Those labs then turned around and shared the ill-gotten gains with NWPL by paying them more than $3.7 million disguised as “marketing services.”

The scheme lasted from 2013 to 2015 until investigators uncovered it. In February, 2021, NWPL pled guilty and was sentenced to pay more than $8 million in restitution. The lab is now out of business.

NWPL’s CEO Jae Lee and Executive Director Kevin Puls pled guilty, along with Steve Verschoor, the head of a lab that paid kickbacks. In July, 2022, the co-conspirators will be sentenced and face up to five years in prison for each count.

Pee for profit sounded like a good idea at the time. After conviction, though, I suspect the conspirators might say, “Aw, p*iss on it!”


TKZers: Any thoughts on this scheme? Bad jokes welcome.





Binge-read all SEVEN books in the Tawny Lindholm Thriller series, only $.99 each through May 30. 

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Thoughts on Thoughts

Thoughts on Thoughts
Terry Odell

Tips on Writing Thoughts

A recent read dealing with the way a debut author dealt with characters’ thoughts triggered this post.

This author handled things differently from my preferences, which pulled me out of the story. Not to say the author was wrong, but it slowed the read. The subject has made it to these pages before, but here’s my take. (For courtesy reasons, I’m not using examples from the author’s book.)

I’m a Deep POV person. Doesn’t matter if I’m writing first (rarely, but I’ve done it) or third (where I’m most comfortable, and which is almost first), I want readers to be inside the characters’ heads. The basic 5 senses are obvious, but how do we show what they’re thinking?

**Note: If you’re following the one POV character per scene “rule”, the reader should be well grounded and know who the POV character is, making it easy to know who’s thinking, but there are still techniques that can help.

When I auditioned narrators for my audiobooks, I gave them passages with dialogue, narrative, and internal monologue and told them I wanted it to be clear which was which for listeners. I had one auditioner come back with a “technique” he was very proud of that made it sound like the characters was in a tunnel for thoughts.

Having no formal education in the craft of writing, I went to workshops and conferences. One book that showed up on almost every presenter’s Suggested Reading list was Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. Another handy booklet I picked up was Going Deep with Point of View by Suzanne Brockmann. Together, they laid the foundation for my approach to handling thoughts (among many other things).

What are my thoughts about writing thoughts? My two biggies:

  1. Don’t use speaker attributions/tags to tell the reader someone’s thinking.

If you’ve put the reader in the character’s head, it should be obvious they’re thinking. Per Browne & King, removing “he thought” makes them “unobtrusive to the point of transparency.”


Had he meant to kill her? Not likely, he thought.


Had he meant to kill her? Not likely.

The second gets the same point across and is more effective.

They also suggest using the question technique.


He wondered why he always ended up killing them.


Why did he always end up killing them?

Brockmann says “Anytime you interject she thought, she reflected, she guessed and so forth in this way—that’s you speaking, taking on the voice of the narrator, and your doing this takes the reader outside of the character’s head.”

  1. Beware italics

Italics do have their place, but italicized thoughts should be short—a sentence or two.

My ‘rule of thumb’ is to use italics when the character is talking to himself, and set them off in their own paragraph. Browne & King also suggest it as a useful technique to show a character’s thoughts in the middle of an action scene. Action doesn’t have to be fights and explosions. Here’s an example from my Identity Crisis. The following passage is a mix of narrative and Brett’s thoughts, but there’s only one bit in italics.

After the helicopter had deposited the team five miles down the mountain from the cabin, he, Adam—their team leader—and Fish had hiked up, then taken their positions surrounding the cabin. Since they couldn’t see each other, the only way to communicate was via radio. Then Adam had put the stupid radio silence rule into effect. What did he think? They were all telepathic?

Brett shifted, tightened and released his muscles in an attempt to keep warm. Toes, feet, ankles, calves. Quads, butt, shoulders. After two hours of lying on his belly in the cold, he had doubts he’d be able to move when the order came down. He was an endurance athlete. Not moving wasn’t part of his regimen.

Of course you’ll be able to move. Could be worse. Could be snowing.

Did he detect motion inside the cabin? He adjusted his binoculars. Nothing different. Curtains shifting as the wind blew through rotting walls and broken windows. Brett itched to crawl closer. Hell, just to move, keep the blood flowing.

What does Command know? We’re halfway up a bloody mountain somewhere in Mexico, while they’re sitting on their asses at Ops—where the building was heated, damn it—in San Francisco looking at computer terminals.

Some more examples of the way I handle the technique. Your mileage may vary.

From Falcon’s Prey. Fish is the POV character in this scene. First, a ‘clunky’ version.

“You two are free to get back to whatever you were doing,” Dalton said. “We’ll call if anything changes. Let’s move our seventeen hundred sitrep to eighteen hundred.”

Get back to what they were doing? What did that mean, Fish wondered. Dalton couldn’t think Fish was getting things on with Lexi, could he?

He told himself to chill. He was reading his own thoughts into a casual remark.

He didn’t think he would mind a little diversion. No, for the duration of this assignment, Lexi was the principal. They had plenty to talk about, plenty to catch up on, but getting things on wasn’t one of them.

Fish admitted to himself he had considered it.

Now, the streamlined version, the way it appears in the book. Thoughts should be obvious to the reader.

“You two are free to get back to whatever you were doing,” Dalton said. “We’ll call if anything changes. Let’s move our seventeen hundred sitrep to eighteen hundred.”

Get back to what they were doing? What did that mean? Dalton couldn’t think Fish was getting things on with Lexi, could he?

Chill. You’re reading your own thoughts into a casual remark.

Not that Fish would have minded a little diversion. No, for the duration of this assignment, Lexi was the principal. They had plenty to talk about, plenty to catch up on, but getting things on wasn’t one of them.

Don’t kid yourself. You’ve considered it.

What would the second, cleaner passage look like if all the thoughts were in italics?

“You two are free to get back to whatever you were doing,” Dalton said. “We’ll call if anything changes. Let’s move our seventeen hundred sitrep to eighteen hundred.”

Get back to what they were doing? What did that mean? Dalton couldn’t think Fish was getting things on with Lexi, could he?

Chill. You’re reading your own thoughts into a casual remark.

Not that Fish would have minded a little diversion. No, for the duration of this assignment, Lexi was the principal. They had plenty to talk about, plenty to catch up on, but getting things on wasn’t one of them.

Don’t kid yourself. You’ve considered it.

I don’t know about you, but I find all those italics hard to read—even harder when I’m using my e-reader.

Does this mean you should never use “he thought” in your books? Of course not. It’s only when you’re using them as speaker attributions that you want to be careful. There’s nothing wrong with the “I thought” here:

The bus driver took the corner on two wheels. I was going to die. I thought of all the times my mother had urged me to go to church.

What about you, TKZ peeps? How do you handle character thoughts? Pet peeves, examples of those well done?

The Blackthorne Inc Novels, Volume 3And a quick moment of BSP. I’d bundled books 7-9 in my Blackthorne, Inc. series, and the set is available now.

Terry OdellTerry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Used Shoes, Tchotchkes, and Books ~ Adventures at a Flea Market

Photo credit – Pixabay

By Debbie Burke


These days, book sales are down for many authors including myself. So I’ve been on the lookout for out-of-the-box ideas. Recently, an unexpected and unconventional opportunity came my way.

For years, we’ve vacationed in a Florida community of approximately 1500 homes. The development caters to snowbirds but is also a permanent residence for many locals as well. Over time, I’ve built a small but loyal following there among book clubs and readers I met at Zumba classes. I also recognize many people by sight from daily strolls around the complex.

During one Friday walk, I spotted a notice on a bulletin board advertising a Community Flea Market the next day.


I’ve attended art festivals and outdoor library events but never a flea market. Since there was no cost for a table, I figured why not?

Being away from home, my book inventory was small but I had plenty of business cards, handouts with book descriptions, and a mailing list sign-up sheet. Friends offered use of a folding table and chair.

I opted for KISS bookkeeping (Keep it simple stupid). Cash only, no coins, no credit cards, no checks. I printed a sign that read: ALL BOOKS $10.

The venue was one-acre open parking lot edged with Florida thatch palms, near a pond and a jasmine-covered gazebo.

Many vendors were flea market pros, equipped with pop-up shade canopies, display cases, racks for hanging clothes, professionally printed signs, beverage coolers, etc.

Others were obviously clearing out closets, cupboards, and garages: used clothes, small appliances that were missing parts, odd dishes and glassware, tchotchkes, old music cassettes, rusted tools—no extra charge for dust.

And…lots of tables with used books priced at 25 cents or five for a dollar.


How could I compete, selling new books even at the discounted price of $10?

I set up my table between a young couple who were professional jewelry vendors and a gentleman who was a closet cleaner.

The couple not only brought a tent, they had two fans. As the sun and temperature climbed, they graciously shared their shade with me.

The closet cleaner on the other side mentioned his nephew was also an author and gave me the man’s book for free. His items included a pair of brand-name shoes in new condition. I bought them for $2.

Through the morning, hundreds of shoppers turned out. People from Zumba class dragged their friends and neighbors to my table, saying, “You’ve got to read Debbie’s books!”

Word of mouth recommendations are wonderful!

The fourth book in my series, Dead Man’s Bluff, is set in Florida during Hurricane Irma. That caught the attention of locals and those copies sold out first.

Residents recognized me from daily walks and said, “I didn’t know you were an author.” Several bought books.

The new community social director, whom I hadn’t met before, stopped by and told me about a small book club. The following Monday, I met with them and sold two more books there.


A couple of years before, I’d met a Minnesota snowbird named Kim who looked exactly like my main character–a tall, slender redhead with a French braid. She became a fan and a friend.

That Saturday morning, I saw Kim/Tawny and she suggested taking pictures of us together holding books. The jewelry seller from the neighboring booth snapped shots with my phone.


Two unusual encounters happened—one head-shaking, one heartwarming.

First, the head-shaker. There’s a woman I know from Zumba class who dresses exquisitely, drives a Lexus, and lives in a nearby luxury subdivision. She stopped at the table and thumbed through my books with interest and enthusiasm. After she chose three of them, she set down a quarter and said, “I owe you a nickel.”


I told her the books were 10 dollars.

“Oh, I thought the sign said 10 cents.” She put down the books, picked up her quarter, and left.

I might have dismissed it as a mistake except for a prior encounter. The year before, I was selling a new release at cost to Zumba dance-mates. This same woman read the back cover and decided she wanted it for her upcoming weekend trip to New Orleans. “I’ll take it with me today [Friday] and give it back to you on Monday.”

Uh, no. That would make it a used book that I couldn’t sell as new.

She apparently thought I was a librarian, not an author struggling to make a living.

When I asked her for the money, her eyes went wide with disbelief. But she did pay.

Second, the heart-warmer. A woman I only knew by sight was strolling through the flea market and stopped at my table. During our chat, I learned she had been a flight attendant and now manages rental properties within the community.

Photo credit – autumnsgoddess0 – Pixabay

She scanned the handout of my book descriptions and said, “Seven books is quite an accomplishment. But I’m not a reader.” However, she set a $10 bill on the table.

“Which book would you like?” I asked.

“I don’t want a book,” she replied. “I just want to encourage you because what you’re doing is hard.”


Her kindness brought a lump to my throat.

When the flea market was over, I’d sold ten books and collected names for my email list–not enough to make the USA Today list but a good morning’s work.

The following day, while I was taking a walk in my $2 shoes, a man hailed me and said he’d bought Dead Man’s Bluff on Kindle. He liked it but he thought there should be more sex. 

Oh well, ya can’t please all the people all the time.

Over the next week, folks told me after seeing the books at the market, they’d ordered them online. 

Encounters at the flea market led to an invitation to another much larger book club where I met more new people and sold more books. By the time I went home, only two books remained in my Florida inventory.

Sales reports showed a nice little spike that I attribute to contacts made at the flea market.

The moral of this story: don’t be afraid to seize unconventional opportunities. You never know where they might lead.

You might even walk away with a new pair of shoes, too. 


Today, I have to be offline and will respond to comments later. In the mean time, here are a couple of discussion questions:

Have you ever tried an unusual venue to sell books? How did it work out for you?




Memorial Weekend SaleBinge on seven Tawny Lindholm Thrillers. All books only $.99 each. Sale ends May 30. Sales link.

Running and Writing and Fear

There had been no moon that night, and at 5:30 a.m. on a cold November morning, the sun hadn’t yet graced the horizon with its first rays. Some people might find such darkness unsettling, but running in the early morning before leaving for work was preparation time for me – a good way to get my gray cells ready to meet the challenges of the day.

After a quick cup of coffee and slice of toast, I stepped out of the front door into the black void, looking forward to three-miles through residential neighborhoods that I had run hundreds of times before. So often, in fact, that I was comfortable running in almost complete darkness, aided only by the small circles of light the streetlamps dropped onto the asphalt, punctuating my path, each one providing just enough light to get to the next.

The silence was profound. There were no cars and no whirring air conditioners. Even the birds were asleep. The only sounds were the regular thump-thump of my Sauconys on the pavement and my frosty breaths accompanying the beats.

I heard the dog before I saw him. An explosion of furious barking off to my left split the air and startled me to a dead halt. I could hear his paws slapping the dry leaves as he charged over the lawn, and I knew he was running right at me.

Since I had never encountered any dogs on my morning runs, my first thought was that a mongrel must have wandered into the neighborhood overnight and taken refuge under one of the bushes next to the large house set back from the street.  Maybe I had disturbed his rest and he was going to punish me.

It’s funny, the way your brain reacts under extremely stressful conditions. It’s not like the usual problem-solving process. You know, gosh, there’s a savage dog getting ready to attack me. Maybe I should just sit down here on the curb and write out all my options on how I can defend myself. Then I can prioritize them and choose the best one for me.

No. My brain basically transformed into a mode previously unknown. I didn’t think “fight or flight.” I don’t remember feeling the things you read about when someone is in a dangerous situation, like the hair on the back of my neck going up or my heartbeat racing. I was frozen to the spot, and my singular thought was how to defeat the monster.

The only weapon I was carrying was a handkerchief.

I don’t know much about dogs, so I don’t know what kind he was. But when he came into view, his appearance fully reflected his fury. The street lights glinted off a solid black coat, and he was big. Real big.

When he got to within five or ten feet of me, he abruptly stopped, and we stood there staring at each other. Well, actually I was staring at him. He was barking, snarling, and looking like a human-destroying machine. But he wasn’t moving toward me anymore, so maybe I had a chance after all, and my brain switched back to problem-solving.

None of the options looked particularly good. a) I couldn’t move forward because he was in my way, b) I was afraid to start backing up. He might think I was some kind of prey trying to flee and that would prompt him to attack, or c) The only viable option was to stand still and hope someone would happen by before the beast decided to take matters into his own paws. Not a great alternative, but I wasn’t concerned about a happy experience – just one I would survive.

Then I heard a sound I had never previously associated with comfort. It was the grind of a garage door opener from the house to my left. Since the garage door was perpendicular to the street, I couldn’t see in, but the light shone through the opening as the door lifted. I saw a man step out and look in my direction.

I was trying to find my voice to ask for his help when he called out, “Stop that racket, Killer. Come here.” (He didn’t actually call the dog “Killer.” I just made that up. I don’t remember what the real name was.)

Killer stopped his furious clamor, turned, and obediently trotted back to his master. The man gave me one of those little waves people do when they’re apologetically brushing you off. “Sorry about that,” he called out.

I swallowed the only response I could think of, knowing I would regret the use of those words for the rest of my life, and continued my journey, grateful that I hadn’t been torn to pieces and strewn all over Kirby Road. And there was good news: my heart and lungs got more than a three-mile workout that morning.

EPILOGUE: I found a sturdy little stick that I ran with after that. I also bought a whistle and attached it to the lanyard I wore, ready to fight the monsters with high-pitched sound waves if one of them ever came near me again. I ran those streets many more times and never encountered another dog. (There were a few strange humans, but nothing dangerous.)

After I retired, I didn’t have the need to get up at 5:00 a.m. anymore, so I gave up early morning jogs. And I no longer run on city streets. I prefer the treadmill, the track, or a large, open park near our home.

I think about Killer now and then. I hope he’s well and living inside a fenced yard.

So TKZers: How do you describe fear in your stories? Do your characters faint, run, or stand and fight? What advice would you give authors about how to depict a character’s reaction to danger?

What Writers Can Learn From It’s a Wonderful Life

by James Scott Bell

Today I begin an occasional feature—JSB at the Movies. I’m a lifelong movie fan, my B.A. is in Film Studies, and I often use movie clips in my craft workshops. The crossover between screen and page storytelling is substantial.

So let’s start with one of the best.

Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life was not always a beloved Christmas classic. That’s because it was rarely seen after its initial run in 1947. When movies started showing up on TV in the 50s, Wonderful Life was tangled up in issues over ownership and copyright. That cloud did not begin to dissipate until 1974, while I was a film student at U.C. Santa Barbara. That year the copyright owner, Republic Pictures, failed to renew (probably due to a clerical error) and the film fell into public domain. That’s when it started showing up on TV for new generations to embrace.

To celebrate the movie’s new life our film department arranged for a showing, with a special guest—Frank Capra himself.

Capra is one of my all-time favorite directors. So I wangled and cajoled my way into being named his chauffeur for the evening.

Not that it was a glamorous ride—it was in my scruffy, three-on-the tree Ford Maverick. But the greatest populist director, the champion of “the common man,” did not seem to mind at all getting ferried to the campus in a rattletrap student automobile.

Along the way I told him my two favorite movies of his were It Happened One Night and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I added that my dad was an extra in Mr. Smith. Capra told me of the cold reception that film received when it was shown in D.C. Apparently the senators did not take kindly to the way their chamber was depicted. (Sheesh, what would a Capra film do to them today?)

Campbell Hall, our big auditorium, was packed. I got to do the introduction. Mr. Capra made some opening remarks, and then we watched the movie.

It knocked me out. And, I daresay, had the same effect on most of the audience. We had just been gifted the magic of what critics called “the Capra Touch.”

A Frame Story

Wonderful Life begins and ends on the same Christmas Eve, in a town called Bedford Falls. It opens with shots of the snowy town, and the voices of various townspeople praying for a man named George Bailey. The last voice is the one we’ll come to know as Zuzu (George’s youngest child) pleading, “Please bring Daddy back!”

We then switch to the heavens, where angels (in the form of twinkling stars) talk about what do to answer these prayers. The assignment is give to an angel named Clarence who hopes to earn his wings.

The film switches to the linear story of George, from boyhood to the present. He’s a man with hopes and dreams who comes to think of himself as a failure; indeed, that it would be better for everyone if he were dead.

This is when Clarence the angel intervenes.

This film ends by returning to the frame—Christmas Eve—and George’s redemption. A bell on the Christmas tree rings. Zuzu announces, “Teacher says every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.”

George winks at the sky. “Attaboy, Clarence.”

Lesson: A frame-story can add another level of emotion if you make it entertaining in its own right. A frame-story can add another level of emotion if you make it compelling in its own right. Other movie examples using this device are The Princess Bride and Titanic. Novels with a frame include The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks, and The Green Mile by Stephen King.

The Imperfect Lead 

Heroes who are perfect are uninteresting. Deep down we don’t really buy it. That’s why your Lead should have flaws and foibles just like all of us.

George Bailey (James Stewart) is a good man, a solid citizen, but is far from perfect. He’s not above leering at the attractive derrière of Violet Bick (Gloria Grahame) as she shimmies down the street. He loses his temper and becomes abusive. He verbally destroys the simple-minded Uncle Billy when the latter loses a crucial bank deposit. On Christmas Eve, his life at its lowest ebb, he screams over the phone at his child’s teacher, then yells at his children, bringing them to tears. (Stewart’s acting is brilliant throughout. He was suitably nominated for Best Actor, losing only because the equally brilliant Frederic March in The Best Years of Our Lives.)

Lesson: The imperfect Lead creates empathy. The key, however, is that he is aware of his flaws, and wants to overcome them, as George does.

Strong Supporting Characters 

Every one of the secondary characters in Wonderful Life is well-drawn and engaging in their own right. Clarence the Angel (Henry Travers); Bert the cop (Ward Bond); Ernie the cab driver (Frank Faylen); the tragic Mr. Gower (H. B. Warner); all the way down to Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes, who is still with us). Old Man Potter (Lionel Barrymore) is a classic villain, and even his nonspeaking servant has an eerie presence.

Lesson: Give each of your supporting characters, even the minor ones, their own unique quirks and tags. These add “spice” to your stories, increasing reader enjoyment.

A Rocky Romance

At the heart of the film is the love story of George and Mary (Donna Reed). When George’s brother, Harry, returns to town, married, George learns he’s been offered a great job by his father-in-law. Harry tells George he’ll keep his end of the bargain by running the Building and Loan so George can travel, but George knows the job is best for his brother and sister-in-law, and tells Harry to take it.

Which doesn’t help George’s frustration about staying in town. That evening he finds himself walking by Mary Hatch’s house. Mary, back in town from school, has been waiting for this moment. She has on her best dress and has set up the parlor to reveal a picture of a romantic moment from their high school days—when George said he would “lasso the moon” for Mary.

But that was then.

Now, as Mary does everything she can to rekindle the romance, George shoots her down at every turn. Finally Mary has had enough. She smashes the phonograph record of “Buffalo Gals” just as she receives a phone call from her suitor, Sam Wainwright. Sam asks to speak to George. He proceeds to offer George a “ground floor” position at his new plastics firm.


George’s turmoil explodes to the surface. He grabs Mary by the shoulders, shakes her. “Now you listen to me! I don’t want any plastics! I don’t want any ground floors, and I don’t want to get married – ever – to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do. And you’re…you’re…”

George pulls Mary to him in a fierce embrace. Love has conquered his rage.

Lesson: Readers love to read about love. But be it a romance plot or a romance subplot, the path of love must have obstacles. In a scene of high intensity, find a competing emotion that fights for supremacy inside the character.

The Mirror Moment

There’s a perfect mirror moment in the middle of the film. George is forced to look at himself and choose what kind of man he’s going to be.

Old man Potter has been trying to take over—or ruin—the Bailey Building and Loan Company, so his firm will be the only one building homes for the community. But George has frustrated those plans. And while he’s now married with children, George is not rolling in dough like his friend Sam Wainwright (see above) who made a killing in plastics during the war.

Knowing this, Potter calls George in for a meeting and hands him a big, fat cigar. He starts with the flattery, then offers George a job—at ten times George’s current take-home!

“You wouldn’t mind living in the nicest house in town,” Potter says, “buying your wife a lot of fine clothes, a couple of business trips to New York a year, maybe once in a while Europe. You wouldn’t mind that, would you, George?”

George is stunned. And tempted! To travel like that has been his dream. To have money to lavish on his wife, who has had to make the best of his meager salary, has always been his desire. He’s considering the offer when he asks what will become of the Building and Loan.

“Confound it, man, are you afraid of success?” Potter says. “I’m offering you a three-year contract at twenty-thousand dollars a year, starting today. Is it a deal or isn’t it?”

We read the conflict in George’s eyes. Who am I? he is thinking. What will happen if I take this offer?

He asks Potter for a day to think it over. Potter consents, tells George to go talk it over with his wife and meanwhile he’ll draw up the papers. He offers his hand.

The script describes what happens next: As they shake hands, George feels a physical revulsion. Potter’s hand feels like a cold mackerel to him. In that moment of physical contact he knows he could never be associated with this man. George drops his hand with a shudder. He peers intently into Potter’s face.

George says: “No…no…no…no, now wait a minute here! I don’t have to talk to anybody. I know right now, and the answer is no. NO! Doggone it!”

George has decided who he must be, but will that be enough to sustain him? That’s what the rest of the movie is about.

Lesson: At some point in your writing—the planning stage or at any point along the pantsing highway—brainstorm five possible deep questions your Lead can ask about himself. What is the central inner issue at this point in the story? You’ll often find that the third, fourth or fifth idea is the one that jumps out at you as original and on point. And that’s when you know what your story is really all about.


At the end of every great story is a transformation of the Lead. In this case, George is transformed from a bitter and discouraged man to one who has realized that his gift to the world has been right there in his little hometown. Because of his sacrifices and generosity, Bedford Falls is a lovely place to live, as opposed to the Pottersville of the alternate world (where George had never been born).

Note that this transformation is an answer to the question raised by the mirror moment.

And here’s a little technique that will add depth to all this: the argument against transformation.

That’s a beat early in Act 1 where the Lead makes a case for the opposite of the transformation. For example, Rick in Casablanca is transformed into a self-sacrificing hero at the end. So what does he say early on? “I stick my neck out for nobody.”

In Wonderful Life, George’s realization about his town’s love is argued against in Act 1. That’s when the young George Bailey tells the two girls, Mary and Violet, the following:

You don’t like coconuts! Say, brainless, don’t you know where coconuts come from. Lookit here – from Tahiti – Fiji Islands, the Coral Sea!
MARY: A new magazine! I never saw it before.
GEORGE: Of course you never. Only us explorers can get it. I’ve been nominated for membership in the National Geographic Society. I’m going out exploring some day, you watch. And I’m going to have a couple of harems, and maybe three or four wives. Wait and see.

Lesson: Once you know the transformation, give your Lead a line or two in Act 1 that is expressing the opposite view. The readers will experience a most satisfying character arc that way.

And that is why It’s a Wonderful Life is a classic of its time—and for all time.

This is JSB at the Movies, signing off.

The End.

TKZ’s Words of Wisdom

Now and again we reach back into the TKZ archives for some timeless advice and offer them to you for discussion. Please reply, riff, or rant in the comments and interact with each other!

Today, we have discussions on violence and desensitization, reading reviews, and messy desks. Here’s to a spirited discussion.

In movies, books and television, I wonder sometimes if the downplayed violence–the off-screen murder that drives the meat of the plot–isn’t more of a disservice to society than their counterparts which take you and your senses into the true horror that violent crime inflicts. The dead butler in the library didn’t just arrive there to provide a puzzle for our sleuth to solve. He was a person whose last moments were anguished and wracked with agony. I’m not sure it’s good that the likes of Miss Marple, Jessica and Hercule are so able to push that aside.

Obviously, tastes vary. I respect that different forms of suspense attract different readers, but when it comes to desensitizing people to violence, I do wonder which form erodes the social fabric more. Or, as an alternative, does fiction have a measurable impact at all on such real-life sensitivities? What do you think? What are your violence thresholds? – John Gilstrap, January 2010


I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, and for many authors, nearly impossible, but here’s my advice: don’t read your reviews, ever. Turn off that Google alert. Skip the Amazon reviews section. Ignore your GoodReads ratings. And if you must know what a blogger or traditional media reviewer is saying about your book, enlist someone you trust to skim the contents and give you the highlights.

This applies not only to negative reviews, but positive ones. Because here’s the thing. As we all know, a reader’s opinion of a book is enormously subjective. The way they approach a story can vary at different points in their lives, or even their day. They read things into it that you might never have intended–and they’re all going to have vastly different opinions about what worked and what didn’t. – Joe Moore, January 2013


I was pleased to read that this phenomenon is borne out in a book called The Perfect Mess by Dave Freedman and Eric Abrahamson which contends that those with cluttered, messy desks are often more efficient and creative than their neatnik brethren. Since my desk always looks like a disaster zone, I think I am going to stick with the Freedman/Abrahamson interpretation…but nonetheless I have to wonder whether most writers are like me – or whether I am just deluding myself that disorder is merely a sign of a great author in the making.

So, what about my fellow writers? Do you, like me, have a messy desk full of piles of paper or are you a neat freak with everything organized and de-cluttered for the sake of productivity and sanity? What do you think, is a messy desk a sign of creativity or just plain slovenliness? – Clare Langley-Hawthorne, February 2011

I will respond to comments this morning. This afternoon I will be away from my computer for a family gathering, and I will respond to your comments later this evening.