About Kay DiBianca

Kay DiBianca is a former software developer and IT manager who retired to a life of mystery. She’s the award-winning author of three mystery novels, The Watch on the Fencepost, Dead Man’s Watch, and Time After Tyme. Connect with Kay on her website at https://kaydibianca.com.

Name That Car

 

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. –William Shakespeare

* * *

Last week Sue Coletta wrote a post in which James Scott Bell facetiously commented his dream job would be to be a wine critic. That got me thinking about a vocation I’ve always said was my dream job: naming new models of automobiles.

Driving down the street is like sailing through a sea of fantasia. Those little boxes that are designed to carry people from here to there in various states of luxury have names that have nothing to do with their engineering.

Take the Aston Martin Valkyrie for example. If there were a contest of fantastic auto names, this would surely be the winner. According to Merriam-Webster, the meaning of VALKYRIE is “any of the maidens of Odin who choose the heroes to be slain in battle and conduct them to Valhalla.”

I have to say I haven’t seen any Valkyries driving around in my neighborhood, but I’m keeping an eye out just to see which end of this car is the front and which is the rear.

* * *

Many automakers prefer animal names for their cars. Here are a few:

  • Chevrolet Impala
  • Plymouth Barracuda
  • Dodge Viper
  • Mercury Cougar
  • Ford Raptor
  • Ford Bronco
  • Ford Mustang — My husband owned one of these when we were married.
  • The Jaguar — I owned a Jaguar XKE when I was young, single, and foolish. To this day, I’m not sure if I owned the car or the car owned me. It seems like I spent a lot of time taking care of its issues.

 

  • Volkswagon Beetle — A hugely popular car that didn’t follow the ferocious animal paradigm.

 

 

* * *

Weather seems to be big in car names. Consider these

  • Mercury Cyclone
  • GMC Syclone — The misspelling was intentional and used to avoid trademark infringement. But who would buy a misspelled name?
  • GMC Typhoon – GMC apparently likes weather names
  • Oldsmobile Toronado – Toronado is not actually a word, so I assume Oldsmobile was looking for a cool name to conjure up the force of a tornado.

 

  • And then there’s the Renault Wind. I don’t think this one was intended to invoke feelings of a powerful storm:

 

 

* * *

Other notable car names:

  • Jeep Gladiator
  • Dodge Stealth
  • AMC Javelin
  • Triumph Spitfire
  • Acura Legend
  • Nissan Armada (One car is an armada?)
  • Aston Martin Superleggera (And the name doesn’t have anything to do with legroom!)

  • Nissan Maxima – Years ago, my husband and I had to replace an old car, and I had picked out a new Maxima as my car of choice. When I took Frank to the dealership to show him the car, the salesman took great pains and a lot of time to describe all the fantastic features. When the spiel finally concluded, Frank asked about the price. The salesman spouted a big number, then said, “But remember, this is a MAXIMA!” Frank didn’t bat an eyelash, but replied, “Do you have a Minima?”

(In case you’re wondering, we bought that Maxima and kept it for over ten years.)

* * *

Another of the great cars I owned in my life was the Audi A4. Uninspired name. Fabulous car.

* * *

I identify the cars my characters drive. Kathryn in The Watch Mysteries drives an old Maxima. Her boyfriend, Phil, owns a car repair shop and drives an Audi. Cassie Deakin in Lady Pilot-in-Command drives a Mustang. None of the cars in my stories have a personal name, but Cassie’s airplane is named Scout.

* * *

So TKZers: What cars were special to you in your life? Do you identify the cars your characters drive? Do you give them names? If you could give a name to a new model car, what would it be?

* * *

 

Kathryn Frasier prefers running to driving. You can find her training for marathons in The Watch Mysteries. The ebook boxset is on sale for $1.99

 

 

What Spelling Bee Taught Me About Writing

“Handle a book as a bee does a flower, extract its sweetness but do not damage it.” –John Muir

* * *

If you haven’t played the NY Times Spelling Bee game, here’s a brief intro:

The game involves making words out of seven letters. I suppose one reason I’m attracted to it is how the game is presented: Each of the seven letters is inside a hexagon-shaped cell. Six of the cells surround a central one, and it all looks like a honeycomb. Clever, eh?

The idea is to make words (at least four letters in length) using the letters. You can use a letter more than once, but you must use the center letter in every word you make. For example, the word “TAUNT” wouldn’t work in the example above because it doesn’t contain the letter G. “GAUNT” would be a good word.

You get one point for a four-letter word. If the word is longer than four letters, you get a point for each letter in the word. If you use all seven letters in a word, you get the number of points for the word plus another seven. It’s called a pangram. In the example above “UNTAGGED” would be a pangram.

As you rack up points, you move up a scale from Beginner to Genius. If you get to the Genius stage, a screen pops up telling you how wonderful you are. If you continue and get every possible word, you achieve Queen Bee status. (Very hard to do without using hints.)

* * *

My husband and I play this game almost every day while we eat lunch. We figure it takes both our brains to get to Genius. In our experience, we usually move up the scale and get one step short of Genius, but getting that last step is hard. Sometimes we make it and other times we don’t. So why am I telling you all this? What does it have to do with writing?

It’s because of a “boys in the basement” pattern that’s developed.

* * *

If we haven’t reached Genius by the time I finish lunch, I’m ready to move on. I may stay around for a few minutes, but I have other things to do. (My husband, on the other hand, will diligently stare at the letters for much longer, and he sometimes gets us to that last step by himself.)

I leave the table and either clean up a little in the kitchen or retire to my office to invent some new disaster to throw at the characters in my WIP. However, in either case, I’ve put the word game out of my mind, and I’m thinking of the next thing on the schedule.

Lately, I’ve noticed a phenomenon that occurs frequently during these “moving on” sessions: As I’m dealing with another item on my to-do list, a word will pop into my mind. It’s not something I was thinking about or trying to come up with. It just appears.

For example, a while back I had stopped working on the puzzle and was putting dishes in the dishwasher when the word “EJECTABLE” popped into my mind. Now that’s not a word I think of very often. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember ever having heard of it before. I wasn’t even sure it was an actual word. I turned to my husband. “Does ‘ejectable’ work in the puzzle?”

Yep. And it was a pangram.

* * *

The process seems to be that I stare at the letters, make words, and keep trying until I’m convinced I’ve made all the words I can possibly make. I walk away, my brain relaxes, and those little neuron pathways that were blocked by my mental overexertion clear up. Then a word slips through and presents itself in tiny little neon letters.

I’ve noticed the same thing happens when I work on a tough crossword puzzle. I’ll get stuck on a clue and can’t find a solution, so I put the puzzle aside. When I return to it the next day, I immediately think of the word I was looking for. If that had happened once or twice, I wouldn’t be mentioning it now. But it happens often enough that I’m wondering how to consistently apply this to writing.

* * *

Is the same process possible as we pound away at developing our stories? Like so many cells in a honeycomb, the answer we’re looking for may be there, but we can’t seem to dig it out. We have to let it come to us.

So TKZers: Do you play word games? What are your favorites? Have you had a similar experience of ideas popping up only after you start another project? Do you deliberately try to use a shift in focus to get those boys in the basement into the game?

 

Hats Off to Writing Heroes

I re-scheduled the post I had originally written for today after I heard that James Scott Bell had been presented a Lifetime Achievement Award at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference over the weekend.

Congratulations, Jim!

There are many award-winning writers who contribute and comment here at TKZ, but a Lifetime Award is surely special.

JSB’s Plot and Structure was one of the first two craft-of-writing books I read when I decided to write a novel. (Many thanks to my friend Rachel Hills for recommending it.) His book taught me not only the elements of structure, but the very first chapter convinced me that even if I didn’t have the elusive writing “talent,” I could still be an accomplished author by studying and applying the craft. It was a lesson I took to heart. My bookshelves groan under the weight of a lot of craft-of-writing books, many written by Mr. Bell. Those books have served me well, like having a writer’s GPS to show me the way.

But Jim has done more than provide us with great craft books. He writes fiction, teaches courses, posts on TKZ and other blogs, and has provided many of us with encouragement and mentorship. As a newly published author in 2019, I asked him to be my interview guest on my blog. I expected him to reply that he was too busy, but he graciously agreed and has been an annual guest since then, spreading wisdom and knowledge to my readers.

Please join me in a round of applause for TKZ’s own writing hero: James Scott Bell.

* * *

So, TKZers: Who are your writing heroes? Tell us about them.

 

 

 

Getting Cozy

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” – Neil Armstrong

* * *

What is a cozy mystery? And how has this popular sub-genre evolved over time? Since fellow TKZ contributor Dale Ivan Smith and I both write cozies, we thought it would be fun to co-write a post on the subject.

WHAT MAKES A MYSTERY “COZY?”

These are the basic “rules” as I understand them:

  1. No explicit violence.
  2. No explicit sexual content.
  3. Usually, no profanity. But if there is any, it’s mild.

Although there are many variations, a cozy mystery often involves a murder that has taken place “off stage” before the story begins. The mystery is usually presented as a puzzle where the reader tries to figure out the solution along with the protagonist.

This quote from an article on novelsuspects.com sums it up nicely:

“Overall, cozy mysteries are the perfect mix of smart, thoughtful stories that challenge you to think as you read while also being a relaxing escape from everyday life.“

HISTORY

Mysteries have been around for a long time. The first mystery novel is usually identified as The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, published in 1859. But Agatha Christie changed the landscape in 20th century.

According to an article on the website of the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library in Mansfield, Ohio:

“Agatha Christie is usually credited with being the (unintentional) mother of the cozy mystery genre with her Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple series. The term “cozy” was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.”

* * *

Since its inception, the cozy mystery genre has evolved, and a few new trends have grown up around it. For example, many of today’s cozies have paranormal elements you wouldn’t have found in the mid-20th century. It also isn’t unusual for stories to center around food or pets.

Book covers have also morphed to reflect a more playful approach, and many titles have become something of a pun contest. To the best of my knowledge, the images shown below were the first edition covers. Consider how things have changed from the 20th century …

… to the 21st century:

* * *

Over to Dale to give us background on the cozy narrative:

We’re so often advised to begin with action. However, cozies tend to call for the grounding of the reader in the character’s background and setting right at the start, to help give that cozy feel and connect the reader with our heroine. The heroine is often introduced in a summary of who-the-character is fashion, rather than an in-media-res opening that other mysteries might.

Often we also learn how she arrived at this point in her life—perhaps she just went through a divorce, or lost a job, and moved to the small community, possibly inheriting a business and meeting a character who will be significant in their life. If they are already established, like in Jenn McKinlay’s Books Can Be Deceiving, the first of her Library Lovers series which opens with the Thursday “Crafternoon” group meeting at the library.

The murder can occur in the opening, but often occurs later, and serves as the gateway to Act II. While the opening of a cozy often establishes the world before the murder, the discovery of a body puts the sleuth on a quest to restore order to her little world. The heroine will follow an “arc of suspicion” where she uncovers secrets that may lead to the actual crime, or may be a red herring, and she will be looking for the motive.

The police are on the wrong trail when it comes to finding the murderer, so it is up to the amateur sleuth to find the true culprit. Often a friend, relative or other innocent is arrested. A police arrest of an innocent may occur at the midpoint, and/or the person the sleuth believed was the murderer themselves is killed, or something else that sends our heroine’s investigation on a new course.

She sifts through competing ideas (theories) about what was behind the murder, until she finds a crucial clue or insight which leads her to the revelation and confrontation with the killer. Just before this climax of the book, circumstances and/or choices she makes isolate her from her friends and allies.

As the investigation continues, it is counterbalanced with a cozy subplot, such a baking competition, parade, event at the library etc. which the main character is involved with, until the isolating nature of the investigation pushes her away from that cozy storyline.

There is often also a slow-burn romance. In H.Y. Hanna’s English Cottage Garden series Poppy has a slow-burn mutual attraction, alternating with frustration, for her neighbor, a crime writer, who also helps her at times in solving the mystery. Each book features a moment where the two draw together in attraction other, but another moment or moments were they are pushed apart by a disagreement or other conflict.

Humor in a cozy mystery serves to lighten the mood and up the fun quotient of the story, often surprising the reader right after a plot turn or a revelation, though things get serious as we head into Act III and the confrontation with the murderer. But often comedy returns at the end, when we have a scene or even a short sequence of scenes validating the restoration of order to the community.

So, TKZers: Do you read cozy mysteries? Tell us about your favorite books and authors.

 

 

Running and Writing and Competition

 

If you want to compete with somebody, run a race.

If you want to change the world, write a book.

* * *

Last week PJ Parrish wrote a TKZ post on Performance Anxiety. I’d like to follow up with a corollary on competition.

Competition is good, right? It gives us a chance to test our mettle against others and see how we stack up. Whatever field we’re in, competition is an opportunity to identify weaknesses in our performance and make a plan to improve. It may even lift us into that rarified atmosphere of winning the prize and basking in the glory.

When thinking about competition, sports always comes to mind. Personally, I believe foot races, specifically the 400-meter races, are the epitome of competition.

The 400-meter race is the longest track event run completely in lanes, so there’s no pushing or shoving. Each competitor runs her own race in her own lane. It’s once around the track, and the winner is easy to identify. She’s not necessarily the person with the best form or the coolest sports gear or even the newest model of Nikes. The winner is the person who crosses the finish line first.

This is obviously an objective decision. The other runners can’t say, “I’m a better runner than she is. I should get the gold medal.” Or “She won just because her coach is famous.” A runner wins a race because she is the fastest competitor in that particular race, and there’s camaraderie and respect among runners no matter where they place.

* * * 

On the other hand, competition can have a dark side. I’ve read recently that writers are a competitive bunch. That’s not surprising, seeing that we’re publishing books that are in competition with millions of other works, and the desire to excel in the field is strong. Writers want to know how they’re doing in the big publishing picture, so we compare ourselves with others, and sometimes it doesn’t go so well.

You’re toiling away to market your self-published masterpiece, which has seen slow sales and mediocre reviews, when you get word your good friend just secured a lucrative publishing contract for his first book. And then another friend posts to every social media site in the world about the big award she just won. That was the contest you entered and didn’t even make the finals! All of a sudden, feelings of competition turn to jealousy and envy.

But you’re a nice person, right? These writers are your friends, and you think you shouldn’t have these feelings. Well, don’t feel bad. Most authors have experienced some form of writer’s envy in their careers.

So what do we do about it? I like the way Erin Fulmer put it in her 2020 article on  professional jealousy 

Publishing isn’t a race.

Even if it were, the person who makes it to the next goalpost first is not necessarily going to make it to the one after that in record time.

But this isn’t a competition. There’s no deadline. Sure, the inevitable heat death of the universe is coming someday but until then, it’s anybody’s game.

And it’s not a zero-sum game. Yes, there is competition in publishing—I don’t want to sugar-coat that—but your friend getting a book deal or agent doesn’t meaningfully reduce your chances of the same, unless you are writing something extremely similar and submitting to the same editor/agent. Even then, it’s just as likely that their success will cause your work to be more in demand. A rising tide often does lift all boats.

If you are seeking a writing career, that journey only ends when you stop writing. There’s no finish line, no lifetime wish achievement that means you won like a good little Sim. There’s just the next book.

* * *

So, there you have it. Publishing is not a fair race. It can’t be since the judges (readers, agents, publishers) assess a writer’s work through the filter of their own backgrounds, tastes, and opinions. For example, I have a friend, a well-known writer, who entered her work in a writing contest some years ago. It was the kind of contest where several judges score the work and the entrant receives the results. Two of the judges scored her work in the 90’s and the third one rated her in the 50’s!

So maybe we need to adjust our perspective. As authors, we’re here to enhance the human experience through the written word, and we each do it in our own way. We’re a community, not combatants. We get to choose the lane we run in and how we want to run the race.

Envy tells us that success is more important than the journey. But if we truly love what we’re doing, we’ll seek success while finding the real joy in the writing. And with each circuit of the track, study and hard work will make us better. And in the long run, maybe that’s where the gold in the gold medal lies.

* * *

We’re fortunate that here at TKZ we have a community of contributors and commenters who go out of their way to offer suggestions and support for each other. A writing community at its best.

 

So TKZers: Do you feel that you’re in competition with other authors? Have you ever dealt with feelings of envy or jealousy of other writers? How do you handle them? What advice would you give to prospective authors, especially young ones, who may be feeling the same emotions?

That Deserted Island

“It is never too late to be wise.”– Daniel Defoe

* * *

I recently read Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe for the first time. I don’t know how I missed it during my educational training, but I did.

Robinson Crusoe is one of those books that has left indelible fingerprints (or footprints) on our collective language. When we think of a deserted island, Crusoe comes to mind, and the term “Man Friday” or “Girl Friday” is commonly used to refer to an efficient assistant. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that one of our books would have that kind of impact several hundred years after its publication?)

Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719 and is considered by some to be the first modern novel in English. You wouldn’t think a book about a lone individual stranded on a deserted island for decades could be interesting, but I understand it was enormously popular during Defoe’s lifetime and has become one of the most widely published books in history.

Although the book’s sociological aspects might concern some in the 21st century, I found it to be a lens onto another time that I don’t know much about, and that made it particularly interesting. It was also a deeper and richer story than I had anticipated, with themes of self-reliance and redemption.

One scene, in particular, captures the imagination: the footprint scene. An article about Daniel Defoe on americanliterature.com  claims Robert Louis Stevenson felt the footprint scene was one of the four greatest in English literature. I don’t know if Defoe intended it, but it seemed to me to be a metaphor for life. Just when you think you understand the lay of the land, some small thing appears that shakes the foundation of your security, and everything changes.

* * *

I had always imagined Daniel Defoe to be a kind of rough and ready type. How else could he write a novel about a man stranded on a deserted island who invents all kinds of novel (pun intended) ways to stay alive? But reading about Defoe’s life and looking at images on the web, I see Defoe as a proper English gentleman, complete with cravat and full powdered wig.

But what a time he lived in! Born in 1660, he was a child during the great plague in Europe that claimed over 70,000 lives. He lived during the lifetime of Sir Isaac Newton and some of the great explorers. It must have seemed like an era of unlimited possibilities.

Defoe wrote more than 500 books, articles, and stories. Interestingly, he was 59 years old when Robinson Crusoe was published, and his other famous work Moll Flanders followed that one.

* * *

All of this thinking about being stranded on a deserted island put me in mind of a question we hear occasionally. Here’s a variation of the setup:

Suppose you were stranded on a deserted island for a week with no phone, internet, or other means of access to the outside world. You can pick one person to be on the island with you. Let’s say the other person has to be an author who is no longer alive.

Here are a few questions I’d ask Mr. Defoe:

Why did you decide to write Robinson Crusoe?

Why did you leave Crusoe on the island for 28 years? Wouldn’t a few years have been enough?

Were you surprised at the popularity of your novel?

How much were you paid for your book?

How did you know so much about surviving on a deserted island?

How did you come up with the idea of the single footprint?

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

* * *

So TKZers: If you were stranded on a deserted island for a week with no internet, no phone, or other means of communication with the outside world, what author from the past would you want to spend that week with? Why would you choose that person? What questions would you ask?

What My Horse Taught Me About Character Arcs

“No one can teach riding so well as a horse.” –C.S. Lewis

* * *

Two years ago this month, I wrote my first guest post for the Kill Zone Blog, and I will be forever grateful to Debbie Burke for offering me that opportunity. Later that year, I became a regular contributor, and I have loved the experience so much, I thought I’d celebrate this anniversary by re-posting that first article.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I liked writing it.

* * *

It was a day for speed. A wind-at-your-back, smile-on-your-face day when a youthful gallop overruled frumpy caution, so we barreled down the dirt trail into the park and around a blind turn. As the bushes on our right gave way and the road ahead came into view, a terrifying specter suddenly loomed up in the middle of the trail, no more than fifty yards in front of us.

Dixie, my high-strung, prone-to-panic filly, slammed on the brakes. I had no idea a horse could stop like that. Two stiff-legged hops – thump, thump — to a dead halt.

I went straight over her head. Turns out an English forward seat saddle is particularly ill-suited for sudden deer sightings.

As I was flying through the air, anticipating an unpleasant reacquaintance with Mother Earth, Dixie began some kind of crazy cha-cha in reverse, trying to flee the tiny deer creature. I was still holding on to the reins, however, so she couldn’t turn and run. Instead, she made a determined dart backward, dragging me along in her wake.

You might be wondering why I didn’t just let go of the reins and save myself from a mouthful of dirt and a painful awareness of my sudden change in circumstances. I’ll be honest with you. I would have let my horse drag me into the next county before I allowed her to return riderless to the barn. I have my pride, you know.

Body-surfing down a dirt trail at the whim of a frightened animal is an excellent way to focus one’s mind.  I’m older now, but sometimes I still get that urge to gallop furiously into the next adventure, no matter what form it takes. But when I recall that day in the park, the awful taste of grit in my mouth, the look of terror in Dixie’s eyes, and the acrid scent of fear in the air, I pull back the reins on my emotions and proceed at a deliberate trot.

* * *

Whether dramatic or not, we each have a set of experiences that have transformed the way we view the world. Likewise, we all know the characters we write about must change from the beginning of the story to the end. Whether the arc is positive or negative, the change must be meaningful.

* * *

So TKZers: Tell us about a character in one of your novels that went through a metamorphosis. Was it a dramatic, once-in-a-lifetime experience? Or a slow coming to grips with reality over the course of the story? How did you accomplish the change in a way that would grab your readers?

* * *

 

Cece Goldman reluctantly faces her fear of horses and learns to ride in Dead Man’s Watch. She learns a few other things about herself along the way.

Your Brain on Writing

“The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” –Anne Lamott

* * *

Simply put, writing is good for you. Just as physical exercise enhances your muscles, writing is strength training for your brain. And the more you practice, the better your brain adapts to writing.

In a September 2021 article on writingcooperative.com, Kristina Segarra addresses the effects of writing. She indicates our brains are fully engaged when we write. The more you write, the more neural connections are created within your brain. The brain actually grows, adapts, and makes continued writing easier. I think it’s similar to playing the piano. The more the student practices, the stronger and more nimble his/her fingers become. Musical pieces that were difficult to master at first become easy as the student progresses.

Ms. Segarra goes on to list other benefits of writing:

  • You develop organizational skills — from crafting and sequencing your thoughts and ideas
  • You boost your reasoning and problem-solving skills
  • You integrate a wide range of vocabulary words and grow your word bank

* * *

Even more encouraging is a July 2021 article by Annie Lennon on medicalnewstoday.com showing research that indicates a cognitively rich lifestyle of reading, writing, and playing games can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.

* * *

And there’s more! A February 2017 article by Erika Rasso at craftyourcontent.com describes an interesting experiment conducted by researcher Martin Lotze of the University of Greifswald in Germany.

Using MRI data, Lotze analyzed the brain activity of 28 writers. First they were asked to brainstorm ideas and then write their own stories. He found the occipital lobe of the brain was more active during the brainstorming session, possibly indicating the writers were visualizing their ideas.

On the other hand, the hippocampus became more active in the actual writing session, possibly meaning the subjects were gathering the information they wanted to use and organizing it into a story format.

Ms. Rasso lists specific suggestions of things you can do to keep your brain in shape:

Free write every day for at least two minutes a day. You can write whatever you want in those two plus minutes. You could write a haiku, a diary entry, or something a little more ambitious. (That isn’t to say haikus aren’t ambitious.) The goal is to get used to the act of writing and coming up with content as you go.

Read your #writinggoals. If you’re a writer, you’re a reader, and all readers have their idols. Read the kind of content you aspire to write, and read a lot of it. Your brain will absorb the vocabulary, syntax, and general style of the writing you’re reading and naturally incorporate it into your own work.

Look things up. Artists, athletes, and even scientists are always learning new techniques to help them get better. Writers can do the same. Expand your vocabulary by flipping through a thesaurus or a dictionary, study grammar books, and definitely look something up if you don’t know it. Push yourself to learn more about your craft, and you’ll grow because of it.

Overwhelm your brain. The brain is pretty damn powerful. If you push it, chances are it will rise to the occasion. Test your limits by writing for an hour longer than you think you can. Read Derrida. Write a haiku! Treat your brain like a muscle and do reps until you just can’t do it anymore. Just like a muscle, your brain will grow.

Don’t think about it too much. If you put in the work, your brain will grow on its own. Your subconscious will pick up on what you are doing and adjust accordingly. Trust your brain. It’s gotten you this far, hasn’t it?

* * *

So TKZers: How do you keep your brain in shape? Do you practice specific writing exercises? Do you have favorite word games you play?

 

 

The Watch Mysteries. Three thought-provoking novels to exercise your brain.

Disappointment

“Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.” –Eliza Tabor

* * *

My husband and I were scheduled to attend the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference this year. I was looking forward to the trip. Not only is the BRMCWC held in beautiful Black Mountain, NC, it is a well-organized, nice-sized conference. Authors, agents, and editors whom I had only known online would be there, and I was looking forward to meeting them in person.

I had gathered all the conference necessities: business cards, bookmarks, and jar opener giveaways. Paperback copies of my books bound for the bookstore were labeled and ready to go.

I had also decided to pitch my fourth novel to a couple of agents to see if there was any interest in having it traditionally published. I had a folder with high-quality copies of a one-sheet, and extra copies of the synopsis and first three cha pters of the book.(Even if they weren’t interested in representing me, agents couldn’t help but be impressed with my organizational skills.) 😊

In addition, my husband’s debut novel, Laser Trap, was up for an award, so we were doubly excited as we prepared.

A week or so before we were to leave, we received news that a dear cousin of mine had passed away in Georgia, so we flew there to pay our last respects and visit with family. It was a sad, but heart-warming, trip. However, the travel was tiring, the planes were crammed full, and the Atlanta airport was a congested mass of humanity.

We arrived back home in Memphis with a couple of days to spare before our trip to Black Mountain. What we didn’t realize was that we had brought back an unwelcome travel companion. My first symptoms popped up the day after we returned, so I took a home test, and the little pink line told the story. Covid. A couple of days later, my husband also tested positive. Our symptoms were mild, but it meant we weren’t going anywhere for a while. Dang!

I’m still new enough to the writing scene that every conference is a welcome adventure. As I write this, the conference is in full swing. I’m disappointed.

“But look at the bright side,” I tell myself. “This is a great topic for a TKZ blog post.”

* * *

We all know disappointments are part of the human experience, and writers are not immune. Rejections, bad reviews, poor sales, lack of recognition, all hurt. Even though authors are a resilient bunch, this may be a good opportunity to tackle the subject.

I found “Three Reasons Why Disappointment Is Good” at https://personalexcellence.co/blog/disappointment/.

Disappointment means passion for something.

Know that disappointment is a better emotional state than apathy. When someone is apathetic, they feel indifferent about everything. This is no different from being a robot. But here, you recognize your emotions and you feel them — be it good or bad. This is a good thing, because to feel is to be in touch with your inner self.

Disappointment means an opportunity for growth.

Here, your disappointment comes from the mismatch between reality and your expectation. Yet, the reality has been this way all along — reality did not change in that one second leading to your discovery of the truth. The world did not conspire to bring you down. The reason you feel disappointed is because you discovered the truth — and this truth is not what you thought it would be.

Disappointment makes you stronger.

When you go through a harsh emotion like that, you become tougher. You learn to process and work through your emotions. You become more resilient to life’s hardships.

* * *

So now we know disappointment is good for us, but what can we do about it?

One approach would be to always set our expectations so low that we’re guaranteed not to be disappointed. (e.g., my short story didn’t win an award, so I’m never going to write another short story.) That famous American philosopher Babe Ruth had something to say about this approach: “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”

Alternatively, we can set goals that require us to go beyond our comfort zone like Robert Browning suggested, Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” while being realistic about the possible outcomes. We can become stronger, smarter, and more effective writers if we acknowledge the relationship between expectations and reality.

* * *

I found a remarkable reference to this very subject the other day when I was reading Daniel DeFoe’s great novel Robinson Crusoe. After the hero had been stranded on a deserted island for decades, a situation most people would have found intolerable, he muses about his situation.

“I learned to look more upon the bright side of my condition, and less upon the dark side, and to consider what I enjoyed rather than what I wanted; and this gave me sometimes such secret comforts, that I cannot express them; … All our discontents about what we want appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have.”

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So the short answer for dealing with disappointment seems to be just what Mom always said: “Count your blessings.”

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So TKZers: What disappointments have you experienced in your writing journey? How have you dealt with them?

Miscommunication

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” –George Bernard Shaw

* * *

I was born and raised in Georgia. When I graduated from college (also in Georgia), I had the good fortune to be hired by IBM to work as a software developer on the National Air Traffic Control project. I was only twenty years old, nerdy, and extremely shy when I headed off alone into the strange world of corporate America hundreds of miles from home. I wonder now where I got the courage.

The Air Traffic Control project was being developed at the National Aviation Facilities Experimental Center (NAFEC) in New Jersey. New Jersey? I had rarely been out of the state of Georgia! I was vaguely aware that my southern accent might be a problem. Little did I know.

Driving my father’s Dodge Dart that he had lent me until I could buy a car of my own, I crossed the state line into New Jersey and stopped to get gasoline. That was before the days of self-service stations so an attendant came out to help.

“Fill ‘er up?” he asked.

I nodded. So far, so good.

When he had topped off the fuel, he appeared again at my window. “Anything else?”

In my most polite, Southern-laced voice, I asked, “Would you please check the awl?”

He looked at me like I was from another planet. “Huh?”

I thought maybe he was hard of hearing, so I repeated myself, slower and louder. “Would   You   Please   Check   The   Awl?”

He responded a little slower and louder. “H-U-H?”

Somehow we managed to bridge our communication gap. I can’t remember – maybe we used sign language – but he figured out what I was saying. He checked the oil, gave me a thumbs-up, dropped the hood, and came back to my side of the car.

“Anything else?” He looked a little wary.

Now, when I was growing up, my father owned an electrical contracting business. The business had a small fleet of trucks that the employees used, and my father had all the trucks serviced and fueled at one particular service station. We took our personal cars there as well. The people who owned that service station were very nice and obviously wanted to keep Dad’s business, so they always checked everything, whether you asked them or not. One service they provided was vacuuming the floor of the cars, so I asked the NJ attendant, “Would you please vacuum my car?”

In my insulated youth, I didn’t realize other parts of the country may not have the same devotion to customer service that I had experienced. The man standing by my window responded with a phrase I’ve heard on a few occasions since then, but that was the first time.

“Lady,” he said, “are you kidding me?”

I paid him for the gasoline and drove away from that first New Jersey encounter with a realization that understanding the world was going to be a whole lot harder than I had imagined.

* * *

A few years later, still in New Jersey and still very shy, I met the man who would become my husband. Our first meeting was not an example of love at first sight. As a matter of fact, it may be a primary illustration of miscommunication so total that only Providence could have overcome it to bring us together again. (Well, that and the fact that I had just bought a Jaguar XKE convertible.)

If you ever meet Frank, ask him about that first meeting. He loves to relate the story, and he embellishes it with new details on each re-telling so that I hardly recognize who he’s talking about anymore. But it’s such a great example of two people so completely misunderstanding each other that I used a variation of it in my first novel, The Watch on the Fencepost.

* * *

And that brings me to the point of this blog post. Miscommunication can add spice to a story. We often talk about conflict as a way to keep a reader’s attention, and misunderstanding between two people is an excellent way to introduce conflict into a story.

There are a semi-infinite number of other ways miscommunication can enhance a plot. A detective might misinterpret a clue. Directions could be misconstrued. Characters can make assumptions about each other that are simply wrong. And then there’s the unreliable narrator or a character who deliberately misleads others. Anything that creates confusion, misdirection, or conflict can be great story-telling elements.

And of course, miscommunication is a great source for humor. Just ask Abbot and Costello.

* * *

So TKZers: What ways have you experienced miscommunication in your life? Do you have any humorous anecdotes you’d like to share? How have you used miscommunication in your novels? 

Unfortunately, I’ll be traveling on Monday and will only have access online periodically. I look forward to reading everyone’s comments, and I’ll respond to them all as soon as I can.

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The Watch on the Fencepost – Can Kathryn and Phil overcome their misunderstandings to solve the mystery behind her parents’ recent deaths?