What book made you a reader?

I’ve been reading some of the previews of the upcoming version of Little Women (though seriously, how many film versions do we need?…) and it got me nostalgic for the days when my sister and I would reenact scenes from the book (I was always Jo, she was always Amy). Looking back I realize just how definitive this book was in turning me into a lifelong reader – and when I see books like ‘How to Raise A Reader’, I wonder if some books really do turn out to be pivotal in inspiring someone to love reading. I know for my sister at least, there really wasn’t any one book (or books) that proved critical to turning her into a lifelong book lover. In fact, growing up she was indifferent to many of the books I adored and, though we played ‘Little Women’, she didn’t actually read that book until she was a young adult. I wonder if for her it was just a matter of timing – finding that one amazing book at the right time in childhood that would make all the difference – because, even though she is a great reader now, she was never as passionate (nor as voracious) a reader as I was as a child. This got me questioning whether many ‘non-readers’ simply never found that one pivotal book in childhood that inspired them to read…

For me, Little Women was one of many books that inspired my love of reading. I remember how much I wanted to be just like Jo, how I wished she’d married Laurie (I really hated Amy for a while!), and how much a wept over Beth’s death. Little Women wasn’t the only book I remember reading vividly – there was also C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series, Madeline L’Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, and Elinor M. Brent Dyer’s Chalet School Series (which I read and re-read for many years). When I think back to my childhood reading experience, these are the books that really stand out for me – with the memories of the first time I read them indelibly imprinted on my brain. When I look at my own children, I feel grateful to have witnessed their own ‘book’ moments that turned them into lifelong readers – but then I wonder what happens to those kids that never find that special book, or who never have those moments which turn them into book lovers…?

So TKZers, what were your early reading experiences like? Was there a particular book (or books) that turned you into a reader? Do you think it’s getting harder for kids to experience this? (asked against a background of dread that ‘screen time’ has now replaced book time!)

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Labors of Love

Happy Labor Day weekend!

I hope you all are enjoying the quasi-official end of summer. For me, the approaching fall has got me thinking about how few of us have time for hobbies anymore. I think about this as my twins enter their freshmen year at high school and how crammed their schedules are with both school work as well as activities, most of which (given everyone’s focus on college and careers) cannot be mere hobbies anymore.

Sadly there doesn’t seem much time now for activities undertaken simply for pleasure. You don’t have to excel at a hobby – you don’t even have to be any good at it – you just have to enjoy It. But for my kids especially, there is a culture of excellence which means they should forgo what they’re not good at (even if they enjoy it) for sports or other activities they excel in. Sometimes, it seems like it’s all about getting into the competitive sports teams (recreational leagues being few and far between for my boys at least), or working towards varsity in your chosen activity such as marching band or debate. The focus is definitely on pursuing activities that will either look good on your college application or that might lead to scholarship or other opportunities. It’s really hard for them to find time just to enjoy something for fun!

Even for the adults around me, there’s very little time left in our busy schedules to undertake anything remotely resembling a hobby. Take gardening, for example…what was once an enjoyable hobby for my husband has now turned into a desperate scramble to keep things alive in the garden with the few minutes or hours that can be carved out over a weekend!

This fall, however, I’ve decided to buck the trend and indulge (that’s what it feels like sometimes – an indulgence) in not one but two hobbies…the first is my painting, which I love, and the second is knitting, which I’ve never succeeded at before. When it comes to my art, I’ve always felt guilty setting aside time to paint, especially as most of my life is taken up with writing (something, my husband considers a hobby anyway:)). There are always so many other chores or errands to run, that taking time to paint (especially when I’m clearly never going to make a career or money out of it) feels wantonly indulgent. Recently, however, I returned to art class and loved it so much I vowed that I had to allow myself time to  to paint. Painting unlocks a different creative process for me than writing – the only difficulty is, I still feel guilty doing it!

I decided to take up knitting for completely different reasons. When I was at school we had one compulsory craft unit in 7th grade, and I was so terrible (and I mean terrible…) at the knitting component, that the teacher had to get assurances from my parents that I would never do another craft lesson with her! As a result, I’ve been designated the ‘uncrafty’ one throughout my adult life – the one incapable of knitting or sewing, while my mother, mother-in-law, and sister proudly knit, sew clothes, embroider etc. A  few months ago I stumbled across a website ‘We are Knitters’ and decided I would finally throw off the yoke of ‘uncraftiness’ and try knitting. I’ll admit I had pretty unrealistic visions of sitting by the fire in the mountains knitting away…but I was determined to give it a try.  A month ago my mother-in-law was in town and she helped me get started – and, despite some fear-filled moments of dropped/wrong stitches, I’ve finally managed to get the hang of it. Now, I feel like knitting could actually be a real hobby of mine – if only I can find the time…I’m also totally fine with the fact that I might never be actually that good at it!

So, TKZers, what new hobbies have you tried this year? How do you find (and justify) the time? Do you find having a hobby helps or hinders your writing process?

 

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True Crime Thursday – Elder Fraud…And a Book Giveaway

Courtesy of Pixabay

by

Debbie Burke

@burke_writer 

Today’s true crime is personal. My adopted mother, Ruth, was a victim of elder fraud.

Estimates of losses from elder fraud range from $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion per year. That’s billion with a B. Every single year. 

After doing considerable research into elder fraud, I was shocked to discover dirty, little-known secrets about indifferent banks, lack of prosecution, and impotent enforcement.

Here’s what happened to my mother:

Ruth, a widow, was fiercely independent and insisted on living alone in her own home in San Diego. After a medical crisis in 2016, Ellie (biological daughter) and I (adopted daughter) tried to convince Ruth to move in with one of us—Ellie in L.A. or me in Montana–or to have another relative live with her. Ruth flatly refused but finally consented to a visiting caregiver three times a week.

For several years, Ruth’s older sister had been taken care of by a woman named “Jane,” (not her real name for reasons that will soon become clear). The sister’s adult children vouched for Jane. The situation seemed ideal since Jane was already familiar with the family and could drive our mother to visit her sister.

Fast forward to 2017 when a catastrophic stroke left Ruth unable to speak or swallow. Ellie and I rushed to San Diego to care for her.

While we were there, Ruth’s credit card bills arrived in the mail…showing balances of more than $15,000 for items Ruth clearly not had charged.

Ellie called Jane and asked about the charges. Jane broke down and admitted she had been using Ruth’s credit cards. She had also been intercepting mail so Ellie would not find out about the bogus charges. After their distressing phone conversation, Jane sent numerous apologetic texts, promising to pay back the money.

But more evidence of fraud kept turning up, like:

Months before, Jane had changed the address for the cable TV, redirecting the service to Jane’s own home, and set up auto-pay from Ruth’s checking account to pay for it.

While we were at the hospital, a neighbor saw Jane snooping in Ruth’s mailbox, evidently trying to intercept more bills.

Jane had written checks to herself for large amounts of cash that Ruth had signed.

We notified Ruth’s local bank. They closed the checking account and turned the case over to their fraud department.

Ellie called Discover and they immediately froze Ruth’s account. They provided photocopies for the past year and we quickly identified many bogus charges Jane had made.

Now for the first dirty little secret: Your bank may not protect you from theft.

Ruth also had accounts and a VISA at a different Big-Name Bank. Ellie and I visited the branch to report the fraud. We explained Ruth was in the hospital and Ellie brought a copy of her power of attorney giving her authority on the accounts.

A bank officer told us the account could not be frozen nor would they provide copies of suspicious charges…until after Big-Name Bank’s legal department reviewed Ellie’s POA, which could take ten business days.

What???

The POA was simple and straightforward. Because of this mindless policy, the bank left the account wide open to more bogus charges. For the time being, all we could do was destroy the card and pray Jane didn’t have a duplicate.

Next, we called the police. Two detectives from the elder fraud division interviewed us. They copied the texts where Jane admitted the theft. We gave them paperwork showing the bogus charges from Discover and from the local bank where the auto-pay accounts had been compromised. They agreed the evidence was more than enough to recommend prosecution of Jane.

Two weeks after the stroke, Ruth passed away just before her 91st birthday. At the funeral, we heard the first hints of suspicion from the children of Ruth’s sister (who had died a few months earlier). The sister’s jewelry was missing and other money had mysteriously disappeared while Jane was caring for the sister.

Meanwhile, Jane had apparently fled to Arizona.

People don’t like to talk about fraud. They don’t want to accuse someone without proof. They’re embarrassed they didn’t catch on sooner. They feel foolish. Therefore, fraudsters have free rein to continue their crimes.

Ellie and I returned to Big-Name Bank where the POA was supposedly under review by their legal department. We were told that, since Ruth had died, the POA was no longer valid and they refused to help, even though Ellie was executor. Fortunately no additional charges had been made.

We then followed up with the police detective. He said he’d tried to interview Ruth but couldn’t locate her because she’d been moved from the hospital to hospice. Not that an interview would have helped—she couldn’t talk and was comatose.

Then came the biggest shock of all.

The detective said that, since Ruth had died, the case against Jane would not be prosecuted because the victim could not testify. The text messages where Jane confessed the theft plus the paper evidence of fraud were not enough.

WHAT???

Thanks to Discover and the local bank that acted quickly, Ruth didn’t suffer a significant loss. Discover reversed all charges. They were responsible about protecting their customer who’d been a crime victim. I feel bad they had to write off thousands of dollars.

However, my heart doesn’t break for the loss incurred by Big-Name Bank that refused to freeze Ruth’s VISA.

After that account was finally closed, Big-Name Bank then tried to claim Ruth’s estate owed them more than $5000, despite irrefutable proof the charges were fraudulent. The lawyer for the estate finally convinced them it would be a cold day in hell before they collected a cent.

What lessons did we learn?

First, it’s hard to prevent predators from taking advantage of vulnerable seniors. Be aware and suspicious of allowing outsiders access to a loved one, even if their references seem valid.

Second, no one is immune. Ellie works for a superior court judge whose own brother was victimized.

Third, encourage your family member to share their financial dealings with a trusted relative or friend. Understandably, many seniors resist because they fear they’ll lose control of their money. Too often, sadly, they instead lose control to a smooth-talking fraudster.

Fourth, glaring loopholes in the law allow scammers to slip through and move on to their next victim.

Fifth, there are no easy solutions.

If Ruth had consented to live with Ellie or me, would this have happened? No.

But if we had insisted on imposing our good intentions on her, we would have disrespected our mother’s proud, independent spirit. We loved her too much to do that. 

We thought we were making her life safer and easier by hiring a caregiver. Instead, we inadvertently opened the door to the henhouse for the fox.

How do you respect the rights and autonomy of loved ones while protecting them from those who would take advantage?

I don’t know. Dammit, I wish I did.

~~~

Life imitates art. More than a year before my mother’s incident, I had been writing Stalking Midas, the second book in my Tawny Lindholm Thriller series.

The theme?

Elder fraud.

After this experience, I rewrote parts of Stalking Midas to incorporate some hard lessons learned. Although the story is fiction and very different from Ruth’s, I hope readers will find truths within the book to protect themselves and their family.

Justice never caught up with Jane. Her successes with Ruth and Ruth’s sister probably emboldened her to victimize others. That makes me sick.

However, a crime fiction writer can dispense justice on the page……

And I did!

~~~

I’m happy to announce the launch of my new suspense thriller, Stalking Midas.

 

Charming con artist Cassandra Maza has cornered her prey, Moe Rosenbaum, an addled millionaire with nine cats, until investigator Tawny Lindholm disrupts the scam. Tawny suspects elder fraud and won’t stop digging until she finds the truth.

Cassandra can’t allow that. She’s killed before and each time it’s easier. Tawny will be next.

 

 

Stalking Midas is available in ebook and trade paperback.

Especially for TKZ readers, I’m giving away a signed copy of the paperback. The winner will be selected at random from comments on today’s post.

For discussion: Have you or a loved one been a victim of elder fraud? What lesson did you learn?

 

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Independent Editors

Happy Monday!

A few weeks ago I reached out to my fellow bloggers about freelance editor recommendations and, although I got some great names and assistance (thanks!), it made me realize just how little I know about the process of hiring an independent editor to help with the development and revision of a novel. Up till now I have relied on my beta readers and my agent to get feedback during the drafting/revision process prior to submission, so I faced a bit of a dilemma when my agent and I realized that additional changes were still needed to one of my novels but that both of us were now too close to the material to know the best way to proceed. An independent editor seemed the obvious solution – but, after my agent lucked out with her contacts (all of which were over committed already), I said I’d try and identify additional options. It was at this point that I realized just how little I knew about the process…and how hard it was to identify the ‘right fit’ when it came to freelance editorial services. Not only did many seem super expensive, few I initially identified seemed to really align with what I needed. This was where I appreciated getting personal recommendations (again, thanks!) but hiring an editor still seems like a daunting task (especially given the potential fees involved!)…so I thought, why not open it to the TKZ community to see what their experiences have been…:)

So for all of you TKZers who have used independent editors, I’d appreciate honest answers and feedback to the following questions:

  • How did you identify your editor? What research did you undertake? Did you access any useful resources beyond getting other author recommendations?
  • What key questions did you ask to ascertain that this editor was the right fit for you?
  • What was your experience with using the editor you selected? Was their input as valuable as you were hoping? Did the relationship continue for further books?
  • How much did the editor charge – ball park figure – if you don’t mind me asking?!
  • What feedback or advice would you give to someone seeking an independent editor to help with their novel?

Thanks in anticipation for all your advice and shared experiences (and recommendations too if you have them!).

 

 

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Key Types of Conflict: Which One Best Fits Your Story?

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

iStock image purchase for Jordan Dane

Conflict is EVERYTHING in writing a fictional story. As they say–no conflict, no story. An example might be the difference between describing what happened in your average day (blow by tedious blow) versus sharing the same story but with a driving conflict that smacked you in the face and you had to deal with an escalating problem. A life altering conflict–such as a weird neighbor moving next door or the water that supplies your city suddenly turns into poison.

Conflict Needs Obstacles – Readers love reading about a good fight or a conflict they can relate to, especially if the conflict escalates or there is a sense of urgency to it. Conflict isn’t just about two people fighting or a man or woman against a villain. It’s about throwing obstacles in the way of your main character(s). Make them worthy of a starring role by testing them throughout the story. Conflict needs to be substantial with enough threat to drive the action, to see what the characters will do.

Conflict Won’t Mean Much Without Empathy – It’s key to get the reader engaged in your story through empathy. Conflict wouldn’t mean much if your characters don’t earn sympathy from the reader. Readers will lose interest in unlikable characters. It’s hard to be in the head of someone the reader can’t stand or a character with no redeeming qualities.

Conflict can be Boosted by your Cast of Characters –  What do other characters in your story think of your protagonist? Even a dark anti-hero can give the reader a good impression if a child loves him or a dog follows him everywhere. The people in the life of your hero/heroine can shed light on who they are and make them easier to relate to. Who has their loyalty and why? A cast of well-placed/well-thought-out characters can be strategic to support the protagonist in a conflict.

Conflict Needs Higher or Escalating Stakes – Conflict shouldn’t be something that two people can simply sit down and talk about to fix. Resolution should be hard and challenging. Try pitting two characters against each other who both have admirable opposing goals. Add major roadblocks that escalate based upon each character’s actions. The story should get complicated by their choices and they should pay a consequential price for what they do.

The essence of most conflicts can be in the list below. If you have others to suggest, please list them in your comments.

Classic examples of well-told stories with major conflict are: The Hunger Games series, The Book Thief, Robinson Crusoe, Schindler’s list, Animal Farm, 1984, Moby Dick, The Help, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, The Handmaid’s Tale, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Key Types of Conflict:

1.) Person against Person – A conflict between two people or one person against a group. Typically the opposition or villain is the alter-ego of the hero/heroine. This opposite nature allows you to explore the internal weaknesses of your hero/heroine. Don’t waste an opportunity to cross over conflicts with friction that adds tension, but you don’t have to hit your reader over the head with your cleverness. If done right, readers will get it. (See Person Against Self.) For an example of person against person, try any Die Hard movie where Bruce Willis is against ANY arch nemesis.

2.) Person Against Society – A conflict that confronts the law, major institutions, society & culture, or government. It’s David against Goliath, a struggle that feels daunting and is all the more celebrated when the little guy finds a way to win–or more crushing when the hero/heroine must give in. The Help or the Hunger Games or The Handmaid’s Tale are good examples of an oppressive society, culture, or the law.

3.) Person Against Self – A conflict that’s internal where a person struggles with physical weaknesses, prejudices, self-doubt, or personality flaws they must overcome. I would argue that even if you HAVE a main conflict, this should be another facet to your story. Giving a character a weakness or flaw to overcome can make the overarching conflict stronger by testing them. Schindler’s List is a great example of a story where the protagonist must confront his own beliefs and practices to do the right thing.

4.) Person Against God/Religion or Fate – A conflict between a person and their faith, their God, or Free Will versus destiny. This category might feel similar to a conflict of a person with Self or Society, but I like to isolate this conflict because religion and the idea of Free Will vs fate is a compelling one. (I’ve woven this thread through many of my books because it intrigues me.) With Death being the narrator in The Book Thief, it can be an example of how fate played a hand in the character’s lives or how God views the struggles of mankind–friend or foe or bystander.

5.) Person Against Nature – A conflict of a protagonist against the forces of nature (from weather to terrain to battling against the animal kingdom). Nature could also mean the embodiment of one formidable creature, as in Moby Dick, or a species such as in The Birds by Hitchcock.

6.) Person Against the Supernatural – A conflict with the supernatural realm. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is an example of a Supernatural conflict. An example of crossing over conflicts is to combine the supernatural obstacle with your protagonist’s views on God or Fate or them battling elements within themselves (Person Against Self). Many people have the belief that the Supernatural ties to the afterlife. The religious aspects complicate the story, but they can be damned compelling.

7.) Person Against Science/Technology – A conflict between a person/humanity against Science or Technology. It’s a given that people generally are skeptical of innovations. Why not make them fearful of them? Create a diabolical villain who creates a technology that is harmful or dangerous for humanity, or discovers a way to rule or manipulate mankind with a new Science. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein would fit in this conflict element.

FOR DISCUSSION:
1.) What conflict on this list applies to your present project? Explain how.

2.) When you think about books you’ve read with memorable conflict, what books come to mind and why?

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First Page Critique: No Tomorrows

Happy Monday (and for me, the final week of summer before my twins start high school – so no stress at all this week…)!! Today I’m critiquing the first page of a project entitled (ominously…) ‘No Tomorrows’. As always, my comments follow and I look forward to your input!

No Tomorrows

Sally Lee’s sandals squished on the wet pavement. She should’ve changed to sneakers, but hadn’t wanted to take the time. She had to escape the house.

Escape? A curious word. Where’d that come from?

The fog had closed in after the evening’s pounding rain. It swirled around her, shrouding her in cold white anonymity as she walked away from the peaceful cul-de-sac where they’d lived for twenty years. It felt good to be walking somewhere, anywhere. Her jacket whipped around her. She zipped it up and tucked her blond curls under the hood.

Wrapped in the mist, she could think, find her reason again after the strange events of the evening. It had started with the conversation at the dinner table.

After the blessing, Sally asked, as she always did, “How was your day, kids? Anything interesting happen?” She started the mashed potatoes around the table, then reached for the platter of pork chops. Dinner as usual. Sally thrived on as usual. Dinner was family talk time.

Four scrubbed faces turned her way. Mayra answered first, tossing her long blond hair over her shoulder. At fifteen, she acted as if it was her right to be first in any circumstance. Sally often had to remind her to allow the youngest to go first sometimes.

“Remember I told you we have to write an essay?” she asked. “Today Miss Harris told us we had to choose one of three questions to answer in our essays.”

Five pairs of eyes looked at her.

“Well?” Roger asked, “What question did you choose?”

“What would I do today if I knew I’d die tomorrow?” Mayra answered her father, reaching for the platter of dinner rolls.

Sally dropped her fork. It hit her plate with a clang, then bounced to the floor, skittering under the table. Five pairs of eyes watched as she scooted her chair back and dived under the table. She picked it up, along with a piece of broccoli.  Her hand trembled as she pushed her hair back from her damp forehead. The fork clattered to the floor again.

“What are you doing under there, Sal?” Roger peered down at her.

“Getting my fork—you writing a book? Leave that chapter out, okay?”

The children giggled.

Crawling out, she wiped her fork on her napkin and popped the broccoli into her mouth.

“Five second rule?” chirped five-year-old Kimmie.

Overall Comments

I loved how this first page juxtaposed an ordinary dinner scene with Sally’s rather desperate ‘escape’ in the first paragraph. The reader knows something is off kilter, yet there’s nothing obvious to explain Sally’s disquiet…yet…and this provides the reader with a great reason to keep turning the page. The writing is also succinct and clear, with just enough detail to evoke the rain and fog, as well as the dinner table conversation and the family dynamics. Sally’s reaction to her daughter’s essay topic certainly left me wanting to read more and, as with any good first page, it left me with lots of questions I wanted answered.

I particularly liked the first paragraph and the chilling use the phrase Escape? A curious word. Where’d that come from? This definitely made me want to know more about Sally’s past and why she felt such panic and anxiety that she needed to flee her house. The author did a great job of introducing some short snippets of information that made us empathize and also be intrigued by Sally (I loved the line: Sally thrived on as usual. It reveals so much about her character in just a few words.)

Some Suggestions

Still, I do think there were a few ways in which this first page could be strengthened – although most of my recommendations are really only minor nitpicks:)

First, I did feel like the dinner scene could have had a couple of more lines describing the whole family as we only really hear Mayra, Roger, and Kimmie (if my math is right there are two other kids at the table). I found it hard to picture them all – and the use of “Four scrubbed faces turned her way” followed by “Five pairs of eyes looked at her” was a bit generic. Likewise, having both the protagonist and her daughter described by their blond hair didn’t seem very distinctive or interesting.

Second, I didn’t really believe the essay topic that Mayra had been given at school. At fifteen, “What would I do today if I knew I’d die tomorrow?” seems a rather odd topic (though maybe this is just me??). I think I would have been more willing to go along with it had Roger reacted in some way or said something like “Wow, that’s pretty dark…” or “Miss Harris is a strange one.”  – something to show his character a bit more. This would also provide a nice contrast to Sally’s reaction.

Finally, I think I would have liked just a little bit more tension, maybe even menace, when it came to Sally’s reaction to her daughter’s essay topic. Just one line that could intrigue the reader a bit more perhaps? I didn’t quite understand why Sally said: “Getting my fork—you writing a book? Leave that chapter out, okay?” but that might just me! I think I wanted her to snap at him or be more defensive – something – to add to the disquiet beneath the cozy domesticity of the dinner table scene.

Overall though, I thought this was an effective first page. It managed to combine the ordinary with an uneasiness that made me want to find out more about what was really going on in Sally’s life – so bravo to our brave submitter!

So TKZers what comments, feedback, or advice would you provide?

 

 

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Key Ways to Rediscover your Writing “Fun Mojo”

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Alert the Media. Writing is hard. From the moment I knew I wanted to write a novel, I’ve poured long hours into learning about the industry and the craft of writing. I spent hours in front of a computer, even with my full time draining job. Weekends were spent trying to sneak in hours to write. When I wasn’t writing, I thought of writing. I’ve read countless books in many genres, networked at writer conferences, entered national writing competitions, and suffered through the agony of rejection as many of us have.

When I first started out, I had nothing to lose. Rejections were expected. Some were even comical. I had a rejection ritual that involved mystical incantations and a shredder. Remember when you used the words – “It was a better rejection” – and knew what that meant? It’s not easy putting yourself out there and as the months and years went by–with rejections & expenses piling up with nothing to show for it–it wore me down. When I had hit that point, I asked myself a very real question.

Would I still write if I never sold?

I thought about it and eventually said it aloud. “YES!” It was if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I found that I cared less about rejections. They became opportunities toward my goal. I also didn’t feel the need to follow a trend. Hell, I WAS the trend. As an avid reader myself, if I wrote the kind of book I wanted to read, then I WAS the market. Editors and agents are industry professionals, but so was I. My time had value. Most of all, I had found a passion that I’d longed for my entire life and I was living my dream. That was good enough.

That’s when I sold. (Link to my FIRST SALE story.)

For my post today, I wanted to think back upon that time when everything had possibility and dig into what makes writing fun for me, still. I hope you’ll share what brings joy to you in your comments.

KEY WAYS TO REDISCOVER YOUR WRITING FUN MOJO

1.) Writers Notice Stuff

You may not be aware of this, but after honing the craft of writing, writers become more observant. We look at a setting location and wonder – How I would write this? Or how I would I describe the “feeling” of this place? Writers notice more in news stories, for example. We see the possibility of a story behind the story. A tragedy may be reported in the news–the journalistic facts of who, what, when, where, why–but writers’ minds go beyond the news. We want to know how the story would affect the people experiencing it. We want to know what the reporters might’ve missed. Where are the human stories behind an event? We want to make it personal. Our empathetic minds go there. We see things differently and hone our imaginations into becoming more compassionate human beings.

2.) Writers Tap Into Deep Emotions

When most people suppress their emotions, we want to live them–even if it’s hard. We write from the heart or we write from our worst fears. And it’s not just the word choices we make. It’s what we create that can trigger emotions and experiences in our readers and ourselves. Writing is not just about the craft of it. It’s about how it makes us feel to do it, no matter what level we are in skills.

3.) Writers Know Passion

How many people know true passion? Most people can live a lifetime and not know the passion we experience every day that we write. It’s a solitary exploration that satisfies us. It’s something we can do every day & it doesn’t feel like a job. Even if we’re not sitting at our desks or cranking on our laptops, we can fill our minds and our creative juices with the world we are creating and the plot or the characters we’re developing. We sometimes work through our book issues in our sleep. That’s sheer joy few people know. It’s special and extraordinary.

4.) Writers are Curious and Brain Thirsty

Writers are curious, driven people. We want to know and understand stuff. Research unleashes our inquisitive minds and broadens our writing experiences. Have you ever found yourself so sucked into your research, that you noticed you’d drifted into topics you hadn’t planned on writing about? Your mind drew you into the research and you kept going? The things is, you never know where you might use good info. Your research curiosity may pay off for the next book. Your mind is a sponge. It’s like living another life & filling your brain with ideas for use later.

5.) Writers Experience Books Differently

For good or bad, writers experience more as readers. It’s lovely when you can read a book and get lost in the story, but let’s face it. Many times we see behind the craft and truly appreciate what the author has created–or we hate it–but either way, we experience a book more deeply. Where most observant readers might notice a typo, authors might appreciate a clever turn of phrase or understand what it takes to create a complex character. A well developed plot twist is gold and we can break it down, not just let it happen. We’re insiders to an amazing process.

6.) Writers Don’t Have to be Original

We just have to write the best book we know how. Don’t worry about whether anyone has ever written about a certain plot before. No one can duplicate how you choose to tell a story. No one can filter their storytelling through your unique eyes and life’s experiences. Yes, it’s great to discover a fresh take on something and we should all strive to push the envelope to writing with new ideas, but there’s something deeply satisfying about telling a story that touches a reader in a special way, that only YOU can do.

7.) Writing is Therapy

When bad stuff happens to writers in their lives, we have a way to explore it through our writing. We can distance the pain from our own stories by telling what happened through our characters. Writing is about emotion. It’s a gift to tell your story and tap into feelings that readers can relate to. It’s one thing to be compassionate and empathetic when we imagine what a character might be feeling, but to add a personal reflection (even when it’s painful), takes guts. Dare to be gutsy and you may find it helps you in return.

8.) Writing is Community

As writers, we instantly become a part of a wonderful community of creatives. If you’re reading this, you are one of us. I’ve found that most writers are a generous lot. We know how wonderful it feels to write and we want to share that success with others. When I first sold, I began to see writing as part of a grander stage. Writers can relate to actors, singers, song writers and other artists who create something special from nothing.

9.) Writing Comes with a Thick Skin

Rhino skin can be a blessing. There, I said it. Rejections CAN be a good thing. Most people don’t have critics looking over their shoulders as they do their work, people who criticize everything they do. Online book reviews and beta or social media comments can hurt, but we get through it because we’re driven by our passion to write. There are precious few people who pursue writing and actually finish a novel. In light of that, reviews and harsh comments mean nothing.

10.) Writers Publish

Isn’t it glorious that authors have choices these days? Whether we sell our novels through traditional publishing houses or self-publish, we have options that weren’t always available in the past. We can explore the opportunities to sell or become our own publisher and retain the margin and the creative control from formatting, to cover design, to promotion and pricing. We can do both. It’s great to have choices.

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I love being a part of our TKZ writing family. Having an online community to read what others are experiencing means a lot to me. It bolsters my spirit. When authors share tips on writing craft or share what works for promotion or research–whether it’s in a blog post or in comments–that is a solid reminder that we all share the passion of writing and it’s so worth it.

FOR DISCUSSION:

1.) What brings joy to you about writing? Please share what you would put on YOUR list.

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How (and where) To Research Historical Crime

By SUE COLETTA

A few regular readers of TKZ requested tips to help research criminal cases from the past. If the crime occurred in the 18th or early 19th century, the task becomes much more difficult. My hope is that these tips will aid you in finding reliable information.

Let’s say you only have a name, place, and approximate year for your victim or killer. The first logical step is to conduct a Google search to see what’s available online. Someone must have written about the case, right? Well, not necessarily. Sometimes you get lucky and find a couple articles, other times … *crickets* Which I happen to like, because it means the industry isn’t saturated with books on the same topic. But it’s also harder to find what we need. Not impossible; we just need to think like an investigator.

GENERAL TIPS

If you find an online article about the crime, do not solely rely on that information. Instead, within said article search for the author’s sources. Most true crime writers will either link to another source or cite where they gathered their facts from, and that’s where the gold resides.

My overly suspicious crime writer brain tends to question where bloggers and/or journalists get their facts. To satisfy my own curiosity I use a three-source rule. Meaning, if I can’t verify a fact with two other sources, then I don’t consider it a historical fact.

By the way, this is my personal rule, not an industry requirement. Although, some publishers do ask that you verify each major fact with one other source. Even if they never request the citation, their legal department might. So, be sure to keep a log of where you find information, both primary and secondary sources. It’ll save you from having to go back to find where the killer said something, or whatever.

There’s one exception to my three-source rule…

Suppose I find a newspaper article that I am able to authenticate with a trial transcript, deposition, or other court document. Because I have the primary source (court document) which says the same thing, then the newspaper article gains credibility. If I don’t have access to a primary source for verification, then I need two secondary sources to substantiate the fact(s).

True crime readers expect the truth, not our fictional interpretation. It’s our job to question a reporter’s research and not take what s/he says at face-value. They want to sell newspapers, so facts can often be embellished or sensationalized. When I first started searching through old newspapers (I’ll share where you can find them in a sec), I was shocked to find misinformation, discrepancies, untruths, and rumors stated as fact. Embellishments help to create eye-popping headlines but can also hinder a true crime writer/researcher if we’re not careful.

For example, there’s a lot of online content about one of my five female serial killers due to the fact that she rocked the nation with her cold-bloodedness. But all these articles weren’t ideal. If anything, they muddied the water. In order to separate fact from fiction I had to wade through opinions, theories, innuendoes, and rumors. You may have to do the same. My best advice is to roll up your sleeves, consider it a challenge, and dig in. 😉

PRIMARY vs. SECONDARY SOURCES

Think of research as a bullseye, with the killer and/or victim at the center. The first ring around the bullseye includes eyewitness accounts, investigative reports, court testimony, the killer’s journal and/or confession — primary sources. Moving outward, the next ring would be secondary sources, such as a newspaper article written by a journalist who interviewed someone involved with the case (killer, detective, juror, DA).

The third ring includes newspaper articles written by someone with no first-hand or second-hand knowledge. To get the article written on time they simply regurgitated information from other articles — that’s where you’ll find the most mistakes. In this ring you’ll also find bloggers, some credible, some not.

See why I created a three-source rule? If we were to write historical nonfiction using only the third ring as our primary source, the book and its author would lose all credibility among historical nonfiction readers as well as writers. I’ve read numerous snarky remarks about true crime writers who play fast and loose with the facts. Since I would never advocate to spotlight another writer’s inadequacies, I’ll leave it at that. My point is, research as though the whole world is watching. It’ll keep you honest. 🙂

HOMING IN ON PRIMARY SOURCES

One of the best places to gather historic information is the National Archives. Once called the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), which retired in 2013 and was replaced with the Online Public Access (OPA) prototype, the National Archives Catalog searches all web pages on Archives.gov and lists articles, pdf documents, books, and periodicals on a search result page. Along with catalog records, researchers are able to add notes that may cite additional sources, so during your search also be mindful of gold nuggets hidden in research notes.

The current catalog provides access to over two million electronic records in the Electronic Records Archives (ERA). These digital records aren’t available elsewhere. The National Archives is a fantastic place to find reliable primary source material.

Now, suppose the case you’re looking for hasn’t been digitalized. In that case you’ll need to Google “National Archives of [insert the state capitol where the crime occurred].” Note the email address and send a formal record request. The more information you provide, the greater your chances of gaining results. Record requests take about ten business days to complete.

If the crime you’re researching was not heard in federal court, then you’ll need to drop down to the state level. Google: “[state where crime took place] State Archives.” Example: Massachusetts State Archives. This may sound like the same place as above, but it’s not. State Archives house court records on the district court level.

Then there’s the Supreme Judicial Archives. In Boston, it’s a separate building with a separate email address. This may not always be the case, though. You’ll need to find out how it works in the state you’re researching, but you can use this example as a guide.

Prepare to spend time on the phone with law libraries and historical societies. The folks who work in these places are extremely helpful, and they love writers. The law library directed me to a wealth of information that I wouldn’t have gotten on my own, because they have access to databases that the public does not. Search for the county where your crime was committed, then add “law library.” For example, I searched for “Barnstable Law Library” for one of my female serial killers.

For my New Hampshire killer, the local historical society had diaries tucked inside an old box, with daily logs written during the string of murders. The gentleman who wrote these diaries knew the victims and the killer. Scoring a firsthand account of a centuries old murder case is difficult to find, but when it happens, it’s the best feeling ever.

See why it pays to keep digging? You never know what you might uncover next.

Most police departments are useless, as they don’t keep investigative records that long. It’s still worth sending a quick email, though. If I didn’t contact one particular department, I would have never known that the town where my killer operated housed their own independent archives that were a lot more detailed than the records I’d acquired elsewhere. It also gave me two primary sources to check facts against.

NEWSPAPER ARTICLES

As you may have guessed, a great place to find old newspapers are libraries. Depending on your subject’s location, many libraries have transferred newspapers to microfiche. Be sure to have the month and date for the librarian. If the crime you’re researching made national headlines, you may even luck out at your local library.

But wait …

Before you truck down to the library, check out the Library of Congress. They list 15,273,703 digitized newspaper pages from 1789-1963. Always best to save the shoe leather whenever possible. 🙂

Remember, as you research, search for primary source material to verify your secondary or thrice-removed accounts. Readers will thank you for the added effort.

Researching historical crime takes time and patience, but it’s also fun to piece the puzzle together. Just don’t get discouraged. For every three or four dead ends, you’ll stumble across something new and exciting that’ll set your writer brain ablaze.

I better stop there before this post morphs into a book. Do you have any research tips to share?

 

 

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When is a MS Ready?

Having just submitted a new draft MS to my agent, I recently found myself facing the perennial dilemma of deciding whether the draft was actually, really, well and truly, ‘ready’ to be sent…The answer being (of course) that a MS is never ready! But, even though that may be true – a story can never be perfect – such a glib answer doesn’t help anyone, least of all a beginning/aspiring writer embarking on their first few tentative steps towards being published. So how do you know when your MS is ‘ready’ to be sent off?

For me, the answer depends in part on who I’m sending it to…some of my beta readers get my drafts in chunks and stages, depending on the feedback I need. Other beta readers get the MS only when it has been revised and polished to the point where I would send it to my agent – and even then, the MS is still, in my mind, in the ‘draft’ stages. At that point, my story is not even close to being publication ready – It’s just at the stage where I can’t revise it any further without someone else’s input…or maybe when I am so close to the story that I can no longer see its flaws:)

This really is a gut feeling for me – a sense deep inside that the draft is finally done and ready to be sent off (for better or worse) to receive criticism and feedback.  It’s taken me a long time to understand this gut feeling or to have much confidence in it – though I am also lucky that my agent is happy to play the role of first editor so I don’t have the pressure to be totally perfect (at the same time though, I am also mindful of her time and would never want to send her something that wasn’t in my mind ‘ready’).

I’ve also (finally!) begun to accept my own writing process – realizing that time and time again I follow the same pathway when it comes to getting the MS ‘ready’. Although I’ve outlined my own process a few times before in previous blog posts, I thought it might be useful to show how I get to the point where I feel comfortable that my MS is indeed ‘ready’ to be sent into the world.

First comes the proposal – a brief summary/synopsis of my idea that I send to my agent before I start writing the MS. Then, after I receive feedback and (hopefully) her blessing, I proceed with putting together an outline and then writing the first 100 pages of the MS. I spend a lot of time at this stage, focusing on POV/voice, character, and setting. I send these pages to my agent for feedback as a kind of litmus test for the book. At this point, I often get beta reader feedback as well – but not always. For me, these foundational pages have to be virtually perfect before I can write the rest of the book (weird, I know!). When I do get around to writing the rest of the book, I use and revise the outline as I go. I rarely complete a ‘crappy first draft’ of any MS – each major section of the novel gets drafted and revised before I can move on. Once I do have a complete draft in place, however, I will go back through the entire MS for multiple revisions but this rarely involves major plot changes (I’m an outliner after all!). The whole drafting process usually takes me a year to a year and a half…and then of course I make further revisions once I get my agent’s feedback and we proceed with (hopefully) putting the MS out on submission.

I still find that at each step in the process I worry about whether the synopsis/pages/MS are truly ‘ready’ to be sent off. The fear never goes away – fear that my writing is crap, fear that I’m a fraud for even trying, fear even that I’m wasting everyone’s time by making them read what I’ve written…Perhaps, nothing is ever truly ‘ready’ to go out, you just have to be brave enough to do it anyway:)

So TKZers, how do you determine when your work is ‘ready’ to be sent out? How does your writing process help you get to the point where you know (or at least are brave enough) to send out your MS?

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All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned from my Parents

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

If you’ve never read humorist Robert Fulghum, treat yourself by buying his books. His most famous one is ‘All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.’ More than 17 million copies of his books are in print, in 31 languages, in 103 countries.

On the downloads tab of his website, he had a delightful offering – Argentina Tango Chronicles – tales from a solo traveler. Since I am traveling solo to northern Italy in the fall, I can’t wait to read how Fulghum makes the most of his trips where he reinvents himself in foreign lands. Yes, he even changes his name.

Robert Fulghum grew up in Waco, Texas. In his youth he worked as a ditch-digger, newspaper carrier, ranch hand, and singing cowboy. After college, he had a brief career with IBM, but he wasn’t satisfied. After completing his graduate degree in theology, he served 22 years as a Unitarian parish minister in the Pacific Northwest. He’s taught drawing, painting, art history and philosophy. He’s also an accomplished painter and sculptor and sings, plays guitar and mando-cello. Fulghum even marches in parades, playing cymbals and tambourine.

Now that’s a diverse resume. He’d be a blast to hang out with.

His good-natured stories about families and life lessons are told with subtle ‘feel good’ humor. I love reading his short stories at bedtime, particularly after a long, trying day. His humor, and his ways of structuring a short story, always makes me laugh.

Fulghum’s work makes me think about my own upbringing and what I’ve learned from my parents. I’ve been blessed with a loving family and wanted to share my parents with you, my TKZ family.

***

My parents (Ignacio & Kathryn) have been married 68 years. They had a picture-perfect wedding in San Antonio at one of the oldest active cathedrals in the United States, the stunning San Fernando Cathedral, founded in 1731. We are blessed that they are still healthy and active and thriving. Good genes.

My dad is 93 years old and still going strong. I call him ‘the renaissance man’ because there is NO TOPIC that doesn’t interest him or that he wouldn’t try. He gave me my love for art and self-expression. He also gave me a competitive spirit and a ‘never say never’ attitude at trying new things. In his career, he designed and built things – an architect who became influential in developing downtown San Antonio. He actually named the Riverwalk – the Paseo del Rio. He retired early, but that didn’t stop him from exploring his love for the many things that still interest him. He has a mind like a sponge, always learning. I hope I have a fraction of his ability. He loves to cook, especially gourmet food and exotic recipes. This is the guy who dug a pit in our backyard to cook game on a spit or who wrapped fish in banana leaves to cook in an underground oven.

To this day, my dad studies food and painting techniques as if he were a young man. He’s a constant inspiration on how to grab life and hang on tight. He loves mind puzzles and the strategies of playing chess. Despite having hearing problems–due to his stubbornness at wearing hearing aids–he’s quick with a joke that makes me laugh. I usually say that my worst habits, I got from my dad, but I’m thankful I inherited other things too.

My mother is 90 years old. From her, I learned my lifetime love for reading. I have many fond memories with my mom, but she literally taught me how to devour books and planted the seed for my love of writing. Summers off from school were spent at the library (in the stacks) and I came home with dozens of books to read. My mom’s compassion for people and her generosity helped me see the world in a different way. That certainly gave me the insight to write about the lives of others in my books. She’s my best friend. We talk several times a day and I am their primary care giver, living only minutes away. Quite a change from when I was an angry rebellious teen. Even with our age difference, she has an intriguing mind that has adjusted over the years. She accepts a great deal and tries to understand things. We have long talks about how everything has changed, but she is curious and I love it.

Both my parents have a great deal of humor, but they are different. That doubles down the fun. I buy my mom the latest in Youtube (she calls it U2) viral video-wear, like her ‘Honey Badger Don’t Care‘ shirt or the Weiner Dog tee she’s wearing in this pic. Dad tries not to be seen with her in public when she’s wearing them. (Isn’t she cute?)

But on a day of weakness, even dad can be persuaded to do crazy family stuff, like the time we did a retreat to celebrate Willie Nelson. Long story. Even my dogs have headbands and braids.

FOR DISCUSSION:
1.) Please share what you learned from your parents or your childhood that has influenced you as an adult.

2.) Any funny stories to share?

Now if you’ll excuse me. My tambourine lesson is in thirty minutes.

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