Reader Friday: Favorite Time of Year

As many of you know, I live in northern New Hampshire, where trees burst with color in the fall. It’s impossible to be down, upset, or melancholy when you’re surrounded by such beauty.

I’ve lived in New England my entire life, and the foliage never gets old. Nature is magnificent, is it not? And oh, so, inspiring. For this reason (plus I’m a Libra 😉 ), fall is my favorite time of year.

What’s your favorite time of year? It could be a month, a season, or even a special week. Just be sure to tell us why.


A Writer in Italy

Jordan Dane

Everywhere you turn, you’ll find a side street or meandering cobblestone stairway that you can get lost in. Fertile ground for the mind of an author. That’s Italy. Romantic storybook panoramas, delicious food, welcoming people, inviting shops to buy treasures, and outdoor bistros. Italy has a vast history, varied culture and is the center of global fashion. Beautiful gardens rival any in the world. Plus an added bonus for me–Italians LOVE walking their dogs. Many locations looked like the Westminster Dog Show with gorgeous well-groomed dogs. Shop owners even put large water bowls out for leashed pets.

As promised, I am posting some pics of my amazing trip to northern Italy, the Lakes District nestled in the Swiss Alps.

(HOUSEKEEPING – I had trouble posting these and worked on how to do it for hours yesterday. When you see a link, it’s to my Instagram acct. I wanted to post individual image links, but Instagram wouldn’t allow it. My files were too large to post solo and I’m not tech savvy at compressing sizes, especially for as many as I wanted to show you. But at the links, please scroll through the images on Instagram for the topic I’m posting about.)

Many people think of Lake Como & George Clooney when they speak of the Lakes District. I didn’t see George, but I felt as if I had walked into a post card and stayed for awhile. We had gorgeous sunny weather for most of the days. We were lucky for October.

Since I can’t include tons of pics on this post and had trouble loading my panorama views, I will direct you to my Instagram acct at JordanDaneBooks for many of my memories of Italy. I posted every day and picked some of my favorites. There’s also more space on Instagram to describe things so I broke down my postings by tour day. But for your convenience, I will speak about certain images and provide a link to Instagram.

As you might remember from my first post Travel Replenishes the Writer’s Soul about my trip (before I left the country), I was anxious about traveling alone. I was traveling with a small group of 29 people, organized by the outstanding Traveling Aggies, but I was the only person truly traveling alone. I made up my mind that with this being my first real vacation in decades that didn’t involved visiting with family or friends, I would make the most of it and not let my solo adventure turn me into a wall flower. Thankfully the other people on the tour made me feel welcome but I had to put myself out there.

Boy, did I meet the right folks. By the end of the trip, I did not want to leave this great group of people. I had a BLAST! I made sure to spend time with each couple. By the end of the trip, I had folks handing me their contact info and I’ve stayed in touch with several couples, including a new travel buddy that I’m planning a trip with in 2020. As a writer, I can be introverted. I really love my solo down time, even as much as I find other people fascinating and enjoy adventures.

I sneaked away on a total free tour day into Switzerland with two married but solo traveling ladies from Chicago who were hilarious. My sister(s) from another mister. We took the infamous “Donkey Train to Locarno.” (There is a story about that name and a very amorous donkey. I may have to put it in a book.) I will never be anxious about traveling alone again. That donkey even broke through the language barrier with a German family in our train car. Some things are universal, like laughter and being naughty.

I didn’t feel hindered by the fact that I didn’t speak Italian. There is a common humanity that connects us all. We were with tour guides who spoke the lyrical language and everything was extremely well-run and organized for us. Nothing was left to chance by AHI Travel International, our top-notch tour company. Our main tour guide was Valentina. I wanted to kidnap her and hide her in my luggage by the end of the trip. Adorable and funny and very kind. Toward the end of the trip, she shared her funny family stories about her mother and sister and showed us what hand gestures meant in Italy (including the ones we shouldn’t use ANYWHERE).

The star(s) of the Lake District is, of course, THE LAKES. Everywhere you looked there were gorgeous water views. Here is the view from my hotel room balcony. As a traveler to the lakes, you tour on ferry boats many days. Another beautiful view of the water. No lie, the water is as blue as you see in the pictures. When you look down into it from the shoreline, it is clear and glistening.

As a writer, I took in the sights and want to always remember them for future books. This trip fed my soul and replenished my creative juices, but it also gave me new experiences to include in my work. What must it feel like to be the stranger who doesn’t speak the language or know the customs? How to see something so beautiful that it makes you ache for more? How a romantic language can make your heart do flip flops? How food can be sexy? All these things went through my mind and my heart during this trip. I didn’t simply take a vacation, I saw Italy through the eyes of a writer.

On land, we saw many architectural wonders. Simply breathtaking. Il Duomo in Milan (Otherwise known as the Milan Cathedral) has taken 600 years to build and Milan is still working on it. 600 years? Pffft. When entering these stunning structures, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Always look up. These cathedrals were created to bring man closer to God. You get the sense that the creators and fresco artists used for these magnificent buildings were making at attempt to recreate heaven. On Orta Island, one of my favorite day tours, the cathedral on the island was truly breathtaking. The extensive history and the timeless work of artisans blew me away.

The food was served in more reasonable portions than the way we pile it on in the U.S. I loved how their pastas were flavored with light sauces with complex layers of seasonings and ingredients. Lots of fresh seafood. I was wary of the many courses of food, but I really got into the full production of a meal – from soup to pasta to main entree to cheese offering to dessert. Small portions allow you to languidly consume your meal with wine and good company. No one is in a hurry. Lovely, indeed.

I toured the Last Supper in Milan, the La Scala Opera House and Museum, Duomo (Milan Cathedral), and the Milan Fashion Scene at the Galleria and our guides shared tons of history and charming stories about these historic spots.

I am planning more trips with friends and family next year. I already have one trip scheduled for Hungary, Austria and Germany with my brother and I want to add more. I hope this trip and others lead to plots and stories for me, although what I learned about myself was almost worth more. I made lovely new friends and my spirit to travel has only grown.

For Discussion:

1.) Would you like to share trips you’ve taken and would recommend?

2.) Where would you go if you could take the vacation of your dreams?

3.) Do you have a dream vacation for a trip you’d take as an avid reader or something geared for authors?

EVIL WITHOUT A FACE is a reissue of the first book in my Sweet Justice series, formerly published through HarperCollins. My version of Charlie’s Angels on steroids.


Three Hours A Day

By John Gilstrap

This is conference season, and I feel a little like I’ve been on a treadmill.  Two weeks ago, I was at Magna Cum Murder in Indianapolis, always one of my faves, and this past weekend, I attended Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, which was held in Dallas.

Currently, I am still in Texas with my buddy (and outstanding writer) Reavis Wortham.  We share a publisher, and the publicity department put together the “Double Barrel Book Tour.”  Rev and I will be tearing up Houston, Austin and parts in between.  In this part of the world, wild hogs are vermin, to be shot on sight, no license required.  So yes, there’ll be a couple of rifles in the mix.

All of this eats up huge buckets full of time.  Having just submitted Hellfire, the latest in the Jonathan Grave series, back in September, I owe a manuscript on March 1 for Crimson Phoenix, the first book in my second series.  I’m only 30 pages into that one.  I feel a low grade panic beginning to build.

Which brings us to the real point of this post: time management.

Joe R. Lansdale was the guest of honor at this year’s Magna, and I got to spend a good bit of time with him over the course of the weekend.  If you’re not familiar with Joe’s work, you really need to be.  The guy is a creativity machine, churning out massive amounts of work in various genres and formats.  When I asked him how he can do that, he answered with four simple words.  “Three hours a day.”

That’s his writing schedule.  Three concentrated hours.

I’ve decided to steal the idea.  My writing sessions tend to be scattershot, jerked around by distractions like email, phone calls and extra cups of coffee.  I’ll really concentrate for maybe twenty, thirty minutes at a time, and then see something shiny that whips my attention away.  I’m announcing here and now that I’m going to give Joe’s strategy a solid try.

It’s amazing what a compelling force panic can be.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

For what it’s worth, when this post appears, I will be on the road, and likely not able to respond.


On Writing Fears, Blue Titles,
And Why 6-Figure Advances
Are Bad For Your Health

By PJ Parrish

When you read this, I’ll be somewhere over the midwest, 42,000 feet up, making the annual trek back to Tallahassee, and not a moment too soon since it’s snowing in Michigan now. So I don’t have any wise words from my own brain this week since it’s been hectic.   Plus, I sprained two fingers on my right hand on a DIY project that should have been left to professionals. Kids don’t do this at home. Keyboarding with fingers the size and color of concord grapes is hard. Don’t know how you index-finger hunt-and-pecking writers do it.

So, here’s some good stuff I found this week, by writers about writers or writing. It runs the gamut from an cautionary tale from a novice writer who got two (count ’em two!) six figure advances and was almost ruined financially — to a profile of Lee Child at home in Wyoming, where he owns two cowboys hats, but doesn’t wear them for fear of being laughed at.

Enjoy…Yours truly and my busted phalanges will be back soon.

How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Really Trying

A new-to-the-biz writer Heather Demetrios writes about how getting two six-figure advances right out of the gate almost brought her to financial ruin. She has great advice for those of you just starting out on paying attention to the work at hand and not letting your head get turned too fast.  Money quote for me: “Each new book is like a weekend in Vegas: maybe I’ll get lucky, maybe I won’t.”

After that second advance came through, I stepped into my dream life: I quit my day job to write full-time, moved to New York City, bought $15 cocktails, and learned (with astonishing speed) not worry about prices when ordering at a restaurant. I said yes to travel (often book research I wasn’t reimbursed for), concert tickets, new shoes, and finally being able to buy people the kind of presents I felt they deserved. I donated large sums of money to organizations I cared about, and delighted in the feeling that I was making a real difference….

Then she goes into what she would have done differently had she known what was going to happen. Here’s the link. 

Ready, Set, Write a Book

November if National Novel Writing Month. I’ve never tried it, but the NaNoWriMo challenge — writing a complete novel in 30 days — is now into its 20th year. If the thought of cranking out 1,500 words a day makes your blood run cold, this article’s not for you. But it does offer some tips for upping your output.  Here’s the link. 

Oh, Give Him a Home Where The Reacher Creatures Roam 

Speaking of writers who can crank it out, Lee Child has just dropped his 24th book Blue Moon. This feature finds our hero living the good life in Laramie Wyoming and waxing on the new movie Jack Reacher (yes, he’s taller than Tom Cruise), life in the slow lane and getting a new award — Commander of the British Empire. Link here. 



What’s In a $&%!? Title? 

Hey, we all know how hard it is to come up with a seductive title. But are today’s titles getting a little too…blue?  One editor makes a case for rethinking the current trend to using cuss words in titles. Let’s just say she’s not happy:

While a well-placed colorful word can pack a punch when used sparingly, resorting to vulgar titles is actually an easy, mindless, and lazy knee-jerk marketing approach. In an attempt to reach and speak to the masses, these word choices continue to dumb down book titles and subjects while discouraging any effort to strengthen thinking, meaning, or purpose—let alone a sense of integrity for authors, marketers, or the industry.

Here’s the link to the Publishers Weekly story. Link here. 

Fear Of Flying (As a Writer)

And lastly, I give you Chuck Wendig.  I love his writers blog Terrible Minds. It always makes me laugh — or cry less, depending on how strong a grip the work in progress has on my neck.  Here’s a classic Wendig — about how if you try to play it safe, if you travel the well-trod road instead of trying to find your own true writer’s path, you will fail. I think our own James recently wrote on this topic recently. Money quote:

I’m speaking about a specific kind of fear, which is, fear as the first step of writing. Fear about market. Fear about audience. Fear about how no one will read your stuff. Fear about how you’re never going to be as good as [insert other author name here]. Fear about voice, fear about genre, fear about ideas. You set out on the journey of being a writer and already you have a choice about what direction you choose, right? You get this instinctual pull, as if all your intestinal flora are trying to move you in concert toward something weird, something wonderful, something uniquely your own, but — that way lies grave uncertainty. The other direction, well, that’s more sensible, isn’t it? Other writers have trod those paths. What’s popular right now is [insert trend here, like “YA medical horror featuring canine protagonists” or “grimdark geriatric erotic fantasties”]. Your voice surely isn’t as good as other voices.

So, your foot wavers. And instead of pointing yourself in the unknown direction, into the dark forest, into the layers of fog — you set forth onto the well-lit, well-marked path. The worn path. The trod path. And it’s fear that put you there. It’s fear that’s walking you forward.

Here’s the full article.

I’ll try to reply if you leave a comment. I have a long layover in Charlotte and if I recall, there’s a decent bar in Concource E, owned by Dale Ernhardt Jr. Oh, show me the way to the next whiskey bar…


How To Invest Readers in Your Story: First Page Critique

By Sue Coletta

Another brave writer has shared his/her first page for critique. Enjoy! My notes will follow.

Traders Market

Blowing up a house with five people inside wasn’t the best way to slip out of town unnoticed.

Heart pounding, hands shaking, knowing she should be gone, Emelia Lopez watched through the stockade fence two houses down, mesmerized by the inferno. She pushed the other thought away when she heard the first sirens, and pushed herself into motion.

Keep to the plan, Nick said.

Staying in the deep shadows cast by the fire, she moved steadily down the alley, around a corner, merging into a crowd of gawkers spilling out of a bar.

“It had to be a gas explosion…”

“Was it a house?”

Another boom, another explosion.

“Holy shit! What is it?”

“Your wife blew up your boat. You better go home.”

Laughing, untouched by whatever it was, they began drifting back inside to get another round.

Emelia moved away, her lumpy figure in its baggy dress and sweatshirt unnoticed, one of hundreds like her in the neighborhood.

The second explosion?

Couldn’t think about it now.

A few blocks later, lights from the bus station beckoned. She pulled up her hood and grasped the key in her gloved hand. Inside, no one was paying any attention to the explosion. Too far away. Sirens were common. She put her head down and made herself shuffle to a locker, key ready. She pulled out a large duffle bag, closed the door, left the key in the lock, crossed the few feet into the restroom.

The biggest stall was open, the one with the changing table. Inside, she pulled the table down and began emptying the duffel.

Twenty minutes later, when she was sure she was alone, she came out, stuffed the refilled duffle into the trash can under the counter, slipped a carry-on bag over her shoulder, and checked herself in the mirrors. She smoothed her slim skirt and straightened the matching jacket, tested her ankles in the spike heels, and readjusted the red wig that completed her transformation into Emma Baxter, a Baltimore, Maryland wife and mother, who wouldn’t discover her passport was missing until long after it was discarded in a trash can in Amsterdam.

Emma straightened and strode purposefully out of the restroom, out of the bus station, and climbed into a waiting cab. Gave directions. Checked her phone. Nothing from Nick.

Follow the plan.

She closed her eyes, and the thought came.

Dear God. I’m a murderer.

This first page has so much promise. Anon did lose me a few times, though. So, let’s see if we can make things a bit clearer for the reader. Below is the first page with my notes.

Traders Market (I don’t have enough info. to comment on the title)

Blowing up a house with five people inside wasn’t the best way to slip out of town unnoticed. (Awesome first line!)

Heart pounding, hands shaking, knowing she should be gone, (one clause too many) Emelia Lopez watched (use a stronger verb here: peered, stared, gaped?) through the stockade fence two houses down, mesmerized by the inferno (Nice!). She pushed the other thought away when she heard the first sirens, and pushed herself into motion.

Any time you use words like thought, heard, saw, considered, etc., you’re telling the action rather than showing it. Rearrange the above sentence to avoid that.

Example: When the first siren squealed, a spike of adrenaline shot through Emelia and she shoved off the fencepost. Sprinting toward the bus station (added to show the reader a destination), Nick’s words echoed through her mind. Keep to the plan. Easy for him to say. He wasn’t the one out here in the dark (added to weave in some personality).

Keep to the plan, Nick said. 

Staying in the deep shadows cast by the fire, she [Emelia] moved steadily down the alley, around a corner, merging into a crowd of gawkers spilling out of a bar. Very good. Don’t believe the advice that all gerunds are bad. They can be effective tools. Here, you’ve created emotional rhythm, which works for this particular reader.

“It had to be a gas explosion…” Who’s speaking? If it’s a bar patron, then please briefly describe the character so we can visualize the scene. Even something simple like: a bleach-blonde cougar in a leopard-print blouse.

“Was it a house?” Here, too.

Another boom, another explosion. Meh. It’s a little underwhelming, but it gets the job done. I’d rather see Emelia stop short when the earth shakes beneath her sensible shoes—in other words, show vs. tell.

“Holy shit! What is it?” I have no idea whose dialogue this is, either.

“Your wife blew up your boat. You better go home.” Here, too. Show us who this is.

Laughing, untouched by whatever it was, they began drifting back inside to get another round. Who are “they”? Show us! Also, since you’re not in their heads, you can’t know that they’re “untouched” by anything. You can show disinterest, but you cannot tell us they’re untouched. You also can’t know they’re going inside for another round. The protagonist can presume they are, but then you need to make that clear. For more on writing in deep POV, read this first page critique.

Emelia moved away (backed away? From what?), her lumpy figure in its baggy dress and sweatshirt unnoticed (Here again, you’ve slipped out of Emelia’s POV. Emelia wouldn’t think of herself of having a lumpy figure, would she? Most women would never use that term to describe themselves. By choosing Emelia’s POV, you, the writer, have effectively slipped inside her skin. You are Emelia while writing this scene). one of hundreds like her in the neighborhood.

On my second read-through I discovered that you might be referring to padding inside her disguise. If that’s true, then show us how itchy the material is or the padding lumping together. But you need to clue in your reader to what’s going on. Most readers won’t take the time to go back and reread the first page. See what I’m saying? Nailing an effective POV is one of the more difficult craft elements to master, but it’s crucial that you do. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. 

The second explosion? Couldn’t think about it now. (Nice. I just moved her response up a line.)

A few blocks later, lights from the bus station beckoned (beckoned what? beckoned her closer?). She [Emelia] pulled up her hood and grasped the key in her gloved hand (key? Where’d it come from?). Inside, no one was paying any attention to the explosion (don’t tell us; show us. Inside the station five fat guys guzzling Budweisers huddled around a black-and-white television with a tinfoil antenna. Monday night football—perfect timing). Too far away (Maybe the explosion was too far away? Not sure how they missed the sirens, though they weren’t uncommon around here). Sirens were common. She put her head down and made herself shuffle to a locker, key ready (Head down, Emelia shuffled to a row of lockers, stacked two high).

Side note: show Emelia searching for the right locker number to drag out the suspense, show her excitement over finding the duffle bag (or her devastation when the locker’s empty), show her hand tremble as she drags the duffle bag off the metal shelf, careful not to make a sound. Or maybe the zipper scratches the metal and draws unwanted attention from a security guard. See all the ways to create conflict? The possibilities are endless. Don’t make things too easy for Emelia. Your protagonist needs to stumble, fall, get back up and move forward, stumble again…that’s how we humanize her into a flesh-and-blood character.

She pulled out a large duffle bag, closed the door, left the key in the lock, crossed the few feet into the restroom.

The biggest stall was open (that’s convenient; maybe too convenient? Something to think about.), the one with the changing table. Inside, she pulled the table down and began emptied the duffel.

Twenty minutes later, when she was sure she was alone (why is she certain she’s alone? Did she peek out a crack in the door? Did she press her ear to the door as footfalls trailed down the hall? Show us!), she came out, stuffed the refilled (refilled with what?) duffle into the trash can under the counter. [Emelia] slipped a carry-on bag (where did this come from?) over her shoulder, and checked herself in the mirrors. She smoothed her slim skirt and straightened the matching jacket, tested her ankles in the spike heels, and readjusted the red wig that completed her transformation into Emma Baxter, a Baltimore, Maryland wife and mother, who wouldn’t discover her passport was missing until long after it was discarded in a trash can in Amsterdam.

Okay, so, I assume the duffel bag contained all these items. Show us the action as it happens. Don’t make us guess after the fact. Why risk confusing your reader? You did a terrific job of showing us Emelia’s transformation—bravo on that!—so I know you can do it. Yes, it takes more time to show an action, but the payoff is well worth the added work. Every time we draw the reader deeper into the scene they become more invested in the story.

[With her head held high,] Emma straightened and strode purposefully out of the restroom [and slipped right past the drunken footballers who failed to notice her departure. Go Pats! (sorry, couldn’t resist ;-)) At the door to an awaiting cab Emelia hip-checked some business-type dude out of the way and stole his ride. Sucker.]

“Corner of Howser and Jewel Street.” She flashed a fan of bills over the front seat. “There’s an extra twenty in it for you if you get me there in ten minutes.” (Note: I added dialogue to show Emelia giving directions to the cabbie, rather than telling the reader about afterward.) out of the bus station, and climbed into a waiting cab. Gave directions.Checked her phone. Nothing from Nick

[Glancing at her phone, Nick still hadn’t texted.]

Follow the plan.

She closed her eyes, and the thought came. Dear God, I’m a murderer. (This makes me want to flip the page to find out what happens next. Nicely done!)

Brave Writer, I hope I wasn’t too hard on you. If I didn’t see so much promise in this first page, I might be reluctant to bathe your opener in red ink. I want you to succeed, and I know you can. With a little more knuckle grease, this opener could be amazing.

One other thing is worth mentioning. Be careful with run-on sentences. Same goes for staccato sentences. They’re most effective when used sparingly. If used too often, they become a writing tic. 🙂

Over to you, my beloved TKZers. How might you improve this first page?


Stretch Your Style

by James Scott Bell

Not every writer is interested in style. If they can write lean, mean plots that move, with interesting characters and a satisfying ending, that’s enough. They’d rather write fast and turn out more work than spend extra time trying to find the “right” words.

Isaac Asimov was such a writer. He purposely developed a stripped-down style so he could churn out the books. He was once asked what he would do if he found out he had just six months to live. “Type faster,” he said.

Other writers do seek to enhance their prose. One such was John D. MacDonald, considered one of the great crime writers of the 20th century. He wrote a string of paperback classics in the 1950s, and then invented an enduring series character for the 60s and beyond—Travis McGee.

He was a great plotter, but a careful stylist as well. As he himself once put it: “I want a bit of magic in the prose style, a bit of unobtrusive poetry. I want to have words and phrases really sing.”

While “unobtrusive poetry” is not necessary for a well-plotted novel, it is an elevation. It’s a fine thing to consider stretching your prose. The main proviso is that you never let the style overplay its hand. Serve the story first.

One place where prose style is most fitting is when there is a high emotional moment. Nothing is higher than a young writer dying, in the aptly titled and justifiably famous short story that made William Saroyan’s reputation, “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.”

Then swiftly, neatly, with the grace of the young man on the trapeze, he was gone from his body. For an eternal moment he was all things at once: the bird, the fish, the rodent, the reptile, and man. An ocean of print undulated endlessly and darkly before him. The city burned. The herded crowd rioted. The earth circled away, and knowing that he did so, he turned his lost face to the empty sky and became dreamless, unalive, perfect.

Go ahead and stretch your prose in the safety of your own writing room. Three ideas:

  1. Read poetry

Ray Bradbury, one of our greatest unobtrusive poet-writers, read some poetry every day. “Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough,” Bradbury says in Zen in the Art of Writing. “Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition.”

  1. Write page-long sentences

As an exercise from time to time, write a run-on sentence of 250 words or so. Don’t edit yourself. Let the words take you wherever they roam!

This is a good way to add emotional depth to a scene. When you get to a point where you describe emotion, start a fresh document and write a page-long sentence of inner description. Don’t judge it; just write it.

When you’re done, look it over. Maybe you’ll use most of it in your novel. Maybe only one line. But what you’ll have is fresh and stylistically pleasing. I’m certain this is how Jack Kerouac came up with that famous passage in his novel On the Road:

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

  1. Play with metaphors

Dow Mossman, author of The Stones of Summer (the subject of a documentary, The Stone Reader) says he considered each page of his massive novel to be its own poem. Naturally it is filled with metaphors and similes.

He stood, leaning against the wooden jamb of the double glass doorway, looking back, and his eyes seemed almost dull, flatter than last year, muted somehow like reptiles not swimming in open water anymore.

Dull eyes like reptiles not swimming surprises in a pleasing way, but also fits the overall tone of the novel. The best similes and metaphors do both.

So how do you find these images?

Make a list. At the top, write the subject. In the above example, it would be dull eyes. Dull like what?

List as many images as you can, absurd and farfetched as they may be. Push past your comfort zone. Force yourself to come up with twenty possibilities. One of them will surely work.

Robert Newton Peck uses nouns in place of adjectives to plant the unexpected in his novel A Day No Pigs Would Die:

She was getting bigger than August.

The whole sky was pink and peaches.

Like Peck, you should occasionally step outside the normal, grammatical box. You’ll find some pleasant surprises when you do!

How important is style to you, when you write and when you read? We all agree that story comes first, but are you also an “unobtrusive poetry” fan? Do you think about it as you write or revise? 






Clearing Out the Spirits

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez courtesy

Today I’m giving you a bit of an update and a short observation. Let us start with the former. Some of you may recall my blog “…for the repose of the soul…” which I posted at TKZ on June 16, 2018. It concerned a husband who murdered his wife at their home on the street where I live during what had been a peaceful and quiet early summer evening. They had been separated for an extended period but were trying to work things through. The incident was accordingly totally unexpected. 

The husband was almost immediately arrested and jailed  The aftereffects of his actions roiled and rippled beneath the surface of neighborly encounters over the next several months. Conversations on the street either began or ended with a discussion of what had occurred and what would happen next. If there was any benefit at all to what had occurred it was that everyone on the street became just a bit closer. Folks who before had only waved in passing stopped to talk for a few moments or longer and there were a couple of block parties where those assembled talked out what had happened but discussed other things, too. The husband ultimately in November 2018  pled guilty to a charge of aggravated murder pursuant to a plea agreement which guarantees his imprisonment for the next two decades without the possibility of parole. 

Time and life have moved forward now that justice of a sort has been obtained.  The home where the couple lived and raised their children, the home where the evil deed was committed, was extensively redecorated. There was some question as to what would happen to the house and how quickly, whether a buyer would find it sooner rather than later or if it would be on the market for an extended period of time, given the history. It actually sold very quickly. The new neighbor moved in on a quiet, snowy day in February 2019. She is delightful, a very down-to-earth person of southern origin who leads with a twinkle in her eye and who is a bit of a character around the edges in all of the best ways. When I first met her I told her that I was glad that the house had a new owner so quickly, given that people tend to shy away from places where darker incidents have occurred. Her response was that in such situations the problem is with the people who commit the actions and not the house. Just so. 

It is the house, however, which she ultimately decorated for Halloween a few weeks ago. And what decorations they are. She has transformed her front yard into a graveyard, with tombstones sprouting from the ground like toadstools after a summer rain. She has giant spiders — I mean these are big-posterior spiders — crawling up (or is it down) the front of the house around the upstairs windows. The most noteworthy decoration, however, can be found on the front porch. The entrance is festooned with hazard tape and the front storm door features with bloody handprints and the words “HELP ME” written in crimson.

Now for the observation. What does it say about me that I find this by turns to be wonderfully appropriate and hilariously inappropriate in ways that I have difficulty describing? Not everyone on the street is amused as I am, of course. A couple of my neighbors whispered to me that the display was in poor taste. My response was that if they felt strongly about it they should take up a collection and start paying our neighbor’s mortgage and property taxes. Otherwise, it’s her home, and she can decorate it for Halloween the way that she wants. The most telling reaction came from the neighbor across the street from her, who with his wife was best acquainted with the husband and wife who are respectively now in prison and deceased. The close neighbor said that, if our late neighbor were able to do so, she of all people would probably enjoy the display the most. I get that. It’s exactly the way I would want to be remembered, should I meet my unplanned but inevitable demise in a memorable if notorious way. 

There’s more than that going on here, however. I can recall when people who were moving into a new domicile would invite a clergyman over to bless the home. Nobody called it an exorcism, and that wasn’t the form of it by any means, but it was done not only with the hope of keeping things reasonably happy and peaceful going forward but also chasing out any nasty emotions that might be lingering and hiding in the rooms, corners, and cupboards. I think that is what my very practical and savvy new neighbor is doing. That’s my observation and I’m sticking to it.

So let’s raise a glass a frosted glass of apple cider (or your favorite fall beverage) to that most macabre of holidays just past, when tastes, rich or poor, are celebrated. If you have any similar stories, be they recent or long ago, that raised a “tsk” or two when they occurred, please share. And thank you as always for being here today. 



True Crime Thursday – Halloween Phobias

Credit: Myriam Zilles, Pixabay

by Debbie Burke


Halloween is spooky.

Fear can be real, as in these true crimes that occurred on Halloween.

Fear can be from scary movies like these perennial favorites.

Spooky movies can trigger phobias like:

Optophobia – Fear of opening one’s eyes, especially when the sinister organ music gets really loud.

Bogeyphobia – Fear of the bogeyman; or Kinomortophobia – Fear of zombies

Pediophobia – Fear of dolls…like Chucky.

If you’re a vampire, you might suffer from:

Spectrophobia, the fear of mirrors and one’s own reflection; or Alliumphobia, fear of garlic.

If you’re an author, you worry your readers will develop logophobia (fear of reading) or hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia (fear of long words).

Some phobias are head scratchers.

Ompholaphobia: Fear of belly buttons

Photo credit: Thorsten Frenzel, Pixabay

Lutraphobia: Fear of otters

Photo credit: hamikus, Pixabay

Anatidaephobia– Fear of a duck or goose watching you

Photo credit: Dighini, Pixabay

Arachibutyrophobia: Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. Our last dog, a German Shorthair, developed this phobia after I fed him an open-faced peanut butter sandwich. While watching him trying to lick it loose, I dissolved in helpless laughter. Come to think of it, maybe he didn’t have arachibutyrophobia, after all, but rather katagelophobia (fear of being embarrassed).

Photo credit: Robert-Owen-Wahl, Pixabay

Wishing you a safe and happy Halloween–just don’t answer the door or look under the bed! 

TKZers: What’s the weirdest phobia you’ve heard of?




Debbie Burke’s new thriller Stalking Midas contains no belly buttons, otters, ducks, nor peanut butter. But it does include a scary mountain lion. Check out the Kindle versionFREE today through November 2.


My Muse Is Gone


I fear this will be a short, sorrowful Wednesday post.

On Tuesday morning, my husband had to take our much-beloved cat, Miss Nina Garcia Benedict, to be euthanized. Her kidney disease had swiftly advanced from stage 2 to acute in two very short months. She was only 10 years old.

Nina owned us the way that a proper cat owns her people: with complete and utter domination. She was stunning to look at from her kitten days onward, and bore the fact with the humility of a Hollywood starlet.

Whenever I sat down to write, Nina would materialize five to ten minutes later. If she wasn’t standing solidly on my keyboard or peering over the back of the screen, causing it to tilt threateningly towards me, she was on my lap, needling my thighs until I squawked. (Who am I kidding? I could squawk for hours, and she still wouldn’t stop.) She helped me write six novels, many stories, and countless blogs. Perhaps I’d have written even more without her valuable assistance, but those would have been hollow words.

And when I cried–as writers sometimes do–Nina was right there to rub her furry head against me, concerned.

I’m out of town this week, and am already anticipating walking in our front door, and feeling her absence. I can’t even think about writing more stories without her.

See? I told you this would be a brief post. There’s not more that I can bear to say about her right now.

Do you have–or have you had–an animal in your life that helps you with your writing? I want to hear your stories.