Running and Writing – The Finish Line

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
—John Bingham, running speaker and writer

* * *

No matter how long or short the race or how well or poorly the runner performs, the finish line is always a welcome sight. Crossing the line is a triumph in itself, but once there, it’s time to do more than enjoy the refreshments. Here are a few things to check off the list:

  1. Celebrate the completion of another race.
  2. Congratulate the other runners on their success. (In long road races, you will often see the leaders cross the finish line and then jog back down to course encouraging the slower runners.)
  3. Analyze the results. Did you prepare and train well enough? Did your strategy work? Did you give it your all? The answer is often “no” to one or more of these, but that’s good fodder for #4:
  4. Plan for the next race. Write down your goals and schedule the next competition.
  5. Get to work.

* * *

As we come to the finish line of 2022, it’s time to reflect on what we’ve done, what worked, what didn’t work, and start to plan for 2023.

I’ve mentioned here before that each year I create a list of goals that I tape to the back of my office door. I glance at them now and then throughout the year, and their mere presence seems to keep me from going too far off-track. I took my 2022 list down today and reviewed it. I’ve met most of the goals, some I missed completely, and several I changed during the year. Here are a few I’m celebrating:

  • Contributing a bi-weekly post to the Kill Zone Blog. I loved the challenge of coming up with something new every other week and interacting with all the folks who comment. I particularly enjoyed co-writing A Mystery of History with Dale Ivan Smith and working with BK Jackson, Debbie Burke, Priscilla Bettis, Becky Friedrichs, Patricia Bradley, and Robert Luedeman on the TKZ Handwriting Experiment.
  • It must have been Steve Hooley’s influence that inspired me to try my hand at a fantasy short story, The Clutter Busters, in the Collierville Christian Writers Anthology Stories from the Attic. (Since my story is the first in the anthology, you can read it by using the “Look Inside” link on Amazon.)
  • Created a Box Set of The Watch Mysteries, Books 1-3
  • Although I planned to begin the fourth book in the Watch Series of Mysteries in 2022, I changed that goal and instead worked on the first book of a new romantic suspense series, Lady Pilot-in-Command. I finished the first draft and sent it off to my editor a couple of weeks ago.
  • Continued my monthly Craft of Writing Blog series of interviews on my website. This year the blog featured authors of mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy novels. Most of the guests are regulars on TKZ, and their answers to the interview questions are enlightening.
  • Attended two writers’ conferences: Killer Nashville and the American Christian Fiction Writers conference.

Lest you think everything was sunshine and roses, here are a couple of notable misses:

  • Even though I submitted several times during the year, I was unable to get a Chirp deal for the audio version of Dead Man’s Watch.
  • I didn’t publish a novel in 2022. That wasn’t actually one of my written goals, but maybe it should have been:

Well, that’s a pretty good summary of my writing year. I’ve started jotting down my goals for 2023 (in handwriting, of course), combining realistic expectations with flights of fancy. Walking up to the starting line now …

So TKZers: Congratulations on completing another year of writing!

What are you celebrating as we come to the end of 2022?

What are your plans for 2023?

* * *

 

The Watch Mysteries Boxset: Books 1-3 Kindle edition on sale now.

 

Give Yourself Permission

Give Yourself Permission
Terry Odell

There have been several posts recently about how to motivate yourself to write, how to increase productivity, how to “do the job.” I’d like to take a moment to look at the other side of the picture.

(Disclaimer: I’m an indie author and am not on deadline at the moment.)

Recent events—both positive and negative—have pulled me away from the current manuscript. I had a short visit with my mother, followed by a planned week’s vacation which was an organized tour, and we were on the go all the time. When I returned home, ready to tackle the WIP, my mother’s failing health had taken a rapid downturn, and I dropped everything to return to LA. My brother and I spent two weeks dealing with the funeral and trying to get her house cleared out enough to put on the market. She’d lived in the house since 1958 and apparently threw nothing away.

At any rate, all the sorting and wrapping, bagging, and packing was both physically and mentally exhausting. Although I’d intended to use “down time” to work on the manuscript (even brought my regular keyboard), there wasn’t any.

I did have one pleasant break—I met with JSB for lunch one day, and it was nice to talk about writing, and a glimmer of a spark to get back to the book flashed for a moment or two.

At first, I told myself that I had reached a “need to do some research” stopping point before I left, but I faced reality. Even with that information I wasn’t going to be able to write. Constant interruptions, distractions, and the pressure to get everything done wasn’t conducive to productivity—at least productivity that wouldn’t end up being the victim of the delete key.

I gave myself permission to set the manuscript aside and not feel guilty about it. The same went for a presence on social media. I checked emails, but set most of them aside to deal with when I got home.

While writing every day is part of the “job”, there are legitimate reasons for taking a leave of absence. When life intervenes and you have to step away, accept it. The manuscript will still be there.

Now that I’m home in my familiar writing environment, I’ll be catching up with all the “life” stuff that accumulates while you’re away, but also with easing back into the writing. I wrote a post some time ago about getting back in the writing groove, but I thought it was appropriate to repeat my tips here:

Get rid of chores that will nag.
If you are going to worry about cleaning house, paying bills, going through email, take the time to get the critical things dealt with. Otherwise you’re not going to be focused on your writing. If you’re a ‘write first’ person, don’t open anything other than your word processing program.

Do critiques for my crit group.
This might seem counterproductive, but freeing your brain from your own plot issues and looking at someone else’s writing can help get your brain into thinking about the craft itself.

Work on other ‘writing’ chores.
For me, it can be blog posts, or forum participation. Just take it easy on social media time.

Deal with critique group feedback.
Normally, I’m many chapters ahead of my subs to my crit group. If I start with their feedback on earlier chapters, I get back into the story, but more critically than if I simply read the chapters. And they might point out plot holes that need to be dealt with. Fixing these issues helps bring me up to speed on where I’ve been. It also gets me back into the heads of my characters.

Read the last chapter/scene you wrote.
Do basic edits, looking for overused words, typos, continuity errors. This is another way to start thinking “writerly” and it’s giving you that running start for picking up where you left off.

Consult any plot notes.
For me, it’s my idea board, since I don’t outline. I jot things down on sticky notes and slap them onto a foam core board. Filling in details in earlier chapters also helps immerse you in the book.

Figure out the plot points for the next scene.
Once you know what has to happen, based on the previous step, you have a starting point.

Write.
And don’t worry if things don’t flow immediately. Get something on the page. Fix it later.

What about you? Any tips and tricks you’ve found when outside world distractions keep you from focusing?


Now Available: Cruising Undercover

It’s supposed to be a simple assignment aboard a luxury yacht, but soon, he’s in over his head.


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

MS Word Keyboard Shortcuts

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

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

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

COMPOSING & EDITING                          WINDOWS                MAC

 

Create a new document                              Ctrl-N                          ⌘-N

Open document                                          Ctrl-O                         ⌘-O

Save document                                           Ctrl-S                         ⌘-S

Open “Save As”                                           F12                            ⌘-Shift-S

Close document                                          Ctrl-W                        ⌘-W

Print document                                            Ctrl-P                         ⌘-P

Select All                                                     Ctrl-A                         ⌘-A

Copy to clipboard                                        Ctrl-C                         ⌘-C or F3

Paste from clipboard                                    Ctrl-V                          ⌘-V or F4

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

Undo last action                                           Ctrl-Z                         ⌘-Z or F1

Redo last action                                           Ctrl-Y                         ⌘-Y

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

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

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

 

TEXT FORMATTING

 

Bold                                                         Ctrl-B                         ⌘-B

Italics                                                        Ctrl-I                           ⌘-I

Underline                                                  Ctrl-U                         ⌘-U

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

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

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

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

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

Subscript text                                             Ctrl-=                        ⌘-=

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

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

Insert hyperlink                                           Ctrl-K                        ⌘-K

Open font dialog box                                  Ctrl-D                        ⌘-D

or Ctrl-Shift-F

PARAGRAPH FORMATTING

Left-align text                                              Ctrl-L                          ⌘-L

Right-align text                                            Ctrl-R                         ⌘-R

Center-align text                                         Ctrl-E                          ⌘-E

Justify text                                                  Ctrl-J                          ⌘-J

Indent paragraph                                        Ctrl-M                         Ctrl-Shift-M

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

Change to single spaced                           Ctrl-1                          ⌘-1

Change to double spaced                          Ctrl-2                          ⌘-2

Change to 1.5 spaced                               Ctrl-5                          ⌘-5

Remove paragraph formatting                     Ctrl-Q

Open Apply Styles task pane                     Ctrl-Shift-S

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

DOCUMENT NAVIGATION & VIEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Switch to Print Layout                               Ctrl-Alt-P

Switch to Outline View                              Ctrl-Alt-O

Switch to Draft View                                  Ctrl-Alt-N

Switch to Read Mode View                        Alt-W,F

Split document window/remove split          Ctrl-Alt-S

Display Help                                                 F1

FIND AND REPLACE

Find                                                           Ctrl-F                          ⌘-F

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

Find tab (inside Find and Replace)              Alt-D

 

SPECIAL CHARACTERS RECOGNIZED BY FIND AND REPLACE

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

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

SPECIAL CHARACTERS IN DROP-DOWN MENU

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

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

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

FORMATTING IN FIND AND REPLACE

Click Replace, then More to expand dialog box

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

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

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

Specify formatting type. Then click OK

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

Click Replace With

Click Format

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

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

Click OK

Select replacement option: Replace, Replace All, Replace Next

Click OK

Click Close

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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

 

Dieter Rams — 10 Principles of Good Design

“Who is Dieter Rams?” you ask. “And how do his ten principles of good design apply to writing and publishing books?”

I wondered the same when I opened Farnam Street’s weekly newsletter on Sunday morning (if you’re not an FS subscriber, you’re missing out) and saw the headline Less but Better: Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles. I clicked and read a short article. It had such an impact that I printed and dissected it with my red pen and yellow highlighter.

“Man! Does this ever apply to writing and publishing books!” I said out loud. My wife, Rita, ignored me. She stayed glued to one of her Apple devices. “This is good stuff,” I said as I read a Dieter Rams quote. Everything interacts and is dependent on other things. We must think more thoroughly about what we are doing, how we are doing it, and why we are doing it.

Dieter Rams is German and, true to being German, is quality-orientated and detail-driven. Rams, now 89, was schooled in architecture but transformed into one of the world’s leading consumer product designers. His ingenuity and vision were instrumental in thousands of items sold by giants like Braun, Gillette, and European furniture maker Vitsoe.

Rams trailblazed the path for product designs to be more than beautification of consumer products focused on marketing purposes. Design, according to Rams, is innately human and serves as one of the foundational underpinnings of society as a whole. Rams observed: You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people. Therefore, design should involve a moral and ethical responsibility and designers should understand and consider the societal implications of their work, using design as a force for positive change and human preservation.

“Wenniger, aber besser,” said Dieter Rams. It translates to, “Less, but better.”

Right now, I imagine every Kill Zone writer and publisher is thinking Yep. Heard that advice many times. Less is More. And it’s some of the best writing advice there is with the economizing of words to make our writing and publishing simple, clear, and effective.

Rams stayed with Braun from 1955 to 1995 which included the transition from Braun to Gillette. He spent another decade freelancing with Vitsoe and, during his career at these companies, remained the prime design influence behind Steve Jobs and Jonathon Ive to shape the future of all Apple products. Yes, Rita’s Apple devices are based on Dieter Rams’ ten design principles.

So what are these ten design principles and how do they apply to book writing and publishing? Let’s do a dive into what Dieter Rams said about good design followed by my comments:

1. Good design is innovative. The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

Me – We’ve seen monstrous changes in our storytelling delivery over the past decade, and there’s a lot more coming at us fast. Print on demand. Ebooks. Audio. Interactive. Editing apps. And artificial intelligence. We, as writers and publishers, need to be innovative.

2. Good design makes a product useful. A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

Me – Our stories must be useful. Meaningful and memorable. We must satisfy our reader psychologically and visually. We must respect our reader’s time and leave them feeling they got good value—something useful.

3. Good design is aesthetic. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

Me – Aesthetics, in our products (yes, books are consumer products), goes beyond the mechanics of cover graphics. Aesthetics goes beyond the interior layout of fonts and spacing. Aesthetics goes to the heart of the story where the reader sees the story in their mind.

4. Good design makes a product understandable. It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Me – Less is more. Understandable. Can the reader follow what’s going on? Are they turning the pages ahead and not back?

5. Good design is unobtrusive. Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.

Me Get the writer out of the reader’s eyes. We’ve all absorbed that advice. Book products are tools for the mind—for the reader’s self-expression. Suspension of disbelief 101.

6. Good design is honest. It does not make a product more innovative, powerful, or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

Me – Keep your promise to the reader. That’s another timeless tip. Deliver on what you say.

7. Good design is long-lasting. It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.

Me – A beauty of digital publishing is longevity. Digital products are evergreen which gives two sides to the coin. One is they stay on the shelves as long as the server survives. Two is they reflect trendy styles.

8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail. Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.

Me – This principle hits home about book writing and publishing. We must output the most professional piece we can. That includes more than the story itself. Cover. Editing. Layout. And, yes, marketing.

9. Good design is environmental-friendly. Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

Me – Is there anything more environmentally friendly than an ebook or an audiobook? Compared to a print book where trees die and ink pollutes? I’m not against the print book industry by any means. I’m just sayin’.

10. Good design is as little design as possible. Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Me Wenniger, aber besser.

What about you Kill Zone writers and publishers? How do you see Dieter Rams’ ten design principles fitting in with your work? Can you add other principles that help us to be better at writing and publishing?

———

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career investigating deaths as a coroner. Now, he’s a crime writer and indie publisher with some twenty works in the public arena.

Garry also hosts a popular bi-weekly blog on his DyingWords.net website and flirts with the feed on Twitter @GarryRodgers1. Vancouver Island on Canada’s southwest coast is home to Garry Rodgers.

Watch for Garry’s new series City Of Danger coming this summer. 2022.

When the Cows Come Home to Roost

Rita, my wife, manages cashiers at a mad-dog, inner-city supermarket where going bananas from loose cannons is the norm. “It’s like herding cats,” Rita says about her staff, although she knows every cloud has a silver lining, and Rita says, “I also fight an uphill battle with bat-crap crazy and cold-as-ice customers who drive me nuts.”

At the end of the other day, Rita came home and vented—as usual. I’m her sounding board, but I have selective hearing so often, with me, it’s beating a dead horse. Rita went on to tell me about this, that, and other things going on in her shift.

Then she asked, “Ever hear, ‘When the cows come home to roost’?”

I looked up, smiled, and replied, “No. But it’s a clever play on clichés. Where’d you hear that?”

“A regular customer and I got in a Covid conversation. He’s sick of the mask thing. The double vax and now the third. And Stop! Show me yuh papuhs, as if we’re in Nazi Germany. So am I. Then he says, ‘Well, at the end of the day, when the cows come home to roost, catching Covid boils down to this. You’ll live happily ever after or you’ll give up the ghost.’”

———

Rita’s regular customer got me thinking about clichés.

Growing up in small-town Manitoba, Canada, was cliché emersion. I could go on and on with local cliché examples like “Pissed as a nit, liquored as Larry the Lizard, and drunk as a skunk”. Life in the fast lane was, back then, alcohol-fueled.

How often do we say clichés in daily conversation? How often do we write them—subconsciously—into our WIP and fail to recognize these easy-as-pie, easy-peisie, sneaky snips of syntax? How often do we miss clichés only to catch a few in the nick of time before we hit the publish button that can bring the perfect storm—that can of worms—of bad, bad reviews?

I did a little Googling on clichés. The Wonderful World of Wiki had this to say:

A cliché is a French loanword expressing an element of an artistic work, saying, or idea that has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. In phraseology, the term has taken on a more technical meaning, referring to an expression imposed by conventionalized linguistic usage.

The term is often used in modern culture for an action or idea that is expected or predictable, based on a prior event. Typically pejorative, “clichés” may or may not be true. Some are stereotypes, but some are simply truisms and facts. Clichés often are employed for comedic effect, typically in fiction.

Most phrases now considered clichéd originally were regarded as striking but have lost their force through overuse. The French poet Gérard de Nerval once said, “The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile.”

A cliché is often a vivid depiction of an abstraction that relies upon analogy or exaggeration for effect, often drawn from everyday experience. Used sparingly, it may succeed, but the use of a cliché in writing, speech, or argument is generally considered a mark of inexperience or a lack of originality. 

When I think of clichés, I often grin at how badly sports stars cliché in their media interviews. Take the golfer, “Yeah, just gotta keep the head down, eyes off the leaderboard, stick to the process, and let the putts drop.” Or the hockey player, “We gotta bring our A-game, give it a hundred ten percent, keep the other team on the boards, and get pucks to the net.”

But what about us common-place writers? How regularly do clichés slip into our WIP and how hack-like does that make us sound? Writing gurus say using clichés shows a lack of original thought, makes us appear unimaginative, and unmask a lazy writer.

I did a little more Googling and found some defense for clichés. One article said it was okay to use clichés when you’re trying to sync with a readership and use familiar phrases like back in the day for Boomers and the struggle is real for Millennials.

The article also said clichés were great to simplify things like explaining beginner concepts. It dropped an example of writing a how-to guide for expectant mothers. In this case remember, you’re eating for two was okay.

And the piece I found suggested clichés were fine, if not expected for dialogue and characterization. A fiction writer might use clichés to show a character’s sophistication level or their sense of humor. I’m wondering how when the cows come home to roost fits in with sophistication and humor. (Rita said the guy seemed dead-serious about it.)

I think we’re all somewhat guilty of dropping clichés. I know I am. Thankfully I have Grammarly Premium that tracks and highlights common clichés. You know, stuff like:

“The wrong side of the bed.”
“Think outside the box.”

“What goes around comes around.”
“Dead as a doornail.”
“Plenty of fish in the sea.”
“Ignorance is bliss.”
“Like a kid in a candy store.”
“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
“Take the tiger by the tail.”
“Every rose has its thorn.”
“Good things come to those who wait.”
“If only walls could talk.”
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“The pot calling the kettle black.”
“The grass is always greener on the other side.”

My cliché article gave a bit of helpful advice on avoiding clichés:

  1. Think about the meaning of the cliché. Use a dictionary to identify synonyms that could replace the word or phrase that is cliché.
  2. Decide whether or not you need to include the cliché. Often, clichés are unnecessary placeholders in writing and can be deleted.
  3. Rewrite the sentence with new words in place of the cliché. For example, if you’re describing a musical with the cliché “comes full circle,” the description could be changed to say that the musical “returned to the themes with which it started.”

My last Google cliché search rabbit-holed me into the mother-of-all cliché pieces. It’s a great site that I’ve never stumbled on before called Be A Better Writer which I’d certainly like to be. However, this article’s well was just a little too deep for me. It’s called 681Cliches to Avoid in Your Creative Writing.

How about you Kill Zoners? On a scale of 1 – 10 (1 being cliché free and 10 being cliché down & dirty), how guilty are you of letting clichés slip into your work? And is there a time when it’s okay to use clichés? Oh, and can you make up a better cliché phrase than when the cows come home to roost?

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career as a coroner—pretty much Doctor Death for over thirty years. Now, Garry is a caped crime writer who fights villainous words rather than crafty crooks and deadly stiffs.

Check out books by Garry Rodgers on his website at DyingWords.net. You can also follow his bi-weekly blogs by hitching onto his mailing list and make sure you connect with him on Twitter @GarryRodgers1.

The Astounding Secret Behind Leonardo Da Vinci’s Creative Genius

Leonardo da Vinci had the world’s most observant and creative mind. With an estimated IQ well over 190 — probably 200+ — da Vinci was a true, versatile Renaissance man. He was far ahead of his time in art, anatomy, architecture, engineering, mathematics, and many other disciplines. Few came even close to Leonardo’s prolific output of artistic masterpieces and scientific discoveries. And many deeply pondered the astounding secret behind Leonardo da Vinci’s creative genius.

Author Leonard Shlain spent years exploring da Vinci’s work and analyzing what made him so outstanding. In the book Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding da Vinci’s Creative Genius, Shlain makes an excellent case that Leonardo da Vinci was biologically different from practically all other humans. According to Shlain, da Vinci’s brain was the perfect balance of right and left hemispheres. It was because of a one-of-a-kind abnormality in Leonardo da Vinci’s corpus callosum—the part of the brain responsible for controlling analytical left-brain observation and right-brain creativity.

In Understanding da Vinci’s Creative Genius, Leonard Shlain did what he calls a “postmortem brain scan”, seeking to illuminate the exquisite wiring inside Leonardo da Vinci’s head. It’s an in-depth psychological/neurological profile about what’s known of da Vinci’s phenomenal behavior and the ingenuity of his works. At the end of this fascinating book, Shlain concludes that Leonardo da Vinci’s brain was so advanced that his understanding of all things in nature and his grip on personal creative ability allowed him to access unique ways of thought.

Shlain postulates that da Vinci saw universal interconnectedness in everything… everywhere. Biologically advantaged by some quirk of nature, da Vinci elevated his mind to a higher state of consciousness than achieved by other people. Leonardo da Vinci—according to author Leonard Shlain—evolved into a superhuman.

— — —

Genetically, there didn’t appear to be anything special about Leonardo da Vinci. He was born out of wedlock in 1452 at the Italian town of Vinci in the Florence region. His mother was a peasant and his father was a notary—somewhat of a playboy. Infant and toddler Leonardo was raised by his mother and neglected his father who only supplied modest child support.

Because Leonardo da Vinci came from low class, he wasn’t eligible for a formal education as were nobility associated with the church and state. In fact, da Vinci had no conventional schooling as a youth. He wasn’t able to learn the “secret code” associated with the education of the time. That was learning to speak, read and write Latin and Greek which unlocked the doors to classical learning. Without knowing these two prominent languages, it was practically impossible for da Vinci to conventionally participate in making the Renaissance.

Leonardo da Vinci was taken from his dysfunctional mother at age 5 or 6. His kindly uncle Francesco did the best he could to provide for the boy. Regardless of his lack of formal schooling, da Vinci showed a remarkable curiosity and intellectual ability right from a young age. He seemed “gifted” and was able to visualize abstracts including art forms and mathematical equations far beyond normality. Soon, the Florentine painter and artistic leader Andrea del Verrocchio saw a protégé and took Leonardo da Vinci under his wing.

For most of his life, the European world recognized Leonardo da Vinci as a painter. In reality, da Vinci wasn’t a prolific painter. He painted sporadically and nominally as a side-line commission. Art experts at Christie’s auction in New York estimate that over 80 percent of Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings were lost over the years. Today, there are only 15 verified da Vinci paintings in the world including Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and Annunciation. Salvator Mundi sold in 2017 for $450.3 million US.

But Leonardo da Vinci was really prolific in his drawings and writing. His anatomical sketches, scientific diagrams, and thoughts across the spectrum fill volumes now held in private collections and public museums. Da Vinci’s unquenchable curiosity and feverishly inventive imagination consumed his waking hours. The world is extremely fortunate that many of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks still exist.

Da Vinci’s interest held no bounds. He was a true polymath who studied astronomy, anatomy, architecture, botany, engineering, science, music, math, language, literature, geology, paleontology, ichnology, painting, drawing, and sculpting. Leonardo da Vinci also invented. Concepts for the helicopter, parachute, and airplane wing came from da Vinci. He even built the first automated bobbin winder before the sewing machine came to be, and Leonardo worked with solar power, double-hulled ships, and even armored military tanks. He also thought out a robotic knight.

Unlike most innovators who are a fine line between nut and genius, Leonardo da Vinci was incredibly well-balanced on an emotional scale. Besides having an extremely high intelligence quotient (IQ), it’s said Leonardo had a tremendous emotional quotient (EQ) as well. Nowhere is there any suggestion he was an egomaniac or unapproachable. History indicates da Vinci was a pacifist, vegan, and humanitarian with a good sense of humor.

So what made Leonardo da Vinci so special? Short answer—his brain. There was something nearly out-of-this-world going on in da Vinci’s mind. And there might be a scientific explanation about what it was.

Twenty-first-century science knows a bit of how the human brain functions. But, it’s far from comprehensive knowledge. Science has almost no grasp or understanding of how human consciousness works, and there’s a good reason for that. Brain science is tangible where grey matter can be physically dissected and electrophysiological waves are recordable on computerized graphs. You can fund, study, and measure with reports.

Consciousness is a whole different matter. Conventional science has no grip on what human consciousness—or any form of consciousness—really is because it’s non-tangible and can’t be defined within current terms. Because consciousness is slippery, it’s not fundable. There’s no money in it. You can’t measure to monetize it. So consciousness study is left to individual groundbreaking leaders like David Chalmers and Sir Roger Primrose… but back to da Vinci.

Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding da Vinci’s Creative Genius takes a really good look at how LDV’s brain activated his mind to tap into a higher state of consciousness—the world of “Forms”, as Plato termed it, or the source of where all “in-form-ation” sits. In current consciousness research, there’s a distinct difference between the physical brain, the non-physical mind, and the plane of infinite intelligence where all ideas come from.

Leonardo da Vinci’s brain was so evolved—author Shlain writes—that his mind easily accessed information not readily there for normal people. Da Vinci’s brain/mind power was so special that he “thought” his way to fantastic ideas. It also let da Vinci observe what was going on in the universe and record it. That might have been simplistic beauty as in the Lady With an Ermine, an anatomical analogy like Vitruvian Man or a geometric complexity seen in the Rhombicuboctahedron.

Despite Leonardo da Vinci being bright, talented, and affable, he was an outlier in the Renaissance period. Da Vinci was biologically different. He was a misfit in the world of conventional ideas and creativity. He thought different. He acted different. He dressed and talked different. That made others uncomfortable. Back then, da Vinci sat at the back of the bus, and today he’d still be so far ahead that the rest of us would see dust. Author Leonard Shlain tells us his version of why:

“Leonardo da Vinci’s left and right brain hemispheres were intimately connected in an extraordinary way. Because of a large and uniquely developed corpus callosum, da Vinci’s left and right sides constantly communicated and kept each other in the loop on observations and creative options. Each brain side knew what the other was doing, and this gave da Vinci’s mind unprecedented and unrestricted freedom to observe, understand and create.

In current brain science, the left hemisphere is the analytical and conservative side. The right is the creative, liberal sphere. Brain scientists think that’s nature’s safety mechanism to prevent humans from getting too stupid or smart in either extreme. Da Vinci’s brain seems to have found the middle ground—the apex of the triangle or the tip of the see-saw.”

In Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding da Vinci’s Creative Genius, Leonard Shlain backs up his theory with facts. The most interesting fact supporting da Vinci’s left/right corpus callosum uniqueness is his handiness. Leonardo da Vinci was a southpaw—he was left-handed.

Left-handers aren’t that unusual in the human population. Studies show approximately 8-10 percent prefer left-hand prominence. A tiny proportion are ambidextrous, but the vast majority have manual-dexterous abilities with their right. However, there are unusual advantages south-paws have. They tend to be far more creative than right-handers.

It’s no news the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body—same with vice-versa. When one hemisphere is dominant over the other, a person is usually analytical or creative. But, when both sides are equally balanced, something phenomenal happens.

Anatomically, the corpus callosum—aka the callosal commissure—is a wide and thick nerve bundle sitting at the brain’s foundation. It’s the largest white matter brain structure that binds the left and right gray matter. The corpus callosum isn’t big. It’s about 10 centimeters or 4 inches long. Neurologically though, it’s huge—having about 250 million axonal projections.

The corpus callosum regulates electrical activity happening in the left and right brain sides. It’s got a big job to do. One of its jobs is responsible for the primordial fight-flight response ingrained in all of us. But the corpus callosum also lets humans get imaginative, like the right brain inventing tools to slay saber-toothed tigers while the left side stays alert.

The Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding da Vinci’s Creative Genius book goes beyond a left/right brain dichotomy. It delves deep into something uniquely known about da Vinci’s left-handedness. Leonardo da Vinci’s brain let him write left-handedly in a mirror image. Da Vinci’s writings, notes, and diagram annotations have him writing right to left where you need a mirror to decipher them.

This mirror-image phenomenon provides profound insight into Leonardo da Vinci’s psyche. Here was a poor boy without formal education who developed his own style independent of traditional academic influences—even choosing which hand to use and how to communicate with. Da Vinci was the poster boy of self-taught, self-investigating, and self-assured individuals—the likes the world never experienced in his time or so-far thereafter.

Leonardo da Vinci’s lack of indoctrination by limiting dogma taught through conventional institutions like the church and its lap-dog societal constraints liberated him from mental restraints. Combined with perfect neuro-equilibrium between inquisitive left and creative right brain functions, da Vinci broke free of earthly bounds and set his mind soaring into airy lofts not there for common minds.

Author Leonard Shlain of Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding da Vinci’s Creative Genius makes another interesting observation and conclusion. Because da Vinci was removed from his biological mother’s hold so early, he became mentally self-reliant. Da Vinci was also gay or at least asexual. He wasn’t driven by a common male preoccupation with the little head thinking for the big one.

Brain science recognizes that “normal” human brain thoughts primarily focus on survival concerns like food, shelter, and sex. That didn’t seem a factor with Leonardo as he progressed in life. He just abnormally sensed reality. Then he painted, sketched, or wrote what he knew.

No, Leonardo da Vinci was much more than “normal”. He was the prime exemplar of a universal genius whose brain far out-thought humankind. Looking back… and forward, if da Vinci showed up for a job interview, his unique selling proposition on his resume would be “I have an unusual brain and my mind knows how to use it”.

That’s the astounding secret behind Leonardo da Vinci’s creative genius.

What about you Kill Zoners? Have you read this book or anything on Da Vinci? And as for your own creative genius, what’s your secret sauce?

— — —

Garry Rodgers’s creative genius was his ability to fool the authorities into keeping him employed as a homicide detective and coroner for over three decades. Now, he’s managed to hoodwink the public into believing he’s a competent crime writer.

Part of this ploy of deception is Garry’s blog on the DyingWords.net website. He has another ruse where you can follow him on Twitter @GarryRodgers1. By the way, Garry Rodgers may or may not be his real name. Same with the headshot.

My 50-Cent Masters Degree in English Language

Earning your Masters Degree in English Language takes intense concentration, five years of dedicated study, social-avoidant application, and plain old hard work. It also takes considerable funding—around $117,421.65. Mine cost 50 cents.

Now, I’m not knocking formal education from a reputable and prestigious institute of higher learning. No. Not at all. Nothing compares to personal exposure from profs and peers. But the end result, knowing linguistic principles and how to find/use English writing resources to polish your prose, is what an English language degree is all about.

Let me tell you where I’m coming from.

I’m a cheap SOB. I rarely pay full pop for anything, including books. The other week, I was snooping in a thrift shop and checking their used book section. There it was. This behemoth titled The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language.

It was on an upper shelf and darn near took out my rotator cuff lifting it down. Whoa! This thing is like new! It was hard covered, bound in faux leather with faux gold-gilded page ends, and—I swear to God—had nearly two thousand of them chocked-full of every detail on the English language you can imagine.

I set it on a display counter and browsed. The copyright page said 1988, but that didn’t worry me none about being outa date. We’re talkin’ English here. Surely the words and structures haven’t changed much in thirty-three years except for some new-fangled lingo like “smartphone”, “pumpkin spice”, and “Covid19”. Let’s look at the good stuff—timeless stuff—like gerunds, compound predicates, interjections, inverted orders, irregular comparison of adjectives, prepositional phrases, and that elusive eunuch called a dangling modifier.

There’s something about a book of quality. You know. The paper book that’s perfectly typeset—bound so you can lay its front cover-spine-back cover on a surface and each page, as you turn, lies perfectly flat without having to weight one side and the other with a cordless drill and a ceramic garden gnome.

This is exquisite. The table of contents aroused me. Preface. Staff. History of the English Language. Languages of the World. Guide and Use of the Dictionary. Editorial Abbreviations. Pronunciation Key. English Handbook. An 1144 page dictionary?  If I knew everything in here, it’d be like having a masters degree in the English language.

With both hands that should’ve been in white gloves, I carried this treasure to the till. “I don’t see any price marked,” I said to the till-lady who looked like a hard-core, 50’s librarian crossed with an inked biker-chick, reluctantly volunteering at the hospital auxiliary store or maybe completing a plea-bargained, community work service program.

Anxiously, I awaited her answer.

Over cat-eye glasses, she read a corrugated poster board suspended from the ceiling by thick butcher twine. It stated their general price assignments. “Let’s see… looks like all our books are fifty cents apiece.” She cat-eyed at me. “No dickering, though.”

My vitals reacted. “You… you… you only want fifty cents for this?”

“Says fifty cents for all books.” She looked at something below the cat eyes. “Looks like you found yourself a bargain.”

Start The Car!  I did. I got the equivalent of a Masters Degree in English Language for a half-buck. Call it two quarters or a fifty-cent piece. Far, far less than a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte or the ridiculous rate for the parking ticket pinned to my windshield.

I took her home, this big book of English language. I call her “her” because I think English gets the Germanic short schtick from romance languages like French which is my wife, Rita’s, first language and I try to be romantic with Rita because being romantic with Rita usually pays off even though I don’t speak more than five words of proper French nor does Rita want me to.

I poured two fingers of Scotch and sat down to enjoy her. Her title somewhat perplexed me—The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language. Now, everybody’s heard of Noah Webster, and everyone’s got his dictionary. Encyclopedia? Duh. Remember back in grade school when you were either on Team Britannica or Team World Book?

Hmmm… I see what they’re doing here. They’re blending an all-encompassing dictionary in with an encyclopedia strictly dedicated to English language structure. Right on! But, what’s a Lexicon?

I was tempted to Google it. However, the answer was right in the preface. “Lexicon can be a book containing an alphabetical arrangement of the words in a language and their definitions; the vocabulary of a language, an individual speaker or group of speakers, or a subject; or the total stock of morphemes in a language.”

Morphemes? I had to Google that one, and I suppose that anyone with a Masters Degree in English Language would know that “a morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical item in a language. A morpheme is not necessarily the same as a word. The main difference between a morpheme and a word is that a morpheme sometimes does not stand alone, but a word, by definition, always stands alone.”

I didn’t know that. I found out there were a lot of things I didn’t know about the English language as I paged through her, The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language. There was a short history lesson that clearly documented our language’s evolution from Old English through Middle English and on to Early Modern English. I especially got a kick out of the spelling and sound of the West Saxon version of the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6 of the Bible’s King James Version. It’s impossible to reproduce on my modern keyboard so I’ve attached a photo/screen shot.

Try pronouncing this gibberish after a few triple whiskeys. Reminds me of a guy named Rod Tubbs who was in our police poker club. Tubbs spoke like this halfway and worse through every evening.

Enough sidetrack. English study is a serious business and, if I wanted to get my money’s worth, I needed to keep paging. I’ll save you from regurgitating the 1144 page dictionary, but I do say the Practical English Handbook part was fascinating. I didn’t think it could happen, but it blows Elements Of Style out of the water. Here’s the prelude to the most concise, 45-page guide I’ve ever read:

The purpose of this Handbook is to provide a quick, easy-to-use guide to grammar, correct usage, and punctuation. It is intended for use in the business office, in the home, and in school. Secretaries, writers, teachers, and students will find it especially useful. The Handbook is divided into 25 sections or chapters each covering an important aspect or problem in English. The book is designed so that it may be used as a step-by-step complete self-study English review. But, in addition, it is a complete reference handbook for day-to-day use whenever a question arises concerning English useage or punctuation.”

I’m not going to list each chapter, as I don’t want to write an encyclopedic post full of lexiconal morphemes. But I do want to highlight the Parts Of Speech chapter, the Sentence Patterns chapter, and the Punctuation Review chapter. There were more goods packed in short spaces than I could ever imagine. Just the information on commas alone was worth my price of tuition.

Speaking of the price of tuition, you’re probably wondering how I came up with the Masters Degree in English Language figure of $117,421.65. Well, I went to the University of British Columbia’s website and looked up the details of their Masters of Arts — English Language program. Here’s a snippet from the UBC MAEL page:

The UBC English Graduate Program, one of the most vibrant and wide-ranging in Canada, has been awarding the M.A. degree since 1919. Students may earn the degree in each of two areas: English Literature and English Language. Indeed, the UBC English Department is one of the few departments in North America to offer a language program in addition to its literary programs.

The English Language program includes specializations in history and structure of language, discourse and genre analysis, and history and theory of rhetoric. Faculty members in the Language program teach and supervise research in descriptive linguistics, historical linguistics, cognitive linguistics, functional grammar, semantics, pragmatics, discourse analysis, stylistics, genre studies, and history and theory of rhetoric. Students in the English Literature program can take advantage of Language graduate courses; recent offerings include courses on reported speech and its rhetorical versatility across genres; the uses of classical rhetoric for contemporary critical practice; and cognitive approaches to the language of literature. By the same token, Language students can take advantage of the wide variety of Literature courses our department offers.”

Below this pitch is their rates. Basic tuition is $6,358.13 per year and their living-within costs are starting at $17,126.20 per year. That adds to a total yearly amount of $23,484.13. Seeing as it takes five years to earn an MA, that means getting a Masters Degree of English Language will set you back $117,421.65.

Now, I’m not naïve enough to think I really can get the equivalent of an expensive, five-year university program by reading my fifty-cent book. I have a high regard for education and highly educated people, and I truly respect their degrees. But what I did buy with my half dollar was access to a wealth of knowledge in The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language.

I don’t know if you can stumble upon this language beauty in a used book store. If you can, by all means grab it. I do know, however, that you can get copies on Amazon. They list a used hardcover for a very reasonable $15.68.

Okay, Kill Zoners. Have any of you got a copy of The New Lexicon Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language? And what English language resources do you recommend? The University of Kill Zone floor’s mic is now open.

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career as a coroner in the Province of British Columbia. Now, he’s an indie writer with an eight-part series of based-on-true-crime stories as well as many stand alones.

Garry also hosts a popular blog on his website at DyingWords.net. You can follow GarryRodgers1 on Twitter or follow him around in his boat floating on the Pacific saltwater at Vancouver Island.

Reader Friday: Tense and Person

Reader Friday: Tense and Person

TenseI’m seeing more and more books written in present tense. Do you like it? Why or why not?

Does it matter whether it’s first or third person?

 

 

 

 


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

Weather … or Not?

Weather … or Not?
Terry Odell

Weather in Novels

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Not long ago, James Scott Bell talked about using setting to create conflict, and I mentioned including weather as well.Weather can be used to set the mood, be a portent of things to come. We attribute human emotions and behavior to the weather with things like whispering winds and sullen clouds. (Points if you know the term for this.)

There are those who say opening a book with the weather violates one of Elmore Leonard’s “rules” but the rest of that rule is often omitted. It says (bold text is mine):

“Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.

For me, the weather should be woven in with the story, not become a “Stop Everything! I need to describe the weather” moment. (Something that bugs me with character descriptions as well.)

It’s a matter of Show, Don’t Tell. I write in Deep POV, and everything needs to be filtered through the characters’ senses.

I grew up in Los Angeles, where we had earthquakes every now and then, and wildfires in the canyons where we lived, but no real “weather.” Winter rains, which created the mudslides from the wildfires was pretty much the extent of things. Seasons were marked by the calendar more than the weather.

Then I moved to south Florida, where there were two seasons: Summer and February 3rd. But there was weather. Hot, humid, and lots of afternoon thunderstorms. In Miami, the difference between daytime high and nighttime low temperatures was a few degrees. Orlando, our next home, was slightly more bearable with a greater difference between day and night.

Now, I live in the mountains of Colorado, where we get four seasons, sometimes irrespective of the calendar.

My point? If I’m reading a book where I’m familiar with the weather, I need to see characters dealing with it. If someone’s racing down the streets of Miami in August, I want to see them sweat. Heck, if they’re meandering down the streets of Miami in August, I want to see them sweat.

Since I started this post by mentioning showing rather than telling, and what my feelings are about using weather, I should show you some examples from my own work.

From Seeing Red, my collection of short stories set in central Florida: The protagonist is James Kirkland, a homicide detective.

Nobody in central Florida survived without some kind of air-conditioning, but Red’s old place had window units that should have been replaced a decade ago. Combined with the loose panes on his jalousie windows, he might as well be living outside. Another reason I didn’t visit often. And with today’s forecast calling for the 90s in both degrees and humidity, not a place I wanted to be.

We agreed to meet back at Central Ops after lunch and spend some quality time with the murder book and white board, thereby avoiding being caught in the daily afternoon thunderstorms. I changed from my department-mandated suit into attire more appropriate for tromping through the non-air conditioned woods, although I did pack the suit into my go bag, where I always kept a change of clothes.

Another approach, and one I feel can be significant, is to show weather that goes against type. Every now and then, it gets cold in central Florida, as in freeze warnings cold. How do your characters deal with that?

Here, Detective Kirkland shows up at a murder scene and is talking to the ME, who speaks first.

“I’d say he’s been dead two, maybe three days, given the cold snap, the open window, and no heat.”

Hardly anyone in central Florida used heat. We had maybe ten days a year where the temperatures dipped below forty. Our luck to be in the midst of three of them, complete with freeze warnings.

The wind chill kicked in and I crossed my arms trying to keep warm. I wore the same slacks and sport coat I’d put on this morning when it was sunny.

Or, from Danger in Deer Ridge, a book set in the Colorado mountains

A gust of wind swirled through the lot. Scattered raindrops painted dots on the asphalt, interspersed with bouncing hail. Elizabeth wrapped her arms around herself. “What happened to the sunshine?”

Grinch gazed at the rapidly darkening skies. “I guess the front got here sooner than expected. They’re talking snow flurries, but it was supposed to hit well after midnight.”

“Snow? It’s June,” Elizabeth said.

“Welcome to the Colorado mountains.” Grinch grinned, grabbed Dylan’s hand and jogged toward his truck. “Where you can get all four seasons in a day.”

From Deadly Puzzles, a Mapleton mystery set in Colorado in February

In the few minutes they’d been talking, the storm had turned violent, the wind and snow threatening to carry them down the hillside as if they were debris in an avalanche. Gordon grabbed for Wardell’s hand. “To my car,” Gordon shouted, his words barely audible above the howling wind. Ice pellets stung as they salted his face.

His Maglite was useless. He shoved it into his parka pocket. Grabbing tree trunks for support with one hand, dragging Wardell with the other, Gordon plodded ahead, one booted foot at a time. Next tree. Hang on. Find your balance.

“Can you see the road?” he shouted, inches from Wardell’s ear.

“No. Snow.”

Once they got closer to the road, his car’s flashers and the flares should guide them. No sense of direction. Only up. Up. Step. Grab. Balance. Breathe. Step. Up. Balance. Breathe. Up. Breathe. Up. Breathe. Up.

A glimmer of blinking red broke through the white curtain. Shifting his direction, Gordon resumed the climb. Why did a quarter of a mile going down turn into two miles going up?

All of these examples show the weather playing an antagonistic role. Why not people picnicking on a sunny day? Enjoying themselves at the beach?

Nothing says you can’t do that, but as our JSB says, we don’t want to see Happy People in Happy Land. There need to be some ants at that picnic, and sand fleas on the beach.

What’s your take on weather in novels? Share examples of what works for you. Or what doesn’t, and why.


Trusting Uncertainty by Terry OdellAvailable Now Trusting Uncertainty, Book 10 in the Blackthorne, Inc. series.
You can’t go back and fix the past. Moving on means moving forward.


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

That New and Fresh Voice

Agents, editors, and publishers always watch for that new and fresh voice. They believe the next bestseller—the next blockbusting author—is out there, a voice just waiting discovery.

Voice is a hard animal to describe. It has various definitions. Technically, (in writing school 101) voice refers to “the rhetorical mixture of vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax that makes phrases, sentences, and paragraphs flow in a particular manner.” Non-technically, it’s like a Supreme Court judge said in a ruling on pornography, “It’s hard to describe in words, but I know it when I see it.”

New and fresh are easier concepts to grasp, and I recently connected with a lady who I sincerely believe has a great voice—a new and fresh voice—and has the whole package to become a highly successful crime writer. Normally, a writer’s bio would appear at the end of their article but, in this case, you’ll better appreciate her voice by me introducing her first.

Jennifer Pound is a recently retired police officer where she thrived in various traditional and non-traditional policing roles. She spent years as the face of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) as a communications director. Her recent role was with IHIT, Vancouver’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team — the largest homicide unit in Canada — where she saw the worst of people and helped to bring justice for the victims that died at the hands of evil.

As a result of her time on the job, and the darkness that comes with it, Jennifer suffered with PTSD. She continues managing this daily. Writing is part of her healing. It’s her outlet—a way to connect with others. As a forum for mental health support and awareness, Jennifer created a blog for all first responders fighting the same battle.

Through this blog, Jennifer Pound realizes her passion for writing and the vulnerability needed to share such personal stories. This passion continues with healing through a focus on crime writing, and she’s currently working on her first novel. It’ll showcase how endless homicides take their toll on even the strongest cops, and sometimes the effects are difficult to recognize — they’re dangerous and lingering…

Please welcome my friend, Jennifer Pound, to the Kill Zone with a post she wrote on her personal blog at STAY ON THE LINE — Social Support for all First Responders.

— — —

The Lasting Effects by Jennifer Pound

The lasting effects of the job, I believe, is an area where first responders suffer in silence. Right out of the gate, recruits/cadets should know what to expect potentially.

We’re trained extensively and continuously for physical combat. We can negotiate and manipulate various situations to uphold the security of our country. We even know that, should we have to use deadly force, it could have the potential to sit with us in ways that are ugly and altering.

But what about the day-to-day stressors of the job that we carry with us, even when off duty?

The damaging and lasting effects run deep.

Hypervigilance is a bitch. I haven’t known a retired police officer yet who hasn’t carried it into retirement. It’s ingrained into us. Always look for the threat. Always look for evidence of evil. Trust no one. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s the reality and it’s exhausting.

Retired — I find myself trying to enjoy things I once really enjoyed. Hikes, bike rides, walks, swims, nature. I will force myself to do it because my body likes it, but my head is on a swivel, and my imagination is like a kid in a candy store, although, unlike the candy store, my mind runs rampant looking for the next magnificent piece of disaster.

Many police officers think the absolute worst; it’s a gift we’ve so graciously received, or perhaps more like a curse. Few of us can drive by a bag of garbage or a rolled-up carpet on the highway and not think about the nightmare that must live within. I’ve often wondered if it was just me, but I know with certainty, it’s not.

I’ve been working hard on trying to negate these feelings. I force myself to tell a positive story about what I see. Maybe the rolled-up carpet is to give a little extra decor to the highway, or the garbage bag is full of bustling butterflies that are ready to wow the world, or maybe it’s just a bunch of assholes littering. Sadly, my brain quickly tells me to ease up on the bullshit, and the worst-case scenario wins out most of the time.

During my hikes lately, I’ve been forcing myself to tackle my demons. I see a sock in the bush, a garbage bag torn and tattered, an abandoned baby stroller, or a single shoe. For the rest of the hike, I get lost in negative, unhealthy thoughts or memories of terrible moments throughout my career. This past month I’ve switched it around a bit, and during my walks, I’ve taken photos of the things that look sketchy and cause concern. When I get home, I study these photos to a point where I feel ridiculous for letting my mind wander, (except the baby stroller, I can’t spin any good into that one.)

The part that saddens me is this. Seeing the beauty of a park or enjoying a nature walk or ravine hike has not been standard practice for me for quite some time. I will not enter these places and feel the serenity that, for many, nature represents. It will rest in the back of my mind that darkness is there somewhere, lurking, waiting for an opportunity to prove my paranoid, pessimistic self, right.

I force myself to make decisions that I feel are “normal,” particularly around my kids. I don’t want to raise paranoid kids. I want them to be smart, safe, and savvy but not neurotic and scared of the world through the eyes of their Mother.

I remember just a few months back; I had an appointment in the morning during school drop off so I couldn’t drive my kids to school. I reluctantly let my two younger girls, 12 and 10, walk the near-mile to school. This distance pales in comparison to the walk I would do to get to elementary school. It felt like I left at 3 am to make it on time.

Ted Bundy’s VW Beetle

One morning, when I was about 11 years old, I woke up, got myself breakfast, scurried out the door, and at the halfway mark my brother and friend (for the sake of their privacy we’ll call them Brad and Todd) drove by me just about the same time I was avoiding a British Columbia puddle after a week’s worth of rain. They drove through the pooling puddle, leaving me soaked, muddy, and cold. After that, I always kept an eye out for that stupid, orange Volkswagen. The joys of older brothers, but I digress.

My girls ended up walking to school, and when I made it home from my appointment, at about 8:30 am, I realized I had missed a call from my daughter. In her message, she told me someone followed her and her sister to school, or so she thought. Her message then said she had to go because the bell rang.

The BELL!!??

How could the bell be relevant right now??

At this point, I had already geared up in what camo I had left in my closet. It turns out it was just a belt and some PJ’s, but I wore it anyway, and I jetted out the door to talk to her. Thankfully she called me back and filled me in on the rest before I had to get out of my car. The details… she provided… were as follows:

My girls left home and noticed a man following them a short time later. He followed them a good while when the oldest started to wonder if it was just her imagination. Maybe he was just an ordinary hoodie-wearing man, carrying a hubcap, walking through our neighborhood before school.

To test the theory, she made a bit of a detour. She turned down a cul-de-sac with few homes that only residents that lived there would need to access. She walked for a bit and then did an about-face, like she forgot something, crossed the road, and turned back. Hub cab carrying, douchebag guy continued to follow them. At this point, she was terrified. She grabbed her sister’s hand, and she ran. They ran until they reached the school and she lost sight of him. That’s when she called me.

Now, it took me quite some time to process this. My immediate thought was she’s F#$%ing with me because she’s mad I couldn’t drive them this morning, Once she mentioned him carrying what she described as the silver part of the inside of a tire, I knew it was no story. I felt guilt and fear for not trusting my gut, which initially told me walking to school equals danger.

My brain rewarded me by keeping me awake all night to play over the what-ifs in my mind—a super non-restful night.

I woke up looking and sounding like the chain-smoking aunts, Patty and Selma, from the Simpson’s cartoon. The next morning my husband and I provided the girls with a double police escort, followed by surveillance and light interviewing. I was now in a place to say to my positive, trusting self, “I told you so!!” The world is full of trauma, just waiting to happen.

As you can imagine, this all required an expedited visit to Mark, my psychologist, to let him know that he’d been wrong all this time and I knew I was right all along. The world truly has no good. I intended to leave his office feeling vindicated. But instead, I went with a sense of peace and realization that my girls, all my children, are way smarter than me. It was one of my favorite sessions, one where I learned so much in one little hour.

He helped me realize my girls knew what to do and then some. Their actions exceeded my expectations for grown-ups, let alone children. It turns out my daughter gave a rockstar statement and a substantial description of the guy when the police came to our house to interview them.

What Mark had made me realize is that they are okay; they are smart and full of common sense and ability and fight. I never once factored any of those things into my fear, and my fear is what has the potential to hinder my children’s growth and my own.

My perspective changed that day.

Yes, I was terrified and vengeful, but I didn’t let the fear catastrophize. I didn’t create the movie reel in my head that always ended badly. I stopped thinking about what-ifs and concentrated on how proud and relieved I was to know that they negotiated that situation beautifully, and I was so proud of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I still sit in my car every morning waiting to jump douchebag guy, but that’s for a different post. A big part of my recovery has been retelling the story. Had that incident happened a year ago, my reaction would have been much different and lasting, and my girls would still be locked in the house and homeschooled.

Much like my nature photos, I’ve created a movie reel that is more based on reality rather than my own knowledge and work experience. I’ve shifted my movie reel from say, a Quentin Tarantino film to a James Cameron film. It’s much easier on the soul.

For those of you who connect with these words, and are driven slightly crazy by your mind and anxiety-inducing moving reels, I offer the above, not as a solution, but as a step in the right direction towards a more peaceful you. If you are looking to ease the anxiety and decrease your racing brain’s impact, then work on retelling your story. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you for it, well into your deserved retirement.

From The Kill Zone’s Garry Rodgers: In my opinion, that’s voice. Jennifer Pound is fresh and new to the crime writing world, and I know she’ll kill it with her debut novel. Let’s welcome Jenn into our Kill Zone family, and I’m sure supportive comments are coming.    ~Garry