Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Deja Vu - An Unexpected Death to Imminent Danger

A question every author has to ask when starting a project is: What is this story about? That question has to be asked throughout the writing, because when the plot and characters are developed, the story will change. Revisting the story I started in 2019 (see earlier blog), I asked the question, and couldn't come up with a good answer. I had so many feelings going through my mind. Thoughts and emotions of what we had gone through the last two years. There were too many issues I wanted to touch on and plant the seed for readers to think about. I continued to ask the question: What is this story about? I boiled it down to the root issue. In doing that I felt the similarity of my feelings in 2008 when I started writing An Unexpected Death. At that time I was frustrated and angry over what was happening in our country. People were losing their jobs, and then losing their homes. And those responsible were not being held responsible. I had to release this anger, and through genealogy I'd learned that writing helps you make sense of things. And that's when I started writing. As I honed in on the root problem of the last two years, it was a similar feeling I had in 2008. Write about it, work out the frustration and anger, and plant seeds for readers to think about.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Intensity Scale

I've been working on my "Make a Scene" presentation for the Rappahannock Writers' Conference 2022 that will be held in-person and virtual on Saturday, November 5, 2022. Scenes are the building blocks of a book and have a beginning, middle, and end. Think of a three-act play or even your daily life. Mornings set the action of your day, middle of the day is when you perform those actions, and at night you are wrapping things up. Every scene has to contain new information. Tension is needed in every genre, though it varies by the genre. In the book, "Plot and Structure," by James Scott Bell, he includes an intensity scale for rating the scenes between 0 and 10. I love this idea and have included it in my presentation, giving Mr. Bell full credit. Mr. Bell states that scenes rated as 0 should probably be discarded, and those rated 10 should be few. Ten, he says, is over the top. Tension can be added through dialogue, description, and narrative. Tension is built through conflict. As in any book, pacing is critical. An author has to pace their scenes in lenght throughout the book. Too many short tension scenes will tire the reader. You want to keep the reader turning the pages. In my book, Fatal Dose, the tension rises when Caitlyn learns that illegal drugs are being shipped from New York City to Buffalo through central New York. Knowing how many lives are lost by using these drugs, she takes on the drug lord in charge of the shipments. And the tension rises.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Deciding on a book's setting

A reader asked why I chose the Adirondacks for my latest book, "Deadly Secrets." A great question as it prompted discussion on all my books. I explained that setting can be character, and that I chose settings that I can be passionate about. It boils down to my passion about being near water, and in rural settings. When my Virginia neighbors wanted me to bring Caitlyn's investigation to a Virginia setting, I couldn't get excited about the setting being in the middle of the state, even though every part of Virigina is stunning. Then I thought of the Northern Neck and the Chesapeake Bay. That's where "The Death of Cassie White" is set. "Deadly Secrets," my latest book will make everyone happy. Caitlyn, the protagonist, falls into an investigation in the town of Pont-Aven, New York that is situated on the shores of Lake Champlain. Her partner and mirror character, Ethan Ewing has started his new job with the FBI. He is challenged with a cybercrime case that begins with a stolen artifact from the Library of Congress Packard Campus in Culpeper, Virginia. Another passion is genealogy, and in "Fatal Dose, I wove in a genealogy subplot along with the water theme. And then there is wine. I seem to feature wineries in my books. And, books can be read anywhere.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Imminent Danger

I'd plan to take a break from working on another book, but my fiction critique writing group has encouraged me to finish the book I started in late 2019. The one where the plot line was about a supervirus being developed in a Chinese biotech lab ... and in March 2020 I decided no one would read the book, or even believe I'd come up with this idea before learning about the Novel Corona Virus. While finishing Deadly Secrets, I revisted Imminent Danger. I have new characters with a slightly different plot line while keeping most of what I'd written in late 2019 through March 2020. So much has happened over the last 2-1/2 years that I don't know what this story is about. That question is something an author has to ask at the beginning and throughout the writing process. With this book, I have only a hint of an idea and will let the characters take the story and run with it. The story still begins with a ship headed to the Port of Savannah. The deadly virus is on board . . . Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Deadly Secrets

I’m excited and relieved that my fourth Caitlyn Jamison mystery is published. I began writing this book in March 2020 when the Novel Coronavirus copied/stole the plot for a suspense I’d been working on since December 2019. When I realized that no one would read what I’d developed, or would think I just copied the headlines, I put that book aside and started Caitlyn’s next adventure. I wanted to do something different in this book. To that end I decided to have Caitlyn arriving in the Adirondacks. She is visiting the idyllic town of Pont-Aven, an artists’ enclave that welcomes all creative arts. A conference center is built to accommodate groups of all artistic endeavors. Caitlyn immediately falls in love with the town. But, on the day of her arrival, a young male librarian is attacked. And, against the warning of local law enforcement, Caitlyn decides to do her own investigation to find out who attacked the librarian. That young man is also an environmentalist and leading the protests against a commercial development planned for the town green that would ruin the town. Ethan is in Virginia working at his new position as the Law Enforcement Liaison Officer for the State of Virginia. That position is under the umbrella of the FBI. He learns about an item missing from the Library of Congress’s Packard Campus, and then has cases of cybercrime of valuable art and antiquities. Caitlyn’s investigation takes a turn when a murder is committed in the small town. She is challenged, but determined to solve these cases without Ethan’s help. This book has a lot going on between the plot lines and the characters—a great book discussion option.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Gift of a Lifetime – Journaling and Life Stories

My last post was on keeping a journal, but as I developed a presentation on the subject, I thought I'd revisit this and add more helpful hints. In a presentation given several years ago historian David McCullough said, “If you want to be remembered, keep a journal.” As genealogists/family historians, that advice hit home. We also learned from genealogy that writing helps you make sense of things. Not everyone is a family historian, so, in preparing a presentation on journaling, I anticipated the question why. Why do this? My answer is: Because no one has experienced what you have, has felt what you have felt. No one has your perspective on life, on events. We are living through historic times. How did you manage? Are managing? What did you do differently? How did you react during the shut downs? Did you buy lots of toilet paper? Flour? Vinegar? How did you feel about the protests, the election? Even if no one else ever sees what you write in your journal, it will help you make sense of things. It can bring focus and clarity to your life. Be sure to include the good things, especially the good things that came as a result of the pandemic. The air is a bit cleaner, traffic better, more families making meals at home and eating dinner together (big positive). Creatively blossomed as we figured out ways to stay connected, to accomplish things in a different way. Journaling is a written record of your thoughts, feelings, observations. It can be a short sentence, long paragraphs, or bullet points. It’s whatever you want it to be. There are no rules. No right or wrong way. It’s a way of documenting your life and a way to self-discovery. Have you ever kept a nature journal? Tracking birds, flowers, what works in your vegetable garden year to year and what you’d like to do different next year? A travel journal of trips you’ve taken. My sister-in-law keeps a composition notebook with books she’s read and notes on each in a Reading Journal. I keep a Writers Journal for plot and character ideas, to track progress, and book publishing format specifications. Day to day, my husband and I keep what I call a Daily Journal. Except for my writer’s journal, my daily journal is all of the above. I write down what’d I accomplished the day before, what I want to accomplish that day, family news, sometimes national news, happy events as well as sad. Opinions, books I’m reading, even what we’re having for dinner! This year I wrote about what I planted in my Grow Box. A journal can be anything you want it to be. Your journal can be hand written or digital. If hand written, choose a notebook that feels good to you – they can range in price from $1.00 for a composition book to whatever you want to pay. I spend $12.00 - $14.00 on a journal. I want a certain type, one that feels good in my hands and an extra fine tip black pen. Find a time of day that’s best for you to write. Find a best place to write. Keep your journal in a safe place. Not on the kitchen table where it can be picked up by anyone. These are your personal thoughts. Memoir Writing I started writing memoirs in the early 2000s after attending a morning session at our local library. From that, a small group formed and we met every month for the next few years. I completed my life stories from birth to marriage and titled them, “Growing up in Willow Creek.” Thanks to the C.H. Booth Library in Newtown, CT, who paid for my memoir book to be bound. My process for that first book was to think of a topic like stories about my love of horses, and how that was satisfied; family Thanksgivings and Christmas; Swimming across Cayuga Lake at the age of twelve; what it was like being the child of snowbirds, attending a two-room schoolhouse. All these stories influenced who I am today. And, I hope, will provide insight for my children and grandchildren. In a presentation at a Naugatuck Genealogical Society meeting, I learned the Memory Drifting Technique. This is a great aid to help mine those elusive (long forgotten) memories. And I got surprising results. With our paper/pencil in hand, we were asked to pick a decade. I chose 1960-1970. Next, list a couple significant events that happened during that decade. I listed high school graduation, college graduation, marriage, Chicago, NY. We were asked to choose ONE of those and list issues. I chose Chicago, so my issues were adjustment to city living, job, California trip, starting over. Still using Chicago as my significant event, next list were Memories. I wrote down Big City, no friends, pollution. The last list was called Deeper memories. And this is when I remembered the good things about Chicago: Brookfield Zoo close by, Libby Foods where my husband worked, Berghoff German Restaurant, day trips to Holland, MI for the Tulip Festival, day trips to Wisconsin. I was surprised at the memories that popped up as I drilled down into our life in Chicago. Start your memoir with mini-stories. You won’t remember every detail at first. As you write then let it sit, more memories will come. And try the Memory Drifting Technique. A timeline can be helpful to bring forward memories. Write about your parents/grandparents Your children Religion Holidays Family traditions Pets Jobs Military service Courtship/marriage First home Volunteer positions you’ve held – the best and worst Were there turning points in your life? Things to help jar your memory: Photographs Yearbooks Scrapbooks Letters Talk with family and friends Journals/diaries Write down the important people in your life – how did they make a difference?

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Journaling - There are no rules

Our Pandemic Christmas Tree. - Half of the top strand of lights went out a week after decorating the tree. This year saw low to no supply of toilet paper, then flour, then apple cider vinegar. Who would have thought white Christmas Tree lights would be unavailable in December? I found a strand of multi-colored lights in our holiday boxes that we haven't used in 20 years. They worked. Instead of being upset, I just said, "It's 2020." What else??? As we end a year to remember, or one to forget, depending on your point of view, I'm thankful I've documented the events of the year, I wrote about the bad as well as the good. In writing I could pour out my feelings - of isolation, fear (of virus, of others), tears. And thankfs for the good things. The creativity, time to figure things out. I developed a different mindset when a problem presented. Not longer anxious or frustrated, I'd think about how I could fix the problem. And if not, I accepted the fact and told myself, well, it's 2020. Keeping a journal is nothing more than recording your thoughts, feelings, observations. It can include favorite quotes, recipes, bits of gossip, poems. It can be short sentences, long paragraphs or bullet points of things you'd like to remember. There is no right or wrong way. There are no rules. No one to judge. It's just about you. Keeping a journal can help you make sense of things. And a way to document history. This is a perfect time to jot down your thoughts of the year past. Your hopes for the year to come. Goals you want to accomplish. The good things. One of the things we did through the year is call friends and relatives we don't normally call. It brighted our lives as well as theirs. Another good thing about 2020 is that we can now attend two genealogical society meetings that we couldn't before. They are now on zoom and because of that can feature national speakers.
One of Great-grandma Jessie (Tucker) Agard's journals on the left; a composition book, great for journal writing in center, and the kind of journal book I use. I'm thankful to have my great grandmother's journals that she kept from 1944 until her death in 1973 at the age of 97. Her journals give me a glimspe into her daily life as a farm wife. I hope that my journals, at some point in the future, will give another generation a glimpse into my life, especially how we managed through the Pandemic of 2020 and beyond.