Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What Do You Call A Group of Writers?

Some entities have special names when they are in a group, i.e., a gaggle of geese, a herd of buffalo, a flock of sheep, a murder of crows, a ... well, you get the picture. Writers, being obsessed with words, should have a catchy, witty collective designation of their own. Is there such a name? If so, I don't know what it is, but I can tell you a few things I've observed about writers as a group:

1. Writers are social - in a group, that is. Individually, they tend to be loners. At least most of them are; there are notable exceptions. Ernest Hemingway comes to mind and I'm sure there are many others. However, I think it safe to say that even the more gregarious ones need their alone time to ponder the angels and demons circling in their heads, to figure out how to make vague notions into stories, how to craft voices into characters, daydreams into plots. So much for writers as individuals, let's get back to groups of writers. Put a writer into a gathering of his or her peers and you have an entirely different kind of a cat. If you've ever been to a writers' conference or attended a program featuring a panel of writers, you know they can't shut up. They'll go on and on (and on) speculating about things that never happened, but that might - and what a great story it would be if it did.

2. Writers are curious. They need to know what if and how and why - the common elements of all books. Writers of mystery and suspense deal with these questions in a more overt manner than most, but all writers, regardless of genre, strive to answer these questions, even those who write non-fiction. We write our books to make sense of a puzzling world or sometimes to show an alternative to the world as it is and to create an example of what it might be. Non-fiction writers, in particular, choose situations and characters that show how taking a slightly different path created a different world, either for good or ill. Poets distill experience and emotion into a few well-chosen words. But even they are attempting to provide an insight into what if and how and why.

3. Writers care. When people meet a writer, nine times out of ten they ask: What are you writing now? Maybe they ask out of politeness, as a way to start a conversation; maybe they actually want to know. Writers really do want to know. Always! They want to know what's next and, of course, they want to tell what they're up to.

4. Writers are generous. Contrary to many professions, writers want other writers to succeed. As I said before, when a writer asks What are you writing?, they genuinely want to know and if the answer is Well, I'm kind of stuck right now or Actually, I'm thinking of giving up, they are quick to say NO!, to assure you that are a talented, valuable voice, and that the world would be a lesser place if you didn't write.They'll probably ask you why you feel this way and offer advice on how to get out of the pit. If a writer gets stuck on a plot point or doesn't know where to go for the research needed to fill in a hole, there's no better remedy than the sympathetic ear of a fellow scribe. I don't know a single writer who doesn't depend on other writers as a source of inspiration.

5. Writers love books - sometimes to the point of obsession. Some might accuse us of being hoarders. Maybe we are. I, for one, don't consider it a failing. Most writers consider fictional characters their friends, someone with whom they can discuss their most intimate thoughts. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it: "In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends imprisoned by an enchanter in paper and leathern boxes." I think that's how all writers (as well as many non-writers) feel about books.

I've strayed far afield from my original question: What do you call a group of writers? Maybe there is a name and I don't know it. If so, I hope someone will tell me what it is. If not, maybe someone will come up with one.

These musings were inspired by the very entity I'm trying to name: a group of writers. Last weekend our local library hosted an Author Expo. I'm happy to say I live in an area that is kind to writers. There were 56 of us! It was an inspiring afternoon for me. I met some new writers and re-connected with some old friends I hadn't seen for a while. Here's a picture of a couple of local poets with some very sociable peers in the background.. On second thought, maybe there's no one name to describe a group of writers. Such a diverse group defies classification.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

An October to Remember

By Karen McCullough

If you follow this blog closely you might have noticed that I missed posting last month. (I don’t fool myself. You probably didn’t notice. But anyway…) I have an excuse and that’s what this post is all about.

I live in central North Carolina. Early fall is hurricane season here and this one was a doozy.

In September Florence was the headliner for weeks as its course, even while a long way out, showed it making landfall on the coast and then heading northwest to pass right over us. We got ready. We laid in candles, batteries for the lanterns and flashlights, and foods that didn’t need extensive cooking. Stuffed ice in the freezer. Laid in extra canned goods. Put away the patio furniture and planters.

The first part of the forecast for Florence was right. The eye did come ashore over the city of Wilmington on the N.C. coast. But then it stayed there for a couple of catastrophic days, pouring torrents of rain on the eastern part of the state and creating historic floods in many places before it jogged south and lost oomph quickly over South Carolina.

Here in the center of North Carolina, we had rain (lots of rain) and some light wind, but nothing drastic. Many people here welcomed family and friends from down east who had to evacuate flooded homes and towns. After a few days we put away the candles and batteries and ate the extra food.

Then Hurricane Michael zoomed up across the Gulf of Mexico in early October and crashed into Florida. Forecasters told us it would pass well to the east of us bringing us rain and light wind, but nothing to worry about. No one in this area got very concerned about it.

Our mistake. Michael wiped out parts of the Florida panhandle, then raced north and east, losing strength as it went. But it moved fast. And it veered a bit off the center of the projected path. For a day we had heavy rain and light breezes as it approached. But Michael, still a tropical storm, stayed on the west side of the cone rather than in the center, and in the early afternoon, it hit us full on.

It wasn’t as horrible as many in Florida experienced. But it was bad. Frightening For several hours we hid from fifty to sixty mile per hour winds with some higher gusts. Some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen accompanied it, blown sideways at times. The noise was incredible – wind howled and screeched, the trees rattled, rain smacked, smaller branches ratt-a-tatted on the roof constantly, and larger ones hit with the occasional thud. Everything not fastened down blew around and often hit other things.

Our city has a lot of huge old oak and fir trees and many of them went down during the storm. Thousands of trees.  Several hundred houses were damaged. We were lucky ourselves. Though our trees lost a few limbs, they all remained standing and we had no real damage to the house. Probably thousands of cars were smashed.

The next day I went out for a walk with my husband. We counted more than two dozen trees down in just the six-block area we covered. Many of them were across roads and some had entangled power lines in their limbs. The pictures that accompany this were tall taken on the walk and are only a few of the downed trees we saw.

Our power was out for five days. It took almost a week and a half to get cable and internet service back.

Most of the city was without power for a few days. On the second day of the power outage we went for a hot dinner to the home of friends whose power had already been restored. Of the twenty or so traffic-light-controlled intersections we had to pass through to get there, only one had working lights. Some had police officers directing traffic, but they didn’t have enough personnel to cover all the dark intersections.

Our daughter lives in an area of underground power lines and hers was on, so after three days we packed all the meats and other things we wanted to save from the freezer and took them to her, where she made room in her freezer. While there we had the first hot showers in several days and got some time on the internet.

Nonetheless we were counting our blessings even as we sat in the dark in the evenings. My husband and I were both safe. Our house was secure and suffered no real damage. The weather was mild so the loss of heat and air conditioning meant only minor discomfort. We have city water and they have backup generators to make sure the pumping stations keep running. We ate what was in the refrigerator for as long as it remained cool and we had plenty of non-perishable food as well. We have an old-fashioned crock pot that uses sterno (and we keep a supply of sterno around) for heating water for coffee and tea and soups for lunch. We even blessed our backlit Kindles that made reading much easier than trying to do it by the light of battery-run lanterns.

A couple of points I’d like to make to finish up. Even a tropical storm is a terrifying experience. If you’re in a hurricane zone and the authorities suggest you evacuate, do it! Even if the storm goes somewhere else this time, it may not the next. Don’t be complacent.

Not a great picture. It's hard to see that there are actually two
trees down across the road. The second one is about 20 feet 
behind the first.
Second, be prepared. Before each storm, we took in all the patio furniture, filled the car’s gas tank, and charged all our devices, including making sure that the backup batteries for recharging phones and Kindles were completely juiced up. We took the ice the ice maker had already made, bagged it, and stuffed it into open areas of the freezer. When it made another batch, we bagged more until the freezer was just about full. We got out flashlights and lanterns, put batteries in them, and checked all were working. We made sure they were all in a handy place where we wouldn’t have to fumble around in the dark to find them.

Supplies I like to keep on hand for emergencies include spare replaceable batteries for everything, which have to be checked and rotated periodically, and a good variety of non-perishable foods. We always keep extra cans of tuna, beans, chicken, fruit, vegetables and other tins with a long shelf life. As with the batteries, we rotate the stock periodically. We try to keep a five-day supply of sterno in storage. We have enough wood to keep the fireplace going for several days. (In truth, though, if the weather was really cold or really hot, we’d probably go somewhere else after a day or two.) We have a battery-operated radio, but we found we relied more on our smartphones for news and connection with others. They were slow at times because not all the cell towers were working, but enough were that we were usually able to connect. I have two portable battery chargers for the phones, a small one for my purse that will charge my phone twice and a bigger one that will provide up to five charges. We recharged the bigger one every chance we got and it kept our phones going throughout.

One other thing people don’t always think about is money. My sister the banker recommends keeping up to $1000 cash in small bills (nothing larger than $20) in a safe but accessible place. We found out why this time. Our local grocery store was open, running on a generator, but like everyone else in the city, they had no internet connection. They couldn’t process credit or debit cards. Transactions were cash only.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Pirates, Tramps and Thieves...

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

I’ve had it. Dealing with pirates has become too much of a part of a writer’s life. No, don’t think galleons and romantic figures in worn velvet and torn lace – these are modern thieves. They take books, books which writers have worked for months, perhaps years, on and post them on the internet for free. To add insult to injury, some even charge a ridiculously low price for them – money that the writer, the creator of the work, will never see.
A third kind of pirate is oddly becoming less and less rare – the plagiarizing pirate. This particularly loathsome specimen of lowlife merely takes another writer’s book, changes the main characters’ names and perhaps eye colors, and maybe – if they are conscientious – the name of the main town, then republishes the book under her own name with a new title and cover.
The first two kinds of pirates I can understand – if not condone – because both come down to simple money. The first kind just wants to hand the book around without anyone having to pay. The second kind wants some money for himself but without having to have to do anything to earn it. Both are despicable, but their reasons are obvious.
The third kind is a mystery. There are penalties for copyright infringement. Do they really think that no fan (the stolen books are invariably from popular and well-known authors) will notice the similarities? Due to the first two kinds of pirates books from unknowns don’t make that much, so it can’t be for the relatively small amount of money they earn. They are the ones doing the stealing, so they know they didn’t really write the book, unless they think just changing the names and eye colors constitutes writing. All that is left is that they want to appear to the world as a Published Author. Is that so wonderful that it is worth risking humiliation and legal repercussions? I guess so to them. Every so often there’s another one.
As pathetic and annoying as these egoist plagiarists are, though, they are small potatoes compared to the first two kinds. Their numbers are increasing exponentially and there’s very little that can be done about it.
Part of the problem began back in the days when paper was all you could get. It has never been difficult to find used copies for very little in a used book store, or for next to nothing at a garage sale. This too is blatantly unfair to the writer, but until recent years the technology for fair recompense was lacking. Nowadays the technology is there (think ISBN) but no one except the writer is interested in the writer getting paid for resale of their work. Paper copies have always been traded and resold and the modern naïf thinks that electronic books are no different. They refuse to acknowledge that there is a big difference – used paperbacks are self-limiting. Given enough time and enough readings they will dissolve. Ebooks can be copied with just a button-push or two, and the millionth copy will be just as pristine as the first. All with no benefit to the author, who created the story.
This ease of duplication was not lost on the second, money-driven type of pirate. To them each keystroke was the sound of a cash register as they made free money on the work of others. Every day writers spend valuable time – time that would be better spent writing more books – sending down takedown notices to pirates. Lucky writers have publishers who pursue takedowns. Others are not so fortunate and must do it themselves or hire a company out of their own pocket, as must self-published authors.
Sometimes the crooks comply, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes when their payment protocol is disrupted the site vanishes only to reappear a few days later with a very similar name and the same list of books. As so many authors have said, it’s like playing whack-a-mole and so frustrating and time consuming that some authors have simply given up, claiming that the pirated books are to be counted as free advertising.
I will admit that I have a number of free books on my Kindle, but a book given freely by the author as a promotional offer is a totally different thing from a book taken, i.e. stolen, without permission or recompense by a third party. Many authors have used a free book as a sales tool, but the important thing is that the choice to give the book away has been only theirs.
There have always been cheats, however, and there have always been thieves. Perhaps the most frightening thing about this uncomfortable world of piracy is the attitude of entitlement which surrounds it. On several ‘file-sharing’ sites I have seen posts where those who take these free files deny that they are doing anything wrong! If it’s on the internet, they say, it should be free. Others, more bold, decry the idea that copyright equals ownership. Copyright, to them, means only bragging rights for having written it – if that – and that it is greedy and wrong of the authors who are all obviously very wealthy to want to be paid for their work.
One man’s sublimely self-serving comments stayed with me. Roughly he said – “I pay for my entertainment as much as I can. I buy what I want until I don’t have any more money, but then my appetite for entertainment is so large that I have to take free stuff to get all that I want.” Wonder how far that philosophy would get him at the grocery or the hardware store?
And that brings us to the worst part of this unholy trade. There are penalties for illegally acquiring software. There are penalties for illegally downloading movies and TV shows. Books? Who cares? Apparently no one other than the authors who see their income being ripped away. Obviously not the thieves. The law doesn’t seem to want to be bothered.
So where does all this end? I postulate that it will end in chaos, as disintegrating systems usually do. Contrary to popular belief, most professional and popular authors write for money. Not for the feeling of self-accomplishment, not for the thrill of seeing their name on a book, but for money. It’s a job. A job they may love, but still a job. When that job ceases to be remunerative, they will stop writing and find something else.
Oh, there will always be books, but books written by those who do not regard it as a profession. Those who want to see their name on a book no matter what. Those who want the fame of being a "published author." And let’s face it, those kinds of books are usually lousy. The quality of books will go down as more and more professionals leave the business and eventually the glory-seekers will be pretty much the sole providers of novels.
Apocalyptic? Perhaps, but dentists don’t do crowns just for the thrill of being recognized as a dentist. Mechanics don’t give free tune-ups because they enjoy playing in an engine. I can’t think of any profession that gives away its product just because they have it. They expect fair recompense for their goods/skills. Why do people regard writers any differently?
It looks to be a bleak future, with one rather deliciously snarky exception. Something I’ve been noticing is a lot of the pirate sites have been exposed as simple phishing sites that take the buyer’s credit card information and give nothing but a big bill.
Karma, it’s wonderful!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Changing Seasons

 by Fran McNabb

It’s that time of year, the time when warm breezes switch to cooler, or in some cases, much colder winds. I don’t live in the north where brilliant colors on hillsides tell everyone that autumn is here, but even in the South we have little indicators that winter is on its way.

As I walked up our stairs with the morning newspaper, I caught a motion in the bayou. (Yes, I still like to read the news in paper form. Hubby reads online.) I stopped and watched as a small duck bobbed on the water, ducked under momentarily, then popped up close-by. I don’t know the real name of these little ducks, but they appear every year about this time and spend the cold months on our bayou. I called them “Mama’s ducks” because my mother used to sit in the sun room keeping track of what they were doing. They gave her hours of pleasure. Mom is no longer with us, but when I see her ducks, I can smile and remember how she loved them and the joy she had watching them.

This morning there was only one little fellow on the water, but as the week goes on, there will be a few more. I don’t know where they spend the summer, but I’m thrilled they choose my little corner of the world to get through the winter.

In the last Classic and Cozy Blog, Deborah Nolan wrote about Bucket Lists. My bucket list includes a trip up north to see the changing leaves, but whether or not I actually get to see the brilliant changes on the northern hillsides, I can at least know my year is changing with the appearance of my little ducks. The ducks may not be as spectacular as the changing of the leaves, but for me they give me a warm feeling throughout the cold winter.

What tells you that your year is moving on? Do you wake up one morning and suddenly feel the frigid air around you or even a sprinkling of snowflakes? Do you step outside and see the hint of a color change in the trees. Mother Nature can give us tragedies in the form of tornadoes and hurricanes, but she can also provide us with little things that make our days brighter.

Winter is coming so step outside and see what you can find that puts a smile on your face.

FRAN MCNABB lives on the Gulf Coast and uses this setting in many of her novels and blogs. She writes sweet romances and presently has nine available. A SOLDIER'S HONOR is her latest. Visit her at or at

Monday, October 29, 2018

Bucket Lists

I’m not sure when “bucket lists” became the rage. I don’t know if they’re only so with my generation, but I can tell you that these days it seems everyone I know has one.

It might be because so many of my friends are at an age where they’re suddenly aware of the limitations of time and energy. If they don’t do it now, they may never.  I get that.  Until recently, when I’d go on a trip, if I didn’t see or do everything I planned, I’d reassure myself that I’d return someday and have another chance.  But now, realistically, there are too many places in the world for me to return to.  I still have so many places I’ve never been.  I guess those unknown places constitute my bucket list.

But that’s my age group—those who have time limitations.  There are also people who have always had bucket lists.  They’re the ones who had goals they wanted to accomplish—seemingly from grade school on. We may all have goals. But I’m talking about people with much more specific and ambitious goals, such as being President, writing a best seller, becoming a billionaire.

People with big goals—or ambitions—in my generation—were usually men.  The guys who worked hard, kept their nose to the grindstone, sometimes in the same company, for their whole career. For many of them, as they reach retirement, they don’t know what to do next.  

For some, golf is their only interest, but even then unless you’re a pro, you can’t play every day. For others, golf was never interesting, but they haven’t developed any other hobbies. For these guys, their goals were job related and now the job is gone. It’s probably hard for someone in the middle of life to imagine, but many of these men have no idea what to do with themselves.  They have no real yearning to travel, never had bucket lists that included anything but work goals and don’t really care for museums, theatre or other urban pleasures. They’re usually not gardeners or putterers and now greet the endless days ahead of them with dismay. 

Men like this are from my generation when the work force was owned and dominated by men.  Women in my youth were usually relegated to subservient roles or jobs that were traditionally for women.  Early on we learned to adjust, either lowering our expectations or developing enough interests to deflect the disappointment and frustration of seeing a man get more opportunities for advancement, fun and challenge at work.  Whether by choice or circumstance, many women stayed home when our kids were young. Between getting them off to school, baking for the PTA fundraiser and driving car pools, we had a chance to connect with ourselves and figure out what was important to us and what we were good at.  We were and are, in hindsight, the lucky ones.  We know what to do with endless days and no schedule.  We’ve faced those days before. We don’t have to define our lives by making bucket lists, though sometimes they’re fun to do so we’re ready when the next vacation opportunity looms in front of us.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Inspiration II

 I had been tempted to leave this a blank page to emphasize the dearth of this essential element in a writer’s repertoire in my own circumstances.
Then, lo and behold, this magical ingredient returned and I had a thought for a sequel to my American historical, Pavane for Miss Marcher.

Inspiration struck just as I was having a conversation about a mug that my son sent me as a birthday present which reads “Please do not annoy the writer, she may put you in a book and kill you.” The conversation happened to be about a distant cousin-in-law and I commented that, many years after this CIL had annoyed other members of my family with her “I’m so far superior to you” attitude, I had taken a tiny bit of revenge by casting her attitude as the reason the parents of my character, North (in Pavane for Miss Marcher), refused to attend his wedding.

What has that to do with Inspiration, you may wonder.

North is a veteran of the American Civil War. He and his brother-in-law, Aurelius, have been on my mind since, as secondary characters, they made their presence known — in the proverbial ‘pantser’ form of writing — by appearing as the story unfolded.

Following this conversation, I sat quietly for a moment. A progression of images appeared as the tissue of an idea for North’s story unfolded. Except that his tale will have a happy ending, where it goes from this inspired moment is a mystery.

And I like it that way.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

It's How You Play The Cards You're Dealt

One of the things I do when I'm not writing is volunteer at Pearl S. Bucks International. As a docent, I not only get to show guests the home of a remarkable woman, I get to share some of the details of her richly-lived life. Most people who visit Green Hills Farm have read The Good Earth and have an inkling that its author spent a good part of her life in China. Few know much more than that.

Telling some of the stories of how Ms. Buck became who she was is the part I love most. I referred to her life as richly-lived and it was - not because of the cards she was dealt, but because of how she played them. At first glance, her life may seem like the perfect hand. Pictures of her reveal a pretty child who became a beautiful woman. Accolades of her writing indicate intelligence even greater than her physical beauty. Hearing a bit about her background suggests an exotic life, filled with inspiring experiences. But those gifts are only half the story. It may seem that she was dealt all aces; she wasn't.

The blond curls and blue eyes that seem so lovely to western eyes were a mixed blessing to a little girl growing up in China. Most of the children with whom she came in contact had never seen anyone who looked like her. To them, she seemed not beautiful, but strange, even fearsome. Their only experience of eyes like hers was Chinese theater, where the monsters and beasts all had pale eyes. Inevitably, they teased her, saying she had wild beast eyes. Her mother told her it was different in America, that this was a country where people were not judged by the color of their skin (or eyes). Imagine Pearl's disappointment when she went to a girl's college in Virginia. Despite her appearance, she was more Chinese than America and, again, she was deemed different and referred to as that "dreadful girl from China". Her only birth child was born with a genetic disease that kept her from developing mentally. Her first marriage ended in divorce, a sign of failure in the early thirties, a stigma. When Pearl Buck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938, some of the most prominent male authors scoffed, one famous poet even saying, "If she can win, anyone one."

Any of these things could have turned her into a bitter, cynical person, someone who perceived the world as cruel and unfeeling. Instead, she became a humanitarian. She knew injustice and refused to accept it. She bore no ill will for the teasing she'd experienced in her childhood; she loved the people of China and spent her life trying to bridge the perceived differences that separate East from West. She won over the college classmates who didn't understand her unusual background and was president of her class by the time she was a junior. About her child, whom most people of that time (Carol was born in 1920) would have hidden away, she wrote a book, sharing her anguish and paving the way for all of us to understand that people who are differently-abled have a right to a full life and, indeed, have their own gifts to offer. After her failed marriage, she dared to love again, to re-marry, and to adopt a number of children, creating the big family she'd always dreamed of. When presented with a child who was considered unadoptable because he was bi-racial, she founded her own adoption agency, Welcome House, which eventually morphed into Pearl S. Buck International.  And I can't resist telling you her response to the poet who questioned her right to the Nobel Prize: "Well, I didn't nominate myself and I didn't vote for myself and if Mr. **** isn't happy about it, he can take it up with the King of Sweden." I love that! No name-calling, but no backing down.

So ... what made Pearl S. Buck who she was? I think you'd have to say it was attitude. Instead of bitterness, she cultivated empathy. Instead of judgment, she sought understanding. Instead of vengeance, she chose love. Negatives became positives. She played her cards well.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

A Lesson Learned

by Fran McNabb

NOTE: Posts on the first Thursday of the month are usually written by Victoria Johnson. She has asked me to fill in for the October, November and December blogs. I am honored to help her out.

Technology is a wonderful thing. I keep telling myself that even when it drives me completely insane. I love my computer and am on it way too much. My old computer is trying to go out so I bought another one and have yet to conquer all the differences. Being "untechy" and not wanting to deal with getting my new computer ready to use, I look at it, close it, and go back to my old computer and decide I’ll deal with the new one later.

Phones can be just as frustrating. While on vacation in Fort Lauderdale, I woke up one morning to find my phone completely dead even though it had been plugged in all night. I panicked.  I was expected at my DIL’s house and had no way to contact her except from the hotel lobby phone, but once I got there I realized I didn’t know her cell phone number nor anyone else’s except my husband’s. He was on a boat in the Atlantic fishing and I knew he was skeptical about answering a number he didn’t know. Luckily the lady at the front desk let me use a phone and my husband answered and had my son text his wife.

Long story, short, it took three hours for my DIL and I to figure out it was my charger gone bad and not my phone. That was a relief, but in the process I learned a lesson. Today we take for granted the ease at which the computer, the internet, and cell phones make our lives so much better, but I think we rely on them way too much. I made a vow to write down all of my important contacts and their cell numbers in case something like this happened again. We no longer have telephone books for cell phone numbers nor do most of us memorize phone numbers. (Gosh, I still remember the 7-digit phone numbers of my childhood friends.) I feel much more connected knowing I can rely on a paper list of my important contacts. Do you have one?

Now that I have my phone working again, a list of emergency numbers stashed away in my purse, and a new computer I've almost conquered, I can sit back and enjoy this tech-21st Century and pretend I understand it and am part of it!

FRAN MCNABB grew up along the Gulf Coast and writes sweet romances sometimes set along the coast. Her newest book, A SOLDIER’S HONOR, is set on the Gulf Coast as well. She and her husband live on a bayou harbor and enjoy the activities and beauty of the water. 
Visit Fran at

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Importance of Bibles

by Janis Patterson

Be at ease – this is not a religious rant. I am using ‘bible’ in the purely secular definition, i.e., ‘a book that is considered the most important one for a particular subject.’ (Just to put things straight, Bible with a capital ‘B’ is the religious book; bible with a small ‘b’ is the definitely un-religious context I’m using here.)

I’m talking about the book about your book.

Confused? You shouldn’t be, either about bibles or books that obviously haven’t had one. We’ve all read a book where a minor character changes names somewhere in the book – Mavis the bookkeeper becomes Maura somewhere around chapter 22, for example. Or a location shifts without reason or warning – the crime scene is located north of the river for most of the book, then suddenly migrates to south of the river for a chapter or two, then miraculously appears back on the north side. The detective who favors a Beretta suddenly and without justification starts carrying a Glock. Such mistakes are not only confusing and irritating to the reader, they are the sign of a lazy writer.

When I become queen of the universe, one of my proclamations is going to be that everyone writing a book has to do a bible. Many writers – especially the good ones – already do. There are all kinds of formats for bibles, from expensive software to cheap spiral bound notebooks, but however they work all serve to keep your characters, locations, timeline and odd facts straight.

I do a bible for every book I write, and mine are about as simple as you can get. (Warning – I’m a pantser, so if you’re a plotter or some other kind of writer, you’ll have to adapt this to your particular process.) When I open a new file to start a new book, I open two – one for the manuscript, one for the bible. As I write and something (character, location, whatever) appears, I flip over to the bible and make a note of it. Just a short note with all the pertinent information – the bigger part that particular whatever plays in the story, the bigger note it gets. Later on, if I reveal something more about that whatever, I add it to their entry in the bible. Entries are usually single spaced with double spaces in between one and the next to set them off.

I don’t bother to alphabetize or rate entries according to importance – I just note them down as they appear. Believe it or not, this doesn’t create a problem when I have to go look something up several chapters later. As I said, the entries are short and very factual, and for most books the entire bible doesn’t run more than 3-4 pages – a lot easier to flip through than going back through the whole manuscript to find the name of Lady Bellingstoke’s butler or whatever.

The one exception to this generality was my semi-paranormal gothic INHERITANCE OF SHADOWS – the bible for that ran almost eighteen (yes, 18!) pages of dense copy. In my defense, however, I will say that book was more complex than any other I’ve ever done, with a romantic storyline, a father/daughter storyline, a sort-of-ghost story and seven different books written about seven different worlds, all of which had a direct bearing on the main action of the novel! All in one book… When I sent in the final conceptual manuscript to my editor I also sent in a copy of the bible, for which I got an almost sobbingly-happy letter of thanks from the copy editor.

Writing a book is hard enough without tripping yourself up on the minutiae. Keep a bible, write down every fact and name as it happens, and your life will become so much easier – and so will your editor’s!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Lazy Fingers & Cognitive Assumptions

Every writer faces the task of proofreading at every stage of the writing process. We sometimes do this onerous task at the end of a writing session or we wait until the entire work in progress is commented to paper or even to the last minute before the novel is published.

Competent typists are usually accurate to within a very small percentage point. Two-finger typists, commonly called the “hunt and peck” variety can actually be better at accuracy but much slower. Whichever we are, we occasionally make assumptions about the manual aspects of producing a written work.

Last year, I happily published my seventeenth novel of twenty written works with my name on the cover. While considering a new cover and further research into that period of American history, I reviewed a small section of the novel and—shock horror—even after careful and intense proofreading of the “Advanced Reader’s Copy,” I discovered a typographical error.

Not much further along, I found another error—the “My brain thought this word but my fingers typed that one” kind. During proofreading, the brain often wins the argument, making the assumption that the word typed was the word thought.

With more than one such error, I began at the beginning of the novel, making note of the errors in pencil and marking the pages with strips of multi-colored plastic stickies (my stash of these useful writers’ tools are well-used).

The whole process of re-proofing an already published novel taught me yet another lesson: Proofread more than once and proofread backwards. If you’re self-publishing, asking a friend or paying a professional editor are options. Even so, there will be the occasional missing letter, word or punctuation mark.

In that instance, take the philosophical approach: No one is perfect.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Preparing for a Trip

My husband and I are going to Europe, Germany, France and Austria, for ten days in October for our anniversary and his college study abroad reunion. Besides the need to pack lightly and efficiently, I’ve been wondering how to get the most out of this vacation.

In the course of talking to friends I realize that we don’t all have the same approach to travel. It seems most of my friends, and one in particular, do extensive research, making restaurant reservations and booking tours months and weeks before they leave home. One friend plans each day down to the minute.  I’m awed by her thoroughness and impressed, but I’m not sure it would be the right approach for me.  

Yes, I know there will be something I miss that I’ll only discover when I get back home. It has happened. There will be the restaurant we’ll miss because I should have made a reservation a month before. I’ll also admit, when I do get the recommendations from friends about places they have gone to, I feel a strong compulsion to follow it and fret when I don’t.  But I don’t think it’s really how I want to travel.

The trip, Germany, France and Austria, unlike many business trips to Europe that I’ve gone as the accompanying person, is different.  It’s for our anniversary and where we’ve chosen to go. My husband speaks German, so that will be a plus.  I studied French in high school and need to brush up, but we will get by.  The cities and towns are small and not on the usual bestseller route so they shouldn’t be filled with tourists and we have a general idea of what we want to do.  

We’ll be in the Alsace region of France and the German wine country so I’m thinking we’ll spend one day going from vineyard to vineyard. Another day will be in Strasbourg, a small city in Alsace, that the guidebook says is ancient and charming.  I’m thinking we can follow out noses in the city and the rest of the trip will take care of itself since besides the Rhine valley and Alsace we’ll be driving through the Black Forest, Grimm’s Fairy tale country. Then it’s only four days until we meet up with my husband’s classmates for their 50threunion.  

Do I want a guided tour of the castles we pass? I don’t think so.  I’m more curious about the people we see and the encounters we have. Do I need to eat in the best restaurants?  I’m thinking not.  I live in New York City where fancy food and dining is always available Though I did just read that Jean-Georges Vongerichten is from Alsace and worked at a Michelin starred restaurant there so I may have to rethink.

I’d love to hear how others plan their trips.  As a writer, I’m a pantser.  I don’t make outlines, but follow my nose until the plot is obvious.  My friend who plans down to the minute, if a writer (she a photographer) would be a plotter.  I’d be interested to hear how other people figure out their vacations and if my friend’s method is more common.