Monday, October 20, 2014

Murder Mystery Update: The Story Comes to Life

The history-mystery fund-raiser plan is percolating along! (For those who are following this event as it unfolds, the previous update is here.)

To recap, I've been writing a history-themed murder mystery to be performed at a fund-raiser on behalf of a local history museum. Last time I explained a little of how the story and characters were developed. Since then I've gotten some questions about the process, so here's a little Q and A.

Is the story based on an actual murder that really took place?

No. The crime is entirely fictional, some of the characters are purely fictional, and even the "real-person" characters do fictional things.It is above all a fun story meant to entertain, but we hope that some nuggets history will be learned along the way.

For example, the owners of a ladies' millinery shop play a role in the story. There really was a millinery shop on Sandpoint's Cedar Street in 1920, and the sisters who owned it really existed. But beyond that, we don't have many facts to go on: what their personalities were like, how they spoke, and so on. I ended up loosely basing those characters on dress-shop owners Ruby and Pearl Pratt in the delightful BBC series Lark Rise to Candleford.

Pearl and Ruby Pratt own the dress shop in Candleford

As with any good historical fiction, we've woven threads of make-believe onto an historical framework. Guests will learn about Prohibition, the local economy, political concerns of the day, fashions, music, and goings-on around town.

Will the guests be involved in the story, too?

Yes. As each guest sends an RSVP to the fund-raiser, he or she is assigned a real character from local history to portray, to the extent he or she is comfortable doing so, along some backstory and suggestions for costume and lingo. We'll have everyone from grocers to bankers to ranchers to loggers to schoolteachers, all partying like it's 1920.

How did you do your research?

Mostly from combing the local newspapers of 1920 and oral histories left by people who lived in the area. As the event is a fund-raiser for a history museum, making use of the museum's resources to do the research seemed appropriate.

Who did the crime?

I'm not telling.

Check back to find out more about "A Little Party Never Killed Anybody." And as always, feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jabberwocky: Whimsical Neologisms

“Jabberwocky,” a poem penned by Lewis Carroll in his 1871 novel, Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There, is considered one of the greatest nonsense poems written in English. Delightful to read aloud, the poem’s singsong cadence, made-up words, and vivid imagery demands the reader’s interaction.

from: Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There
By Lewis Carroll

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
  The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
  Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
  And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
  The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
  And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
  The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
  He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
  Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
  He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

The words made little sense to Alice, “It seems very pretty," she said when she had finished it, "but it's rather hard to understand!" (You see she didn't like to confess even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas--only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate---"

The whimsical language created for the poem by Carroll resulted in three neologisms (newly coined words that fall into common usage) and a plethora of nonsense words:

Jabberwocky: meaningless speech or writing.

Galumphing: to move with clumsy and heavy tread.

Chortle: a snorting, joyful laugh or chuckle; a combination of the words “chuckle” and “snort.”

In the book, Humpty Dumpty tried to explain the gobbledygook for Alice. He described “rath”as “a sort of green pig.” In his notes, Carroll described it as “a species of badger that “lived chiefly on cheese” and had smooth white hair, long hind legs, and short horns like a stag; appendixes later described it as “a species of land turtle “that lived on swallows and oysters.” No one truly knows. Have you ever seen one?

Frabjous: a combination of fabulous, and joyous.

Frumious: a combination of fuming and furious.

Gyre: to go round like a gyroscope.

Mimsy: Humpty described mimsy as “flimsy” and “miserable.”

In Jabberwocky-fashion, Douglas Adams included a poem in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

Oh Freddled Gruntbuggly

Oh freddled gruntbuggly thy micturations are to me
  As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
Groop I implore thee my foonting turlingdromes
  And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my
  blurglecruncheon, see if I don't!

Wanna have some fun? Try fabricating fabulous new words yourself. Use Jabberwocky, Dr. Seuss, and "Oh Freddled Gruntbuggly" for inspiration; refer to your dictionary and thesaurus for information; and let your imagination fly.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

5 Tips for Writing CharacterDescription

Artists draw pictures with ink, or paint, or pencil; but writers are challenged to draw pictures of their characters using words alone.  What does the character look like?  What are his/her personality traits, habits, shortcomings, strengths or idiosyncrasies?  The secret lies in outlining their  characters in detail, then introducing them slowly, through description and action.  Some helpful tips include: 

1. Develop a Character Chart 
The first step is to create a Character Chart outlining everything you know about your character. Many examples of Character Charts can be found online; some are very comprehensive, but you can tailor them to meet your needs.  The more complete your profile, the easier you'll find it to describe your character through words and action.   

2. Don't Make a List
An item-by-item list of characteristics, or giving too much information at one time, is boring for the reader and considered lackluster writing.  Skilled writers introduce the character then sprinkle tidbits throughout the story, allowing the reader to “discover” the true nature of the character in small doses.  The reader gets the same information, but in a much more enjoyable way. 
Sharon Rose might sit on the floor beside her bed like a sick child.  She often felt drained of her proper nature.  Her mind was like a liquid in a sloppy container.  Her soul rolled from side to side of a rocking boat. – Wright Morris, Plains Song
3. Beware Adjective Addiction
Adjectives don't add the spice you are looking for and result in making a boring list longer. Effective writers follow Mark Twain’s advice on adjectives:
When you catch an adjective, kill it.  No, I don't mean utterly,  but kill most of them - then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice. – Mark Twain 
4. Choose Not “To Be”
Don’t fall into the habit of using the common “ to be” verbs which are considered weak because they don’t show action.  Replacing these verbs with action verbs results in powerful and concise writing. 
Nature forgot to shade him off, I think... A little too boisterous--like the sea. A little too vehement--like a bull who has made up his mind to consider every colour scarlet. But I grant a sledge-hammering sort of merit in him.  ― Charles Dickens, Bleak House
5. Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Following the old rule of “show, don't tell" enables writers to introduce their characters in a more interesting way, drawing a picture that is complete and well rounded.  If a particular trait is vital to the storyline, find different ways to imprint the trait you consider important through the character’s actions and/or interactions with supporting characters.
She [Sybil Vane] crouched on the floor like a wounded thing, and Dorian Gray, with his beautiful eyes, looked down at her, and his chiseled lips curled in exquisite disdain. There is always something ridiculous about the emotion of people whom one has ceased to love. ― Oscar Wilde, the Picture of Dorian Gray

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ronald Hayse Goodwin: A Tribute to a Life Well Lived

  To Ron, my Prince Charming

So quick of mind, and quick to laugh,
My love, you were and always will be,
       My guiding light, my star, my life.       
Our souls were entwined together here
And are in all eternity.

Anna Goodwin (Ana Parker Goodwin) one of the members of Writing North Idaho, recently lost her beloved husband of 49 years, Ronald Hayse Goodwin, following a valiant battle with COPD. During a memorial service on October 11, family and friends shared their memories of Ron through their stories, poems, and songs.

Their words alternately brought laughter, nods of agreement, and tears. His wife, our friend, remained silent, allowing others to read the words she found impossible to voice aloud about her loving husband who encouraged and supported her career as psychotherapist, writer, and author; through both word and deed. Her daughter read a tribute to her dad, describing the gifts he gave her. Her loss struck each of us when emotions overcame her voice as she described his precious gifts of love and laughter. Her son, unable to continue reading, asked a friend to read the many reasons he admired, respected, and loved his father.

One of Ron’s sisters led us in singing the folk songs he loved, including: “500 Miles” by Peter, Paul and Mary; and “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. His niece wrote and sang a beautiful song in tribute to him; his son-in-law told of Ron’s generous and accepting personality.

Each person who spoke mentioned Ron's love of family, his intelligence, his commitment to the world around him, and his laughter. Their love for him and their obvious loss stood in tribute to a life well-lived.
Our dearest Ron.
You have lived your life well, with sensitivity, integrity, and compassion.
We miss you so much, and love you always now and through eternity.
Until we meet again. Your family.
Ron passionately supported and believed in the work Anna was doing through her book, How to cope with Stress after Trauma; Especially for Veterans, their Families and Friends. In his memory, she created a fund which will be used to give books to those in need of healing. If you wish to learn more about her book written to help our veterans and others suffering from PTSD, go to

Ronald Hayse Goodwin

Ronald Hayse Goodwin, Ph.D. in entomology (invertebrate pathology), beloved husband of Anna Goodwin for 49 years, and father of Tonya (Chris) and Jason (Maria), completed his journey on earth on Aug. 8, 2014, at the age of 80. He had five grandchildren and one great-grandson. His family and many of his friends will always remember his brilliant mind and his quickness to play jokes, to laugh and love. They will treasure and remember him for the rest of their lives.

Ron was a veteran of the U.S. Army, a high school teacher, and then a research scientist for 30 years, before he retired to the Coeur d'Alene area. He was very much a family man and spent hours playing with his children. He was born on Oct. 15, 1933, in Hollywood, Calif., where his father was a backdrop artist for Paramount Pictures on films such as "Gone with the Wind" and "Lost Horizon." At the age of 7 he and his mother moved to the San Francisco area where he grew up, taught high school and graduated from UC Berkeley.

After his marriage to Anna they moved to Canberra, Australia, where he worked as an invertebrate pathologist for the Australian government (CSIRO), studying insect diseases to spread on the fields instead of insecticides. After three years they returned to Maryland where he worked for the United States Department of Agriculture creating tissue cultures of the army worm and infecting them with insect viruses to spread on infested trees. His tissue culture media has been used throughout the world, including Russia.

His last large project was to help his wife Anna, a psychotherapist, write, publish, and distribute her book "How to Cope with Stress after Trauma: Especially for Veterans, their Families and Friends." He had a deep passion for our veterans and their families, especially for the children, who were not receiving the help they needed.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Shadow of the Shore

 Edith Wharton at her desk.

On a recent trip to Memphis, Tennessee, my husband took me to a used book store called Burke's Books. We have done this on many trips, and it is one of our traditions for which I am most grateful. We spend a good amount of time in these establishments; he never rushes me or questions my purchasing habits, another one of his many strong suits. While in the stacks, I browse and sit in waiting chairs, picking up and putting down many books. Mostly, I wait for a certain feeling to come over me, a tingling, or an inkling that will lead me in a direction I need to go. It was in a used book shop in Coeur d' Alene that I found a sentence in a history book that led to me spending a decade creating My American Eden. My husband found two of the most significant details of the story in second-hand shops- one in our town and another in Westchester County, Pennsylvania. When we left the shop in Memphis, he joked that he had in his hand a book that may well be the key. I laughed because I often have the same feeling. On the plane home, I cracked open my treasure: Edith Wharton's Summer.

The book jacket revealed that this work was considered by many to be her finest. The trip home flew by in a jiffy as I devoured Wharton's beautiful work.

From Summer:

“The lake at last- a sheet of shining metal brooded over by drooping trees. Charity and Harney had secured a boat and, getting away from the wharves and the refreshment-booths, they drifted idly along, hugging the shadow of the shore. Where the sun struck the water its shafts flamed back blindingly at the heat-veiled sky; and the least shade was black by contrast. The Lake was so smooth that the reflection of the trees on its edge seemed enamelled on a solid surface; but gradually, as the sun declined, the water grew transparent and Charity, leaning over, plunged her fascinated gaze into the depths so clear that she saw the inverted tree-tops interwoven with green growths on the bottom.
They rounded a point at the farther end of the Lake, and entering an inlet pushed their bow against a protruding tree-trunk. A green veil of willows overhung them. Beyond the trees, wheat-fields sparkled in the sun; and all along the horizon the clear hills throbbed with light. Charity leaned back in the stern, and Harney unshipped the oars and lay in the bottom of the boat without speaking.”

Page 95

The Mount

When asked which books made her the most proud, Edith Wharton named Summer as one of them. In reading more about her life, I happened to learn about her home, a beautiful estate in the Berkshires, known as The Mount. As she penned a book about houses and gardens, she was able to oversee every detail of this exquisite treasure. Born of wealth and privilege into an old moneyed family, instead of whiling away her life in gorgeous drawing rooms and delicate gardens, she picked up a pen and gave us a body of work, worth picking up time and time again. Now I am obsessed with going to see her lovely home and have added one more adventure to my wish list. Her library is depicted below.

If you are the proprietor of a second-hand book shop, thank you. If you can spend an afternoon in a dusty shop, consider yourself lucky. You never know when you might find the key. It may lead to a decade of further study.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Among School Children

I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;

A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
The children learn to cipher and to sing,

To study reading-books and histories,
To cut and sew, be neat in everything
In the best modern way — the children’s eyes
In momentary wonder stare upon
A sixty-year-old smiling public man.

I dream of a Ledaean body, bent
Above a sinking fire, a tale that she
Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event
That changed some childish day to tragedy —
Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent
Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,
Or else, to alter Plato’s parable,
Into the yolk and white of the one shell.

And thinking of that fit of grief or rage
I look upon one child or t’other there
And wonder if she stood so at that age —
For even daughters of the swan can share
Something of every paddler’s heritage —
And had that colour upon cheek or hair,
And thereupon my heart is driven wild:
She stands before me as a living child.

Her present image floats into the mind —
Did Quattrocento finger fashion it
Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind
And took a mess of shadows for its meat?
And I though never of Ledaean kind
Had pretty plumage once — enough of that,
Better to smile on all that smile, and show
There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.

What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap
Honey of generation had betrayed,
And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape
As recollection or the drug decide,
Would think her Son, did she but see that shape
With sixty or more winters on its head,
A compensation for the pang of his birth,
Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?

Plato thought nature but a spume that plays
Upon a ghostly paradigm of things;
Solider Aristotle played the taws
Upon the bottom of a king of kings;
World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras
Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings
What a star sang and careless Muses heard:
Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird.

Both nuns and mothers worship images,
But those the candles light are not as those
That animate a mother’s reveries,
But keep a marble or a bronze repose.
And yet they too break hearts — O presences
That passion, piety or affection knows,
And that all heavenly glory symbolise —
O self-born mockers of man’s enterprise;

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

William Butler Yeats 
June 1865-January1939
Winner of Nobel Prize in Literature 1923

Monday, October 6, 2014

Help! Synopsis!

 Elizabeth S. Brinton in 2002.

There is no word in the English language I dislike more than the word synopsis. Tasked with writing one for my current novel, I started the way I begin most intimidating chores, I asked Google. Of course, this is not the first time, nor, hopefully, will it be the last, where I agonize over this dreaded concept. At first I looked for agents who did not require one. However, once gave myself a severe talking to, I proceeded to the reference shelf, to Google, to any help section within my grasp and got a refresher course. There is no simple solution.

There are a ton of books on the market about how to get published, how to write a query letter, how to write a synopsis, and how to get an agent. I believe I have read most of them. Usually, I am overwhelmed, in a near state of panic, and wonder if I can get through the process with any self- esteem left intact. Because I am an author, I prefer to live in a fantasy world. Would my flimsy little bubble burst right before my eyes? Not this time. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that if the hard work of figuring out what story you plan to tell is done in the early stages, these finishing stages are far less intimidating.

 To my everlasting surprise, I could hardly write fast enough. It just came flying out. As I had worked the plot-line, scene by scene, and had a big chart up on the wall of my old study, I think the trick may be in the narrative itself. Do not let any submission guideline intimidate you. We may not even know how these things come about, but for whatever reason it seems much easier this time. One tip suggested that a writer should follow the narrative arc. That was the spark that enabled me to pick up my pen. Yes, I wrote it longhand. Scribbled would be a better word.

Literary agents have to be admired. They stay in business. They maintain the same address. Instead of whining about how impersonal the process seems, why wouldn't I look at it as something I plan to make happen. All the guidelines are different. Some want a query only; others prefer a few pages of the novel which is a great thing, in my humble opinion. Most require a synopsis, and who can blame them? Well then, a synopsis I will deliver. I may revise it a hundred times; I may whine and wail, but I can promise one thing. I will not give up.

My search revealed another nugget of good news. I'll be honest. I fear rejection. I fear a loss of confidence and a total tail-spin. Because of the volume of submissions, making one's chances even more scant, a new process has evolved. They don't seem to bother with rejection letters anymore. Instead of trying to tell you why they are turning you down,  the prevailing winds are blowing in the direction of, “we will contact you if we are interested.” So the solution is to keep on doing whatever it is you do. Start a new project, or paint your laundry room, or knit a hat, or whatever it takes, but just keep going. Over the years, I have learned one thing about myself. I happen to like writing. I don't seem to tire of it. How does the saying go? Make art. While others try to figure out if they like it or not, whether they will buy it or not, make more art. Jazz musicians refer to playing in the shadows. Here is a piece of advice I read on Twitter. It came from Julian Lennon. He wrote, “That time you think you just wasted, wasn't wasted.”