Friday, June 29, 2012

Oprah's Book Club and Mine

As I have been happily ensconced in two book clubs in my life, I can attest to the many pleasures of membership. Twenty two years in my current group has enabled me to know and share life's gifts with some of the wisest and wittiest women anywhere. For many years, we had no name until one evening, at the home of a beloved caterer, we hit upon it at last: Greatest Food Ever Book Club. Our numbers have had to ebb and flow with time, sometimes due to circumstances beyond our control. Yet with all the changes, one constant remains true; we will never be in complete agreement about any given novel. It is the differences of opinion that have provided some of the more irksome and also illuminating evenings. Whether we are at a member's house, or we gather around a table in a restaurant, the conversation is lively, the minds are engaged, and the disagreements fly freely.

What makes people, all reading the same material, vary in their likes and dislikes? As a former English major, we were trained to discuss theme, content and style. Our personal preferences had no place in academia, so I often chafe at those who say they dislike a book, because they do not admire the character. It is the darker strains, the sinners and the sorry who often drive the action of the story, so whether we tend to 'like' them or not, they will be with us forever.

While I have my local group, I often venture into other, larger venues, as it is so pleasurable for me to share in the reading experience with others. To this end, I jumped into the ressurrection of Oprah's hugely successful book club. Her first selection, Wild, by Cheryl Strayed is a fascinating read. Depicting a journey through grief that becomes a literal hike along the Pacific Coast Trail, the author captures the experience with breathtaking clarity. As a veteran of long canoe trips myself, and a person who carried a ninety pound pack, I can vouch for the realism involved in every detail. While on those trips through the wilderness of northern Ontario, I often longed to be able to describe the experience. Lacking both the skill and the time to get enough words on paper, my trip journals tend to be patchy and brief. How much can be said about a walk in the woods? In Strayed's case, plenty, it turns out, and my hat goes off to her for managing a feat that has eluded me. I have not, however traveled alone, but even if I were to attempt such a thing, I still feel I would come up short, compared to Wild.

Oprah Winfrey single handedly changed publishing history with her book club. Most of us choose books through word of mouth. Newspapers, magazines, and interviews come next, but no matter what the marketing budget, nothing tops hearing someone describe their experience. Having a book selected by Oprah can be likened to being tapped on the shoulder with a golden wand. Her greatest success lies in getting people who didn't read, or who had stopped reading years ago, back into the joy of curling up with a good book.

Here at this web site, we love to share old favorites and books we are reading, as well as tips about writing and learning the craft. We hope you will visit us often to keep abreast of the cornucopia of books from which to choose. Have fun and let us know what you think.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What Drives You?

When creating characters and designing the direction of the story, every writer must tackle the concept of motivation. The simple formula found in most stories runs along these lines: give the character a desire, figure out what is motivating that person to achieve this goal, put obstacles in their path, and watch them get there in the end. While this may appear to be ridiculously simple, it will keep the reader curious to see how the story pans out.

In the quest to describe characters in terms of goals, I have frequently typed these words into Google: what drives people to succeed? How many times, when engaged in a casual conversation, have you heard a person tell how the great decisions of their lives came to pass? In many cases, a person may have received a great blow, and in their thoughts, they cite that as a reason for the next step.  For instance, the desire to fit in, looms as a great theme in most lives. I recall discussing this with my daughter, as I drove her to school one day. Being that she was in middle school at that particular time in her life, she assured me that in her class, she saw little else. The pecking order of the playground where our flaws, lack of position, and inadequacies are pointed out with great frequency, causes us to form an, 'I'll show them,' attitude. We desire to overcome feelings of inadequacy, and lucky for us, we never seem to run out of them.

Our book club read Behind the Beautiful Forevers this month. The author, Katherine Boo, won the Pulitzer Prize for this outstanding book. While it is a work of non fiction, the staggering descriptive skill, makes the reader absolutely involved in the characters and engrossed in the story. Set in the desperate slums of Mumbai, in a shanty town, by a sewage lake, the garbage pickers fight to maintain their territory in the shadow of the airport and posh, new hotel. Reading while sitting in a comfortable home, in a lovely town, by a beautiful lake, I could not fathom how we could have any driving forces besides putting food on the table and helping those who cannot. The admiration I have for this author who traveled so far afield to understand the dynamic of this group of people, cannot be overstated.

An excerpt from page 35:

" In his first weeks back home, scavenging skills rusty, he took the sandals from the feet of his sleeping father and sold them to Abdul for food. He had consumed five vada pav by the time his father woke to thrash him. Another day, he'd sold his father's cooking pot. His own sandals he'd exchanged for rice, after which there was little left to sell. The hunger cramps could be treated by hits off discarded cigarettes. Lying down also helped. But nothing soothed his apprehension that the hunger was stunting his growth."

Stories of drifters, slackers, and dreamers who suddenly bump into a huge challenge, such as having to fight a war, or cope with a complete change of circumstance, appeal to me too. No matter how adrift a character may seem, they are not without motivation- even if it is to do nothing. When everything changes and they are forced to prove their worth, we often see a hero emerge.  Blockbusters  often feature a single minded protagonist. They are going to reach their goal and phooey on anyone who gets in their way. A more complex story may involve a team player and how they manage to get to the promised land, bringing everyone along with them. The former is easier to write, the latter, more difficult, but if you are a person driven by the relationships you have in your life, you may find it a more interesting story. Jane Austen comes to mind here: in the intertwined family, everyone finds their way, and all is well that ends well.

At the end of the day, what do you want to be known for? Is it money, fame, belonging, recognition for your achievements, or a solid bank of family and friends? According to a quiz I just found on Google, I am driven by relationships. This could explain why I can almost recite Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility , by heart.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Reading at the Cottage

Book stores, along with tables at Walmart and Costco, are filling up with what the publishing industry calls, 'the beach book.' Summer reading for many, involves diving into a page turner, a thriller, or a compelling romance that will enthrall, entertain, but not necessarily edify.
My idea of summer reading is at odds with this marketing ploy.
In my youth, everyone in sundry left the hot city for what we lovingly referred to as cottage country. Summer homes ranged from island abodes, complete with boathouses and servants quarters, to very simple cabins in the bush. Most of these dwellings were either on or near water, where old photographs of forebears lined the walls, all having one aspect in common, that being pictures of  men holding strings of fish. Fresh corn and tomatoes graced every table while the Dad's fired up charcoal grills. As we swam, sailed, rowed and canoed through the blissful warm days, we also read, and read and read. Every cottage had bookshelves stuffed to bursting, featuring paper backs, hard covers, old classics, and everything in between. Hammocks strung between trees and screened in porches with an old day bed in the corner, a quiet spot in the woods, or lying in bed on a rainy day, we all curled up with a good book.
In my case, I reveled in the classics and immersed myself in Shakespeare and Tolstoy. To have hours to read without interruption, is to me, the greatest pleasure known to man. Lucky to be enrolled in a school with a recommended summer reading list, along with required books, I could always be engaged in both something I loved, and something I had to do. During my twelfth summer, I read Jane Eyre for the first time. My hair stood on end from start to finish. The copy had been my mother's, sat on a book shelf beside a north facing window, and was old enough to have engraved illustrations, peppered throughout. The story became even more present to my imagination, as I poured over the pictures.
When we gathered with friends in the evenings, and the barbeque would be going full blast, conversation amongst the 'grown ups' would always involve current books. Guests, coming up for the weekend,  brought a selection, often leaving them for us to enjoy.  A crackling fire in the fire place, and everyone lounging in a comfortable chair, made rainy summer days the best reading climate of all.
Sandra Martin, of Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper, wrote about her ideas on the subject. She said that in the winter, she reads a lot of non fiction, and tackles books regarding subjects she feels she should know more about. In the summer, she reads the books she wanted to have the time for in the winter. She likes to take on the challenge of reading the very best published the year before. To this end, she mentioned one of the best books I have ever read, namely Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. It was during one of those summers up at the lake in my teens, that I first discovered the intrigue of the Tudor years, reading Anne of a Thousand Days.  Mantel, in her Booker prize winning novel, makes you feel as if you are in the story. It pleased me to no end to see readers send word to the newspaper, via the comments, that they too, loved Wolf Hall. I am thrilled to report that a sequel is due out this summer, topping my list, entitled:  Bringing up the Bodies
 Life in North Idaho is cottage country for many and we are always happy to see the return of the snow birds. For those of us lucky to live here year round, we too, see photographs of what the catch of the day looked like in 1910. We too, revel in the waters of lake Coeur d' Alene, and we too, often see people by the water's edge, sitting in a beach chair, reading.
My wish to all in sundry this summer, is to take some time to pick up a never to be forgotten book. Discuss it at dinner parties, at your book club, or with your neighbor over your garden fence. Summer was meant for reading. Enjoy.

Links: The top picture is from Cottage Life Magazine. 140 Year old Cottage is the feature.

The last picture is an island boat house on Lake Joseph, Muskoka.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Thornton WIlder, Hello Dolly & My Cousin, Mal

     What does Thornton Wilder, the musical Hello Dolly!, Coeur d Alene, Idaho and my cousin Mallory Cooney King have in common?  Quite a lot, actually – Wilder, the author of  a Pulitzer Prize winning novel,  The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and two Pulitzer Prize winning plays, The Skin of Our Teeth and Our Town ,  wrote the 1938 farce, The Merchant of Yonkers, which he revised and retitled The Matchmaker in 1955. Hello Dolly! is a musical with lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart based on Wilder’s play, The Matchmaker.   In Coeur d Alene, Hello Dolly ! is one of the musicals highlighted   this season as part  of  Summer Theater  and Mallory, the talented stage performer who starred as Dorothy in last years Wizard of Oz  has a featured role.

     While Wilder's  Merchant of Yonkers was a flop, he   revised his work – expanding the role of Dolly Levi as the brassy widow, and gave it a new title, his play then  became a huge success, not only on Broadway, but on the movie screen as well.
     This should be a lesson for all of us writers.  Don’t be discouraged.  If one source fails, try and try again. Especially if we’re confident we have a story to tell. Write and re-write. We will get it right, and someone eventually, will find delight in the words we share.
     Thornton Wilder (1897 – 1975) was an American playwright and novelist who according to New World Encyclopedia,  “  inspired novels and plays reveal his views of the universal truths in human nature and he often used the same characters in a range of geological and historical periods showing that human experience is similar regardless of time or place.”
     Our Town, a popular play (one of my favorites, maybe because my dad, Ronald W. (Skip) Cooney portrayed the Stage Manager in his Thomas Jefferson High School production, and I remember Grandma telling me  my dad, with his hair colored gray looked so much like Grandpa) set in fictional Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, was inspired by his friend Gertrude Stein, and her novel The Making of Americans. I must admit I only recently learned this, and now look forward to reading Stein’s novel, and learn more about her influence on Wilder.  In Wilder’s Our Town, he clearly shows us the importance of daily routine and everyday life, simple though it may be, and the great blessing we are one to the other.
     What a marvelous body of work Wilder left behind, his legacy is wide and far reaching, his last novel, Theophilus North published in 1973. Still, I wonder if some may have forgotten his huge contribution to the story and success of Hello Dolly! .  With its long reign and many revivals I venture to say if not for Wilder, there would be no Hello Dolly!  
     Thankfully, that’s not the case,  and tomorrow afternoon I'm happy  I'll  be one of  many  sitting in the audience watching   this timeless  musical, and smiling as  my young cousin and other talented members of  Coeur d Alene Summer Theater  sing and dance to  the great numbers of Hello Dolly !   I’ll  also  think of Thornton Wilder, and how his play inspired the story of Dolly Levi to grow to something more than perhaps he could even imagine.

For information about Coeur d Alene  Summer Theater visit

For more about Thornton Wilder visit   

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Dear Diary

    I wonder how many young girls wrote that salutation   in a vinyl covered diary each night before going to bed, then proceeded to write their most secret thoughts, hopes and dreams. Perhaps they shared the moments of their day, or frustration in things not going as planned.   For some, diaries became a treasured, trusted friend to tell all to, knowing judgment would not be made, but a companion where strict confidence was kept. 

    By definition, diary is a daily record, especially a personal record of events, experiences, and observations; a book for keeping a record, a journal   - coming from the Latin, diarium.

    According to M.H. Abrams book, A Glossary of Literary Terms, diary or journal is the day to day record of the events in one’s life that the author has known or witnessed, written for personal use and satisfaction with little or no thought of publication.  Examples like  the 17th century Samuel Pepys come to mind, and The Diary of Anne Frank – hers being one of the most famous diaries, depicting a life in hiding during World War II.

    Another acclaimed  diarist was Virginia Woolf, whose diary was extremely personal and documented each day. She began keeping a diary at the age of 15, and her family called her the “unofficial family historian”. Eventually her diaries were published and give us an insight to the great writer she was. Through her diaries we see how she feels and how she develops character for her profound  novels.
    Other famous   diaries  are  ‘Early Diary of Anais Nin and Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, and political diaries by important figures such as President Harry Truman.  While most presidents keep diaries, especially during their term in office, President Truman would write comments and notes throughout the day in his diary, giving us a glimpse of  his true thoughts and emotions, and how he felt about a wide range of subjects, both personal and political.

    There are also spiritual diaries,  The Genesee Diary - a Report from a Trappist Monastery by Henri J.M Nouwen.  According to Publisher’s Weekly, Nouwen, a Catholic priest “gives an extraordinary account of a man seeking inner peace and total commitment to God….. a fine portrait of cloistered life, a beautifully written account of one man’s soul – searching.”

    Diary as story also brings vitality to popular, contemporary fictional book and movies i.e.  Bridget Jones Diary and Diary of a Wimpy Kid

    One  great thing about diary is it provides dates, and feeling, and names and places of a given moment. Even if one sided, diary tells a story about the person writing the diary, and who  and what they're writing about.   Diary often leads to autobiography and memoir; It is a record of  the life and times  of  the writer, artist, politician, friend, family member. 

    Keeping a personal diary  can be  a valuable tool for writers as it helps foster the  discipline and routine of  writing daily.  Reading one of the many published diaries available  can  also be  a good tool for writers , especially those writing biography.  Diary is often the first step to good storytelling.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Grandma Cooney & The Dictionary

 The other day I was thinking about my Grandmother Cooney and the dictionary. I was about 14 years old when Grandma and I were visiting another family relative, and remember Grandma, who loved to read, saying  to me, “Whenever staying at someone’s home, and I can’t find a book to my liking, I pick up the dictionary to read through it.”   

I can vividly picture Grandma taking the dictionary from my uncle’s shelf, walking to the small sofa in the family room and randomly opening to the letter R and reading aloud the meaning of   ren-i-tent, Rennes, re-port-age.  Grandma and the dictionary had a lot in common – both were a well spring of information. Grandma was a lover of words, and keen on learning something new every day, a trait she passed on to her grandchildren.

I must confess, while I wasn’t totally engrossed with reading the dictionary then, today I have a great respect and cherish everything the dictionary offers, and like my grandmother, enjoy reading through the pages to learn new words.  In fact, I own several editions, including The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, The Random House Dictionary, The Readers Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary, Webster’s Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, The Complete Rhyming Dictionary, The Dictionary of Difficult Words, Dictionary of Thought, and Biblical Dictionary.  Most recently, I have added a dictionary app to my iPad, and particularly enjoy reading ‘Word of the Day’.  Today, agnate (ag-neyt): a relative whose connection is traceable exclusively through males.  A word I was previously unfamiliar with. My grandmother would be proud – I learned something new today.

The first recorded dictionary dates back to Sumerian times, and the Akkadain Empire (2300 B.C.)  where cuneiform tablets with bilingual wordlists were discovered in Ebla (modern Syria). There are early Arabic dictionaries, and European dictionaries, but it wasn’t until Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1775) that a faithful, dependable dictionary was produced.  Previous dictionaries were arranged by topic, which meant all plants, all birds, etc.  would be grouped together. Johnson’s dictionary was arranged alphabetically, and is considered the first modern dictionary. It remained the standard for over 150 years.

In 1806, an American lexicographer, textbook pioneer and English spelling reformer named Noah Webster (1758 – 1843) published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. It took him 27 years to complete. According to Wikipedia, Webster believed that English spelling rules  were unnecessarily complex, so his dictionary introduced  American English spellings ,replacing ‘colour’ with ‘color’, ‘wagon’ for ‘waggon’ and  ‘center’ instead of ‘centre’.  Webster sometimes called the ‘Father of American scholarship and education was outspoken in favor of the new constitution. His name, today remains synonymous with ‘dictionary’ – by its own definition  a reference book containing an explanatory alphabetical list of words, as  A book listing  a comprehensive  or restricted  selection of the words of language, identifying  usually the phonetic, grammatical , and semantic value of each word  with etymology, citations , and usage guidance, and other formations.

According to some scholar’s,  writers and poets owe a lot to Webster’s Dictionary citing many have used the dictionary, often drawing upon his (Webster’s) lexicography in order to express their word play.

As a writer, I would be lost without the dictionary, not only in searching a definition of a particular word, but for expanding my vocabulary, and description for a certain character, place or thing.   I encourage all writers to keep a dictionary nearby,  and for all readers to   follow my grandmother's  example, if no other book to your liking,  pick up the dictionary  for the fun of  reading  through it!

 ** For more about Noah Webster visit

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Write it Like I Say It

My sister’s mother-in-law wanted her life story written “exactly as I tell it to you.” My question is: Is this possible?  Technically the answer is “yes” but in reality it does not really work that easily. Writing is not speech written down. Take into account these differences in speaking and writing. It may help you to decipher why it is often hard to write.


  • Speaking is not learned; everybody speaks without instructions.
  • Speech is usually spontaneous and is peppered with idioms and dialects.
  • Speaking is casual, often in a more relaxed atmosphere “Wanna meet for coffee?”
  • We are able to judge the listener’s response and adjust our conversation accordingly.
  • We can rectify misunderstandings or mistakes immediately and add more information.
  • Tonal connotations and pauses convey meanings that are difficult to replicate in writing.
  • Conversations are most often not recalled verbatim.
  • Content is different in speaking. We use “Um…” “Like…”and “Ya’ know…”
  • Complete sentences are not necessary in speech.
  • Speaking is more expressive and accompanied by shrugs, varied facial expressions or a raised eyebrow. We get clues about what we said via the listener’s body language.
  • Little or no time is needed to prepare to talk to a friend or a colleague.
  • We shift our language to fit the situation, e.g., more formal in a work environment and more casual in social situations.
  • Using charm, charisma and wit; a speaker can say little of substance and receive generous applause.
  • Speaking requires use of the mouth and ears. Conversing involves at least one other person and adds the use of the eyes.


§         Is a learned process; it does not come naturally.
§         Writing is a labor intensive process.
§         Proper grammar and sentence structures are required; few contractions are used.
§         We have one opportunity to make our point.
§         We use more words to make this point because we must describe details and support every aspect of it.
§         Writers pre-identify their reading audience and tailor the writing style and words accordingly.
§         Complete sentences are composed with a more complex structure.
§         Writing can be in the passive voice.
§         Writing depends upon a more precise choice of words and uses punctuation marks in place of pauses.
§         Our work can be read again and dissected; it can be visited with complete accuracy a year, ten or one hundred years later.
§         Reading takes different and higher cognitive skills than speaking and listening.
§         Writing requires hands and eyes and involves only one person at a time.

The final conclusion is that writing is much harder and more complex than speaking. But you knew that.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Scrap Booking As A Way to Writing

Friends always say, “I don’t know what to write about” and then ask me where I get my ideas for stories, blogs or a book. Do you “scrap book” using special printed papers, embellishments and photos? Do you include a cute or wise caption? If so, you have all the makings for a story you can write!

Looking at the scrap book page of your son’s first day of kindergarten, I am sure you can remember his excitement, or apprehension, how you helped him choose the clothes he was going to wear or the struggle you had trying on school clothes at the store when all he wanted to do was play outside. Maybe you remember your own first day of kindergarten. These are kernels of stories that just need to be expanded.

Your grandmother’s 90th birthday, a family vacation, your honeymoon or an average summer evening with friends around the outside deck dining table, all cataloged in your scrapbook present an endless supply of story materials. You can use the picture to imagine not your son’s first day, not your first day of kindergarten but a different young child, a composite born and named in your mind who has a story to tell.

Your grandmother’s 90th birthday party celebration pictures may trigger wondering about what things will be like when you are ninety years old. What will the world look like? Where will your be and what will you be doing? Do you want to live to be 90? Any of these would make marvelous stories.

Your story does not have to be long. When challenged to write a six-word story, Ernest Hemingway thought, drank another beer and said, “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn” and won the bet without discussion. Your story can be 500 words to 5,000. It does not matter. What matters is that you have the visualization, the images, opinions and feelings about all sorts of subjects and that you write them down.

There are numerous approaches to writing of any kind. One is brainstorming. Using your reference picture, write down all words that come to mind in three minutes. It will show you what you feel about the picture and thus what direction you could take for your story. A second method is to write a basic outline using incomplete or complete sentences as you wish. You can fill in a detailed outline once you decide this is the story you want to write. A third method is to use post-a-note stickies and write different aspect of what you feel when you see the picture, one to each piece of paper. Afterwards line them up on your desk or a wall and place them in various spots and in different orders and eventually a layout will develop that makes sense to you. Different colored, lined index cards serve the same purpose. You write your story using those thoughts as topic sentences or fillers. 

Writing comes more easily than you think. Your sentences do not have to be complete sentences or the spelling correct. Your computer, spouse or high school child can “put things in order” once you have the thoughts down if you desire. What is important is finding that you can write. Once done, writing stories from your scrap book of pictures or from the scrap book in your mind are all waiting to be tapped. Think of how much fun you will have putting a story to those pictures and what a legacy you will leave!

Monday, June 11, 2012

How to Write Haiku

Writing North Idaho is currently running a haiku poetry contest. Deadline is June 15. Prizes available. How to enter is on the sidebar in the upper left. We would love to read your poems!

Haiku is an ancient form of Japanese poetry. It generally consists of three lines. The first line has 5 syllables (not words), the second line has seven syllables, and the last line has five. If you read the English translation of great Japanese haiku poets, you will not find this rhythm because of the differences in languages but the essence that goes along with the feeling of haiku is there.

How to write haiku by Jenny Hudock
1. Focus on nature and seasonal imagery (usually).
2. Made up of three lines
3. Lines traditionally follow a 5, 7, 5 beat pattern.
4. Add a reflective pause.
5. Avoid rhyme.
6. Invoke the senses.
7. Show don't tell.
8. Read haiku poetry, it helps.

Japanese poet Bunson
The sea at springtime.
All day it rises and falls,
yes, rises and falls.

Concept of America by Udiah
People united
To secure their liberty
Out of many, one

By Oshima Ryota
from the long hallways
rows of people rise
in the morning haze

Sunflowers by Helina Basic
Sunflower grow tall
Lift your head to bright sunshine
Mother Nature's child

Butterflies by Helina Basic
Flutter in the sky
On wings of many colors
Land upon flowers

Friday, June 8, 2012

Why dancing is good for your writing

How's your haiku coming along? There is only ONE WEEK LEFT to enter your original haiku in the WNI Can You Haiku contest! For those who've taken a stab at writing haiku, we'd love to hear about your experience. Is it easy? Hard? Do you find the boundary of the 5-7-5 syllable pattern, restrictive or freeing? We encourage even the non-poets among us to try writing haiku. You might be surprised at how fun it is! Send your favorites (up to 3) to by midnight, June 15, 2012, and you could win a prize! (As always, there's no cost to enter.)

The other thing that's been on my mind this week is, of all things, dancing. In preparation for leading a line-dance session at a retreat this weekend (okay, scoff if you must, but SOME physical activity is needed after all that time folded into chairs, listening to speakers,  and eating, eating, eating....!), I've been punctuating my writing and editing days with bursts of cuttin' the rug. As a result, I've concluded that dancing is the perfect antidote to hours of sitting in front of the computer. Here's why:

*We tend to write and edit in private, which means we can dance in private, too, which means nobody's laughing at us, like they did when we attempted to do the Electric Slide at Cousin Tillie's wedding.

*Long hours spent in front of the computer or hunched over a writing desk curves our bodies into an unattractive and unhealthy C-shape. After a while, we start to ossify. Not only does it just plain feel good to get up and move once in a while, but it's beneficial for our joints and ligaments and internal organs and circulation and probably some other stuff, too.

*The weather's been lousy all week here in North Idaho. Hiking, biking, and even gardening have no appeal, but dancing is a weatherproof activity.

*Experts suggest that deskbound workers get up and move every so often. Yeah, right. In the middle of an intense writing session, who has time for that? You do, when the length of one song is a measly three or four minutes. Look for a song you like that "has a good beat, you can dance to it," as they used to say on American Bandstand (RIP Dick Clark). Here's a good one--just be careful not to hurt yourself. :-)

*Music is good for your brain and gives it a rest from all that wordy-work. And you might even get some fabulous insight or inspiration while you're tripping the light fantastic, your mind free to float at will.

So step away from the keyboard, crank the tunes, and start bobbing and weaving. You'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Please Hold...Good things come (sooner or later, but mostly later) to those who wait

Folk wisdom tells us that a watched pot never boils. Meaning, if you set the pot of water on the stove and then stand and stare at it, eager for the bubbles to appear, time drags and you begin to despair of boiling ever happening. On the other hand, if you set the pot on the stove and go off and do something else, guaranteed that water will be boiling in the blink of an eye (or perhaps even boiling over . . . but distractibility is another topic for another day).

Yesterday afternoon I spent two (2) hours trying to track down one (1) historical fact that I need for my novel. The longer the fact eluded me, the more its importance seemed to grow, until at last it felt like the entire trajectory of the story hinged on getting this one little fact exactly right.

In the end, this was not a terribly productive use of time. Two hours of rooting around in the farthest, dustiest corners of the Internet still did not yield the the fact I needed, so finally I had to break down and e-mail an inquiry to someone who is in a better position than I am to find the answer. Which means even more waiting, as I obsessively watch my inbox for a reply. (And maddeningly, to paraphrase a popular coffee-mug slogan, poor planning on my part does not constitute an emergency on theirs.) Meanwhile, two hours spent hunting an obscure fact was two hours spent NOT making progress on my story.

Last night I found myself in a sort of a funk about the whole thing. After I'd thought about it, I realized that the entire problem could be distilled down to patience. As in, I need some, and I need it NOW (another bit of coffee-mug philosophy . . . when did coffee mugs become founts of all wisdom?)

Patience is a virtue. I get that. Yet how often do we as writers find our patience tested? Daily, it seems. Maybe we're waiting for a reply to an important research question, or waiting for feedback from our critique partner, or waiting for a response from an agent or editor, monitoring the inbox with half our brain while the other half silently curses the publishing industry for its notoriously glacial pace, leaving no brain left for the actual writing.

The thing is, the obsessively monitored in-box isn't so different from that watched pot. The one never boils, and the other never yields the "From" address or subject line that you're dying to see.

So today, while I wait for an answer to my question, I am closing my inbox to focus my mind on other things. I will not check e-mail again until I break for lunch at noon. Or maybe 11:45. Okay, 11:30, tops. In the meantime, I have plugged in "XXX" where the missing information needs to go in my novel, and I am pressing forward with other parts of the story.

What's testing your writerly patience these days?

Monday, June 4, 2012

HUNTED: A true crime story of the Inland Northwest

The Bonner County (Idaho) Historical Society has just published its first book! HUNTED is a true-crime chronicle penned by the late Dale Selle. Selle became intrigued by a crime that had occurred in the sleepy North Idaho town of Hope way back in 1923, when a grocery store owner was tragically shot dead during a robbery. When Selle started looking into the old story, his research unearthed a widespread crime wave perpetrated upon the Inland Northwest by an escaped convict and his sidekicks. HUNTED is the story of the men, the crimes, and the determined effort by law enforcement to track them down and bring them to justice.

Selle was a meticulous researcher and chronicler who valued impeccable historical accuracy over penning a page-turner. As a result, at times this book reads more like a police procedural or journalistic account than a suspenseful nail-biter of a crime story. Still, I found the details of rural detective work fascinating, especially back in the day when state-of-the-art technology meant a telegraph and possibly--if one was really on the cutting edge--a telephone.

HUNTED is available for purchase at the Bonner County History Museum (611 S. Ella, Sandpoint, 208-263-2344) and at some retailers including Vanderford's and the Corner Bookstore (both in Sandpoint). If you're interested in crime, law enforcement, and the history of the Inland Northwest, it's worth hunting down a copy of HUNTED.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Be the Architect of Your Novel


Part three of a three-part series

By T. Dawn Richard

Author of the May List Mystery Series

Before building a house it’s important to decide where you want to live, the size, style, and use of the house, how many people will live in the house, and how it will be decorated. When writing a novel you also need to determine the genre, the span of the story, how many characters will “live” in your book (or die, if you’re writing murder mysteries) and how you will decorate it with carefully selected words to evoke strong emotions.

The plans are drawn, either in intimate detail or more loosely written as a roadmap to help you move from beginning to end of your story and then it’s time to build. Sometimes you will find it necessary to tear down a few walls or restructure your novel but you finally finish the story and you’re ready to become the real estate agent of your novel. In other words, it’s time to find a publisher.

When I wrote my first novel ten years ago I knew little about the way the publishing world works, and there are still aspects of publishing that mystify me; but there is one thing that hasn’t changed—the publishing business is just that, a business.

In my first contract I noticed that my book was called “The Work” which meant my baby which I had toiled to create, something I had brought to life, was now a piece of property looking for a buyer. And that’s okay. Writing is work. And writers should be compensated for their hard work. Something writers struggle with is getting paid for doing something they love; something so very personal that it’s an extension of who they are, and many writers are so eager to see their work in print that they jump at the first chance to publish.

Not so fast. Imagine spending two years designing and building a house, and when it’s finished, standing back to admire your work. And then … you hand over the keys to the first person who says, “I love it!”

A good real estate agent studies the market, mows the lawn, polishes the brass, vacuums the carpets and lights an apple pie candle to entice buyers and to encourage the best price for the house. Writers, too, must present their work in the best possible light. Study the market, understand what agents and publishers are looking for, polish that manuscript so there are absolutely no typos or loose ends, edit, edit and edit again, and then have a well-trusted writer friend look through your manuscript to be sure it’s ready to present to the professionals.

Things have changed since the days of typing up a manuscript (complete with coffee stains on the cover sheet) wrapping it in brown paper and mailing it off hoping it will land on an enthusiastic editor’s desk. And things continue to change rapidly. Now many agents and editors will accept submissions by email. And an old fashioned typewritten or hand-written manuscript is seen as an amateur attempt. Computers have taken over the world. Personally, I have found it to make life a whole lot easier.

If you are not sure of correct manuscript formatting rules, refer to guidelines which can readily be found on the Internet. And do follow the rules. Editors are pleased when they see you have taken the time to learn how to format a manuscript correctly. Usually the standard format is Times New Roman font with a 12 point type, one inch margins all the way around, double-spaced, with chapter headings about a third of the way down the page. Five space indent at the beginning of each paragraph. You can set your computer to do this automatically. It’s easier to set all of these things before you begin to write your novel than to go back and make changes after.

Once you’re confident your novel is in great shape. Do you look for an agent or go directly to a publishing house? Since many publishers prefer to work with an agent, and some won’t even consider a novel that is un-agented, it’s not a bad idea to find representation. The American Authors Representatives (AAR) organization is a great place to look for an agent since they are held to a very high standard. You should never pay an agent to represent you. Agents work on commission and if they don’t sell your work, they don’t get paid, which means they are very motivated to sell your novel.

But finding an agent isn’t an easy task and it takes confidence and patience. First, you must find the agent who represents the type of novel you have written. If you look at the AAR site on the Internet, you will see a long list of agents and what they will accept, whether or not they represent the genre of work you have finished (and by all means, finish your book before looking for an agent) and they may or may not give guidelines for formatting.

Some want to see a query letter only, or the first few chapters of your novel, or they may want the whole thing.   If you can imagine, agents are inundated with mountains of submissions. It is impossible to read everything, so your first pages must draw them in and make them want to read more. Make those first pages count! If the agent only wants to see a query, do your research and learn how to write a query letter that will make an agent salivate. First impressions are so important! If your novel fails to interest an agent the first time, it’s unlikely they will look at it a second time.

Good agents are invaluable. They have relationships with publishers, know the market, and can understand and negotiate contracts. I highly recommend learning about the agent’s role before even considering an agent. A book by Richard Curtis entitled “How to Be Your Own Literary Agent” should be a must-read for all aspiring novelists. Martin P. Levin also wrote a book called “Be Your Own Literary Agent” and although these books were written in 2003 and 2002 respectively, they include timely information. Another book helpful to writers is “Editors on Editing: What writers need to know about what editors do” by Gerald C. Gross. 1994.

The more you, the author, can learn about the publishing industry, the better equipped you will be to tackle the market.

Often, the question arises about copyright and what an author should do to protect work before submitting to agents or editors. I don’t practice law, but my research found a site which is worth visiting. It states that in the United States, since 1978 there has been no formal requirement to mark your work with the copyright symbol, in fact, there are no formalities at all. Copyright is created in a work once it is fixed into a tangible medium of expression. This means your novel is protected the second you hit the “save” button. However, registering your work does provide you with extra protections. A work is protected by copyright the moment it is created, but if you want to enforce that copyright in a court, you need to register it. For the full article, visit

I feel I've barely scratched the surface of how an author can go from idea to book-on-the-shelf. Writing is exciting, frustrating, exhilarating, heart-breaking and cathartic. Going from thinking of your book as a work of art to a “product” can feel uncomfortable (and make you a little crazy) but never fear, understanding the business will ease some of the angst.

After the sale? (high fives and celebration all around) it’s time to go out and market your work. The more creative you can be, the better, because publishers rarely foot the bill for authors to promote their books unless you are one of the lucky few enormously successful best-selling authors, which I believe you can be! And why not?

One last note: Don’t forget there are dozens of ways to sell one piece of work. Books can be sold separately as hard cover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, large print, audio, e-books, motion picture, book club, etc. Each separate contract will garner a new advance and royalties. This is where an agent will protect you and negotiate in your best interest. Don’t forget to look for a reversion clause in your contract in the event the publisher stops printing your book. You want to get your rights back after a time. Whether you sell all rights or only specific rights is a personal and individual decision, but know your options.

From concept to design, to hard work, and finally to finished product! Get out your signing pen. You’re an author!

Spokane author T. Dawn Richard is a full time writer and author of the May List Mystery Series. Her first book, Death for Dessert, was published in 2003, followed byDigging up Otis, and A Wrinkle in Crime. She completed her fourth book in the series, Par for the Corpse, in 2009. Kirkus Reviews called her "A kind of geriatric Janet Evanovich" because of her quirky senior citizen characters. Richard has recently completed two screenplays and has several other projects in the works. Her books are available on Amazon.