Sunday, December 20, 2009

Logic 101

All writing, on some level or another, must make sense. Even if we are writing science fiction or fantasy, we must maintain a level of logic that doesn’t jar the mind too much, or the reader is likely to reject what we say. That is not to say that everything has to be proven in a scientific laboratory, but it must hold to the ‘rules’ that apply to the world we have created. One of my early encounters with reality was an exercise I wrote in a short story course which was supposed to show a simple incident where two people were doing something—it didn’t matter what—that gave the reader a glimpse of who they were, what they were doing, and where the story might go from there. I was going to play it safe and write something very simple. My writing coach gave me a ‘C-’ and said he did not believe it. The scene involved two men sitting at a small table in the outdoor section of a restaurant, drinking coffee. They sipped, enjoyed the fresh spring air, and heard the muted sounds of early morning traffic. How could you not believe that this could happen? Believability involves at least two things. It must flow from the characters in a way that is logical, and it must be what we (the reader) would expect them to do. This is not to say that we can’t have strange twist, but the reader needs to have an Aha! moment where he/she thinks, I should have seen that coming. Mark Twain made an interesting observation when he said, “It’s not what you don’t know that can come back to haunt your, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t true.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What are they thinking?


Obscenity, vulgarity, and bad taste — do we really need it in our literature?

There is an astonishing amount of good literature available on the Internet, and a lot of it is free. I like to browse websites and blogs for some of the best of it. Recently, I found a well written story. The suspense and plotting was just about perfect, and I was anticipating a great ending—which came in the last line. I was not pleased, however, with some of the language in the story. Many of the sentences were augmented with four letter words, such as in ‘what the ****.’ I could have lived with one or two, but this occurred in almost every short paragraph. When I suggested that this did not add to the story, most of the other readers disagreed. Words like honest, descriptive, and true to life, popped up in their responses. My question to you is this: Are our readers intelligent enough they can get by without giving them a detailed description of all of our character’s body functions? If you are expecting a moral lesson in any of this, you are going to be disappointed. Morals, or the lack of them, is not the issue I am addressing here. It is simply a matter of looking at ‘honesty’ in a different way. Many blacksmiths, sailors, and construction workers have an ‘honest’ way of expressing themselves, and the rest of us know to move back a few feet when they become unspooled. From having read tens of thousands of books and stories, I have come to believe that the very mention of some human condition can convey all of the emotional flags we need to raise in a particular dramatic situation. As any editor can tell you, the correct word is what triggers human emotion or perception. The sprinkling of four letter words is the literary equivalent of using triple explanation marks at the end of a sentence — and you don’t want me to do that!!! Now do you!!!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Writing Interesting Things

Writers need to write about interesting things. I hope you spend some of your time in research that might be useful in your next writing project. Writers should be inquisitive and this inquisitiveness should lead us to discover the unusual things around us. There are many books that are anything but interesting. Some of them contain well thought out plots that keep us turning the pages well into the night, yet we are unable to remember the story the next day. Dull stories have a way of falling out of our head as soon as we finish the last page. I love writing suspense stories, and in each of my books you are likely to learn something you didn’t know before. I try to incorporate interesting details into a story in such a way that it will make the reader anxious for more, but do so without detracting from the plot. Who would want to read The Great Gatsby if it didn’t contain the many thousands of details of what life was like among the super rich during Fitzgerald’s era? Tom Clancy pushed his novels to the top of the best seller list by letting us know where all of the buttons and switches are located on the latest super weapons. Here is one of the little items of information I ran across today in my endless quest for just one more item to place in my storehouse of trivia. I am surprised that someone hasn’t already used this in a movie. The young woman in this article is called a ‘wine angel.’ She is pulled up and down the side of a wine tower dressed in a catsuit, while suspended from a cable with a rock climbers harness. She locates the proper bottle of wine and carries it down to the customer. You can’t see the floor at the bottom of the tower, but the hero of your next novel might be seated there just waiting for you to motivate him.

Follow this link.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cartoons - Literature at its best!

I ran across an article a few days ago where the author was attempting to define literature and classify what he considered to be the best things ever written. I wasn’t surprised to see a large number of classic novels, a number of modern works from the New York Times Best Seller List, and some obscure novels like The Store. The Store never made any list, but did capture the Pulitzer Prize and break ground for things to come in the world of literature. I was a little shocked that the writer left out one of the best forms of literature around, or it used to be around, until cost-cutting did away with many of the daily newspapers. I’m referring to the comic section of the newspaper that was a part of our daily lives since the early part of the 20th century. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t read the comics, laugh over the funny ones, and wait anxiously to see what Luann, Nancy, or Dick Tracy might do next. Unless you live in or near a large metropolitan area, you no longer received a daily newspaper. You are, no doubt, suffering along with the rest of us, wondering what the gang in Peanuts is doing today. I was delighted when I discovered a website where all of my favorite comics are available on a daily basis. There are about one hundred comic strips on the site and it is free. You might want to add this website to your favorites. Click on the link below.

Daily Comics

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Great Children's Author

I read a wide variety of books, although my favorite type of literature is suspense. It is always a treat to pick up a book in another genre and find something stimulating and interesting. Sevetlana Kovalkova-McKenna is the author of several books for children. Her stories are the type of books you want to buy for your own kids. She studied Journalism and Broadcasting at Moscow State University in Russia, and has a liberal arts degree from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is not only a writer with great talent, she is also an artist who illustrates her own books. After reading my review of Kaitlyn and the Secrets of the Sea, I hope you will add it to your Christmas list for your own children to enjoy.

Reading Kaitlyn and the Secrets of the Sea, carries me back to a magical time when my daughter was young and we spent time reading to each other. The story of Kaitlyn’s adventure under the sea is suited for preteen children, but those who are much younger will enjoy a parent or an older family member reading it to them. Sevetlana Kovalkova-McKenna weaves a magical spell for those who enjoy a modern fairytale. It is reminiscent of the classic stories of yesteryear, but suited for our modern world. The story elements are strong, the characters intriguing, and the lessons worth remembering. There are many of us who believe in magic, but you will wonder as you read this wonderful story, if the author knows something that has escaped the rest of us. I highly recommend this book.

This book is available at

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Child Abuse

Tags: child abuse, crime, thriller, mystery.

Statistical evidence reveals a shocking truth about America. Child abuse is at epidemic proportions and society seems unable, or unwilling, to do anything about it. Studies have suggested that one in four girls are sexually abused while they are growing up. Divorce, problems with our school systems, and absentee parents, makes the situation more difficult. There are far too many authority figures who prey upon our youth, while children find themselves powerless to resist. Child abuse is not a subject any of us are comfortable with, but it accomplishes nothing to bury our head in the sand and pretend it will go away. My latest novel, ‘Innocent’ is not the kind of book I would ordinarily read, and it is unlike anything I have written before. Some people might be disturbed by the content, while others will realize that the hard, cold wind of reality, will sometimes drive the smog away and clear the air.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day

Tags: American history, Christopher Columbus, holidays.

Whenever a holiday rolls around, we usually focus briefly on the person or event the holiday is supposed to commemorate. Holidays that celebrate the lives or accomplishments of individuals are especially interesting. Many of these historical figures are bigger than life and the known ‘facts’ often do not always fit reality. Shortly after his death, George Washington was the benefactor of exaggerated accounts intended to make him bigger than life. In our own time we have seen the same thing happen with Elvis and Michael Jackson. Each historical figure has their own list of facts and myths that shadow the reality of who they really were. Now that we are celebrating Columbus Day, it is interesting to examine a few of the myths surrounding Christopher Columbus and the time in which he lived. One is the theory that ships did not sail far from some known land mass because they were afraid they would fall over the edge of a flat earth. Once you examine ancient literature, you start to wonder if people ever believed the world was flat. You only have to stand on a beach and watch a vessel disappear over the horizon to see that this is not true. Greek mathematicians were able to calculate the circumference of the earth in ancient times, and arrived astonishing close to modern scientific measurements. It is interesting to note that the first known representation of a round earth was made by Crates of Mailus in what is now Turkey around 150 BC. Another depiction of a curving earth can still be viewed in the Naples Museum in Italy. It is part of a sculpture called the Farnese Atlas, and was created in 150AD. The first terrestrial globe that attempts to show the earth in its entirety, was made by Martian Behaim in 1474. While it is inaccurate by as much as 16 degrees in certain locations, it is interesting to note that this was 18 years before Columbus discovered America. The human race has always been restless, wandering the face of the earth for untold centuries before the official discoverers arrived. Recently, skeletons of Caucasians that date to more than 40,000 years ago have been found in graves in the Pacific Northwest, in Illinois, and in South Carolina. Our hats should still be off to Christopher Columbus for his role in the ‘discovery’ of the New World, but we should not forget those who went before him.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Great First Sentence

You can always tell when a writer has reached best seller status by looking at the prominent way in which the author’s name is presented on the front cover of a novel. Dick Francis, Robert Crais, or Barbara Delinsky’s name will always appear in large letters that will almost crowd the rest of the graphics off the page. But what about the things we see inside the covers. While fonts, white space and artwork are important, editors tell us there is nothing like a great first line to capture the reader’s attention. Most writers are very conscious of first lines, and often look with envy at the work of someone else who is the master of a carefully crafted phrase. Here is the way Barbara Delinsky starts Facets:

‘Of all the things he’d done to her in the past, of all the things he hadn’t done or either might have or should have, his betrayal now was the cruelest.’

While I am a great Delinsky fan, I hadn’t intended to read that particular book until I read than first line. Who is this idiot, I asked myself, who has caused such mind-numbing pain. You can feel her suffering and rage in the choice of words, and in the complex way in which she expressed it.

Robert Crais immediately captured my attention in Chasing Darkness. The first line reads:

‘Beakman and Trenchard could smell the fire—it was still a mile away, but a sick desert wind carried the promise of hell.’

Dick Francis has created a lot of memorable lines, but I like this one best:

‘I do not like my father’s fifth wife.’

A good first line, a warm cup of coffee, and a glowing fire in the fireplace. What more could anyone ask?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My New Novel Now Available On Amazon

It is always a thrill for an author when a new novel becomes available in the bookstores. This book is a change of pace for me because it involves a heinous crime. This book is not for the squeamish.

A phone call in the early hours of the morning shatters the tranquility of Sheriff Daniel Barrett's household when he finds out that the father of his fourteen-year-old daughter's best friend has been the victim of a brutal homicide. Viewing the body at the scene of the crime convinces Barrett that there is a monster loose in their town, and deranged killer is poised to strike again. Barrett is in a race against time with a lab full of evidence that seems to lead nowhere, and a growing suspicion that everything is more complicated than it seems.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Librarians - what they have meant to me.

Tags: Librarian, books, reading, literature.

When I was in grammar school we had a librarian who run everything with quiet efficiency. She did not seem to be overly aware of the different students, and even the ones of us who haunted the library were just so many nameless children. At the beginning of the year, when I reached the eighth grade, I learned that we had a new librarian. Her name, according to the memo that circulated the first day at school, was Miss Curry. Before the end of the proceeding year, I had been placed on a ‘list’ in the library along with some other troublemakers. My problem was the fact that I was reading too many books, and someone in the school administration office decided that it wasn’t a good idea from an academic standpoint. I was limited to one book per week, and everything was checked against an approved reading list. I had read one of Jessie Stuart’s books, but was banned from reading the others until I reached high school. I had read all of the books on the grade school list, and was reading some of them for the second time.

When I made my first trip to the library, I decided I would be polite, introduce myself to Miss Curry, and use the same wily skills I had used on the previous librarian to convince her that I should be allowed to read Ben Hur. I waited until after lunch, gave myself a pep talk and tried to calm my nerves. I forced myself to the head of the line and entered the library. I came to a halt just inside the door, staring. Miss Curry saw my hesitation and came slowly toward me. Curry was incredibly old by my eighth grade standard, and had a striking resemblance, both in dress and appearance, to Minerva McGonagall, the headmistress at Harry Potter’s school at Hogwarts. I could feel my heart sinking. Her face was stern and unsmiling. She asked my name. I finally managed to tell her and saw her chin lift slightly. “Ah, yes,” she said. “I have you on my list.”

The other students in my eighth grade group quickly selected a book and went through the checkout procedure while I hunted frantically for something I hadn’t read. “Come here, young man,” she said. I was afraid to look directly at her but I did as she commanded. She led me down the stacks to one of the sections of wall shelves that had previously held some pieces of pottery and useless displays. She waved her hand at the rows of books then looked at me again. “This is part of my personal library,” she said. My eye quickly fell on Carl Sandberg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln. I ran my hand along the covers and could feel my fingers tingle. “These books belong to me, and they aren’t subject to the library checkout rules,” she said. “They are reserved for the more mature students . . . like yourself.”

This was the beginning of a personal and special relationship between us. Miss Curry was a published author, an avid reader, and personally acquainted with Carl Sandberg, Jessie Stuart, and William Faulkner. As I continued my efforts to write something worthwhile, Miss Curry became my most knowledgeable critic. Today, whenever I tackle a difficult writing project, I can still hear her gentle voice ringing in my ears. “Never give up, never give up, never give up . . .”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why Kids Like to Read

I arrived rather late to an Internet discussion about children’s books and what attracts children to a certain type of story. There was a general agreement that the younger ones were attracted as much by the colorful pictures as they were by the story. It is my personal feeling that a book won’t hold the attention of the younger ones unless it involves both.

I am one of those adults who is blessed (or cursed) with a memory that goes back into early childhood. I can still remember the spine-tingling anticipation of settling back and reading a story for the first (second, fifth, or the hundredth) time. It becomes even more interesting when I analyze my feeling and try to discover what it was that pulled me into that particular story. I think the real key to writing a good story is giving the child a sense of involvement. I have a vivid memory of reading Peter Rabbit for the first time and discovering that animals were ‘people’ in the world of literature. Our garden was only a short distance behind our house and the fence looked a great deal like the one in the story book. I also remember carrying my copy of Sammy Jay to the edge of the woods and looking up into the limbs, hoping that in some magical way I would be able to engage one of my feathered friends in conversation. There were slowly moving streams, wooded hilltops, and fields in my world, and I hoped to encounter the same kind of adventures that engaged Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and the rest of their friends. Books were a magical portal I could step through and find adventuresome things among the commonplace.

Writers of children’s fiction are somewhat envious of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but many of them are looking in the wrong place for the secret of her success. I did not understand it until I saw Rowling on television signing copies of her book. The children were lined up, each of them hugging a copy of Harry Potter as they slowly inched along. The camera focused on one little girl. When it came her turn, she slid the book across to Rowling who focused her full attention on what the little girl was saying. While the camera captured the incident in a very poigent fashion, I could not hear the earnest conversation. I have no doubt that Rowling was intently interested in what the little girl was saying. Unless we are still attuned to the child inside of us, what we write is likely to fall flat on the written page.

So what do children lack in their world that we can give to them in our stories? Adventure comes high on the list, and the second is respect. Did you notice how many people addressed Harry Potter as Sir? In today’s world, children are coddled and praised, but seldom respected. There is a subtle difference and good children’s literature must contain some of the latter if it is to be attuned to the proper wavelength. Children want a spell they can cast, a secret formula, a decoded map, a weapon—or any other kind of power that makes them feel special. They want to be recognized by adults for their achievements. They want to know that their effort made a difference.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Only Thing We Have to Fear, Is Fear Itself

It would be difficult to find a story where fear did not play an active role in the plot. Fear comes in many different forms depending on the story. Even if your novel involves a hardboiled hero who can face any kind of danger without flinching, the absence of fear in his behavior is nothing more than another manifestation of the same emotion. We know the fear is there, deep down where it matters, but our hero is able to control it in a way that is admirable.

One of the interesting things about fear is the fact that it doesn’t have to be earth shattering to interest the reader. What touches us most, a twenty car pileup on some distant stretch of Interstate, or the remembrance of loosing our breakfast on picture day when we were in the first grade? Fear must be upfront and personal if it is to have any effect on the reader. How do we accomplish this? Here are a few suggestion you might find interesting.

Make it realistic: If the frightening experience involves an injury, make sure you have your facts straight. Authors sometimes make the mistake of thinking that if one gunshot wound is exciting, then twenty will have a greater effect. In one action/adventure novel I read, the hero was shot a dozen times but still managed to remain on his feet until he had choked the villain to death. Oh, and I forgot to mention another amazing detail. He was laughing while he did it.

Make sure the fear is universal: I know a man who is afraid of all small animals. A cat will send him into a state of mind-numbing terror, and a small dog will make him wet his pants. There are a lot of irrational fears, but unless you do your groundwork and explain your character’s problem, your scene is likely to fall flat. Horror writers frequently make this mistake when they reveal the monster as nothing more than an oversized insect that could be dispatched with one swift blow with an overloaded purse. Find those things that frighten us all – a shadow outside a window, a phone ringing in the wee hours of the morning, or the intense attention of a stranger.

Make the reader want to do it himself: By the time we reach the confrontation near the end of the story, we need to be emotionally prepared to dispatch the villain in a very pleasing manner. You already know how to do this. Just think about the ways in which we are infused with righteous indignation while watching the early morning newscast. Some unknown group blew up a bridge in –what was the name of that place – and we can’t wait to tear out their throats. Revenge is a dish best served cold, the old adage advises. Make mine hot where I will feel the results of each blow and observe the wonderfully pleasing aftermath. I wouldn’t admit this to just anyone, but there is a desire for revenge in all of us. I know you need to get back to your story, so I am going to stretch out on the couch and wait. Give me something spine tingling this time around.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting to the Root of the Problem

If a story is worth writing, it must be about someone rather than something. In the language of creative literature, we call that someone a character. If that statement seems redundant, think about what makes real life interesting. Why do we listen to what our friends have to tell us? We listen because their information is about the people we know, love, or who play an important part in our lives. A simple event like the crumpling of a car fender in a parking lot is worth telling because our friend was the driver, and we are immediately concerned about the effect it will have on him or her. Stories must be about characters, and that character must be doing something significant.

If a story must be about a character, it must tell us what the character wants. It can not be repeated often enough that plot is a verb. What does your character want, and to what lengths will he or she go to get it?

If your character wants something bad enough to interest us, there must be conflict. Conflict can be internal or external, but ideally, it should be a mixture of both. It should be presented in a manner that makes us care whether your character succeeds or fails. All of us at some time or the other have watched a movie and found ourselves cheering for the bad guy. What went wrong? We no longer care for the POV character.

If a story is to reach a satisfying ending, there must be change in the main character, and it must be something that is logical, satisfying, and desirable. That is not to say that the character must be triumphant, every enemy vanquished, or that he or she should live happily ever after. How do you as a writer accomplish this? As you craft your story, never stop asking yourself, what does your character want. Character, desire, conflict, and resolution. That is what a story is all about.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

When Is Enough, Enough

On one of my favorite writing groups, I asked the question: Description—When is enough, enough? I received some very informative answers that varied somewhat from writer to writer. When it comes to using description in a novel, we quickly learn that there is no definitive answer. There were a few things that my fellow writers mentioned that got me to thinking about the following:

(1) Know what your readers want. This is the concept of throwing pearls before the swine, as opposed to allowing someone to leave the table hungry. Who is your audience and what will they want to know before they finish the passage? Above all, make it interesting. If you like to read it, you can’t get enough, but if you don’t, it will be a chore to wade through a lot of excessive verbiage.

(2) Don’t create an information dump for an unsuspecting reader. There is an urge in every writer to just get all of the necessary background information out there where we can get on with the story. Rather than getting the job done in an expedient fashion, our efforts are likely to resemble meal time with a colicky baby.

(3) Let the description match the situation. Short and evocative is better than long and boring, but each passage should give the reader a feeling of been there and done that—or even better—now that I know how it is done, I want to try it too.

(4) Make sure it fits into the passage. We should never, ever, drag the reader out of the story by giving excessive explanations.

Is there a correct way to do all of the above? Probably not, but simply discussing the problem can cause us to steer a truer course. The next paragraph is a short passage I ripped from the first draft of a work in progress. It is raw and unedited, just as my muse whispered it into my ear. What is right about it at this point, and what is wrong? I don’t know the answer to that—for I am still working on it. Too short? Too long? Uninteresting? Pretentious? Dumping too much information? Read through the short passage and tell yourself how you would do it differently. I don’t need to know your conclusions. By the time you are through with it, I will have transformed it into something else—hopefully for the better.

Radford was on the phone when Sanders entered his workshop. It was a long, prefab building that looked as if someone from his television studio had a hand in its design. Three antique cars took up most of the space in the center of the room. The paint gleamed brightly underneath a row of florescent bulbs suspended from a vaulted ceiling. Radford lifted a finger to let him know he would be with him in a minute. He was a short man in his early fifties with a large head, deep set eyes, and loose clothing. He carried himself in a hesitant manner, but in a way that evidently impressed the members of the governing board of his network. He would have looked at home in one of his epic productions, seated on the front of a swaying oxcart with a crossbow across his knees. The workbench behind him was littered with greasy wrenches and an assortment of automotive tools that Sanders could not identify. The only thing that seemed out of place was the silver mounted picture of his family. The frame and the glass had been buffed to the same flawless sheen as the paint on three antique automobiles . . .

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Tags: Suspense Novel, Mystery, Police procedural

My New Suspense Novel Coming in September at Amazon!

A phone call in the early hours of the morning shatters the tranquility of Sheriff Daniel Barrett’s household when he finds out that the father of his fourteen-year-old daughter’s best friend has been the victim of a brutal homicide. Viewing the body at the scene of the crime convinces Barrett that there is a monster loose in their town, and the deranged killer is poised to strike again. Barrett is in a race against time with a lab full of evidence that seems to lead nowhere, and a growing suspicion that everything is more complicated than it seems.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Between Wyomings is the story of Ken Mansfield’s rise from his boyhood home in Idaho, to the top of his profession as a producer for Apple and at Capitol Records. Mansfield was a driving force in the record business during the thirty years of his career in Los Angeles, New York, London, and Nashville. He produced albums for many of the top stars in the profession, including Waylon Jennings, Jessie Colter, Glen Campbell, the Beatles, Don Ho, Roy Orbison, and Andy Williams. If you like music, you are going to enjoy the interesting anecdotes that bring these legendary recording artists to life between the pages of this book.

Mansfield tells his story while on a nostalgic journey of three months, that carried him across the nation to revisit the locations of his greatest accomplishments and failures. As he focused on what he accomplished and the things he failed to do, Mansfield realized that his driving ambition was actually a search for the true meaning of life. Finding Christ through Connie, the woman he met and married while working on Music Row in Nashville, was the pivotal point in his life and career. Mansfield’s story is one of triumph and failure, presented in a tasteful way that entertains and inspires. This is one man’s epic journey toward faith and the perilous road that led him there. You are going to love this book.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Did Someone Say Backup?

Tags: Creative Writing, Computers.

If there is anything worse than when Old Yeller died, it is losing your only copy of a story in progress. It happened to me not long after I bought my first computer. It immediately sent me into a mind-numbing panic. I had worked long and hard on my first novel and suddenly it wasn’t there anymore. I cautiously checked the system and discovered that the hard disk hadn’t crashed. After two days of work with a file recovery program, I was able to recover large portions of the file. I learned three important things from this experience. Backup, backup, backup! Computers have been around for a few years now, and everyone knows they should made backups of their files on a regular basis. There are many storage devices that range from floppy disk to flash, from external hard disk to Internet storage.

Backing up on some secondary device, however, does not solve every problem. There are virus programs that will conceal themselves on your system, then slowly move to your other storage devices in a stealthy fashion. On the fatal hour of some unknown date, the virus will strike, erasing or corrupting your active backup, then do the same thing on your inactive storage when you attempt to restore your files. These dangers require some advance planning, and it is good to do an evaluation of your situation before any of this occurs. There are books and articles in electronic magazines that will steer you toward a solution. There is one other thing that is just as difficult to cope with, and that is the embedding of unneeded control codes in your text.

In case you aren’t familiar with the role control codes play, here is a over-simplified explanation. Control codes are produced on the keyboard by pressing the CTRL key plus something else. In Microsoft Word, the CTRL key, plus the ‘S’ key, will cause the computer to save your file. There are other control codes that are placed between the words by your word processing program, which are intended to control the formatting of your text. It might be a code that tells the computer to print the next word in italics, or to indent the next paragraph five spaces. Most of the time this is transparent to the user, and you encounter few problems as the computer sorts out these commands. Once in the life of your great uncle, things don’t go as planned. Some pesky control code is inserted in your text and it does the unexpected. Usually this can be fixed by moving your cursor to the space where the problem occurred and hit the backspace to erase. You usually don’t need to retype more than a few letters to straighten out the problem. There are occasions when this doesn’t work. For some unknown reason, the offending control code might be in the previous paragraph. Erasing only a letter or a few words won’t solve the problem. One of the great features of Word Perfect 5.0, that so many of us used in the early days of home computing, was the ability to expose all of the control codes with a touch of a key. You could easily erase the offending code and you were back in business. Unfortunately, this is no longer a feature in word processing programs. The ones that show you the codes, usually show nothing except spaces between words and tabs.

With all of those gremlin ready to ruin your day, what is a writer to do to protect himself from viruses, misplaced control codes, and mechanical failure? One of the best things you can do is create a new file each and every day. I am currently working on a novel with the working name of The Relic. Each day as I start to write, I bring up yesterday’s file and rename it by typing the new name in the upper left hand corner of the first page. On the day I started to work on this manuscript, I typed, THE RELIC AA 07-09-09, then saved it under this new name to my hard disk. On day two, I reloaded this file and changed the name to, THE RELIC AB 07-10-09, and saved this file. Naming your file in this manner will protect you from various gremlins that might be prepared to gum up your creative system. The beauty of this becomes apparent when you check your disk and find the individual files all lined up in chronological order. On any modern computer, you are not going to fill up your disk. Placing all of your files in a separate folder will keep everything in an orderly fashion. If you find out on day 99 that you have written yourself into that proverbial corner, you can easily return to a previous version, or you might need something no more complicated than a cut and paste to get everything headed toward that final edit. Creating a new file takes no more than a second or two. It is better to be safe than sorry—but I bet your mother has already told you that. Good luck to you and happy writing.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Tags: Book Reviews, creative writing, fiction.

Many writers wonder if it is worth the effort to get someone to review their books. If your name happens to be J.R. Rowling or James Patterson, there isn’t a problem because people are lined up and anxious to read an advance copy. For the rest of us, we have to seek out someone who reviews books, then cross our fingers, hoping the review will be positive. There are a lot of avid readers who never look at a book review. It is not until he or she is looking for a new author that they scan through reviews to see if their first instincts are correct. What do other readers think? A review might give you that information—or maybe not.

There are several websites on the Internet where people can volunteer to do book reviews. The people who run the show do not require any experience, the theory being that you—whoever you might be—collectively represent the ‘average’ reader. This is good in theory, but it doesn’t always work our this way in the real world. In one writer’s group, the owner of a small book press decided to do some research and see who some of the people were who were giving constantly bad reviews. He discovered that many of them were high school students. They picked sentences from other reviewers and cobbled something together that resembled a review, then added several caustic remarks. He concluded that their motive was to get a response from some well-known writer, and hopefully a personal contact.

Perhaps it would be good for review sites to include something about their reviewers age and who they are. I review for Thomas Nelson and for Amazon. I do not hesitate to sign my name to the review, and would not take any review seriously if the reviewer’s name was not there. I do not give caustic reviews for two reasons. It is an unkindness to the person who spent months writing the book, plus it serves little purpose in the marketplace. Some of you are probably wondering about the responsibility of a reviewer to warn the public away from a book that is obviously sub-standard. Here is what fellow writer Peg Phifer had to say on the subject:

“I do book reviews . . . It’s tough. I take my time and choose my words carefully. So I’m choosy about the books I will review. And those that submit books to me for review understand that if I don’t like the book, there will be no review, not even a bad one. I don’t believe in them. They’re hurtful. To my way of thinking, NOT doing a review sends a message of its own.”

You can find Peg Phifer's helpful and informative website at:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

To Touch or Not To Touch, That is the Question.

Tags: Characters, human behavior, creative writing.

An interesting quiz on Yahoo posed the following question, ‘When is a hug cool, and when is it awkward?’ Over sixty people responded to the survey and their answers brought up several points that should make an author think carefully about the interaction of his characters.

Anthropologist who have studied the behavior of people in various social situations have commented on the wide variations of what is acceptable human behavior, and what is not. All of us know people who are naturally ‘cuddly,’ and we know others who are ‘standoffish.’ You don’t have to be a careful observer of human nature to realize social behavior varies from one individual to another, as well as from culture to culture. Nor is it necessary to describe any of this in scientific terms in your story, for each of these behaviors is universally understood by most people. You can expect the same level of understanding from your readers. Nordic people seem to require more personal space than the average person from Latin cultures. It also varies from family to family.

People who perceive themselves as being among the elite in a given social situation, tend to invade the personal space of others, as well as effecting a speech pattern that projects their voice in a pleasing or non-pleasing manner, as perceived by the listener. Anthropologist Edward T. Hall attempted to develop a graph that demonstrated the various distances we need to maintain in a social situation in order to feel comfortable. The Intimate Space involves a circle of 1.5 feet and is reserved for embracing, touching, and whispering. Personal Space is 4.0 feet and is where the interaction occurs between good friends. Social Space is 12 feet and is where most people are comfortable interacting with acquaintances. Public space is 25 feet, used by a public speaker. There are many other things that give clues to our personality, such as the arrangement of furniture in a room to create barriers or give an open invitation to increased intimacy. Proxemics is the science that defines eight factors in non-verbal communications. The following is a brief explanation of each.

Posture sex identifiers: The postures in man/woman relationship, which might involve reclining, sitting, leaning toward the other, or making contact with a hand, etc.

Sociopetal-sociofugal axis: The position of one person’s shoulders in relationship to the other, which tends to change, moment by moment, as the encounter continues.

Kinesthetic factors: The physical distance between the parties in a touching, non-touching situation, which may increase or decrease.

Touching code: How the two people are touching, such as stroking, patting, squeezing, and the opposite, which might involve signals sent by tugging at the hem of a skirt, or adjusting a collar.

Visual code: Eye contact or the lack of it. A tendency to look past the other, looking downward, staring into the distance, or to make direct eye contact with the other. The pupil might dilate, which is generally understood as a signal of encouragement.

Thermal code: Heat from the body of the other person which becomes a factor in the encounter. This might be pleasant, or unpleasant.

Olfactory code: Odor detected from the body of the other, such as perfume, after shave, or simply the product of exercise or the environment.

Voice loudness: Soft to very loud, depending on the emotional situation or a change in the relationship of the two.

While this brief summation only touches the surface of body language, it might give you the inspiration to make your characters do more than simply walk, look, sit, or stand in the presence of the others. All of these factors, more than anything else in your story, create an opportunity for you to transform each scene from the commonplace to the sublime.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Gary Larson, was one of the most talented cartoonist of our era. His whimsical creations are as much a part of American folklore as Norman Rockwell’s paintings that graced the front cover of the Saturday Evening Post for more than four decades. When people view one of Larson’s cartoons, they wonder—along with the rest of us—how does he think of that stuff? It was not until I read a magazine article about his work, that everything came into sharp focus. Larson explained to the interviewer that his cartoons took two forms. They depicted animals doing human like things, or they involved nerdy people trying to puzzle out the simple things in life. When you think of Larson’s uncanny ability to connect with people from all walks of life, you began to see an interesting parallel with the writer who is trying to connect with the editors of various magazines. The all consuming question that haunts us is this. ‘What do they really want?’

There is one piece of often repeated advice that we writers pass around until it has the well-worn familiarity of a cliché.

Read The Magazine Before You Submit!

Let me expound on that idea before I continue. Read, Read, READ, the magazine before you submit! But we already know what the magazine is about, we often decide. They publish those dark horror stories, or they are interested only in tender romance aimed at young adults. It is the wise writer who realizes that an editor’s decision always goes beyond this into things that are subtle and difficult to define. The careful evaluation of a magazine’s stories might tell you that the editor always picks stories with a surprising twist at the end. Other editors want the action to dominate the center point of the story, with no surprise ending. While the stories in any given magazine might vary widely, there are distinct story elements that play a part in editorial decisions. It is up to the writer to discover what they are.

Which brings me to anthologies, which is what this article is supposed to be about. Gary Larson’s muse directed him toward two distinct areas of artistic expression. You might not be able to peel the layers back on any given magazine and expose their preferences, but there is a way you can break through into an acceptance of your well-crafted story. Part of the attraction of anthologies is the fact that they often include a wider range of stories than the editors would ordinarily select for publication. Why are the particular stories selected by the editor for inclusion into the anthology? Because they are well crafted, because they fall within the editor’s idea of what the magazine is all about, and most important to the reader and to you as a writer—they are selected because they are distinct and different. Read the magazine and while you are at it, read the magazine’s last anthology. Oh, and another important thing I should mention. I am looking forward to reading your next story . . .

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Plagiarism Is Ten Letter Word

In almost any writing group, someone will ask a question about plagiarism in an effort to clarify a somewhat confusing subject. Almost immediately, the answer will come back that plagiarism is the misappropriation of another person’s work. They will give the entry in the dictionary, along with those little symbols that warm the heart of a grammarian, but are difficult to type. The next round of questions and answers always involves copyright and trademark. This is the point where I want to head to the nearest bolt-hole and cover my ears. The person asking the original question only wants to know why some writers feel free to explore subjects other writers have written about, while others seem to be overly cautious and inhibited. So I am going to answer the question that never gets answered. It centers on what is original and what is open to artistic interpretation.

Titles are not copyrightable, but you already knew that. You may be wondering why people get sued when they fool around with their favorite character, who might be named Harry Potter. This is where trademark comes in. Harry Potter is more than a character in a copyrighted story. He, along with his friends, is an industry, and you can’t capture him and keep him for your own. The guys who create posters, music, and all of the other trade goods, are making money, and they don’t want you standing in front of the machines while they stamp out the dollar bills. But enough of this. Let’s talk about something interesting.

Not too long ago, I witnessed a terrible sling-fest between two writers who were accusing each other of stealing material from the other’s blog. Somewhere in the pauses between the shin kicking and the hair pulling, one of them uttered that terrible word— lawsuit. I was not surprised at the way this catfight turned out. Someone found the ‘original’ article on a third-party website, and gave the address where it could be read in its entirety. I have a feeling the whole problem was the fault of their muses, who just happened to be on the same wavelength.

One of the things—and probably the most important detail about creative fiction—is what we call plot. Plots are not copyrightable. Yes, you read that correctly. You cannot copyright a plot. Each and every one of them date back to the days when people lived in caves. The most stirring moment in their society was when the traveling storyteller arrived at irregular intervals. Milton Berle, the popular humorist from the early days of television, said there were only twenty-three jokes, and all of them were used over and over during the days of Vaudeville. He would challenge the members of his audience to tell him what they thought was an original joke. He would then give them the original from the Vaudeville circuit, plus the identity of the person who used it in their act. Fiction writers are luckier in this respect. Someone once listed the various types of plots found in fiction, and they could only come up with thirty-six. There is Escape, Challenging Obstacles, Barriers to Love, Revolt, Hatred of a Friend or Family Member—to name a few. If you think it is more complicated, then sit down with an armload of best selling novels and carefully analyze the stories. You can’t find a better exercise for preparing your own story for submission. What is your story really about? Despite the many sub-plots, a story can be condensed to one sentence, and you need this for the back of the book. Find a comfortable chair and kick back for an hour or two. I will leave it to you to dig out the plot.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

You Can't Judge a Book by its Cover?

We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded by a wide variety of elements that stimulate all five of our senses. Advertisements reach out to us from the pages of magazines, television, and from the Internet. We are constantly surrounded by music, sound bytes from television, and the voices of our friends. What would a day be like if we could not smell the rich aromas from a bakery, the smell of salty air from the ocean, or the subtle aroma of perfume. Each of these elements has a tremendous impact on our senses. I can still remember the smell of the salty air as I read Captain Ahab for the first time. Used correctly, we can stimulate each of our reader’s senses in a manner that will make their reading experience more vivid and imaginative.

Vivid and imaginative are two words that fit together in ways that are beyond our ability to explain. The best book in the world, however, will not sell if we don’t make every effort to give it visual appeal. Don’t let someone mislead you with the old saw: ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover.’ First impressions are important, and most of it comes from what appears on the covers of our book.

Marketing experts tell us that we are likely to be attracted to a particular book because of the colors, as well as the artwork. Red and black are two of the most vivid and appealing colors, but it is a good idea to do your own research. Go to a bookstore and slowly approach the section where your book will be displayed. What do you notice? While a red and black cover might stand out when displayed on a table by itself, this might not be true if you place it among hundreds of other books with a variety of visual elements. Think in terms of a flower arrangement where a vast array of colors and textures are displayed side by side. What are the little things that will make someone select your book from the shelf instead of another? Take some time to carefully consider each element before you give your input to the graphics designer, and take a second look at the books that appeal to you. There is definitely something magical that goes beyond the elements of color, text, or graphics.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Most writing books tell us that the writer must answer all of the questions before the end of the novel, otherwise we are 'cheating' the reader who has worked so hard in following the clues. I totally disagree with this. Some of the best mysteries do not answer every question the reader might have. An example is Lee Child's Jack Reacher series. We know very little about Reacher and this is a lot of the appeal of this particular character. There are many mystery books where all of the events aren't explained. A devil unseen might be a lot more frightening than one we come to know too well by the last chapter, only to discover he, she, or it is a large bear, a grasshopper, or an old lady with a sharp-pointed umbrella. As for peculiarities a character might have, I think Aunt Edna is a lot more appealing if we don't know why she hates young children, screams at cops, but stops and hugs every small animal she passes. I think fiction is best if it imitates real life. You can know someone for forty years and continually get surprised. Why should fiction be any different?

Monday, June 1, 2009


It has been all over the Internet, and by now you have probably seen the reports or perhaps read some of the angry emails on a number of blogs. In case you have been isolated in the tundra of Northern Canada, here is a brief description of the events.

Pastor David Jones of San Diego was conducting prayer meetings in his home. When one of the people attending a meeting dinged a neighbor’s car, the car owner promptly filed a complaint with county authorities. The pastor was questioned concerning the nature of the prayer meetings. According to news reports the county official asked:

(1) Do you have a regular meeting in your home? (Answer: Yes.)
(2) Do you say amen? (Answer: Yes.)
(3) Do you pray? (Answer: Yes.)
(4) Do you praise the Lord? (Answer: Yes.)

The county employee notified the couple that the Bible study, with an average attendance of fifteen persons, was in violation of county regulations. A written warning followed the interview that listed “unlawful use of land” and told them to “stop religious assembly or apply for a major use permit,” a process that could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Several people commenting on the event wondered if the county would have had the same reaction if the gathering had been a poker game, a Tupperware party, or if the same people were watching a ball game. After Attorney Dean Broyles of the Western Center for Law and Policy agreed to represent the group and contacted the county officials, Chandra Wallar, County Manager of Land Use, attempted to explain the event as a simple misunderstanding.

I am going to accept Ms. Wallar’s explanation, because there are mix-ups when government employees try to administer the many thousands of laws and regulations in a sensible manner. I think it is important, however, that we should all guard our rights diligently, and make sure that honest mistakes are kept to a minimum.

There can be no doubt that religious intolerance in America is rising. I am a Christian, but I have friends who are Jewish and some others that are Muslim. All of them feel that we have approached a point when the differences in our faiths might have put us on a collision course with government controls, rabble rousing, and fearful people who fail to understand what religion is all about. Those of us who are members of the Three Great Faiths should never forget that we worship the same God, even though it is in separate and distinct ways. We should be tolerant, but also watchful . . .

[Photo accompaning this article is used with permission from FREESTOCKPHOTOS.COM]

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Talent is wherever you find it!

I love offbeat things and I have been laughing ever since I found this video of beatboxing champion Julia Dales on YouTube. Many of us tend to spend too much of our time on serious matters and overlook the amusing things of the world. A word of caution in is order. Don’t show this to your children unless their bedrooms are on the opposite end of the house, and no, I wouldn’t want this to be going on in the back seat of my car all the way to Yellowstone.

Link to Julia's Video

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I wish I had thought of this first, but because I didn’t, I am going to give praise and support to the people who had this wonderful idea. The Tennessee Health Care Association has an annual Who’s Who in the Tennessee’s nursing homes to pay homage to the lives and accomplishments of its patients. The reason this idea appeals so much to me is due to the daily visits we made Savannah Health Care during the six months my wife’s mother was a patient in that facility. Every time I strolled down the hall to her room, I passed many of the patients sitting in their wheelchairs. In the dining room, they gathered around the tables, many of them taking a nap before returning to their rooms. As I looked at each of them, I could not help wondering who they were, or more important, who they had been.

In our local facility, they recently honored three men you might have passed in the corridor without a second glance. One was a West Point graduate who served with honor, flying 15 missions over Europe in WWII. Another was a retired FBI agent, who served at the legal attaché to the Chilean Consulate, and later worked as an attorney. Another was a talented artist who was accomplished in several arts and crafts.

All of them have a story, even the ones who have slipped quietly into a childlike state and can no longer remember who they were. I will especially remember one frail lady who would not sit quietly in her chair. She was constantly issuing orders to invisible family members as she instructed them in preparing their Sunday dinner. I wonder when that long ago dinner was that is still so vivid in her memory. I especially wonder about the ones who ate it, and where they are now.

It is up to us to see that they aren’t forgotten and that their legacy lives on as a part of our history, or better still, as a part of our daily lives.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Most writers are bitten by the writing bug at a very early age, but few of them actually make a serious effort until they are well into adulthood, with a surprising number waiting until retirement. The great disadvantage of a late start is the fact that it takes many years to develop as a writer. Many publishing houses today have a turnaround time of as long as eighteen months from proposal to print. It is always good to see someone start early along the path toward publication. One of those writers is Brian D. Sandell, a recently graduated college student. I finally ran Brian down at his college and asked him a few questions about his hopes and aims as a writer. Here are his answers.

Who is Brian D. Sandell?

Brian D. Sandell is a recent college graduate from Grove City College, with a degree in Christian thought. He enjoys many of the finer things of life: a good game of bocce, rooting his Steelers on to many Super Bowl wins, a really good back massage, the combination of peanut butter and chocolate, laying in a hammock on a warm summer afternoon, a great George Clooney movie, and of course writing. Brian loves referring to himself in the third person, and he will be attending Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in the fall. I hope this gives you all just a brush stroke as to who Brian D. Sandell is. D stands for Day, by the way.

How long have you been writing?

I have a huge notebook full of story beginnings about the most random and bizarre ideas, and characters. Creativity is definitely an attribute that I have possessed ever since I was a little kid. So, this has been a wonderful journey for me going from an ambitious, starry eyed writer, to an actual published author. I have enjoyed the continual process between characters, and the skill of keeping the reader on the edge of their seat with a surprise ending, So, I guess to answer your question I have been writing for about fifteen total years, and I first started writing seriously in high school English class. The journey has been bumpy, but the rewards far outweigh the bumps sustained.

You seem to be comfortable writing Christian fiction. Have you tried any other genres?

Let me answer that question by first saying, I do write Christian fiction, but my Christian fiction is not judgmental or preachy. I desire to write great fiction that teaches and drives home a wonderful Christian message. The message can be anything from the happiness found in our relationship with people and not things, how to deal with pain, the need to offer forgiveness when we have been wronged, and we need to honor and obey our parents. In my writing I strive to convey messages like those I have listed above. But, I am currently very much involved in writing both a children's picture book and a middle grade mystery novel. I like to keep busy.

What was it like to see your book finally come to print?

Words can barely describe the feeling to finally hold your book into print. I think it is a huge relief to finally hold the finished project in your hands. So, one adjective I would definitely say I felt was proud. The process was long, but definitely well worth it. One of the biggest mistakes I see in people today, and not just in writing is that people often get so focused on the end result whether that is a job promotion, a published book, graduating school, or a new car, we focus so much on the result we often forget the journey. I wold encourage each person reading this, whatever you do in life value the end result, but don't forget the journey you took to get the end results.

What is your ideal writing setting?

I enjoy writing at night. I cannot explain what or why it is, but I find myself in a much more creative, richer, and fuller mindset at night. So, the time is at night, I would say anytime after 10 is probably the best time. I sit in a very comfortable brown leather chair. I have penned four books, from the comfort of this chair, so something right must come from the chair. I really enjoy watching something else while I am writing either, Seinfeld, The Office, Sports Center, or anything that is on. Those are definitely some very inspiring and culturally enriching shows, so I always inspired every time I get the privilege to write.

What is your greatest joy in penning a new story?

There are many joys in penning a new story. Having characters come to life is something magical, and I just cannot explain how it happens, but when it does it truly is a magical thing. Writing should be done not just to entertain people, but to teach and inspire people to make good decisions, to value their relationships they have with their family, and to pursue the gifts that God has given them to the fullest. I would say one of the biggest joys, and one of the biggest reasons why I write is to see the joy and happiness someone gets shortly after they finish reading one of my carefully crafted tales.

What about frustrations?

One of the biggest frustrations has to be editing. I do not consider myself to be a strong ideas writer, but grammar is something I have been lacking. However, I am definitely improving in this area. I do not mind editing, but it is something I am not very good at, kind of expensive, and one of my biggest frustrations in writing.

Who is your greatest champion?

My greatest champion has to be my father, Mark Sandell. Mark is a great example of someone who is a great leader, visionary, father, and friend. Mark has tirelessly taught all around how to make good decisions, and live life to the fullest. My father has been one of my biggest encouragers and inspirations to develop and pursue my writing talent. One of my biggest dreams and goals in my life is to become half the man my father is. I am constantly inspired and motivated to live life to the highest level I can, due to my father.

Who are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Uncommon by Tony Dungy. In my opinion we need more people like Tony Dungy in our society today. He is a true hero who is not only a wonderful football coach and author, but Tony Dungy is a fantastic human being. I just got the book for my college graduation which was last Saturday, so I have not read that much of it yet. But, what I have read so far is inspiring, compelling, and well written. I am very excited to finish the book soon.

What's next for you?

I am going to be pursuing some different opportunities in children's book publishing. I am working on a children's picture book, and a middle grade mystery book series. I did just graduate college on May 16, so I am enjoying being all done with school, however, I do have lots of loans to pay back. I have a suspense/thriller manuscript being looked at my a literary agency, and I am very optimistic about this opportunity. One thing I am currently doing non-writing is hosting my own radio show called Before Bedtime. It is a show dedicated to hosting the best authors, artists, leaders, and visionaries before you go to bed on Sunday nights. If you want to or know someone who would be a good guest email me at

Where can we find you on the web?

You can find me on my website at:
My email address is
You can tweet me as well at:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Someone asked Marilyn vos Savant to name the most difficult task a person could accomplish. She answered - "to write a book" - which might surprise many people, but not those who have tried their hand at writing. Marilyn, as you already know, has the highest I.Q. ever measured, plus being a magazine columnist, author, lecturer and playwright.

There are endless tasks involved in creating a work of literature, whether it is a short story or a thick volume like War and Peace. First there is the plot to wrestle with, and as the story develops, there are contentious characters we have to deal with in a decisive way. There are sub-plots, conflict, research, as well as bookkeeping, marketing, and balky software. I'm getting tired just thinking about it.

In addition to all of these tasks, there is the problem of getting rid of those annoying mistakes that crop up like crabgrass in a well-tended lawn. Typos are very difficult to find, especially when you become so familiar with your manuscript that you almost have it memorized. That old adage, 'take care of the details and the big problems will take care of themselves,' definitely applies to writing. The little things are always lurking around our unwary feet like a nest of vipers in an overgrown meadow.

Most writers rely on critique groups, first readers, or another writer to check their manuscript for mistakes. While this helps, it is not a cure all. Friends might be hesitant to point out mistakes, and there are others who simply don't know. Recently, I discovered an editing service that does not ask for your first-born in order to look at your manuscript. They found a number of mistakes craftily hiding in my manuscript and squished each and every one.

I don't ask you to take my word for it. Go see for yourself. Here is a link to VIP Editing Service. I think you are going to like their courteous service.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


'Truth and Intimacy: A Couples Journal,' is a book that belongs in every church library, and could serve as a workbook for marriage counseling classes. Common sense illustrations drawn from marriage partners who have faced and overcome difficult problems are at the heart of this book. Disagreements are inevitable in any marriage, but it is good to realize that once the problems identified, the journey toward intimacy becomes easier.

In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy observed that, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Jared Diamond, in his book 'Guns, Germs and Steel,' called this the Anna Karenina Principal, and attempted to chart the reasons why the domestication of certain animals is impossible. As God's most complex creatures, it should not be so strange to us that certain behavioral deficiencies can doom a marriage to failure.

The last fifty pages of Truth and Intimacy is a workbook that brings the reader face-to-face with the most common problems that might occur in any marriage. I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


In almost every interview, reporters ask authors the same question: "What music do you listen to while you are writing?" On social networks like Twitter and Tagged, this question is often among the first things readers want to know. Perhaps this question shouldn't be so surprising. Music is one of the most common activities known to man. No one knows when music was first invented, and invented probably isn't the right term to use. Rather than invent music, it would be just as easy to say that music invented man, or at least drew individuals together in a way that made community living desirable. Music has always been with us in some form or another.

The oldest songs consisted mostly of rhythm -- a steady beat on some acoustical object like a hollow log with an animal hide stretched across the end. Rhythm is something that doesn't have to be explained. It is as much a part of our being as the rapid beating of heart. Go into some primitive village and play a song with a hard driving beat, and you will immediately get a response in the form of rapidly moving feet stamping out the rhythm. Once the 'beat' is established, the melody in the form of swaying bodies is soon to follow -- which carries me back to the original point I was trying to make.

What do writers listen to while they are writing? The best answer is it depends on the type of story he or she is plotting. You don't need the same tune to write a horror novel as you would to write a childern's story.

When I was writing Abraham's Bones, a suspense novel about the clash of politics, religion, and ethnic diversity in the Middle East, I used a number of songs to inspire me. Now that I am working on the sequel, I have again turned to the kind of music guaranteed to banish writer's block and immediately put me in the mood. The song I listen to the most is one I found on YouTube. It a composite of several Israeli songs that meld together in a surprising and inspiring way. If you like lively music, this video will immeditely grab you by the heart and send your imagination soaring. I hope I can convey some of the same passion on the pages of The Relic as I bring it toward completion.

Here is the link. I hope you enjoy listening to these talented artists. And for my Arab friends, here is another equally enjoyable link.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


If your literary taste is limited to action/adventure novels where the hero saves the world at least once by the end of the first chapter, then True Blue Forever is probably not the book for you. It is a coming of age novel that grabs you by the heart rather than the throat. Scarbrough has recreated the world that most of us lived through, touching the reader with the joys and happiness of youth, as well as the sadness and anguish of our high school years. It is a nostalgic adventure for adults, but also a primer for those who have not passed this way before. You are going to love Jenna and Mickey, the two main characters of this novel, because you are going to see something of yourself in each of them. To paraphrase Pogo in the comic strip by the same name – we have met them and they are us. I highly recommend this book!

Monday, March 23, 2009


In the middle of an impossibly hectic schedule, my computer died. I didn’t want to wait on the computer shop to fix it, so I called the tech guy and was connected to a number where they were playing some ancient Tommy Dorsey tunes. I swayed with the melody for what seemed like an eternity before the song segued into what sounded like a Turkish song, with a short-necked unfretted lute and a kudum drum in the background. I didn’t realize for a moment that the chanting was someone addressing me in a language that sounded suspiciously like English.

“How may I help you?” he sang.

I described my problem in as few words as possible and waited through a long, pregnant silence while he processed the input.

“You talk kind of funny,” he said at last. “We get Law and Order over here on the telly. You sound like that actor Fred Thompson who plays the district attorney.”

“Well, we are from the same neck of the woods,” I explained.

“You live in the woods?” he said.

Sigh . . . .

Monday, February 23, 2009


If you are hunting for the perfect partner, maybe you have been hunting in the wrong place. Scientists, who study the various aspects of romance and its bewildering complexity, have added a new device to their toolboxes. They call it genetic compatibility. At this point, it is more of an art than a science. It may eventually provide a solution to those who are seeking a new partner. It might also provide some answers to the ones who are wondering what is wrong in their current relationship.

Dogs meeting for the first time sniff each other rather cautiously to make sure there is no mistake about the gender or availability of the other. The nose then goes to the area where the ear joins the neck. There is a small gland in that area that holds a minute amount of musk. This physical contact might result in an immediate loss of interest, or it might involve a closer examination— somewhat like a potential customer kicking the tires on a used car.

If everything has continued to go well, one of the dogs might lick the mouth of the other. Dog lovers will say they are kissing, while others might categorize this as nothing more than a primitive interest in the sexuality of the other animal. Regardless of the primitive nature of the behavior, is there something here that should interest us? Or to put it another way, do the dogs know something that the rest of us should know?

Studies of the nature and makeup of human pheromones have revealed that there are eight types, with each of these having a distinct and separate aroma. Somewhere along the evolutionary chain, nature attempted to pair those of us who are the most compatible with a few gentle hints involving the subtitle odors of the human body. Have you hugged a friend at the end of a softball game, and suddenly found yourself staring into his or her eyes and unable to look away? Maybe it is the pheromones. Romance is a lot more complicated than any of us are aware.

If you would like to read more on this interesting subject, there are many websites with information. Just remember that this study is in the infant stage and hasn’t quite reached the level of a science. Good luck to you and happy hunting. Maybe the person of your dreams is no further than away than the next softball game, or perhaps it is time for you take a DNA compatibility test.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I don’t know the identity of the person who conceived the idea of creating a blog, but he should go down in history along with the guy who created the first light bulb, the telephone, and all of the other life-altering inventions. There are hundreds of millions of blogs around the world and the number is growing daily. There is a little bit of ‘soap box orator’ in all of us. This sudden urge of self-expression can come out of nowhere when we visit a town hall meeting, or any other place where people come together and exchange ideas. Blogs range in content from sites where family members gather and exchange photos of grandchildren, to more serious ones where people advance political ideas, comment on sports, public figures, or the latest book they have read. The only limit to the things you can discuss is your imagination. There are blogs on the Internet that receive thousands of hits daily and others who never receive a visit. There is nothing quite as bad as speaking and having no one listen. I only post an article when I find something of interest. That is not to say that I wouldn’t like to improve my blog and make it more interesting. I was delighted when I ran across the Blog Improvement Project, which is an ongoing effort to help bloggers improve the look and content of their websites. If you have a blog and would like to sign up for this, click on the button at the top and it will carry you to the Project.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Five years ago when Chic Lit first came on the scene, critics and booksellers had trouble defining the difference between this new genre of literature and the traditional kind of women’s romance. Then some cynical wit offered an explanation. Chic Lit was “. . . going to the mall and buying a new dress.”

While I like romance writers like Barbara Delinsky and the more recent books by Nora Roberts, most romance novels leave me cold. The writers seem to try too hard to put the woman in the driver’s seat, while men are delegated to playing the role of effeminate bystanders who kick couches and stamp their feet in helpless rage.

I am always searching for new writers and was pleased when a friend offered me a book she had recently purchased. “This is by Sophie Kinsella and it is called Remember Me,” she said, holding it up where I could see the large sunflower on the cover. I started backing away. “It’s Chic Lit,” she said trying to pass the book to me. At that moment, I realized how a drug pusher must feel when someone tries to pass a paper bag to them while they are standing in front of a security camera. I would have walked away, but she gave me that look that Cate used to give me when she dared me to jump out of the barn loft. The book passed quickly from her hand to the inside pocket of my coat.

When I got home, I sat down to read -- not in my favorite reading chair -- but on the couch where I could stuff the book behind one of the overstuffed cushions if it became necessary. I was soon to discover that the story started out well, and it only took a few minutes to find myself inside the head Lexi and her friends. The plot was sensible and the story had emotion and flow – all of those good things you find in mainstream fiction. Chic Lit has definitely come a long way from Sex and the City or Bridget Jones Diary. The main difference between Chic Lit and other types of fiction is the fact that the characters are young, stylish and hip, without having to play the role of victim. This genre of literature has definitely come of age. Authors like Sophie Kinsella have a distinct, universal voice that speaks to anyone who likes good literature. I have a feeling that we will hear from Kinsella again and again and again . . .

Friday, January 23, 2009

Laughing Jesus

Early in life, I was a lot like Scaramouche, who described himself as ‘having a gift of laughter and feeling that the world was mad.’ The realities of life and some very difficult jobs caused me to become too serious and prone to look at things in an analytical way. Then I discovered a very good antidote to such foolishness. I was brought down by Cancer. When your world shrinks to the size of a hospital bed, you have a tendency to look at things differently. Recently, some members of a forum were speculating on the most precious substance on earth. Diamonds, sapphires, and rubies were mentioned, but I think laughter has all of them beat. There are pictures by several artists called ‘Laughing Jesus.’ When I saw one of them for the first time, I was startled. Then I came to realize that Jesus did laugh despite the traditional art through the ages that depict him as very solemn and mournful. There are many verses in the scripture where we see examples of His humor. For those of you who disagree and think that God did not have a sense of humor, just wait a few years and go look in the mirror.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


The person who decided to schedule the first day of the year in the dead of winter knew exactly what he was doing. There is an undeniable beauty to the winter season, but there is something about the short days and dark clouds that depress me. The shortest day of the year usually falls on December twenty-first, and then they start, slowly and agonizingly, to get longer. The tiny increase in the amount of sunlight over the next two weeks causes magical things to happen. The first buds appear on sheltered trees, and hearty sprigs of winter grass poke through the dead leaves in the forest. I am not a poet but there is something about the impending miracles of spring that tempt me to try my hand at writing just a few verses. Something, perhaps, that would describe the beauty of the first buttercup spears, the song of a Robin perched on top of a gatepost, or the distinctive smell of the slowly warming earth. Nature has a remarkable patience that poets have commented on for untold centuries─ but I am patient, too, and I shall watch and I shall wait . . .