Category Archives: Writing

Don’t Antagonize Your Readers

Dorothy Parker, supposedly, wrote a book review that included the comment, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” We’ve all read something that fits this quote, I’m sure. I could name about three I’ve read in just this past year.

I just finished another book like that – I will NOT mention the author or title because this is strictly my opinion.

Why didn’t I like this? Certainly, it wasn’t because it was badly written, or have illogical situations, or have a disappointing ending. I didn’t care for it because the author did something I truly hate to see in books and novels or even in contest entries from potentially to-be-published authors.

As part of the story, the author makes disparaging remarks about another character strictly because that character’s political beliefs differ from those of the main character (and, I presume, those of the author). Please note I’m not even mentioning which political party is being insulted because I’ve read books that do the same for the opposite (as well as other) political beliefs.

Since the majority of people belong to either the Democratic or Republican parties, my question is: WHY would an author potentially alienate HALF of their readership?

You are very much mistaken if you assume that everyone who may read your book thinks along the same lines as you.

If you’re writing a non-fiction political commentary, fine – go ahead and rant all you want. But if you’re writing fiction, please for the sake of your readers, don’t insult the other person’s beliefs. Don’t make Democrats modern-day, drug-using hippies or Republicans up-tight, money-grubbing yuppies or make other political views look ridiculous. Not only is that insulting to potential readers, it makes for two-dimensional characters that aren’t very interesting to read.

Apart from the above rant about how this author treated differing political points of view, the book wasn’t all that bad – it’s not something that’s going on my keeper shelf, but fairly enjoyable. However, because of this author’s remarks, I will certainly be less likely to pick up another book by them.

I’m sure this author will not miss my $.60 in royalties (which they wouldn’t have gotten anyway because I checked it out of my local library), but losing potential readers can also affect your potential royalties.

Think about it before you write it. That’s all I ask.


Goals – not Resolutions!

I hope you survived the holidays and are ready to take on a brand new year. New calendars, new appointment books, clean pages to write on.

Every year I make resolutions (most often, resolving to lose weight and get in shape). Typically, those resolutions go by the wayside quickly since my birthday is only two weeks into the new year and I will often splurge on cake.

So I’ve decided not to make any resolutions this year. Instead, I’m listing goals I want to accomplish. This, in my opinion, automatically puts far less pressure on you.

Goal 1: Eat better.

Please note I didn’t say anything about losing weight here. In the past year, I hate to admit that I’ve resorted to eating a lot of fast-food – I’m not naming any one company in particular because I’ve probably gone through all of their drive-thru’s. Yes, it’s quick, but not the healthiest eating out there.

For the umpteenth time in my life, I’m giving up diet sodas as part of this goal as well.  I dearly love my new soda maker and, instead of syrups, I just put real lemon or lime juice in them for flavorings.  Yummmm – feeds my addiction to carbonation without all the additives.

I’m focusing on fruits and vegetables and making sure that every meal (and snacks) are healthy or, at least, healthier.

There is also no time limitation on this goal, although I do hope that all this healthy eating will get my blood pressure down in time for my next doctor’s appointment so he won’t know how much I’ve backslid since my last appointment.  (Dr. XXX, if you’re reading this, I apologize in advance.)

Goal 2:  BICHOK (Butt in chair, hands on keyboard)

There is nothing in the above goal that puts pressure on me in terms of the number of pages I need to write each day or week.  As the Nike Company says, “Just do it.” Once you’re in the chair (and, in my case, pushed the cat aside more than a few times), there is a comfort to sitting and writing.

Writing is empowering – this is my world I get to create and it’s kind of fun to play the Omnipotent One. I’ve created an entire studio, complete with its own library of films and stars. I control it all! Or, at least, the vast majority. There have been times when my characters didn’t do what I wanted them to do when I wanted them to do it, but it turned out they had a very good reason for disobedience (another blog post at some point).

I don’t have to write in sequence – I can skip around in the book if an idea for a specific scene comes to mind. The goal is to write at least one hour each day, with one day off in a week.

I am going to concentrate on this one book in particular. Yes, I have ideas for other books and I may take the time to open up a new document and write those ideas down, but I won’t work on those just yet. Note – I’m not berating myself for not working on my current WIP, but I also don’t want to rely on my memory if it’s a truly great idea.

Most importantly, I allow myself to write crap – just get the words on the page. Nora Roberts is often credited with saying “I can’t fix a blank page.”

And, I give myself permission to quit after an hour. However, so far, I’ve worked more hours this week than most of last year just because my writing engines are revved.

I have other goals for the year, but those aren’t worth blogging about. What they all have in common is that they are doable! None are so overwhelming that I’ll be throwing up my hands and bemoaning “I can’t do this!” while rushing out to buy a Snickers bar.

If you think that this is cheating and that I’m not really accomplishing anything, just remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I wish you a happy, healthy, and productive new year!

Shopping for Your Characters, Part 1

Apart from my love of movies, I absolutely adore antique shopping. If I have to shop for clothes, I want to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. Not so with antiques where I must investigate every pile. I have certain collections I like to feed, but I discovered another plus to antique stores – I can find the characters for my book. Nearly every antique dealer will have a collection of old family photographs (some nice studio portraits or candid snapshots), typically under a sign inviting you to “Adopt a Relative.”

Some writers will cut out pictures from magazines of movie stars or models to serve as the inspiration for their characters. I like to browse through these old pictures to see if there’s anyone I can use. The advantage to these old pictures is that you have the period costumes right there to help with descriptive passages. Granted, most of the pictures you’ll find are from the early decades of the 20th Century or jump to the 1960s and ‘70s. Because my characters are from the 1930s, it’s sometimes more difficult to find just the right “character.” Like shopping for my couch, I don’t necessarily know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.

There’s usually a hugh pile of pictures, so you have to be patient but, in my case, perseverance paid off – I found a gem earlier this year. As soon as I saw this picture, I knew I had my Valerie Sharpe. Let me introduce her to you.

Valerie Sharpe 1Valerie Sharpe (born Lottie Schoenbrucher on March 2, 1907 in Pasadena, California) rose to stardom in the late 1930s to become the top comedienne of Majestic Studios (comparable to MGM’s Carole Lombard). Her Hollywood career started when sound came to films (1927) and she often played bit parts for comic relief until 100 Bedrooms (1933) where her role as a maid in a large New York hotel brought her to the attention of movie audiences and Studio executives who began to feature her in larger and starring roles.

Although gossip columns of the time often intimated at a romance between Valerie and the Studio’s top leading man Colin Hoskyns, Valerie married the Studio’s Head of Production, Samuel Jakes, in 1939. Jakes was nearly twenty-five years her senior, which also was fodder for the gossips. After the shooting death of Hoskyns on Christmas Eve 1943, fingers were pointed to Jakes for contracting the murder, but charges were never filed. Sharpe and Jakes remained married until Jakes’ death in 1949. At that time, Valerie retired from motion pictures and lived out the remainder of her life in the home she shared with Jakes in Majestic, California until her death in 1985 at age 78. Throughout her retirement, she refused all requests for interviews about the Hoskyns murder.

I’m still on the lookout for a picture that will capture Colin Hoskyns, who was the top leading man at Majestic (think of him as an equivalent to MGM’s Clark Gable or Warners’ Errol Flynn). If anyone thinks they know where I can find that, please let me know. In the meantime, while I continue to search, I’ll be introducing other characters along the way.

Tempus fugit (really, really fast!)

Even when you’re not having fun, time flies (or zooms in many cases….)

I’m always amazed at how quickly time can get away from you. I find it hard to believe it’s been nearly 7 weeks since I last posted (my apologies to any followers). Someone once remarked that, as we age, time speeds up and I find that’s an unfortunate truth. I moved to Chicago from Los Angeles in 1994 and it still seems like only last year, not (yikes!) 18 years ago.

When I last posted, I was about to embark on writing a short story. Did I make the deadline? Well, yes, kinda, sorta…. I did have to ask for a slight extension which they did give me. And now, I’m in the last stages of changes from the editors. When I have more details about the anthology, I will definitely post that information.

But back to time…..

I have a birthday coming up in a few months and I’m about to seque into a new demographic range, which I’m not particularly happy about, but it does beats the alternative.

So, maybe there’s a lesson in all this, but I have always been a slow learner. I need to seize the day. I don’t want to come to the end of my life with a bunch of “I shoulda” wishes and dreams. I guess that means I have to head back to my computer and get back to work.

New Years is always a time for resolutions, but why wait another two months? So, I’m going to get back to work (and maybe start my diet tomorrow, too).

Never say “Never”

Even James Bond knows not to do this, for crying out loud.

The first time I said I’d never do something was during my freshman year in college. As a design major, I was required to take the basic art history survey class, you know, the kind that covers cave paintings to modern post-impressionism all in the span of 16 weeks.  After surviving that class, I swore I would NEVER take another art history class for the rest of my life.  Let’s jump ahead a few years:  I am now an art history major, and I have to take another 9 or 10 art history classes. (Much too long of a story to get into here; I may post about it in the future.)  Bottom line:  I LOVED all those classes!

I thought I would never want to write a short story.  I don’t think in brief terms so the idea of writing a limited number of words frightens me. It’s hard work to encapsulate your ideas into a shorter form. One of my favorite quotes to describe my feelings is: “I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” (attributed to George Bernard Shaw)

I belong to a writers group that is putting together an anthology of short stories.  Too much was happening in my life between work and family, and I didn’t think I’d have the time to devote to this project. But my subconscious decided to work on it anyway and, before I knew it, I had an entire short story mapped out in my head. So, even though I said I’d never be able to contribute to the anthology, I’m writing like a maniac to finish it by the deadline at the end of this week (yes, this week).

Whether my story will make the final cut in the anthology, I can’t say at this point – that part isn’t up to me. But I am doing it and thoroughly enjoying the sense of accomplishment from doing something I didn’t think I could (or didn’t think I even wanted to) do.

A Time for Reflection

Tonight marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

Because this is a time for reflection, I started to look back on this past year of writing (an other things as well, but let’s focus on writing).  Was I disciplined about it? No. Did I set a time each day (or each week) to write? No. Did I do anything at all? Yes, but definitely not as much as I should (or could) have done.

My writers’ group always talks about making goals and keeping them realistic and accomplish-able. I can’t really say I did that either.

Lest you think I did nothing at all, you’d be wrong. But, in all honesty, I should be a lot further in my manuscript than I really am.

I can make excuses – lots and lots of excuses. My day job keeps me hopping and working more than a typical 40-hour work week, so I’m dead tired when I get home and all I want to do is curl up on the bed with my black cat, Hamish Macbeth. My mother was ill this past month and I spent a lot of time driving back and forth to see her (she lives about an hour away). Of course, Mom’s problems were only in the past month so that doesn’t say anything about the previous 11 months.

So, as I begin year 5773, I’m ready for a new beginning on my writing. A year where I am committed to my work, finishing it and (most importantly) getting it out there, whether that be positive or not-so-positive.

Even if you’re not Jewish, we’re nearing the end of 2012 and there’s no better time to think about your writing. If you’re like me, give yourself a mental kick in the butt to get yourself going.

L’Shanah Tovah – have a GOOD year.


Intro: I love movies – especially classic films!

There’s nothing I like better than sitting down to watch a great classic film.  I grew up watching the old movies on WGN-TV with my mother providing background commentaries on who was married to whom, similar movies, or about the time she watched this film in its original run at one of the great Chicago area theaters.

So we’re going to talk about movies…..a lot!

I’m also a writer who’s writing a mystery about two Hollywood ghosts from the 1940s living with a present-day librarian.  But more on that later.

I hope you’ll join me for a look at classic films, both the good and the bad, the sad and the funny… and how they all influence my writing.