Friday, June 29, 2012

Guest Blog: The Writing Partner Tango

My name is Francene Stanley, and these are my experiences with a writing partner.

Four years ago, I first 'met' Edith Parzefall on The Internet Writing Workshop. She gave wonderful critiques for three novels I posted, one chapter a week. And I did the same for her--probably not so well at the start due to lack of skill. The experience forged our friendship.

My original novels featured a gentle woman wearing an inherited moonstone ring which whisked her away into visions. Just recently, I missed Liliha and wanted to reconnect. It just so happened I had skimmed over six months of her life. I decided to use this time to good advantage. Lonely, Liliha needed a purpose to hold her life together. Unable to stop a perpetrator in her vision, she decided to search for him in real life. Only natural--that's what I'd do. And so Liliha became a detective of sorts in trying to track him down and rectify the offence she'd seen in her vision.

I couldn't say I'm clever like Rick and his protagonist. My main character is a quiet woman who sees everything with understanding eyes--suspecting nobody of any evil. Rather like me. Funny that.

During our critique sessions, Edith influenced my writing, not so much my style, but by demonstrating how to create a unique voice for different characters. She pointed out that the charming rogue in Still Rock Water sounded too sophisticated for a man with his background and rewrote a few paragraphs to establish a different voice for Harry. This first exercise in collaboration encouraged me to experiment and planted the seed for a series set in the future.

When I contacted her with the idea of writing a post-apocalyptic fantasy series based on my theme of a moonstone ring, she agreed to join me as co-author. She went along with the way I'd begun the story and wrote scenes for several characters, made them her own and eventually changed them as they took over in the imagery of writing. Double Dragon Publishing released the first book, Wind Over Troubled Waters in April.

Together we've written three more books:

*  Knights in Dark Leather (coming out soon)
*  Golden Submarine (ready)
*  Long Doom Calling (ready)

...all with the warped name of a song as the title. And each critiqued by the wonderful people at the Internet Writing Workshop.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: "Discreet Activities"

If you like vigilante justice, you will probably like Discreet Activities by Claude Bouchard. Thematically, it's a Charles Bronson Death Wish on steroids. On the subject matter side, this is a love it or hate it novel. I love it when terrorists' butts are kicked and kicked soundly. However, there is a negative psychogical bent to the well-funded, -groomed, and -connected, above-the-law good guys (shades of The Star Chamber) that makes them one step away from being legalized terrorists themselves. There is a remorselessness about the murder and mayhem they perform for the sake of Canadian justice, and that makes them cardboard characters in the story. It could be argued by the end of the story that the reader has a better feel for some of the "minor" league terrorists than the good guys. But again, there isn't close to the level of understanding about terrorist motivation in this book that there was in the movie, Syriana.

The short novel moves, which is one good thing. It's also a bad thing. I found myself skimming over some of the more mundane dialogue that often passed for informational dumps and some of the step-by-step narration of character movements, which took the place of deepening the plot. Some of the technical tools of the trade were interesting, but again seemed to be detailed to the point of showing off the research not heighten the story line. The diversions (sub-plots) from the main plot are more to show how bad-ass the "good" guys are rather than taking the time to strengthen and deepen the main plot and intrigue. The grammatical faux pas are nothing about which to get a twist in your knickers.

The author does continually raise the stakes, though the tension is often diminished because the good guys moves are played out ahead of time. A number of reader surprises are rendered flat because of this technique. And to that end, there is only one major plot twist within the body of the story that is well played out. There is a nice reversal at the end, and one final dig that was nicely, though implausible dropped into the end of the story. If you like drop-kicking bad guys, it's a four. But for thriller aficionados, it's a ho-hum three.

Monday, June 25, 2012

MMWUC: Editing for Zombies

Got so busy editing, I forgot to think of something witty for Monday morning. Then, Sydney (my cockatiel for those not paying attention), slept in and didn't wake me. Doesn't mean I have anything witty or instructive to say now that I've had a cup of coffee, but I'll give it the old college try.

The first of my nine "Da Guidelinez For A Writer's Journey" listed down the right-hand side of my blog is as follows:

If real estate can be boiled down to three words: location, location, location, then writing can too: tighten, tighten, tighten. With tightening, look for plot or character tension on each page (see Maass' "Writing the Breakout Novel"). Avoid unnecessary details and wordiness. Remember the rule of three--most people only remember up to three things in a list. Watch for redundancy. Ensure your dialogue moves the story forward.

According to feedback from my current WIP, I need to follow my own advice more closely. When I responded to my Caribbean friend about her wise comments, this is what popped out of my head.

Getting everything right for every reader is a problem. In fact, it has inspired another story about a frustrated writer who travels to the Caribbean on vacation after receiving yet another rejection from a targeted agent who blasts the literary aspects of his novel. While in the Caribbean, the writer runs into his greatest nemesis, the woman who told him to write in those changes that infuriated the agent. He plots revenge. He kills her and frames her live-in boyfriend for her murder. However, he can't leave because a hurricane hits the island, grounds the planes, and destroys the jail. It frees the boyfriend, who knows the truth about her murder. Morally unable to kill the writer, the boyfriend seduces with his charms a local voodoo-woman, who is a voracious reader and hates poorly written books. He promises to be her lover if she raises his dead girlfriend as a zombie to kill the writer.

The writer waits in a shabby motel full of trapped Portuguese vacationers. But when the writer meets up with the zombized girlfriend whose mumbling, "Brains," in a German-Spanish accent, a confused Portuguese Water Dog thinks she said, "Bacon," and jumps on the fragile zombie-girl, killing her, and eating what's left of her brains in the process out of hunger. After terrorizing the trapped tourists, the zombie dog is finally put down. The writer sweats out another long day's delay fearful the police are on to him. However, when the writer finally flies out, he's upgraded to first class, and a drunk and flirtatious Katy Perry settles into the seat next to him on the connecting flight out of Miami. She invites him to stay with her in New York City when they land, because her new boyfriend is boring elitist snob. They land and catch a cab. They kanoodle in the cab as the writer anticipates a free weekend of Katy-love. As they arrive at the hotel, a man opens the cab's door. It's the agent who had rejected the writer. The agent is also Katy's boyfriend. The agent and the boyfriend get into an argument on the sidewalk. The agent kills the writer. (Yeah, literally and metaphorically.)

The agent dies before going to trial. The writer's estate finds an agent for the book. It becomes a mega-bestseller, selling 70,000,000 copies in a year, more than Dan Brown's "The DaVinci Code". Exonerated from the murder of his girlfriend, the island girl's boyfriend sues for some of the royalties on behalf of her and her input, which he now claims mostly came from him. He wins $22,567,342.82. He meets Katy Perry at the trial. They fall in love, but the girlfriend is raised from the dead one last time. Death by canine is against rule 7.23.4 in the Voodoo Handbook, and she hadn't fulfilled the murderous portion of her unholy contract. Zombie-girl kills the boyfriend by collapsing in pieces on him, sticking a rib through his rib cage into his heart while he and Katy were making love. Katy freaks and joins a convent. The voodoo-women rejoices over her revenge and is last scene hatching a plan to raise her former lover, the agent. Though he hated the book as much as she did, he needs to pay for leaving her and taking up with Katy. All this proves is that no book pleases everyone and sometimes the editing consequences can be deadly.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Guest Blog: Dangling Modifiers, Gangling Grammer

Sometimes, I'll come across laughable images which materialize from sentences that mean one thing but are understood as something else altogether. No, I am not talking about irony (simulated ignorance, contrariness in wit) or rhetoric (an impressive lack of sincerity); those are literary and verbal techniques intended to put a spin on language and circumstance. The culprit, of course, is the dangling participle or misplaced modifier (aka dangling modifiers), those humorous errors in sentence structure that leave our words hanging. I know I have done this subconsciously in my own writing, and perhaps you have, too.

Let's look at it another way. You wouldn't make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from ham and cheese, would you? Nor would you call a BLT combo a Fluffernutter sandwich. Each meal is distinct and implies nothing else (I don't know why I'm thinking about food right now!). Likewise, you wouldn't want to place confusion in your writing? Here are examples where language has gone wrong structurally, leaving us with a few good laughs along the way:

Biking in the rain, the cluttered storefront provided his family the closest shelter.—or—
Jogging along the path, the grazing deer suddenly raised their heads then bolted from view.
—and this—
The young girl spotted an ice cream truck near the corner dusting off her messy clothes.—or even this—
Rusted beyond repair, I took the old lawnmower to the alley and got rid of it.

Who, I ask, is biking in the rain (the cluttered storefront?) or jogging along the path (the grazing deer? That would be a sight for St. Nicklaus!). Is the ice cream truck doing the dusting off then? And who is rusted beyond repair? (I feel that way sometimes, yes, but not today! So it must be the old lawnmower that's rusted then.) These are dangling participles or misplaced modifiers, or as I like to call it—gangling grammar. And any sentence structured like the ones I mention above will prick and tickle an editor pouring over your labor of love, your submitted work.

To help sort out the confusion, let me begin by stating that a verb (a doing word) must always point to its noun (the subject). We know this, yes? But we also have variations in verbs, and a participle is one variation formed from a verb; as well, it can show the characteristics of both verbs and adjectives (in some languages, as adverbs, too). For example, jog is a verb, and jogging is a present participle of jog. Bear with me here if all this is mindless drivel to your practiced ears. So I could say jogging along the path, which becomes a participial phrase, because it contains the present participle and because it isn't a full sentence by itself. If I were to draw out a complete sentence I would say, I went jogging along the path. Here, went jogging points correctly to the subject I.

We wind up with a dangling participle when the phrase jogging along the path cannot correctly point to its subject (noun) in a sentence, whether complete, compound, or complex; and the dangling often takes place when the participial phrase is placed at the front of the sentence. So to use the example from above with the grazing deer:

Jogging along the path, the grazing deer suddenly raised their heads then bolted from view.

We know fully well that you, or I, or someone other than the grazing deer went jogging along the path. (And if deer can jog along a path then I am good for grazing, going cold before headlights, and taking flight at the slightest disturbance.) All the same, we need to place the correct subject in its rightful place in a sentence that might be written like this:

1. As I went jogging along the path, the grazing deer suddenly raised their heads then bolted from view.
—or this—
2. Jogging along the path, I startled the grazing deer who suddenly raised their heads then bolted from view.

Misplaced modifiers work the same way, and #2 is an example of one. Notice how my "jogging" phrase in front now points correctly to the subject I. Modifiers are usually adjectives (for e.g., large) and nouns (for e.g., sun) that are used as attributes to qualify or modify a greater noun (large sun room). A misplaced modifier should point to the correct noun, as shown in my example #2 above. Grammar pundits, including Fowler, Kenneth Wilson, Patricia O'Conner and others insist that misplaced modifiers create no ambiguity in the reader, although the reader is bound to hesitate or become rattled by the writer's blunder. Here's another misplaced example (note the passive voice, another contributor to the problem):

Having read the book, my critique was read to the entire class.

In fact, I read the book, not my critique, but a reader would understand what is meant in the sentence, however wrong it may be by its odd structure. In A Writer's Reference, Sixth Edition online, Diana Hacker says, "Though it may be a good thing to amuse readers now and again, most of us would prefer to do so intentionally. When we write a dangling modifier, the joke is at our expense."

So to grammatically correct the misplaced modifier, I should write:  Having read the book, I read my critique to the entire class.

While working with an author recently, a few dangling modifiers showed up in the finished draft, and I spared no time marking up the guilty sentences. Now, wait a minute! That's not what I meant to say, although that sentence might sound right and make it seem as if there isn't any confusion. I, not the few dangling modifiers, had been working with an author recently. So let me recast the sentence: While working with an author recently, I ran across a few dangling modifiers that showed up in the finished draft, and I spared no time marking up the guilty sentences and sending them to the cleaners.

Ignatius Valntine Aloysius is a member of the American Copy Editors SocietyHe lives in Evanston, Illinois, and occupies a small farmhouse there that once used to be a barn. When he isn't teaching or working in his design studio, he writes fiction and poetry to keep his mind warm and fuzzy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book Review: "No Mercy" by Wendy Cartmell

No Mercy is a short anthology of short stories. The centerpiece features Sergeant Major Crane, who inhabits other stories by the author. Short stories; short review. The story with Crane is too brief to develop his overall character or demonstrate the range of his detective skills. He seems short-sighted as to his case, relying on luck and a nearly unprovoked confession to solve it. I am not sure if Crane is the accidental detective (Clouseau), relying on others to get things done, or the deceptive detective (Colombo), disarming others with his manner. The author does a good job, however, with the physical attributes of the detective and other persons in the collection of stories. The book's real gem is the short-short, The Telephone Call, which was the only story with a real surprise twist after the twist to the not too concealed plot line. Kudos on that. Overall, these nicely written stories are a good read, but break little new ground as mystery fiction or surprising us with shocking twists. It's a safe read on the commute to work and earns an overall very positive "3".

Monday, June 18, 2012

MMWUC: Yearning for Learning

It's almost 7 a.m., and I know where I should be. I should be at the 25th Anniversary of the Writers Retreat Workshop being held this year at the Villa Maria Retreat Center in Frontenac, Minnesota. The Early Bird Session is beginning. Pajama-clad writers crawl into the room with intravenous tubes linking them to giant coffee containers. They close the curtain against a brilliant morning sun like vampires dreading another day yet compelled to participate, yearning for learning. A writer seeks help. The featured guests or staff or agents or publishing representatives or advanced students lean forward, either eager to help or because the room is slanted. The eager beaver writer shatters the morning mumbling.

"My story is about this good-looking average Joe guy who isn't feeling well and goes to his doctor to find out what's wrong with him because he's never been sick before, or doesn't remember being sick before. The doctor runs some test. It turns out that the average Joe guy is really an space alien with amnesia. So naturally the government gets involved with blackhawk helicopters and big, black SUVs, and what's up with that? You'd think the government would wise up that everyone knows it's them coming so they'd switch to hi-powered rebuilt Yugos to throw everyone off. Anyway, turns out his fiancee is a high-powered lawyer, kind of like Gloria Allred on steroids, and she's able to get him due process because of some of the "Alien" laws that have been passed, and she gets some sympathetic judge to agree the the term alien also applies to him. She gets him out of jail on bond, but it turns out the reason he's feeling bad is because he's mutating into a higher life form. He eats her. It's okay though. No one liked her. Now he's really on the run."

"Okay, so what is your issue?" Elizabeth Lyon asks.

"Should I have him floss after eating her?"

Yes, I will return to WRW in 2013. Everyone should move out of their comfort zone on occasion and go to a workshop or conference to be with the other birds in their flock, get re-energized, learn new things about the art of writing, or re-learn things that break you out of the bad habits that have developed along the way. My 7 a.m. early morning session today is with me, myself, and I. Sydney, my cockatiel, only kibitzes when he feels like it. His own novel is stuck now after: GRT DJW S OEMMD. Don't ask me. I don't speak Australian Cockatiel. Writing may be a singular activity, but it should never be a lonely occupation.

And I would most certainly have the alien floss. He needs to make a good impression to both Obama and Romney to be able to stay in the country.

So, what do you think? Do nothing? Brush only? Floss only? Brush and floss? Brush, floss, and mouthwash for that minty after lawyer-eating breath? Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review: "Deadly Aim" by Patricia H. Rushford

The "quiet" town of Sunset Cove, Oregon has supplanted Cabot Cove, Maine as the murder capital of America by the end of Patricia H. Rushford's Deadly Aim. This romantic, mystery novel with a sprinkling of religious overtones follows Officer Angel Delaney as she is dragged through an internal investigation after she shoots a 12-year-old boy during a failed pharmacy hold-up. He dies. Then things get really nasty after the body count piles up as the Drug Overlord starts to cover his tracks and the African-American community gets stirred up over a white cop gunning down an innocent little boy.

I say romantic, because of the considerable POV shifting between Angel and new cop in town, Detective Callen Riley, whose tasked with finding out what the heck is going on with the boy's death and the increasing body count. Any time two characters share head space, it's not hard to figure out the arc of that part of the story. The other romantic pairings just seem convenient. I say mystery, because it is a whodunit. Several potential suspects weave in and out of the story, but only two seem really plausible. The family play dynamics is well done; the quality of the investigation seems to waver at times from procedural step-by-step accuracy to 'Oh hell, let's wing this.'

Overall though, it is story filled with a lot of reasonably interesting characters, lots of food making and eating, and scenes on a beach (always a plus for me). The author does use her twists and turns to good affect. The tension ramps up, but by the end, I admit, I was saying, let's end this. This is a good plane ride read: not so deep that you forget to get off the plane and end up in Ulan Bator, but good enough that you can ignore the person next to you and their out-of-focus pictures. It squeezes into a size "4".

Monday, June 11, 2012

MMWUC: Where's Rick?

Rick is wigging out this morning. For inspiration on your Monday Morning Wake-Up Call, he gives you this exercise: push-ups.

As far as writing is concerned, just write. Sometimes you just have to get back to the basics. Riff on about whatever, even your thoughts about how stupid this riffing exercise is, but keep looking up at the junk you've collected around you. Throw some of that into your riff. It's the opposition of ideas that often generates the most interesting stories. Go forth...forget the rules, guidelines, what you've been told in classes, seminars, from panels, or writing books...just write. Let the words drip from the end of the keyboard.

Today I have to get another two of those nasty basil carcinoma spots excised from my body. Six-to-nine stitches and we're done, but what if...

An unfamiliar doctor enters the room, "Oh, where's Dr. Jones?" I ask.

"She's unavailable," he says, his voice unemotional, his manner cold. No extended hand in greeting. No chit-chat to comfort me, and I feel so in need of comfort in my backless gown and....

"Lie down."

I comply. He seems to know what he's doing. Goes directly to the spot on my arm and swabs it with the numbing agent. The spot on the leg is slightly bigger, and there's almost a grin on his face when he slathers it with the same agent. It seems generous and beyond anything I've had before. Then the needle comes out. It's a good sized needle, but nothing I haven't seen before.

"For pain," he says.

"Yeah, right," I jest. The pain is somewhat beyond the stinging of the needle for the purposes of numbing when he inserts it in my arm, then my leg. He sighs once he's done then a slowly building laugh eeks out of his closed mouth.

"You don't remember me, do you?"

I look closer. "No."

The door bursts open. Two cops train their gun on him. He raises the needle with one hand and grabs me with the other. They shoot. The sound is deafening in the small room, and the force of the blasts push him away from me as I struggle out of his grasp. He's resilient, and it takes a dozen shots before one cop reaches out and pulls me away. The needle falls to the floor. The man crumples. Blood flows.

Dr. Jones and even more police invade the small room. They hustle me out.

"Thank goodness we got here in time," Dr. Jones says. "Be thankful he didn't prick you with the needle."

"But he did. Twice," I say. I start to shake. The pain in my leg and arm grows.

A look of horror comes across her face. The cops back away. Their guns now trained on me.
- - -
Now I really don't want to go to the doctors.

Write on! Write on!! Brothers and sisters, amen. Write on!!!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Guest Blog: She's MIA. You'll have to do with me.

This is a test of the emergency guest blog system. This is only a test. Should this have been an actual emergency, you would have had better things to be doing than reading this. This is only a test.
- - -
Yesterday, on the Internet Writing Workshop, someone sent me, and other great thinkers and writers, a link (no longer working) to an article titled:  Is Writing an Art or a Craft?  After Googling the topic to do research, I received 200,000,000 hits (seriously). On the IWW, I decided to answer thusly.
- - -
(Y'all need to read this with a southern accent in your head even though I'm originally from New Jersey.)

You can't spell craft without "a"..."r"..."t".

We're splitting definitional hairs, and I'm too busy crafting my next novel into a work of art so future generations can shell out big bucks for a first edition of my literary masterpiece.

Art is in the eye of the beholder. Some paintings, pictures, and books are pieces of dog do-do that don't resonate with anyone but the plumber, unplugging the toilet after those items are flushed. Some paintings, pictures, and books can take a person's breath away or change their lives. You want to call me a craftsman or artist or writer or novelist or author, go's all good. It's even better if you call me one of those fancy names while leaving me a 5-star review on Amazon, paying $13.99 for the paperback of One Promise Too Many because that's my biggest profit margin, and posting on Facebook (after you change your password) that Rick Bylina is a genius and his writings changed my life. But don't call me a bum. Only my mother-in-law can do that with impunity.

Notice, you can't spell masterpiece without "a"..."r"..."t" either.

The beaver family down the creek from me built a dam where the farmer and his contractor failed to do so twice over the past 20 years. The beaver's damn dam is masterpiece of engineering that withstood the illegal attempt by the farmer to dynamite it. Farmer's dead now. Explosives accident, I hear tell. But he has the watering hole he wanted all along thanks to the beaver's craft and resultant work of art. Of the farmer, well, as Leslie Winkle would say, "Dumb ass."

I am that I am: a scribbler of words. Had I been an actual writing genius, I would have probably written something prophetic by now. No, I'm just a Joe who enjoys words, tells some good stories, understands the craft but can't always execute it without a cheat sheet. A Joe, who has problems with the details, spelling, and micro-hairsplitting grammar concepts. Nevertheless, I keep working at it. Genius is state to strive for. Keep trying and maybe no one will notice that you didn't make it to that state, but your art did.

Notice agin (sic), you can't spell author without "a"..."r"..."t" either. Webster works in mysterious ways.

P.S. God spelled backwards is dog. Mind-blowing.
- - -
This has been a test of the emergency guest blog system. Should this have been an actual emergency, we'd all be looking for someone with whom we could spending eternity blogging. This was only a test.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Book Review: "Violence" by Timothy McDougall

Violence by Timothy McDougall is a great story with a strong ending but written in an odd style. The author claims to have done screenplay writing, and I think that may have affected his approach. Too many asides and infodumps peppered this story. I have no idea how many Points-of-View (POVs) showed up. It's irrelevant when done seamlessly; however, the head-hopping made me stop and have to re-read passages to correctly identify the character I was reading about. Some minor characters' POVs weren't even needed. Movies bounce POVs endlessly, but the visual helps the watcher stay focused. In this novel, bouncing and unnecessary POVs made staying deep in the story difficult at times. It may be difficult for many readers to fall in love with the overall reading experience with this novel because of these elements.

But, if you love police procedurals or courtroom details, you might forgive the above issues. I love details. I just wish they had been more artfully folded into the story. The omniscient courtroom POV broadcast too much, told you background detail, motivations, minutia, tidbits, and thought process that didn't help the flow of the story, and in many cases, seemed unnecessary. Let it flow, Tim. Set us up, and let it rip. If this is the quality of plotting that this author can generate, I see greatness in his future. There are passages of excellent writing, in particular, when the protag takes a neurotic OCD female church office worker to dinner. The writing, dialogue, and scene twists are five-star. I wanted more of this. However, this story needed more attention to the story-telling craft. I did enjoy the story, but the overall experience was just average. It is a strong "3".


And yet, for all the details, all the facts, and all the importance placed on phone usage, a key element of testimony around which the defense rested its case was never mentioned, resolved, clarified, or brought up. And I waited for it! When did the wife call the three amigos and how did she know their number? D'oh!

Monday, June 4, 2012

MMWUC: Writers are Driven by Story

If you read last week's MMWUC (Monday Morning Wake-Up Call), you know that I drove from Raleigh, NC to Salt Lake City (SLC), Utah in three days last week to deliver a car to my niece so that my newest grand-niece (#10) can be styling when driven by her parental chauffeurs. If you didn't know, you do now. After arriving, my niece asked, "How was the trip?" I replied, "Uneventful." "I'm sorry," she said. "Don't be," I answered. "Uneventful is good for a long drive." Now, however, I think I've been ripped off of writerly inspirational material. What would Jack Kerouac do?

My trip was 2,201 miles. I saw not a single accident or the remains of an accident or perceived a hint of danger that I might end up in an accident. Not that I want to get in an accident or wish ill-will to others, but that's a long way without mayhem. Other than an unsuccessful suicidal prairie dog, dodging cars going 65 mph, no buffalo stampeded, no deer or antelope roamed, no buzzards circled overhead, looking longingly for my considerable carcass, no wolves, coyotes, wild dogs howled into the night, sending shivers up my spine. A stretch of I-74 in Illinois, however, looked like America's killing fields with about 25 dead deer in a 30 mile stretch...and then...none thereafter. Do the deer in Illinois march in herds relentlessly to six lane highways like hordes of lemmings to the sea in the Arctic? The only creature of note was a bunny in Peoria. I parked for a night's rest after 824 miles. When I opened the car door, the bunny was sitting on its hind feet chewing whatever bunny's chew. He/she/it seemed to smile. Did it want some food? Did it want to play? Did it want to hitchhike to SLC? I left a handful of cashews on the ground, and then went inside for a date with Mr. Sandman. The cashews were gone in the morning. I hope he liked the nuts.

I did have lunch with fellow writer Carol Kean in Iowa City, Iowa, the second day. (Did they run out of creative names at some point in Iowa?) It was nice meeting her and her family. And then the drive was on in earnest. Groves of trees became groupings became stately iconic reminders of forests became bent to the wind, bowed against time, scrubby trunks with few branches became no more. Lush grass and happy, colorful cows gave way to grumpy, dark-skinned cows. Then came vast expanses where cows came in ones and twos, still uninterested in my 75 mph passing "moo" until only lonely windmills lined ridges in Wyoming and the occasional cow peaked from behind rocks in eroded and parched ravines. The feeling of never being so incredibly exposed to everything and so private in the isolation enveloped me several times. Starkness has a beauty all to itself.

My Laramie, Wyoming Chuck Wagon waitress was young (20s), bouncy (I thought she was wearing pogo sticks) with orangey/red hair (but I'm color-blind). I looked into her eyes. "Do you sometimes want to flee and look for adventure on the open road? Or do all the weary travelers convince you there's no place like home?" She looked at the aging regulars with worn canes and runaway walkers, stared at the mom and dad road warriors with the chubby eight-year-old demanding McDonald's fries for lunch in a sit-down restaurant with real tablecloths, and then she sneaked a look at the surrounding mountains still frosted with snow and green from run-off. Her mega-watt smile said it all. "I like it here just fine." I ordered steak and eggs. My tip was generous.

Well, I'm thinking of flip-flopping on you. Maybe I haven't been ripped off of story inspiration on my adventure. I think I have the nucleus for several stories right here. It's all the matter of what you do with what you have. I wonder what adventure awaits the waitress at the "Chuck Wagon" in Laramie when a cow wanders up to the drive-in window one night just before closing. "Moo," it announces itself, and she's forced to tie him to the bumper of her rusty Chevy pickup to take home for the night, only to find out that the cow is a stolen prized sperm donor, and the guy who stole it had a heart attack. He's dead. She panics and flees to some hunky guy's cabin in the Medicine Bow National Forest. And now everyone is after my orangey/red haired waitress and her new cow, Carli Joy. I may have to go back and save her.

Did you ever find inspiration on the road? Let us know about it.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Guest Blog: Cooking English Novels With Exotic Seasoning by Edith Parzefall

Sometimes I wish I'd become a cameraman, uhm woman. See, that's where the trouble starts already.  Words can be such a nuisance. While German is my mother tongue (hm, my father tongue as well), I've wanted to write in English ever since attending the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA.

Writers are taught to pay close attention to how people speak, act, behave... Well, there is no better motivation than being thrown into a foreign culture. Of course, in school I'd been taught British English as the more sophisticated, original flavor, sorry flavour. Well, ask Shakespeare how modern British English sounds to him.

In the US, I quickly adapted. Gotta fit in if you don't want to hear the question, "Oh, where are you from?" every time you open your mouth. Very important survival strategy since your answer might prompt a lengthy explanation of a complete stranger's family history. After a few weeks, I'd mastered a perfectly pronounced "Hi" that didn't raise questions.

Around that time I started thinking and dreaming in English. Years later, when I seriously attempted writing fiction, I started in German, but English phrases kept popping up in my head, particularly for dialogue. Naturally, I'd never listened to Germans so carefully, assuming they all talked like I do, which of course they don't.

Nudged and encouraged by American friends, I switched to writing in English. To add a little language challenge, I set my thriller Strays of Rio in Brazil, sprinkling in Portuguese, and my psychological suspense Crumple Zone in Chile, spiced with some Spanish. Fairly easy in comparison to what lay ahead.

A few years ago, Francene Stanley invited me to co-write a post-apocalyptic fantasy with her. Born in Australia, she has been living in the UK for decades. Since Wind Over Troubled Waters is set in Cornwall, I had to revert to British English--while I was still editing Strays written in American English. Fortunately, Francene never complained when she had to fix any of my slips into American spelling. In return, I weeded out her Australian instances of 'no-body'.

Since a US or UK publisher would have been far too boring language-wise, our Australian-German-British novel ended up with Canadian Double Dragon Publishing. I half-expected a South African editor for further coverage of English language flavors. Maybe for the next book in the series.
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Edith Parzefall can be contacted via her blog or website.