Musing Over a Ray Bradbury Quote and Story Ideas

alrm clock alertRay Bradbury said, “I don’t need an alarm clock, my ideas wake me.” This iconic science fiction writer’s words challenged me. Sleeping after an idea floats through my mind is hard. Getting up to write when I work the next day—a bigger battle. If the idea strikes a half hour before the alarm my creativity usually wins out. But 2am when I get up at 4:30—fat chance. I roll over and tell my characters to go back to bed.

Then there’s the ideas I get in the shower. They often flow away in the recesses of the bath towel as I dry off. By the time my shower is over, and the idea has been thoroughly discussed with my imaginary friends I don’t have time to write it down. But if it happens on my day off I’m excited. I drag those characters out of the tub and make them wait while I dress. Then we traipse to the computer and they dictate as I type.

More often the not though, on my days off, if I haven’t jotted the ideas down, it feels like my characters have gone to the beach and taken the next scene with them.

Such is a fiction writer’s life.

When I do capture the ideas, it makes my next block of writing time so much more productive. Rather than letting the idea alarm rule my writer’s life I tend to scribble ideas on scrape paper at work and shove them in my uniform pockets. God forbid those uniforms get washed before the pockets are emptied. The ideas come during down times at work when the phones are quiet, and the paperwork is caught up. Those notes spark my thoughts for the next scene when I sit down to write.

Bradbury was far more determined than me if he let the ideas dictate his day no matter what time of night. If my ideas become my alarm clock during retirement at least I can take a nap after my sleep has been interrupted. Until then I’ll keep pushing the snooze on the idea alarm.

How does this quote speak to you?

 

 

 

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Describing Acronyms while Writing Fiction

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At a recent critique session, the group was reviewing a chapter from my second unpublished novel, New Duet. Dan is a veteran, and while having dinner with Issy, he tells her about his truck being hit with an IED, mentioning his MOS while serving in the military. However, nowhere did I define what those acronyms meant. Defining IED (improvised explosive device) and MOS (military occupational specialty code) to my critique group help me realize I needed to make them clear to my reader. So within the dialogue exchange over dinner, Issy asked the questions one might ask in a casual conversation. Therefore, giving the definitions and making things clear rather than the archaic writing style of the narrator stepping in and saying, “Dear reader, let me explain what he is talking about.”

Obvious Acronyms

Some acronyms need no explanation. SWAT- everyone knows these are specially trained police in bullet-proof vests carrying assault weapons with particular skills to take down the bad guys. We know FBI, CIA, DEA. And every TV viewer now knows what CSI and NCIS stand for. Tests like MRI or CAT scan or CPR are understood either through experience or watching medical dramas.

Define so they stay engaged

Then again we can’t assume everyone knows. I recently ran across DIY. My mind went blank. But within the ad were the words do-it-yourself. Ah, sweet clarity. As writers, we should be familiar with the term WIP. But non-writers have no clue. Work in progress needs to appear somewhere in the same paragraph for clarity.

If you are writing about a specific trade the acronyms need to be defined once either before or after its first use. Otherwise, readers are confused and leave your story to google the mystery letters. Too many of those and you’ve lost the momentum of turning pages to get to the end at 2 a.m.

My example

As you craft your story, don’t forget to define terms within the story as quickly as you can without drawing the reader out of the story.  If a DEA agent comes to the door, don’t stop to give a brief history of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Instead:

“Men, are in position, sir.” The tall lanky DEA agent looked to Detective Marshall for confirmation.

“Tell the men to move in. Slowly. Don’t want to spook these guys.”

“For sure, they’ve given us the slip more than once. “The agent keyed his mike. “Move in, low and slow.”

“If they flush the drugs, our case is toast.” Detective Marshall kept his eyes on the third story window. Three guys sat at a table. What they were doing could not be seen from his vantage point. Fear moistened his collar. He hated dealing with drug smugglers. It always brought in the feds, and more hands in the pie could end badly.

“I heard from a guy in Vice over at Precinct 23 that these guys operate in four states.”  The young detective moved closer with the declaration. Marshall wasn’t in the mood to chat.

“Well, today it stops here.” Withdrawing his Glock from its holster, he moves in a squat posture toward the building.

Now in this less than stellar scene you get the idea. I have given you the information that the DEA is a federal branch of law enforcement that deals with drug-related crime. I’ve given the reader the needed info without stepping away from the scene.  Always give just enough to define the acronym but not so much as to drag the reader from the action.

What interesting acronyms have you run across? Do you have an example of how yuo defined an acronym while still moving the story along?

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Finding Weeds in Your Word Garden

 

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Photo by Charles Huff

How many of you love gardening? Seeing your landscape creation take shape, watching the bulbs you painstakingly planted bloom in glorious, magnificent colors. Now, how many of you love weeding?  Getting down on hands and knees and ripping out those menacing thistles, dandelions, grass, stray saplings, and (if you have a neighbor who feeds squirrels) corn stalks. Well, if we were in a gardeners class, I’d be the one hiding behind the big kid, hoping to avoid getting volunteered.

 

 

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Photo by Charles Huff

I love a beautiful garden but hate, HATE weeding! The whole process makes my arms and shoulders ache and my fingernails acquire black French tips just thinking about it. Needless to say, my yard gets pretty weedy before it is attended to. Over the years, my landscaping has become pretty Spartan.

 

A writer’s garden of words needs weeding, and that can become a pretty daunting task, too. Especially for the novice. It’s like sending a four-year-old into your flower beds to weed. They know not what to pull so they remove a lot of healthy foliage. If her eyes are green, don’t keep telling me her eyes are green. He gazed into her green eyes. Or, Her green eyes snapped. Maybe those eyes blaze like an emerald when she’s angry. Still green but more exciting.  Her pupils grew large when the villain approached. See what I’m getting at?

Does your hero fist his hands a lot? Or run them through his hair? (Mine sure did.)  Flex fingers, white knuckles, clenched-fisted. Find more interesting ways to refer to physical action.

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Some varieties of flowers come in different sizes. Daisies can be small, tall, bushes and a myriad of colors. Daisies are my favorite flower, but I would not want my whole yard covered in them. Neither does your reader want to read the same word over and over again. Rather than your hero breathing try panting, gasping or straining. His breathing might be thready, heavy, faint or gulping. You might write:

The thready sound of air passed through his teeth.

A whisper of air tickled her neck.

My editor found a lot of sipping going on in my novel. So we had to weed those sips out. My characters held the mug to their lips. Stirred the content. She gazed over the cup. Gulped, swallowed, savored and drank.

Don’t walk across the room. Stride, skip, stomp, waltz, plod or any other action word.

We use lots of was, were, is, are in our writing. She was sad might transform to sadness gripped her. If it gripped her heart in one paragraph be sure it travels to her toes or spills out her eyes later.

Thistles end up in my yard and flowerbeds because of the Cardinal bird feeders in the neighborhood. When you think you’ve got them all, more pop up. Common words can become thistles. Just, only, have just, but, because, really, very and lots of -ly words.

 

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Photo By Charles Huff

 

When a thistle blooms, it is lovely. It’s the national flower of Scotland.  Most Americans don’t grow them intentionally. They are prickly and a nuisance when they pop up in random places. Do you recall listening to a speech sprinkled with the words: you know? Or have a friend end every sentence with –just saying. Make sure your word garden is free of those.

Below is a list of words to weed from the landscape of your novel. Words that distract the reader. The passive word that slows the action. Perhaps a favorite go-to word planted between awesome words causing the scenes to droop. These words distract the reader from the beauty of the overall work.

 

 

It is recommended by most authors I know to start your own list of words you habitually plant in your projects.  Refer to your list when you begin editing. Get out your weeding tools and eliminate the majority of them. Thin others. Not every was is unneeded and an occasional just is just fine.  Keep the list handy because those little buggers are going to reappear time and time again. And you will probably add to your list when you notice your replacement words become repetitive.

What are some favorite words you use in excess in your writing?

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Populating Your Historical Story World

 

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Notice the diversity in these cowboys.

I am a pantster, I write my stories as my characters speak to me. I don’t usually outline and sometimes characters appear I never met until the words appear on the page. During my research in preparation for my historical novel, I was fascinated by the various nationalities, who populated the geographic setting of my story. Because the information ruminated in the back of my mind, many minor characters took shape from those tomes.

 

Potpourri of ethnicity

During the mid -1800s significant immigration by many diverse people groups to the unsettled regions of the Midwest occurred.  African Americans came west after the Civil War. Former slaves looking to start new. Irish immigrants who’d help build the railroads and were sick of big city life in the East. Some who in order to gain citizenship fought in the Civil War on both sides. Chinese nationals helped build the railroad. Wikipedia places them only on the west coast. However, my resource books show they also moved inland. Not all Native Americans were on reservations either. And Mexicans were the first immigrants to the area under the Spanish flag.

All of these nationalities took up residence either on the ranch or the surrounding community in my novel, Secrets and Charades.

Research the nationality of your setting

 

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Irish immigrants. Notice the one in the union hat.

 

When populating your novel with characters, it’s important to know who settled the area. For example, did you know that most police officers and firemen in New York in the 1800s were Irish? Those jobs were considered dangerous. The Irish were treated as second-class citizens when they arrived on American shores. Some had military training, either in Ireland or were Civil War veterans. Because these jobs paid better than most available to the Irish, many took up the call. Often patrolling tenement areas housing Irish

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Irish women took any job available. These washerwomen might have traveled west for a better life. My ancestors among them.

immigrants. So, it would be appropriate to have Irish police officers in your novel set in this time period in New York. Those same poor, abused Irish immigrants came west as farmers, miners and the like. The various free land opportunities gave them a chance for a better life.

 

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Former slaves on their homestead.

 

African-Americans

African Americans who had served during the Civil War also participated in homesteading opportunities. Former slaves with specific skills such as blacksmithing could make a living out west.  Black communities sprung up throughout the west. The stigmatism leftover from slavery made it safer to form their own communities.

 

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Mexican vaqueros taught the American cowboy many things.

 

 

Mexican -Americans

Mexican-Americans from the rich to the poor had to make room for many settlers. The poor Hispanics found work on ranches. Non-Hispanic cowboys learned their skills from these experienced vaqueros. Often the household staff on large ranches were Hispanic.

 

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Chinese railroad workers

 

Chinese

The Chinese usually create their own communities in a section of town. Their different dress, language, and culture put them under suspicion. Chinese were not permitted to bring their families with them. Although I don’t explore the seedier side of their communities in my novel, sadly there was one.  Rather I chose to paint them with a more compassionate brush. Asians have been part of American culture for hundreds of years. Besides, a key scene in Secrets and Charades would be impossible without my Chinese characters.

 

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Native Americans

 

Native Americans

Native Americans were ever present in the old west. Not all lived on reservations. Their life was hard, abuse at the hands of the white man is well-documented. Still, there are accounts of Indians and mix-race families living peacefully with white neighbors.

Less Vanilla

Knowing the culture of those who lived during the time you place your story can make the tale not only more believable but far more interesting to the reader. Don’t hesitate to add some color to your otherwise vanilla characters.ed1c1dd3bf71efd7db9ad9c540d4421a

Who are the characters that populate your story world?

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Why Professional Headshots

cindy huff 2016If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve noticed I’ve changed my profile picture. I also posted two photos for my friends to help me choose which will go on the back of my novel. Headshots are essential if you take your writing seriously. It identifies you to future readers. So, it needs to be excellent quality. Whether you are traditionally or self-published, you need a professional headshot. Even if you haven’t gotten one item in print yet. Why would I need a photo if no one knows I write? To ask is to answer.

Business cards

You need it for your business cards so publishers, editors, agents and fellow writers can more easily connect. We all remember faces before we remember names. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, you will need business cards for conferences. But don’t wait until the last minute to get them. That might mean no photo which is not a good idea.cindy 2016

Publication pics

You need headshots for publications who want the photos of their authors with the article. Even e-zines request headshots. Selfies are tacky and scream amateur. It is better to send no photo than a selfie.  The photo embeds in people’s brains. They may be attracted to your book because your photo looks familiar. Torry Martin has funny photos. Comedians can get away with a bit of silliness. If comedy is your brand of writing, by all means, have a silly photo. Even that needs a professional hand to make it shine.

Poses

Your professional pose will appear on all your social media. Make sure it’s your best. Skip the “model” poses. You know what I mean. My six-year-old granddaughter strikes those poses the minute grandpa gets out his camera.

I once receive a business card from an up and coming writer with an odd photo. She was leaning sideways and her hair drooping in that direction. Her head at an awkward angle. Someone else noticed the photo while I was flipping through the business cards I’d received at the conference. They asked if the person was mentally challenged. So sad. Her latest photo is top-notch and speaks confident writer.

Update your photo

Over the course of my writing career, I have had five photos. The first one appeared in a column I wrote for the newspaper. I couldn’t find a copy to post here. That was back in the 90s before we had digital cameras.  It was face forward from the neck upward. Not very flattering if I recall. But face forward for a thumbnail picture is probably the best pose. The paper’s photographer took the picture and the paper chose the pose. Probably why I didn’t care for it.

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First photo taken by Hubby

 

Years later I needed a photo for an article. Here is the one my hubby took. He takes great landscapes and tries to make sure the lighting is good when he photographs family members. This was taken with a simple digital camera. Not bad and I could crop it as a headshot pretty easily. It appeared on my Facebook page when I first got an account. Not professional but at least I’m dressed up an smiling.

 

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Second semi-pro photo

The second picture was taken by a young lady just getting into photography. Like the first—no touch ups and easy to crop. This replaced my FB picture and was the first pose on my blog. (If anyone knows how to delete old profile pictures permanently so they don’t reappear when I post my blog or Goodreads reviews on social media, message me.)

Small head shot of Cindy Huff

Cropped professional shot

 

My third headshot was done by a pro. He canceled his day of appointments and forgot to tell me. So, when I called and said I was waiting at his studio, he came and took them anyway. The happy ending is he gave all the proofs to me for free for the inconvenience he caused. There was no touch up here either.

My most recent headshots are below. These are my two favorites from my professional photo shoot. These have been touched up.

Copyrights

I have all the rights. This is important. I can make a zillion copies, place them on anything I want. They are mine and not the photographers. These photos will be used for whatever advertising my marketing people will deem prudent.  Retail store photographer or those studios who focus on graduations, family photos come with watermarks. Legally I can’t make copies. Have you ever tried printing copies of your kid’s senior picture and found it less than satisfactory? Walmart and the like won’t reprint photos that are watermarked. Legal issues again.

Watermarks

These photographers want you to come back to them for copies. Copy sales are part of the meat and potatoes of their business. And there is nothing wrong with that. But for my purposes, the cost of purchasing additional pictures or working with their copyright license doesn’t work for me.

All Rights

I paid for my photo shoot, two photos, and touch-up from a very reputable photographer. He was so fun to work with. He tried a variety of poses and took several snaps to be sure he got the best picture possible. (Side note: Be sure to check references before taking the time and paying for the photo shoot.  And get quotes from more than one photographer.) He made sure the pixelation was suitable for any enlarging or reducing.  I can crop it to any size I want. I want to keep clear of violating any copyright issues, even by accident.

My photos span about 12 years, and I imagine I will be doing a few more updates before my career is over.

Headshot part of brand

DiAnn Mills mentioned in a conference class on social media that our headshot is part of our brand. She’s always wearing a turtleneck in her poses. I am not sure what my brand is. Notice in each photo I am wearing a different color. But, all of them are flattering. Flattering is always good. Some authors create a persona for their headshot. If they write westerns—a cowboy hat.  And as I mentioned silly poses for comedians. Jennifer Hudson Taylor writes Highland fiction so her back cover pose reflects that. Until I can wrap my head around the nuances of branding, I’ll probably stick with a professional pose with (hopefully) a confident smile.

 

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DiAnn Mills

 

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Author Jennifer Hudson Taylor

 

Do you have any tips about headshots or a fun story about your photo? Share it in the comments. I am confident there are things I have yet to learn about it.

 

 

From My Novel Research: Pioneer Schooling

McGuffey ReadersIn my novel, Secrets and Charades, there is no school close enough for 12-year old Juliet to attend. Like many pioneer children, Juliet was taught at home. McGuffey Readers were the standard text for children nationwide. These books were passed down from parent to child since it was first published in 1832. The 1st and 2nd readers introduced the basics. The 4th and 5th were geared toward 7th and 8th graders. Once a child completed these, they might end their education and seek work or continue on to higher learning.

The initial two became the standard for public schools until 1960.Within the pages were reading, phonics, spelling and grammar exercises. Many scriptural principles were taught as part of the reading lessons. The revised versions removed much of the religious teaching the McGuffey brothers felt so important for a well-rounded education.

Front of McGuffey ReaderUnfortunately, not all parents could read. Or at least not English if they were recent immigrants from Europe. Those settlers were willing to pay (even in produce) someone to teach their children. Often it was an older daughter of one of the settlers who had completed her own education using these same readers.

Parents would send books from home with their children to use in the classroom. Usually Bibles, Sunday School quarterlies, dictionaries, poetry books and McGuffey’s.  Books were shared. Students took turns reading out loud. I read of a classroom set up in an abandoned dugout—a house dug into the side of a hill. The students practiced ciphers and spelling by using sticks and the dirt floor.1882 Math book cover

Lots of calculating was done in their heads and answers were given orally. Math was not considered important for elementary students. Gradually math tables were introduced as part of their studies. Large cities often had more substance to their math curriculum.

Male students educations required more than reading. They needed a head for ciphers and neat penmanship to be considered employable. All the answers were found in the back of the textbook enabling anyone to teach themselves math.

Education for girls was minimalized with the focus of teaching her own children or perhaps a classroom when she grew up.

A community felt more civilized if they were able to build a church and a school. Often one building served both purposes.1880 Arithmatic book

Fortunate was the child whose parents could read and write. Winter days the children spent studying while Ma sewed and Pa repaired tools he would need in the spring, Learning took place in snatches when the family wasn’t doing other work crucial to their survival.

A school established in a rural area accommodated harvest and planting times. Short sessions allowed the boys to help in the fields. Older girls and small children might continue to attend school while their older brothers were absent.

McGuffey readers are still sold today. Homeschoolers used them to experience a bit of history.

Hope you enjoyed this interesting factoid from my research. What interesting things have you found out as you’ve researched your latest writing project?

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Secondary Characters, Sequels, and Fans

I’ve started on my third novel while waiting for my first to debut in March and my second to catch the eye of a publisher.  This tale will acquaint readers with some secondary characters from Secrets and Charades that seem to have captured the hearts of my prereaders. Writing a sequel reminds me of when I meet someone outside my workplace. I wear scrubs as a receptionist for Heartland Blood Center. Faithful donors see me often. On occasion, I bump into them in stores or another public place. They don’t know me in my civvies but they have that look. I know you from somewhere but what if I’m wrong.  Sometimes I greet them. One older gentlemen left the store and then came back in to track me down. He had to know where he knew me from. That’s the feeling readers get when they open a character-driven sequel.

Mary Connealy’s The Kincaid Brides focuses on Three Brothers and how they come to meet and marry their wives. Once I followed the first brother I was hooked for the series.

Secondary Characters

Secondary characters who are given their own story already have a fan base. The reader will remember them and how they aided in the enjoyment of the previous story. They’ll be curious to get to know them better.

Aaron Gansky’s Hand of Adonia Series left his characters hanging at the end of Book One. So now I have to see where the teens end up in the next installment.

Who did your readers want to know more about?

Before I started this project I presented my editor with two possible directions for a sequel. The other idea introduced a new character in the lead. I was undecided as to which one to start. Both ideas had merit. Yet, filling out the story on a character my readers will come to love in Secrets and Charades gave me a shoe in. As I said, a fan-base should already be there if sales go well from my first novel.

The novels  which comprise DiAnn Mills FBI Houston series are excellent as stand-alones. She writes so well that reading only one FBI Houston book is not an option.

Write a stand-alone

What if the sales don’t go well? What if my debut does ok but not enough to warrant a sequel? I’ll write this story so it could stand alone. If someone never read Secrets and Charades, they could still embrace this story without wondering what was happening.

Hoping for a stellar sequel

I’ve read reviews of sequels that bemoaned how they lacked the spark of the first one. We’ve all seen movie sequels which left us saying… Why?  So, I want my sequel to have a definite theme and a plot that is compelling. I find as I set words to paper and the characters spend more time with me I’m surprised at their reactions to things. So fun.

Family, Setting, and Neighborhood

Sequels can follow a family through generations. Such as Karen Kingsbury’s Newman Family or Gilbert Morris Winslow family. Both of these series filled several books. A typical series is three or four books. The main characters might be siblings, best friends or various neighbors in the same community. (Think Amish).  Settings can be the basis of a sequel. The characters from the previous novel only have a cameo appearance or none at all. The town, mountain or river, for example, may be the connecting element.

What are your characters saying to you?

If you’ve written your first novel see if any other character would like to get better acquainted with you. Maybe he or she is begging for you to tell their tale. Maybe the setting has many possibilities for the same characters from your first novel to have another adventure. Or a new lead to explore a different area of your setting.

What’s your thought about sequels? Leave a comment.

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