Television IS writing research!


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It’s true. Watching television—certain television shows at least—is writing research. Especially when you stream a season or watch it on DVD (without commercials) and analyze character and story arcs. I have learned a lot about story structure, character development, and dialog from well written television shows.

For me it started with Joss Whedon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Since then, there have been a number of other series that have influenced my storytelling and writing style.

The Closer—This show did an amazing job with character idiosyncrasies as a method Brenda Leigh Johnsonfor building empathy.Here’s the series synopsis: The Closer is a police procedural series, starring Kyra Sedgwick as Brenda Leigh Johnson, a Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief. Brenda moved to Los Angeles from Georgia where she trained in the CIA, and gained a reputation as a Closer — a tough interrogator who solves cases and obtains confessions leading to convictions that “close” the case. Deputy Chief Johnson uses her femininity to disarm and distract, and at times resorts to deceit and intimidation to persuade suspects into confessing.

The West Wing—This show excelled on every level. Though, one of the things I loved most was the punchy dialog. What characters say, as well as what they don’t, reveals who they are. Here’s the synopsis: A political drama that followed the triumphs and travails of White House senior staff that won two Peabody Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and 26 Primetime Emmy Awards, including the award for Outstanding Drama Series, which it won four consecutive times.

The West Wing cast

White Collar—This show had engaging characters and story lines, and plot threads with enough twists to keep the most agile guessing. Here’s the synopsis: Criminal Neal Caffrey has been eluding FBI agent Peter Burke for years, a run that finally comes to an end with his capture. But after the resourceful prisoner escapes from a maximum-security facility, then is nabbed once again by Burke, Caffrey suggests a different end-game: In return for freedom, he’ll help the Feds catch long-sought criminals. Though skeptical, Burke soon realizes that Caffrey’s instincts and insight are a rare commodity. Cast of White Collar

NCIS—This show matches strong characters with thought provoking mysteries. What impressed me the most—maybe because it’s what I needed to learn in my own writing at the time—was the finesse used in creating three-dimensional characters with believable interrelationships with humorous quirks. Here’s the series synopsis: Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs leads a group of colorful personalities in investigating crimes — ranging from murder and espionage to terrorism — that have evidence connected to Navy and Marine Corps personnel.

NCIS cast

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—Smart, funny, and brimming with humanity we can all relate to. This series has a stellar cast and equally talented writers who bring the characters to life. The secondary characters are as brilliant at the main character, Midge Maisel. Every writer can learn something from this series. 8 Emmy Awards back up my opinion. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this series yet, maybe the synopsis will inspire you: It’s the late 1950s and Miriam “Midge” Maisel has everything she has ever wanted — the perfect husband, two kids and an elegant apartment on New York’s Upper West Side. Her seemingly idyllic life takes a surprising turn when she discovers a hidden talent she didn’t previously know she had — stand-up comedy. This revelation changes her life forever as she begins a journey that takes her from her comfortable life on the Upper West Side through the cafes and nightclubs of Greenwich Village as she makes her way through the city’s comedy industry on a path that could ultimately lead her to a spot on the “Tonight Show” couch.

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

What’s your current fave television series and why?

How to outsmart the traps of ‘Writer’s Time’


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Some days I wonder if Einstein set out to prove his theory of relativity after experiencing the phenomena of writer’s time:

  1. Suspension in the blissful bubble of the sparkly new idea.
  2. Trudging through horrifically hard scenes or the mire of the middle.
  3. The End…that keeps slipping away.
  4. The Wait after submission, when time freezes.

It took a couple of projects before I recognized the phenomena of writer’s time, and a few more before I learned how to sidestep the traps. The secret to managing writer’s time instead of being controlled by it is to juggle. Yes juggle.

Juggling hands


1. Blissful Sparkly Idea Bubble

You’ve got a sparkly new idea and you’re glowing with inspiration and so caught up in the creative process you’re not aware of time passing. You dance through the prose, and the story all but writes itself. This phase must be what Ray Bradbury was referring to when he said, “You must stay drunk on writing…” because it feels GREAT. The trap is believing that writing will always be this way. If you do, when the euphoria fades and the real work begins, you’ll quit. The secret is to enjoy the blissful bubble while lasts and accomplish as much as possible. This will help you through the other phases of writer’s time.

Creative inspiration


2. Horrifically Hard Scenes and the Mire of the Middle

The blissful bubble popped and you’re face with writing horrifically hard scenes or the slogging through the mire of the middle, and time crawls at a painfully slow pace. Don’t dismay. Every project this phase, to one degree or another. Trust in the process and keep writing. If the muck starts to feel like quick sand, juggle. Pick up another project for a while and rekindle the spark of inspiration. Always remember the quote by Louis L’Amour: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

crawling through the hard scenes

3. THE END is in Sight and Out of Reach

Time fliesTHE END is near, but as you type faster, time speeds up, flying by at a gale force velocity. It’s like being on a treadmill, running in place. Invigorating and infuriating.

You know exactly what needs to happen in your story and what to do to get there. You can taste victory, especially when chocolate is at the end of the deadline, but it’s perpetually out of reach. The secret to remember here is that time is an illusion, and in the end (pun intended) the writer always wins! Keep typing.

4. The Wait

You made your deadline with style and grace, but the excitement of sending off your ‘baby’ soon fades. You put your heart and soul into a story and now it’s gone. The Wait to hear back begins. The trap here is allowing yourself to indulge in feeling lost, or succumbing to insecurity and doubt. Don’t do it!

Instead, juggle. Start a new project, or pick up an old one you put on the shelf. Try a new genre. Write something totally different. Write anything. Keep the creativity flowing. If you don’t, you might find yourself in the same predicament as Han Solo, at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Frozen. Insecurity, doubt, and fear are insidious. Don’t give them a chance to seep in. Keep writing. The secret to getting published (again and again) is to not give up!

Han Solo


Zen and the art of creative rhythm


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Dancing figures silhouette

In the Western world, we are judged—and often judge ourselves—by how much we do. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just not always conducive for creativity. Writing, like other creative processes, has a rhythm.

The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between them. —Claude Debussy

Musical structure, by definition, is rhythmic. It relies as much on the silence in between the notes as the notes themselves. The written word is much the same, as is the creative process itself. When creativity is continuously forced, full-speed-ahead, we eventually lose inner and outer balance along with the ability to create.

You may have families, jobs, or other obligations that demand a lot of attention on a daily basis. Making time to write may push your limits some days, especially if you’re on deadline. The secret to maintaining your creative rhythm is to periodically step back, if only for a few moments:Spa rocks and lotus flower

  • listen to classical music during your commute
  • stop for a few minutes to fully appreciate a sunset
  • take a short walk and focus on nature
  • sit for a mini meditation, two or three minutes works wonders

I love the line from the film Million Dollar Baby when Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) tells Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank), who he’s coaching in boxing, “Sometimes the best punch you can land, is to take a step back.”

This is not a new concept. It’s Zen wisdom that we intrinsically know, but often forget when swept up in the flurry of life’s demands. Ray Bradbury‘s book, Zen in the Art of Writing, provides a deeper look into the practice from the viewpoint of a master.

Musical notes and splashes of color

It started with a tap dancing cow!


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Tomorrow marks the 7th anniversary of this blog, a blogiversary if you will. It all started with a simple post featuring a tap dancing cow Putting on the Ritz. It’s hard to believe that was 7 years ago!

Tap dancing cow

Dancing…and writing…into the New Year

The focus on blogging has changed in the writing world over the last seven years. Today, Authors spend the majority of their time working on their next project, and very little on blogs. Personally, I enjoy the immediate gratification of writing and posting a short piece and will continue here…though less frequently.

Here’s to a New Year filled with ridiculously spectacular accomplishments!

Mooo-ve over, the best is yet to come!

YA Series with intrigue, action, and suspense… Oh my!


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As the days get shorter and the nights colder, there’s nothing better than curling up next to a warm fire with a good book. Preferably a story that sweeps you away with intrigue and catches your breath with excitement. “I’m in,” you say, “got any suggestions?”

As a matter of fact…there are three fantastic young adult (YA) series that may have surreptitiously slipped under your radar…

Beautiful Idols series

By Alyson Noel

The BEAUTIFUL IDOLS series is a sizzling contemporary Hollywood noir mystery, with an authentic cast of culturally diverse teenagers. UNRIVALED, the first in the series, hooked me from the start and it was tough waiting for BLACKLIST and INFAMOUS. You don’t have to wait, though. You can read all three back to back!

The mystery unfolds as a group of celebrity-seeking teens are handpicked by the owner of Los Angeles’ trendiest night clubs to promote his newest venues.

The glitz and glamour soon fades, exposing the ruthlessness of a cut-throat industry. Aster, Layla, Tommy, and Ryan find themselves caught in a web of deception, greed, and murder linked to the disappearance of Madison Brooks, A-List actress and the nation’s favorite It girl.

Secrets and lies build as the series flows with unexpected twists at each turn. As the characters’ interrelationships deepen, the consequences escalate to a supremely satisfying conclusion.

  • Publishers Weekly called this series “Addictive.”
  • New York Times bestselling author, Cecily Von Zeigesar, described it as, “Mysterious and compelling.”
  • Kirkus Reviews called it, “Chick-lit gold.”

I wholeheartedly to agree.

Riders and Seeker

By Veronica Rossi

What would you do if you woke up to find you were one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? That’s what Gideon discovers in RIDERS, recovering from an accident that actually killed him. He has new powers, a bizarre cuff he can’t remove, and a new destiny—he’s War, one of the legendary horsemen of the apocalypse, with a horse made of fire no less.

A mysterious girl arrives to help Gideon unite with the other horsemen, Conquest, Famine, and Death and their horses of light, shadow, and ash. They must save the world from an ancient evil. And they fail. Big time.

It was Daryn’s responsibility as a SEEKER to ensure the success of the Riders’ mission. Daryn’s visions started in high school, but one believed she could see the future. She became a Seeker to save lives. It was all good…until Sebastian. He was a mistake that haunted her with the threat of mankind’s destruction. Will she be able to do what the Riders could not?

Rossi’s gift for realistic world building and creating engaging—yet flawed and vulnerable—characters brings this high velocity supernatural thriller into realistic focus. For a fierce and explosive, nail-biting ride, this duology is a must read.

USA Today agrees, “Readers will surely be clamoring for more.”

Wolf by Wolf and Blood for Blood

By Ryan Graudin

What if Hitler had won WWII? In WOLF BY WOLF, that’s the reality Ya-el faces, one she’ll risk her life to change after escaping the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. A product of inhumane Nazi experimentation, Ya-el became a shapeshifter. A talent she uses for the resistance’s mission that requires Ya-el to assume the identity of last year’s motorcycle racing champion, Adele Wolf, in the Axis Tour. It’s critical that Ya-el win the race and assassinate Hitler at the victory dance.

BLOOD FOR BLOOD resumes the heart pounding race in a higher stakes arena. Seventeen year-old Ya-el is on the run, in a world that believes she killed Hitler. The truth is unbelievably complicated and the consequences are a matter of life and death. Ya-el and her band of unlikely comrades must infiltrate enemy territory and complete their mission. They must stop the Nazis or lose everything.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) of BLOOD FOR BLOOD states, “Graudin…crafts another fast-paced, enthralling tale of sacrifice and dogged determination as she fuses alternate history and spy thriller suspense. A provocative rumination on self-preservation, the greater good, and the boundaries that keep heroes from becoming as cruel as those they fight.”

Now…for that breathtaking escape…

There’s no time—or age—limit on creativity!


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Mary E. Pearson, author of The Remnant Chronicles, heralded the call to reason that “There is no creative clock ticking!” in her blog post on ageism in YA. This truth, as expressed by New York Times bestselling author Susan Dennard, is worth repeating:

There is no expiration date on writing. There is no expiration date on success, and I will keep preaching this until my younger and older readers believe me.—Susan Dennard

I’m as guilty as anyone for rushing to charge across the Publication Finish Line. I wrote my first young adult novel in two months with the idea that “that would be it.” Luckily, common sense seeped in. I rewrote that book three times before realizing I needed to work on my craft and deepen my understanding of story structure. It finally hit me that once a book is published that’s it. There’s no do-overs. That’s when I decided to take Time out of the Publication Equation.

At a local author event, Mary E. Pearson admitted that it was 10 years before she published her first novel. Her fourth novel, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, was the start of the hit series The Jenna Fox Chronicles. Pearson didn’t rush. She honed her craft and storytelling to resonate on a deeply human level.

Taking time out of the equation

Taking time out of the equation for a project isn’t always easy. It took me a year to figure out the right approach and voice for the picture book manuscript I’m currently revising. I was feeling bad about it taking me so long to get to that point. Then I saw the following tweet by Kate Messner and felt instantly better:

Woke up this morning with the right voice in my head for a picture book I’ve been trying to write for THREE YEARS. Writers, that’s why we should never give up on those dormant drafts! —Kate Messner

In a followup tweet, Kate admitted it had actually taken 4  years!

I’m currently revising for my third young adult novel, as well as my third picture book manuscript. I want my stories to be as good I as I can possibly make them, and I’m willing to work until they get there. You don’t have to be under, or over, a certain age to get published. The secret to getting published is to not give up!

When you’re in a creative slump

I’m not one to wait around for creativity to strike. When I’m in a creativity slump, I work on something different. If that doesn’t help, I immerse myself in other creative mediums, such as film, television series, music, or dance.

If your creativity is in retrograde, check out how some authors get their ideas in my post on how to Be your own muse. You might also like Creativity kickstart for writers ~ 5 super fun steps.

Time is relative. The journey is the reward. Enjoy the ride!


Funny phrases that make you ask, “For real?”


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It’s been quite awhile since I’ve tackled some of the idiosyncratic idioms Americans use on a daily basis. English is my first language, and I’m bemused on a regular basis by many of these expressions. If you think about the actual words, and not the implied meaning, you can’t help but ask, “For real?”

Put your best foot forward ~ make a good impression

I always wondered WHY one foot would be better than the other? As if you’d have a clown shoe on one foot and a fancy dress shoe on the other.

But I digress…

Today this phrase is often used with regards to making a good impression when meeting someone for the first time, such as a job interview or a social gathering. It also can also mean putting your best efforts into taking on a new task.

Like this little gosling…baby gosling

There is some argument over when this phrase originated. Some claim “Always put your best foot forward” dates back to 1495. Others insist the phrase was first recorded in 1613 in a poem by Sir Thomas Overbury.

However, what most people do agree upon is the misuse of “best” when comparing only two items. “Best” assumes there are three or more items. The correct usage is “better”, as in Shakespeare’s King John (1585): “Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not arguing with Shakespeare.

Head over heels ~ excited, madly in love

Today this phrase is typically used to describe someone who’s madly in love, as in “head over heels in love.” But…for real? Where do you usually find your head?

This phrase actually originated in the 14th century as ‘heels over head’, meaning doing cartwheels or somersaults.

The first recorded use of “head over heels” appeared in 1771 in Herbert Lawrence’s Contemplative Man.

However, the first recorded reference to love didn’t appear until June 1833 in an Indiana newspaper, The Lebanon Patriot:

About ten years ago Lotta fell head over heels in love with a young Philadelphian of excellent family.

Puppy love

Like nobody’s business ~ to an extraordinary degree

This is another phrase that—if you think about it too much—makes no sense whatsoever. No surprise…the origin of “like nobody’s business” is as elusive the literal meaning.

The Oxford English Dictionary claims that P.G. Wodehouse first used the phrase in 1938: “The fount of memory spouting like nobody’s business.” It’s speculated that “like nobody’s business” was a popular phrase in the 1920’s and 30’s, used as a replacement for something more shocking. The light-hearted, carefree spirit of the times embraced humor and originality of other phrases, such as “the cat’s pajamas” and “the bee’s knees”.

If someone says you’re doing something “like nobody’s business”, it’s most likely a compliment to your energetic enthusiasm. Like these old-movie stars cutting the rug (dancing) like nobody’s business!

Blockbuster Books ~ Middle Grade Mystery and Mahem!


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Summer reads should be full of fun! Great characters with can’t-wait-to-see-what-happens-next adventures, and stories that stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Readers of any age will enjoy these books.

The Parker Inheritance

By Varian Johnson

When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn’t sure The Parker Inheritance covershe should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding its writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle.

With the help of Brandon, the quiet boy across the street, Candice begins to decipher the clues. The challenge leads them deep into Lambert’s history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter’s promise before the answers slip into the past yet again? [Synopsis]

What makes this Story great

This story was quieter than I initially anticipated, but also deeper and thoroughly engaging.

  • The characters: Candice and Brandon could be the kids next door, who face real-life issues we can relate to. The parents and grandparents are a strong supporting cast, creating a tapestry of family history as the backdrop for the mystery.
  • The setting: Lambert, South Carolina is small-town USA. A town intertwined with histories from generations past, revealing its secrets to those who fall in love with its roots.
  • The mystery: It starts softly and gains momentum and voice as Candice and Brandon dig into the past to uncover one clue after another. The mystery spans generations, revealing dark injustices and heartwarming resolutions. I was pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns leading to the satisfying ending.

I’d recommend this story to anyone who enjoys a good mystery,
as well as those who appreciate realistic portraits of history.


The Lost Books ~ The Scroll of the Kings

By Sarah Prineas

The Lost Books: The Scroll of the Kings, coverTurn the page…and beware!

For years, all the libraries in the kingdom have been locked up. Is it to keep the books safe from readers? Or…is it to keep the readers safe from the books?

Alex, an apprentice librarian, suspects the books have a secret, powerful history. When his elderly master dies under extremely suspicious circumstances, Alex impersonates the old man so he can take up the position as Royal Librarian—a job far more dangerous than he could have ever imagined.

The young queen, Kenneret, is pretty sure this scruffy, obnoxious boy is not who he claims to be, but she gives Alex time to prove himself—enough time for him to discover that books aren’t just powerful, they’re alive. Even worse, some of the books possess an ancient magic that kills librarians.

Alex and Kenneret must figure out who, or what, is controlling the books and their power, or all is lost. The fate of the kingdom lies in their hands. [Synopsis]

What makes this Story great

An edge-of-your-seat fantasy—refreshing fun that’s hard to put down.

The characters: Alex was mysteriously marked as a librarian, a caretaker of books, and he’s not even 16. The other librarians are ancient, and no one takes him seriously, especially not the queen. Alex is strong in character, as is the young queen. Sparks fly in a battle of wills, until they join together to save the kingdom.

The setting: A medieval setting with enormous castles, warring kingdoms, dusty libraries with magical pages, and forgotten books with mystical powers. The richly crafted world sets the stage for this rollicking adventure.

The mystery: What is a Lost Book and how are they infecting other books with evil magic? Two unlikely friends must figure out who, or what, is controlling the books and their power, and stop them—in spite of the ensuing mayhem—before it’s too late.

Swashbuckling swordplay, beastly books, a snarky hero, a fast-paced and engaging adventure. What’s not to love?

20 Years of Harry Potter!


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It’s been twenty years since the release of the first book in J.K. Rowling’s ground-breaking series, and the world is a better place because of those books. The series has stood the test of time, and is now an “official” classic.

~*Three cheers!*~


In honor of the 15th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Scholastic gave the artwork for the entire series a makeover. 35 year-old American graphic artist, Kazu Kibuishi (a true Potter fan), has the honor of re-imagining the cover art for this iconic series.

If it’s been awhile since you last read the series, the following recap will refresh your memory.

The Harry Potter Series in Six Minutes

What’s your favorite Harry Potter moment?

What book, plot point, character, or scene (book or movie) in the series resonated most with you?

Wizarding minds want to know!

The magic of writing conferences ~ Fact & Fiction


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Magic Lamp

I waited way too long to attend my first writers conference. It’s my hope that this post will encourage other budding writers to take the formative step of attending a writers conference, and perhaps inspire veteran writers to keep coming back.

Writing conference reality check

Writing conferences are invaluable for connecting with people who share your passion. Writing is a solitary task, and meeting others who are on the same path is an affirmation that the struggle of words and stories is a valiant one. I always come away from a conference with a sense of kinship, that I belong to a tribe.

SCBWI LA Conference poster 2018

I had some strange ideas about writing conferences that held me back. So I was surprised when magic happened after I pushed past my fears and attended my first conference. Here’s a few things I’ve learned since then:

  • You don’t have to have a polished, ready-to-submit manuscript to attend a writing conference.
  • You can use writing conferences to workshop the first few chapters of a project, to get a barometer reading on the concept, voice, etc.
  • You can benefit tremendously from professional critiques in the early stages of a manuscript, getting feedback on concept, direction, and voice.
  • You learn the business of publishing at writing conferences, a must for anyone who is serious about following the traditional publishing path.
  • You form friendships with writers with which you can exchange constructive feedback, bolster one another through tough times, and celebrate each others successes. In short, friendships that last a lifetime.

The DOs

Books in flight

A few tips for a rewarding conference experience:

  • Seek out writing conferences in your genre. I write for young readers and just returned from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Summer Conference. The Romance Writers of America have their own conference, as do the Mystery Writers of America.
  • Have a goal and focus on those areas, such as craft, genre, or what agents are editors are looking for on their lists.
  • Be open to new ideas and ways of approaching your current work in progress.
  • Be open to suggestions for projects in age groups and genres you haven’t worked in…yet.
  • Listen with an open mind. Simple, yet so important for professional growth.
  • Introduce yourself to the people sitting next to you. You never know, they could be the best friend you’ve been waiting to meet.
  • Relax, absorb as much information as possible, and enjoy the experience.

The DON’Ts

The writing community is small, and industry professionals know one another. A few tips from real-life Conference Horror Stories, and how NOT to become the star of one yourself:

  • DON’T hunt down agents and editors and force your manuscript on them.
  • DON’T hunt down agents or editors at all, unless they previously requested that you do so.
  • Don’t expect to sell your current manuscript for six figures. It could happen, but that’s the exception NOT the rule.
  • Don’t be discouraged by suggestions and feedback from a professional critique. Instead, see them as positive ways to improve so you’ll be able to land your dream agent or book deal.

Most of all, join the FUN ~ Wild Things could happen!

SCBWI Los Angeles 2018 Summer Conference

“Artists and Writers Ball”