Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Amazing Truffles- Just Three Ingredients to Happiness

I love truffles. They are elegant to serve, beautiful to look at...and incredibly easy to make! Here is another installment in the virtual cookie exchange with Ellie Ashe:

3-Ingredient Candy Cane Truffles

Quick, simple, and elegant, these truffles can be prepped in the microwave and made in minutes!
Makes: ~ 12 truffles
1 cup high-quality dark or milk chocolate chips
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup crushed candy canes
Directions:1. In a large microwave-safe bowl, heat chocolate chips and cream together, cooking in 30-second bursts until the chips melt. Stir until smooth.
2. Place in fridge until the mixture firms, about 15-30 minutes.
3. Scoop tablespoon-sized mounds of the chocolate using a mini ice cream scoop, then roll into balls.
4. Roll balls in crushed candy canes.
5. Store in fridge until ready to eat. Best when eaten within 12 hours.
Additional Topping Ideas: Make different varieties of truffles by rolling yours in unique toppings. Here are a few of my favorites: rainbow sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, cacao nibs, chopped nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, or pistachios), mini rainbow chips, and holiday sprinkles.

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays to all.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Put Some Pep (or Peppermint) in Your Holidays!

I love peppermint in any form: Flavored coffee, candy, cakes, and cookies. Because of that, I want to share one of all-time favorite recipes for Peppermint Bark Cookies, straight from the Betty Crocker cookbook.  Here it is! Make double and share it with a friend:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Beat butter, vegetable shortening, light brown sugar, and white sugar in a separate large bowl until creamy. Beat eggs, vanilla and peppermint extracts, and red food coloring into butter mixture until smooth. Gradually beat dry ingredients into wet ingredients until dough is smooth. Fold white chocolate chips and crushed candy canes into dough.
  3. Pinch off 1-tablespoon-sized pieces of dough, roll into balls, and place on ungreased baking sheets. Lightly flatten cookies with the bottom of a drinking glass.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven until cookies are set but not browned, 9 to 10 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes before removing to finish cooling on wire racks.
Kitchen-Friendly View


  • Cook's Note:
  • For the more-adventurous baker, when cookies are cooled, melt 1 1/2 to 2 cups white chocolate morsels by placing in a bowl over a small pot of simmering water and stirring until all the morsels are melted. Add 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract, mixing well, before dipping half of each cookie in the melted chocolate. Place on waxed paper and sprinkle with more crushed candy cane. Let white chocolate harden. This gives them the more festive look.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The BEST Recipe for Busy Folks!

I love to bake - really - but I never seem to have the time to do a proper job.  Baking is an activity that requires me to slow down, wait for timers, and wait for cookies to cool so that they can be packed into those cute little baggies so that I can impress my friends with my domesticity.  I simply do not have that much time right now: It's finals week at my high school, it's the week of my youngest son's trip back home, and I'm tired from all of the rushing about.  My solution? A 'no-bake- cookie recipe, of course!  Here's one of the best, contributed by Helen Ostrosky:


2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
1 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups oatmeal
Waxed paper


In a heavy saucepan bring to a boil, the sugar, cocoa, butter and milk. Let boil for 1 minute then add peanut butter, vanilla and oatmeal. On a sheet of waxed paper, drop mixture by the teaspoonfuls, until cooled and hardened.

Easy, tasty, and ready for giving before you know it!  Be sure to visit my blog again tomorrow for a few links to more fabulous cookie recipes.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 8, 2014

She's Baaack!

After a hiatus of nearly four months, I'm back and blogging!  Of course, the impetus was a chance to be a part of a virtual cookie blog with fellow writers, so I decided to put pen to paper - or fingers to keyboard - and reintroduce myself.

Since I last blogged, I've acquired a lovely American agent/publisher:  The great Gemma Halliday!  (Check out her website at  She is a best-selling author in her own right and a lovely person as well.  Give her some love!

Back to cookies:  I've been thinking about different recipes that I relate to this wonderful time of the year.  I've come up with a few, including the infallible Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies, peppermint sugar cookies, and almond biscotti.  I'll need to do some thinking before I'm 'tagged' tomorrow.  Check back and see who I'll tag next:  It might just be one of your favorite authors!

Keep writing.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Delibrio Animosus

Latin is a wonderful language - dead, to be sure - so rich in nuance that I wish it were more accessible.  Take, for instance, this phrase:  Delibrio Animosus.  "Live with purpose" is one loose translation.  Be deliberate.  Have purpose.  Make choices that are well-thought out and that allow for growth in life.

Because I am a writer - and a teacher - I tend to do things deliberately because my time is at a premium.  Lately, deadlines and first drafts and workshops and life have been piling up and I've had to choose to let some things go.  This blog will be the among first; I love sharing my thoughts but I seriously am lacking the time to do it justice.  Therefore, this is farewell, at least for the time being.

Remember:  Keep reading, keep writing, and 'delibrio animosus'.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sometimes Life Imitates Art

After my most recent foray into Ray Bradbury's 'Fahrenheit 451', I've decided the man was a prophet, pure and simple.  Even the densest reader can make the connection between Guy Montag's futuristic society and our own:  With ear buds (Bradbury called them 'sea shells' for the ears) and flat screened televisions (he called them 'parlor walls'), the man knew a dangerous trend when he saw one.  His message?  Don't abandon personal relationships for technology.

We took some of the grands to the local zoo not too long ago and witnessed a very disturbing sight: Two little boys, unhappily trailing their parents, both of whom were glued to the screens of cell phones.  I felt so badly for those boys.  Who will model interpersonal conversational skills for them?  Not their parents, that's for certain!

Before you shake your head and tell me that's just the way of today's society, I invite you to get comfy and read.  May I suggest 'Fahrenheit 451'?  Let's talk when you've finished it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

History - and Literature - Repeats Itself

As I delve a bit deeper in to the research aspect of my newest book, 'Lucifer's Lamp', I am appalled by what I'm finding.  How in the world could one person decree it was alright to take a person's possessions based upon their religion, orientation, culture, or political views?   And yet it happened, and right under the noses of the Free World.

If you've kept up with the news lately - and by that I mean the last few years - you know that attention has been directed to the recovery of treasure taken by the Nazis during the years preceding and during World War Two.  This travesty has been dramatized in film, covered in a myriad museum magazines, and romanticized in novels.  And  yes, I'm continuing the trend.  I'm taking it a bit further, however,  inserting small towns where most focus on the Vatican, and allowing the regular Joes (in my case, Louis Greywolf Bahe, a Navajo state mining inspector from Arizona) to play a part in the recovery.

'Legend', the first part of this story, is available online or in stores, from Amazon to Barnes and Noble, iTunes to Kobo.  Take a moment and check out Louis Bahe's part in this reverse plundering.  I think you'll like it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hangin' Out with the Younger Set

Monday through Friday, 180 days a year, from 7:10  to 2:20, I hang out with kids who are almost four decades younger than I.  And I do it voluntarily.  Yes, there is the paycheck, but I could do other things with my degrees.  Instead, I choose to teach.

Before you begin oohing and aahing and telling me that I'm a hero (although I suppose I am, academic-wise), know that I learn as much - if not more - from my students.  Their perspectives range from naive to informed to jaded, and I'm always amazed at the ferocity they display in defending their points of view.  It's my challenge to help them learn how to channel this intellectual energy into something productive and useful for society.  After all, they will be voting and defending this country in just two short years, and I want them to know WHY they do what they do and make an informed choice

Analysis is not something we're born with.  It's a skill we need to learn, much as sharing our toys and respecting those around us needs to be learned.  So, as another school year begins, I  take up  my challenge with new vigor.  Just check back with me in May.

And keep reading.  Books, as Guy Montag in 'Fahrenheit 451' knew, are a conduit to knowledge, and knowledge is the ultimate in power,

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Just Say Thanks...

We've all heard it before:  When someone compliments  you, just say 'thank you'.  And I know this.  Why is it so difficult, then, for me to accept positive feedback?  (I'm talking to everyone, not just to writers.)

The other day I ran into someone who I know marginally: We've met before but aren't buddies.  Imagine my reaction - remember I have issues with compliments- when she whips out her smart phone bad points to one of my books that she downloaded via her Kindle ap.  I found myself looking over her shoulder for a savior which, by the way, appeared in the form of someone take who I know only slightly.  I made my excuses and hot the heck out of Dodge.

I thought about it later and was ashamed of my reaction.  After all, she said wonderful things about the book, the characters, the plot.  I should've been doing a happy dance right there!  Instead, I lost an opportunity to put into practice what I tried to drill into my childrens' heads.

I've decided that if the chance ever comes my way again, I shall smile, nod my head graciously, and say 'thank you'.  And then I'll hightail it out of there.

Keep reading, friend.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Sneak Peek

I've wanted to share a bit about my books and decided that the time is now:  Enjoy this synopsis of 'Murder at the Miranar'!
If murder and mayhem were not supposed to be part of the employment package, then AJ certainly got the raw end of the deal.

Augusta Jerusha Burnette, eager to escape the dreaded Burnette Family Reunion – and a broken heart – takes a position at the Miramar Resort, a glamorous hotel located along the Southern California coast.  She’s confident that the change of scenery will do her good, but when Ellie Saddler shows up, her tarot cards spelling out a warning, things quickly go from bad to worse.

The Miramar, famous for its freshly baked cookies and elegant rooms, is hiding several secrets within its stylish walls.  Located not too far from Baja California, a location infamous for smuggling illegal immigrants into the states, the resort plays host to folks wanting to get away from the pressures of life…and those wanting to escape from a life too miserable to comprehend.  Although there have been rumors that the local immigration officials have their eye on the Miramar and other hotels along the coast, there are still those who are willing to chance being caught in exchange for the possibility of a better life.

AJ, it seems, has entered the picture just as things are beginning to heat up.  When a body is discovered during a search for a lost child, the web of lies and deceit becomes more tangled, and AJ and Ellie find themselves on the run from a killer.   Thankfully, the local police department has assigned one Detective Baird to the case, and sparks of the romantic kind soon begin to fly.  Has AJ finally found the one man who will keep both body and soul – not to mention her heart – safe?

From glamorous beaches of Southern California to the border of Mexico, AJ has to find a way to stay one step ahead of the bad guy – and to keep herself and Ellie in the land of the living.  With a few surprises along the way (no one is ever who or what they seem to be), she decides that perhaps a family reunion might be the safer choice after all.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


Yesterday, from approximately 9 AM to 1PM, I facilitated a writing workshop.  The attendees were writers- some published- and I was intimidated.

Until I saw the ostrich. Then it was on.


At the Vision Gallery, in Chandler, AZ's revitalized downtown, I led a group of women writers through a series of exercises guaranteed to awaken the short story author within.  At least that was my goal.  We were given use of a workroom adjacent to the main gallery and the magic rubbed off:  We wrote stories that will one day soon be part of an anthology.  I was impressed, humbled, thrilled - and cognizant of that ostrich's glare.  I mean really.  Have you ever had to perform in front of an ostrich?

All in all it was a fabulous experience, one that I intend to repeat in the bear future.  I love teaching, I'm enthralled by writing, and I'm intent on sharing the talents of others with the world.

Except with an ostrich.  That, my friend, was above and beyond the call of duty.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Another Man's Voice

Mr. James Whitcomb Riley, a poet from the last century, has long been my fave when it comes to verse.  'Little Orphant Annie' was one of the first poems that I loved hearing; Nana Johns would read this ad nauseum to us grandkids: we looooved being scared!  (If you've never read it for yourself, you need to.)  Another poem I enjoyed was 'Knee-deep in June'.  I could easily picture what Riley was describing: His word choice - his 'voice' - was fabulous!  When you read one of his poems, there was no doubt that he wrote it.

Voice is something that is unique to each writer.  Mine took some time to develop.  I wanted to write like all of my favorite authors, from Maud Hart Lovelace to PD James.  I was convinced that I could not be a good writer unless I patterned myself - copied, really - after an author whose work was a success.  As you might imagine, I wrote some awful pieces until my own voice began to emerge from under the layers of stylistic plagiarism.

Discovering what's uniquely yours is wonderful.  It's also a gift to your readers.  After all, if they wanted to read a Steinbeck-styled book, they'd probably read something actually penned by Steinbeck.  So keep writing...and don't be afraid to be yourself.  Your readers are waiting for you.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Playing Tag...

First off, it's been a buuuuusy few weeks.  "Legend", the first of a suspense trilogy, debuted, and I recently had a good signing with a lovely pair of authors, Donis Casey and Betty Webb.  (Those gals are hilarious!)  I've been tagged in a 'blog hop', so I'll use this posting to play along.  Here goes:

1.  What am I working on now?  I am in the revising stage of the next 'Jo Anderson' book entitled 'Sweet Death' which hopefully will be out in the early fall.  I love writing - and reading - 'cozy mysteries' and this series is definitely cozy...if you like your books with a serving of death on the side. 

2.  How does my work differ from other books in its genre?  My protagonists (I am currently writing two series as well as the suspense trilogy) are drawn from life (chiefly me - LOL) so they tend to exhibit some of my characteristics:  dry humor, curiosity, foot-in-mouth issues, and a habit of jumping headlong into situations without considering the outcomes.  (Reader, pause and chuckle at this point - you're not sure you should believe me or not...)  In the 'Jo Anderson' series, she doesn't have a career established, unless you count running from the confines of her nutty family, so she tends to meander form one job to another.  Of course, each new workplace involves a murder of one sort or another, and voila! Miss Jo in once more in the thick of things, much to the chagrin of her proper Southern Belle mama.

3.  Why do I write what I do?  The answer to this is easy:  I am a life-long Dame Agatha Christie fan and I always wanted to write as she did.  Of course, I will never be in her league, but I keep trying to edge as close as I can!

 There is certainly something to be said for the amateur sleuth - particularly Jo Anderson and her counterpart in my other series, AJ Burnette.  In 'Murder at the Miramar', AJ's first appearance, she is confronted with a string of murders that tie back to a current 'hot button' issue...and I'll leave it at that.  (Read the book to find out!)  I like to include contemporary issues when I can, and these are things that have caught my attention as well.

4.  How does my writing process work?  Hmmm.  I'm not an author who creates in one particular method.  I tend to bring a character to life in my mind and then imagine what she - or he - would do with a certain scenario.  It grows form there, and I'll be honest:  I never know the end of the story when I begin writing!  I might have an idea, but the characters drive the plot.  I usually end up as amazed as my readers are!


Kris Tualla, a dynamic award-winning and internationally published author of historical romance and suspense started in 2006 with nothing but a nugget of a character in mind, and has created a dynasty with The Hansen Series and its spin-off, The Discreet Gentleman Series. Norway is the new Scotland!
Kris is an active PAN member of Romance Writers of America, the Historical Novel Society, and Sisters in Crime, and was invited to be a guest instructor at the Piper Writing Center at Arizona State University. An enthusiastic speaker and teacher, she created Arizona Dreamin' - Arizona's only romance-reader event:


Monday, June 9, 2014

There's Nothing Like a Nap

One of my earliest memories is nap time, lying on my mom and dad's big bed and declaring myself wide awake.  My mom's response went something like this:  whatever you do, don't close your eyes.  I thought that awesome, of course, until suddenly she was shaking my shoulder and telling me that it was almost time for dinner.  Apparently all I needed was to sleep on things (LOL) to realize that yes indeed, I needed a nap.  Reverse psychology had always been a mom's best friend, hasn't it?

Lest you misunderstand me, this is not a plug for NOT encouraging that young artist or athlete or writer in whom talent is apparent.  Quite the opposite, in fact (pun clearly intended here).  In fact, your kindness and belief in them and their product might be the encouragement in their lives while the others around them voice negativity.  So buy that drawing at your local school's art show and applaud like crazy at the next track and field event in your town.  Your support might be the boost needed to get over the wall of disbelief and straight into a life of fulfillment.

And yes, I did what I promised I would do in my last blog.  I thought about it and decided that I write  for me and no one else.  That if my books are read is not the point but the fact that I held into a dream that eventually grew skin and became real.   So don't give up.  Don't let yourself down.

And keep reading.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Random Thoughts...

I am in the middle of an odd time:  Almost finished with one manuscript, beginning the next, and collecting pertinent information for a series of workshops.  Nothing is solid, nothing is defined, and I find myself looking for the perfect ending/beginning/explanation.  I need a clone.  At the very least, I need some inspiration.  And this leads me to my thought for today: What would happen if I decided that today is the grand finale, the ending to my current dream, the stopping point for all things creative?  Would it really be so bad?  Or would I be letting down those who believe in me?

I think I will let this stew for a bit before I make a decision.  And if you find yourself in the midst of a life- changing decision, I recommend taking a step back.  I am.  And I will let you know how it turns out.

In the meantime, keep reading.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Something for Everyone

It's no secret that I adore kitschy writers: Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, and M. C. Beaton, just to name a few.   My taste in books- when I actually have time to read for pleasure- are the sort that carry me away quickly and plunge me straight into intrigue.  Granted, that's not everyone's fave, and that's okay.  In fact, I was discussing this very thing just this morning with someone whose taste in literature (and in life) is classic.  Take a look at part of our conversation:

I'm partial to naturalistic writing and dialogue. Like Hemingway, who sometimes was meta. Most writers' styles are based on situational fanaticism where they feel each scene has to be played with sharp words, head tilts and secrets. Very cinematic stuff. I say keep the characters as real people with real words.   Granted, the adventure genre is based on exaggerated characters in exaggerated situations all coming together. But even Dos Passos and Cormac McCarthy found ways to humanize stories. I say read "Blood Meridian" or "No Country For Old Men" as examples. I do like what's at stake but don't get ahead too early with big big ideas. Readers will want a huge payoff.   EL Doctorow is another good one. And for nonfiction try Chuck Klosterman, especially "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs." Or David Sedaris, especially "Me Talk Pretty One Day." Both are easy reads and very fluid. Language is observational.

And this, dear readers, has me intrigued.  And I'd love to hear from you!  What are your thoughts on literature styles?   Feel free to tweet me!  @mccaslin_dane  or post your thoughts here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Playing Favorites

As a writer and an English teacher, I'm sure that some folks assume that my favorite authors hail from antiquity: according to them, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Cather, and Poe should be my go-to reads.  I'm hesitant to break the bubble of assumption, but here it goes.

I love Maud Hart Lovelace.  Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Lois Lenski.  Sydney Taylor.  And the list goes on.  Give me a 'feel good' book over a classic any day!  It's what makes me happy, keeps me steady, gives me purpose.

Before you 'poo-poo' the idea of books creating the ultimate in happiness, consider this:  What book- quickly - reminds you of childhood?   Find a copy and read it.  Read it aloud.  To yourself.  To your children.

And relive the magic of becoming one with the story.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What's in a Title?

My friend, the amazing Donis Casey, will be celebrating the release of another Alafair Tucker book next month.  Just the cover art alone is enough to pull even the most reluctant reader into it, but the title  is something else:  'Hell With the Lid Blown Off'.  I don't know about you, but I'm intrigued!

Have you ever wondered how your favorite novels got their names?  I do, and as I've got a fairly decent imagination, I'll give it the ol' college try.

  1. 'Old Man and the Sea': Since Hemingway filled this slim volume with almost nothing except an old man - he with the sea-hardened hands- and a feisty fish, I'd say this was a good title.  In fact, given the vast amount of description, the only thing he should have added were a few adjectives- 'turbulent', 'tenacious', and 'tedious' come to mind.
  2. 'Something Wicked This Way Comes':  Sometimes a writer gets stumped when it comes time to name a book so they look to the classics for help.  Thank goodness for Will Shakespeare!  'Macbeth' lent the title to Ray Bradbury's quirky book, first published in 1962.   Luckily he didn't depend on Ernest Hemingway for inspiration or it might have been called 'Two Boys and Lots of Eerie Stuff'.  Just doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
  3. 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone':  Let's face it.  Sometimes the Olde Worlde is the best, but not when it comes to naming books.  Thank goodness we Americans insisted on something more dramatic when it came time to introduce The Boy Who Lived to this side of the pond.  Yeah- a sorcerer is definitely more exciting than a philosopher.
  4. Finally, 'Legend':  Yes, this blog is a shameless advert for my newest book, available early June.  Why did I choose this title?  You'll have to visit and read the synopsis to find out.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hooked on a Feeling

Dorothea Lange, photographer extraordinaire, once said, "Photography for me is not looking, it's feeling.  If you can't feel what you're looking at, then you're never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures."  Well said, Ms. Lange.  The same sentiment should apply to our writing:  If we truly want our readers to experience the drama and conflict and love that our characters do, we also need to feel and not just write.

I know several authors who assign themselves a certain amount of words per day, regardless of inspiration. I've tried that as well and while it does get me through the dry times - and there are more of those then I'd care to admit - it becomes an exercise in futility.  On those days I'd be better off making lists or writing lesson plans.

As a voracious reader, I've come across books that moved me to tears, to anger, to happiness, and to sadness.  In fact, I have one title that I will never read again because of the extreme reaction I had to the plight of the character; the story was so real and the character was recognizable that I truly connected.  (I did, however, purchase a copy for myself, and it has rested on my bookshelf ever since, unopened and as pristine as the day it came home with me.)  I don't expect my readers to be as extreme in their reactions when they read my books, but I do want with them to connect with the story.  After all, isn't that why we write?

Keep writing!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Just an Observation...

I have no idea what makes us ( that's the 'collective' us) want to watch others' lives spiral out of control.  Ok- maybe not in real life, but there are those of us who crave a good whodunit like a chocoholic needs a sugar fix.

I discovered my own need for this somewhat unsavory past time while still very young; Agatha Christie opened my eyes to the just-below-the-surface evil tendencies  that some folks can't ignore.  What amazed me was how Dame Agatha could dress up the villain (or villainess) in the clothes of normalacy.  That alone would send shivers down my spine; according to the typical Christie plot, these baddies were the least likely folks to be suspected of wrong doing.  It's really remarkable that I trusted anyone at all.  After all, if the vicar's wife could kill off the local snoop and still host a parish tea, anybody was capable of murder, right?

Flash forward a few decades and you'll find me on the other end of the pen, so to speak.  I want to continue the time-honored tradtion of vicariously stepping into the lives of others, watching a mystery unfold, and helping to solve the crime of the century.  I like to think Agatha would be proud.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Don't be so Cliche'!

Sometimes overly-used comments lean toward the hilarious...especially if you've channelled these words before.  Just wait til your dad gets home.  Beds are for sleeping, not for jumping.  Eat your vegetables.  Don't sit so close to the tv.  Your face is going to freeze that way.

In a book, though, a cliche' can be downright irritating.  While imitation may be a symptom of admiration, it can also be a sign of an under- developed plot or character.  Here's a tip:  If you can recognize your story in another's book or dialogue,  take a step back and consider why this might be.  Sometimes it's a case of admiration for another's work, and that's not a bad thing.  But if it's because there is no inspiration on tap, lay down the pen and take a break.

Yes, I said it:  take a break from writing.  Get outdoors and enjoy nature. Gather with friends and get a game of charades going.  Watch your children at play.  Listen to whatever music inspires you.  Soon the inspiration will come again and you'll find that the words will begin to flow.  And they'll be your own words, from your own imagination..

And isn't that why we write?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

When Words Fail...

Books are more than a collection of dialogue between characters; if they consisted of one long-running conversation, it would be called a 'play'.  Just ask Willie Shakespeare if you don't believe me.

I enjoy dialogue, certainly.  I want to be privy to the loves and trials and friendships of the characters as much as the next reader, but I don't need constant talking, you know?  Sometimes I need quiet.  Thank goodness other writers need it as well, and this is where the descriptive word shines.  Through cleverly constructed descriptions, I have walked along the hills of Wales, eaten sumptuous meals with close friends in a Canadian village, and lived on a farm in Oklahoma.  Thanks to writers such as Rhys Bowen (author of the Constable Evans series), Louise Penny (her Inspector Gamache books are beyond amazing), and Donis Casey (you really need to meet her protagonist, Alafair Tucker), I've been all over this wonderful planet of ours.

Balancing dialogue and description can be a trifle tricky.  Although I have always liked Ernest Hemingway, I still would have liked more conversation in "Old Man and the Sea".  And overhearing a conversation or two - or even three -  isn't bad, but I'd prefer a tad more in the 'visual' department.  (Sorry, Ray Bradbury.)

So keep writing.  Eventually it will all come together for you.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Keepin' it Real

There is a series of books that I've enjoyed reading since the first one debuted almost a decade ago. And like most fans, I've noticed a few differences in character descriptions over the ensuing installments. Unless a writer stays on top of things- and has an ace editor- that's to be expected.  I did have to chuckle, though, the first time I noticed that one character in particular had managed to grow almost 10 inches in height, all over the course of three books.  As a woman of, shall we say, small stature, I was certainly jealous!

I love organization, and I've put this to good use in my own writing.  Since I currently have two series  being published and a trilogy on the way, I created a matrix to keep names, ages, physical descriptions, and relationships straight.  This is a great idea for those of you whose writings are peopled with more than one character:  after all, no one - not even fictional folks- like to be forgotten.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Why Can't You Be More Like...

We've all done it.  We've read about a character or watched an actor and thought, "Now why can't so-and-so act like that?"  Or - and this is even more telling, "Why doesn't s/he treat ME that way?"  Here's a hint - they are not real.  They were created from the mind of the author or the script writer and were given the characteristics that they'd like to see in others.  In other words, they really don't know folks like that at all.

On the other hand, we've all had a reality check of sorts when reading a book or watching a film.  We've recognized others and ourselves with amusement, guilt, distaste, and sadness.  Why?  The characters have been given 'real life' attitudes.  Whether we like it or not, these are the characters that we bond with. Bummer.

Take a quick peek at what you like more:  Fantasy or reality.  And let that answer be the starting point for your character creation in your own writing.  With that you'll have figured out what it is you do best.

And keep writing.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

To Thine Ownself Be True

William Shakespeare said it, your mother advised it, your conscience chides you to follow it, and Ralph Waldo Emerson added his two cents when he said, 'To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to change you is quite an accplishment.'  And to that I say a hearty 'amen'!  Why would I ever want to be someone other than myself?  And yet...

When I first began writing in earnest- about 35 years ago, so chalk it up to youth- I experimented with various styles of the authors I most admired.  The results were lacking, to say the least.  I was so intent on channeling the prose of Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer and even Maud Hart Lovelace that I completely lost my own voice.  It took a very honest high school teacher to suggest that I 'quit trying to copy others and do my own work' that shook me out of that rut.  Thus began the search for my style, my particular manner of using words and phrases to create on paper what I could see in my mind's eye.

As a teacher myself, I give that same advice to my own students.  Whether they take it into account or not is their business.  My business -literally - is to continue following that long-ago directive.

Thanks, Mrs. Ostrowski.  I did it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

And Evermore Shall Be

"The more things change, the more they stay the same."  I'm not certain what genius coined this phrase, but nothing could be more true.  The more we writers look for that magic formula, that holy grail of creating the next best seller, the more we stay with the old style.  I'm not sure why that is; maybe, deep down, our style is a safety net.

And that is exactly why I tried something entirely different when I began writing "Legend".  (I can hardly wait for it to come out!)  I wanted to see a) if I could branch out and b) if my editor would like it as well as the cozy mysteries.  He did, and I'm delighted.  I hope that you all feel the same.

Trying new things is good.  Sometimes it gives us new paths to walk - and sometimes it simply reaffirms that we are already doing what we should, in the manner we should.  And that's not bad.

Whatever you choose to do, keep writing!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Paper or Digital?

I've long been a proponent of books:  Hardcover, paperback...and digital.  Yes, I said 'digital'.  In fact, I'm delighted that my books are offered on Nook, Kindle, and iTunes as well as in a more traditional paperback version.  Any way you slice it, it all promotes reading, and that is the ultimate goal, isn't it?

Anyone who knows me knows that I love linguistics, enjoy breaking down words to find the origin.  I did that with 'digital' and realized that anything that included 'digit' in the word was related to our word for fingers.  (The Latins included the toes in that meaning as well, but I am not going to operate my iPhone with my toes.)  Reading a book digitally requires manipulation, almost like turning the pages in a book.  This has changed my view on the relatively new world of libraries - both personal and public- being kept electronically.

For those of you who need to hold the paper specimen, please feel free to buy my books on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble.  Or you can do what I've done:  I've got the Kindle and iTunes copies on my iPhone.  And the 'real' copies at home.

Whatever you choose, keep reading.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hot, Hot, Hot!

Here in the great AZ, as I refer to Arizona, summer is already here.  We briefly had spring for a few hours and it was enough to convince me that my retirement years will not be spent in the desert.  (Sorry, family!)

Some folks write like summer:  No outline (no spring) needed, just a straight plunge into the plot.  I've tried that as well and find that, depending on how inspired I am, I can produce something quite readable.  In fact, "Legend" was written this way.  For the most part, though, I recommend having an idea of the characters and main plot in mind before starting the manuscript.  After all, it's nice to know where you're going.

Back to AZ.  According to the local weather report, we're going to 'cool down' next weekend to the mid-80's.  Ah - sweet relief!  Maybe I'll even feel like sitting outside while I work on the next Jo Anderson book, "Sweet Death".  Maybe.

Keep reading!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"Legend" is...well, legend!

Wow!  I'm truly impressed with the current manuscript that is in editing.  I know - I wrote it and I should be impressed.  This one feels different.  It feels as though I've settled into a well-loved chair, iced tea at hand and a pile of my favorite things around me.  It feels familiar, as though I've written in this style for ever.  I haven't - this is a brand new type of writing for me...and I love it!

This is how it feels when we meet that 'soul mate':  Friend, significant other, whatever.   You just know when that connection happens.  Connection on a deeper level is always special, no matter the time or place.  And I've felt that with this new group of characters and with the plot.  I have a feeling that this is a relationship that is here to stay.

Keep reading...and I'll keep you updated on "Legend" and its progress through the editing and publishing process.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Get Your Own Voice!

Today I was stopped by a co-worker (I'm still teaching high school English classes) who told me that she could 'hear me saying that!' in regards to one of my books, Murder at the Miramar.  I laughed and said that was to be expected:  I write with my own voice.

This is what I mean:  I could no more write like a Hemingway or a Steinbeck, and I would hope that no one would expect me to do so.  I have to use my own tone, my own verbiage, to make my books realistic. When I read a book and find myself not engaged, nine times out of ten its because the words don't feel authentic but more like the writer is copying someone else's style.  When that happens, the book doesn't 'flow'.  Why? Because the writer cannot stay true to a style that is not his; his own voice slips in there and causes the plot to feel herky-jerky.  (Not a technical term, certainly, but all I can think of at this moment.)

Write authentically.  Use your own voice.  And by all means, check out for links to read my books.  See for yourself what 'real voice' is all about.  (Shameless plug...)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Who Would Do Such a Thing?

I overheard an exchange the other day that made my blood run cold.  Two members of the younger set were talking about an upcoming assignment that required a trip to the library, and one said to the other, "Why do we need a book?  I can it all from the internet."  Needless to say, I almost added my two cents but thought better of it.  Better to say nothing and appear brilliant, or something to that affect.

I love books. I love the heft and weight, the smell of paper and ink, the way I can immerse myself in the pages.  I know what you're thinking: Don't be so hypocritical, Dane!  After all, this blog is an offspring of the online world.  And there, as William Shakespeare would say, lies the rub.  Is it possible to hold hands with both print and e-book at the same time?  Yes.  And no.  And I don't know.  It's still unfamiliar territory for me, a field of land mines that might trip me up with a wrongly-placed step.  And yet...

When I've come to a conclusion, I'll let you know.  Until then, keep reading.

Monday, March 31, 2014

How Come I Know What I Mean and You Don't?

I've just completed another round of editing with David, my eyes-over-the-shoulder who catches all kinds of errors and leaps of logic in my writing.   I want to type in the margins that I knew exactly what I meant when I wrote that!  How come he can't understand it as well?  The simple answer is this: We cannot expect others to catch our meaning by osmosis.  It would be a neat trick, of course, but it's not gonna happen. Not on this plane of existence.

Relationships are that way as well.  In the workplace, in our families, in our friendships:  If we don't speak up and explain or correct or enlighten, those around us might not understand us.  And this, unfortunately, leads to misunderstandings and rifts in our life that in turn become holes.  So, keep talking.

And keep writing!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Time Travel - it's For Real!

I love to time travel.  All it takes is a book and I'm there!  'Little Women' is one of my faves from childhood and the penultimate destination for those who want romance, intrigue, and drama .  I've owned many versions of this classic story about four sisters, beginning with my first copy at age five.  The March family held my attention from the start:  I wanted to be as pretty as Amy, loved as much as Beth, and in charge like Meg.  The sister that I identified with most, though, was Jo.  I admired her spunk and the fact that she loved to read and write as much as I did (and still do).  She seemed to be the perfect combination of old-fashioned values and independent thinking, and I have paid homage to Louisa May Alcott, Jo's creator, in my 'Jo Anderson' series.

Check out 'Little Women' soon, whether it's for the first time or the fiftieth:  the story never grows old.  And give my Jo a try as well.  Her first adventure, which takes place in the beauty of the Colorado Rockies, was fun to write...and she was a kick to meet.   'Becklaw's Murder Mystery Tour' is available at Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon.

Whether you need a portal  to the past or just crave a vicarious adventure, books are the best way to travel.  See you out there- and keep reading!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spring Cleaning

I love what Louise Penny, the amazing author, said about editing: "Reading and re-writing. Definitely familiarizing myself with the story and the threads and themes so far. Doing a little 'cleaning up' and simplifying. But not too much. I find I really only know what a book's about when I finish the first draft. The subsequent drafts are all about keeping what feeds those themes, and getting rid of stuff that just clutters and obscures." If anyone should understand this process, it has to be her!

I like to think that I can apply this process to myself as well.  I want to make sure that the loose ends are cleaned up, that I don't have reoccurring issues that need to be resolved.  I like the idea of getting rid of 'stuff that clutters and obscures'.  Emotional, physical, spiritual detoxing!  

One method that had never failed me is list-making.  I write down things that I need to fix or remove, and this can apply to all areas of life.  This gives me a clear picture of what I need to work on...or let go.

If you have extraneous 'stuff', spring clean!  You'll feel better.  And keep writing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I Can See Clearly Now

As I sit here composing this blog, I am trying to breathe.  It's nothing but a head cold, but I am a wimp when it comes to things like this.  I tend to whine some, sleep lots, and read as much as I can.  As you can see, there is a silver lining!

Thankfully, my vision for my current book-in-progress is still clear.  Jo Anderson's sassy personality seems to land her in situations that would stump most folks; her current foray into the candy-making business in "Sweet Death" is one sticky mess (pun intended).  At this point I'm fairly certain who the killer is, but that can change.  Characters, especially those who are dynamic, tend to take the plot in hand and manipulate it as they will.  It makes for an interesting time, I can tell you!

Back to me and my cold.  I'm feeling bleary-eyed (I've wanted to use that description forever!) and feverish and probably need to be in bed.  The real world is calling, though, and I need to go to my 'day job' as a high school teacher.   Unlike Jo, whose personality seems greater than the boundaries of the written word, my students are still finding their way. They tend to come to a stand-still without guidance.  And that's okay:  This is the place where they will learn to cope with life's issues and learn how to create their own 'plot'.  Tomorrow, though, they will get a taste of 'coping skills':  I'm getting a sub.

Keep reading!  That's what I'll be doing...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Finding My Way

I'm new to the world of self-promotion.  I know - sounds implausible, but that's the truth.  Learning the ins and outs of networking with fellow mystery writers - particularly those of Sisters in Crime - has been eye-opening, to say the least.  What I've discovered is this:  We are truly a 'band of sisters and misters'.  There has been nothing but outstretched hands and lots of shared tips about the mystery writing business, and I've been very, very grateful for all of the help.

In a society where success is held in high esteem, those who are the most successful tend to grease the steps behind them:  Not to make it easier for those coming behind, but to make it harder for them to climb the same ladder.  Not so with Sisters in Crime (a big shout out to the Desert Sleuths!).  One day I will be able to return the favor.  And I will.  I like to think of us mystery writers as one long chain that extends from the past into the future, and every link in that chain is held together by the links on either side.

Alright - enough of the mushiness.  I'll wrap up my thoughts by telling you that you absolutely must read the books by Elaine Viets and Donis Casey.  And by Louise Penny.  These women, true successes in the world of writing, have been kindness incarnate to me.  Check out my interview with Donis Casey at - she's amazing!

For all of you writers out there, keep trying and reaching and writing.  I'll be here to help.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring Solstice

I do love Spring:  longer days, but not too long, and warmer temps, but not yet the need for asbestos shoes.  Even the season's name indicates anticipation: we are all given the chance to 'spring' forward and find new ideas, new paths, new beginnings.

This is exactly the way I feel when I begin a new manuscript.  I am filled with anticipation as I meet new characters and watch them interact in the plot, and I'm usually surprised at how things turn out no matter how much planning I've put into it.  Like tightly curled buds ready to open, my books tend to unfold in their own way.  And I like that.  I've tried forcing a plot into life and the result is stilted and not worth reading.  Letting it develop on its own is a better plan.

Keep writing!  And don't be afraid to let your own plot develop naturally.  The results will be beautiful.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Will the Real You Stand Up

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer is a bunch of characters all trying to speak.  (For the quote purists out there, forgive me.) The thought of multi personalities is foremost on my mind as I sit here in the Happiest Place on Earth and watch children be alternately awed, scared, and thrilled to meet Mickey, Minnie, and the rest of the gang.  They have no idea that under those costumes is entirely different person. I hope.

A writer is like that as well.  You might be sitting next to an author and have no idea that just behind her eyes is an amateur sleuth or a killer, a protagonist and an antagonist.  Writers are constantly living more than one life at a time and for some the lines might become blurred.  That, however, is a blog for another day...

Speaking of another life, my character Jo Anderson is morphing into quite the interesting person.  I hope you've enjoyed her first adventure, 'Becklaw's Murder Mystery Tour'.  Her next scheme, entitled 'Sweet Death', should make an appearance in the winter.  Keep checking bank for more information.

And keep reading.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A New Perspective

Today was nearly perfect here in the great AZ:  clear blue skies, temps in the lower 70's, and lots of sunshine.  We shared the weather with quite a few folks at the local park, and while I was there, I got a new perspective.  Literally.  I fancy myself a photographer (only for Instagram and FB) and I wanted to take a picture that defined the day.  I did and I liked the result.  I decided to move in closer for another shot- and saw that I'd also photographed a pair of doves nestled into the foilage of one of the trees.   If I hadn't purposely looked for that new perspective, I would have missed them.

Writing can be the same as photography.  Changing a character's response is akin  to using a different lens.  Maybe you'd like to get into your character's mind a bit more, or maybe you want to see what's going on around them more clearly.  Either way, getting that new perspective will allow you to see things in an altogether different light.

And maybe you'll find something nestled inside the plot that surprises you.  Try it!  And keep writing.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Better Readers and All That Jazz

As an educator, I have often heard - and said - that 'better readers make better writers'.  And it's true. According to research, those who consistently score highest on the SAT's critical reading, writing, and vocabulary portions are confirmed readers.  They were read to as children, had access to books at home, and chose to read for pleasure rather than turn to technology for entertainment.

I mention this because of something I was asked recently by an acquaintance:  "How can I become a better writer?"  I asked him how much he read and he laughed.  "Just the back of the cereal box and the instructions for my video games."  You can imagine my answer.

If you want to write something that others want to read, you need to read as well- and something more than game instructions.  Start with a book that you might have missed in childhood.  I recommend those written by Lois Lenski and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Beverly Cleary.  Try Maude Hart Lovelace as well.  Check out the series written by Madeleine L'Engle.  I could go and on - the amount of wonderful books waiting for you out there is almost infinite.

Start reading.  Then you can write.  And it will be worth reading.  Promise.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Signs are Everywhere

I have a habit that I'm almost embarrassed to admit:  I look for signs.  Lucky signs are everywhere if you know what you're looking for.  Take today's date. It's March 11, 2014.  3-11-14.  When I saw that today, I quickly recognized the 'sign':  3 + 11 = 14.  To my abstract  mind (okay - to my really abstract mind) that meant something.  What, I'm not yet sure.  But it's a sign. Maybe I'll win the lottery.  And maybe I'll solve the little issue I've been working on in the latest Jo Anderson book, Sweet Death.

I like to add 'signs' to my manuscripts as well.  When I am peopling a story, I choose names for them that mean something to me, names that belong to folks whose presence in my life has brought me blessings and love.  I use street names where something momentous took place, and I've designed characters' houses that are filled with items that are special to me.  These are the 'signs' in my life that have helped guide me.  I know - it sounds odd. But I think that people and things and places don't appear in my life without a reason.

Keep writing.  And keep looking for your own signs. They're there.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Telling Stories

I grew up thinking story tellers were bad.  If you were a 'story teller', you had an issue with telling the truth.  Now that I look back, I can see that this assessment was right on.

This is what I mean: to tell a story, to concoct a plot, you need an imagination that can invent entire lives and cities and histories out of thin air.  You create, you invent, you imagine.  The fine line between real life and fantasy is blurred, and the truly gifted story teller can take the reader on a journey that feels absolutely real.  That is what a story teller does.  This is what I do, and you know what?

I'm proud to admit that I am a story teller.

Friday, March 7, 2014

It's Just Not There

Sometimes - like right now - my mind is a perfect blank.  I have started this blog three times already this morning and just can't get anything to jell.  Therefore, I've decided to share my thoughts on writer's block, the plague of authors and those whose livelihoods depend on an output of the written word.

Anything that blocks progress can't be good.  Or can it?  As I sit here, looking at the computer screen, I'm beginning to rethink the 'plague' epithet.  Maybe this is my body's way of telling me that I'm doing too much lately.  Maybe my brain needs spring break more than I thought (it's just around the corner, thank goodness).  And maybe I just don't have anything worthwhile to share.

A respite from work is not such a bad thing.  The essays will still be sitting on my desk tomorrow if I ignore them today and relax.  The unfinished chapter in the next "Jo Anderson" book will still be waiting for me when I open that file.  And who knows?  Maybe tomorrow I'll have something worthwhile to say.  And to write.

I think I'll read today instead.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Magic Carpets

Teaching teens - in the age range of 14 to 16 - can be incredibly revealing; their perspective of the world, no matter how much I try to peel away the layers of security and outright ignorance, is very, very limited.

Take, for instance, the ongoing protests in Kiev.  I asked today how many were following the news about this and I was rewarded with 32 blank faces, all staring at me as though I'd suddenly sprouted horns.  If I instead had inquired about the latest dance craze, they would have talked over one another in their eagerness to share.

Sigh. I wish sometimes that I could live in such a cocoon.

I shared this with you because of my favorite books.  I know - that's seems like a non sequitor, but it's not. I have my own form of escapism when I reach for tried and true friends such as the 'Betsy-Tacy' series or my dog-eared copy of "The Cottage at Bantry Bay", children's books that saw me through many a long day. I call them my 'feel good' books, and that's what they are:  My own magic carpet away from ungraded essays or writer's block or whatever happens to be plaguing me at the moment.

Escapism can be a lifesaver, you know?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Happily Ever After

One thing I enjoy about being a writer of mysteries is that the reader expects to find murder and mayhem within the pages.  Unlike other genres, where a happily ever after ending is status quo, mysteries are allowed to expose the darker side of life.

Of course, even the mystery genre has its rosy side.  Really.  Those are called 'cozy mysteries', with an amateur sleuth who manages to solve the murder or murders without many resources, and where the endings are wrapped up nicely with the sleuth getting accolades and the perp getting his (or her) just desserts.  Dame Agatha Christie had the formula down pat. (At Bertram's Hotel is one of my faves - check it out.)

Why do I write 'cozies'?  Because I can give my readers the best of all possible literary worlds all in one book.  And for the bargain-conscious among us, that is one serious deal

Keep reading.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Reading Over My Shoulder

I have a confession:  I tend to get irritated when someone reads over my shoulder.

That's  probably not something a writer should admit to, especially when one's success comes from allowing someone to do that very thing, but there it is.  I suppose there is somewhat of a difference: My editor - an awesome person whose eyes catch the mistakes and dropped storylines and who keeps me on the straight and narrow- reads from a distance.  Still, it is my writing that he is reading, and I'd like to believe that I am able to produce perfection.  On my own. The first time, every time.  This , of course, is far from possible.

Which brings me to my current thought:  Life needs editors.  We all need another pair of eyes to watch us, to make sure we are progressing and perfecting ourselves.  Sometimes they look like a dear friend, or a parent, or - as in the case of a writer- someone whose vision of us is based on blunt honesty.

I guess having someone standing near my shoulder, watching out for me, is a good thing after all.

Keep writing.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Muffins with Mom, Doughnuts with Dad

When our children were younger and in kindergarten, my hubby and I got to participate in the time-honored tradition of having breakfast at school with them.  This was always held in the library - now renamed 'media center', which I tend to ignore - and involved the librarian reading to us as we ate.  I loved it - and the muffins, of course - and appreciated the school's efforts to make reading a family affair.

That was never an issue for us.  I took my children to get their first library cards as soon as they could read, and they in turn have done the same for their own children.  Stacks of books in the family room and in the bedrooms were the norm, and I loved the 'quiet time' we enjoyed when everyone was curled up in bed with a book.

This legacy of reading for pleasure has served me well in  many ways, from a career in education to writing my own books. I know that I am, in some way, helping to preserve the notion that reading really is fundamental and that readers do indeed make better writers.

Keep reading.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

First Impressions Count!

"If murder and mayhem were not part of the hiring process, AJ certainly got the raw end of the deal..."

Have you ever read the blurbs on the back of books and wondered who wrote them?   The answer might surprise you!   Established novelists have those whose job is to compose the 'hooks' for them, but most authors write the little gems themselves, present party included.

While this might seem like a shameless exercise in self-promotion - and I'm sure that it is - it also acts as the 'first impression' we experience when meeting someone new face to face.  If we like what we see, we act. The same goes for book jackets; the combination of cleverly worded comments and artwork will make or break the connection.

By the way, the above blurb was written for my book entitled "Murder at the Miramar".  Check it out on Barnes and Noble's website or visit Amazon worldwide for your copy.  And when you read the back of the book, just remember that it's me, Dane McCaslin, saying howdy to a new friend.

Happy reading!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What a Wonderful World

I remember getting my first library card. With it came the privilege of checking out books of my own choosing...and the chance to listen to the record collection that was housed behind the main desk.  I used that  invitation to listen to Johnny Cash, 'Oliver', sonatas, and jazz.  I became eclectic in my taste and loved the variety of life that a record player offered to me.  The very fact that I could choose became the impetus.

This is the same mindset I have whenever I begin a new book.  I am open to possibilities, and I know that sooner or later, the characters will demand a certain setting or plot, and I find that I am willing to compromise.  I know that the characters will grow and will demand a more fulfilling story line, and if  I refuse to look forward, we will all lose.  This is the way all life continues.  Without the ability to adapt, life as we know it will cease.

When constructing a plot, keep in mind that the characters may change within the assigned confines.  If this happens, be grateful: You are part of an ever evolving story.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Refining the Vision

For those of you who can recall the 80s and 90s, do you remember those ridiculously large glasses frames we wore?  From prescriptive to sunblocker, we sported glasses that not only framed our eyes but also our eyebrows and cheeks!  Who in the name of all that was holy decreed that vision was also in our cheekbones?  I was truly glad to move away from that trend.

Sometimes our writing can be large as well: Overly descriptive, overly plotted, overly peopled.  Why not go the simple route and let the story unfold itself?  I can almost guarantee that it will be succinct yet better worded, and you will see the 'skull beneath the skin'.

Just a brief thought...

Happy writing!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Plotting the Plot

Have you ever wondered how a mystery author is able to take seemingly unrelated issues and tie them all together in one neat conclusion?  Backward design!

This is a concept that educators are familiar with, ie design an assessment based on what you want your students to know, then work backward, creating lesson plans that stair-step toward the assessment.  Writers can do the same thing- create the final scene and work back from that point, insuring that the puzzle pieces fit and make sense.

I wish that life could be that easy!  Can you imagine the gift of knowing the final outcome of your time here on earth?  We could re- do the plot if we didn't care for the ending and work backward to make certain that all bases were covered.  That would be the ultimate insurance plan, wouldn't it?

Just something to think on as you live your own story line.

Keep writing!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Who done it? I've no clue!

Seriously.  There are times my characters refine themselves under my nose - or pen, in this case.  Just when I think I have the antagonist nailed down, he (or she) surprises me.

Before you begin to think that I am in need of help, consider this:  Does everyone in your life act in a consistent manner?  Not in my experience they don't, and neither do my characters.  When you are a writer, you've got to expect the same thing from those in your story.  Of course, the writer is in control - it's not a mystic experience- but when a plot wants to go another way than what you originally planned, go with it!  The books we love the most are those whose characters remain dynamic and alive on the page.  When a character seems static, it is probably because the author started out with one idea and by gosh, it was going to remain that way.

My thought for today?  Be a dynamic character in your own story!

Keep reading.  And writing.

Friday, February 14, 2014

This is True Love

It's Valentine's Day, a day that is - to my mind - one of the most polarized.  You either love it (pun intended) or you hate it.  You either have fond memories of February 14th, or it's one of those days you wish would just go away.  Forever.

I bring this up because of writing.  Really.

It amazes me that most people have strong feelings about writing.  They either absolutely love it or they can't stand it.  (There is a small population that could care less, but that's another issue.)   Here's an interesting observation:  Because I am a writer, most folks assume that I adore the practice.  They are right, of course. And just as wrong.

Writing is an exercise that is more exhausting than a dead lift in the weight room.  It's also one of the most invigorating thing you can do.  When the words flow, when it all comes together and the plot makes sense and the characters develop as I imagined they would, I am on top of the world.  As you might imagine, life can be almost unbearable when nothing is clicking.  That's when writer's block feels terminal, and I'm convinced that nothing I write is worth reading to myself, much less good enough to share with the world.

Thank goodness that's a temporary state of mind.  The only cure is to keep writing.  Sooner or later, the words begin to mesh and the plot begins to move once more.  Love is that way as well.  Sometimes the only cure for a relationship stalemate is to keep loving.  Eventually it will kick-start itself.

Keep loving.  And keep writing.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Wild Imagination Helps!

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked about is my plots: Don't I ever run out of ideas?  The answer is no. And yes, of course!

My story lines begin a certain way in my mind and I might reference something I've seen or heard or experienced.  Since life is always evolving, there is no limit to the plots waiting to be written.  On the other hand, I might have a great idea - to my mind, at least- and I simply cannot make it work.  Writing, someone once said, is best done quickly while the ideas are there.  Don't overthink the story or characters; these tend to change over time anyway.

My advice is to get out that notebook that I mentioned before and fill it with ideas.  When your brain refuses to participate in the writing process, you've got a ready-made resource at hand.  And oddly enough, this tends to kick-start the ol' noggin into gear once more.

Happy writing!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Superlatives Can Be Way Over the Top

Okay- a cheesy title for this blog, but I wanted to make a point:  sometimes the best descriptors are the ones left unsaid.   If I never hear another athlete/actor/singer/writer called 'the best in his/her field' it won't be too soon.  How can so many folks be the best?  And is it okay to leave the superlatives to the imagination?  I think the answer is 'yes'.

I remember asking a class of freshmen to identify a  hyperbole in John Steinbeck's 'The Pearl'.  In just a few minutes they were raising their hands, wanting to know if I could show them where it might be.  My response?  Steinbeck did not feel the need to exaggerate his characters or the plot, instead choosing to let the imagination of the reader supply it.  And that's not a bad idea.

Writers are often told to be as descriptive as possible.  Wouldn't it be more challenging for both the author and the reader if we followed Steibeck's lead?  Just something to think about on this Monday.

Happy writing!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Setting the- well, the setting

I'm still in an Olympic Games state of mind, and I hope that you have been able to see some of the events.  This morning, though, the coverage seems to be focused on the temperature (fairly warm) and the various courses for snow events (too difficult or not challenging enough).  As a writer, I tend to translate the world around me into writer's terms, and I found myself thinking about settings.

For writers, the setting can become a character in its own right.  Think about Daphne du Maurier's novels - in particular 'Rebecca' - or the works of John Steinbeck.  The landscapes and buildings and even the weather had personality and added depth to the plot.  It can be challenging, as some of the Olympic courses are, to give life to something inanimate, but when you 'nail it', it's as invigorating as winning the gold.

When I write, I want to gallop through the plot, trying to keep up with the characters.  This blog is as much for me as it is for you:  Slow down and let the setting come to life.  And that's not a bad idea for today- slow down, focus on the now, and enjoy your own 'setting'.

And keep writing.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Nod to the Olympic Games

I am ready to settle in for the next little while and root for my country.  The Olympic Games, a revived version of the original tussle between the city states of Ancient Greece, is one of my favorite events.  This time around, though, I am peering a bit more closely at the contests and in particular at the word 'games'.  A game is something we play for fun, right?  Yes, there can be the typical I-am-better-at-Uno/Monopoly/Boggle-than-you-are attitude, but isn't it more friendly sniping than out and out war?  I ask this because I am beginning to sense the animosity in the current Olympics, and it makes me sad.  Thankfully, the only competition I have faced in the writing world is my own push to do better; other writers have been nothing but encouraging.  Authors, it can be said, recognize and celebrate the gifts that others proffer to the world.

 I look back at some of my earlier attempts at writing and I can see  quite clearly who it was I was emulating at the time.  I didn't have faith in my own abilities and felt it necessary to copy an admired style.  It took several - okay, a lot - of rejection letters for me to finally accept that my way was the best for me, that my own particular style was the one I needed to accept and nourish.  And you know what?  It worked!

The moral of this blog is to never doubt your gift.   Let it flourish and be glad that you are unique.   And remember to celebrate the excitement of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Rose by Any Other Name

Shakespeare's immortal words concerning names really bothers me.  As a language arts teacher for many years, I always fumed a bit at how cavalier Old Will seemed to be in regard to a name.  I mention my peeve because of this: Names do matter!

The 'names' I speak of are titles of books.  I don't know about you, but I am drawn to books by their titles.  For instance, 'The Great Gatsby' intrigued me, making me want to 1) discover just what a Gatsby was and 2) identify what made it so great!  On the other hand, 'Old Man and the Sea' (my apologies, Ernest) sounded to me like the nameplate below a bad painting.  Thankfully, I was able to get past that prejudice and actually read the novel.

When you are writing and it is something that requires a title, approach it as carefully as if you were naming your newborn baby.  Actually, you are; writing is personal, and we writers take criticism of our 'children' to heart.  My advice is to look beyond the faddish or clever (think 'North West' and 'Apple') and look at your prose's personality.  You might find that your working title doesn't match your writing at all.

As to William Shakespeare, we'll just have to agree to disagree.  Happy Writing!