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!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Life Preservers Wanted

I am wading into this blogging thing much as I do everything else: both feet in the water and clinging very, very tightly to a life preserver.  This covers all possible issues, in my viewpoint.  If I find that I don't need the preserver, I can toss it to someone else.  If I do need it...well, that is a topic for another time.  Or blog.

I plan on posting three or four times weekly.  If I get super excited over something in my writing world, you might see me here more often.  Like today.  This is blog nĂºmero two because I forgot to mention something in the first post:  My books!  You can find them in the states via Barnes and Noble and Amazon, and if you search my name, you'll see the other outlets as well.

'Becklaw's Murder Mystery Tour' and 'Murder at the Miramar' are both available in print and e-book formats.

I think that covers it all.  For now, at least.  Happy reading!

Blame the Dame

I love a great mystery, and I lay the blame squarely at the feet of the very talented Dame Agatha Christie.  I picked up 'Hickory Dickory Death' when I was very young - eight or nine - and was instantly hooked.  My friends read the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden series: I followed Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot through the English countryside and watched in amazement as they put clues together and 'outed' the killer.

I devoured every book she wrote, some several times, and then moved onto writers such as PD James and Elizabeth Peters.  I got hooked on Judith Cutler and Val McDermid.  And Ian Rankin.  And the ever fabulous Louise Penny.  My favorite type of mystery, though, remains the quintessential 'cozy', a la Christie's venerable style.

How about you?