When the pandemic resulted in lockdown, I still had lots to do. I have two WsIP that are equally absorbing and challenging. My husband and I decided to complete some minor renovations on our house and spend time together. I found new joy in cooking and gardening as well. I’m a fulltime teacher as well as a writer. Even during lockdown, I monitored students, graded, and communicated with parents.
Why then, did I feel a need to take a German class on Zoom? Well, my husband and I are both of German heritage (as well as Irish) and hope to visit Germany once this pandemic subsides. I also am a firm believer that exploring and learning help you stay fresh and alive. This is something I tell my students; I believe in leading by example. Placing yourself in the students’ position also is a reminder that homework can be stressful and that presenting in front of others brings a case of nerves even to adults. German isn’t totally new to me. I took it in graduate school, but the emphasis was on reading, not conversation. The two German courses I have taken since March have challenged me in multiple ways and have provided a haven from these sad times.
One day, I hope to walk along German streets with my husband. We’ll eat and drink in a beer garden. We’ll visit the German relatives still there and make a toast of “Prost,” and I’ll engage everyone I meet in conversation. Who knows? I may write a novel set in Germany. This pandemic will subside. Good times will come again.
There have been volumes written on plotting. After all, it is a critical element in every story. While we don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, we have picked up a few pointers on our journey in the writing world. Here are five common plot problem we’ve encountered and ways to solve them.
Starting in the wrong place:
Begin where the trouble begins. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a prologue, but you’d better be sure it relates to where the trouble started. Take out those 20 pages of back story telling us how Betty Sue wasn’t getting along with her ex and how they finally got that divorce. Instead, do something like Jennifer Cruise did in one of her books where the heroine finds a pair of underwear in her husband’s car—and they aren’t hers! No need to tell us the couple has been having marital problems. The panties say it all.
Having a weak conflict:
Conflict doesn’t mean constant bickering between your hero and heroine. Strong conflicts must have consequences and the conflict and consequences must move the story forward. If your characters can work out the problem if they just talk or can walk away from their problems then your conflict is too weak. The conflict must force them to stay together. If you let them walk away at any point you must create a complication that forces them back together.
A predictable plot:
A predictable plot has no surprises. We’ve all read and seen predictable plots in books and movies. You know where the story is going. You can guess who committed the murder. While stories like that can be enjoyable, we get the most pleasure out of a story that makes us say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.” And trust, us, we pick apart plots in books and movies all the time. To avoid predictable plots try making a list of 20 things that could happen, then eliminate your first five items. Those are usually the most predictable things. Make sure you leave a subtle hint that foreshadows the unexpected event so the reader won’t feel cheated with the surprise. You want them to be able to go back and say, “Yeah, I see where the author set that up. It was clever.”
A plot that moves too slowly:
When your plot moves too slowly you usually have a pacing problem. Try solving the problem by adding subplots. Braid the subplots into the main story so all the plots interact with one another. Each plot line, main and subplots, need three turning points spaced approximately ¼, ½ and ¾ way through the book or through each plot line. Add twists and turns in the story to keep it going. You can also step up the pace of the story with shorter scenes and chapters, breaking up paragraphs to put more white space on the page and making sure there is tension on every page.
An ending that doesn’t satisfy:
An ending that satisfies can sell your next book, because if your reader feels cheated by your ending it’s likely they won’t give you another chance. For romance readers this means a happily-ever-after ending, or at least the promise of one. Be sure to tie up all your plot lines before the end of the book. The only exception to this might be if one of the plot lines begins a new book. Generally, the last plot line to be established is the first one to be completed. With romance, you want to solve all the other problems before you solve the romance.
Who would write about Zucchini Squash? Me! My kitchen counter is full of them and I’m deep into canning, freezing, baking and frying these awesome vege”s. But guess what? If you want to get technical, Zucchini’s are considered a fruit. They are classified by biologists as a type of botanical berry. Go figure. In South Africa the Zucchini is known as baby marrow. When it is peeled the squash appears marrow-like.
We have a saying in our neck-of-the-woods that you can tell someone who hasn’t any friends if they are buying zucchini in the store during zucchini season. Ha! We also warn that during the peak of this season you had better not leave your unattended car windows down. You’ll come back with a seat full of these green or yellow vegetables/fruit. They are very prolific and one plant will take over your garden and produce…lots.
All joking aside, they are a tasty eat. One zucchini has only 35 calories. They can be cooked or baked into delicious zucchini bread–our favorite. In Bulgaria the zucchini is fried and served with a dip made of yogurt, garlic, and dill. In Egypt, it is cooked with tomato sauce, garlic, and onions. In France it becomes the key ingredient in ratatouille. But in the Yorkie’s and my kitchen, it is usually dipped in beaten egg, cracker crumbs, then fried in butter. (Gone are the 35 calories.) We also gobble up the Zuchinni bread. The Yorkie kids love the bites of bread I sneak them. They also enjoy them peeled, cubed, cooked then mixed in their kibbles.
Stormy, Eli, and Peyton (the three Yorkie kids) asked me to include this recipe for you to try. I’ve written it this way to save space.
ZUCCHINI BREAD: 3 beaten eggs, 2 cups sugar, 3 tsp. vanilla, 1 cup oil, 2 cups grated zucchini, (I peel mine, but if the zucchini is young and tender you can grate skin and all), 3 cups flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. soda, 1 tsp. baking powder, 3 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg, 1 cup nuts (optional) and occasionally I add a cup of pineapple but you don’t have to. I just toss this in a mixing bowl and mix well. Bake in 2 oiled and greased bread pans at 350. You can tell when its done if a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Takes about an hour.
I have to close now. Like I said, I have a counter of these long green vegetable/fruits just waiting for me to whip them into something delicious. I’ll be sure to shred and freeze enough for several loaves of bread baked and eaten warm on a cold winter day.
I had lunch in a cafe today. Not something worth noting six months ago, but it was only as I stirred my coffee in real gratitude that I realised how much I appreciated this simple freedom. While the world still teeters on the brink of shutdowns and reopens, the simple act of drinking a coffee becomes a miracle of pleasure.
Perhaps that is what we will learn from this time. Fingers crossed for a vaccine soon, but what then? Shall we go back to our heedless pursuit of economic growth that is destroying the earth? Take back up the habits that cause such grief? Continue the mindsets that have marginalised whole groups of people, made them invisible to medical aid, to good jobs and a decent life?
With our arms smarting from the needle, I hope we will remember. The small things that brought us joy – a coffee, the sound of birds chirping, the sight of wildlife returning in the quiet times. Take into our hearts the simple things. The need for less things that clutter our homes and our hearts, while they empty out purses and consume resources.
But I hope we have room to change the big things too. Work to make the world a fairer place for all species, not just humans. A cleaner, safer planet for all, no matter what we look like, what species we are or where we live. Striving together to make the future a better one for all.
Cindy Tomamichel is a multi genre author, with her SMP series Druid’s Portal a time travel action adventure romance set in Roman Britain. Short stories of fantasy, scifi and romance can be found on her website, where she blogs on aspects of world building. Her latest release -The Organized Author – provides much needed help for authors trying to navigate social media and build an author platform.
Always one to enhance my knowledge, I signed up for a grammar course. I also took it as the initial requisite to complete an editing certificate. With some spare time on my hands, I thought I could fill the gaps in my days with some freelance editing work. I have a few degrees. I’ve authored many papers. I write novels. Grammar is second nature—grammar is easy.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve studied so hard.
As I struggle through the homework, I discover unique things about myself. Things that I never would have reflected on had I not enrolled in the course. Yes, I’m talking about geeky things like grammar habits.
For one, I’m a comma splicer. I create run-on sentences by joining independent clauses with a comma but without a coordinating conjunction. In my defense, I swear that at some point forty years ago the dreaded comma splice method was okay. Why else would I have developed the habit of using it so much? I can still recite all the coordinating conjunctions, which means I know their function. Why would I have stopped using them and resorted to a simple mark when I committed so many brain cells to remembering them?
Second, I’m an infinitive splitter. Yes, I commit the crime of inserting a modifier between a “to” and a base form of a verb. And sometimes, when I’m feeling especially naughty, I even stick a modifying phrase between them. My textbook says there’s an exception when an alternative wording would sound unnatural. But I wonder—who determines what’s unnatural sounding? The warning of, “It’s a trap,” comes to mind. Imagine embracing the exception in my manuscript only to have an editor disagree with my interpretation of “sounding natural.”
And finally, I dangle phrases. Whether participial, prepositional-gerund, or infinitive, I have a tendency to muck up my meaning by leaving a phrase connected to the wrong actor. When I write, what I type makes sense in my head. Only when I look deeply at a sentence, especially ones which begin with verbal phrases, can I tell that I’ve dangled. And who has the time to deconstruct and diagram every sentence of a 100,000-word novel?
Yes, I know, an editor does.
As I reassess my initial thoughts about that editing certificate, I must admit that I’m not sorry I took this class. Since I’ve discovered my bad habits, I’ve been far more cognizant about them while I write. And although I might not catch everything, at least I might be able to reduce the red marks on the future manuscripts that an editor sends back to me.
Being in a high-risk group can be pretty awful. In my case, it means that my immune system can’t protect me in the event I meet COVID 19. I have been missing my grandchildren and came up with the idea of going to the Dinosaur Place in Oakdale, CT.
The adorable masked ones modeling with the dinosaur are my grandchildren ages 4, 8, and not yet 2. They love dinosaurs and this outdoor entertainment venue has 50 dinosaurs that can be seen along the trails. There are playgrounds, a Splash Pad (always check in advance to make sure it’s open), a snack stand, and more.
My granddaughters remembered all the happy times at my house, which sadly stopped when I went into treatment for cancer. I ended a year of chemotherapy just as the pandemic was recognized and shutdowns began. My grandson was a baby when we babysat him, so he is getting used to us all over again. Having an open-air venue to visit with them was just wonderful.
On August 19th my next Soul Mate release will be release and I am so excited to share it with you all!. It is the third in the Universe Chronicles series and is called Storming Time. This time it is our weather talent Zared who has to go rescue a Universe agent who has gotten into a bit of trouble. She turns out to be far more than he expected—in every way.
The Universe Chronicles didn’t start out as a series. The truth was that when I wrote the first book I had no idea what it would turn into. The first draft (well, I thought it was done, but I was wrong) didn’t have the shadow agency of Whisper to push against. I got feedback that the world building wasn’t as robust as people had hoped. It was when I realized that that was what the story needed that the series came alive. In fact, I have a handwritten note taped to my desk that has scribbled notes on the group that became Whisper. When I added Whisper to the series the entire landscape of the books changed and turned into something far greater.
Inspiration is funny that way. Often when I have a piece of the story that isn’t working I will let my sub-conscious go to work on it. I’ll let my mind wander, or think about the issue before I go to sleep and usually within a few days I will have a “ta-da” moment and know what needs to be fixed. It happened in Storming Time, with Hannah’s background and her underlying secret. It happens every time I am faced with a problem. As long as I trust my creative process, things will work out.
I hope that you enjoy the third installment of the Universe Chronicles as much as I did writing it. If you are so inclined, let me know what you think!
Stay safe out there, and be well. Here is a blurb to whet your appetite!
Storming Time blurb:
A fast car, a little weather manipulation to cover his tracks, and Zared Hersh’s emergency extraction job is done. But when Hannah Nickels dives into his front seat, something about her aquamarine eyes strikes him like lightning.
Hannah’s been groomed to join Universe from the moment her time-freezing talent emerged. But recently, her power’s been glitchy.
In the relative safety of Universe HQ in Richmond, their relationship grows. But Hannah has a second, more dangerous power. And as her control slips, someone with a hidden agenda sets her up to fall—straight into Whisper’s trap.
Claire Davon has written on and off for most of her life, starting with fan fiction when she was very young. She writes across a wide range of genres, and does not consider any of it off limits. Her novels can be found in the paranormal romance and contemporary romance sections, while her short stories run the gamut. If a story calls to her, she will write it. She currently lives in Los Angeles and spends her free time writing novels and short stories, as well as doing animal rescue and enjoying the sunshine. Claire can be found at: www.clairedavon.com
The COVID pandemic, while challenging and exhausting in so many ways has had one positive effect on me and, I suspect on you too. It has helped me “embrace” my gray hair – the color represents those years of trial and error–and all the little pieces woven into my hair. I recently went back to the hairdresser for the first time since COVID, and I decided to let my “golden years” show. 🙂
“Please do not touch my roots,” I said to my hairdresser, “I just want hi-lights. I want my gray hair to be my face frame.” My older brother, Jay, (he’s 88) has a head full of the most beautiful light gray hair with streaks of white. If I let mine grow, it could be similar, we are alike in many ways. And I’m not losing my hair anymore. Imagine that? Bleaching my hair since I’m thirteen, honest, my mom didn’t like my hair getting dark–then I adopted the system, coloring my hair for so long.
The saying You are only as old as you feel, or look. That is a fact for me. My health and appearance are important. I stay active and walk every morning with my hubby Tom. I enjoy ballroom dancing and sometimes Tom does too, although our dancing shoes are back in the closet for the time being because of COVID.
Beautycounter products are my go to for my skin and hair. Beautycounter’s new serum in the yellow bottle is made to act like Botox for those fine lines, and even for some of the other lines. Apply the serum before your Beautycounter face cream and makeup. But the difference is – it’s not harsh on your skin and it’s environmentally safe. I’m a consultant passing on great products for my friends and family. Today, with everyone concerned about health and the health of our families – what we put on our skin matters. And what we put into the environment matters too. Beautycounter is fast becoming a leader in healthy, safe and beauty products that make a difference and don’t forget the safe shampoos and conditioners, and sunscreen. Take a peek at Beautycounter’s Summer Skin Saviors – I’m sure you’ll love them as much as I do.
The best part of beautycounter is that it’s more than great products, it’s a movement.
Summer Skin Saviors
Warmer weather calls for lightweight yet powerful #betterbeauty-to refresh, protect, and perfect your skin.
All the products here are fabulous, with no fragrance, and no harsh chemicals. The yellow bottle is the “All Bright C Serum.” You can order through me beautycounter.com/gailingis or let me know what you would like, touch base, give me your cc, and I’ll order for you.
Are you interested in looking your best at any age and using products that not only are good for you but not harmful to the environment? You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I’ll give you more details and background about these wonderful skincare products that have contributed to my well being. Come be part of my team.
Perhaps I can help. I’m not referring to books! I’m talking about actual romance. We began this discussion in Part 1 (April 29, 2020) and Part 2 (June 24, 2020). Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share an amazing discovery I made through writing. (I’m Raz Steel—my degree is in Philosophy, I’ve been writing most of my life, and teaching writing for more than ten years.)
Storytelling is a tool. As a professional writer, it’s a tool of habit for me. Applied one way, it entertains an audience. But what if I could show you how storytelling applied another way could break you out of a pattern of failing real-world romance?
You don’t have to be a writer to use this tool. You don’t have to write at all. My process could be just as effective for a non-writer. In Part 1, I suggested that what allowed me to create the perfect story-romance in my recently published romantic comedy PASS THE KRYPTONITE was my understanding of not one character but both romantic characters.
This suggested that the success of real-world romance depends on my understanding of myself and my partner.
Changing your thoughts isn’t enough to change your romantic reality. Understand yourself, change your thoughts, and empathize with your partner.
Most romance writers and readers are women. If you’re a woman reading this essay, you probably already have a firm grasp on who you are, what you want, and why you want it. You already know about change your thoughts, change your reality.
What’s missing is, “How the hell do I empathize with a guy?”
I have a different perspective. I am a guy. It was incredibly difficult for me to learn how to empathize with a woman. But so rewarding!
For me, marriage failed. For one of the characters in PTK, romance failed. That character wallowed in self-pity and the pain of having someone reach down their throat, rip out their heart, throw it on the ground, and then stomp on it.
Mirrored my feelings precisely.
My character escaped. Why couldn’t I? How did my character manage it?
By understanding the only way to achieve the intimate relationship they wanted was to open themselves up again to that same kind of vulnerability.
Another PTK character’s engagement failed. They had reached down someone’s throat . . . Not deliberately trying to hurt anyone. Sometimes, relationships just don’t work out. That character empathized with their ex-partner though.
Part 2 is about realizing the characters in PASS THE KRYPTONITE (as well as my other novels) are emotional risk takers! What an incredible revelation.
Why did the characters find these actions necessary? One character, because they realized they needed to be an emotional risk taker, and the other character, because they realized their partner wasn’t an emotional risk taker.
Flipped a switch for me.
I had to suck it up to do the same. Not only did I need to become and remain an emotional risk taker, but now I understood a fundamental aspect of a potential romantic partner.
Okay. For those of you who also do that, we’re all on a good path. My idea of romance doesn’t need to match your idea of romance. My idea of romance needs to match my partner’s.
That’s the first thing to look for then in a potential partner, isn’t it? An emotional risk taker. I need to understand my idea of romance to recognize it in a partner. I want the ultimate intimacies of emotion and intellect and passion.
Just like you can’t achieve that level of intimacy without the risk, neither can he.
And if he’s not willing/able to take that risk, he ain’t your guy.
What if he has tons of other wonderful qualities? Yeah? Without this essential ingredient, you don’t achieve the romantic intimacy you want.
Can you make chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate chips? (You can, but then they’re not actually chocolate chip cookies, are they?)
(Part 4 of ESCAPE FROM BAD ROMANCE will appear on August 19, 2020)
When I was a teenager my goal in life was to become a singer. To meet that goal, I decided I wanted to attend the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio. There was one problem, however: I had no formal music training beyond learning the piano keys on a cardboard keyboard. Do you have any idea how hard it is to imagine what you are playing when you can’t hear the notes?
Not to be stopped from achieving my goal, I arranged for an audition at the school, in spite of my high school counselor’s repeated admonishment that I was not college material. Because of my raw vocal talent, I was accepted into Opera at CCM. Quite an accomplishment, I thought, for a girl who didn’t even know what The Marriage of Figaro was. While I had heard some classical music, and appreciated its melodic and sometimes crashing rhythms, I was raised on Porter Wagner and Dolly Parton Midwestern Hayride music, hymns, and rock and roll.
For my first music theory exam the professor stated he would be playing a recording of some classical piece of music. Our entire exam would consist of our ability to pick the 2nd violin line out of the musical piece, beginning at the 3rd movement, the second section, and writing the notes on the musical staffs of our exam books.
Panic seized me. I couldn’t hear the 2nd violin line, much less decipher where the 3rd movement or the second section started, in spite of taking an entire semester of music theory. Well, at least the classes I hadn’t skipped. As the music started, I wrote my name in the front of the exam book, desperately tried to hear what he’d asked for, then closed the book when I couldn’t, and gave it to the teacher. As you might suspect, I failed music theory.
A few weeks ago, while listening to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, at a Mozart concert presented by the Hamilton-Fairfield Symphony Orchestra, with my eyes closed I heard the 2nd violin line, and the first violin line, the oboes, the bassoons, the French horns, and every other instrument in the orchestra as clearly as if they were playing solos.
What’s the difference, you ask?
Exposure. I’ve had about 30 plus more years of singing, reading, and listening to music. I’ve gone to classical concerts, sung more classical music, and opened my ears to all kinds of music. I still have my favorites, but I’m not the country-western-rock-and-roll music virgin I was when I was 16.
As I was listening to the concert, it occurred to me that my experience in the writing world has paralleled that of my music. As writers we all need exposure to the craft and the writing world. Without it we will die on the page and fail.
When I go back and read some of the first stuff I wrote in the 70s, when I decided to become a real writer, I’m appalled at how bad it seems to me now. The raw talent was there, just like it was with my voice, but it needed honing. Ten years as a non-fiction freelancer taught me how to write sparely within the tight format of a newspaper and a word count. Years of going to writing workshops have taught me how to write fiction that tells a story and grips an editor. Now I’m a multi-award-winning published author. But the learning doesn’t stop there. I’ve got marketing, networking, and continuing to make each book better as new goals. It’s as exciting, and as scary, as that audition at CCM was so many years ago. But it’s a goal I know I can reach, just like I learned to hear the 2nd violin line in a classical piece of music.
What’s your writing goal and how are you reaching for it?
About the Author:
Multi-award winning author Catherine Castle loves writing. Before beginning her career as a romance writer she worked part-time as a freelance writer. She has over 600 articles and photographs to her credit, under her real name, in the Christian and secular market. She also lays claim to over 300 internet articles written on a variety of subjects and several hundred poems. In addition to writing she loves reading, traveling, singing, theatre, quilting and gardening. She’s a passionate gardener whose garden won a “Best Hillside Garden” award from the local gardening club. She writes sweet and inspirational romances. You can find her award-winning Soul Mate books The Nun and the Narcand A Groom for Mama, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.