A Tale of Two Men

retirement

Let’s visit my sister.

Her husband retired at the beginning of the year. His was an actual retirement at the age of sixty-five and after a lifetime of hard work.

It only took a few weeks before he was restless and driving her nuts. How often can you watch sports in a day? How many computer games can you play? How much house cleaning can you do?

He is employed again, driving a forklift for a trucking company. Order has been restored to my sister’s world.

Now come to my house.

I married a man with a definite feminine side to him. He cooks, he cleans, he sings the backup parts to pop songs by female singers. He shops. (So much shopping!)

He is “semi-retired” now at age fifty-six. I’m expecting he’ll go back to work before the end of the year, but he could actually stay home for almost two years.

Without taking a minute to relax and recover from a very stressful job, he began moving everything from his “man cave” (don’t you hate that term) in the basement and up into the den off the kitchen. The basement, kitchen, and den are now an explosion of junk stuff!

Every day something else comes into the house while something else goes out. Of all things, a clay chiminea showed up yesterday. I told my sister he’ll be burning down the house next (cue Talking Heads).

The addition of no less than EIGHT stereo speakers (with six more on the way) to the den has been … uh … interesting. I love a concert experience, and I haven’t really minded having an ongoing one in the house, but I’m a little concerned with all the shaking going on. Literally. The windows rattle, the siding shakes, objects on my desk move around.

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Noise dampening foam adhered to walls. Flat screen television on wall behind speakers on right (movable). Orange carpet will soon be replaced with hardwood flooring.

Our house is 114 years old. There are abandoned salt mines in this area. I can see our burned out house (from the chiminea on the wood deck) collapsing into a sinkhole one day. I’ve asked Rich to check the “dirt side” of the basement where the furnace and water heater live. I know there’s a brick wall over there that’s giving up the will to live, and I’m concerned the stereo will do it in. Fingers crossed it’s not a support wall.

And let’s not forget the garage. There’s a project or two started out there as well. I can’t imagine Rich will be “retired” long enough to complete all his projects. There’s certainly no boredom or restlessness for him.

Is he driving me nuts? Not really. I did like having the house to myself during the day, but mostly because I could play Don’t Starve for hours at a time, and no one would know. (Ha!) So, I guess having him around has helped to get me back on track with writing every day. But if he brings home one more kitchen gadget (recent purchases include a griddle, immersion blender, electric skillet, food processor, and a set of non-stick frying pans), I’m going to whap him upside the head with whatever it is!

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How about you? Do you have a retired or semi-retired person in the house? How did/do you deal with the situation?

Disclaimer: Rich has read and approved this blog post. There was chuckling and shaking of his head, but he couldn’t deny any of it.

Aaron Sorkin and Me – Part I

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Seven months ago, I signed up for the Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting MasterClass. I raced through the first several lessons, then that life thing happened. Aaron went the way of James Patterson, relegated to the bay window beside my desk, my current manuscript printed and tossed upon him with the hope he might read it while he waited for me to return.

He’s off the ledge now, and I’ve resumed the classes. In case anyone wonders, there has been no nose picking by Aaron thus far.

Lesson 01 – Introduction

My first impression of the class is a positive one. I find Aaron engaging and charming. He apologizes early on for not being an eloquent speaker, but I feel this “swerving all over the road” when he talks makes him personable and easy to listen to.

He begins by saying, “Writing, like any other art form … there are chunks of it that can be taught, and there are chunks of it that can’t be taught. So, we’re here for the parts that can be taught.”

Me: Ok. I’m here to learn!

Lesson 02 –Intention and Obstacle

Before anything, start with intention and obstacle. This is the most important thing in drama. “Without them, you’re screwed blue.”

Somebody wants something (intention). Something stands in their way (obstacle). The obstacle must be formidable, and the obstacle can’t be too easy to get out of.

Me: Aaron gives good examples of how quickly you should consider introducing the intention, depending upon whether you are writing a play, a movie, or a television show. I found this interesting and felt it was helpful to my own writing.

Lesson 03 – Story Ideas

There are two parts to having an idea:
1. Know what an idea is
2. You have to have it

You don’t have an idea until you can use the words BUT, EXCEPT, or AND THEN

It was a normal day like any other day, and then all of a sudden ….

Me: Aaron shares how he came up with some of his ideas and why some were great and others not so much. He even uses baseball metaphors. I liked all the stories he shared, but I especially liked this one:

His first television series was Sports Night (I loved that show!). He became addicted to watching Sports Center on ESPN. He’d watch it late at night while he was writing the movie, The American President (one of my favorite romantic comedies!). He’d stay up late at night writing the movie and turn on Sports Center to keep him company.

He thought that Sports Center place would be a fun place to work. Make friends there. Meet your girlfriend there. The thoughts in his head about Sports Center were all short stories. His agent told him that sounded like a television series, and that’s how Sports Night came to be.

Lesson 4 – Developing Characters, Part 1

You start with Intention and Obstacle AND Tactics.

When Aaron starts writing, he doesn’t have characters in his head. He starts with the intention and obstacle and the tactics used to overcome the obstacle in order to define what the character is going to be.

He shares examples from The Social Network and The West Wing to show all three – intention, obstacle, and tactic.

Lesson 5- Developing Characters, Part 2

I’ll share two gems from this lesson:

  1. Don’t write long biographies beginning when your character was five years old. Don’t say, “Here’s what this character would have eaten when they were five years old.” Because the character was never five years old. They were born at the age they are when the lights come up. The character only gets to be five years old if he says, “When I was five years old, I saw my father kill himself.” Then, and only then, the character was five years old.

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    Not from the class.

  2. I wouldn’t take out a yellow legal pad and a pen and start writing down character traits. None of that will come in handy. You do it because you think you’re supposed to do it. You feel like the more you write down on this legal pad, the more human the character is going to be. What’s going to happen is you’re going to have a scene where a guy or girl needs their parents to loan them money for something, and you’ve got this legal pad beside you, and you’re trying to figure out how to work creamy peanut butter into the scene, because you think that will make your character more human. FORGET IT! Forget that stuff!

Me: I love the legal pad advice. I’ve read numerous times that we should write biographies of our characters, complete with character traits, and I simply can’t do it (don’t want to is more like it).

This lesson also includes:

– Write Characters, Not people (I think I have this down pat. I love writing characters! Mama!)
– Writing Characters Unlike Yourself
– Identify with Your Anti-Heroes
– The Actor will Complete the Character

Lesson Six – Research

There are two types of Research when writing:

  1. The nuts and bolts Research. Find out how many nuts and bolts were used to make The Golden Gate Bridge. This is “hard” research.
  2. The other type is when you don’t know what you’re looking for yet, and it’s research where you’re trying to find the movie.

Talk to people. You never know where a cool story is going to come from. They’ll refer you to other people.

Sub-topics in this lesson:
– How to Interview
– Meaningless Research (interesting examples here)

Lesson Seven – Incorporating Research

Q. How do you incorporate research into writing?
A. It depends on what you find out.

Locate a problem in your research and start writing about it.

When it comes to dialogue, Aaron has written technical lines without knowing what they meant, but because of the research, he knew the words were correct. You get the story and some dialogue from research. You get to use what you want – and not use what you don’t want.

Aaron says the more important truth is that there is an inner moral compass if you are writing non-fiction. There is lying all through your writing. People don’t speak in dialogue. Lives don’t play out in a series of scenes that form a narrative.

If you are telling a true story, especially if the people are still alive, take the Hippocratic Oath – first do no harm. Do not do (write) something that changes the fundamental truth.

Aaron shares a great story here about something as simple as a beer in The Social Network.

Lesson Eight – The Audience

You want as much as you can for the audience to be a part of what’s going on. Treat them like they are smart, because they are.

Don’t lose the audience. He gives an example of a television movie with a scene that rang false. If you make an audience groan, it’s hard to get the audience back.

He shares a moment that doesn’t work in the movie A Few Good Men (my husband loves that movie!) and says if you put confusion in the mix, even a tiny little bit of confusion, the audience will be apprehensive.

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Me: When I took the James Patterson MasterClass on Writing, I found him to be passionate and motivating, which in itself was worth the price of the class. I gleaned many good tidbits, but I had already picked up the majority of the information from writers’ forums.

Aaron Sorkin’s class is different. The material is presented as if you are writing for the screen, and by sharing so many stories from movies, plays, and television shows he has written, I find there is more material for me to consider in my own writing.

You won’t believe me when I say (and I don’t blame you!) I’ll be back with Part II soon, but I will!

Have you taken Aaron Sorkin’s MasterClass? If you have, what did you think? If not, stay tuned. I’ll be gifting a class after I’ve finished the thirty-five lessons and shared some of my notes and thoughts.

It’s Time to Vote Again

Murder Wears a Veil is finished. Proofreaders have caught blunders, and the book has been edited thrice. Once I get back to formatting, the book will be ready to publish within hours.

So what’s the holdup?

I’m waffling over the cover! Argh!

As most of you know by now, I’m pretty stubborn. Maybe it’s not so much stubborn as I have to go with my gut – follow my instincts – listen to my inner voice – and all that jazz.

Each of the covers in my Two Sisters and a Journalist series has the same textured background but in a different color. As this book has a wedding with an orange theme, I chose orange for the background.

I like the cover. The book is a humorous mystery, and I get a kick out of the cake on a beach in Hawaii with the bride and groom toppers scuffling. However, I’ve had a couple of comments that the “orange sky” is odd. The pink sky in Murder Welcomes You to Buxley didn’t garner any comments, so I wonder if it’s just the fact that this background is ORANGE.

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My cover artist went back to the drawing board, made a few tweaks, and dropped in a blue sky. Now I have to decide which cover to use. I always look at all the covers together as a collection. I want the covers to look cohesive with one another.

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I like them both! I know which way I’m leaning, but I’d like to hear your opinion before I make a firm decision.

Drop your thoughts in the comment section below. Thanks!

On a Reading Binge

I signed up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge last year. Ha! That went well. I committed to reading fifty books. I read a whopping twelve.

I decided to give the challenge a go again this year. With a positive mindset, I set my number once again to fifty books. I can say with confidence that my goal won’t be a problem. I’ve already read twenty-two of the fifty.

I’ve definitely been on a reading binge. I read at night before bed, in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, and I read for at least two hours every morning before I start my day. Even though I’d prefer to be able to sleep more, I’m enjoying reading.

I read many books in my own genre of writing, so my list has quite a few fun, light mysteries, but I’ve also picked up some other good reads.

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I got a big kick out of the western Unwanted Dead or Alive by Gene Shelton. Two ranch hands lose their jobs and decide to try their hand at being outlaws. A reviewer said they were like “Abbott and Costello go west,” and I have to agree.

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Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes by Rich Israel was a hoot! He recounts his travels and travails in the sixties as he traveled around the country during the time of free love and drugs, all the while hoping he wouldn’t be drafted.

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One of my favorite reads so far was The Devil and Preston Black by Jason Jack Miller. The book is billed as Appalachian Noir fiction and “… is your ticket into a world where love can save your soul, where a song can change your destiny, and where evil still hides in the dark corners of the night.” I enjoyed the music references and the description of music as the characters played their instruments. Preston Black was a well-written character. It was easy to feel sympathy for him and to root for him.

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Summer at the Comfort Food Café is by British author Debbie Johnson and had a wonderful mix of humor, heartbreak, and family life. I like when I continue to think about a book days after I’ve finished reading. This book was like that for me.

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I’ve only recently become aware of Richard Branson and what a motivating person he is. I read Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way. Having worked in the music industry for several years, I especially enjoyed the stories around Virgin Records, but the entire book was a good read.

Have you ever heard you should never meet your heroes? Well, I think that should be extended to include don’t ever read tell-all biographies of your heroes. I read a Frank Sinatra biography last year, and although it was fascinating, I was so disappointed to read about the man’s faults. Of course, I knew he would have faults, but I should have left that sleeping dog lie. However, I do still love to listen to him sing. I’m currently reading a biography about Jimmy Stewart. He’s not a hero, but I do enjoy a good biography, and he seems to have led a tamer life.

Have you signed up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge this year? If you haven’t, it’s not too late. If you have, what have you read, and what has been your favorite book so far?

Blog Post #3

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Good grief.

It’s June, and I’ve only managed two blog posts so far this year.

Blogging aside, I was going gangbusters there for a while with books published in October, December, and February. My plan was to continue putting out a book every two or three months this year.

You know what they say about the best-laid plans.

I suppose the number one reason for the screeching halt of pretty much everything in my life has been health problems for several family members. I had a few months of concern with my own runaway blood pressure, and Rich has had some heart problems, but we’re both doing well now, and enough of my stress has been alleviated that I’m ready to get back to writing. I find it difficult to write humor when I have too much stress.

Our granddaughter isn’t coming to visit this summer, so my new plan is to write as much as I can over the next two months and have something ready to publish in September. It shouldn’t be too difficult, because I have works-in-progress.

Five chapters of the next book in the Two Sisters and a Journalist Series are completed. This will be book number seven – Murder Wears a Veil. There’s a bit of a prologue followed by this opening line: No one screamed when Buck Swenson threw Lucille Crabtree over the cliff to the sharp rocks and pounding surf below. Can you tell it’s a humorous scene?

Also finished are six chapters of the first book in my new series. The series will likely be three books total, and I already have covers for two of them:

Appleseed_Cozies1

Delicious Death is definitely the first book, but I think Dying for Pie will be number three. I’ll use a yellow apple on book number two, and that will give a traffic light effect – red, yellow, green. I wonder if that will have a subliminal visual/mind effect that is positive. I figure it can’t hurt. The books will be squeaky-clean, romantic cozies.

I still have Stanley Pearl hanging around, too. Three chapters of Stanley’s story are in the can, and as much fun as this book is to write, it will be a stand-alone, and it’s a bit of a departure from what I’ve been writing, so he’s on the back burner until I can decide how to present him and market him. Poor Stanley.

In other news, Rich and I were out on the motorcycle this past weekend. The weather was fantastic, and I soaked up some much-needed sun. We have a new motorcycle this year. We’ve upgraded from a 1984 Goldwing to a 1989 Goldwing. Rich actually bought it on eBay, and had it shipped to us from Utah (the picture of bike with snow on ground was taken in Utah). I have to say it’s more comfortable to ride than our old bike, but the airflow is horrible. If my hair isn’t pulled back with a million clips on the sides, it flies forward and whips my face.

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Finally, I’ve been so distracted by life that I’ve allowed myself to escape into a video game for a while. Our son used to play the indie game Don’t Starve. I loved watching him play. I remember Rich going to bed one night and coming down the next morning to find Mike and me still in front of the television playing the game. I found several people on YouTube who posted videos of their game play, and I’ve had a ball watching them. I eventually worked up enough courage to fire up the Playstation and try playing myself. Crikey, that game is so intense, it messes with my blood pressure. I died three times the first day I tried playing, but on the second day, I managed to stay alive, and I’m currently on Day 268. I’m due for a Deerclops attack, so I’m letting a few days go by before I play again. I have to give my heart a break. Please let me know if you’ve ever played this game!

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So, there you have it. An update. I’ll stop messing around, stop gaming, stop wallowing in whatever I’ve been wallowing in, and get back to writing. Maybe I’ll manage a few more blog posts this year, too. I’ll certainly be back to let you know when I have another book ready to publish.

Oh, one more thing. I enjoyed the James Patterson Master Class well enough that I’m considering signing up for Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting. I’ve always wanted to turn one of my books into a screenplay. I think it might be fun. If it isn’t, please don’t tell me.

If you’re celebrating the Fourth of July weekend, have a safe and wonderful time!

Bathroom Humor and a Free Book

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My mother is a good sport. I’ve used and abused her in my books but always with a loving heart and with her knowledge and support.

My mother and father were the inspiration behind Susan Hunter’s mother and father. When physically describing Susan’s father, and her close relationship with him, I may as well have been talking about my own late father. Susan’s mother doesn’t resemble my mother in appearance, but many of her characteristics and her love of laughter do. Mom loved reading my Susan Hunter books, and I know she enjoyed knowing so much of her personality went into Susan’s mother.

My mother is now eighty-five years old. A few years back, she proclaimed she didn’t care what people thought any longer. She said she’s lived long enough to say and do what she wants. That made it easy to base Mama in my “Two Sisters and a Journalist” series on my own mother in her later years.

I grew up with three brothers who thought they were comedians. I can’t tell you how many whoopee cushions, fart machines, farts recorded on cassettes, belching contests, and just about any other manner of PG-13-rated potty humor went on in our house. I won’t say which brother, but one of them had so much gas one summer, he kept a notebook and logged each one as it passed.

My mother laughed at those boys until she cried. We all did.

If you don’t know by now, my “Two Sisters and a Journalist” books have bathroom humor in them. With the popularity of Melissa McCarthy and over-the-top humor in movies, I decided to go this route with the series. Where Susan Hunter wouldn’t pass gas in front of herself, Jo Ravens and her family are less couth. There are a few incidences of minor swear words (four in my new book), but they are used as humor rather than as angry swearing.

In Murder Under Construction, Jo laments the fact that her mother passes gas while shopping and then walks away, allowing Jo to come around the corner and walk into the gas cloud. Anyone coming near Jo would assume she was the offender. True story. I told my mother if she didn’t quit doing that to me, I wasn’t taking her shopping any more.

My sister called one day to tell me she picked Mom up to take her to the grocery store, and as Mom walked across the back porch, every step produced a puff of smoke. Upon further inspection, she realized Mom had put foot powder in her sandals. She was laughing so hard, she could barely tell me about it. In Murder Welcomes You to Buxley, Mama has an incident with baby powder in her shoes at the bowling alley.

One of my nieces read Murder Under Construction and asked her mother, “Has Grandma read this? Does she know she’s in here?” The false teeth incident gave it away for her.

My mother has threatened my siblings on occasion. She’ll tell them not to tell me about something she did, because it will end up in one of my books. She’s right, but she always laughs when it does. I know she secretly loves it.

Just last week, I published book number six in the “Two Sisters and a Journalist” series: Murder – A Chummy Affair. Mama is her usual inappropriate and silly self, but her bowling crony Lucille, who was mentioned in a previous book, has a bigger role this time, and she has chronic flatulence.

My mother loved the book and thought Lucille was hilarious. Of course she did! My mother’s middle name is Lucille.

I’m in the mood to give books away today. If you would like a copy of Murder – A Chummy Affair, let me know in the comments section below, and I’ll send a book to you from Amazon. If you need a copy for a different format, I’ll send a code for a free book at Smashwords, and you can choose the file that’s right for your eReader. Just make sure you let me know which venue – Amazon or Smashwords. If you prefer to write and ask me personally, my email is on my About page.

I never harvest email addresses for my mailing list. If you’d like to sign up to receive notices of new releases, the link is on my breezybooks website, but I’ll make it easy today and link HERE.

Finally, I was going through old pictures for a family member last week, and I came across pictures of my mother and father. I forgot how attractive my dad was when he was young. He could have been in the movie Grease! For that matter, my mother could have, too.

Dad_50s Mom_40s

A Few Reading Recommendations

policeAre there blog police?

If there are, they will be coming to my blog any day now to shut me down for dust, cobwebs, and lack of content.

I love blogging and reading blogs, but I’ve been on a tear writing. This past Wednesday, I published book number four in the Two Sisters and a Journalist series – Murder Wins the Game.

I’m also over fifty percent finished with book number five – Murder Between the Covers. I’m hoping to have the book published by Thanksgiving.

A new series snuck up on me, and I have three chapters finished of Delicious Death. I’m choosing to be optimistic and say the book will be published in time for Christmas. I’ll save the details of that series for later.

A character by the name of Stanley Pearl has been tormenting me since April. He’s not a priority for 2015, but he’s still managed to get me to write three chapters of his story. I expect to finish the book next year.

To top everything off, a reader recently convinced me to write another Susan Hunter book!

I’m sure I’ll be around a little here and there, but for now, let me clear out some of the dust and cobwebs and show you the new book.

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I also want to share some books by my friends and fellow bloggers.

Jackie Phillips at To Breathe is to Write has written and published two books! The Canine Caper is a short story introducing her main character, DeeDee Watson. A Case of Deceit is a full-length novel. The books are fun, cozy mysteries featuring a Papillion. A Case of Deceit was just released this week.

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Carrie Rubin has a new book – Eating Bull. I was honored to read the book ahead of publication, and it’s a great thriller. Not only does Carrie address topics pertinent to many people today – fat shaming, obesity, and bullying – but she writes about the topics in such a way that you will be thinking about the book long after you’ve finished reading. The paperback is available now; the eBook may be pre-ordered for release on November 12.

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And last but not least, Valerie Clarizio has a new release coming out next Tuesday, November 3 – Plan Interrupted. I’ve read other books by Valerie, and I enjoy her writing style. Her books are a mix of romance and suspense, and I’m always entertained.

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Happy reading!

Feel free to add your own new releases and recommendations in the comments below.