Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Punctuation Rules and Quotation Marks


by Sybil Johnson

I enjoyed the post on Monday by Thomas on breaking rules and quotation marks. (FYI, I really dislike it when people don’t use quotation marks for speech in fiction.) It reminded me of the time when I went down the punctuation rabbit hole. I wrote about it in a post a couple years ago. Since then I’ve found another book by David Crystal, Spell It Out, about the history of English spelling.

I thought I’d rerun that post today because sometimes it's fun to revisit stuff. FYI, my Swedish is getting better thanks to Duolingo. So here it is...

Going Down the Punctuation Rabbit Hole 

 Exclamation marks, periods, semicolons... We use them every day and don’t think anything about it. They’ve always been there for us. We think of them as being necessary for the written word. But they didn’t always exist. Even spaces between words or divisions into paragraphs wasn’t there when written language came about. 

I’ve seen this myself from the years I’ve spent studying Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and Coptic. Nary a space in sight. It’s amazing how fast you can get used to figuring out where words and sentences begin and end. Or, in the case of AE, what direction the text is written in.

 But I didn’t really know anything about when punctuation marks came into being. I still know only a little, but I’m finding it a fascinating topic.

 This whole foray into the history of punctuation started when I read a post by author Kathleen Valenti on Chicks on the Case about exclamation points.  I, myself, am a heavy user of exclamation points in emails and letters. I’ve learned to rarely, if ever, use them in stories I write.

Her post got me thinking about the several semesters I took of Swedish (don’t ask me to translate anything, ‘cause I’ve pretty much forgotten it all). I had this vague memory that the use of ! in Swedish differs from how we use it in English. So I did a little googling and found an article on the top 5 mistakes Swedes make when writing English. Number 1(!) was in the use of the exclamation mark. In Swedish it’s used to indicate a positive friendly tone while in English we tend to think of someone shouting or being overly excited about something.

This got me thinking about how punctuation marks came about in general. So I did more googling and came across this article by Keith Houston on “The Mysterious Origins of Punctuation.”

That led me to his book, Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols and Other Typographical Marks where I’ve learned a bit about the pilcrow, the interrobang and other symbols like the at sign and hyphen. I’m still in the process of reading the book, but it’s great so far.

I also found the book Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation by David Crystal. This one gives a history of punctuation in English as well as advice on how to use it.

From what I’ve read so far, written texts were seen as an aid to reading aloud. Reading silently was a tad suspicious. So letters were all caps, squished together with no punctuation. Aristophanes in 200 B.C.ish came up with the first forms of punctuation to help with reading aloud. That didn’t stick. But punctuation started gradually being added until, in the 7th century, spaces in English was common practice and reading silently was no longer suspect. Basically, our current punctuation has its roots in the middle ages and was pretty much set when the printing press was invented.

There’s so much more to learn and it’s much more complicated than I’m making out. You’ll just have to pick up one of those books and see for yourself. The interrobang is an interesting little twist. It’s a cross between an exclamation mark and a question mark and was invented in the 1960s. You can put it in your Word documents by using the Wingdings 2 font. You can read a short history of it here.

Yes, you’re right, I’ve seriously gone down the rabbit hole on punctuation and I’m enjoying every single minute of it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Thanksgiving With the Family

 by Charlotte Hinger

There's nothing like a Thanksgiving trip to Pensacola, Florida. My nephew, Charles Mader and his wife, Brenda host a massive dinner every three years. This container of punch says everything about the spirit of the celebration.

Brenda is a gourmet cook. She seated 55 persons around their gorgeous backyard pool. I don't think anyone came up with an accurate count of all the animals, let alone the children. The pool of deserts was staggering and I think she cooked three turkeys and a ham.

 Among the entertainment highlights was bocce. Everyone can play. Even someone like me. All ages loved it. In this photo Chuck Mader is explaining the rules to his sister and visiting cousins. 

I also got to see my first ice hockey game and loved it. 

And the day after we went to an absolutely whopping club called FloraBama that's right on the Florida Alabama line. Bands play around the clock. It's open 24 hours a day. The place swarms with children until 5:30, then they have to leave. We were there during the day, so I have no idea what goes on after sundown. 

Do writers write about their families? I don't. At least not overtly. But there's no denying how much my wonderful goofy extended family shapes my attitudes and my memories. 

There's now a wistfulness creeping into my psychology when I remember times past. Happy memories of family celebrations. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Rules, Breaking Rules, and Quotation Marks

 by Thomas Kies

When I begin a Creative Writing class, I write two things on the whiteboard.  The first thing I write is the word “Rules”

I tell the class that I’ll talk to them about what I know about the rules of writing, such as they are.  For example, when you’re submitting work to an agent or to a publisher, your manuscript should be double spaced and in twelve-point Times New Roman type font. 

I’ll talk to them about using adverbs judiciously…or not at all. 

I’ll show them that to be a good writer you need to be a good reader.  Read everything you can get your hands on.  Read critically.  What was it about that last book you read that you like and what didn’t you like?  Could it have been made stronger? Was there something the writer could have left out?

We discuss how to create engaging characters complete with good traits, flaws, physical descriptions, and backstories.  We talk about how even the villains have some redeeming characteristics. 

We experiment with dialogue, showing what characters are doing while they’re speaking and not using dialogue tags like “He said” and “She Said”.  

So, after I write the word “Rules” on the whiteboard, I immediately follow it up by writing the words “No Rules”.  Because in the end, most writers break the rules.  Although, it’s often at our own peril. 

I’m reading a writer right now who breaks a boatload of rules.  I’m wading through Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger, his first book since releasing The Road back in 2006. 

One rule he breaks?  Quotation marks.  He simply doesn’t use them.  In his Oprah Winfrey interview, he says MacKinlay Kantor was the first writer he read who left them out. McCarthy stresses that this way of writing dialogue requires particular deliberation. You really have to be aware that there are no quotation marks and write in such a way as to guide people as to who’s speaking.

Other writers who refused to use quotation marks were E.L.Doctorow and James Joyce.

Apostrophes…doesn’t use those either.  In his New York Times Book Review piece, John Jeremiah Sullivan said, “McCarthy does that, he takes out the apostrophes. He told Oprah in a 2008 interview that he doesn’t like semicolons and quotation marks either. They clutter. Too many “weird little marks.” But the problem with clutter is distraction. And what is distracting are words that lack punctuation where ordinarily there would be some.”

I’m about two-thirds through The Passenger. Am I loving it?  Yes and no. McCarthy is a remarkable writer and I find some of the passages in this book are sheer poetry.  The dialogue is crisp and snappy,
but I have to work at figuring out who is saying what and yes, I find it a distraction.  It’s still a hell of a well-written book. 

My lesson? If you’re going break the rules, you best be a really good storyteller. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

 Journalism 101

By Johnny D. Boggs

After two-plus years of writing, rewriting, screaming, pulling hair and watching countless movies that feature newspaper journalists, American Newspaper Journalists on Film: Portrayals of the Press During the Sound Era (McFarland) arrived at my front door last week.

Now comes the hard part: Promoting a book that, with a $49.95 price tag, won't entice moms and dads to stick it in stockings for their J-school students -- like any parents want their kid studying journalism these days.

Trust me. My son is majoring in journalism. Didn't you hear all my horror stories about working in newspapers?

Writing this book reminded me of why I'd rather write fiction.

1. Footnotes.

2. Facts.

But it also reminded me of why, even though I predominantly write fiction, I consider myself a journalist.

Instead of who-what-where-when-why, I ask, What if? I also ask tons of questions before typing a sentence. 

Besides, I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't spent nigh 20 years in the field as a high school and college student and as a professional in the then-competitive Dallas-Fort Worth market for two Pulitzer Prize-winning dailies.

I learned:

√ Get Your Facts Right: Sure, I make stuff up in my fiction, but by throwing in enough tidbits that are accurate, you lure readers into accepting your world as though Bob Woodward has vetted it.

√ Deadlines Are Not Figments of An Editor's Imagination: Flashback -- alone in the press box after a high school football game, the lights go off. In complete darkness, I run outside, yelling: "I'm STILL here!" No one is in earshot or cares. After grabbing my notes and Trash 80 (the world's worst laptop), I run down the stands and dash to the gate. Which is locked. I shove my stuff under the fence. Climb up chain-link and over razor wire. Jump down. Get my computer and notes. Run to my Datsun B-210, speed to a payphone. Finish typing the story. Hook up those silly acoustic couplers. And file the piece to the copy desk. On time.

√ At a Minimum, Get Two Sides to a Story: The truth likely lies somewhere in between.

√ Think Before You Type: Empathy is the key when writing fiction. And always be fair.

√ Never Back into Your Lead: The best scene in The Post (2017), for me, twice a copy-desk chief, is after reporters finish their story and it goes to the copy editor, who takes a pencil and scratches out the first line.

The Post isn't a great movie, but I laugh every time at that scene (which isn't played for laughs). I also love this scene in The Paper (1993), also not a great film: A reporter chains his chair to his newsroom desk.

I swear, I worked with men and women just like that.

Yeah, there's a line Humphrey Bogart, playing a NYC daily's managing editor, says in Deadline - U.S.A. (1952) that, even when I'm recalling newspaper horror stories, I agree with 100 percent:

"It may not be the oldest profession, but it's the best." 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving 2022

 Since all you Americans are eating yourselves into a stupor today, I thought I'd add to the joy by reprinting a beloved Casey family holiday recipe for your future noshing pleasure. This is called Impossible Pumpkin Pie, and it is easy as, well, pie. It should be eaten with about a quart of whipped cream, according to family members who shall remain nameless. Peace and Love, Donis.

Impossible Pumpkin Pie

The following recipe is for the easiest and most amazing pumpkin pie ever made. This is my mother’s recipe, and I’m presenting it here exactly as she wrote it down.

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup biscuit mix (such as Bisquick)

1 can (16 oz) pumpkin

2 tsp. butter

2 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 can (13 oz.) evaporated milk

2 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9 inch pie pan. Beat all ingredients until smooth. Pour into pan. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.

(No, you don’t make a crust. The pie will make its own crust.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The hazards of "how to"

 I read Charlotte's Tuesday post with interest, remembering the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly of my critiquing experiences. Some of my memories made me cringe, as it was me being the ugly one.

I've been writing all my life, since I was six and could first print words. For most of it I've been self-taught, like Charlotte. Words and stories poured out of me, and I had little regard for style or perfection. At one point in my early twenties I had some time off and decided to sign up for a creative writing class. This was small-group, workshop-style, and we submitted a chapter or short story to the group for critiquing the next week. Most of us were beginners, and we were given no guidance from the instructor on the do's and don'ts of good critiquing.

The result was a bit of a blood bath. Stories were ripped to shreds, sometimes for the sake of sounding clever or more skilled than the writer. I confess I too was guilty of this. It's so much easier to see what's wrong with a piece than what's right. Much easier than making useful suggestions. And when suggestions were made, they were along the lines of " I think you should.."  or "this is how I would write the story", with little regard for the fact it wasn't their story. After one particularly brutal blood bath (on an admittedly cliched and shallow piece of writing), the young man never came back to class. That memory bothers me still. We are all sensitive at our core - it's what makes us capable of the empathy and imagination needed to write in the first place. No matter how bad the piece is, we have poured our hearts into it and it is a part of us. 

That should never be so carelessly crushed.

That group put me off writing courses and critiquing groups for years. I continued to be self-taught. In fact, I was completely turned off by those who claimed to have found the secret to writing the perfect novel. All those "how to" books and talks that promised success if you follow these rules. A confession - I've never been fond of rules. Tell me this is the way you should do something, and I'm heading in the opposite direction. I've always wanted to do my own thing. So I soldiered on, reading about writing, reading great writers, gradually getting a sense about what worked and didn't.

Luckily for me, somewhere around my mid-century mark, when I started to think more seriously aboutgetting published, I did join a critiquing group of fellow beginner crime writers. We were all feeling our way and by then were mature enough to understand the sensitive task we were being trusted with. The first couple of groups had its ups and downs, and with their help I got my first couple of books published. We learned to set rules for feedback, to focus our comments constructively, and to avoid rewriting the story our way (mostly).

I later found my way to my present critiquing group, the Ladies Killing Circle, with whom I have stayed ever since. At this point we are more friends than a critiquing group. We yak about writing, pitch plot ideas, and may or may not read each other's work before we send it off. I almost always ask for a read-through once I have polished a book to the best I can make it. They act as my beta readers, finding flagrant flaws and questionable characterizations before the book lands on the editor's desk. They are my best friends and after nearly a quarter century, I trust them to handle my words with care. If you can find this kind of group, cherish it!

I believe everyone has to find the way to write a novel that works for them. Not everyone outlines, not everyone does character backstories, and to shoehorn yourself into an inappropriate approach that doesn't give you the room to breathe and discover, dooms you to failure. 

That said, I have found articles or workshops on specific topics useful. Articles on understanding POV, creating setting, or capturing dialogue can be enormously helpful to strengthening your writing, and we always hope to get better and better. I've even written some myself.

But the best way to approach them is to think of them as signposts rather than traffic signals. Not "right turn only" or "wrong way", but "consider this" or "if you do this, it has that effect."

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Too Dumb for Words

by Charlotte Hinger

Janet Hutchings, the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, asked me to create a blog post for their on-line blog. Her guests blog about suspense, short stories and the mystery-fiction scene. I was delighted to have the opportunity. Here's the link to my post: 

The Bliss of Ignorance (by Charlotte Hinger) | SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN

Last Monday, Thomas Kies, had a great post about how he conducts his writing class. I can't applaud him enough. What a great approach. His classes are kind and helpful. He does his best to help his students achieve their goals. It says the world about the kind of man he is. 

My post was about my lack of writing education when I began my career. I was literally self-taught. Yet, in some ways I was better off because I never heard the discouraging words so many newcomers have to endure.

After a friend of mine read my post she said she wished she had never taken graduate courses in creative writing. That, and a critique group convinced her she had no business ever submitting a thing. She's just now getting her first novel published after picking herself up years later and working up the courage to try again.  

Another friend told me her writing classes leached all creativity from her years ago. She will never write now. 

This just burns me up! What in the world is going on? I didn't have access to either liberal arts colleges or writing groups in the little Western Kansas prairie town I lived in. I learned all the publication processes from books and magazines. What a luxury to learn without pressure. 

I attended my first writing group as a guest of a friend in another state. I had just finished Come Spring, a historical novel, which was later published by Simon and Schuster. I was in awe of the cultured well-dressed attendees. Yet, by the evening's end, I decided it was the meanest group of women I had ever come across. They absolutely slaughtered the work of the only one there who was writing a novel.

How could that poor timid little soul take that week after week? That's the real story of what soured me toward writing groups. I was glad I didn't have any part of my manuscript with me. I would have been expected to read it and probably would never have submitted my work after the group "helped me."

Again, what in the world is going on?

 I can't abide cruelty in any form. It's especially egregious when it comes to creativity. It doesn't take much to blow the flame out of candles. 

Three cheers for Thomas Kies. If you haven't read his post, do so. It a model example of the right way to teach a difficult subject.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Breaking up is hard to do

 The thing about life is that things end. One season become another, one minute becomes another. Life goes its own inexorable way and there comes a time when we have to change.

As the saying goes, the moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.

It's time for me, and my moving fingers, to move on.

As Neil Sedaka almost wrote, this will be our last post together.

I've been privileged to contribute meanderings here every second Monday for almost two years. I'm sure some have been more interesting than others. I'm also sure that's a highly sliding scale.

Workload, changing circumstances, the inability to simply organise my time properly mean that I have to reluctantly hand in my keys to the Type M executive washroom. 

I hope regular readers have enjoyed at least some of my monkeyshines.

I know I have. 

But the tra-la days are over and there's no other way for me to say goodbye but this -

Keep reading. Keep writing. And, if you can, keep smiling.

Driving rain

 The story so far: It's Book Week Scotland and crime writers are criss-crossing the country visiting libraries and other venues like bandits on the lam. Sometimes they meet, other times they go solo. But it's November. It's Scotland. And the elements are waiting...

The rain is hitting my windscreen as if it's trying to get through the glass. The wipers are making a game attempt to keep the road ahead in view but in fact they are only waving goodbye to clear sight. The tarmac is becoming a pool, the lights of the approaching vehicles are smeared by the monsoon. It's only 4pm but it's already as black as the earl of hell's waistcoat. 

And I'm still 50 miles from safe haven.

Not for the first time I wonder what in the name of all that's holy I'm doing out in this. The weather report tells me it's only going to get worse the further east I go but still keep the nose of my car pointed away from a sun that's setting somewhere behind the impenetrable murk in my rear view. 

Nobody will come out on a night like this, surely.

(Don't call me Shirley)

I'll get to the venue and probably be the only person in the room, apart from library staff. Okay, that's happened before and on bright summer nights, too, but seriously, what are you thinking about?

I'll tell you - because this is what I do. I'm a writer and that means more than just sitting in a garret awaiting for the heavenly muse to alight on the forehead like an angel's kiss. It means getting out there and meeting the people who matter - the readers. They're the ones who part with their hard-earned folding green to buy the books, whether physical or digital or audio, and borrow them from libraries.

But even they would be daunted by this weather, surely.

(What did I tell you?)

So I keep on keeping on. Like the postal service, this male will get through.

Like wethar, this has been the worst spell of weather all week. The first three trips were all dry but here we are, Thursday night, and it's like the end of the only decent Superman movie and the dam has burst. Only the big guy isn't going to make the earth spin backwards and reverse time.


At first it didn't look as if there was going to be an audience but slowly, in ones and twos, they arrived in the library's events room. They are a hardy bunch, Dundonians. They were't going to let something like a little precipitation prevent them from turning out to hear three crime writers talk about their craft. The roads may have been flooded but there they are, listening, laughing and - importantly - asking decent questions. As did the audiences at all three sessions I attended.

It's the final event of my Book Week Scotland. They have all been hugely enjoyable because, as I said the last time we were together, it's important to have that kind of contact.

Because that's what it's all about, surely.

(Don't make me come over there...)

Friday, November 18, 2022

In Search of a Title

This post is going to be short because I'm trying to finish my nonfiction book about gangster movies and get it out before Thanksgiving Day. 

But I also have a third Hannah McCabe police procedural simmering on the backburner. It isn't my next book. That's the historical thriller in which McCabe and Baxter will appear as secondary characters. After that I'll work on my 6th Lizzie Stuart book. But the third McCabe book is in the queue. I'm making notes as plot ideas come to me. 

I know who the victim will be -- a former private school teacher who has written a best-selling book about wolves and people. She's back in Albany to make a presentation at a conference about human-animal connections. Urban explorers find her body in a deserted building.

As I've mentioned before, I need to find a title before I can get deep into a writing project. In this case, I need to find a title before I can even do a backburner outline. The first two books have an animal on the cover. The first book -- The Red Queen Dies -- has the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. The second has the fly from "Who Killed Cock Robin?" who sees with his little eye. Although I guess a fly is techically an insect. . .

In the third book I want to use a wolf as the theme animal. The human murder victim is an advocate for reintroducing wolves to the Adirondacks. In addition to her research on wolf packs, she has been studying coywolves  (coyote-wolf hybrids) who have found their way into cities. She argues that wolves have been the victims of negative stereotyping. So the wolves are not "bad" animals in this book. That rules out titles that reference stereotypes of wolves as predators (e.g., "The Wolf's Prey").

I'm collecting titles to play with as I ponder. Any ideas would be appreciated. Even if your suggestion doesn't fit "as is" I might be able to make use of it. 

I'm a week early, but have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Slow boil

I started reading “The Chain,” by Adrian McKinty, recently, and I’m loving it. The premise alone is riveting, especially to a parent, and even more so to a parent who is active on social media.

More than the riveting plot, though, I find the book captivating because it’s written in present tense. I’ve experimented with present tense previously, to varying degrees of success (probably more losses than wins, if I’m being honest). I recently finished writing a novel featuring a first-person narrator and chapters featuring other third-person points of views (no one’s done the bounce between first-person speaker and other third-person voices as well as Tony Hillerman).

I even have one chapter told in present tense. My present-tense chapter is an action scene, a shift from past tense to present to propel readers through a climactic scene in a way that I hope isn’t too jarring. We’ll see.

As my agent prepares to submit that book, I’m starting the sequel, and have toyed with the idea of writing it in present tense. Which begs the question: How does one decide if their story should be told in present tense?

For me, the decision is about consistency and pace.

My protagonist uses the first person. Present tense wouldn’t be appropriate. But more than that, I love the novels of Ross Macdonald, and those books aren’t thrillers; they’re detective novels. The pace is a slow burn, low heat that warms to a boil. Those are the novels I grew up with and still turn to often. And they are the novels I want to write.

You can't talk about POV without John Gardner's "Psychic Distance" chart from his book "The Art of Fiction":

  1. It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
  2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
  3. Henry hated snowstorms.
  4. God how he hated these damn snowstorms.
  5. Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul.
Rule of thumb, according to Gardner: You cannot move closer that the point at which you start. (I tell students to try to read the list out of order to understand that.)

I’d love to hear from other Type M authors and readers: What are your thoughts on the use of the present-tense narration?

Wednesday, November 16, 2022


I first heard about in Jane Friedman’s newsletter, The Hot Sheet. It’s a book discovery site founded a little over a year ago by Ben Fox who is an avid reader. He was dissatisfied with online book discovery so decided to create a site that he thought was a better way to find new books.

Not long after reading this article, I received an email from someone at Shepherd mentioning my book, Designed For Haunting, and asking if I’d like to put together a recommendation list for the site. This was all free.

I am relatively cautious when it comes to people contacting me about doing things so I checked out the site and reread the Hot Sheet article. It seemed like a lot of fun so I agreed. Since Designed For Haunting is set around Halloween and I love traditional and cozy mysteries set around that time, I named my list “The best Halloween mysteries to escape into.”

It only took a few minutes for me to come up with the 5 books for the list: The Skeleton Haunts a House by Leigh Perry, The Spook in the Stacks by Eva Gates, The Legend of Sleepy Harlow by Kylie Logan, Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie and The Spirit in Question by Cynthia Kuhn.

It took a bit longer for me to do short reviews of the books. I actually reread all of them so I could more easily remember why I love these books so much.

I used the words “escape into” for the list because that’s how I feel about reading cozies and traditional mysteries. They are my escape from the problems of the real world. I love diving into other authors’ worlds and revisiting characters I’ve read about before.

Here’s the list as it appears on the site:

The site is a fun site to look around and see what other authors have recommended. You can also browse books by Wikipedia topic. I enjoy nonfiction and fiction books set in the Middle Ages so I searched for that and came up with a list “The best books on the Middle Ages”. I see a bunch of books on it that I want to read: Viking Age Iceland by Jesse L. Byock, Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer, Growing Up in Medieval London by Barbara A. Hanawalt...

It was a fun experience, the people at Shepherd are good to work with and it’s a way for readers to become aware of me and my books and for me to spread a little love for books I’ve enjoyed reading. It’s a young site. It’ll be interesting to see how it grows in the coming years.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Fake Phez Phest

 This past weekend was the beginning of pheasant season in Western Kansas. It used to be our favorite family celebration. 

It began innocently enough at Jerry Hinger's house in Codell, Kansas with a group of relations and the usual assortment of hunting dogs. It moved to our place in Hoxie, Kansas to relieve Kay Hinger from the ordeal of providing bread and board to an ever increasing bunch of men. 

I can't remember when or how music became part of the mix. But it did. Music and women and children. We're talking serious bluegrass enthusiasts here. I certainly do remember when the New Old-timers started coming. They were a professional band. Joe Newman played the banjo, his wife, Kenda, manhandled an upright bass, and the incomparable J.F. Stover played the guitar. In a couple of years, Todd Toman and his wife, Mary, were added to the mix. 

Other people began bringing instruments. Pheasants flocked to the Hinger's little homestead because they knew they were safe. Collectively, this was the worst group of shooters that invaded Sheridan County that weekend. 

Our adult children and our grandchildren looked forward to it and told their friends about it. Soon friends and their relations made Phez Phest a priority. Ian Alexander and his boys came from Michigan. There was always a group from Missouri. There were Californians, and Coloradoans. I wish I had kept a list. 

This was a kind group. Little boy fiddlers got to squeak out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," to standing ovations. Vic Mowry was delighted to bring his fiddle because my husband knew the words to every dance song he wanted to play. Country Western competed with bluegrass all weekend long. Hingers have a particularly vicious version of pitch. That's a card game for those who don't know. Learning to play Hinger pitch was a requirement. 

It was a joyful weekend for the children. We have pictures and videos of kids rolling in leaves. I recalled the year they filled our garage with tumbleweeds and tried to sell them to the adults. 

After my husband died and I moved from Hoxie to Colorado, we tried renting another house for a weekend. We called it Fake Phez Phest. And it was just that. Times had changed. There were other deaths, and divorces and health issues for some. 

It didn't work. The world had moved on. We were all miserable. The time for Phez Phest had passed. 

Those of us who have joyful memories of their childhood and positive family experiences are very fortunate. I'm very grateful that I'm among that number. 

The trick is to be aware of how precious family events are when they are happening.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Changing Your Point of View

 by Thomas Kies

My last Creative Writing class of the year was last week.  I’m having lunch with my liaison at the college to discuss my next class that should start in January.  I always learn something new when I teach that class.  

Such as, one of my students took this class a second time and he’s an engineer by profession.  He writes like one.

His prose is heavy…heavy…on information but light on description and dialogue.  He will go on and on in his descriptions of his CIA agents’ accomplishments and accolades but by the end of it, all he’s done is written a series of resumes.  

It’s just not interesting. 

The way my class works, I will give a lesson (on writing emotional scenes or dialogue or relatable characters) and then offer a writing prompt.  The students will have a week to write about three pages, double spaced, and read it to the class on the following week.

Now, reading your work in front of people is scary.  I’ve been doing it for a while now and I still get the heebie-jeebies when I stand in front of people and read from my own books.  So, in my class, we listen to the reading, then we applaud.  Then we talk about what we liked about it and follow that up by making suggestions on how the work might be stronger. 

The whole thing is meant to be a positive experience.  Success for me is to hear that, after the classes are over, my students have continued to write.  

But when this particular student read his work, it was flat as an open bottle of beer left out all night. The characters were difficult to keep straight and had no depth.  Dialogue was stiff or non-existent.  

One week, as an exercise, I asked the class to write a piece that was “dialogue heavy” and by showing what the characters are doing while they’re speaking.  One editor I worked with once told me that dialogue alone is not action.  

My engineer wrote a piece that barely had any dialogue at all.  When he was asked about it, he said he’d used his week to look up information on the internet and one website said that his dialogue should be mathematically proportionate to the number of characters in a scene.


I was getting frustrated with his lack of progress, and I sensed he was getting frustrated as well.  So, I tried something new.  He had been writing in the third person point of view the whole time.  I told him that as his assignment that week, he should write in the first person POV of his lead character.  

The next week it was like someone had plugged him into a light socket.  The piece he read to us was excellent.  I could tell he was energized and so was the rest of the class.

Another one of my students had tried moving from third person to first person and discovered she was able to better understand her protagonist and she was excited as well. 

So, back to the engineer---by changing his point of view to first person, his writing went from dispassionate to interesting enough that we all wanted to hear more.  Huzzah!!

A little bit about some of my students from earlier this year.  We have a writer’s organization in our county that had become moribund during the pandemic.  One of my students is now the chair of that group and another is the secretary and I’m proud to say Carteret Writers have become active, exciting, and meeting on a regular basis and holding cool special events.  

Plus, a whole group of my students now meet on a regular basis to read their work and offer critiques.  I’m flattered that they call themselves the Kiesters.  

If at the end of my class, they're all still pumped up about writing, then I consider the class a success.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Writing That Sings

 By Johnny D. Boggs

This week finds me in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the annual International Western Music Association convention. What makes a writer of prose want to hang out with songwriters, poets and performers?

After all, my key is “out of;” a meter is something I feed to keep from getting a parking ticket; and notes are what I owe the bank or my scribbling that I can’t read three hours later.

But when I was sloppily writing short stories as a kid, sometimes I would decide: This needs a theme song. I’d pen dreadful lyrics, which I would imagine Frankie Laine singing.

That said, my friend Micki Fuhrman and I co-wrote a song that placed second – out of 116 entries – in the IWMA’s songwriting competition this year. Micki, who also writes fiction, won a Spur Award and finalist honors this year for Western Writers of America’s Best Western Song and is nominated for four IWMA awards this year, including Songwriter of the Year.

Jim Jones, a multiwinner of IWMA awards, also writes Western novels, so I asked him how writing songs helps him with his fiction, and vice versa.

“For me, a song is in some ways a synopsis for a novel,” he said. “If you write a song, you have a synopsis. And if you have a storyline, it gives you tons of songs to write.”

Jones mentioned Mike Blakely, a Spur Award winner for Western novels and Western songs. “Mike has transformed many characters from his novels into songs.”

The song Micki and I cowrote came about when we were talking about the placement of words. I said something like, “Take signing a letter ‘Yours Truly.’ What if you flipped the words to ‘Truly Yours?’” Next thing I know, we have a song titled “Yours Truly, Truly Yours.”

Micki’s album Westbound, nominated for IWMA’s Traditional Western Album of the Year, includes a song I wrote – “Loving County,” inspired from Elmer Kelton’s classic Texana novel of the 1950s drought, The Time It Never Rained.

Studying great songwriting helps when I’m writing prose. There are beats to dialogue, action scenes, descriptions. Sentences need a rhythm.

“I came into fiction writing as a professional songwriter,” Micki told me, “and I believe the skills I learned composing songs shaped the way I write stories.

“With a song, I have about three minutes to set up a scenario with a beginning, middle and end. Every word has to work hard, and the more ‘picture words,’ the better, since I see the lines of a song as movie frames.

“Now, as I write a short story or a novel, I subconsciously follow the tenets of songwriting: rhythm, pacing, fluidity of words, alliteration, color and emotion.”

Thank goodness, I don’t try to sing while writing pros. But when I’m looking over a draft, I will often think back to lyrical styles of songwriters I’ve long admired – John Prine, Guy Clark, Johnny Cash, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Pete Seger, Jimmy Webb, Carole King, Count Basie, Townes Van Zandt, Loretta Lynn, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Jon Chandler, Rosanne Cash, Woody Guthrie, Bob McDill, Johnny Mercer, Joni Mitchell, Tom T. Hall, Bob Seger, Mickey Newberry, Bruce Springsteen and, yes, Blakely, Jones and Fuhrman – and incorporate some of that into my prose.

It might not always sing, but every now and then I’ll hit the right note.

Zen and the Art of Writing While Maintaining Your Sanity

I (Donis) have had 12 novels published during my nearly twenty-year writing career and done pretty well, but I've been having some trouble over the last two years. My two most recent books didn't sell well during the pandemic, so my publisher has decided they don't want to continue with the Hollywood series. Libraries didn't buy the books in any great numbers, they say. Well, duh! The libraries were closed! Annoying in the extreme, since the third novel is finished and if I do say so myself, it turned out quite nicely. I'm currently determining how to get the book published by hook or crook. However, they have encouraged me to start something entirely new. So begrudgingly, I shall.

 I have a couple of good ideas for new books, which cheers me considerably. As with any season of life, you go through your ups and downs, and as my mother always said (and I do mean always), this too shall pass.

For many years now, I have been a student of Zen, which I love, because it’s very helpful at times like these. It’s also pretty funny, and anything that’s pretty funny is okay with me. Years ago, I went to my first meditation retreat with some trepidation, since I had heard that during sitting meditation, the sensei prowls around the room with a long stick and occasionally whacks the hell out of you when you least expect it.  The point of this is to make you be totally in the present, and believe me, when you think you’re about to get smacked at any minute, you actually quiver with awareness. As it turned out, our sensei told us that he quit doing that because his students seemed to enjoy it too much. So I’ve never actually been assaulted while meditating.

I’m sure most of you Dear Readers have heard of koans, such as “what is the sound of one hand clapping,” those apparently senseless little sayings and stories that you can ponder on all day. Here is one of my favorites:

A Zen master was teaching his students when a cat wandered into the room. The master picked up a cleaver and said, “If any of you can tell me the true meaning of existence, I won’t kill this cat.” Not one student said anything, so the master whacked the cat, and his students ran out of the room, horrified. The next day, the master was relating the incident to another sensei. “I said, if any of you can tell me the true meaning of existence, I won’t kill this cat.” The second master sat there for a moment, then hung his shoes on his ears and danced out of the room. As he disappeared, the first master yelled after him, “If you’d been here yesterday, that cat would have lived! (Please don’t get all het up, cat lovers. It didn’t really happen.)

Or how about this one : Two masters were debating which of their teaching methods was best when a disheveled drunk burst into the room, kicked the crap out of the first master, and ran out. “Who was that!”  cried the second master. “That was one of my students,” said the first master. “You win,” said the second master.


Wednesday, November 09, 2022

A crime writer's take on travelling

 When my computer alerted me today that it was my week to post on Type M, I realized I had skipped my last Wednesday post. I doubt anyone noticed, because we have so many authors posting on different days, but I apologize anyway. I was galavanting around Italy on the first real travelling holiday I've had since Covid hit. In-person book events aren't the only thing that the pandemic has quashed. How wonderful it was to be exploring new places and meeting new friends again!

But this is a blog about writers and writing, not holidaying. Can I connect them? I did wonder, as I contemplated the stunning views of the Amalfi coast and the Island of Capri, whether I could work this trip into a book somehow. Partly, I confess, for the tax write-off, but mostly to relive the experiences and share them with readers. I've really enjoyed travelling all over Canada for the Amanda Doucette series and hope that readers felt they explored Canada along with me. But trying to transplant Inspector Green to Italy seemed a stretch. Law enforcement officials don't operate outside their jurisdiction, so if Green stumbled upon a possible murder on the Amalfi coast, say, he would have to hand it over to the local authorities, and if he continued to meddle, it would be for purely personal reasons, which would make him more of an amateur sleuth than a professional investigator. 

Roman law enforcement

Italy is a very densely populated country. There are few remote areas where Green could reasonably become involved before the national CID team arrived to take over. The Amalfi coast has some stunning wilderness trails and I did hike one of the more well-known of these, called "The Path of the Gods". It crossed my mind several times that it would be an easy place to dispose of an unwanted person. An irritating mother-in-law who stirred up trouble within the family, for example, or a tour group in which tensions and conflicts boil over. A stumble at the edge of the cliff or a boulder crashing down from above would be so simple to set up. That's the way a crime writer's mind works; we see opportunities for murder and for concealing bodies everywhere. But I try to stick to realism and I research my stories thoroughly, so it would be very difficult to create a set of circumstances where Green would realistically investigate, and if he did, it would not be a classic investigation. I would also have to learn a lot about Italian law and police commend structure.

Lost in the fog
Getting Amanda embroiled in a murder in Italy would be much easier. She is already an amateur sleuth, and with her penchant for rushing to the rescue, I could easily give her a reason for getting involved. Because I have already walked the Path of the Gods, I wouldn't have to research another location, and Amanda would know as little about Italian law and policing as I do. I hope the writer's best friend –Google  – could fill in the necessary gaps.

The Path of the Gods

But both these scenarios represent a significant deviation from the two series, and I'm not sure how successful they would be. It may be better to write about a completely different set of characters rather than trying to shoehorn one of my series into the Italian landscape. So don't be surprised if a short story surfaces in which a body is found at the base of a cliff, or a blood-curdling scream is heard by a group of hikers on a damp and foggy morning...

Travelling is always fun, but even more so when a writer's imagination is along for the ride.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

No Sense of Time

 by Charlotte Hinger

The first time I bit off more than I can chew was when I was eleven years old. I was an avid 4-Her and a member of the Seekers Not Slackers 4-H club. The highlight of the club year was enrolling in projects. They were astonishingly varied. Every child could find a niche.

So one year, in addition to my usual sewing and food projects, I decided to take gardening, and plant strawberries. It was to be the biggest, gol-durned bestest strawberry patch the county had every seen. I certainly had the first part right. It was enormous. Big enough to stave off any Vitamin C deficiency in the third world.

We noble, conscientious 4-Hers were not allowed to accept help. Preparing the ground was hard enough, but inserting all those precious little plants was torture for even young backs. The worst was yet to come. I had to hand carry buckets of water. Every. Single. Day. It was hot, The metal handles dug ridges in my hands. The plants were bent on dying. I was determined to save them. It was a matter of honor. I was quite bitter that my parents didn't recuse me.

Late summer, the entire club formed a convoy and drove from farm to farm to view the members' projects. We admired all manner of livestock; calves, pigs, horses, chickens, ducks, dogs, sheep, and goats. Some members showed off their woodworking skills. With luck, those enrolled in cooking had thoughtfully baked a little treat.

At last the club came to our farm and viewed my huge strawberry patch. It was respectable, but nothing special. It looked droopy and some plants had died despite my best efforts. It had ruined my summer, but I didn't have to suffer the humiliation of a failed project.

The whole 4-H experience was highly educational. We learned to give talks, to present ourselves well, to assimilate failures, to be graceful losers and winners, to calculate time and energy, to pull together as a group, and most of all, we learned to think.

Recently I asked a new mystery writer who had a great debut novel if she would be interested doing a guest post on Type M. She calmly said she didn't have the time. She was writing her next book and didn't blog when she was actively writing.

Smart, smart lady. I envy her ability to think, to plan, to calculate time and cost.

I keep forgetting the strawberry patch experience and blithely assume I can do it if I set my mind to it. Most of the time I sort of can, but the cost cancels the pride of achievement and the nagging sense that I could have done much, much better on projects.

Most of us can remember the good old days when marketing demands were minimal. 

Monday, November 07, 2022

Pressing the flesh

Last weekend I was in lovely Grantown-on-Spey, nestling close to the Cairngorms, for the town's Wee Crime Festival.

It's been three years since the festival was last held. First 2020 happened. Then 2021 came along. 2022 hasn't been THAT much better but at least the festival was back on.

It's organised by Marjory Marshall, the energetic owner of the town's bookshop, the Bookmark. It's a popular store, footfall is incredible - local bookshops can be part of the lifeblood of a town. Someone told me that property prices for towns with a bookstore are higher than those without.

Anyway, the festival...

I've been lucky enough to be a regular there for a number of years. Along with crime writers Caro Ramsay and Michael J. Malone, I present a comedy mystery play each year called Carry on Sleuthing (there are three of them! And the mystery is, where's the comedy?) We also chair some of the panels over the weekend as well as participating in others as ourselves, as it were.

It felt good to be back, and not just because Grantown is a lovely place to visit. It, and the other festivals I've been lucky enough to attend this year, made me realise how much I missed getting out there and seeing the whites of the readers eyes! 

When I began this lark we call authoring, when I was writing true crime and non-fiction, I wasn't called upon to do much in the way of public speaking. There were radio and TV interviews but I was invited to only one festival, where one man approached me following my talk to remonstrate with me over the fact that there were no photographs of dead bodies in my books. 

I backed away sharpish, looking for a safe space. Or a panic button.

But since embarking on the stormy seas of fiction, I've become an old hand at the festival game, which is amazing to me because I am actually shy, Mary Ellen. 

Meeting the reading community is a vital part of what we do. A couple of months ago  I attended an event for a 'celebrity author' who announced at the start that he would not be doing a signing at the end - all books on sale were pre-signed. I was incensed that the unwritten contract between author and reader had been broken. To my mind, signing books and sharing a few words with the people good enough to shell out their hard-earned folding green to buy them goes with the territory.

The message he sent was that he didn't care if anyone bought his book. (Actually, he said that at one point during the interview. Quite breathtakingly arrogant, I thought).

I didn't buy his book.

I'll be out again next week. Every year that fine and august body, the Scottish Book Trust, funds events across the country for a week long literary extravaganza called, cunningly, Book Week Scotland.

It sees authors traversing the face of Scotland, up hill, down glen, into the streets, to talk in libraries, community halls, phone booths. Okay, I made the last one up.

I've got a full week going coast to coast, for which I'm grateful. I'll be in Musselburgh (on the East Coast), Saltcoats (West Coast), Motherwell (Central Belt) and then Dundee (East Coast again). 

Granted, the phrase going coast-to-coast in Scotland doesn't mean the same as it does in the US of A.

It will be exhausting, for I am not a young man, but it will be fun appearing with other authors, talking about my work, having a laugh and - it is fervently hoped - if not selling books then at least inspiring readers to borrow them from those all-important libraries. 

When next we are together, dear reader, I'll tell you how it all works out.

Friday, November 04, 2022

True Crime to Fiction

 I'm getting a late start this morning because I had to take my dog into the vet for his physical. Alas, he weighs more now than he did our last visit. We've been taking short walks during the week and long walks on Saturday and Sunday, and he goes to daycare. But even though everyone he greets with delight finds him "adorable," he is a chubby Cavie right now. His vet just put him on prescription dog food to give his metabolism a reset -- even the few training treats he will be allowed need to be subtracted. This is goiing to be a test of discipline on my part and stubborness on his. Fergus is as stubborn as he is adorable. Right now, he demands a treat to get in and out of the car, not chase the cat, not sit down and refuse to move in the middle of a walk. . . you get the idea. Even when a treat is only one and a half calories, they can mount up doing the day. But I am determined to get hm back to his "small dog" size. 

Anyway, that's why I'm running late today. I need to get back to the gangster movies manuscript I'm working on because my editor is waiting. But I'd like to mention something that I'm thinking about. Next weekend I'll be on a panel at the New England Crime Bake. My panel is "Fiction vs Reality: Taking Real Crime and Making It Work as Fiction." I had an interesting experience with that a few days ago.

I've been doing a deep dive into sources to make sure I've found the links between movie gangsters in my nine classic films and The Sopranos and the real life crime families and mobsters that have inspired the fiction. A few days ago -- as I was reading a story about a mob soldier with a nasty temper -- I had a burst of inspiration. I've been concerned about my male protagonist's motivation in my historical thriller. He has a reason for being curious at the beginning of the book. But when a death occurs and he narrowly escapes being arrested as a suspect, he has more reason to back off. As I was reading about that real-life gangster, it suddenly occurred to me -- I need a mob guy to make my protagonist "an offer he can't refuse".  The mobster has a girl friend who was related to the victim and he has promised to find out what happened. Now, he is passing that responsibility on to my protagonist because he was the one who got the victim involved. Having my mobster walk in and make his threat will carry me through the dreaded middle section of the book and give me the twist I need towards the end.

I think it's going to work. If it does, I'll have a recent example of using real crime as inspiration for my panel. I'll also have a boost as I try to sprint through NaNoWriMo this month. 

Anyone else have a recent experience with drawing inspiration from real life?

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Active vs. Passive Entertainment


by Sybil Johnson

I was in the Seattle area last week visiting family. While I was there we went to see Disney On Ice and visited a cat cafe. That got me to thinking about active versus passive entertainment.

Let’s start with the cat cafe. For those of you not familiar with one, a cat cafe is where you can drink coffee/tea/hot chocolate and play with cats who are either permanent residents or are up for adoption. I believe they’re very popular in Japan. We found three in the Seattle-Tacoma area. We settled on one called Catffeinated in Tacoma. I mean, how could we pass that name up?

It was quite fun. The hot chocolate I had was good. My sister said the coffee was good. (I don’t drink coffee. I know, I know. How can I be of Scandinavian descent and from Seattle and not?) We had an hour to play with the cats. I consider that active entertainment.

 Here are a couple of the cats we interacted with. The orange one is a permanent resident. The other is being adopted.

Disney On Ice had a lot of kids in attendance, as you might expect. It was fun, but I noticed they spent a fair amount of time trying to get people actively engaged before the skating started. Honestly, with events like this, I’m more into the passive entertainment stuff. I do realize, though, with that many kids in attendance it was good to let the kids blow off some steam.

I’ve had an annual pass to Disneyland for over twenty years. Okay, now they’re called Magic Key passes. Whatever, it’s the same thing. I’ve noticed in that time that Disneyland/California Adventure has moved more and more toward encouraging active participation by its guests. There are “character experiences” at various places throughout the parks like the Avengers Campus and in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Some of the newer rides are more interactive. The Web Slingers ride has you actively slinging webs as you ride along. The Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run ride is an interactive attraction where guests work together during a “smuggling” mission.

Me? I much prefer the more passive rides like Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World. The classic rides. Maybe because I’m a “classic” myself.

That got me to thinking about books and television/films. Both are fine. Reading a book is active entertainment. The reader has to imagine the scene in their mind and fill in the details that aren’t on the page. Television/films is more passive. Those visuals are supplied by those who put the programs together. The one exception I’d probably say is silent films. I’ve watched a number of them over the last ten years since there’s a silent movie theater not far from where I live. I find, when I watch those, that I fill in dialogue of what’s going on the screen in-between the title cards. I feel like I'm more actively engaged with a silent film than one with sound.

What about you all? Do you like more active or passive entertainment or a mix?

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Will Rogers Gold Medallion

 by Charlotte Hinger

 Saturday night I was awarded the Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Short Fiction for a story in the anthology, Librarians of the West. The title of my story was "The Book Mama." I was--and still am--just thrilled and frankly shocked. The ceremony was held in Fort Worth, Texas. It can be seen on YouTube. Just search for "will rogers medallion ceremony 2022."

It was a special treat to see a number of friends winning awards and to make new friends. There's something about "writing" trips. I always come back from them rejuvenated. I especially liked the keynote speech by Stuart Rosebrook because he spoke of the moral compass present in some of our most enduring writers. 

Here's a couple of pictures I took when some of us signed books at Monkey and Dog Books.

Pamela Nowak

Pam won the Gold Medallion in the Traditional Western Fiction Category (books) for Never Let Go: Survival of the Lake Shetek Women. I'm eager to read this one. 

Phil Mills

Phil Mills is the current president of Western Writers of America. His short story, "Cold the Bitter Heart" won the Silver Medallion. 

I'm so disappointed that my photo of Bill Markley, Rocky Gibbons, and Nancy Plain at the signing turned out to be a faint video. Not worth posting. Bill won a Silver Medallion for Geronimo and Sitting Bull: Leaders of the Legendary West. Nancy and Rocky, as co-authors, won Gold Medallions for their Western Nonfiction Book for Young Readers: Why Cows Need Cowboys. 

It's great to see ceremonies back because Covid brought a number of traditional events to a screeching halt. 

Recognition is rare and sweet. All of us in attendance at this year's Will Rogers event wish to thank Chris Enss and Laurie Cockerell for all of the hard work they put in to make this ceremony such a memorable one.