Tag Archive for: writing

Clicking Our Heels – Killing Our Darlings

At some time, every writer has to kill his/her darlings. Here’s how different members of The Stiletto Gang deal with this onerous task.

Dru Ann Love – Luckily, I don’t have to deal with that, but as a reader, I’m not a happy camper when a main protagonist or favorite secondary character is killed. I’ve been known to stop reading a series because of that.

Debra H. Goldstein – Moaning, groaning, cursing, and almost crying, I kill my darlings. The only good thing is that the end they meet is swift.

Saralyn Richard – Killing my darlings (as in characters) is one of the biggest challenges I have in writing. Most of the time, my victims are characters I love dearly. (After all, I’ve created them to be exactly the way I want them.) One of my books, written in third person close POV, takes the POV character through some exceptionally rough times. I identified so closely with her that I felt every slap and sting. I kept telling myself that she would get through this–and so would I.

Donnell Ann Bell – I  don’t ever throw anything completely out. Call me a pacifist, but I have a draft file, where I simply imprison unused material. You never know when my muse might say, “Remember a certain passage? It might fit here.”

Robin Hillyer-Miles – Years of working as a civilian graphic designer for the US Navy helped me kill darlings left and right without a care in the world. (Though I do save them in a separate file, just in case.)

Gay Yellen – Sadly, I’ve had to toss two entire subplots in the upcoming book after I realized they weren’t serving the main story.

Barbara Eikmeier – I put them in a document file labeled “cut scenes” so I can visit them whenever I want.

Kathryn LaneIt’s still painful to kill scenes, characters, etc. but I’m getting better about it. I try to think about moving the story forward and that makes me realize (sometimes) when a favorite scene/topic/dialogue/character is not needed.

Anita Carter –

Lois WinstonI’m ruthless. If something isn’t working and can’t be fixed—whether a plot point, a character, dialog, or a scene—I cut it. If I think it might have potential in another book at some point, I’ll save it to a folder of orphaned words. Often, though, I simply hit the DELETE key. I’ve killed many a darling over the years and will probably kill many more in the years to come.

Lynn McPherson – That’s a toughie. I remind myself the goal is to have the best story I can write, so if that means someone has to go, I try to remember they served their purpose and got the story to where it is now.

Linda Rodriguez – I have a file on my computer that’s just called CUTS. I toss any cut paragraphs or scenes or chapters into this file, so they’re saved for later if I need them. I’ve never needed them for that same work, although I have sometimes rescued scenes or characters from the CUTS file to use in a different project.

Mary Lee Ashford – In general, I don’t have a problem with killing my darlings. If it’s not working, it’s got to go. However, there have been scenes that I’ve saved to an “Outtakes” folder on my computer because I knew they needed to be cut, but I really like them and thought they might have a use later on in the story. Or I thought that they could perhaps be reworked and be used in a later book. Over the years, I’ve found that those “darlings” are seldom useable, but it still makes me feel better to set them aside in a folder than kill them off completely.

T.K. Thorne – I deal with it by saving what I have and starting another version. That way, I can always go back to that “darling” and use it or pull from it.  I never do, but it’s there with gives me a sense of security. 🙂  In every case, so far, I have liked the fresh version better.

Anita Carter I’m brutal. I don’t struggle with the delete button. LOL But when I throw out a scene or a fun sentence, I paste it into a “deleted stuff” Word document.

Bethany Maines – That is so hard!  I do save my deleted scenes in separate documents.  Sometimes I can work them in later, but sometimes that’s just what I tell myself so that I’ll actually delete them. But sometimes, the story changes and I have to pursue what is best for my story.  I do think that the more I write, the more callous I become to this problem. I think partially because I’ve become more of a plotter so that I write fewer scenes that require deletion.

Shari Randall/Meri Allen – Killing my darlings kills me! I work with an excellent editor, and time and again, I’ve seen that her suggestions to kill those darlings have made the story better. I’m philosophical about it now, but still, it hurts.

Work Life Balance

Work Life Balance

by Saralyn Richard

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash


I was recently asked in a video interview what my work-life balance looked like. I had to laugh. I’m sorry to say I’ve never perfected work-life balance, and I’ve never really tried. While I’m a perfectionist in many things, anything that requires me to pay attention to time is a lost cause.

As a disclaimer, writing, for me, is not actually work. Being a writer is a long-deferred dream come true, so now that I have dedicated myself to telling stories, the work is joyous. When I’m working, I give my all to my work. If I’m writing a scene, I am lost in the zone of that scene so thoroughly that I don’t notice where I am or what time it is in the real world. This quirk has gotten me into many difficulties when I start writing close to times of appointments, meetings, or social engagements. I have to restrain myself from sitting down to work within an hour of any of the above.

The same is true when I’m spending time with friends or family. I give my full attention to them and strive to cherish every moment. Having been deprived of social interactions for so long, due to the pandemic, I appreciate in-person get-togethers more than ever. I don’t check my phone for messages or daydream about possible plot twists. I don’t lurk on the fringes; I jump into the middle with my whole heart.  I listen, I share, I laugh, I cry. I try to emulate my sheepdog Nana, who gives herself over to her people, completely.

If work and life end up being balanced, that’s a happy coincidence. So how about you? I’d love to hear how you address work-life balance.

Saralyn Richard is an educator and author of five award-winning mystery novels and a children’s book. Visit her at http://saralynrichard.com and sign up for her monthly newsletter.

The Arts Are For Everyone!

The Arts Are For Everyone! by Linda Rodriguez

A few years ago, I was giving writing workshops at a local high school on the wrong side of the tracks. These kids had already been through lots of trauma and stress, though they were only in their teens. These particular twenty kids, however, fell in love with writing, and it offered them a way to deal with broken families, broken hearts, and broken promises. They learned that on their own without me.

I was there to show them that writing can offer them even more. It wasn’t easy at first. Some of them started out prickly. It’s natural when life’s been a hostile environment to be always on guard. It took patience, but we got past that, and they wrote some phenomenal poems.

In the last workshop I had the joy of telling them that their work would be published in an anthology of Kansas City student writing and that they would give a public reading at The Writers Place, the city’s stand-alone center for writers and literature. They were pretty excited. This was a kind of validation that they almost never get. And since the poems to be published were from a workshop we did around identity and specific imagery, it was a special kind of validation. They opened their hearts on the page about the good and bad things in their families and their lives, and society said, “You are great just as you are!”

Out of the school population of 348, these twenty kids are winners. They may not be the only ones, of course, and they may not all go on to college. However, they have learned to use language to help themselves through tough times. They have learned to use language to form images of who they are and where they want to go, and that’s a prize of incomparable worth.


Linda Rodriguez’s 13th book, Unpapered: Writers Consider Native American Identity and Cultural Belonging, was published in May 2023. She also edited Woven Voices: 3 Generations of Puertorriqueña Poets Look at Their American Lives, The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, The Fish That Got Away: The Sixth Guppy Anthology, Fishy Business: The Fifth Guppy Anthology, and other anthologies.

Dark Sister: Poems was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Her three earlier Skeet Bannion mystery novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and earlier books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart’s Migration—received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. She also published Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop.  Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in Kansas City Noir, was optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Learn more about her at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/rodriguez_linda  or on Mastodon at https://mastodon.social/rodriguez_linda.

When One Thing Leads to Another by Judy Penz Sheluk

I’m delighted to welcome Judy Penz Sheluk as my guest to talk about her new release: Finding Your Path to Publication: A Step-by-Step Guide. Because I’ve loved her two fiction series: The Glass Dolphin mysteries and the Marketville mysteries, I know this will be a valuable non-fiction tool for writers. See you next month!  —Debra H. Goldstein

When One Thing Leads to Another by Judy Penz Sheluk

I’m new at this. Oh, I don’t mean I’m new to blogging. I’ve been writing a blog for my own website for years, and I was a Stiletto Gang member for a time until life got in the way (thankfully, they invite me back every now and again, for which I am grateful).

I don’t even mean that I’m new to shameless self-promotion, though it never seems to get any easier (I can always hear my mother saying, “never forget where you came from,” “where” in our world being a very humble place).

What I do mean is that I’m not used to blogging about a how-to book. It’s not like I can be cutesy and write this from a character’s point of view or get all authorly and talk about the narrative arc. Hmmm…maybe I can talk about how one thing led to another.

Okay, that’s settled. It all started when I led a NaNoWriMo debriefing in November 2021 at my then-local library. I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo a few times but have never yet completed the 50,000-words-in-a-month challenge. The librarian thought that made me more accessible. I’d tried and “failed,” and yet I was a published author.

What I learned from that event was that the attendees were more interested in how-to get published and publishing options than whether I (or anyone else) had succeeded at NaNoWriMo. That led to the librarian asking if I might be willing to prepare a presentation on the topic. I remembered how much I’d learned since signing my first book contract in 2014, and not all those lessons came easy. In fact, some of them were downright painful.

The presentation—Paving Your Path to Publication—had record attendance, with more questions than time to respond. It also gave me an idea. What if I wrote a book based on it? I’m a total pantser when it comes to writing mystery fiction, but here, at least, I’d have an outline.

After months of research (I knew virtually nothing about social publishing platforms like Wattpad or Hybrid/Assisted publishers, and was surprised at how much I still had to learn about traditional and self-publishing platforms) and vetting every chapter with my front-line editor (also an aspiring author from a very different generation than mine), the result is Finding Your Path to Publication: A Step-by-Step Guide, which released on May 2 in trade paperback, large print, hardcover, and e-book. It’s the sort of book I wish I’d had back when I was starting out, but then again, I wouldn’t be where I am today without experiencing the highs and low of my journey as an author.

After all, one thing almost always leads to another. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Readers: Have you experienced “one thing leading to another” in your life? If so, how’d that work out for you?


About Finding Your Path to Publication: The road to publishing is paved with good intentions…and horror stories of authors who had to learn the hard way.

For the emerging author, the publishing world can be overwhelming. You’ve written the book, and you’re ready to share it with the world, but don’t know where to start. Traditional, independent press, hybrid, self-publishing, and online social platforms—all are valid publishing paths. The question is, which one is right for you?

Finding Your Path to Publication is an introduction to an industry that remains a mystery to those on the outside. Learn how each publishing option works, what to expect from the process start to finish, how to identify red flags, and avoid common pitfalls. With statistics, examples, and helpful resources compiled by an industry insider who’s been down a few of these paths, this is your roadmap to decide which path you’d like to explore, and where to begin your author journey.

Available in trade paperback, large print, hardcover, and e-book. Universal buy link: https://books2read.com/FindingYourPathtoPublication

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and Marketville Mysteries, both of which have been published in multiple languages. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including the Superior Shores Anthologies, which she also edited. Judy is a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she served on the Board of Directors for five years, the final two as Chair. She lives in Northern Ontario. Find her at www.judypenzsheluk.com.


Of Mice and A Girl by T.K. Thorne

Photo by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53959809

It was the jar thing that got to me. It never occurred to me to confront the teacher. I was way too shy. Most of the time, I felt disconnected from my classmates who viewed me as a bookworm, and therefore, suspect and strange. I failed cheerleading in the second grade, not able to comprehend why I was waving a pompom and jumping up and down. Reading and horses were my passions. The lone friend from third grade who fit that bill had been sent to a private school.

Boys were simply alien creatures.

I debated internally with my discomfort, eyeing the box that held more victims waiting for torture in the following class periods. Not acting would make me an accomplice to more killings. But stealing was wrong, right? I balanced on the edge of a moral dilemma.

With the ringing of the bell signaling the end of the period, I made my decision. The teacher stepped outside into the hall to take up his monitoring duties. I dithered with my books and papers, nothing that would arouse suspicion since I always seemed to be the last person ready to go anyway. The rest of the class poured out, eager for the next period (the end of which they would just as eagerly await). Heart kicking in my chest, I casually walked behind the teacher’s wooden desk, squatted, opened the case, snatching the first ball of squirming white fur that came to hand.

The rest of the day, I sweated, certain my theft would be uncovered, but the plump little guy curled up in the pocket of my sweater and slept. I didn’t dare share my crime with anyone.

When I finally got home with my illegal gain, I officially named him Copernicus—after the 16th Century astronomer who proposed the radical theory that the planets revolved around the sun—giving homage to his science origin, and put him in an old birdcage. My father, as usual, was oblivious, and any objection could have been easily overcome by claiming mother had already approved, a tactic I had perfected on both of them. But my mother only raised her eyebrows at the new pet. I glibly lied, telling her the science teacher had purchased too many and didn’t mind me taking one home, and she didn’t ask too many questions.

Copernicus spent happy days crawling from one hand to the other, his tiny paws tickling; or curling up at the back of my neck under my hair for a nap while I read; or exploring the vast landscape of my bed. My dog, Samson, a collie mix, was fascinated, watching him down his long nose without blinking as long as the mouse was in eyesight, seeming to understand that any overt move would break the spell. Gradually, Copernicus seemed to lose his fear. At once point, they actually touched noses. I watched Samson almost as carefully as he watched the mouse, but Sam never gave any indication of aggressiveness. In fact, I think he was in love.

Then one day, things went terribly awry.

Copernicus was missing from his cage. I saw movement in the corner under some scraps of newspaper he had torn from his bedding. To my surprise, it was a nest containing several tiny, naked things, and I realized that Copernicus had been Copernica all along. With the births, she had lost her girth and squeezed through the bars of the cage.

Alas, I found her under the bed. Cause of death was a mystery. Other than being wet, there was no sign of any wound or broken bones, not even her neck. She was just dead. She had to have crawled there on her own, because Sam was too big to fit under the bed. I suspected at some point, however, he had put his mouth on her, perhaps to try and bring her to me. She may have had a heart attack or a problem related to giving birth. I will never know and only hope it was a better death than drowning in formaldehyde.

The episode was life changing. Although I liked science, I opted for Latin to avoid having to kill and cut on animals. The following year, I required major surgery to take out an appendix that had grown around my spine. It took two weeks to recover, and I did poorly on a Latin test. I did well in Latin, but it wasn’t because I could translate. Instead, my classmates and I were the recipients of a fellow student’s translation copies. Not sure where he got them and highly doubted he translated them himself. He would never say. In any case, since we knew in advance what excerpts of Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars we would be tested on, I simply memorized the hard parts and was a consistent “A” student in class. The hospitalization and recovery period, however, cut off my access to the translations.

Whether the teacher knew what was going on or just put my poor performance off on my illness, I never knew. For whatever reason, she offered me an independent reading project as extra credit, which I eagerly agreed to. The book was A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell, a historical novel about the Roman philosopher, orator, and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who stood up to the corrupt politicians of his day, refusing to be bought off or to dishonor his beloved country or abandon his ideals. He was assassinated. The story and its ending, which occurred while I was sitting on my bed—still my favorite reading spot—sent me into a bout of hysterical weeping that scared even my little sister. She ran upstairs for mother, who was not available. Reluctantly, I am sure, my father responded to the crisis.

Sitting on my bed, he approached the problem logically. “What is wrong?”

I was unable to answer.

“What is wrong, baby? Whatever it is, we will fix it.”

More crying. Probably snot running.

Becoming more and more concerned at my tears, my gasping for breath, and inability to respond as to the source of the problem, my father’s worry was evident. Being an engineer by education and mental alignment, he was ill equipped to handle his daughter’s distraught emotional state. Finally, he gave voice to the worst disaster he could think of, the nuclear option. Although I had just turned thirteen, he asked, “Are you pregnant?”

I shook my head and managed to say in halting gasps, “They . . . killed . . . him!”

Appalled that the worst scenario he imagined might, in fact, not be the worst, that we might be dealing with a murder, possibly in my presence or, at the least, of someone I knew, he demanded, “Who? Who was killed?

“They . . . killed . . . Cicero!” I sobbed.

“Cicero? Who is Cicero?”

Eventually, I was able to explain, but I never forgot the power of words and story. It sparked within me a desire to be a writer, a flame that has continued to burn for many years. Now it is a habit and passion I doubt I will ever forsake. And if not for a mouse, I might never have realized it, or perhaps I would have chosen another path, hopefully not a life of crime, but you never know.

Still, the mouse episode remains an illustration of life’s complexity and mystery.
Copernica had good days, days she might not have had. But maybe she was lonely without her fellows, in spite of her rescue and Sam’s attentions. I also don’t know why she decided to try a jailbreak. Perhaps she wasn’t ready for motherhood. Who can know the mind of a mouse? But she died because of me. I wasn’t able to save her newborns. I couldn’t decide if I had done the right thing, stealing her and being the proximate cause of her death. With all good intentions, sometimes things go wrong. Does the end justify the means or nullify the intent? Is a good deed still good if the consequences are not? Is a crime a crime, or is it—as everything else seems to be—entirely relative?

I’m still pondering, a fact that works its way with regularity into my writing.

T.K. Thorne writes wherever her imagination flies.

Focus by Debra H. Goldstein

by Debra H. Goldstein

Photo by Chase Clark on Unsplash

Focus. From a writer’s perspective, the word embraces a simple but necessary concept – concentrating on the task at hand. It sounds easy: pay attention and the idea will be conceived, executed, eventually published, and promoted. But, that’s not how the real world works. Life offers each of us major distractions. How we handle them and retain our focus determines if an individual will be a wannabe or an author. Have you had things or issues disrupt your focus?  How were you able to get back on track with your writing?


Judge, author, litigator, wife, step-mom, mother of twins, and civic volunteer, are all words used to describe me. My life and writings are equally diverse. I’m the author of Kensington Press’ Sarah Blair mystery series. Sarah, like me, is a cook of convenience who might be scorched if she gets too close to a kitchen. One Taste Too Many, published in January 2019, was picked as a Woman’s World Book of the Week. The next three books, Two Bites Too ManyThree Treats Too Many, and Four Cuts Too Many were each named as Silver Falchion finalists. The fifth book in the series, Five Belles Too Many, released on June 28, 2022.

I am an active civic volunteer in Birmingham, Alabama and have served on the national boards of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, as well as being past president of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and Sister’s in Crime’s largest chapter, The Guppies.

Is it Worth it?

Is it Worth it?    by Debra H. Goldstein

Recently, I lost interest in writing. It wasn’t a matter of writer’s block. Plenty of ideas constantly swirl in my head. Those ideas exist right next to my excuses for not writing. The latter include having two new grandchildren and babysitting requests from their parents, medical issues with my husband, the need to play Wordle or solitaire, the promise to blurb a book which meant the book needed to be read, or the desire to simply read a book for pleasure.

Somehow, the excuses took precedence over putting my ideas on paper (or into the computer). The problem, as I diagnosed it, was a case of periodical motivation. The symptoms were simple: the excuses I already mentioned coupled with an almost non-existent urge to sit still and write.

There were limited bursts of writing energy. In fact, three short pieces will be published in 2023. Unfortunately, the energy dissipated quickly. Instead, there were hours of meditating whether writing was important enough to continue doing it. Did the worth of seeing my words on paper outweigh the isolation and time demands actual writing necessitates?

Frustrated, I started listening to a Master Class. An hour into the course (taught by James Patterson), something clicked. Although he was talking about plot, conflict, research, and other mundane writing topics, his words excited me. They shouldn’t have, but they did. That’s when I realized that writing is still a relevant part of me.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a wake up and write a few thousand words a day person, but I firmly believe that whether it is a letter expressing my beliefs on a topic, a short story, or a novel, I am condemned to spend the rest of my life playing with words. Tell me, if you are an author, have you ever undergone a questioning period of time in your life like this? If you are a reader, have you ever second guessed the path you seem to be following in life and concluded that it is where you are supposed to be (or not)?



When Walls and Water Speak

One day, I looked at an area along the brick walkway in the front of my house and realized I needed to do something extreme. Despite having spread grass seeds more than one season, only weeds grew in the shadow of a magnificent weeping yaupon that arcs over the sidewalk and shaded a crescent-shaped area.

I looked at it with despair and frustration.

(How many times have I looked at a blank page without a clue what words to paint on it?)

Suddenly, I saw a garden in that crescent-moon space. In a previous post, “Goddess in the Garden,” I wrote about its transformation into a moss-garden.

But nature had other ideas. When it rained, water caught in the yaupon’s draping branches, streaming down them in torrents that hit the ground and tunneled trenches into my creation.

(How many times have the words I carefully crafted looked very different when I returned to them later, requiring I rewrite them or throw them out altogether?)

I tried to repair the craters, but each time it rained, the holes and mini-gullies returned. The space was not happy. I was not happy. But I had put in so much work!

It was not fair.

I grumped. And repaired what the water had torn up.

Until it rained, yet again . . . as it is wont to do. And again.

Finally, I surrendered.

“What do you want to be?” I asked my garden.

(Once, I wrote about a blank wall speaking to me, eliciting mockery from a local radio host, but the wall wanted something, and I listened.)

“I want to be a pond,” my garden said. “I want the water.”

“What about little rocks?” I mused. “Can’t I just put pebbles down where the water flows?”

The garden’s reply was a definite, “No.”

So, I began to dig. It hurt to dig up what I had painstakingly planted, what was beautiful just as it was, for something new.

[How many times do we have to start over in our lives, to force open scars, so new love and light can enter?]

I dug for days. Frogs came to visit.  One cutie in particular dove into my hole on three occasions, probably looking for a place to hibernate for the winter. I took him out each time and asked him to be patient.

Finally, the hole was done…I thought. Then came the Plastic War.  Instructions on lining the pond sounded very simple.


One of our horses, who should be named “Curious George,” made an appearance to help out, but alas, was not equipped. Hubby helped with the large rocks I coveted. It was a great feeling when they settled into place!




The rocks came from the streams and creeks on our property. My husband became accustomed to having his truck appropriated for rock gathering expeditions.

My fear was that the black lining would show along the steep sides in the deep end. I had never done anything like this and had no real plan other than the foundation rock placements.

(How many times have I started a book with only a few words, just a sketchy idea of my characters, and no idea what happens next?)

I tempted the creative muse yet again with my crazy pond idea. Yet, she didn’t fail me.

My biggest fear was the sides of the deep end.  How would I keep from having gaps that showed the liner?

As I worked, I realized the edges of the stones placed on edge along the bottom provided a shelf for another layer and so on. Each stone had to be fitted for shape and stability. They let me know when it wasn’t the right place for them.

When I thought I was finally finished, the water said I was not honoring its flow, and I had to tear up and redo a section.

It is the middle of winter. The plants I tried to save are hopefully sleeping. Some of the moss is thriving, even in the cold. The water is happy, flowing as it wanted to all along. The garden is something very different than it was and yet the same.

Isn’t that so of us, as well?

Every moment we are different, a memory of all the moments before spun into the illusion of a constant, just as the garden changes every moment—as water swirls, plants grow and rest, leaves fall and change form. Every morning when I visit, I and the pond are new and old. Sometimes I change it by way of a rock that needs adjustment, a tuft of moss to add, or a new idea of where a gift of crystal should nestle.

Sometimes I just breath in the peace of it.

(The tales I’ve told don’t change once they are printed, yet each time a reader opens the book, they come alive, changed by the perspectives and person who recreates them from a few words. The stories are the same and yet different, a joining of imaginations—theirs and mine.)

I am looking forward to the spring when I hope my frog friend will return.

T.K. Thorne photo

T.K. Thorne is a retired police captain who writes books and blogs that go wherever her imagination takes her. TKThorne.com

New Year’s Resolution: Read a Short Story a Day

by Paula Gail Benson

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope it has been healthy, comfortable, and prosperous for all.

Barb Goffman

If you are still considering resolutions and have any interest in short story craft, may I suggest a recommendation by well-known, award winning writer and editor Barb Goffman? Why not read a short story a day? Debra H. Goldstein has already made an excellent suggestion to get started: the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime’s latest anthology, Hook, Line, and Sinker. In addition, there are plenty of online and periodic publications to choose from, all featuring outstanding authors. Many of the Sisters in Crime Chapters have organized and released anthologies to showcase their members and give newer authors a chance not only for a writing credit, but also to learn how to promote their work.

Even if you are not interested in writing the short form, seeing how it is put together can help you strengthen skills for longer efforts. With a short story, characters, setting, and mood must be established quickly, in only a few carefully chosen words. It has to be wrapped up concisely, without leaving loose ends or unsatisfied questions. Those elements are important for novellas and novels, too. Figuring out how to develop a story and keep a reader engaged is a primary focus for shorts.

If you are interested in writing short stories, please consider the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable’s Annual Short Story Contest. This year, submissions must include a holiday element, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. They must be 2000 words or less and submitted as provided in the description of rules. An entry fee of $15 is required for each submission. The top awards are: First Place, $200 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group’s anthology Season’s Readings; Second Place, $100 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Group’s online quarterly, the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable; and Third Place, $50 and publication in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable.

Maybe the best news about the contest is that this year’s celebrity judge is Barb Goffman. Here’s a link with an interview where Barb talks about the most appealing aspect of writing short stories, how her careers as a journalist and lawyer have influenced her writing, what some of the most frequent mistakes she sees writers make, and what’s her best advice for submitting to an anthology or contest.

Start you New Year right: reading and writing shorts!

Road Research

By Barbara J. Eikmeier

My favorite place to find details for a story is on a road trip.

My regular job is presenting programs about quilts to small and regional quilt guilds. Bookings take me off the main highways to “Blue Roads”, through tiny communities and sometimes even down dirt roads. Ninety percent of the time I travel alone.

Once my GPS is set for my destination and snacks and water bottle are within easy reach, there is one last item to put in place before hitting the road – my notebook.

Over the years I have filled great piles of these notebooks with lecture notes, story starters, to-do lists, quilt patterns, rough drafts and travel notes. I don’t journal daily, although I admire those of you who do. I just make notes. My notebooks are sloppy. I seldom keep the script on the line but if I’m striving to hit the line, I prefer wide-rule over college rule so I have plenty of space for the letters that loop below the line. I really love letters that loop below the line. I have a memory from kindergarten of writing my name in the proper upper right hand corner of the paper. I started with a B and ended with an A but in between I used all sorts of letters – especially g and j because they looped below the line. My teacher didn’t think I knew how to write my name. I did. It’s just that it was so long and only used three letters repeated over and over, yet there were so many fantastic letters to choose from on the ABC chart that wrapped around the classroom. As an adult I opted for Barbara J. Eikmeier as my legal name because with all those letters in my long name, only my middle initial loops below the line!

When heading out on a trip, my notebook, wide rule or college rule, it doesn’t matter because I won’t be using the lines, is positioned on the passenger seat. As I drive I notice landmarks, brown sign historical markers, the names of rivers and creeks: Bee Creek, Wolf Creek, The Mississippi River!

Keeping my eyes on the road, I write without looking: Kalona Creamery, MO mile marker 48 – look up round barn.

My notes include clever place names that I can use in my stories: The name a of a beauty shop in western Kansas became the name of the diner in my current novel.

When I stop to rest or get fuel I take my notebook inside with me. I’ve sat in McDonald’s, Subway restaurants and  truck stops making notes about the man with snow white hair cut as if a bowl had been place on his head, the young kid behind the counter who was overly friendly – acting as if I liked him enough I might take him with me, and the trucker with the huge tattoos up and down his muscular arms that spelled out PUGSLEY in great Gothic lettering. What does Pugsley mean? It doesn’t matter – I can make something up as long as I have a note to jog my memory.

I record snippets of conversations, especially local dialects and topics like the old guys discussing the price of beans over coffee and a breakfast burrito at their local gas station where three cafe tables line the wall along the windows – the only breakfast eatery for miles. And I’m a huge fan of local bulletin boards with notifications of missing pets or persons, items for sale, local fundraisers, estate sales and funeral announcements. A writer can extract a lot of interesting details from a bulletin board in a gas station!

Periodically I will skim through a notebook or two and re-write or type an entry. I usually remember what I’ve written about, (and where it was and when) when re-reading my scribbling that either runs sideways in bold print, or neat script with lovely loopy letters. A psychologist in a writing class once said it was a hand/brain correlation that helps us remember things we’ve written.

The back to school supplies are dwindling. Soon the notebooks, folders and 12 packs of #2 pencils will be relegated to the office supply aisle until next year. It’s my reminder to stock up on another stack of spiral bound notebooks.

How do you keep track of tidbits you notice on a road trip? Do you also love spiral bound notebooks?

Barbara J. Eikmeier is a quilter, writer, student of quilt history, and lover of small-town America. Raised on a dairy farm in California, she enjoys placing her characters in rural communities.