Writer Skillfully Employs Meteor Shower

In the overnight hours of August 12th and 13th, I hope to catch the Perseid meteor shower. I’ve watched for the meteors several times but caught them just once. On that memorable occasion, friends and I had driven into the foothills of Denver to get away from light pollution. After staring up at the night sky for some time, we decided to lie down on the side of the road. Kids, don’t try this, OK?

It’s easy for writers to employ cosmic events in trite ways, but I’m reminded of a passage from Janet Fitch’s White Oleander. Astrid is standing with Ray and others watching for the Quatrandid meteor shower:

Excerpt: I could hear the mud sucking at his boots as he shifted his weight. I was glad it was dark, that he couldn’t see the flush of pleasure on my face as he drew closer, looking up at the sky as if he cared about the Quatrandids, as if that’s why he’d come out. . . . He was standing right next to me. If I shifted just an inch to my left, I could brush him with my sleeve. I felt the radiant heat of him across the narrow gap between us in the darkness. We had never stood so close.

My Take-away: The first line puts us right in the moment, hardly a romantic one, but it lets us know how acutely aware Astrid is of Ray’s presence. The rest of the paragraph reveals the growing mutual attractio without Fitch ever saying so directly.

Let me add that if I had only one book to emulate in terms of writing style, I’d choose White Oleander.


Compromise With Sin Available for Pre-order

The Kindle edition of Compromise With Sin will be published on August 19th. It’s available now for pre-order at $3.99.


I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms. Hug it. Love it, and above all, become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.

–Roald Dahl

Compromise With Sin Earns Kirkus Star

I discovered today that Compromise With Sin , my debut novel, had earned a Star from Kirkus Reviews. I had to do a bit of sleuthing to see what that meant.

Now you may not be familiar with Kirkus Reviews, revered in the publishing industry since the 1930s. Booksellers and libraries and, to a lesser extent, readers rely on Kirkus for top-quality, independent reviews of traditionally published and indie published books.

The Kirkus Star is awarded to about ten percent of the books Kirkus reviews. The Star means I’m a nominee for the 2017 Kirkus Prize in Fiction. The winner will receive $50,000.

I’m still in shock.

Getting Inside a Character’s Skin

How is it that sometimes words on a page can make us feel as though we are experiencing what the character experiences? We feel the danger, loss, grief, whatever as though it’s happening to us.

Writers often achieve this by minimizing “psychic distance.” We have John Gardner to thank for spelling it out in The Art of Fiction. There are degrees of psychic distance that range from viewing a character as an observer to inhabiting the character’s skin. Gardner illustrates how a narrator’s description of a character can be more or less objective or intimate:

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.

There’s more on the subject of psychic distance on the blog of Emma Darwin, “The Itch of Writing.” (Thanks to Sharon Scarborough for that.)

As for my own writing, I only achieve intimate psychic distance on revision. First of all, in early drafts I’m just getting the story on paper. I don’t outline, so I’m busy figuring it out as I go. Second, getting inside a character often requires diving into emotional depths that don’t necessarily want to be explored.


A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent,or because everything she does is golden. A writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.

–Junot Diaz

Compromise With Sin and Self-Promotion

In the run-up to all-out promotion for my novel, Compromise With Sin, I decided this week’s blog post is all about me.  Would-be indie writers might learn something from my experience. Readers can glimpse a snapshot of the indie publishing world.

The print edition of Compromise With Sin has been for sale on Amazon since June 1st with the express purpose of generating reader reviews before promotion of the Kindle edition. To date I have eleven five-star reviews from people I’ve given books to–in these reviews there’s a disclaimer about having received an advance review copy (ARC) in exchange for an honest review–and from a few people who have purchased the books. The latter will be identified by Amazon as “Verified Purchase” and carry more weight than other reviews.

Reader reviews, I’m told, are extremely important. The more that are posted before promotion of the Kindle edition, the better.

The Kindle edition of Compromise With Sin will be published on August 19th and is now available for pre-order. Pre-orders are desirable because they boost an author’s Amazon ranking on the publication date. Frankly, the authors who benefit most from pre-orders are those who have published a slew of books and have a tribe of people who can’t wait for their next book. We’ll see how well it works, after a few well-placed ads, for me with my debut novel.

I’ve been laying the groundwork for promotion with a Facebook Author Page, and announcements on Facebook and Twitter.  Oh, and if you’ll “like” my author page, I’d appreciate it. Not sure why that’s important, but I guess it is. I’ll also do a bunch of interviews. My first one is on BookGoodies.  

The fun of indie publishing is having control over the story and design. The hard part is financing the project and spending a lot of time on promoting and marketing the book, valuable time that could be spent on writing the next novel.


Anybody can write a book. But writing it well and making it sell–that’s the hard part.

–Jay Taylor, The Rise of Majick

Thank-you Notes Trip up This Writer

The other night I was talking with my niece Carol Loucks about writing, and I said I’d rather write a novel than a thank-you note. My approach to thank-yous is to procrastinate forever because the writing will come easier in the future than it will right now. Anyone else share this rationale?

Is there help for people like me? Surely Google has the answer. I dug up several sites that want to help, most of which have the same basic advice. Here’s one from Hallmark: “How To Write a Thank-you Note,” by Jeanne Field.

OK, she has six steps, beginning with the greeting to the sign-off. I get that I’m supposed to say “thank you,” specify what I’m thanking them for, and offer details about how I’ll use the gift. I generally cover all six. Where I get stymied is that the message just feels so stilted. I seal the envelope and stick on the stamp, knowing that it lacks personality. It sounds dumb.

What do you do? Leave a comment. Thank you.


Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write fifty-two bad short stories in a row.

–Ray Bradbury

Tell, Don’t Show

 When should a writer break the commandment “Show, don’t tell?” Frequently. I’m turning to Francine Prose’s book Reading Like a Writer to support what I believe. In the book she uses an excerpt from “Dulse,” by Alice Munro, a story about Lydia, a middle-aged, divorced poet and editor.

Excerpt: She had noticed something about herself on this trip to the Maritimes. It was that people were no longer so interested in getting to know her. It wasn’t that she had created such a stir before, but something had been there that she could rely on. She was forty-five and had been divorced for nine years. Her two children had started on their own lives, though there were still retreats and confusions. She hadn’t gotten fatter or thinner, her looks had not deteriorated in any alarming way, but nevertheless she had stopped being one sort of woman and had become another, and she had noticed it on this trip.

My Take-away: Prose uses this example (along with a preceding paragraph I didn’t cite) to illustrate that writers often need to tell, not show. She notes that much time would have been wasted had Munro shown Lydia working as an editor, writing poetry, breaking up with her lover, dealing with her children, growing older, before the story actually begins.

I agree that well-written narrative can accomplish much, and the last sentence of the excerpt resonates with me–and probably many readers. It’s the dope slap of awareness that I’ve “stopped being one sort of woman and become another.”

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.


Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.

–Joyce Carol Oates

How To Read a Novel

I just signed up for my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). It’s called “How To Read a Novel,” hosted by the University of Edinburgh. The eight-hour, four-week class begins July 24th.

How To Read a Novel will explore plot, characterization, dialogue, and setting. I’m looking forward to interacting with a community of readers, potentially from all over the world.

The course is free. For $64 you can upgrade, which means you get a certificate and have unlimited access to course materials for as long as they exist online. With the free version, access extends just 14 days after the course ends.

I’ll keep you posted.


Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.

–Ray Bradbury

Sensory Images Enrich Writing

Model of the Führermuseum


There’s nothing like a few well-chosen sensory images to bring a scene to life. In the following example from All the Light We Cannot See, by Anothony Doerr, we’re in the imagination of Sergeant Major von Rumpel.

Excerpt: In his weaker moments, he imagines walking in some future hour between arcades of pillars in the great Führermuseum at Linz, his boots clacking smartly on the marble, twilight cascading through high windows.

My Take-away: A lesser author would have said, “. . . he imagines visiting the Führermuseum at Linz.”  But Doerr’s words: “arcades of pillars . . . his boots clacking smartly on the marble, twilight cascading through high windows”  evoke a sensory experience that puts us right in the moment. The passage also reinforces von Rumpel’s exalted opinion of himself.

I thought for a moment that “walking” could be replaced with “strutting,” but I realized that’s how an observer would describe von Rumpel, not how he would describe himself.

Incidentally, both von Rumpel and Hitler could only dream of the  Führermuseum, intended to house much of the world’s finest art, most of it confiscated by the Nazis. Hitler’s plan for a grand museum complex, to include a library, opera house, theater, and more, was never realized.


Writing a book is an adventure: to begin with it is a toy. And an amusement. And then it becomes a mistress. And then it becomes a master. And then it becomes a tyrant. And the last phase is that just about as you are reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster. And fling him about to the public.

–Winston Churchill

Boost Writing’s Impact With Timing

Writers, want to make a good characterization or scene memorable? OK, not everything you write can be memorable, but you can heighten your writing’s impact if you’ll consider timing. I’m using “timing” here in the broadest sense: time of day, season, occasion, etc. Here are a few examples:

A young woman gets a much-anticipated phone call from the prominent researcher who’s offering her a job as his assistant. She’s happy. We’re bored. What if this call came at 3 a.m.? Same message, different time of day. That raises questions: is he drunk? Can she trust him? Is calling people at 3 a.m. just a quirk?

A woman holding a glass in one hand spills vodka while loading clothes into the washer. Suggests she has a drinking problem, right? What if she’s home alone while the family is attending church on Sunday morning?

An aspiring golfer spends three hours making nine-iron shots to a practice green.  Obviously dedicated. But really determined to improve his short game if it’s January and there’s snow on the ground.

A young single mom who marries the man of her dreams is warned by her divorced mother-in-law that the groom’s father is a convicted child molester.  Sobering. What if this communication takes place at the young woman’s wedding reception? Wow. (I didn’t make this one up.)

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.


Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

–Anton Chekhov

Intimidate With Names

 In one life I toiled in the trenches as a substitute teacher, mostly at the high school level. One of the first things I’d do upon entering the classroom was to surreptitiously scan the seating chart and learn four or five names. Then in the first few minutes of addressing the class, I would look at a student and call him by name. I could feel everyone flinch. If she knows his name, she might know mine.

After citing a few more names, I felt pretty confident that things would go smoothly. There’s nothing like hearing your name and thus having your veil of anonymity lifted to make a person feel vulnerable, as in a student who doesn’t want to get written up, or special, as in being called up out of an expectant crowd for having won a drawing for a new Toyota Prius.

It’s even possible to break someone’s anonymity without using their name. That’s why the guy stocking the grocery store’s shelves is taught to greet the customers.  He’s not being friendly. He’s making it psychologically difficult for customers to shoplift. But I digress.

While donating blood the other day, I got into a conversation about names with my phlebotomist, Will, and told him about this post. He said in Catholic demonology, if someone calls the demon by name it will make the exorcism go easier. Now that’s some  powerful intimidation. So I googled the subject and found a site called Religious Demonology.  Its author is Adam C. Blai, Peritus, M.S., a clinical psychologist who, among other things, trains priests in exorcism.

He answers this question: “Knowing or saying a demon’s name gives me power over it, right?” by saying “No. Only God has power over demons.” Later he says, “People not called to spiritual warfare who know a demon’s name have no more ‘power over’ that demon than a high school student has power over a professional boxer in the ring just because he knows that boxer’s name.” I suggest you read the post as it’s more nuanced than I’ve presented it here.

Does any of this matter to a writer? Maybe peripherally. A character who is dealing with a rude customer service rep or nurse or flight attendant asks, “What’s your name?” Or, in a thriller, a woman is approached by a creepy stranger who addresses her by name.

Another random thought about names. In real-life conversations, people rarely use one another’s name. Woe to the writer whose dialogue sounds like this:

“Did you pick up the dry cleaning, Brad?”

“No, Malinda. I didn’t have time.”

“So, Brad, what do you plan to wear tonight?


Why do they call it Vers-otchi? I don’t put an Otchi bandage on my ankle.

–Steve Skarnulis