This writer’s 10 best things about Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Turkey

Paula’s Post #119

So, dear readers, here we are, almost halfway through our second ‘write-a-novel-in-five-months’ challenge.


By my count (and admittedly, I’m not that great at math, so please feel free to contradict me), our challenge encompasses a span of a mere 132 days. Admittedly, a whole lot more generous than the mere 30 allotted to those insane enough to partake in NaNoWriMo.

Counting on my fingers, I’ve pegged this coming Monday, November 30th as the official halfway marker, the 66th day of our challenge. Just a reminder, dear colleagues.

But that’s not the focus of my post today. After the events of the past week, and in keeping with the holiday, I have a very simple post I’d like to share. My own, personal, list of why this 5writer loves Thanksgiving.

  1. Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays. It is mostly about eating, drinking and giving thanks, three things I heartily approve of doing.
  2. Thanksgiving is celebrated in both the US and Canada. If you noted my spelling of the word favourite,  you might have been tipped off to my official status. Yes, I’m a dualie – a citizen of both great nations. Thus, I actually get to celebrate Thanksgiving twice: once, in a very Canadian fashion on the second Monday in October; the second, in equally patriotic American fashion, on the 4th Thursday in November.
  3. Thanksgiving is inclusive. While the other major ‘feast’ holidays of Christmas and Easter are, by their very raison d’etre, originally intended as holidays exclusively for those of the Christian faith (okay perhaps in a smaller subset, maybe Pagans too), and while only those of the Jewish faith celebrate Hanukkah and only those of the Muslim faith the end of Ramadan, those of all faiths can and are encouraged to ‘give thanks’ at Thanksgiving.
  4. Thanksgiving provides great fodder for writers. Let’s face it, Thanksgiving put the “D” in dysfunctional, when it comes to family gatherings. I don’t know why, but something in our uniquely western perspective on ‘family’ seems to have us all thinking that only our own families are dysfunctional. Everyone else’s family, we assume, is perfect. At least that’s the delusion we labour under. Then along rolls Thanksgiving and – voila – we see the world as it really is and Thanksgiving dinner becomes a Petrie dish for incubating new and disturbing characters for our novels.
  5. Thanksgiving allows for innovative new traditions. While most Americans will still sit down to a feast of turkey and pie this Thanksgiving, the unique gathering of ‘the clan’ also allows for many new and innovative ways to celebrate the holidays. Here in my ‘snowbird’ home in Southern California, at my house, we’ll likely be starting with a little tennis to burn off some calories before the feasting begins. Others may sign up for 5k Turkey Trots, or simply indulge in a feast of football. And while I may not personally approve, there is no doubt that Thanksgiving now, for many, marks the start of the ‘feast of shopping’. Just not for me. Let’s leave Thanksgiving for feasting and families.
  6. Thanksgiving is not about buying. In a consumer economy driven by shopping, at least the wizards of Madison Avenue have kept to the fiction that all that shopping that’s starting to occur right after Thanksgiving is for the next big holiday, Christmas. That may be a fiction, I realize. Those lining up on Thanksgiving Day to get a jump on Black Friday specials may, indeed, be just selfishly trying to grab something all for themselves. But in this regard, I’m going to be an ostrich and pretend that behaviour is attributable to that ‘other holiday’.
  7. People, generally, are at least a little introspective on Thanksgiving. This year, perhaps more so than on days of Thanksgiving past. While it has become ‘trendy’ to keep ‘gratitude diaries’ these days, Thanksgiving was the original ‘things I am Thankful for’ holiday. This year, in a year where we confront very grim news on the worldwide stage, be Thankful if you and your family are enjoying this holiday with peace and plenty.
  8. Thanksgiving is a time for friendship. While you can’t pick your family (thankfully, I happen to love mine), you can pick your friends. And one of the glorious traditions of Thanksgiving that we try to observe every year is to open our family table to those who are away from their own family, at this special time of year. I bet you do too. What special friends have you invited for Thanksgiving? (I hope you at least picked someone who will provide some interesting inspiration for your latest novel).
  9.  Thanksgiving is for pets. Let’s face it, who doesn’t take joy in watching their puppy hoover back a little turkey?
  10. Thanksgiving is for stories. Since I retired from the prosecution service, I don’t work a regular work schedule anymore. Now, I’m just as likely to work on weekends as on a weekday. But Thanksgiving, at least for me, does not involve ‘work’, and for that I am thankful. That also means that once the last slice of pie is eaten and dishes are loaded in the dishwasher, it is time for stories: movies, bingeflicks and yes, thankfully, good old books, delivered by kindle or otherwise. What are you looking forward to reading this Thanksgiving?

Well, that’s my top 10. Let me know what you love about this very inclusive holiday, too.

But now for the update. I’ve missed a few blog posts. Work has kept me busy the last few weeks, but I have managed a few days to painstakingly grow my word count on the 5writer/5months novel project. So, here’s the update:

Pies eaten this week: As of today? None. But that’s just so I can over-indulge, like the rest of you, this coming Thursday.

Hours of tennis played this week: 12

Rounds of golf played this week: 1

Number of Bighorn Sheep spotted: about 20, they weren’t moving that fast, but I was so enthralled at how close I was to them, I forgot to count.

Word Count: 42,220

Page Count: 223

Reason I’m not celebrating: I’m still revising my ‘old’, unfinished manuscript. When I run out of words to revise… the  really hard part begins.

Movies Seen this Week: 1 – the absolutely excellent Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks. I hope he wins an Academy Award.

Goal for the next week: Find a great new book to capture my attention and divert me from the evil that is Netflix.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Please remember that this is a holiday of ‘inclusion’.


Wheat or chaff? It’s all about relationships


Helga’s Post #119: What makes a story really and truly tick?

We all know the answers, so no point preaching to the choir. What does get overlooked more often than what’s good for us writers, is this:

The power of relationships.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Yet it’s so common to forget about it and rather focus on getting characters right. Powerful characters that we hope will keep the readers turning the pages of our story. In fact, it’s the relationships between these strong and interesting characters that is the make-or-break aspect between a flop and a bestseller.

Sure, a good plot helps. Suspense and pacing is crucial. Setting will frame the story. Credible, three-dimensional characters are all-important. But interesting characters by themselves are not enough to make a book roar.

It’s how the characters relate to each other that defines the story – and may well determine the book’s future success or failure.

This was brought home to me again after watching the movie Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks.

Never wanting to miss a Steven Spielberg flick I expected much and was not disappointed. In fact, I was quite shaken, not because of the plot, setting or acting, all of which were exceptional, but by the superbly acted and unusual relationship between the Russian spy and the American lawyer assigned to defend him. I will not do a spoiler here, rather I recommend this movie to any of you writers out there. Go and watch it with a view of judging what makes this film as powerful as it is. Then go back home and try to weave these aspects into your own story.

The plot and genre also acted as a huge attractant for me, so please keep that in mind about my starry-eyed review. The setting of the film is late 1950s Brooklyn and later East Berlin, height of the Cold War scare. Height of the hysteria and hatred around Soviet Russia. Spies working each side of the two worlds. Time of the apocalyptic fear that gripped America during the dark days of ‘Mutual Assured Destruction’. Based on the 1960 U-2 incident during the Cold War, the film tells the story of lawyer James B. Donovan who is entrusted with negotiating the release of Francis Gary Powers—a pilot whose U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union—in exchange for Rudolf Abel, a captive Soviet KGB spy held under the custody of the United States.

I loved it for its excellence but also as it reminded me of my novel Closing Time (unpublished), the manuscript collecting cobwebs under my bed for the last five or six years. Its setting is 1958 Vienna, the story based on true events but with fictionalized characters (other than President Eisenhower and Nikita Khruschev). Its focus is also the Cold War, the topic negotiating the limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty between the superpowers. It was the second novel I wrote. At the time I thought it was pretty good but a number of rejections from editors and literary agents made me doubt my earlier enthusiasm. And so it lingered since.

Watching ‘Bridge of Spies’ however made me rethink my own story. Perhaps it’s worth dusting off the cobwebs. Sure, it needs a total re-write. I may have to change my protagonist and the antagonist, but these are relatively small details. I have the setting nailed, because that’s where I grew up. A little later than the time of the story, but I can relate.

The major part of the rewrite will be my characters’ relationships to each other. My mind is going into overdrive as I write this.

Thank you Steven Spielberg, not only for a great movie, but also because you have done me a great favor. Maybe you have spawned a book worth publishing. Thanks for the memories.


Don’t wait to write

Karalee’s Post #128

rock on beach

Our 5/5/5 group have all in our own way expressed how we try to organize ourselves to write, how procrastination is a non-starter, and how life pulls us from our offices and computers where our characters are developing and waiting to be born.

And we all know how we hate waiting.

We don’t want to wait at the doctor’s office, or the dentist, the ferry lineup, in traffic, or in the grocery line. We complain miserably about all of this waiting, yet we do it because it is part of our everyday lives or put into our lives on some sort of schedule.

Imagine then, how our characters must feel. We leave them half-formed physically, mentally and emotionally. They literally can be abandoned mid-sentence just about to be shot or die in a car or airplane, or while falling skiing with their leg in the middle of snapping as they hit a tree.

Then we return and change their names, alter their physical, mental and emotional attributes and dump them in a different situation, and then once again LEAVE them hanging.


How can we as writers go to bed at night knowing that we’ve abandoned someone that really needs our help to move out of the situation that we’ve put them in? Guilt should keep us awake at night every night until we have the decency to grab up our computers and do SOMETHING. Even if the situation worsens, at least it is changing and our characters aren’t suffering the same instant over and over.

Be empathetic. Imagine it’s you sitting in an airplane about to crash. You’re strapped in with the oxygen mask over your face and the plane is in a nose dive. You know you are about to die, yet it goes on and on and on. Days. Weeks. Months. Sometimes years. It goes way beyond the laws of gravity.

So I sincerely ask all the writers out there, especially my dear 5/5/5’ers, be empathetic and PLEASE keep writing so you can let your characters do what has to be done. Don’t leave them waiting any longer than necessary!


Short Stories Written:  Two. I committed to finishing them and that was the inspiration for this blog and the reason I didn’t get a blog written last week. I chose to keep writing. I didn’t want to leave my characters hanging in limbo while I went to bed . I wrote. I created. I finished.

Short Stories sent to Competitions:  Two. Great incentive to be kind to my characters and reach The End. Thanks Joe, for lighting the fire under me to get my work off. Now it’s a different kind of waiting game to see if my stories pass the judging stage.

Exercise:  I must be one of the three people Joe knows that runs. In the past couple of decades I’ve completed one marathon, a dozen or so half-marathons, and many 10 km races. My race days are over due to sciatica (accumulation of wear and tear on my back over the years and exacerbated from dragon boat racing). I still run 3x/week but slower and shorter. Joe is right, what the exercise is doesn’t matter, rather it’s getting out there and doing something to get the circulation and muscles working.


Perspective Photos:

Tammy close up








Umbrella B&W









Happy writing!


Targeting genre

Joe’s Post #158

cs lakinToday, I want to repost an article by one of our followers. C.S. Lakin.

Actually, I could probably repost about 10 of hers as she is one hell of a blogger. No. Seriously. She rocks.

Now, this is a bit ahead of where we 5/5/5 are at currently, but I love reading about what to do when we reach the publishing stage. It’s like chocolate for the soul. Keeps me thinking about the future and not the past.

If you want, please check out her other articles here on Linkedin. Or here on facebook.

cs lakin bookOr, check out her website. It’s amazingly well done. I am super envious of her abilities. She won the 2015 award for being one of the top 10 blogs for writers, and one look at her site or her posts and you’ll see why. She’s good. Very, very good.

She also has a newsletter that’s worth signing up for and a few pretty cool books, even, dare I say it, quite a few novels.

Anyway, here is the article.

Targeting Genre Using the KDSPY Chrome Tool

I always wondered just how much genre had to do with a novel’s success, and when I did my “experiment” a couple of years ago by writing in a genre that purportedly “sold itself,” I proved to myself (and perhaps to many others) that genre really matters. (If you didn’t read my blog post on The Book Designer that went viral in the writing world, take a look at it here. )

My aim was to write a novel that carefully fit a big-selling genre and see if it would sell with little effort on my part. I used a pen name, and although I did a little bit of marketing—similar to what a new author would do—I was astounded by the sales I saw. Way more than all the sales I got from my other half dozen self-published novels.

Whether You’re in It for the Money or Not

You might not care about making money off your books. But some of us have families to support and bills to pay. I felt guilty for years writing novel after novel that didn’t sell, “wasting precious time” (my assessment) when I could have been working at Wal-Mart for minimum wage and at least bringing some money in.

Before throwing in the towel and giving up what I loved most—writing novels—I decided to give this writing life one last-ditch desperate effort. I promised myself that if this new book I planned to write did not make me any money, I would never write another novel again (believe me, this wasn’t the first time I vowed this, but I really meant it this time!).

You may be in a situation to write whatever you want, regardless of market potential. You may not need the money. You may, like me, love experimenting and mixing genres and fleshing out those crazy ideas and structures you know probably won’t turn into best sellers.

For you, maybe it’s not about the money. Maybe you want the recognition. You want lots of super fans and for your peers to acknowledge what a great writer you are. Most of us want this, regardless of profession. We want to be recognized for our talents and abilities. We want to feel successful, that all our hard work shows. I don’t believe there is anything at all wrong with this. We need validation and to be encouraged by results. We don’t want to feel like failures.

So regardless of the reason, you might want to achieve some success with your book sales. And targeting genre is a great way to do it.

The Difficulty in Researching Hot Genres

In the aftermath of my viral post on targeting genre, a lot of writers contacted me and asked me how they could figure out which subgenres sold the best. I knew basically that some general genres sold well on Kindle: romance, mysteries, suspense, fantasy. But those are very general categories, and the niche I targeted was a very specific subgenre.

I asked experts in marketing what their thoughts were on this, and basically, after all my research, I came up with a blank. The bottom line is it would take a lot of participating in K-Boards and Goodreads discussions to find the threads that showed readers decrying a lack of novels in their subgenre.

This implies greater demand than supply. Which is a factor in big sales, to me. If there are a gazillion readers clamoring for books in a certain subgenre, and there aren’t all that many books being released, those few authors are cashing in. This is what I see in the sweet Western Historical Romance subgenre (although now the competition is growing—probably the result of my blog post!).

The Best Tool I’ve Seen for Authors

So imagine the thrill I felt when I learned about KDSPY. It was exactly the app I needed to uncover all the info—accurate data, not guesses—on which subgenres sold well and why.

Called “The Ultimate Kindle Spy Tool,” KDSPY is probably one of the most valuable tools an indie author can utilize. This unique software application essentially reverse engineers the Kindle marketplace and shows you which niches sell well, which have much or little competition, and how much revenue the top-selling books in that niche have made in the last thirty days.

There are so many features that I love with this app:

  • It’s easy (and inexpensive!) to load and use, and integrates into your browser for easy access.
  • It gives you gobs of pertinent info that will help you determine what niches are selling.
  • It allows you to look at any author’s page and see her actual book sales and rankings for every book she has on Kindle for the last thirty days.
  • It shows you the main keywords used by the author for a particular book (which is also broken down by use in title and in description).
  • In seconds, sometimes with just one click, you can see a wide landscape regarding genre and revenue, helping you make marketing decisions for your book. Or helping you decide what your next book will be.

And, once you’ve gathered data for the category you’re interested in, you can click on the keyword button that will give you a word cloud that shows all the words that the best-selling books use in their titles and descriptions.

Why is this great? Because this data can help you tailor what you write, or market what you’ve already written, by giving you proof (not claims) of what’s already working for other Kindle publishers. KDSPY shows you the best-selling niches to go after, and even shows you the words to use in your book titles.

One Way This App Helped Me

Here’s just one example of how this tool helped me make a decision. I write historical Western romances. I spent time researching using KDSPY checking the best-selling titles and their keywords, wondering just which keywords and categories would be best for my books.

Since my books could go in the inspirational romance category (because my characters do express their faith, attend church, and pray), I wondered if I should choose that as one of my two categories on Kindle. When I peeked at the best-selling titles and authors in my subgenre and compared the general market sales and competition to the inspirational market sales and competition, there was a huge difference. Overall, the inspirational market monthly sales revenue for a best-selling book was about one-tenth of the general market. I decided not to use that category, since it was clear the market I’d be targeting was smaller and afforded less opportunity for big sales.

Other Perks

Another thing I found very helpful with KDSPY were the short video tutorials on the site that showed me exactly how I could effectively use this tool. There are so many other ways you can benefit. For example, you can use the book-tracking feature to tag certain books and track their sales via a daily sales rank and revenue chart.

You can imagine how useful this is when looking at your competition. You can track your own books as well to examine the results of your marketing efforts, or to see if your sales go up and down when you change your keywords.

I am continually shocked to see how few sales many best-selling authors are currently experiencing, or how only one book in their arsenal is making a killing, whereas their other book sales are flat. In contrast, some first-time authors are making big five-figure sales per month per book. I wanted to know why and how. This app gives me insights into their success.

Of course this is only showing you Kindle sales and not print sales, or sales from any other online venues. But Kindle accounts for most authors’ sales these days, and for me, this is the data I need, that will most help me in my book sales.

KDSPY is a Chrome browser extension that is compatible with PC and Macs. Firefox supports this app as well, but at this time, these are the only two browsers you can use. All the data is exportable so you can put the results in a folder to refer to.

This app is great for both fiction and nonfiction books, and while it’s not useable in every country, KDSPY has now been opened up to allow results to be pulled from the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. The customer support is excellent, which means a lot to me.

The cost at the time of this post for this app is only $47 US. I feel it’s one of the best investments for authors, worth way more than this. I’ve never promoted a product on my website, so that should tell you something about how valuable I think this tool is. GET YOURS HERE! and start benefitting from this amazing tool. And I’d love to hear how it’s helping you sell more books!


Pretty cool stuff, right?

Here’s a quick bio for her.


Me and Coaltrane

I’m a novelist, a copyeditor, a writing coach, a mom, a backpacker, and a whole bunch of other things.

I write novels in various genres and help writers at my blog

I teach workshops on the writing craft at writers’ conferences and retreats. If your writers’ group would like to have me teach,drop me a line. I live in California, near San Francisco, just so you know how far away I am from you and your writer friends. I also enjoy guest blogging, so contact me if you’d like me to write a post on writing, editing, or Labrador retrievers (just threw that in there; I’m not an expert but I love them). I am, however, quite the expert on pygmy goats. I ran a commercial pygmy goat farm for ten years and delivered a lot of kids! So, if you need some goat advice, I’m your gal.


Story ecosystems


Ancient Aboriginal art – Australia

Modern graffiti – London

Modern graffiti – London

Silk’s Post #145 — Sometimes the most valuable writing insights don’t come from books or courses or conference workshops. They just pop up out of “real life” and open your eyes to some different way of understanding that you can apply to your craft.

One of these perspective game-changers hit me recently and I wanted to pass it on.

Every hear of biocultural diversity? I hadn’t until last week, when I met up with some very smart sailing friends from an NGO called Terralingua, whose mission it is to preserve biocultural diversity through research, education and policy-relevant work in cooperation with some pretty impressive supporters and partners – like the United Nations Environment Program, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

I mean, Wow. As interesting conversations go, this was a 10 out of 10. Here’s a quote from their literature (emphasis mine):

“For millennia people have been part of nature and have co-evolved with it. Over time, we have adapted to the natural environment, while drawing material and spiritual sustenance from it. By interacting closely with one another and with nature, we have developed thousands of different cultures and languages — distinctive ways of seeing, knowing, doing, and speaking … This is the true web of life: interlinked diversity of nature and culture.”

Okay, a bit wonkish – but I get it: people are part of the ecosystem, just like the plants and the other animals. And not just any generic ecosystem, but the specific and unique geographic neighbourhood they live in. And the culture – including language – that they create is specifically in response to the realities of that locale (debates about the number of words Eskimos have for snow notwithstanding).

Seems obvious when you think about it. Existential, even.

But somewhere along the path to “civilization”, I suspect our big brains started thinking of ourselves as a species somehow apart from – and above – the messy web of other organic life and landscapes. God-like, perhaps.

Maybe it started breaking down when people got mobile – left “the garden”, so to speak, in search of greener grass. And then, of course, there has been the levelling and disruptive effect of technology – our deus ex machina with unintended consequences.

Today, if you don’t happen to live in an unmolested tribal village, you probably don’t think of yourself as an example of biocultural diversity. And maybe the top of your worry list is not dominated by preservation of what now seem like outmoded – even doomed – tribal cultures in remote places with names you can’t pronounce.

Because we live in a global culture now, don’t we? It seems like there’s no place left on Earth where you can’t find a McDonalds, or a Starbucks, or a smart phone, or the industrial waste of some international corporation, or someone who can speak English (though, as I wrote in an earlier post, There’s more than one English). In contrast, there’s not much undisturbed wilderness anymore, if any. Instead, we have zoos and what Joni Mitchell called tree museums (aka “parks”).

Nevertheless, it didn’t take much to convince me that biocultural diversity matters and needs to be preserved. Count me in. Maybe it’s just my incurable idealism, but I say grab on to whatever bits of wisdom and harmony you can, wherever you find it, because there’s little enough of it to go around. It might save your life sometime.

But hold on – what does this have to do with writing?

Well, you know how brain synapses work. They let thoughts wander, and ideas morph into other ideas, and concepts find unlikely applications. And it all started me thinking about story ecosystems.

For a writer, biocultural diversity is the perfect model of a story world. You just have to expand the element of the natural environment to include all types of environment … urban neighbourhoods, alien planets, gated suburban communities, farm lands, resort destinations, refugee camps … you get the picture.

Three big things have changed in the modern world: the nature and impermanence of these new environments, the mind-boggling pace of life, and the inescapable connectedness people have with each other far beyond their own home territory. Nothing is slow anymore. Nothing is isolated. And, foolishly, we live today as though nature has been “conquered”.

What hasn’t changed as the world has gone “global” is people’s adaptation to their own local environment, although we now have to learn our survival skills way, way faster than our forebears. We’re not only still part of diverse ecosystems, we cling to them, sometimes desperately. Everybody needs to belong – to have their own territories and tribes.

Their own different cultures and languages — distinctive ways of seeing, knowing, doing, and speaking.

For a writer, this perspective reveals character, plot and setting as completely unified aspects of a story. It put my head into the story I’m writing in a whole different way. It gave me the key to my main character’s motivations, interactions with others and with his environment, way of thinking, way of talking, plans and actions, consistencies and inconsistencies.

Thinking of my protagonist as part of his ecosystem – not just a character who dropped into the plot and setting from “somewhere else” – was a subtle shift, but a profound one. Why? Because I saw that the inevitable “somewhere else” was my own head, and when I first dropped him into my plot, I now realize, he took with him all my own personal cultural referents. In other words, the author was present in my story – too present.

The received wisdom, we’ve all heard, is that there’s a bit of autobiography in every writer’s protagonist. And that’s okay. We all have a little Walter Mitty in our souls someplace. But I think the greatest books, and the most memorable characters, get their authenticity and uniqueness from their cohesive story ecosystems.

For me, it’s more clarifying to see things through this holistic lens than to think about character and setting and plot and dialogue and pace as separate elements, then try to somehow knit them together. I think wrapping your head around your story ecosystem helps with character POV, fends off the dreaded author voice, and lets characters be who they are and do what they’d naturally do.

This is the sought-after flow state that writers report when they say their characters “take over” and insist on how they’ll act and react. The polar opposite is the character who initially captivates the writer and reader, then – when put to the test – doesn’t live up to his billing, but rather devolves into the author’s pawn to serve the plot. Sound familiar?

I may have just written 1,000 words to state the obvious. But sometimes simple truths take the long way around to get into your head.

Down, sometimes, but never out

IMG_0080Helga’s Post # 118Reading back over our posts it seems the 5 writers are in constant motion. Traveling motion that is. How on earth can we ever hope to produce a novel within the confines of our restless lifestyles?

But we try. And from what I glean checking in on my writing buddies, everyone hunkers down, making progress on our manuscripts, the due date February 5, 2016 not so far away suddenly. We have recognized some time ago that the only way to produce a decent (and hopefully marketable) manuscript is to commit publicly to a deadline. Miss it and you’ll chance being tarred and feathered in the public arena of social media. So even with all of our erratic lifestyles all of us are determined not to be the one publicly shamed come February 5 next year.

Easier said than done. Speaking strictly for myself, I have been battling a gruesome schedule, leaving no time to add pages to my draft manuscript. Life has a way to push us in a corner when we least expect it. An aging mother overseas who really needs to hug us, or a commitment that takes priority over all else in our lives, something that absolutely cannot wait because we owe it to someone special, these are the things that tend to trip a writer, even the most serious.

Just a few days after returning from a trip to Europe (almost entirely family-oriented), I embarked on a long road trip, solid three days of driving with two overnight stays, from Vancouver to Palm Springs. A close friend offered to be my escort or co-pilot, plying me with snacks and stories throughout. While no progress was made on the writing front, ideas were hatched during the long journey, ideas that may well become part of a larger story.

So now that my immediate travels are behind, my writing life will start in earnest. But wait, not so fast. Arriving at a house that stood empty for over 6 months creates its own challenges. No WiFi, no cable, no phone (other than my trusted cell phone, equipped with a US-friendly SIM card once I had crossed the border from Canada). It was, symbolically and in a real sense, arriving in a desert landscape.

My to-do list stretches across three pages. None of the issues are remotely related to writing my novel. And every single day our deadline gets nearer. Every day not writing means I will have to do much of it towards the end. Writing partner Paula talked about binge-writing not long ago. I am now officially an honorary member of the concept. Never mind writing three pages or whatever, every single day. It may well come down to writing thirty or more in a day, and let’s not forget nights. There may not be much sleep during the last crucial weeks.

Yes, I’ll get to the writing. After I have run the vacuum cleaner through the house to get rid of all the dead (and not so dead) crickets that have taken residence in the last six months in my house. And after I manage to get that dreaded service provider, Time Warner, hook up my services. It has only taken a dozen phone calls with extensive waiting periods to get it into the pipeline.

Not easy times for writers who mean it. Writers whose characters are keen to get back on stage to be heard. Characters that are bursting at the seam to do what their creator has in mind for them.

All will get their pound of flesh. After the fridge is filled with necessities, after the car is washed after driving over 2,200 km, after I’ve put my face to the sun, even for a day, to get rid of that pasty northern pallor.

After that, I will bid my characters to come on stage, to dance to the tune I will have composed for them.

A writer’s life. A writer’s privilege. Not so bad, eh?

Writing exercise

Joe’s Post #156 —

Germany's Irina Mikitenko runs on her way to winning the women's London Marathon April 26, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN SPORT ATHLETICS IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTXEE9V

Germany’s Irina Mikitenko runs on her way to winning the women’s London Marathon April 26, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN SPORT ATHLETICS IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Ok, so this post may not be what you think.

It’s not a quick post about a writing exercise. You know, ‘write a story with the word blueberry in the first sentence’ or ‘write your plot as a haiku while hanging upside down from a chandelier.’

No, this post was sparked by something I read in the Atlantic. La-de-dah, right?

Well, to be honest, I’m not normally an Atlantic reader, but this link came from Publisher’s Weekly, which I do read. So there.

It said, of all things, that writers like to run.

At first I thought, what the f***? I know like a hundred writers and maybe 3 of them run, and one of them is usually running to chase bad guys. So, how could this be true?

If I was to run – something I did way back when I was young (and actually enjoyed it, though they called it playing soccer) – anyway, if I was to run, I’d be too worried about how I looked, how much of me jiggled like a bowl full of jello, and why my running shorts were constantly pinching my crotch.

Plus I’d be huffing and puffing like an out-of-breath elephant and scaring children that saw me. I’d be a magnet for 911 calls.

So, yeah, not a good way to get out of my head and think about story or character or plot problems. But that’s me.

Read the article and find out for yourself.

But it got me thinking, cuz that’s what highfalutin magazines do.

What exercises do you do?

Sophia-chaser-zombie-760Me, I’m a walker. No, not a zombie walker, though if you see me before I’ve had my cup of coffee, then you might mistake me for one.

Walking, like running for some, helps me clear my head. It gets me out of my writing space which, oddly enough, sometimes inhibits the creative process, despite my collection of star wars collectible figures and inspirational writing books. As well, the fresh air helps me get in touch with my senses, again. Smell. Sound. Sights.

All good things for a writer.

I know my 5/5/5 buddies have their own writing exercises. If you read their posts, you might see the odd tennis game, gym membership or active gardening.

But I don’t think what you do matters.

What matters is that we writers get out of our basements, out of our offices, or get released from the mental institute for an hour or so. It’s way too easy to simply sit there and write, think about writing, research a new word for fornication or get lost in a google search that began with “what’s the best way to smother someone?”

Simply put, we cannot live only in our heads. We need fresh air. We need to be in the world, if only for a few hours.

It makes us better writers.



Page count:  Not much over 100 pages now. I’m not proud of myself.

Queries Sent:  4.

Rejections:  Holding at 1. So far.

Blogs Written Since Last Post:  1 (not a lot new at Just A Stepdad.)

Exercise:  5 days straight.

Movies Seen:  Missed seeing Specter today because of parenting commitments.

Book I’m Reading:  Looking at David Sedaris.



Make it believable

Karalee’s Post #127

As a writer, this quote is powerful. In a writer’s mind anything and anyone can be real in our imaginary world.

The challenge is writing our stories so readers outside our world believe it too.

The challenge is developing our characters so that they react in a believable way to the circumstances they are put into.

Would Mickey Mouse make a good Superman? or Homer Simpson ever be the president of the United States? Or if Homer was, how would the author make the story believable?

You can imagine the Hulk squeezing water from a stone, not Romeo in Shakespeare or the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. An alien world can have ten moons and a couple of suns with dragons flying or transporting from here to there, but in that world the characters (no matter what species they are) still need to act and react in a believable way.

No matter who, what, where, when or why, authors must understand their characters, what motivates them and how they will react to situations in the story.

Writers must make it believable.

I’ve been reading a few short stories and studying how settings and story lines are developed quickly and keep moving with tension and conflict towards the conclusion.

Short and sweet.

Actually most are not on the sweet side at all. More like short and dark. Or short and heavy.

A few ideas have come to mind. I’m challenging myself to write a short story with a surprising twist. For me, that means surprising myself at some point during the writing process. Often this happens when I’m “in the zone” and let the thoughts flow from nothing to something.

As long as I can make it believable.


Perspective Photos:










jocelyn basketball









5/5/5 word count: half of two short stories written. Don’t know why I’m doing it this way, but often what I write isn’t in sequence, so why should my stories be from start to finish before I start another?

Hallowe’en treats eaten: I was unselfish and let the 300+ visitors to our door take all but a rather big handful I snatched from the bowl.

Happy writing!

Synopsis struggles

writingJoe’s Post #155 — Okay, everyone seems to agree: writing a synopsis-thingee is hard. It’s harder than writing a novel in many ways.

I learned this first by trying to write one, then by looking up how to write ‘a damn synopsis’ on the internet. The internet wouldn’t lie and the general consensus is it’s difficult to distill a 400-1000 page novel into a few paragraphs.

So, why am I doing one?

I’ve decided to get a few more of my stories out there. And while some agents or editors just want a query and a few pages or a query and a ton of pages, every so often you’ll find one that challenges you with the words “and include a 1 page synopsis.”

They may as well have written “and stick your head in a blender and send me the results”. It can be as messy.

So, for some, if you can’t do one, you will get rejected. Bang. Just like that.

How’s that for stakes?

Well, that just made me all the more determined to make sure I sent out my best synopsis, so I wanted to see what advice there might be.

Jane Friedman had a great blog about it, and my take-away was that we have to make readers care. I have a hard time making my dog care, so making my readers care may be something beyond my reach.

How to Write A Synopsis on Pub Crawl had some great worksheet stuff that might help you organize your thoughts. Me, I love worksheets. They give you step-by-step direction to what goes where. Like an Ikea manual.

Chuck Sambuchino had some great advice for queries, synopsisesess and first pages. My take-away from him, expand your query rather than trying to contract your novel.

So, armed with lots of information, I went back to write the damn thing.

And failed.

I knew it the moment I’d finished.

Despite my best intentions and all the warnings, I wrote out a ton of “and this happens, then this happens”. Then the book ends.


Now what?

Now you phone a friend.

It took a bit of doing, but we worked through the problems. Or at least both agreed that my first attempt sucked hairy monkey balls.

In the end, I produced something that I hope grabs the attention of an agent or an editor. Who knows if it’s awesome, all I can tell you is it doesn’t completely blow.


Page count:  90ish still

5/5/5 Word count. I don’t think I got past 22,000

Words that will get thrown out: The way I feel today, all of them

Blogs Written Since Last Post: 6 (a burst of 5 at Just A Stepdad.)

Exercise days: Did my very first one today. At a gym. With gym equipment. I’m sore. A 90 year old granny kicked my ass on the rowing machine. I think she told me to man up, and stop crying.

Movies Seen: None, but first two Walking Dead episodes were the best TV I’ve seen in a while.

Book I’m Reading: None at the moment. Kinda sad, I know.

Rejections: 1 – it came fast.

Creating time for creating stories


Paula’s Post #118 —

Fellow 5writer Silk posted earlier this week on the occasion of her birthday and now I’m following suit.

Something of a tough act to follow, though.  While she gets to dwell on the mystery of Halloween, I end up with plain old boring November 3rd, which other than having a charming relationship with my surname, otherwise lacks the same pizazz as a Halloween birthday.

And of course, being Silk, she’s entertained us with Life is a Mystery Story, expounding on the theme of a writer’s perspective on ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ and our ever so human need to create stories.

Well, thanks for the reminder Silk, because that’s just what I should be doing right now.

Creating Stories.

The last two weeks have been a trainwreck on the novel writing front, with my days filled with the USTA National Tennis Championships, some minor health matters and our twice yearly, epic transmigration across the vast expanse of the Western United States.

Last Friday, we embarked with the two poodles and headed south to California, with stops in Tumwater WA, Redding CA, and Pismo Beach CA. No common theme, other than  a desire to mix it up and take full advantage of the variety of ‘pet-friendly accommodation’ to be found on Trip Advisor.

If you’ve never travelled with dogs, I can only say it requires a little bit of adjustment. Don’t get me wrong, I love our four-footed friends and watching them snoozing peacefully on the back seat while we careen down the road in scary traffic, double axle behemoths hemming us in on either side is, surprisingly, a rather comforting and calming experience.

And while yes, on occasion one can feel a wee bit disappointed to discover the best inn in town is decidedly pet unfriendly, spending another night in the always welcoming La Quinta Inn and Suites isn’t the worst thing in the world.

For me, the whole trick is keeping it in perspective. This is perhaps akin to the very Pollyanna-ish ‘if life hands you lemons, make lemonade’ philosophy of life, but seriously, it is surprising how often the ‘other fork in the road’ pays unexpected dividends.

If it weren’t for the dogs, we’d probably be like all the other snowbirds, barrelling straight down I-5 South which, at least in the central California sections, is without doubt the boringest drive in the world.

But we have dogs.

And that means we try to keep the days a bit shorter and look for some creative alternatives where the dogs can run and stretch their legs from time to time. Which, come to think of it, is not a bad strategy for their human companions to follow, either.

It’s all in the perspective.

In the end, in my humble opinion, the journey south is 24 hours of driving, no matter how you slice and dice it. If you take Highway 101 instead of I-5, maybe a couple of hours more. But those extra hours offer up towns with such tantalizing names as Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara, instead of say … Stockton.

Now, as a writer, if you needed to ‘create stories’ which fork in the road would you rather take?


But fork in the road is where I am at, dear friends, metaphorically speaking. On the writing front, I can count back on my fingers and realize that November 3rd is almost two-fifths into our five months novel writing journey.

Looking in the rear-view mirror I can also see, I’ve just lost two weeks of time (maybe three). Frankly, I’m afraid to peek back to see when, exactly, I actually laid down fresh new words in print.

But with the road trip behind us, I’m settling into our winter home with the days stretching out before me. I’m mentally neatly dividing those days into ‘writing time’ ‘working time’ and ‘tennis time’. Last year, without our 5/5/5/ challenge, ‘writing time’ got the short end of the stick and ‘creating stories’ fell by the wayside, but with this year’s challenge, I remain ever optimistic.

5writer colleague Helga arrives in the desert next week and I’m already planning some marathon, co-writing sessions that will do justice to both our manuscripts and the spirit of NaNoWriMo. While friends and colleagues who commit to NaNoWriMo will be attempting to churn out a whole novel in one month, we 5writers are, comparatively, on easy street.

At the two month mark, I’ve got a head start of 35,000 words and would be thrilled beyond measure to double that in November and hit a word count of 70,000-75,000, heading into December. Which, let’s face it, is bound to be another trainwreck of a month.

So, let’s do the math together.

Today, my birthday – a total write off. That leaves November 4th to 30th, or 27 days.  Only we might as well surgically excise a few more for the festivities of Thanksgiving. So that leaves at best about 25 days. 35,000 divided by 25 = 1,400.

1,400 words a day.

Or, if you’re a binge writer like me, something along the lines of 10,000 words a week.

So, that’s what I’ll be doing this November, creating time for creating stories, with a goal of 10,000 words a week.

How about you? How’s your writing going. If you’re caught up in the madness known as NaNoWriMo, take a break and share some of your strategies for creating time for creating stories. Here at 5writers, we’d love to hear from you!


Pies eaten this week: 3 – Note: all pizza pies, because that’s the easiest thing to have delivered to your hotel room when you have dogs and don’t want to leave them alone.

Kilometres travelled this week: 2309 – According to Google Maps, the distance between Gibsons Landing and La Quinta, California.

Starbucks visited this week: 7 – I highly recommend Store Locator, when you’re on the road and need re-fuelling.

Blog posts written this week: 1 – Whew! At least I’m caught up somewhere in my life.

Word Count: The same 35,189 I reported in my blog post of October 17th. Ouch!

Birthday Resolution this November 3rd: Create Time to Create Stories.


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