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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Great Tips for Writing Mystery/Thrillers

Now Write! Mysteries is the fourth volume in the acclaimed Now Write! series.

This series features 86 never-before published suspense, crime, thriller and other mystery fiction writing exercises from top selling authors. I was fortunate to be selected as a contributor to this marvelous collection. Here is my contribution:

Saturday, November 26, 2011


A short short is a short story that usually contains between 1200 - 1500 words. Experienced writers can spit 1500 before breakfast. It's as easy for them as swiping a credit card.
        However, an experienced writer also knows that writing the short short can be more difficult than writing a full length novel. The brevity of the story constricts the wordsmith, depriving him of developing character, plot and setting, all of which he can develop fully in a short story, a novella or a full-length novel. Every line and paragraph of the short short must be significant to carry the story forward with rapidity and terseness.
Like a prize fighter, the author of the short short attempts to score points with each swing of the pen. To accomplish this task, it is vitally important that you plan your short short well, from start to finish, long before you begin a first draft. There is no wiggle room, no chance to elaborate and not a word to waste.

To help with my writing, I developed a six-step formula to guide my pen from beginning to end of the short short. I hope that you will find it useful, as well.
  1. Plan your story well, dividing it into three parts - beginning, middle and end. Write the end of your story first. Knowing where and how your story is going to wind up will keep the beginning and middle parts in line. This will insure that you do not veer off your story. In the short short you must keep on track.
  2. When writing the beginning of your story use the Plunge Opening. This means that you must leap straight into the problem that confronts your main character. Now, with the beginning and the end written, the middle of your story will practically write itself.
  3. Allow the reader an opportunity to bond with your protagonist, be he/she good or bad. Readers want to sympathize with your main character and need to understand the motivation behind the action your main character takes. It is therefore wise to focus your few precious words on characterization rather than on setting.
  4. Make certain your characters are consistent. Don’t end the story with your good guy suddenly turning bad or the reverse. Never introduce an unknown character who will suddenly come out of the blue to save the day. Readers aren't going to buy it and they will resent you for it.
  5. Use strong dialogue to move the story along. Don’t tell the reader that your leading lady is angry. Instead, have her scream at someone. It’s a lot more effective.
  6. Finally, write a story that is worth the read. Give us an ending we’ll remember. Yes, I know, some people say “it’s all about the journey.” However, when it comes to story telling, that statement doesn't ring true. A surprise ending is ideal, and most sought-after short shorts are those with surprise endings - something with a twist. But if you can’t think of a story with a plot twist, make certain the ending has the reader going away with the desire to read your next story, the one after that, the one after that, and so on.

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Important Principle of Writing #6: The Beauty of Self Expression

    John Gardner (1933 - 1982) in his book The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft For Young Writers wrote, “It (self-expression) comes about inevitably.”
    What a benefit it is for the writer of fiction to understand this concept before putting pen to paper. If what Gardner wrote is true, and I believe it is, then no matter what you write, there will always be a self-expressive quality about the work. Do not attempt to negate this fact. Instead, recognize the self-expression in your writing and use it to your advantage. Be conscious of what you feel. Think about what you write and ask why. The answers you come up with will reveal your inner-most emotions, those that are buried in your subconscious. Don't write for the reader. Instead, get to know yourself. It was Joseph Campbell (1904-1987,) the great mythologist, who wrote, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” I believe the thrill of a lifetime is finding out who you are.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Send the Memo

    I’m living the nightmare that everyone has. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the one where you’re back in grammar school and the teacher starts handing out test papers and you did’t study because you didn’t know there was going to be a damn test.

    Six years ago I published my first novel. Back then it was a mortal sin to self publish. At the time, I was good at mortal sins so I figured self publishing was for me. Now, everyone I talk to is writing and self publishing a book. And forget traditional, in-your-hand books. Everyone is creating e books and selling them for 99 cents. What’s that all about? And why didn’t I get that memo? I’m still working on getting my words onto paper. When were they going to tell me that's not done anymore?

    Oh, and when were they going to tell me about social networking? I didn’t know it’s a must to have 40,000 Twitter followers. How do you get 40,000 followers and what do you do with them, once you get them? It reminds me of the movie Sergeant York with Gary Cooper, where he captures hundreds of German prisoners and no one knows what to do with them.

    Okay, so here’s the deal. In the future, should a radical change take place in the publishing industry, I would appreciate someone letting me know. Send the memo. Please?

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    The Power of Stories Part 2

    I have had more than one person ask for a reiteration of my thoughts on the power of stories. This, then, is part 2 on the subject.
    The idea of power in stories is a new concept for me, but one that keeps cropping up in my reading and in my thoughts. Phil Cousineau in his book Once and Future Myths talks about the Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives. Gordon Farrell in his book, The Power of the Playwright's Vision talks about the importance of the author's vision in a wold that has lost its unifying vision of life.

    These are not new concepts. These thoughts go back to Plato, who believed that the author (and artist) had a sacred responsibility to influence his readers for the betterment of society as a whole.
    Authors are many times so caught up in the art of writing they lose sight that their writing influences people to act and react. This is power. Any thoughts?

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    The Power of Stories

    The power of stories can not be measured by the books we read or the films we watch. For many, the effects of storytelling began long ago, in infancy. Stories affect the way in which we think, the method of how we perceive, and they induce the intensity of our emotions.
    “Not until we tell ourselves a story can we make sense of our experience,” says Jerome Bruner, the noted psychologist. Stories anchor our beliefs, and at the same time, set them free. Stories present a yardstick by which we relate all things. They are the lies of fisherman and they are the truths that are held by the faithful. They are the fables, the myths, and the classics. They are timeless, traditional, immortal, and unforgettable. At the same time, they are contemporary, modern, and up to date. Some stories disappear almost at the exact second they are told.
    For me, stories are a way of life. Storytelling is how I communicate my thoughts and emotions. All life is a metaphor. Have you told a story today?  

    Monday, October 31, 2011

    And Then Anton Chekhov Said . . .

    In his advice to playwrights, Anton Chekhov suggested that “Declarations of love, the infidelity of husbands and wives; widows, orphans and all other tears, have long since been written up. The subject ought to be new, but there need be no ‘fable.’ And the main thing is - father and mother must eat. (Therefore) Write. Flies purify the air, and plays - the morals.”

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Important Writing Principle #17: Precision

    To be precise in writing doesn’t mean that you simply use your Thesaurus. Precision paints a sharper picture in the mind’s eye of the reader. Authors visualize the scene they are writing down to the last detail. Unfortunately, this picture doesn’t always transmit to the reader. The author assumes the reader will see the details, when in reality, it is the reverse.
    Some authors try to make their writing more precise by making it wordier. This usually doesn’t work, and the writing becomes heavy, stagnant - without movement.
    There is a trick that I use that will help you to be more precise in what you want to say. I call it the Triangle of Precision. Imagine a triangle, sitting with the point up. The point represents a scene with the least amount of detail, i.e. “She took me home in her vehicle.” Vehicle is the word at the apex of the triangle. As we fill in information about the vehicle, we begin to descend the triangle, filling in larger areas. Vehicle becomes car. Car becomes an Audi. An Audi becomes an A6, etc, until you are at the bottom of the triangle and the sentence now reads: “She took me home in her brand new 2012 metallic blue A6 Audi, custom built with tan leather seats, a wooden dash and so many steel-aluminum parts that it made me feel like I was sitting in a can of tuna fish."

    Here is a ‘before/after scene from my mystery/thriller The Deal Master that will further illustrate the advantages of the Precision Triangle.

    Draft: "Vinnie sat in a chair in the center of Gillette’s office. A spotlight cast deep shadows around him. It looked like a scene from a movie."
    After rewrites: "Like a scene from a movie, Vinnie sat up straight in a chair in the center of Gillette’s office. A spotlight over his head cast deep, dark shadows that looked like large black holes under his eyes, his cheeks and his feet. The blinds were drawn, the door was closed, and the rest of the room was in total darkness."

    Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    The Movie "The Trip" (2010)

    In the movie, “The Trip,” Michael Winterbottom’s 2010 comedy, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon advance the ‘Buddie Trip’ to a whole new intellectual and philosophical level.
    At the start, Steven, an actor, accepts the job of reviewing up-scale restaurants in Northern England. He accepts this assignment, thinking it would be a great way for him and his girlfriend to enjoy a romantic getaway. However, girlee can’t make it because she’s gone to the U.S. hunting for a job and presumably to sort out her relationship with Stevie, so Steven calls on his ‘sort of’ buddy Rob to accompany him.
    Between dueling impersonations, mindless eating and the obvious failings of a middle-aged celebrity ‘wannabe,’ “The Trip” contains an important underlying message. Hey, don’t expect me to reveal it; watch the movie. Besides, I’m too busy practicing my Michael Caine impersonation. The acting is superb, the scenery is marvelous and the score fits in perfectly. My rating: B+ Have you seen this movie? What do you think of it?

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Important Principle of Writing #12: The Definition of Writing

    Understanding What Writing Is: This is the first step towards writing well.
    What is writing?
    Definition: Writing is words in relationship.

    A word in relation to nothing. (Help); A word in relation to itself (reflective) (to wash, to wake, to stop); A word in relation to a word next to it ( I awoke.) or (She smiled.); A word in relation to other words in a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a story, or a novel.
    Understanding this concept, you will begin to understand the power of words and the importance of the choice of words to use. There are many young writers who believe that more words equals better writing. This is not the case. It is the relationship of each word to other words that gives writing its importance. As an exercise, fiction writer should write poetry. This will help to understand the importance of choosing the right word to express thought with economy.

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Who is Your Favorite Author?

    We all have our favorite authors. Do you know where your fav lies on the all time “Author Best Seller List?”  You may be surprised who is on top, just under the Bible and Willie Shakespeare. If you guessed it was Agatha Christie, you’d be right. 4 BILLION books sold. Yikes!

    Saturday, October 22, 2011


    Speaking about dogs: did I tell you that I am working on a top secret book project that's all about dogs? No? Well now you know. More news to follow.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    Maine Lobster – Do you know . . .

    Maine is the lobster capital of the world. Here, we have the sweetest, juiciest and finest lobsters anywhere. Mainers are proud of this fact and take lobster fishing very seriously. The most recent figures published indicate that in 2009 there were over 72 million pounds of lobster caught off the Maine coast, valued at over 297 million dollars.

    Even though Maine lobsters are consumed by millions of people all over the world, little is know about our Homarus americanus (American lobster.) Let me share a few little-known lobster facts that you can ponder the next time you dig into these succulent crustaceans.

    Lobsters love the colder waters you find around the Maine coast. However, I have witnessed them hanging out in some of the bars in the Old Port in Portland, too. They molt 2-3 times a year while juvenile, but only once a year when fully mature (about 4 to 7 years old.) In the first two weeks after molting, lobsters are very vulnerable because their new shells are so soft they can’t move very fast, or defend themselves. Their natural predator is the codfish. There are others, too - haddock flounder and other lobsters.

    Lobsters are not the scavengers everyone makes them out to be. They eat live food, consisting of fish, mollusks, other crustaceans, worms and some plant life.

    Lobsters can live for more than 100 years. They can get big, too. The largest lobster weighed in at over 44 lbs. They come in a variety of colors, including red, blue, green purple and yellow.

    Lobsters have a brain the size of a grasshopper’s. They have two different size claws; a crusher and a pincher. A lobster’s teeth are in its stomach.

    Here’s one other lobster fact that you should be aware of: I make the best sterling silver lobster in the country. It has movable claws with hidden hinges. The claws are different sizes, (remember crusher and pincher?) There are ten different pieces that must be assembled to create this lobster and it takes me three weeks to complete the job. The details are exquisite. I often sell this lobster to lobster fishermen, here in Maine, and if there's one thing you should know about lobster fishermen in Maine: it's that they’re very particular when it comes to lobsters!

    Log onto  and click the jewelry logo to see my lobster, and other sea and nautical jewelry that I create. Oh yeah, check out the diamond rings, too.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    Caché; The Film That Hides the Truth!

    Caché (Hidden) is Michael Haneke’s 2005 fascinating, award-winning film in which the director builds up electrifying tension through heightened contrast coupled with the fear of the unknown.
    The serene Parisian family life of Georges (Daniel Auteuil), his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche), and their twelve year-old son Pierrot is contrasted by the turmoil stemming from the arrival of a haunting videocassette recording of the family’s comings and goings. The cassette mysteriously showed up on the family’s doorstep. More arrive at different times. At first, the recordings appear to be a harmless prank, but when the cassettes are accompanied by strange drawings of mutilated animals and stick figures with blood pouring from them, the family begins to worry.
    As the film continues we learn that along with this horror the family is, in many ways, dysfunctional. The husband does not communicate with his wife, nor share his feelings with her. Ann has her own secrets. There are hints throughout the movie that she may be carrying on an affair with a friend. Pierrot, always on the edge of the action, gives the impression of being rebellious and spiteful. Each member of this family holds secrets that accelerate the conflict and fan the flames of self sabotage.
    What are the secrets you keep hidden? What do you hide from your family and friends, your lover or your spouse? Are the truths you hide more dangerous than those you reveal? Is it better to keep them secret? Do you try to hide them from yourself?
    It’s time to spill the beans . . .