Guest Post

HAVE A BOOK TO PROMOTE? Lyrical Pens welcomes guest posts. Answer a questionnaire or create your own post. FYI, up front: This site is a definite PG-13. For details, contact cj

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Delayed Discipline

cj Sez:  I wish I had begged, borrowed, or stolen some of Elmore Leonard’s discipline for writing. The problem is, once I’ve written a story, it’s nigh unto impossible for me to go back and change it. I don't mean edit it; I mean really modify it. And that’s what my finished manuscript needs. I really don’t want to send it out as is. (It’s way too topical. Even though I actually wrote it years ago, it rings true in today’s headlines.)

It used to be that I worked better when I had a short-term deadline. That said, I thought if I gave myself a deadline, told my publisher the date, I’d have the incentive to keep going. Found out that’s not true. I have managed to bury that deadline under weeks of procrastination that I've labeled as “research.” It seems that the more I research, the less creativity I have. I’m getting bogged down in facts, and the story is suffering.

However, I’m not giving up. Last night I made a note or two when I went to bed . . . I get a lot of good ideas just before or after I fall asleep, so I keep a pad and pen on the nightstand for inspirational emergencies. Sundays are for family and etc., and I don't plan to sit in front of the computer for very long right now but tomorrow . . . that’s when I’ll start working hard. Now, I suppose that some of you might say I'm procrastinating again.

Nope, that's where you're wrong. I’m calling it, Delayed Discipline. 

That's all for now, but how about you? When do you get your best ideas? How do you conquer the blank page in front of you?

You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.


PS: The artwork is off of a Facebook page. Check out my author page at

Sunday, August 24, 2014

First line inspirations

cj Sez: I have heard some writers say they believe a story's hook can arrive sometime in the first paragraph. I believe that may be true for some genres. In "olden times," the hook might have been left to the end of the first chapter. In modern times, no reader will wait THAT long to find a reason to continue reading.  Chapter ending hooks are one thing, but the overall hook for the story, the one that will entice your reader to enter into your story will need to arrive early on. Modern readers quite often look for that all-important story hook to arrive in the first line or two, especially in thrillers, suspense, action/adventure, mysteries, etc., etc. (even romance).

Just to give you writers a little inspiration to go with your perspiration, below are several famous authors' first lines.

"If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book." The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

"The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse." The Godwulf Manuscript  by Robert B. Parker (The book that introduced his successful Spenser character in 1973.)

"Late afternoon Chloe and Kelly were having cocktails at the Rattlesnake Club, the two seated on the far side of the dining room by themselves: Chloe talking, Kelly listening, Chloe trying to get Kelly to help entertain Anthony Paradiso, an eighty-four-year-old guy who was paying her five thousand a week to be his girlfriend." Mr. Paradise Elmore Leonard

"Not every 13-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty." The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since." The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

If you're writing a series, here are some first and last lines of Harry Potter books: (I love these.)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone First: Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."  Last: "I'm going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer . . . ."

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince First: "It was nearing midnight and the Prime Minister was sitting in his office, reading a long memo that was slipping through his brain without leaving the slightest trace of meaning behind." Last: "His hand closed automatically around the fake Horcrux, but in spite of everything, in spite of the dark and twisting path he saw stretching ahead for himself, in spite of the final meeting with Valdemort he knew must come, whether in a month, in a year, or in ten, he felt his heart lift at the thought that there was still one last golden day of peace left to enjoy with Ron and Hermione."

Take another look at your first line . . . Would it lure your reader to come along for the rest of your story?

Okay, that's it for now. My computer is up and down in minutes, so this post has been a gift of time. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.

PS: The artwork is off of my Facebook page.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Library Time

cj Sez:  Gallbladder surgery went fine. Four new holes in my tummy and a ladder of bruises up my arms from missed IV attempts, but fine otherwise. Not so much, my house.

The lightning storm came and went and took with it my cable network (as in computer and TV). That was on the 17th of August. Mediacom assures me a service person will arrive to assess the problem on August 27th, sometime between 8 a.m. and noon. Ten days. Until then, I am unplugged. So today I'm in the Technology Room at the library to input a few words into Lyrical Pens. Just for you, guys. Just for you. Oh, okay. I had to bring back some books and am using the opportunity to satisfy my craving to surf the Internet.

Let's pretend I'm interviewing you writerly types. I'll ask a few general questions (like the ones we use for our guest bloggers), and you write down your answers. I think you'll be surprised at what they reveal about your writing life.

1: Tell a tidbit about yourself that you haven't revealed in another interview. It can be somethig as simple as a favorite memory, pet or food.

2: The first line of a novel is often called THE all-important hook that draws readers (and propsective agents/publishers) into the story. How did you come up with yours?

3: On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing and where?

4: Who/what inspires/motivates you to keep on keeping on?

5: What do you read for pleasure?

6: What do you consider the most important element of a story?

7: If you were to host a dinner for your favorite authors, who are the six writers you would include? They don't have to be living.

If you care to share your answers with me, I'll make your responses part of one of my future posts.

That's all for now. Till next time, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Theme, another word for premise

cj Sez:  How does one come up with a theme for a novel? I usually find something in the news, but that’s too incredibly ominous and ugly right now. So, let’s get lighter. First, let's agree that novels need a theme, a premise on which to hang the action and plot points. An overall theme continues as a thread through the novel. It lets a writer connect the dots of subplots to the main plot. One way to get a handle on finding your theme/premise might be to think about describing your novel in one sentence, as with a cliché. Just come up with the idea, then polish it into a back-of-the-book blurb.

Caveat:  A cliché is, by definition, a trite and overused expression . . . a figure of speech that has become tiresome and uninteresting. Several experts advise against the use of clichés in your narrative. In fact, author and editor Sol Stein has this advice: “Cut every cliché you come across. Say it new and say it straight” (Stein on Writing, 1995).

Clichés are those taboo things that writers should avoid like the plague, but they can be good fodder for this exercise. Think about it. For a romance story, how about this? “Love will find a way.” Then every time you put an obstacle in a character’s path on the way to her happily ever after, that obstacle can be overcome with some kind of act of love . . . even self-love (conceit, egotism) is fair game. 

In “All is fair in love and war,” the premise is that the character can do whatever he/she can in order to capture the heart of a lover

For a love story (which doesn’t always end happily ever after): “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” 

Or how about this for a YA or memoir: “A coming of age story.” That keeps the threads of the story tied to some agonizing affliction and growth of young people over a longer time span. 

A possible theme for one of my works in progress could be “My brother’s keeper.” The novel is about an American woman that wants to extract her brother from a terrorist cell.

What if one of your characters is fond of vocalizing a cliché? I say, okay. Use them in that character’s dialogue.  However, too much of that can become distracting to your readers. Even Stein's new and straight words can become hackneyed when used too often.

I’m going back to my WIPs and working on themes and premises with clichés in mind. Wish me luck, and I wish you luck with yours. If you have a different way of working on theme/premise, let me know how you do it. I love, love, love learning new methodologies.

In the meantime, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.


PS The artwork is something I’m sharing from my Facebook page. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

It's been a tough day

cj Sez:  Well, I’m not flying on the wings of eagles today . . . I had gallbladder surgery yesterday. I’m doing okay and planning to go to a critique group meeting tomorrow if the nausea goes away. It’s amazing how much pain and nausea rises up from four little cuts. The surgeon did a laparoscopic procedure so it wouldn’t be so invasive. The general anesthesia is pretty invasive on my memory. HOWEVER, I did remember to post something this weekend. What follows is an excerpt from the middle of a short story (“Hobbes House”) that was published in the anthology CHRISTMAS IS A SEASON 2009. Hope you find it an easy read.

“Hey there! Welcome to Hobbes House.”
“Any relation to Calvin and?”
“One and the same. My favorite cartoon. Well, that and Charlie Brown.”
Trey dropped down out of the pickup pointing in the direction of the pine trees. “Look. A wolf.”
Merrill saw the bushy tail of a fox disappear into the grove of pines. “It’s a fox, Trey. He’s looking for something to eat. Probably a field mouse in the woodpile.”
Bradley walked up with a suitcase in each hand. “Don’t try to get to close to him, Trey. He’s a wild animal and might bite.”
“Your father’s right.” She took a longer look at Bradley. Almost-black hair, clear blue eyes, a warm, broad smile that revealed a slightly crooked front tooth, close to six-feet tall, good-looking. My gosh. I’m looking at Prince Charming. Oh stop. “Did you have any trouble finding the place?”
“Not at all. Your good directions and a GPS made it easy. Mapquest showed gravel and dirt roads so I brought the pickup just in case.”
Of course, he’d have more than one car. “Great. Let me show you around.”
“Grab your backpack, Trey”
The boy was walking toward the pier. “Aw, Dad. I wanted to see the lake.”
“We will in a minute. Let’s get our stuff in the house first.” He turned to Merrill and spoke quietly. “It’s his first Christmas without his mother. She’s in Atlanta. Said she wanted to spend some alone time with her next victim. Sorry, that was pity party shot,” Bradley said as Merrill’s lips parted in a little “O.”
“Sounded like hurt to me.”
“Not for myself. For Trey.”
“I understand.” More than you know.
Merrill walked her renters through the cabin and saw to it that Bradley knew how to start and bank the fireplace. “If the temperature is forecast to drop into the twenties, leave the cabinet doors under the sinks open. Keeps the pipes from freezing. Any questions?”
“Nope, I think we’re all set.”
“I left my cell phone number on the kitchen table if you need anything.”
“Wait, there is one thing. Is there some place we can get a small Christmas tree and decorations to go with those pretty lights you strung on the porch? Nice touch, by the way.”
Her face warmed at the compliment. “There’s a gas station cum Grab ‘n Go Market about five minutes from here. Stocks everything. Go to the blacktop and turn left. You can’t miss it.” She slipped on a green barn coat. “I’ll stack the firewood while you’re gone and then get out of here,” she said as she pulled a pair of tan deerhide gloves out of her coat pocket.
“Got a pair of gloves for me?”
After a moment’s hesitation, Merrill smiled. “I think I can find a pair.”
He shrugged on his coat, helped Trey into his, and followed her out. She opened the trunk of the Honda and pulled out a pair of her father’s gloves. “These should fit.”
Fifteen minutes into the task, Bradley noticed Trey was gone. “Trey.” He whistled through his teeth.
“The pier,” Merrill said and tossed a log on the pile as she started toward the house. “Trey? Trey? Where are you?”
She heard the boy scream and started running. Bradley passed her then stopped dead in the middle of the pier.
“Don’t move, son. Stand very still.”
Crouching at the end of the pier, snarling, teeth bared, the normally shy fox was ready to attack. Trey had somehow managed to get between the fox and the animal’s escape route. 
“It feels trapped, Bradley. It’s likely to attack.”
“I’ll kill it first.”
“Not before it bites. Trey, don’t look at the fox,” she said softly. “Just back up.”
The boy was too terrified to move.
“Back up, son.”
The boy took a step and then stopped.
Merrill grabbed Brad’s arm. “We’re too close. Back away.”
“Not without—”
“If we back away, maybe Trey will follow.”
Brad looked at her intently for several seconds then slowly moved away from the pier. “Trey, the fox is afraid of you. That’s why he’s growling. You have to get out of his way and let him past. Back up.”
“I’m scared.” The boy was crying softly. “I can’t see backwards.”
“One step at a time, Trey,” Merrill said. “A baby step.”
The boy took a step, found his footing safe then hurriedly took three more before his foot slid off the pier. He toppled screaming into the water.
Brad lunged forward, but Merrill held him back. “Wait! The water is only about a foot deep right there.” Trey’s arms flailed and splashed then he sat up sputtering.
 The fox raced down the pier and into the trees. Merrill, nearest to the pier, reached Trey first. She grabbed his uplifted hands and pulled him into her arms. He clung to her, shaking violently and sobbing into her neck. Bradley peeled him out of her arms and ran back to the cabin where he wrapped him in the down throw.
“Brad. I think he’s in shock. We should take him to the hospital and get him checked out.”
After Brad deposited Trey on the front seat of his pickup, Merrill held out her hand. “I’ll drive.”
He handed her the keys, slipped in beside his son, and pulled him close.
# # # #

That’s all for now. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. Comments? Questions? Drop me a line.