Thursday, September 14, 2017

To speak or not to speak

Hi. This month I want to share a blog I wrote recently. Sometimes it's good to revisit the basics in the craft of writing. It's also reassuring to know, for me at least, that I am learning all the time. Let me know what you think.

I thought I was an “okay” writer. With a former career as a finance director I had no grounds to think that. I hadn’t studied English language for far more years than I care to remember and I had never done any creative writing before. But I had a story in me and the desire to put it in writing.
Since those early days, I have learned a lot. Firstly, having gained a contract with American publisher, Black Opal Books, my editor, Faith, gave me some great tips to both correct and improve my writing. Secondly I have read some useful guides to writing fiction, and thirdly I have started to attend seminars on various aspects of being an author.
I want to share some of what I have learned, especially with anyone who starts out like I did—desperate to write a story but possibly lacking in some of the crafts needed by an author. To authors with a background in writing of any sort, I’m sure this will be basic bread and butter stuff. But I see the mistakes I was making in other books I read. So I’m glad it’s not just me, and for those of you who recognise my errors, take comfort in the fact that you’re not the only ones. We can all improve, and we all have to start somewhere.
I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned about speech. To start with one of my classic examples:
“I like that,” she grinned.
Well. I use an electronic dictionary/thesaurus a lot, but I never looked up the definition of speech. If I had, this is what I would have read:
“the expression of or the ability to express thoughts and feelings by articulate sounds”
I would have noted the word “articulate” and realised you cannot articulate a grin. It is not a sound. You cannot grin words. It’s obvious, I know, but when writing your manuscript, words flow seemingly smoothly, and it is all too easy to overlook even the basic grammar sometimes. Without the skills I have learned through the editing process, this wasn’t an error I was looking for.
In helping me with my first book, The Secret At Arnford Hall, not only did my editor point out my errors, Faith also showed me how to correct them. In my simple example it’s all about punctuation. So this is how I should have written it:
“I like that.” She grinned.
Or is it?
Faith also went on to explain the difference between dialogue and action tags. For example, “said” is a dialogue tag and “grinned” is an action tag. Obvious? Yes, I know. Apparently I had some vey nice action tags, but they were being weakened by incorrect positioning and grammar.
In my example I have an action tag. This leads to another point to consider. Does she grin before she speaks or after? A good rule of thumb is that, generally, action tags go before speech. Hence:
She grinned. “I like that.”
And already the writing is improved. I can almost see my heroine speaking whilst still smiling.
Here’s another example. This time I wanted the action tag after the dialogue:
“Take a seat. We need to talk.”
“Yes. We do.” Lauren sat down and crossed her legs.

When the edits on my second book, Guiltless, came back, I was pleased when Faith said there were fewer changes to my original script. But the learning continues. And as it does, I have to confess to being more than a little critical when I read books by some other authors!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

My final Novel Spaces post - A Farewell Letter to Writing

Greetings! This is a very special and emotional post, as it is my final Novel Spaces post after 8 priceless years as a Novelnaut. I have been proud to be part of a special family of writers who bond simply for the love of writing, and who have shared such precious and needed group camaraderie for so long.

Though I will no longer write Marissa Monteilh novels, I will still write. I'm enjoying my work as a ghostwriter, SilentINK, and I'm now able to free up my schedule to take on more clients. I will also explore and pursue other goals and dreams that I've had.

I've loved my journey as an author, though at times, I will admit it has been draining as far as penning titles, producing them (whether via mainstream of self), and then promote and sell in an effort to make a living. The industry has changed, and when I look back, it has truly been much more positive than negative, though the grind has been intense, and while the result brings many blessings i.e. amazing readers and friendships along the way, the business for me has been far from lucrative lately, and I had to come to terms with the fact that it's time to move on after twenty years, and over two dozen titles, so that I'm not just writing for ego.

As my final post, I decided to share a very special letter I wrote called A Farewell Letter to Writing, and it is addressed to Writing, my love, my passion, my gift, my purpose. I included the letter in the back-matter of my final title, L.A Husbands & Wives, and I also shared it during my final literary event last month, the National Book Club Conference, as I read it to those in attendance, which included my family and friends. I got through it, but with a huge lump in my throat. What a special day and special way to wind things down, close the book, and end the story.

So please enjoy my goodbye letter, and know that I am still around, just not trying to make a living as an author.

Thank you Liane Spicer, our fearless Novel Spaces leader, and to all of my fellow Novelnauts, past and present. It has been an honor, and I will miss you, but I will be checking in, reading all of your posts, enjoying from the outside in, enjoying you still.

Much love!




Dear Writing,

It's funny that back in the day, a beautiful spirit named Mrs. Eckelstein, my 7th grade English teacher, tried to tell me that you loved me. She said after calling me up in front of the entire class, after giving me four A's on a play that I wrote, “You're extremely gifted, Marissa. You should be a writer.”

I was made aware of you way back then, aware of your crush on me, but my head was turned by another. Two actually. One suitor was named Math, and another was named Modeling. I wanted to be a CFO, not a writer. And of course, being a tall and skinny girl who loved fashion and loved to sew, I dreamed of the runway. I ignored the fact that cupid had itswriting arrow aimed my way, and went on with life.

Yet every single job I had, there you were in some way. I wrote speeches, news stories, policies and procedures, magazine articles, and production stories for tabloid shows like Hard Copy. I still continued to ignore you.

But 20 years ago, I sat down to write my life story for my kids, and I felt you. I felt your hug, your kiss, your caress, the comfortability of your passion for me. You nudged me to turn that life story into a fiction novel called May December Souls.And through that experience, I finally found that I had passion for you as well, after discovering that 80k words later, I too, had fallen in love with Writing.

Looking back, since penning that story in 1997, I realized that you have always been there, loving me, trying to get my attention. At times throughout my career of writing two dozen books, I have said that your love for me was unrequited, saying that you didn't love me as much as I had grown to love you.

Well, I was wrong. You never left, you never turned your back, you gave me your all, and what that did was give me energy to do what this business requires: write, interview, speak, promote, travel, form alliances, blog, try new genres, craft, engage in social media, attend conferences, teach, mentor, sign, sell, ship, create, imagine, dream, submit, go sexy, stay strong, accept, stand up for, acquiesce, lug, give away, stay up late, sit, and write even more . . . because you made me feel alive.

You gave me a dream, though I have to say that it's time to downscale this relationship, and see if distance causes survival or not. But in my blood is where you will always be, therefore, “and still I write,” just not as I did. This is not a break-up, but a breakthrough.

Writing - always know that you are the reason I became an award-winning author. And you, through loving me, allowed me to discover my purpose in life, and how great it is to be one of 7.5 billion people in the world who can say that.

I will always love you! And I will always be grateful to our Cupid, Mrs. Eckelstein (R.I.P.), who gave me the light-bulb moment, that never died.

Forever and a day,


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Little Bookstore

by Linda Thorne

I posted this on Buried Under Books a few years ago. I thought I'd bring it out again with minor changes since it's been a while and I have new followers today and a larger friend group on social media. This is a post about a little bookstore that changed my life for the better. Here it is:

I had always lived in the western part of the United States, Arizona, California, Colorado, until 1994. My husband was unemployed and my job at the time, a nightmare. He found a career opportunity on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and we made the move.

Looking back on all that happened in that beautiful part of the South, I see the entire eight years we lived there as a major life changing event for us both. We could afford to live within a mile of the Mississippi Sound in a little town called Ocean Springs. Almost daily, we drove over the Ocean Springs Bridge into the neighboring city of Biloxi, always awed by the panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico. The road turned into Beach Boulevard and ran along a 26-mile manmade beach with more views of the water. This seemed more like a place for people to travel to for vacations or pay to see, but for us, it was our home.

I worked in Gulfport and most of my purchases came from stores there, either on my lunch break or on the way home from work. I didn’t buy a lot in Ocean Springs, but one day I passed a colorful little bookstore in a small Victorian cottage and turned around to go back for a look. I remember walking in the first time in 1999 and finding myself astonished by how many books they had available, crammed together and piled on top of each other. Every crevice filled.

There were the old greats by folks like Silas Marner, books by Ayn Rand, but they had local authors too. Martin Hegwood had signed copies of Big Easy Backroad and The Green-Eyed Hurricane. I bought both and still have them. I bought Carolyn Haines’ book Touched and the first in her Bones series, Them Bones. Maybe the second. On my first trip to Favorites, I spent $175.00 on books.

I made other trips. I loved perusing the stacks, seeing the title on the book spine and feeling the book headband as I pulled it out to see the cover, read the blurb on the inside flap or the book back. So much nicer than book shopping online. The same two women normally worked the counter and they’d tell me fascinating stories about the authors and their books. I spent more money and remember my husband asking at one point if I’d consider curtailing the expense. I wish my expenditures could’ve kept Favorites afloat, but alas, it closed its doors. My husband and I saw the report on WLOX TV news with anchor, Jeff Lawson, sadly referring to Favorites as the little bookstore that was closing its doors.

Maybe I had a book bubbling inside of me before the move to Mississippi. I don’t know. I do give my surroundings, along with the books I bought and read from Favorites Bookstore, a great deal of credit for my initiation into the world of writing. We had to leave Mississippi in 2002 when my husband’s job went away and he found another one in California.

I wrote the first draft of Just Another Termination not long before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, and after it did, I left the book’s setting in pre-Katrina time. When both of our jobs ended in California in 2007, my husband’s due to an end to a contract and mine because of a plant closure, we chose to live in the greater Nashville area.

Why didn’t we move back to the beautiful place we hadn’t wanted to leave? The answer is simple. We wanted the Mississippi Gulf Coast back the way it was before Hurricane Katrina and that was not to be. Casinos no longer had to on the water (on barges) and we feared the area would become a clone of Atlantic City. The structures we’d come to know and love were gone, being rebuilt with a different look. But we were sold on the South and knew that's where our final stop would have to be. We picked the greater Nashville area and have never regretted the decision.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Wake of Charlottesville

image courtesy of pixabay, pexels

            Let’s get one thing out of the way right from the get-go: I do not write political posts. I do not post anything political on any social media platform. And in a way, what I’m about to write really isn’t political; rather, it’s a statement of my beliefs about humans, having nothing to do with either or any political party.

            The recent events that unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia, following a despicable display of hatred, bigotry, and ignorance were, simply put, abominable. I grieve for the family of the woman who lost her life and for the people, like me, who felt a deep sadness and icy dread when they saw the images of the people carrying torches through the darkened campus of the University of Virginia and the streets of Charlottesville.

            The entire incident ignited in me a desire—no, a need—to spend some time in the shoes of people who may not look like me, who may not think like me, who may experience life in ways that are different from the ways in which I experience life. And I’m not talking here about racial differences alone. I’m talking about any differences, whether they be racial, religious, social, economic, educational, or generational.

image courtesy of pixabay, maxlkt

I don’t pretend that I’m suddenly going to understand what it’s like to be anything other than a white woman of early middle-age with a college education living in New Jersey, but I mean to try. And I’m a writer, so what better way to spend time in other people’s shoes than in books?

With that in mind, I’ve done some research into books that deal head-on with issues of separation: things and ideas that separate individuals, that separate people who practice different religions, that separate individuals from society. And I want to share a short list of books that I think might be a good place to start in bridging the gaps that exist in our communities. Some of the books I’ve already read, but I intend to read them again with a renewed intensity and a renewed urgency.   

We have to stop the hatred.

1.      And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts
2.      Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
3.      Cinderland by Amy Jo Burns
4.      Generation M by Shelina Janmohamed
5.      God is Not One by Stephan R. Prothero
6.      I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim by Maria M. Ebrahimji and Zahra T Suratwala, et al.
7.      The Short and Tragic Life of RobertPeace by Jeff Hobbs
8.      Somewhere Towards theEnd: A Memoir by Diana Athill
9.      To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
10.  White Like Me by Tim Wise
11.  Wonder by R.J. Palacio

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good start. If nothing else, it’s at least one good thing that came out of Charlottesville. It’s not what happened in the “wake” of Charlottesville, but what happened in the “wake-up” of Charlottesville. A wake-up call to understand “the other,” whomever that may be to each of us. I hope you’ll join me, and I hope you’ll add your reading suggestions to the comments below.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Double Indemnity: A Must-See Film for Crime Writers

Double Indemnity (1944) is my all-time favorite movie, one that I urge all crime writers to study. The superb dialog, with its emphasis on double entendres and provocative banter, not only entertains but it moves the plot along. The use of light and shadow create a virtual underworld that emphasizes the unsavoriness of the characters and plot. 

Double Indemnity is the ultimate film noir—it’s dark, steamy, loaded with atmosphere, and the characters are sleazy as all get out. In this story, originally penned by James M. Cain and adapted for the silver screen by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, discontented housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) bewitches insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) into killing her husband. Together, she promises, they will collect on a double indemnity insurance clause.

Phyllis is film noir’s classic femme fatale, luring a man whose brain goes on hiatus the moment he sees her. Walter seems like a good guy, but he’s no match for the lovely and smoldering Phyllis. She doesn’t even seem good—she’s evil to the core. Since he’s only marginally good, ensnaring him in her web is child’s play. Indeed, Double Indemnity’s best lesson for writers may be its showing how easily someone can be led astray by promises of a lifetime of riches and passion. Consider this classic line delivered by Walter Neff:  

“I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn't get the money. And I didn't get the woman.”     

That’s Double Indemnity in a nutshell. You can almost feel sorry for Walter—after all, if you go to all the trouble of murdering your lover’s husband, shouldn’t you reap some of the benefits?

Elements of Alfred Hitchcock are evident in Double Indemnity. You don’t see the murder but you know it’s happening just out of camera range.

Writers are frequently advised to show, not tell. Writers are frequently advised to show, not tell. Double Indemnity follows this advice to good effect in its depictions of the life styles of Phyllis and Walter. Phyllis lives in an elegant Spanish house in the hills overlooking the Loz Feliz section of Los Angeles. Walter spends his days selling insurance, operating out of a ubiquitous office building in downtown L.A. where the worker bees toil in a pre-cubicle bullpen desk arrangement. Evening comes and Walter returns to his cramped apartment not far from his office. The contrast of life styles is stark, but never verbalized, only shown.  

When it comes to sex scenes, the censorship of the day forced writers to show without telling, allowing them to achieve higher levels of creativity.  Sex was left to the imagination using suggestive dialog and longing looks. A scene in Walter’s apartment hints that Walter and Phyllis had just been intimate. You don’t know for sure … but you’re pretty sure.  

After the murder, things go downhill. For one thing, Walter’s boss, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) is highly suspicious of Phyllis’s double indemnity claim and investigates it like a dog with ten bones. And Walter and Phyllis grow to distrust each other (no surprise there). By the time Walter realizes that murdering Mr. Dietrichson wasn’t such a good idea, it’s too late. But is he sorry that he killed the man? Or does he only regret that he’s left with nothing to show for his efforts beyond a bullet in his shoulder?

So far in my brief writing career my murderers have acted out of revenge—they have not been motivated by sex and money alone. But it’s early days in my writing career and I know I have a greed/lust story to tell.


James M. Cain took his inspiration for Double Indemnity from a real life case. In 1927 a New York woman named Ruth Snyder persuaded her lover, a corset salesman named Judd Gray, to kill her husband. She had recently convinced her spouse to take out a $48,000 insurance policy with a double indemnity clause. For more information on the case, read this article

Richard Crenna and Samantha Eggar starred in a made-for-TV remake of Double Indemnity in 1973. The dialog was virtually identical to the original. As for the bright seventies style of the set—in my view, the original black and white version with darkness and shadows is the only way to view Double Indemnity.

If you prefer sex in your movies I suggest Body Heat (1981). That film, starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner, took its inspiration from Double Indemnity and heaped on the sex. 

View photos of Double Indemnity’s film locations.