Focus: Reflections

Remembrance: How to Write an Obituary

A week ago my husband and I, along with our daughter, flew to Missouri for the celebration of the life of my beautiful, loving mother-in-law, Jeri. Jeri was born in Oklahoma but was raised and spent much of her life in Cabool, Missouri (really), a tiny town east of Springfield. It was a wonderful tribute to a woman who lived her life dedicated to her immediate and extended family and her community. The many relatives who’d enjoyed her kindness through the years spoke of her graciousness. She did the right thing, even when others wondered why. I was lucky to have her as my mother-in-law. She showed her love for me and my daughter (who came into Jeri’s life at age seven) in many acts of kindness in her life. One other writers will enjoy is that she was so proud of my having a book published that she bought copies for each of her siblings, whether or not they read much or appreciated humorous mysteries.

Jeri's memorial flowers
Jeri’s memorial flowers

Jeri spent her last years in a memory care center here in Tucson, not her happiest move. She’d had a stroke and couldn’t be independent any longer, so my husband and his sister decided she’d have to move here. Even though she was legally blind and couldn’t read anymore—her favorite pastime— or listen to music—another lost joy—she was always kind to the staff of the center and always welcomed me with love. She introduced me to the staff (many times!) as her daughter-in-law, the author. Not much more you could hope for in a mother-in-law.

Jeri’s death reminded me of an article I wrote some years back about how to write an obituary, so I’m including it here. Now I realize it would be easier to write one after friends and relatives share memories of the departed loved one. For example, a cousin talked about how Aunt Jeri always had lemon drops on hand in her home, something I’d forgotten.  A good obituary provides memories for the bereaved to cherish.

Here’s that article:

What to say in an obituary or other tribute

Writing an obituary for a relative or a dear friend or delivering a eulogy are tasks likely to fall to many of us. How can they be done successfully?

The Obituary

To be certain your obituary includes what you want others to remember about you, write it yourself. Only you know what you hold most dear and which accomplishments and amusing stories about your life should be shared after your death. Doing it yourself also saves loved ones the pain and anxiety of writing your obituary.

Writing an Obituary for Someone Else

Funeral homes will provide assistance in writing an obituary, but their employees did not know the deceased and will include only the essential facts – birth, date of death, a list of surviving family and family members who predeceased the person. They may include other vital information, if you provide it, such as military service, education, honors and awards.

It’s your responsibility to assure all information is correct. Include the full name of the deceased along with any nicknames. Double check the spelling of survivors’ names and cities of residence.

Most newspapers charge by the line for publishing obituaries, so length is a consideration. Given lower circulation, newspapers are desperately seeking new revenue sources, so check before you blithely send off a lengthy obit.

A butterfly at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center
A butterfly at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center

As with any communication, consider the audience. What do you want those who read the obituary to remember about the deceased individual? How would he or she wish to be remembered? Include previous residences in the obituary and consider placing it in a newspaper in that city.

An obituary is not a biography, not a listing of all major life events as they occurred. Sometimes it is better to begin with the person’s distinctive character traits or contributions, or to an event that changed the direction of the person’s life.

If you are not a family member or a very close friend, consider spending a few moments with the family, interviewing them about what to include and what to omit. Try to add something of the deceased person’s personality to the obituary. Someone who went through life with optimism and a sense of humor wouldn’t want to be recalled in a totally sorrowful obituary. Someone who found frivolity a waste of time might not appreciate your amusing anecdotes. Use simple language, short words and sentences. Don’t be flowery or overly formal.

If you wish, include clubs and service organizations the person belonged to, his or her hobbies, and passions. If a woman took joy in teaching her grandchildren to bake, share that. As in any communication, avoid acronyms or other phrasing readers won’t understand.

Include information on where memorial contributions or donations may be made. Also include funeral or memorial service information.

As with any important document, proofread and have someone else proofread it.

Cobbler, Slab, Crisp or Slump?

Some might consider the various terms used to describe fruit desserts as jargon, “insider” language to be avoided. I consider their colorful names words to ponder, and the dishes delicious treats to savor.

We all know what a pie is, but why all the other creations and the many names? A 2013 article by Kim Severson in The New York Times, “Sonkers, Grunts, Slumps and Crumbles: What You Call Your Pie Depends on Where You Live,” begins with the search for an authentic recipe for a sonker and ends with a helpful glossary.

Many of the dishes were created to stretch the use of fruit that wasn’t ready for display in a tart. Food author Amanda Hesser maintains that the various names disguise “plain desserts that have been well marketed with good names. Who doesn’t want to try a slump?”peaches-869386_640

A slump? A sonker? Give me a pinch of patience and I’ll describe them. Let’s start with the ubiquitous cobbler. Severson said that what you call a cobbler depends on what you grew up with.

Here in the West, pioneers brought their recipes with them, so a cobbler may be interpreted in several ways in the same state. A 1984 fundraising cookbook from the Owyhee County, Idaho,  Senior Citizens, Country Cooking, shared a recipe for a cobbler with a crumbly top, while a cobbler in a 1970 cookbook by The Idaho Historical Auxiliary had a pie crust-like topping. Some cooks top their cobblers with biscuit dough; others consider that an outrage and stick to batter or pie crust toppings. My stepfather made a great peach cobbler, notable because I believe it had more sugar than peaches. Pandowdy is another colorful name for the cobbler, so named perhaps because of its dowdy appearance.

4969-3-large
Gluten-free Cobbler from King Arthur Flour

Some say the biscuit toppings resemble cobblestones and give the dish its name. Others say it is cobbled together.

Fruit crisp or crumble: In this Northeastern favorite, the fruit is topped with oatmeal and brown sugar. Again, however, the 1970 Idaho cookbook sprinkled flour, cinnamon, margarine and brown sugar over apples and called it a crisp. The same cookbook contained a Rhubarb Crunch. Rhubarb, a plant in the buckwheat family, that is neither fruit nor vegetable, is covered with an oatmeal crumble and baked.

Brown Betty: made by layering fruit and buttered bread crumbs.

Apple slab: A pie made in a 9 x 13 rectangular pan, easier to divide and serve than a round pie.

Buckle: Made with more batter, a buckle is more cake-like. Some top it with streusel.

Slump: Similar to a grunt. In these American cousins of British steamed puddings, stewed fruit is topped with batter or biscuit dough, which is then steamed into dumplings.

Sonker: Specific to Surry County, North Carolina. Some cooks in the county insist that sonkers are made only with sweet potatoes and buttermilk, but others allow it can be made with fruit. The sonker is made in a large, deep pan, ideal for feeding big farm families and their crews. Some cooks insist it be covered with a pie crust, others opt for batter.

Severson quoted Alma Venable, one of the cooks who believe that a proper sonker is made with a crust. On what separates a sonker from a cobbler, Venable said, “You have the violin and you have the fiddle. The sonker is the fiddle.”

Tears, Joy and Awe in Africa

Ever walk out of a movie, chuckling at the same time you’re wiping tears of emotion from your eyes? That’s what it was like for me when my husband and I visited Africa this summer. And each time I tell someone about our marvelous adventure, I fight back tears. It was without doubt the most memorable, rewarding and moving trip in my life.

We spent ten days in Kenya, visiting the staff, students and directors of Caring Hearts High School, in Nguluni. The school is about a ninety-minute drive on bumpy, crowded roads from where we stayed in Nairobi. Our host was Dr. Vincent Kituku, president of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope, the force behind Caring Hearts High School.

Dr. Kituku grew up in nearby Kangundo, Kenya, and now lives in Boise, Idaho. I met Vincent in Boise through Toastmasters and later edited many of his articles and two of his books.

Classrooms at Caring Hearts High School
Classrooms at Caring Hearts High School

A visit to his native Kenya in 2010, where he saw the horrendous toll AIDS and poverty were taking, prompted him to take a hiatus in his career as a professional motivational speaker and become a fundraiser. When he realized that providing scholarships for girls and boys still didn’t help those most in need, he began the quest to buy a boarding school for girls. There they could be safe and nourished.

Kenya is a country of social and economic inequities. According to Unicef, 42 percent of its 44 million people live below the poverty line. Access to basic services such as health care, education, clean water and sanitation, is a luxury for many people. Yet everywhere we visited, we were greeted with warmth and food and entertainment, and usually left bearing gifts.

On our first afternoon at Caring Hearts, the students thrilled us with a remarkable display of talent and energy—singing, dancing and

Welcome to Africa!
Welcome to Africa!

recitations. We heard from their formidable, live-in principal, Miss Pamela, and from other local board members. They,

CHHH Principal, Miss Pamela
CHHH Principal, Miss Pamela

and of course, Dr. Kituku, had inspiring and encouraging words for the girls.

We were amazed at how hard the girls work and by the sheer volume of their course load—11 subjects a day. They rise at 4:30 a.m. to work on personal studies (homework) and are in class or other structured activities, including sports, drama and music, until

Dr. Kituku on dreaming big
Dr. Kituku on dreaming big

lights out at 9:30. They may even sneak in a few minutes for TV, but I’m not sure when.

Despite their rigorous schedule, these girls are happy—they smile and giggle a lot! One day I served them lunch and couldn’t believe I needed to dole out the entire pot of Githeri, a yummy staple of

lunchtime-2
Githeri: yum!

beans and corn, for one table of hungry teenagers. They set me straight.

We spent a morning working in the garden with the students and another collecting trash with them in Nguluni, the nearest community. There the conversation was more relaxed and we got to chat about the

Me, delivering manure!
Me, delivering manure!
trash-pickup-2
Collecting trash in Nguluni

differences between our country and theirs. And laugh a lot. When Mark and I asked one girl to summarize a story she’d told in their opening entertainment—we had a little difficulty hearing and understanding it—she recited it again. When Mark said, “Wow. You’re only a sophomore. Imagine when you’re a senior—you’ll be a star! She smiled with pride and said, “I’m already a star!” And indeed, she, and the other young women we were fortunate to meet, are stars. Stars that represent hope for a country mired in corruption and poverty.

 

giraffes-4-small

eland
Eland, zebras and buffalos

Later our group trekked six long hours by van over yet more bumpy roads to visit the Maasai Mara. The bumps were forgotten as soon as we began to see animals. Lots and lots of them

One day our adventure may be fodder for a novel. Today, it is food for my soul. If you want to learn more about Caring Hearts High School, visit their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CaringHeartsandHandsofHope.

What about you? Has a trip or a project changed you in a significant way?

Lions
Lions

 

 

 

 

Gratitude, Hope and Squash Pie

I saw the movie “This Changes Everything” last week. Narrated by the author of the eponymous book, Naomi Klein, it painted a powerful and disturbing overview of climate change caused by our pursuit of growth and its resultant pollution. Klein’s ultimately hopeful premise is that people, working together, can reduce the impact of pollution through grassroots action. The imagery and the film’s message moved me.

I found hope in the full theater and in the volunteers from several environmental groups who handed out information before the movie. I am grateful for those volunteers and have hope that we can take action to combat the deniers of reality.

I also am grateful that President Obama and his advisors are, even if overdue, taking the threat of global warming as seriously as that posed by terrorists.

It’s often said that only the rich can afford to be environmentalists. But the effects of global warming will impact all of us, from farmers whose fields are flooded to those with second homes on shrinking, soon-to-be parched lakes. Each of us can take steps to reduce consumption of fossil fuel and slow global warming. Not everyone can afford to convert to solar power or buy a hybrid vehicle, but we can all use compact fluorescents or LEDs and turn off the lights when we leave a room. We can all encourage our utilities to implement alternative energy in their grids. If you have to rwild-turkeys_w520eplace an appliance, buy one with an Energy Star label.

Even eating wisely can reduce global warming. Try buying local products that haven’t been trucked for miles. Eat low on the food chain. Meat and dairy production contribute to greenhouse gases, so try a vegetarian meal once in a while.

Which brings me to my recipe! Enjoy, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

butternut squash tartSavory Butternut Squash Tart

The recipe suggests using a tart pan. I find a pie pan works fine. This makes a great meal or a good side dish for leftover turkey or ham.

Start to finish: 45 minutes, depending on your skill at peeling winter squash.

9 inch prepared pie crust (I used to make my own, but have found those by Immaculate Pie Co. an excellent substitute, and a lot faster, if you remember to get it out ½ hour early to soften)

1 ¾ pounds peeled and cubed butternut squash (approx. ½ inch cubes)
3 eggs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoons brown sugar (dark or light)
½ teaspoon dried thyme (leaves, not powder)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Unroll pie crust and set it over a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press the crust into the pan and up the sides. Crimp and remove excess dough. Refrigerate pie crust.

Steam the squash over boiling water, in a steamer basket, covered, until very tender, about 15 minutes.

Transfer squash to a blender or food processor. Process or blend until mostly smooth. Add eggs, cheese, brown sugar, thyme, salt and pepper, then process again until very smooth.

Remove the crust from refrigerator and set in on a rimmed baking sheet. I line mine with foil to save cleanup time. Carefully pour the squash mixture into the crust. Bake for 25 minutes, or until set at the center. (It takes longer if you use a traditional pie pan.) Cool slightly before cutting into slices.

I am grateful for readers, other authors, good food, friends, my dog, my cat, my spouse, my new home, the ability to read and so much more. How about you?

 

Rorters, spruikers and malarkey

While researching the art of the long con for a new novel, I came across an article from Australia and was introduced to two delightful words: rorter and spruiking. Exploring them led me farther astray. What a great way to procrastinate.

A rorter is generally considered Australian slang, and is a noun meaning a swindler, a small-time confidence trickster or cheat. Say it out loud, with or without the Aussie accent. It simply sounds cool, nicely insulting.hog in meadow

The same article referenced spruiking, which means speaking in public, especially to advertise. Ever visit North Beach in San Francisco? No doubt you’ve heard spruiking from the people trying to lure you into the strip joints. The term also is used—by the opposition, no doubt—to describe political speeches. Proponents call it orating.

A rorter might be found spruiking near a bank, hoping to snare a mark with a pigeon drop scheme. A pigeon drop is a confidence trick in which a mark or “pigeon” is persuaded to give up a sum of money in order to secure the rights to a larger sum of money, or more valuable object. In reality, the scammers make off with the money and the mark is left with nothing.

The wise—or bitterly experienced— passerby will recognize the con artist’s spiel as malarkey and keep passing.

Malarkey. Ah, yes. Love the word. Malarkey is defined as foolish words or ideas, or bunkum. Another great word. While the origin of malarkey appears murky, bunkum has a specific and colorful history.

Around 1820, U.S. representative Felix Walker, from Buncombe County, North Carolina, rose to make a spDSC01016eech during a debate. He spoke on and on. And on, refusing to stop, even though most of what he said was irrelevant and foolish. He maintained he was speaking for Buncombe. Because it was not used as an intentional delaying tactic, it was not filibuster, a technique and a term introduced a few decades later. It quickly transformed into bunkum and took on the general meaning of nonsense or balderdash. Balderdash originally meant a jumble of liquors but now means a senseless jumble of words, or claptrap.

Claptrap, according to an online etymology dictionary, originated showy stage action designed to trap applause or claps and has evolved to mean nonsense.

A quick search for synonyms reveals a basket of words—beans, blarney, blather, blatherskite, bosh, blither, drivel, codswallop, fiddlesticks, humbug, guff, taradiddle, and more. Is this because we encounter it so often?

Have you encountered a flim flam man (person) or written about one? What’s your favorite film about con artists? I figure watching several could extend my procrastination for weeks!

 

National Day on Writing

Today, October 20, is the National Day on Writing, a day championed by the National Council of Teachers of English to honor the role written words play in our lives.

If you tweet about it, the sponsors suggest using the hashtag #WhyIWrite write-2400px

For many of us, every day is, or we wish it would be, the day for writing. But not often do words get national attention, so, hey, let’s celebrate!

I found out about this day at my very first visit to the Tucson Writers’ Table. Writers get together and write in silence for two hours, no chatting. Another writer teaches at the University and mentioned it. The official hashtag (#WhyIWrite) prompted me to think about why I write.

Many writers say they have always known they were writers; that they must write. If that is true for me, why then did I need to come to The Writers’ Table to force myself to write for two hours? I am hoping that taking this weekly time will help me achieve focus when I’m away from the group; will help me at the very least get started on a few projects I’ve been pondering but have yet to commit to words.

Because, despite blithely professing, “Oh, I’ve always known I’d be a writer, can’t help but write,” few people accomplish the productivity and creativity that statement suggests. Even those born writers encounter blank pages, are interrupted by the responsibilities of daily life, or simply lose their direction and impetus in writing.

At a recent meeting of Tucson Sisters in Crime, two speakers focused on what keeps us from writing and ways to overcome those obstacles. One helped us probe and approach our fears in general and our fears about writing (and how writing what we most fear can strengthen our words); the other provided hints for achieving writing (and life) goals and getting into the “flow,” of our activities, whatever they are. In regard to flow, she cited Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who contributed pioneering work to our understanding of happiness, creativity, human fulfillment and the notion of “flow” — a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.

I can recall times when I’ve been in flow when writing: when I lose track of time, ignore distractions, and generate lots of words. Sometimes those words evoke tears or laughter. Ideas come to me as gifts instead of hard sought. Those times of flow are too rare for me, so I’m hoping my time at The Writers’ Table with a group of focused writers will help me find it more easily.

Book5Back to why I write: I love words and have enough ego to think others might enjoy the way I use them. I love lying with impunity. Writing about offbeat characters and their misadventures gives me a chance to explore behaviors the good girl in me won’t allow in real life. Because I was blessed with parents who read and who read to me and who loved words, I grew up with a love of reading and an ability to articulate my thoughts.

Silly me. I thought that’s all I needed to write great fiction: a facility with words and a few ideas. I’ve found learning the craft of writing novels and stories a lot harder than I ever imagined. Yet still I continue. I think one reason is the joy of getting into “flow.” Another is the desire to improve. I won’t ever be a great distance runner or a professional tennis player, but with hard work and practice, I might turn my love of words and story-telling into some passable writing.

Maybe it’s like parenthood. Women can give birth to children, with assistance from men or science, but parenting those children well takes dedication, practice, hard work, patience and wisdom, and arguably an innate propensity or talent for parenting.

Okay, celebrate the role words have in your life. And share with me why you write! It’s our day.

Kindle Scout: One Path to Publishing

Time’s running out to nominate Foul Wind on KindleScout! If you haven’t time to read the post, just click, nominate and run on to your next project, reading this after my deadline! Thanks. 

There-are-threeSince he died in 1832, I’ll forgive Mr. Cotton’s sexism. He makes a good point.

Right now I’m on a search for some sensible folks to read my first chapter and nominate me for publication on Kindle Scout. If my book is published, you’ll get a free pre-release copy. It’s fast and easy.

If you’re ready, here’s the link: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3VDS86RNJSQOE

kathymc_cover for twitterWhy did I decide to try Kindle Scout? My path to published author has been long and crooked. When I began writing fiction, I naively assumed that someone who’d been a successful marketing communicator would quickly whip out several bestsellers and soon be on the road, exhausted by smiling at and signing books for, my many fans.

Oops! Lesson 1: writing fiction is NOT like writing data sheets or product brochures.

My first novel was a finalist in the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic contest. Hoorah! Agents wanted to see the whole manuscript. I’d soon be a published author on that exhausting book tour.

Not so. Some liked it, but no one LOVED it enough to want to take it on.

Lesson 2: The good grammar that thrilled the weary eyes of a contest judge is not enough to sell fiction. I needed to learn a lot more about creating interesting characters and presenting them with nearly insurmountable challenges that cause said characters to change by surmounting them.

Times changed. The publishing industry changed. Some of my colleagues found success publishing independently, others with small presses.

Several books and countless query letters later, I submitted my novel, Mustard’s Last Stand to a small publisher, L&L Dreamspell. They loved it! They published it. But sadly, soon after publication of my novel, one of the partners died. The remaining partner chose to close the company.Change-is-the-law-of

Instead of seeking a new publisher, I decided to independently publish my novel, the first in a madcap series of books set in North Idaho. I did. I also produced an audio book of the novel, narrated by JoBe Cerny, the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Really.

Ready to vote? Yes! I nominate Foul Wind!

Times changed. The publishing industry changed. Those authors who’d found great success publishing independently struggled with declining sales. My sales had no declining in their future, only an upward path. That has been a rugged one.

When I completed the second book in the series, Foul Wind, I decided to try Kindle Scout. That’s an Amazon program where readers can read about a book, read the first chapter, and nominate it for publishing. Success means a contract with a nice advance and some help marketing the book from Amazon. If I don’t get the contract, I’ll publish it myself.

I would greatly appreciate your going to my page on Kindle Scout and taking a look at Foul Wind. While you’re there, nominate two others. You’ll get a free pre-release copy of any of your nominations that are selected for publication.

Let me know what you think of Kindle Scout. I think it’s a win-win in this changing world, at least worth a 30 day wait for independent publication. It was very easy to post my book, with some marketing information that will always be useful.

Now. Go. Nominate. Tell your friends and family about my books. And look for Mustard’s Last Stand to be free sometime during this promotion. I’ll let you know when.

Have any of you tried Kindle Scout? What do you think?

Don’t Needle Me: Sports and Sewing Metaphors

While traveling not long ago, I saw a woman toting a sewing machine as her carry-on luggage. No one stopped her.

99K Singer Hand Crank Sewing Machine
99K Singer Hand Crank Sewing Machine

What is the matter with the Transportation Security Administration? Don’t they realize the dangers inherent in sewing machines? Consider the terminology.

A needle is a small, slender, pointed implement used for sewing or surgical suturing. Have you never punctured yourself while attempting to attach a button or stitch a hem? I inevitably bleed on my blouse or skirt. It’s no wonder the verb needle also means to goad or provoke. I’m often provoked when attempting to sew.

This line of thought led me to consider the analogies used in business and wonder for a moment why sewing analogies don’t show up as often as sports. I assume it is because until recently the majority of business strategists were male, and the majority of sports enthusiasts were also male. “Let’s figure out our game plan so we’ll be in the catbird seat.” I’ve wondered where the catbird seat is and where the phrase came from. It apparently was used in the south to mean an advantageous position, high up where the group of birds that includes the mockingbird choose to sit to sing their tunes. The term was popularized in a story by James Thurber, who cited its frequent use by sports commentator Red Barber.

When things are going well, the company is batting 1000, perhaps with the assistance of a cleanup hitter.

Although these terms are easily understood by most Americans, even those who aren’t fond of sports, the full court press utilized by basketball teams and business strategists may be more obscure. Any of these could be misconstrued by those not familiar with the sport.

Some years ago, former Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice, urging patience to critics of a plan to shut down North Korea’s nuclear program, assured them we were only in the first quarter, with a lot of time left on the clock.

Rice’s language was familiar to others on the Bush White House team, but less to the Asians she was addressing. But that’s okay. Ms. Rice took one for the team and kept her eye on the ball. A good thing, else her gaffe might have become a political football for Democrats to kick around.

Let’s level the playing field and consider the other endeavors and hobbies that we employ to add spice to our words. Want to postpone making a decision? Put it on the back burner. Let your ideas simmer for a while. But don’t stew about the problem and by all means, don’t cook the books. However, if the issue rises to the top of the list, consider your opportunity to curry favor with your manager by putting some heat under it.

The phrase curry favor has nothing to do with Indian cooking. It comes from an old French morality poem about a vain donkey named Fauvel that deceived the leaders of the court and rose to power. Those who wanted to please him and gain political power stroked and curried Fauvel. A later English moralist changed the term and it evolved to currying favor.

Let’s end where we began, with sewing. Two basic stitches in knitting are the knit stitch and the purl stitch. Is it possible the word purl is related to purloin? Purloin, meaning steal or misappropriate, has its origins in Middle English, meaning to put away or set aside. I’d love to hear from knitters out there if there’s any sense in my thinking. One website referred to the purl as the opposite of a knit stitch. The purl stitch is yin, the dark, shady hillside, to the knit stitch’s yang, the bright, flat open space.

Or am I merely missing a stitch?

Know Your Audience and Write for Them  

What do Janet Evanovich and Dan Kennedy have in common?

They both sell a  LOT of books.

I once heard Janet Evanovich speak about writing on a CD from the Mystery Writers of America. She mentioned that the success of her Stephanie Plum humorous mystery series is due in part to the fact that she understands who her readers are, and what they expect.

Dan Kennedy is an incredibly successful direct marketing and sales guru who has helped thousands improve their marketing messages and increase sales.

They both know the importance of studying their target market and writing for that market.

They know that if you create an expectation in your audience, and then you change the rules, you will disappoint that audience. The result is a drop in readership or sales.

Meet Their Expectations

Janet Evanovich knows that her readers expect Stephanie Plum to get into trouble and to lose at least one vehicle, they expect Lula to be hungry and Grandma Mazur to … well, be totally off the wall.exploding car

Dan Kennedy tells us that the more you know about your market, the better your message will address their needs. It can surprise them, make them laugh, move them, but it had better be something they can relate to. If not, they’ll stop reading.

Bloggers are also told to determine who their audience is and then write for our audience. To answer the questions we think our readers will have.

When I spoke at a Toastmasters district conference some years back about working wonders with words, the first point I made was to know who your audience is, and then speak to them. Their language, their needs, their expectations. Then you’ll have…their ears. They’ll sit up and pay attention.20150524_192603_001

So it pays to have in mind that “ideal reader,” as you sit down to write and as you edit.

Keep Your Reader in Mind

The point is to keep that reader in mind as you write, and strive to meet their expectations. Don’t cheat by creating an expectation for a frothy, humorous romp and moving into a serious, gut-wrenching diatribe. Don’t switch from language that’s direct and clear to elevated vocabulary and over-inflated sentences. You’ll lose your readers and you’ll lose their respect.

Worst of all, don’t drone on and on and on. And on.

How do you figure out who your ideal reader is?

 

 

New Book Shares Writing Tips, Lessons Learned

In nature, we sometimes find an incredible blossom springing from something ungainly and almost ugly. The same can be said for our writing. “Shitty first drafts,” a term made popular by Anne Lamott, can turn into word works of art.

20150504_080319 20150504_080312 (1024x576)Nature’s gift takes no effort on our part save the breath we gasp out in wonder and perhaps the minimal effort to snap a photograph. The flower in the photo sprang from a cactus I thought dead or at best struggling to survive in our garden.

To transform those first drafts into words others will read and on occasion gasp at takes persistence, the willingness and ability to learn, creativity, and at times, inspiration. Often it requires the help of writer friends or professional editors.

Romance and Mystery Authors on Writing is a fantastic little e-book that synthesizes lessons learned about the writing process, publishing and marketing from fifteen published authors. Royalties will be donated to public libraries. I contributed to the book. I also have learned a lot reading the contributions of the other authors.

Topics include dialogue, characters, story structure, editing, tips on finding an agent, editor or publisher, tips on promoting your book, light-bulb moments and lessons learned. Thanks go to J.Q. Rose for compiling and organizing our random thoughts.

I shared advice I heard years ago from Ridley Pearson (and since from many other successful authors), advice I wish I’d be more diligent about following. In essence, if you want to write, get your butt in the chair and write. Earlier this year I heard Ridley speak at the Tucson Festival of Books. The man has followed his own advice. He is now writing two series for children and a suspense novel or two a year! He writes from 7 a.m. until 5 every day in addition to going on book tours. He has written more than 48 novels and reports that he still gets a thrill when each new book comes out. Plus he somehow finds time to sing and play with The Rock Bottom Remainders, a group of writers who donate proceeds from their concerts to literacy. I attended their concert at the Tucson Festival of Books, and it was an absolute hoot!

Spend time each day writing. Editing time counts as writing. I think you also need to spend time filling the well of creativity. Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So too is writing. But I advise taking time to find inspiration in whatever ways move you—a visit to the art museum, a walk in the wilderness (a brief one!), listening to music, gardening, cooking.

IMG951830My creative and talented daughter turned mundane and tired metal trellises I gave her into works of art, painted a sparkly blue. If you want your words to sparkle, practice discipline, fill the well of creativity, and learn from others.

How do you fill your well? What’s the best advice you’ve received about writing? Oh, and if you know what that cactus flower above is, please share!