Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Wilfred Bereswill

Since this seems to be an off day on our blogging schedule, let me pose a question.  In this day and age of E-Publishing, what would you do to promote an E-Book?

Very soon I will have a short story, Sinfully Delicious, published as a digital short story.  I believe it will be available for Kindle, Nook, etc.  I'm looking for unique ways to market and promote the story.  And further that to e-books.  Without a physical book to sell and sign at an event, how would you market and promote it?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


We've got company today, fellow Stiffs. Please join me in welcoming my friend and fellow ITW debut author Jeannie Holmes, author of the soon to be released vampire police procedural Blood Law.

(Excerpt from Blood Law HERE, and it's really good!)

Without further ado, here's Jeannie:

First, I’d like to thank the regular Working Stiffs for inviting me to guest blog today, and I’d especially like to thank Jennie Bentley for reminding me about it. There are days when my mother’s words are far too accurate, “I swear you’d forget your head if it weren’t screwed on.”

Okay, so I may be forgetful at times but there are some events I can’t forget: the day I met my husband, the day I signed my contract with Bantam Dell, the day I graduated high school…the list goes on. There are also plenty of memorable people: my mom, my dad, my first grade teacher, and Jane Doe.

I never met Jane Doe, at least not the Jane Doe who inspired a portion of the mystery in my debut novel, Blood Law. In the book, my protagonist, Alexandra Sabian, is a vampire and Enforcer with the Federal Bureau of Preternatural Investigation who is assigned to police the vampire population in small town Jefferson, Mississippi. Everything is going great until someone starts killing the vampires and leaving their headless and staked bodies around town. Naturally, mayhem ensues throughout town. Jane wasn’t a vampire nor was she staked or decapitated. However, she was murdered and her nude body dumped near a wooded area at an interstate rest area a few miles north of my hometown in Mississippi.

If my memory serves me correctly, Jane was discovered by a motorist who was walking his dog at a rest stop along Interstate 55 in Copiah County, Mississippi. This was in the late 1980s or very early 1990s, but I can’t remember the exact year or the full details of how Jane was found or even killed, although I believe she was strangled.

For weeks, the entire state talked of nothing but Jane. Sketches of her appeared on the news, ran in all the papers, and southwestern Mississippi became a hotbed for reporters and amateur sleuths trying to discover Jane’s true identity. But as the weeks turned into months and eventually years, no new leads developed and Jane became a cold case. The reporters moved on to bigger, hotter stories. The amateur sleuths returned to their day jobs. Jane, however, remained Jane Doe, buried in a cemetery with a simple headstone bearing her new name and the date she was found.

As far as I know, Jane has never been identified, her killer has never been captured, and my efforts to find out more about the case haven’t been easy. It’s almost as if all the media attention she was given years ago has vanished. Jane has truly been forgotten.

I think that’s why I remember her so well and why I used her story to inspire portions of Blood Law. The tragedy of her murder shouldn’t go unanswered. Her family, whomever and wherever they may be, shouldn’t have to wonder what happened to Jane.

I hold no delusions that my posting here, which is the first time I’ve spoken of Jane in a public forum, will somehow jumpstart a cold case investigation. My hope is that by sharing Jane’s story, others will remember her as well because no one should be completely forgotten.


Jeannie Holmes is a Mississippi native who now lives in Mobile, Alabama with her husband, four neurotic cats, and an arthritic shaggy dog. Blood Law is her first novel.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

When You Can't Find The Words

by Wilfred Bereswill

Well, sorry to say, you won't get any rants or controversy today.  Father's day is winding down and another long work week is peeking over the horizon.  I'm just trying to hang on until after my oldest daughter's wedding.  The wedding is just three weeks away and I'm completely stuck.  I'm trying to write one of the most important things I've written, the Father's Toast or Speech for the wedding reception.

The words aren't there.

I've written two, one-hundred thousand word novels, and several short stories.  I know I can write.  I know what I want to say, but I just can't find words to describe my feelings.  Every verb seems contrived; every adjective not good or big enough.  I'm so lost for words, I'd take a great adverb if I could think of one.

My future son-in-law is awesome.  I couldn't have engineered and built a better guy to marry my daughter.  My daughter...well, she's my first child and still seems like my little girl.  She's not.  She's 27 years old.  I'm thrilled to death for them.

Even if I somehow manage to come up with something, I know without a doubt that I will not get through it.  I mean, I'm as comfortable in front of a crowd as one can be, but not when it comes to pouring out my soul in front of 200 people who are family and friends... I mean, I cried my eyes out when I watched Marley and Me.  As much as I'm looking forward to July 10th, I'm praying I get through it.

I'm sorry for not pulling together a more thought provoking blog, but I could sure use some good karma wished my way.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The End

by Laurissa
I really don’t like to disappoint anyone so it’s only logical that after a week of first sentences, first chapters and middles, logically I should write today, the last weekday, about endings. So thank you fellow Working Stiffs for helping to lead me into today’s post. When I decided Monday afternoon what I was going to blog about today, I didn’t know then that you were going to set me up so nicely. However I’m going to talk about a different type of ending.

Monday morning my daughter and I took Hubert (my daughter’s moniker for her car), a ’94 Ford Escort to the local scrap yard, his final resting place. I had no idea until I started cleaning out the car on Sunday afternoon, how attached I was to this car. Admittedly the fact that it’s a 1994 and it’s now 2010, should have been my first clue, but it wasn’t. For the sake of full disclosure, I had only owned the car since August of 2003 when I purchased it for $1,000 for my then fifteen year old daughter. At that time, I asked my father (a car expert, IMHO) if he would help me find a used, reliable vehicle for my daughter, and oh yeah, the catch was that I only had $1,000 to spend on it. When he asked for further details such as color, etc., I told him that I didn’t care at all about the color, just wanted it to be reliable and again, $1,000 or less. But since he mentioned it, I guess I wasn’t all that keen on the color aqua for a car, but any other color would do.

So when he called and said he found a good car for the price but that it just might be the aqua color I didn’t like, I wasn’t surprised, my karma wasn’t all that great back then.

Let’s face it, as a 1994 Ford Escort station wagon it really wasn’t going to be the “cool car” on the block anyhow so I decided to buy it regardless of the color (my apologies to anyone who owns an aqua car, and by the way, the color did grow on us). 

That was the beginning. The middle was filled with many trips to and from the local high school, multiple volleyball practices, games, and tournaments, and soon after college. And now there we were, at the end. How did time pass so quickly?

As I drove Hubert through the scrap yard filled with old pipes, cars, dust, glass, and basically junk, I thought back to the beginning and middle, and at the same time was looking forward to the future, but not the end. I guess it’s bittersweet.

However, despite the emotion of the moment, I admittedly, as a mystery writer, couldn’t help but think, “Wouldn’t it make a great story if I tripped over a body back here?”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Middle Muddle

by Joyce
Annette wrote yesterday that she hates writing the first chapter. I have the most trouble with the middle chapters.
When I’m in the middle of my manuscript, I spend more time deleting scenes than I do writing them. I’ll be happily pounding away on the keyboard. My protagonist and one of the other characters will be chatting away, having a grand old time, then suddenly I’ll realize that absolutely nothing happened.
That’s not good. Especially if I want someone to actually buy the book someday.
Select. Delete. I could do it in my sleep.
When I hit the middle of the book, I write by the Two Steps Forward, One Step Back method. (Note that it’s not the same as one step forward, two steps back. I’d end up with negative pages in that case.) For every couple of pages I write, I have to trash one.
But doing it that way is easier for me than pounding out the whole draft, getting to what I think is the end, and then figure out six chapters from the middle have to go. All of a sudden I only have two-thirds of a book. As much as I complain and refer to my WIP as THAT F*&$#*G BOOK, it’s the only way I can work.
The other problem I have is my tendency to be too nice to my protagonist. In real life, I hate conflict. Most of the time I go out of my way to avoid it. Well, at least I did until I hit that certain age. Catch me in the midst of my own personal heat wave and all bets are off. (But that could be a whole separate blog post.) Anyway, I always have to go back and make things more difficult. In my last book, I killed off a character who was very close to my protagonist. Let me tell you, it was like a death in the family. I’m not a weepy kind of gal, but I cried like a baby. I keep the c-word—CONFLICT—taped to my laptop as a reminder. I probably say “conflict on every page” in my sleep.
My goal is to have my first draft finished by the end of July. So far, I’m on track. If I make it through the middle, that is.
Most writers seem to have at least one part of their work they struggle with. What are your techniques for muddling through the tough parts of your book? Do you have a hard time making life difficult for your protagonist? Tell us your secrets for pulling it all together!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chapter One

by Annette Dashofy

Pat’s blog yesterday was the perfect prelude to what I planned to write about today. Which is this:

I hate first chapters.

Except I don’t mean READING them. I mean WRITING them.

This spring I finally completed the first draft of the manuscript I’d been working on for almost three years. What a joy to type those sweet two little words THE END. Then I worked on drafts two and three until it was ready to be sent out into the cold, cruel publishing world. Or as ready as I could make it. (Who am I kidding? I’m still making notes about things I want to change before my next round of queries.)

If THE END are my two favorite words to write, I have to confess my least favorite two words are CHAPTER ONE.

This week I started my next novel. I love the idea I have in my head for how the story begins. But somehow it hasn’t translated to the page. Pat pointed out the importance of those first five lines. I already knew that, but having her stress them as I’m facing the stark white computer screen was perfect timing. Or not.

Which brings me to the only reason I can deal at all with the dreaded first chapter…namely the shitty first draft. Thank you, Anne Lamont, for giving me that term as well as the permission to write crap.

Because that is exactly what I think of my first chapter so far. To be honest, I rather like my first sentence. But it falls apart after that. I reread what I’ve written and gnash my teeth. Then Anne Lamont comes to mind, and I keep going.

Yesterday I eked out four measly pages. Today, I’ll probably delete about half of it. With any luck I’ll end up with something resembling a complete chapter by Friday when my critique group meets. Then I’ll probably delete most of it again.

I should mention writing Chapters Two and Three isn’t much better. Usually by the fourth chapter, I get into a groove and the story starts to take over. Unfortunately, I have to scratch and claw my way through those opening lines and pages and chapters to get there.

So I want to thank Pat (and everyone who commented, confirming the importance of the first few lines). No stress.

What I’d like to know is does everyone struggle to get started? Or do you blow out of the gates in full stride? Are middles harder for you to write? Or do you dread the big conclusion?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Let's Play -- The First Five Lines

By Pat Remick

When you open a new book, what makes you continue reading it?

Where do you make your decision that the book is worth the investment of your time -- first line, first five lines, first page, first chapter? Are you the type of reader who will keep going until you reach the end, no matter what? Or do you stop reading when you become bored, confused, disgusted, etc.?

As you know, the answers to these questions are important to book publishers, literary agents, bookstores and, of course, we authors because we want people to keep reading -- and buying -- our books.

I recently entered a blog contest judged by author Sophie Littlefield on the basis of a manuscript's first five lines. As I was typing in mine, I realized I needed a bit more punch in those first sentences -- something I hadn't been able to see as clearly while I was working on the entire manuscript, but important if my potential agent/publisher/reader makes decisions based as quickly as five lines.

Sophie ("Bad Day for Sorry" and "Bad Day for Pretty") Littlefield received a number of entries for the contest (grand prize -- her agent will read the winner's first 30 pages) and it was fascinating to see how much you could learn about a book -- and what piques your interest -- from just the first five sentences.

Want to see what I mean? Look at the first five sentences of the works below by the Sisters in Crime New England members joining me to discuss "Beach Read" recommendations at a July 29 event at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH --and see if you can match them with these mystery titles:

"Drive Time" (Hank Phillippi Ryan)

"Red Delicious Death" (Sheila Connolly)

"Under the Eye of Kali" (Susan Oleksiw)

"Who Wrote the Book of Death?" (Steve Liskow)

"Murder Most Municipal" (Pat Remick)

Now here are the first five sentences of each author's work:

A."They're all dead."

"What?" Meg Corey dragged her gaze from the orderly row of apple trees that marched over the hill. Almost all were past bloom now, and some of them had what even a novice farmer like Meg could identify as apples. Small, maybe, but it was a start. She turned her attention to Carl Frederickson, her beekeeper.
B. I can't wait to tell our secret. And I'll get to do it if we're not all killed first.

We're 10 minutes away from Channel 3 when suddenly the Boston skyline disappears. Murky slush spatters across our windshield, kicked up from the tires of the rattletrap big rig that just swerved in front of us on the now slick highway. Eighteen wheels of obstacle, stubbornly obeying the Massachusetts turnpike speed limit.
C. KC Dunham pointed toward the large erasable white board announcing the Question of the Day in precise black lettering: “Who invented peanut butter? Winner gets a free muffin.”

“The Incas, although most people think it was George Washington Carver,” she said without hesitation. “You can keep the muffin."

The woman holding a steaming pot of coffee behind the cracked Formica counter laughed. “I was beginning to think I'd never find anyone in this town who appreciates the long and glorious history of my favorite food, after chocolate that is, though they're damn fine together too."
D. No way in Hell her real name is Taliesyn Holroyd.

Everything else about her strikes Greg Nines as unreal, too, from her energy level—which could eclipse a heavy metal band even if she were unplugged—to her clothes, Sex And The City meets Pirates of The Caribbean.

"I need to do this,” Taliesyn—“call me ‘Tally’”—says. Her stiletto boots make her Nines’s six-one. He’s offered her a chair twice, but she keeps pacing, her strut turning her calf-length leather skirt into a major event. 
E. Guests from various foreign countries began filling up the Hotel Delite dining room, taking every seat at the main table--this was a small hotel,only eight rooms, with the owner's, Meena Nayar's, suite on the top floor, and that of her niece, Anita Ray, above a separate garage.
Tired after being woken in the middle of the night by festival drumming from a nearby temple, Anita sat at a small table along the wall and only half-listened to the guests placing their orders and asking the usual questions. "What is this?" "What does it taste like?"
To see the answers, click here: Did the first five sentences give you enough information to make the correct choices? Is it important that they reflect the title? Does some word related to death need to be in the first five lines? And most of all, does an exercise like this make you want to go back and review the first five sentences of your latest work?

To learn more about the authors, visit:

Monday, June 21, 2010


by Gina Sestak

Greetings, all.  I find myself having difficulty coming up with a topic for this post.   I've thought about my WIPs - I'm juggling novel and screenplay revisions - but fear that would be too boring.   I know I'm getting pretty sick of both of them.   [You know I'm kidding, right?   I love them both, but I won't bore you with the details.]

It occurred to me to propose a writing exercise.  I've been taking a writing workshop through the University of Pittsburgh's Osher Life Learning Institute taught by Walt Peterson.  We've been doing a writing exercise in which we spend 7 minutes writing non-stop on a topic suggested by a literary quotation or a picture.  The idea is to put your pen down on the paper at the start of the 7 minutes and keep it moving until the end. 

For example, the class was given the following line from Kafka's Metamorphosis:  One day Gregor Samsa awoke to discover he had been changed into a large cockroach.   Most class members wrote stories about seeing roaches, being roaches, having roaches.  I wrote:

Cockroach.  A word, compound.  Perhaps obscene - at least in the beginning.  A rooster roach, a combination beast that crows at dawn and scuttles on the floor at night, not seeking hens.  A roach, disgusting bug, all waving feelers, shiny carapace, bold and indestructible.  A roach, the butt end of a joint - don't Bogart it, my friend.  Together, cockroach, rolling on the tongue, raising premonitions of a chimeric beast, six clawed feet and a beak, no need for fighting spurs.  It crawls out of the filth to crow triumphant.  Words.  Descriptive yet misleading.  Cockroach, who would think of such a thing, hiding alone, the darkness in male parts.  When will it venture forth into the light?  Awaking as a cockroach - that would be quite a terrible day, a sign the Rapture was at hand.  Transformed, becoming something, someone else, or two things, cock and roach, the bird and bug, heaven and earth combined and intertwined.  Like us.

For our purposes here today, let's do a shortened version of this exercise.  Write for three minutes on whatever comes to mind when you read the quote below - no editing! - then post your result as a comment. 

Here is the quote, the first line of The Confession, a 1921 Mary Roberts Rinehart novel:

I am not a susceptible woman.

OK.  Ready.  Set.   Go!

Friday, June 18, 2010


by Pat (now going by Patricia) Gulley

Laurissa’s blog last week got me thinking about this business of seeing the same plot used by several TV shows all within a week or two of each other. I’ve seen this for years and have wondered about it. Is it all the same writers using pseudonyms writing all the shows? Is it one writer coming up with an outline and a slew of contract writers coming up with the variations? Where have we heard that idea before? Oh yeah, quite a few Best Selling Authors of Crime Fiction. Or do they all get together over a beer and decide on a concept, feeling it is currently a newsworthy item and the great unwashed will benefit from them putting it up in several places to be viewed from different perspectives?

That last question leaves me in major doubt of such altruistic concerns. Production companies, movies or TV, are focused on one thing: making barrels of money. Yes, barrels, because well liked, minor money makers are considered failures and TV networks cancel them with little or no concern for the write-ins to save them. Okay, once in a while another network might take the show up. Stargate is an example going from Showtime to the SF channel, and SF did very well with it. Or should we be saying SyFy? (Comment-barf).

Sure we hear about independents who want to make great films about important things, but the problem there is: by whose standards is it important or great? So they take a whack at it, and that’s why movie rental companies will always have a slew of movies 85% of which are duds.

Okay, that all sounds like digs, so getting to the heart of the matter, there are no new plot ideas. There are concepts (as Jenny pointed out) and plot and character driven ideas will make them new and exciting and create something to care about. If you like a show’s characters, and they try to handle that ‘same old dreary concept’ then it will be more interesting because we like the character.

Long thoughtful think about that………And, sorry to sound negative, but I’m afraid that more often then not, that leads to something else that has surprised me of late. A show I loved from the start, watched faithfully, couldn’t wait for the new season to start, and suddenly realize that I couldn’t care less anymore. What happened? Well, the concepts have been seen a dozen times before, the plot and twist variations weren’t that different or exciting and the character seemed to be going through the motions with a lot of false outrage not in keeping with the protagonist’s original character. And we won’t go into the fact that over a couple of seasons we don’t really have that character anymore, we have a new version reflecting the persona of the actor. It just becomes wearisome.

As I replied to Laurissa, one has to wonder if publishers or film producers really want new ideas. They claim they do, but it is risky. Tried and true works for them in overworked plots and concepts, or remakes. But if you really do have a desire to come up with something new, again I say, try reversing the overworked concept. If aliens and alien invasions are the overworked concept with millions of plot variations, then try for humans are the original molecule of intelligent life in the universe. It will have to be as exciting as inventing a new world of intelligent aliens and heroes for a never-ending war with humans. I’ve talked this over with a few SF nuts, like me, and it never went anywhere. We couldn’t produce an interesting story line; it seems more like reporting on efforts and progress, with a lot of unfulfilled hope. Or, they always led to ‘Millions of years later, when all hope had been extinguished, and humans had evolved into so many other variations, war broke out……Or, billions of years later, when humans had populated a few million galaxies, another intelligence was found and war broke out soon after. Okay, we didn’t exactly put major effort into this, and maybe a better writer could think of something, but it was considered an uninteresting story line. On the other hand, it someone did write an interesting story and it was well received, what do you want to bet…..well you get the picture.

So if you did truly come up with something new, I mean Brand new, (I’ll bet you’d be exhausted) do you think you could sell it? Truly good salesmanship is required to get something new out there, and if you don’t have the heart for that then I guess you need an agent that does. And getting an agent, I’m sure, is fodder for another blog.

Comments, please!!!!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

In The Weeds

By Paula Matter

Have you seen the Web site Rate My Space? DIYers upload photos of renovated rooms, home projects, gardens. Others then rate the work and may or may not leave comments.

I’ve been prowling the site looking for ideas since my husband and I started working on our landscape. And by working I mean yanking, pulling, digging up the weeds that have taken over. And by landscape, I mean our crappy yard.

This year I was more than ever determined to get rid of the weeds once and for all. So sayeth the person who hates yard work. I hate dirt; I hate sweat; I hate bugs. But most of all I hate weeds.

I tackled the job with gusto. Fortunately, there were some areas in better shape than others and I started them right away. Instant gratification, more or less.

Here are some photos where weeds were pulled, bushes were trimmed, flowers potted/planted, and mulch was added. Still more work to be done, but already an improvement...

          Before & After                                                                   


As you can see most of this is a work in progress. While the landscape's better, there's lots more to do.

Much like the manuscript I'm working on. When I started it oh, so long ago, it was a mess.

With time, lots of hard work, and the right tools, it's less messy. Right tools include critique partners (thanks, Annette!), conferences, classes, professional help (thanks, Kristen!), reading other blogs. There is so much help out there.

What big project are you currently working on? Is there something you've recently finished, accomplished?
Let's hear about it!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Steal Me Away

by Tamara Girardi

The title for this post was inspired by the TV show Dallas. You remember it I'm sure.

My husband and I have been watching the seasons for a while. We go through spurts, watching for a few hours a day, and then not watching again for months. Let's face it, it's not the best show ever, but it possesses a train wreck quality, doesn't it?

Recently, I spent a night away from home. My husband was watching Dallas, and we were texting back and forth. I was stranded at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, my brain being held hostage by mounds of peer-reviewed, scholarly readings and endless homework.

I mean it. Endless.

In any case, you might recall the character Afton Cooper sang at a night club for a while, and she often belted out a song, of which the main lyrics were: "Steal me Away. . ."

My husband and I sometimes mock the song by shouting the lyrics out of nowhere, and we both laugh. Now, the joke's on me as life has stolen me away from my writing. Deep sigh.

But I'm still writing. I'm writing thought and application responses to the aforementioned readings. I'm writing a technology paper on incorporating Twitter into classroom instruction. I'm writing an exploration paper on what constitutes data. I'm writing the transcript for a YouTube video that I plan to use in a group presentation.

What I miss is the writing that requires I spend some time with my characters in darkened rooms during ghost hunts I attend only in my mind. I guess it's a good thing to miss your characters. But I'm also wondering if it's a good thing to be stolen away sometimes (please forgive the passive voice).

So rather than postulate any more than I already do every day as part of my PhD education, I'd like to throw out a few questions for discussion.

Do you find stealing yourself away from your writing for a while helps your process? If so, how long's a while? Is there a danger in being away too long and losing any momentum or thoughts you may have had the last time you were immersed in the project?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Writing to Facilitate Change

By Martha Reed

I fell in with a very intellectual group of writers the other night and part of the discussion was what initiated them to begin their writing careers. Like most writers, they agreed that they were born that way but this group had pursued it via Academia where most of the working writers I know are like me: we don’t have MFAs, we work jobs and raise families and we carve out a precious portion of our time for the writing but everyone who writes seems to agree that we couldn’t stop writing even if we wanted to.

The point of the discussion, though, made me stop and try to remember what made me start writing and I think the answer goes all the way back to the sixth-grade. We moved that year and my new English teacher could see that I was struggling to fit in with my new life, my new friends, even my new geography – the history I brought with me was from a different cultural perspective – so she suggested that I start keeping a journal. And I remember that I did keep it, faithfully, and she read my entries every Friday and was kind enough to critique them kindly. I thought she was being nice but now I think she was trying to teach me the tool I use to this day: to stop and consider my situation and then think and craft my response to it – which if you take that one step further is Plot.

Which took me to my next step when I started my first novel. I was in a terrible situation – flat broke and stuck in a job I loathed. I had also just completed another move from Texas to Pennsylvania so there was the cultural dislocation to deal with again, too. I was thirty years old and I didn’t know who I was anymore so I fell back into my old pattern of writing stories because writing was the only thing – the only thing – that made me feel better.

Each and every day when I came home after a day of gearing up and getting it done and trying to dig myself out of the hole I could take myself to a world I was creating that made more sense to me and escape the present reality. The gift was that as I began to change my interior world it overlapped into my reality and I started making significant changes there, too. Which brings me to my present place, standing on the threshold of my second novel and looking around at things that are pretty damn good.

I’d like to put these questions out to the world: what triggered your writing? Was it a kind mentor or a difficult situation? Have you noticed that your reality changes with your writing? Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Putting the BUSINESS in Writing

by Wilfred Bereswill

On Wednesday of last week, Annette Dashofey wrote a really good piece on critique groups. I made a remark in the post pointing out that I am a “BRUTAL” critquer. Okay, Critiquer is not a word, but that isn’t relevant. One of our readers took a bit of offense to my term and called me on it. I deserved it.

This proves a point. As a writer, we need to realize that every word we write has to be chosen with care, whether it’s an adjective in an epic novel or a coy little term in a blog post. We have to be responsible for what we write. In my case, I took the term “brutally honest” and changed it to “brutal” and the meaning was lost. In other words, I was critiqued.

With all that said, I’d like to delve into the business of writing. Let me be clear. It is my opinion that once a writer decides that he/she wants to seek publication, that writer has crossed a very serious line. That line divides hobby from business. Like Neil Armstrong’s “One small step” let’s take a look at that monumental leap into the business world.

I’ve been a businessman all my life. I just entered into the business of writing recently. For my day job I manage the global environmental program for a large corporation. Every decision I make has to be made with the business in mind. I don’t spend a dime or commit any resources unless there is a very tangible return. Yes, simply put, it’s all about money. While money may be the farthest thing from your mind while you’re pouring out your emotions on paper, if you eventually wish that paper be published, it becomes, all about money.

Let’s face it, agents and publishers aren’t there to merely fulfill our dreams, they are in it for money. When an agent signs you, that agent invests significant time and a small amount of money (paper, ink, postage and maybe a lunch or two) in you. They expect a return. It IS their livelihood after all. If you’re not serious about making money with your writing, why on earth would they want to partner with you?

The publisher, on the other hand, invests a serious amount of both time and money in you. If they don’t see a return on their investment, not only will you be dropped by them, you may have a difficult time in the future.

I recently signed a contract with Echelon Press Publishing for a short story called SINFULLY DELICIOUS. I met the owner, Karen Syed at Bouchercon last year in Indianapolis. Karen is the consummate businesswoman. We sat in a quiet corner and chatted for about an hour. What I took away from that conversation is that she was serious about the business. She wanted her business to succeed and in order to do that, her authors had to succeed. She warned me up front that she could be tenacious about pushing her authors to promote their work. I like that.

By the way, SINFULLY DELICIOUS is in production and will be available in electronic format in the near future.

Let me digress for a moment. Many years ago when I was in negotiations over the sale of my first home, I was told by my Real Estate Agent that they were working for me… they were on MY side. BULLSHIT! That Real Estate Agent was working for himself. If the sale had fallen apart, he made no money. (Sorry Jennie) Now there’s nothing wrong with that agent wanting that sale to go through. It’s business. I get it. I just hate being lied to.

So, why the hell am I rambling about this? Well it all goes back to Annette’s blog about critique groups and my “BRUTAL(ly honest)” statement. I made a leap of faith that if you were serious enough about your writing to join a critique group, then you had already crossed that proverbial line into the business of writing or had at least wandered over the line inadvertently. If you were launching yourself into a music career, who would you seek advice from?


Simon may lack tact, whether by personality or by design, but he is normally spot-on in his critiques on American Idol. On the other hand, Paula never wants to hurt anybody’s feelings, but she rarely offered useful advice.

If you’re in a critique group, let your members know that it’s okay to say what’s on their mind. Let them know you really want to make your writing better, more compelling. Take it upon yourself to open the door to better writing.

Friday, June 11, 2010

What Are My Chances?

by Laurissa
I’ve been listening to and reading so much lately about the craft of writing that I now forget where I heard the recommendation to read James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure: Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish. This book and others I’ve read address the reality that there is a limited number of basic plots and that a writer must noodle his or her basic plot to make it unique in order to capture its audience and a publisher (something I think often about as an unpublished writer). I’m writing my first mystery and up until now, I believe that I’ve made my plot and characters unique, but now I’m a bit concerned and I’ll tell you why.

Even though I’m an avid reader and particularly enjoy reading mysteries, my love of mysteries isn’t limited to novels. I’m also a fan of television “mystery type” series, and I have several detective/legal/crime television shows that I regularly watch. A week ago I was finally catching up on watching episodes of one of those series that I hadn’t had time to watch. This show had originally aired a couple months ago. The plot in this legal drama was that a pregnant mother needed to have experimental surgery on her unborn child in order to save her child’s life. The insurance company would not pay for this expensive surgery because it was deemed “experimental.” A few other twists were also thrown into this episode to add to the drama; such as, the father had answered a question incorrectly on the initial application for health insurance, and as a result the insurance policy was null and void. Luckily by the time the hour long show ended, the baby’s life was saved.

Now perhaps had I watched this episode when it first aired, I wouldn’t have noticed that the legal show that aired earlier this week had the same exact plot as the show that I recorded and watched last week (with, of course, a few other subplots). This newly aired drama’s story line was that a child needed surgery performed in order to save her life, but here’s a shocker…the health insurance company would not cover the surgery because it was deemed to be “experimental.”

Now the reason I’m mentioning this is as a fledgling unpublished writer, I’m worried as to what hope I have of crafting a plot that is unique, has the right hook, etc. to capture an audience when network television writers appear to have fallen short of this goal in storytelling? So while I’ve spent hours and days outlining and honing my manuscript in hopes that it is unique... is it really? Or has it been done before? I guess only time will tell. In the meanwhile, I’ll keep plotting along and hope for the best. One thing you can be certain of, my manuscript does not include an “experimental surgery” not covered under my protag’s health insurance policy.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Was It Something I Said?

Working Stiffs welcomes Simon Wood for another visit!

I recently learned that someone is convinced that something in one of my books is real and I did it.  This isn’t the first time this has happened.  A few years ago, a woman at a book club who had read ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN asked me in all seriousness how many times I’d cheated on my wife because the story dealt with infidelity.  Others have pushed me for answers about different aspects of my stories and my culpability.  It can be a little disconcerting when someone asks you, “did you ever get caught stealing cars?”  At the same time, I can understand why people will read something and put two and two together and come up with five.  It might be fiction, but for any slice of fiction to be believable, the element of realism has to be strong.  It has to get the reader to suspend their disbelief and buy into what they're reading. 

A writer’s storytelling style plays into this problem too.  While any writer can proclaim that their writing is a reflection of the world around them, a book says more about the writer’s world view than anybody else’s.  I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I show more than a little thigh from time to time in my stories.  It’s impossible for my sensibilities and insensibilities not to show.
By the same token, when someone rushes up to me and demands to know how many times I’ve cheated on my wife, it reveals a lot more about their life and sensitivities than it does about mine.   That’s the bugger about any story.  Once it’s out there in the open, it’s a mirror and we all see something different when we gaze into it.

When it comes to the crimes I may or may not have committed, I have to fall back on Sharon Stone’s defense in BASIC INSTINCT.  If  I’d committed a crime, do you think I’d be daft enough to admit it in writing?  I’m dumb, but not that dumb.  :-)

I will admit that while none of my stories are reenactments of things that have happened to me, there are flickers of personal experiences contained within the pages.  While it would be nice to regurgitate life stories in my books, it doesn’t work that way.  They just don’t fit well within the confines of a novel.

That said, I do occasionally insert a few inside jokes in my stories for my amusement and the amusement of friends, coworkers and family.  Perhaps, an old boss’ name is used for a character who comes to a grizzly end.  Sometimes I do things for my enjoyment only and the eye rolls of others.  I used Julie’s name for a character whose husband was cheating on her and I killed my mother-in-law in another.  Don’t worry, I haven’t done these things but I know I’m going to get a groan out of them when they read the story. 

Of all the things I’ve been accused of doing in real life no one has accused me of killing anyone.  I guess I should be flattered by the fact that some people think I’m an adulterer, a thief, or a blackmailer, but not a murderer.

It’ll be interesting to see the kind of remarks I get for my latest, TERMINATED.  That story features a bitter and twisted man who victimizes his female boss as a way of striking back at a world he views as unfair.  There's even cruelty to the elderly, so heaven knows what people will say about that.

I suppose my only advice to you, my readers, is not to wonder about the things I write about, but the things I don’t write about.   :-)

Yours innocently,
Simon Wood
Simon Wood is an ex-racecar driver, a licensed pilot and an occasional private investigator. He shares his world with his American wife, Julie. A longhaired dachshund and five cats dominate their lives. He's had over 150 stories and articles published. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines anthologies, such as Seattle Noir, Thriller 2 and Woman’s World. He's a frequent contributor to Writer's Digest. He's the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper and We All Fall Down. As Simon Janus, he's the author of The Scrubs and Road Rash. His latest thriller, Terminated, is out in mass paperback. Curious people can learn more at

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Critiquing for Dummies

by Annette Dashofy

I’ve discovered that critique groups are largely a matter of personal choice. Should you belong to one or shouldn’t you? And if you do, should it be genre specific or a mix? Online or face-to-face? The answers depend on the individual writer, as well as what’s available to them.

As for me, I think my critique groups have been indispensable. Notice the “s” on the end of groups. Plural. Yes, I belong to more than one, and they cover all the bases mentioned above.

I belong to a small face-to-face group. We come from various backgrounds and write all different styles and genres. We meet once or twice a month as schedules permit. These gals are usually the first to see my work, so they tend to get it at its roughest stage.

I also belong to an online group, strictly mystery. That still leaves a lot of leeway. We have paranormal, cozy, romantic suspense, high-adventure, traditional, thriller… You name it, we have members writing it.

What I’ve discovered is that not only do writing styles vary, critiquing styles vary even more. Someone who is a born-natural writer is not necessarily a born-natural critiquer. Writers can take classes and workshops on craft. They can study characterization, motivation, plotting, conflict, pacing, and all other aspects of “How-to,” but how often do you see a workshop or a seminar on “How to Critique”?

Conference and workshop planners out there, take note.

Perhaps one of us struggling authors should contemplate Critiquing for Dummies.

 remember my first critique group experience. The work I submitted was pretty bad. My attempts at offering feedback to the other members was even worse. What the heck did I know? What made me think I could do better than they?

I picked out a few typos. Maybe pointed out a misplaced modifier or two. Ms. Grabski, my high school English teacher, would be proud.

It was only through observing the others in the group and the comments they made that I caught on.

Let’s face it, critiquing is tough. Different writers want and need different types of feedback. Some don’t want to hear about the typos and grammatical errors. They only want to know what works and what doesn’t. Some are polishing up a draft nearing completion and want something more like a line edit.

As for me, I don’t mind having typos pointed out even early on. Sure, a scene in the first draft may never make it to the second or third, so correcting typos might seem pointless. However, I never know what’s going to stay in. My final first reader returned my just-about-ready-to-submit manuscript…the one that had gone through over a half a dozen critiquers and just as many first readers (a critiquer reads a chapter or two at a time. A first reader reads the entire manuscript after it’s been through the critique process)…having found NINE typos everyone else had missed.

Some writers can deal with tough critiques better than others. Basically, if you’re new to critiquing and you’re only submitting your work to be told how wonderful your writing is, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening. In those cases, the recipient tends to only hear the negative stuff and is completely deaf to the positive comments.

Which is painful, especially since some of the best critiquers I’ve experienced don’t offer a lot of praise. They only mark what doesn’t work for them. If it’s good, they don’t stop to indicate it. I’ve caught myself doing that, too. And if I don’t know the writer all that well, and fear they may be one of the ones I mentioned in the paragraph above, I might even read through a second time just to point out good stuff.

Some days, even the thickest skinned among us need to have pointed out what we’ve done right.

There are all kinds of writers with all kinds of needs. And there are all kinds of critiquers with all kinds of critiquing styles. I can usually learn something from any of them.

HOWEVER, there are two kinds of critiques I personally find worthless.

First, someone who says only “I really liked it” or “It didn’t work for me.” Try to be a little more specific. WHY did you like it? Did you relate to the characters? Did you find the dialogue to be realistic or funny or heart rendering? Were you sucked into the story and want to read more? Also, even if you really REALLY liked it, please feel free to point out the misspelled words or incorrect punctuation.

Second, the critiquer who tries to “correct” another writer’s style. Some things that are technically grammatical errors may be a stylistic choice or a matter of voice. Just because you think YOUR way of saying something is better than the writer’s way of saying it, doesn’t mean it should be included in a critique.

I’ve had chapters come back so completely rewritten that it no longer sounded like I was the author. That is not helpful.

I’m not referring to a critiquer who suggests rewording a sentence. Maybe switch it around or use a different/stronger word here and there. THAT is GOOD critiquing. But don’t rewrite the entire chapter for me. If it needs that much revising, it might better to simply state why you think it doesn’t work and then let the writer decide how to fix it.

Maybe the reason no one teaches classes on how to critique is because there are so many ways to do it. What works for one person doesn’t help another at all.

So what do you think? What makes a good critique for you? What do find helpful in feedback and what do you find useless? And if you were to write Critiquing for Dummies, what tip or tips would you include?

(A personal note to all my beloved current critique group members—who might also be a tad paranoid—NONE of this bad stuff applies to any of you. I adore you all.)

Monday, June 07, 2010

"How's our novel coming?"

By Pat Remick

There are times when I wish I’d never told anyone that I’m working on a novel. Those days inevitably come when someone says “How’s the writing coming?” or “Oh, I thought you’d already finished that book.”

Then there's the woman who pays a weekly visit to my office and asks "How's our novel coming?" On the few occasions when I've explained where I am in the process, her eyes glazed over. So now I just say, "fine" and once again kick myself for revealing a Work in Progress exists -- then kick myself harder for not finishing it yet.

I realize people are just being nice, showing an interest. But I also wonder if they think writing fiction is easy. Sometimes they say things like “I’m going to write a book someday” or “I thought I'd write a novel this summer.” Well, good for them. And good luck.

They'll soon learn what we know: writing is really, really hard. There's a saying on my desk that begins with “Writing is easy...” but the next part is: “All you do is stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Some days that’s pretty close to the truth.
Sure, there are times when the words flow onto the paper like melted chocolate. And yes, there are instances when the characters and plots reveal themselves on the page as if they have come from somewhere outside our imaginations Those are the magical days, to be sure.
To have more of those magical days, we need to be available, butt in chair (BIC) in front of the computer. I don't mean to whine but, as you know, real life can interfere with writing. Do I need to explain to people asking about my book that obligations like showing up at my job or sweeping the floor more than once a month reduces the amount of time available to work on a novel? 

I believe the ability to write is a gift. However, having so many stories and characters inside my head -- all begging to get out--can feel like a curse. It's the same affliction that prompted me to start writing a novel and pushes me to wake up early to write before work every day. I never mention this sickness to the people who ask about my book.

But when I DO finally finish my novel, will I be cured?

Friday, June 04, 2010

All the world's a stage...

...and all the men and women merely players. (As You Like It; Shakespeare, of course)

by Jennie Bentley/Bente Gallagher

Back in April, I had the pleasure of attending the Southern Kentucky Book Fest, with such writing lights as Lisa Scottoline, Teresa Medeiros, Beverle Graves Myers, Jane Cleland, Trish Milburn, and others. And of course my buddy and yours, April’s Working Stiffs guest, my fellow Berkley Babe and Good Girl Laura Bradford AKA Elizabeth Lynn Casey, was there, as well.

I sort of knew Laura already, since we’d already been on a grog together and have lots of friends in common, including our very own Wilfred Bereswill. This was, however, the first time I got to meet Laura face to face. Over the day and a half that the conference lasted, we managed to spend almost every waking moment together, from the snack run to Steak n’Shake the second we set eyes on each other in the parking lot outside the hotel. It was like meeting a best friend I never knew I had. Totally comfortable and wonderful from the first moment.

But since we didn’t actually know each other, we spent a lot of time talking about this, that, and the other, including where we came from and what we’d been doing before we decided to take the plunge into writing.

I think I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I went from Norway to New York in my late teens, because I wanted to be an actress. I studied drama—I studied voice and dance, too—with a lot of different teachers in NYC for a few years. I even became a half decent actress for a little while. I enjoyed it. Learning the script, working out the character’s back story, her quirks, what made her tick, or why she’d react in certain ways to certain stimuli. Becoming someone else, just for a few hours.

You’ll notice I’m here, and not on Broadway, or for that matter in Hollywood. There’s a reason for that. Whatever talent I may have had, and however capable I may have been of getting into someone else’s head and conveying their actions, thoughts and feelings to an audience, there was one obstacle I couldn’t overcome, and that was auditioning. I hated—loathed, with a passion—having to get up and prove myself every day. Not on stage in front of an audience—once I got there, I was all right—but on auditions. Having to put myself on the line each and every day. And believe me, if you’re not a good auditioner, you can pretty much forget about a career in theatre, film or TV.

The reason I started this post with Laura Bradford is that at some point during those two days in Kentucky, she asked me, “So why do you think so many writers come from an acting background?”

And really, there are a lot of us. Kelli Stanley studied drama, and decided to be a writer instead. Tasha Alexander did some acting. Kathryn Miller Haines does theatre. Harley Jane Kozak does TV. So does Leanna Renee Hieber. Elaine Davidson and Joan Rivers are both writing mysteries now, with a little help from collaborators.

So it’s a good question, right? With so many people crossing over, there has to be a correlation, don’t you think?

For me, the reason is pretty simple, actually. I mean, acting and writing is pretty much the same thing, isn’t it? We get to become someone else, if just for a little while. Get to live in someone else’s head, get to experience someone else’s life, walk a mile or two in their shoes. Just what we always wanted, except the writing doesn’t come with that soul-destroying rejection-to-your-face that you get with acting. At least when your manuscript enters the world, it stands or falls on its own; its success doesn’t depend on how well you fill out your jeans or sweater, or whether you fit someone else’s idea of what the character should look like. It’s about the work, and whether the work measures up or is what is wanted. It’s not about you; you’re not being rejected, the manuscript is.

The thing is, having an acting background helps you in all sorts of ways when it comes to writing. If you’re used to memorizing and delivering dialogue, writing dialogue is gonna be easier for you as well. And if you’re already used to getting inside someone’s head, thinking and acting the way they do, it’ll help you get inside people’s heads in your writing, as well. Building the character, with its back story, its nervous ticks, its mannerisms, its internal monologue... it’s all the same process, whether you’re acting or writing.

This may be the reason why I’m more comfortable writing in first person POV, actually. I’m used to becoming the character. Third person just isn’t the same thing; you don’t think that way in acting. And I know I still work the same way as I did as an actress: out loud, making up and rehearsing dialogue in my head as I walk down the street or drive down the interstate. I see the book not as a movie, up on the screen of my mind, but as a play, with me in the lead.

So what about you? Does any of this sound familiar? Do you think there’s a connection between acting and writing? Have you ever tried acting? Would you consider giving it a try if you thought it could help you with your writing?

# # # 

I’m in Norway for a few weeks, so I won’t be here for comments. Play nicely amongst yourselves, darlings, and I’ll be back in July. Have a lovely, lovely month of June!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Welcome, E.J. Copperman!

by E.J. Copperman

Ghosts. They're such a nuisance.

At least, that's what Alison Kerby thinks, and I have to agree with her. After all, I put the ghosts in her house to begin with.

Alison is the main character in my new (June 1) mystery, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED, which launches the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series. And she has a bit to deal with (yes, the following is something of a sales pitch, but it's necessary to explain this to make a point that really is coming, I promise): She's recently divorced, she has a nine-year-old daughter who's probably smarter than Alison is, and she recently bought a huge Victorian in the Jersey Shore town where she grew up, with the intention of renovating and turning the place into a guesthouse for the tourist crowd. That's enough to handle.

But, of course, there's more. One day, after a somewhat suspicious head injury, Alison finds she can see two spirits in the house: Maxie Malone, the previous owner of Alison's new house, hasn't actually left, despite being dead. And she's unable to leave the premises. So is Paul Harrison, the private investigator Maxie hired when she started receiving death threats. The two ghosts are still hanging around the house, and they're not leaving--or letting Alison finish her repairs--until she does them a little favor. They want Alison to find out who murdered them.

Okay, that's the plot set-up and the sales pitch. If you're interested, I hope you buy a copy ASAP. But even if you don't, that's not why I told you all that. It's to get across the point that ghosts don't always have to be scary, bloodthirsty, homicidal entities that take out their frustration on the living indiscriminately.

Not if you're writing fiction, anyway. The good thing about writing fiction is that you can do anything you want. Literally. So I got to make up rules for the ghost world that Maxie and Paul inhabit. But that's when the freedom starts to constrict: If you make rules yourself, you have to stick to them. And once I started writing the follow-up to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED, a book currently in the editing process that's (for the moment, anyway) called AN UNINVITED GHOST, I had to adhere to my rules.

So I wish I'd been a little more careful when I was making them.

It's not that anything I wrote in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED is going to cause me undue trouble for the rest of the series. But it's funny--when you're writing the first novel in a series, you think you have a whole vision for the complete series, but the fact is, you don't until you're about three books in. Because you haven't learned everything about your characters yet. You don't know how they're going to surprise you, how they'll explode your expectations, and hopefully, those of the reader. Assuming there's a reader (remember, for you, it's $7.99 or less--for me, it's a career!). You don't know what rules you're going to have to rue creating, because they're you're rules, and you can't break them. Most of the the time.

And come to think of it, that's the fun of the process.

E.J. Copperman, in case we haven't been obvious enough, is the author of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED, which launches the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime, available... let me check... NOW!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Bookbuyers Anonymous

By Tamara Girardi

Ever since we were high school sweethearts, my husband has enforced a rule when it's time to leave the mall. He puts the horse blinders on. It's kind of embarrassing actually.

He places his hands on either side of my face, creating blinders, so I will not stop at one more clothing rack, not another display counter. I can’t thank him enough. Retail therapy is one thing. Book stores are completely different.

I cannot go near a bookstore unless I plan to leave with a stack of books and spend lots of money. Like max the credit cards, kind of money.

It’s an addiction, and the horse blinders come in handy.

I don’t literally hold my own hands up, but you get the picture. Just last week, I had to go to the bookstore to buy a gift. I knew which book I wanted. The plan was to get in, get out, and keep my credit card bill in check.

It was tough. I got the book quick enough, but then I had to weave through the expertly-designed aisles to get to the checkout. Used to be you could walk straight down one aisle without really looking at anything. Now, the bookstore is a maze of end-caps stocked with beloved authors.

Passing the bargain books without a second glance is torturous. But I mentally enforced the horse blinder rule.

Keep walking, Tamara. Oooh, Lee Child’s books. I love Jack Reacher.

No. Focus. Regroup. You can do this. Just keep walking.

Wait, is that Janet Evanovich? With a bargain book? Do I have that one at home? Or did I borrow it from the library? I mean, either way, I already read it. It’s just a matter of having it in my collection to gather dust.

Oh, a table just for the classics. I should read more classics.

Do you see the problem?

The other day, I charged up my Kindle, found some really great books unread in my Kindle library and rediscovered the joy of pushing a button and a book being delivered within seconds. Um, hmmn. Talk about going from bad to worse.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a writer. Supporting other writers is key, and supporting them means buying their books (among other things). I have a full library in my house to prove the kind of literary cheerleader I am.

Still, I go to a bookstore or click on my Kindle store, and I feel like Sophie Kinsella’s shopaholic Becky Bloomwood in a high end clothing store.

Is anyone with me?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Work Hard. Play Harder.

By Martha Reed

My creative writing is probably the most vital thing I do but every once in awhile I have to remember that it’s not all that I do. In between those glorious and rare hours of creative time I have to squeeze in a 40-hour work week (day job, pays the bills), maintain a home and support the needs of my family and friends to the best of my ability. Sometimes, fulfilling these needs is easy and sometimes … not so much. The trick is – and this is one of the things I’m constantly re-learning – how to find the right amount of balance.

My usual pattern is straight arrow; I set a goal and keep to it until it gets done. This is all well and good as long as I remember – occasionally – to stray from the path. Luckily, I have a couple of terrific sisters who offer world-class distraction. For instance, yesterday, my sister Joan suggested that we ride our bikes from Aspinwall into town (6 miles) to catch the Pirates game against Chicago. The trip dahntahn was fantastic, the bike path (except for a nasty gravely bit near the railroad tracks in Etna) smooth going. We made short work of the trip, settled into our bleacher seats, doffed our Memorial Day gimme caps to the National Anthem and then … it started to rain.

And I don’t mean to suggest a gentle Spring shower. It started pouring buckets out there. For hours. Until the creeks overflowed their banks and the lightening flashed around our heads. Best of all, by the eighth inning, we realized that we got to ride our bikes home in it.

Actually, the trip home turned out to be pretty cool, although Joan nervously asked me twice if we were safe. I repeated the old saw: “We should be safe enough. We’re riding on rubber tires” and both sisters bought into it. (I’m not sure if that statement is true or not but it sounded convincing enough at the time). The other lesson I learned yesterday is that there was a reason they used to put fenders on bikes way back when before we paved the roads – because each of us earned a skunk’s tail of mud up our backs by the time we got home. Personally, I don’t think my Bucco’s shirt is ever going to come clean again.

But my point is that when I closed my manuscript document at 11AM for the day, checking out early from my usual routine, I felt a little guilty about it. But now, after such a fun-filled day, spent sharing quality time with both my sisters, I realized that it was just what I needed – a holiday break – and when I sit back down first thing tomorrow I’ll feel brighter and fresher and ready to tackle the next chapter.

And that was my final lesson of the day – to remember what a holiday is for and not just use it to catch up on chores. I need to remember the hard work is always there and it’s up to us to remember to play just as hard, too, because that’s where the fun is.