Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Story Masters : Digging into your Protagonist

by C.L. Phillips

Here's another treat from the first day of the Story Masters class with Donald Maass.  Think of your protagonist and answer these questions:

1) What is their worst habit?

2)  Where in your novel is the first scene where your protag must overcome this nasty little habit?

3)  When does your protag give in to this habit?  When does this pesky habit bring the protag to the point of embarrassment or humiliation?

4)  What does this moment cost your protag?

5)  Is this the worst moment - or what is the worst moment for your protag?

6)  What is the first thing they do when they realize they must change?

You know you are working at a good level of depth when you can quickly answer these questions because you know your protagonist so well.

I use these questions like writing prompts in the first draft of character development, and later when editing, I use them like test questions.  How well do you really know your characters?  How well are the little tics and behaviors connected to the plot of your story?  For me, it's a good writing day when I can punch out the answers to these questions for my main characters in ten minutes per character.

Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!  And now, back to Nanowrimo.

Keep writing!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Someone's in the Kitchen

by Martha Reed

I have a traditional as I near the end of the year where I make a cup of tea and sit down to see how well I kept to my task list. Each January, I write a task list and project the Top 10 things I want to accomplish over the next twelve months. Surprisingly, I usually manage to complete at least 7 or 8 of them although the ‘lose 20 pounds’ line item continues to persist from year to year.

The biggest item from this year was ‘finish your mss’. I’m happy to report that I did; my next task is ‘sell it to an agent or publisher’. I’m still working on that one, too.

The second biggest item on my 2011 list was ‘redo the kitchen’. That task seemed overwhelming but I bit the bullet in May and started to research it out and miracle of miracles, I officially finished the new kitchen when I installed a stainless tile backsplash two weeks ago. Before you think I’m all handy, this statement comes with a caveat: halfway through the night when the wall got cold all my lovely self-adhesive tiles fell off the wall. I’ll tell you what, that was some noise to wake up to. It sounded like someone downstairs was shuffling cards at my dining room table. Anyway, the next day at Home Depot I purchased a couple of tubes of industrial adhesive. Those suckers are staying stuck to the wall now.

The other thing I like to do at year-end is to go through my Mac and clean out my folders. While I was working on that this long luxurious four-day weekend, I came across this picture of our volunteer day at WQED with Chris Fennimore. I thought it appropriate to post since we’re standing in his kitchen. The other ladies in the picture are fellow Sisters in Crime Pittsburgh siblings but as I studied the picture I found myself wondering: why is the only person afraid of the knife, me?

Monday, November 28, 2011


by Gina Sestak

OK.  Thanksgiving is over.  Christmas is three weeks away.  I've spent the four-day weekend resting, eating, hanging out with friends and relatives, watching dvds, and avoiding shopping.   So what do I write about?  I haven't got a clue.  I could rehash Thanksgiving themes or discuss the film treatment, screenplay or novel revisions I've been working on, or start in on the Bollywood addiction once again.  I think I've done these topics all to death.

So I'll open it up today:  how was your holiday?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Fun of Cross Genre Writing--All Things Dark and Dastardly

Please welcome guest blogger MARY ANN LOESCH. Mary Ann is an award winning fiction writer whose novel Nephilim was published by Lyrical Press Inc. You can learn more about her at or visit her blog, Loesch’s Muse.

The Fun of Cross Genre Writing—All Things Dark and Dastardly

I love reading mysteries or watching true crime shows on television. I admit to a horrible addiction to Dateline and 48 Hours Mysteries. My husband calls me an armchair detective, and when I notice myself analyzing the latest crime stories on the news, I have to agree with him.  I’m crazy for the mystery!

But I don’t write in the mystery genre. I’m an urban fantasy, horror, speculative fiction writer all the way. If it goes bump in the night, it’s because of a werewolf, vampire, or psychotic angel (yeah, they’re out there!) It’s never because of some husband cashing in on insurance fraud or vengeance from an angry wife. Of course, I think there is often an element of mystery in urban fantasy, horror, or even science fiction. It’s only the characters and the supernatural elements that make it a different genre.

When my writing group, All Things Writing, decided it was time to put together an anthology of our short stories, we weren’t sure how well that would work. Comprised of Steve Metze, Kaye George, and myself, All Things Writing is a mix of eclectic people with a strong love of the written word. The challenge was that none of us write in the same genre! The only thing we could see that linked our writing was the need to write short stories that had dark elements. Very dark. Sometimes even dastardly….

Viola! From that darkness came our anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly. A collection of thirteen short stories edited by the delightful Ramona DeFelice Long, this book is a fun walk down a very twisted path of prose. With titles like Finger in My Soup, Aliens vs. Fat Bastard, and Balls, the All Things Dark and Dastardly book provides the reader with a cross mix of genres that we hope will intrigue and cause a page turning frenzy. Each story is a little taste of urban fantasy, horror, mystery and even science fiction with a common link of unsettling darkness.

The process of putting together an anthology can either make or break a writing group. After all, you have to commit your time and energy into editing, meeting deadlines, and agreeing on the promotion plan. Luckily, I can walk away from the experience feeling like I’ve grown as a person and as a writer. Because of our desire to write in the differing genres, I’ve had the opportunity to study my fellow writers' genres of choice a bit closer. I think that is something many authors could benefit from! Observing Kaye and Steve’s work taught me how to edit manuscripts other than my own, provided invaluable writing techniques, and made me think about tweaking some of my processes. I’m not ready to sit down and write a mystery novel yet, but I can see it in my future.

Hmmm…but then again, it might need to be enhanced with a witch or two. Maybe a banshee. They never get enough play in stories these days…

You can purchase your copy of All Things Dark and Dastardly at Amazon or by visiting our website All Things Writing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Change for the Better

by Guest Blogger, Lois Lamanna

I frequently think about how it must have been for writers in the past. Where did Shakespeare get his paper? How did he send his manuscript to his publisher? What did he do when he made a mistake? What did he do if his publisher wanted an extra thousand words or a thousand words removed? Did he have a style guide, thesaurus and dictionary? Were any of his works rejected? Did Shakespeare’s children stand over his shoulder and say, “Dad, if you used a turkey quill instead of a pigeon feather you would be able to write faster?”

Growing up in suburbia, post World War II, I recall mobilizing the entire family to search the house whenever we needed a piece of paper and pencil for a phone message. (Did Shakespeare have a junk drawer in his kitchen?)

My first typewriter came from the toy department of K-Mart. I got it for Christmas when I was a freshman in college. It had a transistor radio built into the blue plastic case. I was humiliated when I carried it into my dorm. Everyone else had black manual typewriters, except my roommate. She had an electric typewriter. I’ll admit I lusted after it. When themes were due I pleaded to use her machine. I scoured the dorm for spare sheets of erasable bond paper.

I got an old, even for the early seventies, old typewriter from one of my professors. He offered it as a prize for selling candy for a campus organization. I hustled through the professors’ offices to win. I wrote my master’s thesis using that Olivetti. I pounded out lesson plans in triplicate.

(In spite of what my mother said about cracking my fingers, I think manual typewriters are the reason I have fat knuckles.)

Woe to anyone who made a mistake while typing on a manual typewriter, especially when you made the mistake in triplicate. You had to erase the error, sometimes resulting in a hole in the paper if you rubbed too hard with the little eraser pencil with a conveniently located brush on the other end. To precisely line up the page under the correct key, to type over the misspelled word, was a skill very few people mastered.

The white tape that covered the black mistake was a miracle and I would like to personally thank the person who invented White Out.

I wrote my first manuscript using pen and paper then painstakingly keying the words into my primitive computer each night. I spellchecked it. I grammar checked it. I saved it to disk. I printed it and sent the first thirty pages, via snail mail, to agents and publishers. I got rejected.

Now I get rejected at the coffee shop by way of email, one click of a button.

The writing experience has changed dramatically since Shakespeare’s time, but one thing hasn’t changed. My children stand behind me and say, “There is a better way.”

Backspace, delete, cut, paste. Don’t my kids realize that this is the better way?

Retired from teaching (a subject other than English), Lois Lamanna’s first novel Matrimony and Murder, is being released in December 2011 by Avalon Books. While exploring her other options, she is working at Macy’s, selling jewelry. She lives in Murrysville, PA with her husband and two dogs. When she is not working or writing, she enjoys baking cookies and working in her yard. “I’m glad I am finally going to be published; it justifies not dusting or running the vacuum.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My dog Rosie

by K.M. Humphreys

Rosie is my beagle mix.  We’re not really sure what she’s mixed with, but she’s not full bred.  My husband and I adopted her two years ago on October 17th
                She came into our lives as a scared little puppy.  Not a puppy really, she was six, but she acted like one and still does sometimes.  We believe she was abused and/or neglected prior to arriving at the shelter.  She was scared when the woman brought her into the little room where we get introduced.  Rosie didn’t want to come near us at first, but she eventually started coming near my husband after a few minutes.  It took her a little longer to come to me.
                At first we limited her access to certain areas of the house.  Now she has full access when we’re home, and only kept in our bedroom when we’re not home.  She loves our bedroom, or at least our bed.  It’s her favorite spot in the whole house.  Even when we are home, she is often found sleeping on our bed.  She also likes our sofa and the futon. 
                She’s overcome a lot of her shyness.  She still will run if a stranger tries to pay some attention to her.  With us she’s no longer scared.  She has a lot more energy than she did when we first got her. 
                It is said that dogs are a man’s best friend.  In our case she’s a woman’s best friend.  Rosie follows me around wherever I go in the house.  If she sees me get the keys out, she’s at the garage door hopeful for a car ride.  My husband will be petting her and as soon as she sees me, she walks away from him to come to me.  She mostly avoids my husband.   She only willingly goes to my husband when she’s scared – such as a big bad thunderstorm. 
                She is a silly puppy when it comes to eating.  She insists on dumping her food on the floor to eat it.  We always know when she’s eating as we hear her tilting the bowl and all the food falling to the mat we have under her dish.
                However, as she’s getting older, she has the possibilities of more illnesses.  We recently found a mass on her paw.  We took her to the vet to diagnose and they ended up doing a biopsy to make sure it wasn’t cancerous.  We are still waiting for the results. 
                While she was under the anesthesia, they also removed a cracked tooth, clipped her nails and cleaned her teeth.  She worries us when she gets sick.  We're just glad she's okay.

                She is the joy of our lives.  She’s our baby and we love her so.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Black Friday Reading with Jinny Wishmaker

by C.L. Phillips

At Working Stiffs, we tend to focus on mysteries and true crime, but I confess one of the mysteries I would like to understand better is how authors find their readers and get their books in the hands of those readers. A friend, D.D. Roy is trailblazing a new path to publication with Books on Board.  

I've asked D.D. to stop by and share what it's like to take a fast track to publication using a path you might not be aware exists.  We've all heard of Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but there are other excellent options for indie publishing like Books on Board.  

In one year, D.D. has published two novels.  The first, Baby Dust (written as Deanna Roy), is a touching novel about women and miscarriage, and now her middle grade novel, JINNIE WISHMAKER is the newest addition to the Books on Board world.  I've asked her to stop by and share her journey.  I read an early version of this novel and plan to spend my Black Friday (after Thanksgiving) reading with Jinnie Wishmaker.

Q: First, tell us about JINNIE WISHMAKER.

Jinnie is a story about a girl who discovers she can grant any living thing its one true wish. But no one really takes the time to consider what they might really want, so Jinnie's wishes have to wind their way from the original request to fulfilling the real need. Often the twists and turns of the wish are quite unexpected.

Q:  Will there be more JINNIE adventures?
Absolutely. From the beginning I knew that I would write a series revolving around kids with unusual and often unruly magical talents.

Q:  How did you connect with Books on Board?

I am part of a test group as they decide the best way to launch their services to indie authors. They want to be able to use their newsletters and marketing placement to help authors get noticed.

Q:  What does Books on Board provide you as an author?
Their services are still evolving, but so far they have placed me prominently in one of their emails to try and jumpstart sales. For authors who don't have a cover or book in epub format, they will assist with that. It isn't that different from Create Space, where you can do it yourself or you can buy packages.

Q:  What has been your biggest surprise in going through this process?

How FAST things happen. With my novel Baby Dust, there were page proofs and advance reader copies and blurb gathering. The process after the book was written took over a year. But with Jinnie, we went from manuscript to email blast to the entire customer base in two weeks.

Q:  What advice would you give to another author?

LEARN before you leap. About once a week, some agency or traditional publisher announces they are providing for-fee options to authors wanting to get their books out. Some are much better paths than others. Never get in a situation where you pay a company to do the easy things such as uploading to Kindle and Nook stores. Never agree to a forever percentage of your sales just to get an e-book formatted, which costs less than $100 to have done. And never agree to a terms of service on any web site without reading it. Publishing your work isn't like accepting a TOS on a new piece of software. You may be giving up very important rights that will lock you in forever. 

In closing, I'd like to let you in on a secret.  D.D. Roy, known as Deanna to her friends, has been leading the Novel-in-Progress group in Austin for many years.  She cat-herds an unusual band of merry wordsmiths, each nurturing their own dreams of publication. I'm tickled to see the universe giving back to someone who has toiled so long and without recognition to the writing community.  

I'd like to thank Deanna for stopping by today.  You'll find her replying to comments.  Ask her anything.   Ask her what it's like to see your words in print, and how you can make it happen even as you continue querying for the perfect agent.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cast Your Characters

Who can play the parts of your beloved characters?
By Pat Gulley

We seem to be talking a lot about actors and the parts they play in movies made from our favorite books. Not surprising, it seems Hollywood can never get it right. Well, let’s be honest—much as I hate to take their part—how can they. There are 10 million stories in the naked city……is just another way of saying, there are 7 billion opinions in the world AND still counting!!!

So, here’s the fun part and a promo op for all authors, whether it is your novel or short story, to do a little daydreaming about when Hollywood comes calling and who you’d like to see play the lead roll in your book. Surprisingly, to some, I don’t see my book as a big screen movie. I’d prefer to see it as a made for TV drama on a station women love to watch, and may watch more than once. By the way, most of my characters are in their fifties, with two in their forties. I used:

to find (and make sure) they were over 50 actresses. They have other age groups sites too.

So though I’d like to see Meryl Streep or Glen Close in the roll of Prudence Peters, my protagonist, or one of my antagonists (don’t read villain) Pru’s westcoast director, Donna Makely, I also like Jessica Lang or Sela Ward for Pru. OTOH, for attitude, I’m positive Sigourney Weaver or Holly Hunter could bring the attitude and hard business woman of Donna Makely alive. Holly and British actress Anna Massey could handle the eyebrow of Harriet Beecher Merriweather. 

So let’s hear it, put on your casting director hat, drag out a casting couch, and cast your book. Well not the whole list of characters, but two or three.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


By Paula Matter

*Barry Eisler didn’t look too happy either. However, he did stay in his chair.

What in the world am I talking about, you ask?

After woefully cancelling my registration to this year’s New England Crime Bake con, I became even sadder as the weekend approached.

How could it be that I would miss this fabulous experience? I’ve made the trip to Dedham, MA the past two years for this mystery con. I know many of the attendees, and a lot of them are people I get to see only once a year. My car knows the route. I can drive it in six hours regardless what Mapquest says. I was scheduled to work only one day, and I could easily ask someone to cover half my shift on Saturday morning. If I got on the road by 9:30, I’d have plenty of time.

What could possibly stop me?

Oh. I’d cancelled and they’d been sold out for weeks.


Since one of my mottoes is “It never hurts to ask,” I asked.

They said yes! Well, she said yes. Barb Ross, the wonderful lady in charge of registration, wrote back right away saying attending just the banquet would be no problem.


But it was a costume banquet. Hmmm. Who here does not know how much I love dressing up for costume parties?

That’s right. I simply had to get a costume.

The theme: Sleuths, Spies and Private Eyes. Nothing simple about it since time was limited. I read further down on the Web site page, and there, there it was! A category for “The Best of the Baddies.”

A villain? Oh, hell yeah.

Here's the photo the fabulous Mo Walsh took. Can you tell who I am?

Here’s a hint: When I told Nancy Pickard I was her number one fan, she jumped out of her chair, and tried to hide from me.

 After winning first place (the judges said they were too scared to not declare me the winner!), Hallie Ephron told me I could now call myself an award-winning writer. (Don’t worry. I’m only doing that today for a title.) Full disclosure: While there were many dressed in costumes for the other categories, mystery novelist Vincent H. O’Neil, and I were the only two  “Best of the Baddies.”

If I hadn’t scared the judges, Vinnie had a good shot at winning as Professor Moriarty.

And just to show y'all the judges weren't really scared, here's another photo:

I have to share one more photo with y'all. Nikki Bonanni (on left) won Best Overall and here's why:

                                               Lisbeth Salander, Harriet Vane & Emma Peel

Thanks to everyone at Crime Bake. See you next year!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Story Masters : The Emotional Landscape

by C.L. Phillips

Would anyone like a ringside seat to the detailed recap of the Story Masters workshop in Houston Texas, held November 4-6, 2012?  The first day kicked off with eight hours of Donald Maass.  What follows are the key questions and statements from his lecture.  Hope you enjoy!

What moves reader's hearts?  The emotional landscape.  

 How do you get in touch with that emotional landscape?  Answer these questions:

1)  What is the feeling you are most afraid to put on the page? 

2)  What do you avoid?

3)  What would people not understand?

4)  When does this feeling occur in my life?

5)  What feeling makes you tremble when it occurs?  Who provokes it?  How does it manifest in your life?  How do you know ou are having this feeling?

Answer these questions in detail, and you have an authentic feeling backed with reason.  Find an example of this feeling from your own life and ask where you can place this feeling into your protagonist's journey.

Now of course, I have more notes, but I thought these questions make a nice exercise.  If you read the questions one at a time, work on the answer for three minutes and then move to the next question, you will have wonderful material.

When I attended the workshop, I'd recently finished two manuscripts, so I made a set of tables for each, and worked on both novels at the same time.  What made that fun was the fact that I had to work so fast I couldn't edit any thoughts that came into my head.

So my advice for today - lock and load.  Lock down the questions.  Load up the answers and don't look back.  Your story may be gaining on you.

In Nanowrimo we trust....

Keep writing!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Baby Steps

By Martha Reed

Writing is a funny business. I can get an idea and let it stew for years before somehow it magically connects to another interesting bit and suddenly the two ideas link together and I have the suggestion for a story. People ask me where I get my ideas, and since I’ve been working on a short story lately I thought I would dissect the process a bit, to share the writing life.

For this story, the title came first. I was walking the beach in Florida when I saw a funny tree. It looked sort of like a mangrove tree with a palm tree sticking up out of the top. Like this one:

I asked a friend what kind of tree it was and she said: That’s a Strangler Fig. Well, you can’t give me a name like that and not expect me to use it.

Next, since I write crime fiction, I had to imagine the crime. I wanted to set the story in Florida, which is full of retired folks living in gated communities feeling all protected, so I imagined the one thing furthest from their minds, a home invasion.

I decided to contrast the generations by putting an elderly couple in their home with the invasion coming via a teenager for contrast. I had to make the teenager the bad guy, so I had him abandon his friends, leaving them to take the heat while he split with the loot. The story was shaping up.

I started casting around for character color. This is where I wanted to play with the readers mind a bit. I decided the elderly couple would be retired ex-Navy, but decided that the medals on display, which included a Purple Heart would belong to HER. Ah, twist #1.

I’m not going to give you any more, because then you won’t need to read THE STRANGLER FIG, which I’m hoping to have it polished up and ready to go by the end of the year.

Here’s today’s questions: What’s your process? How do you start a new story? As I'm sure you've heard before, where do you get your ideas?

Monday, November 14, 2011


    by Gina Sestak

Good morning, all.  You may notice I'm posting a little later than usual today.

I would like to blame it on technology.  In fact, I titled this post with that in mind.  You know about the wonder of technology, right?  You always wonder why it never works.

It isn't that electronics have been working around here.  I've lost internet and telephone service both repeatedly in the past month.  [Comcast.  Enough said?]  I could have easily blamed today's late start on something breaking down.

But I decided to come clean.  I've been racking my brains, trying to think of what to write about this time.  Nothing much is happening in my personal life.  The new roommate is settled in.  Everything seems to be going fine on that front and, as I've said before, the cat likes her.

I'm not overly fond of the cat right now.  She has developed a habit of yowling at me in the morning, when she's not trying to trip me on the stairs.  I've mentioned before that, due to my Bollywood obsession and desire to minimize reliance on subtitles, I've been trying to learn Hindi.  I get up at 5:00 a.m. and spend 30 minutes on a Pimsleur lesson every morning.  Kala sits on the floor out of reach and meows, apparently trying to drown out the speakers on the CD.   I don't know why.  I feed her before the lesson starts, make sure she has everything she needs.  This morning she bolted her food, then threw it up on the rug right in the middle of the lesson.  Yecchh.  I had to stop and clean it up.  The lessons are still focusing on teaching me to say things like "I like tea" and "We want to buy some gasoline."  No mention yet of cats or mundane crises.

I have today and tomorrow off work so I tried to get into One Shot as an extra.  I'm on Nancy Mosser's mailing list, but when I got the email late last week and called in, the man who answered said they already had everyone they need.  I'm supposedly on the back-up list, in case the people scheduled fail to show.   Nobody has called.  I feel rejected.

I'm happy to be working part-time though.  Two days a week is great - I'm earning enough to live on (since both house and car are paid off) and I have free time to do the things I like: writing and taking classes.

Classes first.  I'm auditing an undergrad film class at Pitt - Bollywood, of course - and have been taking a short class through Pitt's Osher Lifetime Learning Institute on August Wilson.  That man really had a way with language.

Writing.  Well.  I'm trying to gear up to write a short screenplay for this year's Steeltown contest.  Hobart Writers is talking about writing one as a group project again this year - see my post Screenwriting With Cake for more information about last year's effort.  I'm still working on a detailed treatment of another film project with Alcyone Pictures, meeting once or twice a week and writing on the off-days.  Then there's the manuscript I've been revising.  Another writing exercise in futility, I fear.

And this post, which seems to be a stream of consciousness ramble.

What else.  What else.

I lead a dull and boring life.

I haven't folk danced much for a few months due to pain in my left leg.  Chiropractic treatment and a week of steroids have been helping some, but it still hurts.

I haven't gone anywhere.  A few movies, both Indian.  Ra.One, a wonderfully entertaining super hero/ special effects extravaganza, and Sthaniya Sambaad, an award-winning serious film.  One of the Sthaniya Sambaad filmmakers, Moinak Biswak, spoke after the screening but the cousin I went with had to leave early, so I missed most of what he had to say.

Here's a short clip from Ra.One:

Back to writing.  Does it count that I am writing this????

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Over Here

November 11 is Veterans Day--known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other countries. November 11 has been celebrated since 1918 to commemorate the Armistice that brought an end to the War to End All Wars.

If World War 1 had actually ended all wars, this year would be particularly significant. The last American World War 1 veteran died on February 27 of this year. His name was Frank Buckles. He was 105 years old. During World War 1, Frank Buckles served as an ambulance driver near the front lines in Europe. In his final years, he advocated for support of the National World War 1 Memorial in Washington, D.C.  He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, although a few strings had to be pulled because he’d never fought in combat. On the day of Buckles' burial, President Obama ordered flags be flown at half-staff in Buckles’ honor.

If the War to End All Wars had ended all wars, there would be no more living veterans in the United States to honor this year. Veterans Day could be retired as a holiday. The war veteran could go the way of the dodo bird. Extinct. Alive only in art, stories, and oral history. 

I would love to be writing today about the extinction of war veterans. Sadly, I can’t. Instead, I will write a little—just a little--about Dover Air Force Base. 

I’ve never actually been on Dover AFB. I’ve seen it from the highway on my way to the beach downstate in Delaware. What I see of Dover AFB from the highway are tall fences, huge airplanes, and nondescript buildings. 

I’ve been on the beach a few times when C-40s fly over on the way to Dover. Everyone stops frolicking in the waves or digging in the sand to stare up at  the giant planes, wondering if today they are carrying equipment, or supplies, of the bodies of war dead. 

Dover AFB is the mortuary for soldiers killed abroad. Their remains are returned to U.S. soil at Dover, and only at Dover. It is impossible to live in Delaware and not be cognizant of this. The belief has always-always-been that the remains of our fallen soldiers were treated with the utmost respect. This week, that was proven to be wrong. 

I won’t write much about the scandal unrolling except to report this. No one is rioting in Dover. No one is occupying the base. I’m not sure why. Do soldiers and their families not protest that way? 

There was a moment in American history when a group of war veterans did just that. Ironically, the soldiers were veterans of World War 1. They went to Washington D.C. because, equally ironically, they could not find work in a terrible economy, and they wanted Congress’ help. They weren’t beggars, not any more than a veteran seeking government help would be called  a beggar today. 

To simplify a complicated story, in 1924 Congress voted to award bonuses to World War 1 veterans. The bonuses, based on a soldier’s pay plus interest, could not be redeemed until 1945. That was Congress’ intent. But in 1932, in the black hole of the Great Depression, veterans were hungry, hopeless, and desperate. You’ve seen photos of vets selling apples on street corners. That year, veterans wanted their bonuses. They’d earned them. They needed them. They couldn’t wait 13 more years.

A group of WWI veterans marched to the nation’s capital to appeal for early redemption of the promised bonus. 17,000 soldiers plus their families and supporters eventually swelled to 45,000 people. The group was nicknamed the Bonus Army. In the summer of 1932, they squatted in tents in a makeshift settlement—a Hooverville—in the Anacostia Flats section of Washington.

A Bonus Bill was introduced to award early payment of the bonuses. In June of 1932, the bill was defeated by the Senate.  The Bonus Army had nowhere to go and no money to go there. They waited for President Hoover to act in their behalf. After all, they were veterans, not beggars. They’d brought their wives and children—their families. All they wanted was to receive what was due them, what had been voted on and promised, to honor them for participating in the war that was supposed to have ended all wars.

The Hooverville was a slum. Anacostia was a muddy, insect-infected swamp. There were masses of humans with no steady food supply, no plumbing, nowhere to dump garbage. Tension began to run high. The local police chief was sympathetic and encouraging, but flare-ups and small altercations broke out.

Finally, President Hoover acted. He instructed the U.S. Army to evict the Bonus Army out of the city. 

The force that expelled the Bonus Army was led by General Douglas MacArthur. He was supported by a tank division led by General George Patton. Major Dwight Eisenhower was one of Patton’s aides. MacArthur, it has been recorded, believed that the veterans’ camp had been infiltrated and supported by Communists. He ordered the “eviction” be conducted with infantry wielding bayonets and cavalry on horseback, both supported by six tanks.

The eviction turned into a melee that turned into a riot. The veterans’ Hooverville was torched. The Bonus Army was driven across the river and out of the city. Three veterans were killed, 54 injured, over 130 arrested. 

It was a publicity nightmare for Hoover. A year later, after he was defeated by Franklin Roosevelt, another contingent of Bonus veterans marched. FDR did not support their demands, but he did authorize a proper campsite and delivery of meals. In 1936 a Bonus Bill was passed to award the bonuses early. 

If this bit of American history is news to you, don’t feel badly. There was no 24-hour news cycle in 1932. If there was, can you imagine a sitting President ordering an armed assault on U.S. veterans?

The three military leaders became heroes in the next world war. That one didn’t end all wars, either. Nor did the Korean Conflict, or the wars in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. 

And in the skies over Dover, Delaware, C-40s continue to bring home the war dead.

You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.  ~Jeanette Rankin

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Solitary Writer

Please welcome Guest Blogger Mary Sutton to Working Stiffs. Mary is one of this year's survivors of the recent Sisters in Crime Writers' Retreat. In other words, she's been initiated into the sisterhood.

The image is iconic. The writer sits in a darkened room, hunched over, alone. Maybe an empty bottle of wine and an overflowing ashtray sit nearby. The writer is solitary, an observer and scribe. She observes and creates. She is the lone wolf. Others may pass through her territory, but nobody stays for long.

At least, that’s how I always thought of writing. Oh, I had friends who claimed writing aspirations. I have a family that supports my efforts. But the work was down to me. Others could be my cheering section, but they could not help me create the words.

At least, that’s what I used to think. A couple weeks ago, I had the good fortune to participate in a weekend writers’ retreat sponsored by the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime. I spent a weekend with five other women, all writers, learning, discussing and improving our craft.

It was glorious. For the first time since, well, ever I realized the tremendous value in finding a community of writers in which to work and play. The critique session Friday night gave me a lot to think about. My sibs had suggestions and I could see their points. But I was stumped as to how to start implementing their suggestions and changing my manuscript.

Then the most wonderful thing happened. I mentioned my troubles during a conversation. And the suggestions flowed forth. “You could do this.” “Have your detective do that.” “The motive isn’t strong enough; you could change things up to incorporate this.”

I’m told I spent two hours in oblivion working. I’ll take their word for it. After those two hours, I asked, “Does this sound too hokey and farfetched?” More feedback poured forth. It was glorious and energizing.

Community also provides personal validation. When I tell most people I’m a writer, they look at me funny. That weekend, when I said, “Do your characters ever talk to you and take your story in a completely different direction?” the reaction was vigorous nodding and cries of “All the time!” instead of looks of concerned distress. Finally, a group that understood: having your characters “talk” to you is a natural part of writing and not a reason to call the folks with the funny jackets.

So it may be true that writing is solitary in that I’m the only one who can put the words on the screen. But I no longer think of myself as a “lone wolf.” I’m part of a pack. I may hunt alone, but my pack will be there when I need them – with ideas, moral support, or a shake to bring me back to reality.

That’s not solitary at all.

Mary grew up devouring Agatha Christie novels and dreaming of being a published author. Years later, the dream has come half-true. A technical writer by day, Mary recently completed her first novel and hopes to write many more. She lives in Verona with her husband and two children.