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Words, words, words

To writers and readers and all other citizens of the world:

 What you say matters, but not as much as how you say it.


My friend Joycelyn sent me a YouTube link with the message: A goose flesh moment.

I don’t usually click on such links. I get too many of them and life is too short. But because it sent shivers up Joycelyn’s back, and because I respect her judgment, I clicked on it.


A homeless man with a sign sitting in a public place.  Now and then a plink as a passerby tossed him a coin.  Until…

No, I won’t tell you.  You should watch it:



Change your words,

Change the world.



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While You Are Twiddling Your Thumbs. . .

“Owwww!” As I helped my husband turn the mattress, my already injured thumb got yanked and twisted. I cradled my throbbing hand and moaned, “It sticks out like a sore thumb!”

Original? Nope.  But its oh so appropriate.

Most of us speak (or roar or whisper or moan) common idioms without giving them the first thought.  I mean, really, there’s nothing unique about a sore thumb.  Yet people have been saying “it sticks out like a sore thumb” to describe something oddly out of place since at least the middle of the 16th century. Maybe that’s the whole point.  We all understand the awkwardness of a sore thumb.  

Look at how well these other thumb idioms also work: 

  • If you’re tired of being under his thumb, take charge!
  • I keep dropping things.  I’m all thumbs today!
  • Your plants look wonderful!  You obviously have a green thumb.
  • No transportation?  Don’t thumb a ride.  Hitch-hiking can be dangerous. 
  • If you thumb your nose at the idea, you had better be ready to offer one of your own.
  • Thumb through this new magazine.  If you like it, you may want to subscribe.
  • The board gave your proposal a thumbs down?  Maybe you can bring it up again later.
  • As a rule of thumb, I plant my garden in May. (I hate this one! It came from 17th century English Judge Sir Francis Buller who allegedly ruled that it was A-OK for a husband to beat his wife with a stick, so long as it was no wider then his thumb!  Ugh!)

Okay, that’s my thumb list.  What is your favorite… or least favorite… idiom?  Any particular reason?

“It’s like Tolstoy said. Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story.”

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

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Before Freedom…

Human trafficking statistics:

800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year.

50% are children, 80% women and girls

1 million children are exploited by the global commercial sex trade, every year.

70% of trafficked women and girls are trafficked into the commercial sex industry.

$32 billion–Yearly profits brought in by the human trafficking industry.

$15.5 billion of that is made in industrialized countries.

244,000 – Estimated number of American children and young people estimated to be at risk

12-14 years – Average age of entry into prostitution

In 2009, the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit in the U.S, along with theU.S. Attorneys’ Offices, charged 114 individuals, and obtained 47 convictions in 43 human trafficking prosecutions (21 labor trafficking and 22 sex trafficking).  This is highest number of prosecutions and defendants charged in any given year.

That’s all??

That’s the bad news.  Next post, better news.

 “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”

William Wilberforce


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Defining Moments

Many of us have a defining moment in our lives. Mine is the fire that roared through my neighborhood and destroyed my home on June 27, 1990, at 6:35 p.m.  I think I will forever mark time as BF and AF—before the fire and after the fire.

It happened during a perfect storm of events.  My husband was ill, and the fire seemed to be the tipping point. He went steadily downhill until his death seven years later.  My children, such an important part of my life, went away to school that fall.  My income as a writer had been an important part of our family finances, but I lost three books in progress and another just completed but not yet submitted, as well as a screenplay a movie producer had asked to see.  It took two full years to redo what I had already been paid for.  And because of my husband’s condition, I had the daunting task of replacing a house and everything in it by myself. 

That’s the downside.  But defining moments also have an upside. BF, I had no idea of my own strength.  How could I?  It had never been testing. Idiscovered that I could handle the finances and rewrite a book in less than a month and hire an architect and builder.  I could care for my husband and be his advocate.  BF, I had no idea of my children’s strength, either. I watch them today and wonder how much of who they are was seared into them by that fire. I learned the importance of perspective.  It was, after all, just a house.  I learned the difference between people you know and real friends.  And I learned the truth behind the words from the Apostle Paul: 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:35-39

Yet every year as I turn the calendar page to June, I remember.

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

Albert Einstein


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7 Steps to Writing Historical Fiction

I just got two more books in the mail today. That makes six books on various aspects of a murky time in Ireland’s history, the subject of a book I’m just starting. I love writing historical fiction because I love to read it. Getting totally immersed in a rollicking good story, then discovering you’re a quasi-expert on a particular era in history?  What could be more fun!

But the only way historical novels work is if the story is rollicking good, and the history is accurate.  These 7 steps will get you off to a good start:

  1. Read the kind of books you’d like to write.  Historical romance?  Historical mystery?  Historical adventure? Each is different in pace and approach.  Also read about the period of history that interests you.  A book on the crusades will much different than one set during the Roaring 20s.
  2. Consult many different sources.  Authors make mistakes. They also tend to tweak facts to fit their stories.  But readers of historical fiction expect you to know what you’re talking about, and to get your facts right. If you don’t, you will hear about it.
  3. Know your setting. I personally make it a rule not to write about places I haven’t been.  True, Ireland has changed since the seventeenth century.  But it is still Ireland.  I can describe the green hills in spring, and the baby lambs gamboling through it, far better for having spent time there.  And since I’ve pretty much traveled the entire island, I have an idea of the difference between the east and west coast, between the north and south.
  4. Lay out your story.  Your story doesn’t really have to be rollicking, but it must be compelling.  All your research will mean nothing if you fail to build a good story.
  5. Gather reference pictures.  What do your characters look like?  What makes a ship of the era unique?  If you refer to something in particular—a locket, say, or weapon or a unique toy—have a picture of it before you.
  6. Decide on the manner of dialogue.  It’s important to establish and hold onto the flavor of your characters, but I can tell you from experience, it is really hard to tell a story in dialect.  Telling your story from third person will help.  Also, decide on a few patterns of speech you can use consistently, then let go of the rest.
  7. Keep your story moving. I know, I know, the history tempts you to slow down and throw in a few more interesting tidbits.  But your story must continue to be engaging. If you lose that, you’ll just be writing another history book. 

 Write on!

 “To see the years touch ye gives me joy,” he whispered, “for it means that ye live.”

Author Diana Gabaldon, Outlander


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Plotting Lessons Movie Style

After years of writing non-fiction, I tiptoed into the world of mystery fiction. I had a lot of challenges, but perhaps the greatest was getting past movie clichés.  Biggest groaners:  

1. Never Trust the Nice Guy… or Girl: The more innocent a person seems, the more he or she is likely to be guilty.  (If the bad guy is wearing thick gloves, it’s a she.)                                                       

2.  Speeding Cars Can Fly: You know the routine: a good guy speeds downLombard StreetinSan Franciscoat 90 miles an hour.  He misses a curve, tops a hill, and suddenly he’s airborne. Of course, the car lands back on its wheels and good guy continues on as though nothing was out of the ordinary.

3. Bad Guys Are Terrible Shots: They all talk big, but boy are they lousy with a gun. The good guy has little trouble dodging the bullets, even when they come from all sides at once. 

4. It’s Always the Right Time for a Soliloquy: No one, good guy or bad, seems able to resist. They have to explain their plan in detail.  Or brag on and on about their genius. Or expound upon the lesson to be learned. Come on, guys, get on with it.

5. Any Dope Can Access Top-Secret Files: No, you don’t need Julian Assange and his Wiki leaks. Anyone with a computer, it seems, can pop into a coffee shop and hack into the most guarded government database.

6. No Emergency Room for Me! Movie people aren’t like us. Beat them up, stomp on them, drown them, shoot them—they always get up, dust themselves off, and walk away spouting a wise crack.  It’s a miracle.  Maybe, after a really serious encounter one will need a steak for a black eye, but that’s about the extent of it.

 7. If a Car Rolls Over, It Will Explode: You’d think all the good guys would have lawsuits pending with auto companies, but they seem to take those exploding cars in stride. 

8. “Oh, Wow, I’m Out of Bullets!” Okay, guys, we all count the shots and know what’s coming.  How come you never seem to? 

Those are my favorite don’t-let-this-happen-to-you movie clichés.  How about you?

 High Noon is a pretty corny movie.”

Robert Duvall

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5 Steps to Writing a Book Synopsis

I like to write.  It feels really good to be in my comfy desk chair, my research piled around me, my fingers flying over the keyboard. What I don’t so much care for is all the extra stuff writers need to do, such as writing a synopsis.  Still, I know it is an important part of any proposal.  No synopsis, no book deal.

So how can you write a successful synopsis?  Follow these 5 steps:

  1. Start Right.  Your first paragraph should be sharp enough to grab the editor’s attention.  Think of it as a possible jacket blurb.  Establish the mood and tone right at the beginning.
  2. Introduce your Main Characters. Flesh them out enough to make them real, but leave out what is not essential. Succinctly lay out their motivations, conflicts, and goals.
  3. Construct the Body of Your Synopsis. Tell your story, taking care to include the high points—conflicts and resolutions–in the order in which they occur. Include a few bits of dialog–strong lines (funny, exciting, interesting) that reveal important information.  Keep your writing tight.
  4. End with the Crisis and Final Resolution. Nope, don’t keep the editor guessing about how your story ends.  Make the resolution as compelling as possible.
  5. Edit Until it is the Best You Can Make it:  Rewrite until every word and every sentence is right. Be certain the synopsis is entirely written in the present tense. Keep it concise but strong; the best length is no more than three pages. 

 Easy?  Nope.  Important?  Absolutely!

“Every writing project must be reduced before you start to write.”

William Zinsser, On Writing Well


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