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tips, quotes, insights, and lessons about writing and publishing learned the hard way

Archive for creativity

Quirks, anyone?

I like quirks in characters. In my favorite cozy mystery series written by the late Lawrence Sanders, Archie McNally has many of them–from unusual clothes items such as colorful berets to telling you what he eats at every meal to pet sayings such as, “One never knows, do one?”

Archie McNally is beloved for his quirks and not just by me.

Archie McNally is beloved for his quirks and not just by me.

I think quirks can elevate characters above stereotypes, too. Though I’ve met some unusual people, I can’t say most of the people I know are quirky. (But then I wouldn’t want to read about them either.) Whenever I’ve met someone in real life with a quirk, it’s always stuck with me, and some of my family members and friends have found themselves in my stories. For instance, my older brother is very anal retentive about his pepper. He has seven kinds of pepper, each in its own mill, clearly labeled, and arranged on his stove top from mild to hot. Well, I couldn’t let that juicy little item go by. Of course I gave my FBI agent some anal retentive qualities and used those pepper mills in his kitchen, causing the protagonist to say, “Seven mills? Sounds like a tax rate.”

Anyhoo, so if you don’t know particularly quirky folks whose habits you can infuse into your characters or if you suffering from brain drain and can’t think of any qualities particular different or downright strange with which to imbue your characters, then you need to  hit some sites that role players use. Role players have identified tons of quirks on their websites and forums, more than you could ever think of if you sat down to come up with quirks and had an endless supply of paper, two free hours, and a Red Bull.

For example, I spent less than a minute on a Dungeons & Dragons  forum called 1001 Character Quirks and found lists of tasty quirks such as:

  • keeps a bag filled with little jars of dirt from each nation he’s been to
  • insomniac
  • contradicts everyone about absolutely anything even the pointless things
  • constantly catches bugs and keeps them as pets in containers, isn’t aware of their need for sustenance and is deeply upset when they die
  • always steals people’s stories and doesn’t keep track of which story came from who hence occasionally tells a stolen story to the person he stole it from.
  • has an obsession with peoples ears or other body part

Then of course there’s a blog post called 100 Character Quirks You Can Steal From Me.

And many, many other rich sources you can find within minutes on the Web.

Now, of course, you can’t stuff all these quirks into your book characters. But if you carefully choose one or two, you may end up with a much more novel novel than you ever imagined.

By the way, pardon my infrequent posting. I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year and am going to try my very best to hit that 50,000 word count and be a winner this year.


Lessons learned from friends . . . Ian Healy

Feel free to argue this point, but the thing that separates the successful from the unsuccessful, the published from the unpublished is sheer perseverance–to keep writing, writing, writing–through block, snow, sleet, hail or dark of mind.

Author, blogger, man about the Internet Ian Healy is on the fast-track to success

Author, blogger, man about the Internet Ian Healy is on the fast-track to success

I can’t name another writer in my acquaintanceship who better exemplifies perseverance and gritty determination than Ian Healy.

I don’t know how he does it. He’s already written 15,000+ words on his novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I have 4,700 words, and I feel successful. He’s topped 15K and feels like he’s failing.

He’s also done NaNo numerous times, earning badges for completing his 50,000 words in several successive Novembers.

He’s got two blogs, he authors a web comic, and one of his books was named to the top 100 in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest last year. And when I blogged regularly, he always made it around to a lot of people’s blogs and made comments, mine included.

I was supposed to have posted this yesterday, but I ended up going to bed early. I was up way too late on election night.

But as soon as I put this post to bed, I intend to go add to my measly word count, inspired by writing mate Ian Healy.

Yes, Ian’s work deserves to be published. But make no mistake about it. When it is published, it will be because he’s earned it. He works harder than any other writer I know.

And I will always fall short, by comparison, but am nonetheless awed  by his determination.

lessons from friends #2 – Lori Bentley-Law

"Orange Crush" One of the things I learned from writer Lori Bentley-Law is the value of digging deep for an original story line in fiction. In at least two of her books, MOTOR DOLLS and THE UNDERGROUNDERS, she pushes herself, never settling for the comfortable or easy premise. As a result her work has a freshness and a creative abandon to it I have tried to emulate, a quality that will surely lift her work above the cliched stuff glutting agents’ in-boxes.

The first chapter of MOTOR DOLLS, entitled “Orange Crush” opens up with one of the protagonists, an artist with an irrepressible joie de vivre, jumping into a vat of orange dye just to see what it feels like.

“In perfect form, Jeda raised her arms and bent at the knees. With one more deep breath, she sprang from the ledge, executing a swan dive into the vat of swirling orange dye.”

Perhaps because Lori is an artist herself, a videographer by profession, she has the artist’s worldview that makes artists so engaging when they turn to writing.

Since I am more familiar with THE UNDERGROUNDERS, her YA novel, I’ll pay special tribute to that one  in this post. I have a YA novel, too, but mine is grounded in (or maybe I should say weighed down) by my own experience and limited by my preconceived notions that I have to represent life as it is. However, consider Lori’s premise for THE UNDERGROUNDERS:

“Weird stuff is happening to thirteen-year old Viola DeMarron, and it sure the heck isn’t puberty—unless puberty consists of getting sucked Underground to have deep and meaningful conversations with the roots of vegetables and the Tenders who care for them. After waking to find mud on her feet, it dawns on her these episodes must be more than freaky dreams.”

Viola has a nose like a potato. While underground, she chats up a gregarious carrot and consoles a grumpy turnip, that is, after she diagnoses him with club root.

One of Lori's clever characters

one clever carrot!

This past summer, I wrote my strongest short story ever. It was based on a woman with a hen’s nose and elephant ears–a woman who looked like a Dr. Seuss character and had a Grinch of time meeting men because of her frightful face.  Had I not admired Lori’s work and spent so much time enjoying it and happily studying it, I might never have ventured out of my own comfortable art-is-life skin and into a more fantastic story line.

Thanks, Lori, for showing me that when something feels so comfortable in one’s writing in very little time, it may be because the writer has seen it or done it before.  Lori’s storytelling shows me what is possible when a writer really pushes herself not to settle for what is comfortable and familiar in one’s writing and how successful one can be as a result.

P.S. Lori also (informally) tutors her friends in the craft of writing by lesson and by example–look at this week’s craft tip, which Rachel Greenaway shared with me, something she learned from Lori (aka Modobenny).

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  • my author bio . . .

    I began writing creatively three years ago, fueled by midlife and a Curves' addiction. Since then, I have published short work in The Christian Science Monitor and Sirens Magazine in the same year. How's that for versatility!
    Sirens Magazine

    Sirens Magazine

    Also the Duck & Herring Company's Pocket Field Guide, The Giggle Water Review, Alighted, Wet Ink Press, America's Funniest Humor, Brilliant!, Laughter Loaf, Flash-Flooding, and the Greensilk Journal where my short story, "How I Boinked John Cusack" won editor's pick.
    The Greensilk Journal

    The Greensilk Journal

    My newest novel, THE SHAKER PROPOSAL, has received numerous accolades, the latest a fifth-place in the 2008 annual NWA (National Writing Association) Novel Contest.


    I am a marketing professional by vocation (but not by choice). My husband and I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—the sounds, sites, smells, and flavors of which are a never-ending source of literary inspiration.