it’s a trip . . .

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

Archive for Lessons from friends

Lessons learned from friends — Rachel Greenaway

home of Canada's next great mystery author

home of Canada's next great mystery writer

Rachel Greenaway (aka Zoe) is a Canadian writer. (But we won’t hold that against her.) She’s actually become a treasured writing partner. I talked her into joining an online workshop and by the end of the summer only Rachel and I were left standing. Everyone else had bailed out.

Rachel is even-tempered, kind, and also has a good sense of humor. She’s generous with her praise and thorough and constructive in her critiques. She’s been writing police procedurals for ten years now and has a whole passel of them completed–I’m in awe. So yes, I certainly have learned from Rachel that there’s no substitute for effort or perseverance.

But the thing I want to talk about in this post is Rachel’s fresh figurative language. She pairs verbs with nouns, often personifying inanimate objects in novel and appealing ways. Let me share some of her phrasing with you, to illustrate:

  • “For the third time Holden cranked the key and pumped the gas.  The car rumbled awake again…”
  • “Dion gazed from his capsule outward, at fields alive with bugs and birds, a broad sky hazy with heat and dust, a lot of frothy silver-green trees in the far distance, slowly swelling.”
  • “She sat still, hands on the wheel, looking up at stark poplar branches chopping the clouded sky into dark grey wedges.”
  • “Evangline lounged on the sofa in a gauzy, pastel-green dress shot through with metallic threads.”

Every chapter evidences this kind of care and ingenuity in description. It’s just one of the things that makes her writing a pleasure to read.

And she’s set the bar high in terms of freshness that I’m working harder to even come close. You can read more about Rachel and her work at her nifty writer’s website, Mystery North.


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).

lessons from friends #1 – kirk ort



Tonight marks the first post in a series called “Lessons from Friends.” Through various online writing sites and competitions, I’ve been exposed to others’ writing, have reviewed their work, and, of course, tried to learn from their example. In my case, I’ve wisely befriended most of these writers.

For my first “Lessons from Friends” post, I’d like to begin with an extraordinarily talented writer and my most stalwart and longstanding writing partner Kirk Ort.

Kirk specializes in historical fiction. Unlike me (I write contemporary stories), he has the particular burden or pleasure of transporting the reader to a wholly different place and time. One of the things I like about Kirk’s writing and the thing he does almost better than any writer I know is place the reader in the setting seamlessly. No long drawn-out Michener-esque descriptions in any of Kirk’s historical stories (in the 21st century, who among us has the luxury of indulging in description to the extent Michener did? And I liked James Michener. I read many of his books). Instead, Kirk pulls the reader into the scene efficiently and effectively via character’s actions. Take a look at  the opening paragraph to his newest book: THE ADVENTURES OF KATE DARLING.

“With a creak and a bang the hatch cover was thrown open and sunlight streamed down into the fetid cargo hold. Kate Darling, lying in a heap atop a bale of trade goods, raised her head and squinted into the dazzling light.”

The first sentence of his novel transports us to a castaway’s world on a sailing ship. In one sentence, through his careful choice of nouns and verbs (and two adjectives), he’s done a wondrous thing. Does anyone reading this not have a clear picture in his/her head of when and where this novel takes place within forty words?

A few paragraphs later, he combines action and description following direct dialogue, evoking Kate’s surroundings and Kate’s appearance herself in a sentence.

“All right, Mr. Smithers, I’ll go quietly,” said Kate. “And I do thank you for your many kindnesses.” She shook some of the dust and bits of filth from her skirt and adjusted the bodice of her frock to better accommodate its fulsome cargo before pulling herself onto the first steps of the ladder.”

I don’t think there are many readers among us who would say, “Gosh, you conveyed the setting while describing the action. I’m so bummed. I was looking forward to reading lots of exposition.”

Kirk’s writing taught me the value of conveying description without stopping the action, rather by incorporating it into the action.  Is it any wonder he won second place in our writing site’s strongest start competition.

Thanks, Kirk, for an exemplary lesson that I strive to include in my writing more than you know.

  • Top Posts

  • 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.