Life Skills - In & Out of the Writing Life

Back in the day (pre-electricity, automobiles and supermarkets), people needed life skills to survive. Today, we’re fortunate not to need as many such skills. But I’m always astonished at skills people have honed not out of necessity, but just because. My friends and family can do everything from change their own engine oil to sew lovely quilts. 

I took a few minutes to interview someone I know (me) to find out what skills she has, and doesn’t have:

1. Write – yes, I can! It may not always be worth publishing, but I can write and enjoy it, too.

2. Milk a goat – thanks to the summer my kids raised 4-H dairy goats. It was maaaarvalous, but not something I care to repeat any time soon.

3. Blow up a balloon using the 2 Ls: Lips and lungs. I may pass out afterward, but I can do it! Next time you throw a party, you know who to call. Just have smelling salts nearby.

4. Sew on a button: piece of cake, as long as you don’t examine the handiwork too closely.

5. Make small talk: I’ve accumulated enough trivia to discuss nearly any subject from the Bhagavad Gita to zoologist Jane Goodall. If you want to talk old Hollywood with me, bring a sleeping bag and jammies. I could talk for days.

Life Skills I Lack – Confession Time: 

1. If you expect some fancy playing card shuffling, better not invite me to your next poker game; that’s all I’m saying.

2. If the only spot left to park requires parallel parking, you’ll find me and my vehicle blocks away where parallel parking isn’t an option.

3. Folding sheets? Who’re you gonna call? Not me, unless you are thrilled by odd shapes and funny angles.

4. Do you need a dress shirt ironed? Run like the wind if you see me coming, iron in hand.

5. It’s the holiday season and there are gifts to be wrapped. See number three above regarding odd shapes. And yes, run like the wind, too, if I’m carrying scissors, tape and wrapping paper.

Now you know!

Getting into Character: Interview Questions

Character building. We all do it when we’re writing our fictional books – mysteries in particular. We do our best to create memorable characters who get into situations interesting enough for readers to want to follow and learn more. How to come up with character traits for each of our fictional people?

Through a character interview, of course. Here’s a list of twenty questions I’ve posed to the characters who populate my Southern California Mystery series:

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS – Pretend you’re answering for each of your characters. (And always ask WHY?)

  1. What makes you happy? Sad? Angry? Nervous?
  2. What do you like best about yourself? Least?
  3. What is your greatest fear?
  4. Is there anything you’d like to change about your life?
  5. Do you lie? When and why?
  6. What’s your biggest regret?
  7. Where did you go to school?
  8. What is your occupation? Why did you select it? Do you like it?
  9. What are your hobbies? Skills? Talents?
  10. What is your greatest weakness? Strength?
  11. Do you get along with your parents?
  12. Is one of your senses more highly tuned than the others?
  13. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t yet? What?
  14. Do you have a best friend? Who?
  15. Do you have a boy/girlfriend? How did you meet?
  16. How do you decide if you should trust someone? First impression? Intuition?
  17. When you walk into a room, what do you notice first?
  18. Do you have any pets?
  19. What do you think about when you’re alone in the car?
  20. What do you do for fun?

Some of these questions are specific for my mystery series, but generally they may be re-worked to fit most books. The questions should help us writers to get inside the minds of our fictional people. What bothers them? What delights them? What makes them cry?

The answers to the questions will help shape our characters and will help us to get to know them better, which in turn helps us to breathe life into our stories.




How to Become an Author in Eight Easy Steps

1. Write. Write some more and more, and more still.

2. Rewrite.

3. Rewrite some more (i.e., until your fingers bleed, your eyes burn, and you can’t possibly swallow another chocolate chip cookie or a tortilla chip dipped in salsa). And, until there’s nothing left to rewrite.

4. Let your manuscript simmer for about two weeks.

5. Take a look at your manuscript again. Does any portion need to be cleaned up? Are there parts that aren’t needed or slow the story down? Is a je ne sais quoi missing? Find it! If yes, return to step three with ample determination. If no, happily proceed to step six.

6. Make a list of agents and publishers that could potentially swoon in delight over your query letter and/or a portion of your manuscript. Carefully study the books said agents and publishers have in their stables and see if your soon-to-be-published work fits in.

Note: My picture book was published by a publisher with very few picture books under their belt, but my book happened to work for them. Take away: You never really know, do you?

7. Send out pieces of your heart via a query letter/first few chapters/whatever the agent/publisher requires, and continue writing, either something else or revisiting your present manuscript periodically. BUT only if your gut feeling invites you to pay return visits. Otherwise, move on to your next project OR plan how to market your current project when it is published! 

8. No matter what happens, what is said or not said, stay optimistic.

If you have indeed completed an entire manuscript for any type of book, you are a winner. The majority of so-called writers never reach The End. The real, honest-to-goodness end, meaning your work has been edited and reworked until it’s exactly as you hoped it would be.

All along the way: Study authors you admire carefully, asking, what makes them outstanding? How did they do that? “That” being something in the story that makes you yearn to write as well. 

Despite all of the above, never be afraid of:

– Being criticized (has your critic ever completed a novel?);

– Going out in public with your literary baby (this should be a source of utter joy);

– Writing something in a different way, because it’s wonderfully marvelous to be different, new, and fresh. Whatever you do, write from your heart. You can’t go wrong.