Thursday, January 30, 2014

Writing Time, Interrupted

Kim Smith

What tells you if your daily writing time is helping or hindering your current piece? Answer these questions and find out!

1. You have a mid-session mind dump. For some reason, the words stop coming, and you need help. Do you:
a. Go to a Thesaurus?
b. Grab a bite to eat and take a break?
c. Close the WIP and give up for the day?

2. You quit writing…
a. to do research?
b. to go play with your dog?
c. to finish laundry?

3. You’ve planned a 30 minute writing session before you go to work. Your efforts are:
a. Very successful—you got in 30 mins
b. Slightly successful you got in 15 mins
c. Unsuccessful- you felt like 30 minutes was not enough time to prepare properly so-- no writing time.

4. How much does your writing area affect you?
a. Barely- you can write anywhere
b. A little, you need quiet
c. Very – you must be in your place with your stuff.

5. How much reading do you do?
a. As much as possible
b. Not as much as you want to, but some
c. Barely any


As few C’s as possible means the better you focus on your writing. You don’t quit when the writing becomes tough. You either keep your mind in the process, or get some exercise to release tension so you can work.

Notes: Everyone can lose focus, and when it happens it is far better to get up and move around, or take a break, but not necessarily quit the effort altogether. Most successful writers find that if they will stay in their chair and make a concentrated effort to get in at least 15-30 minutes of writing time, they will finish a book. Some people can write anywhere but usually distractions make the writing more effort than when they are in a quiet area that has been carefully prepared for them to write in. And many say that reading keeps their mind sharp and gives them new ideas about plotting and setting that keep them working on their own work.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Off to Japan: My Writer's Packing List


Dora Machado

If everything goes as planned, by this time you read this, I'll be on a plane to Japan. Even though I've been to Asia Minor before, this will be my first trip to Asia proper. I'm so excited! For this trip, I've had to make zero planning effort. That's because I'm teaming up with one of my all-time favorite traveling companions, travel blogger Mariana Marshall of, with whom I walked the last 100 kilometers of the Camino of Santiago de Compostela. She is also my daughter.

The advantages of tagging along with a travel blogger can't be understated. My traveling companion carefully researched and selected the itinerary and made all of the traveling arrangements, transportation and lodging reservations. I just get to come along for the ride!

We'll be spending some time in Tokyo and then traveling on to explore Kyoto and its environs. We've got a very long list, but I'm looking forward to staying at a traditional Japanese guest house (ryokan), exploring the natural hot springs (onsens), and riding Japan's fabulous bullet trains.

Packing for Japan in the winter had me asking a lot of questions, but travel bloggers are Girl Scouts at heart, and mine found this awesome packing list from a fellow blogger:

My writer's packing list must, of course, include my computer, tablet and cell phone. We don't speak the language, so we've uploaded some interesting apps that might help if all else fails. I'll let you know how that goes.

Technology is a wonderful convenience, but I've learned that, when traveling, it isn't always reliable. So in addition, I'm bringing a good, small, old-fashioned notebook to jot down my thoughts and observations, a few good pens, and my camera, all indispensable tools that will work with or without an Internet connection, and that are suitable to all environments.

But the most important elements for a successful trip are stowed not in my suitcase, but rather in my mind. They include flexibility, openness and imagination. Flexibility is key when traveling, the ability to roll with the punches, accept, adapt and adjust to the changes intrinsic to the traveling experience. From airports to hotels, from technology to people, traveling exposes us to new situations that test our comfort levels and push our boundaries.

An open mind is also vital to the traveling experience. It allows us to see the world for what it is, not for what we think it should be. It also teaches us to value the differences that make each place unique and each culture extraordinary. 

And finally, I bring along my number-one writing tool, my imagination, to take in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that I've never experienced before, to relish the emotions of the journey, to collect the odd, the common and the spectacular, to understand and process the experience of being human. For a gal into world building, the traveling experience is a rich trove indeed. 

So, wish me luck.

Sayonara, kids! 


Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. She lives in Florida with her husband and three very opinionated cats.

Dora also writes features for Murder By Four, an award winning blog for people interested in reading and writing, and Savvy Authors, where writers help writers.

For a free excerpt of The Curse Giver, visit  http://twilighttimesbooks.comthingsTheCurseGiver_ch1.html.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Writing on the River

Hi, Folks.

After we read and enjoyed Dora Machado's article about Colorado being a perfect place to write last week, she asked me to post some pictures of The Sacandaga River, the place that inspires my muse. 

So, here I share with you one of my favorite locations on earth, The Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. I posted these in 2009, but the place still stirs my creative juices, and I love sharing it with you. You can even listen to my river murmur and rumble in the video, below. ;o)

Aaron Lazar

I've known for decades that certain locations work for me as a writer, because each time I've had a chance to travel - whether it was through a work conference to San Antonio or a family vacation to Cape Cod - I've come away with scads of new ideas for scenes, action, and characters. I can't help but soak up the new details of such locales. Of course, being away from the day to day worries and chores also helps to fuel the creative fire. And that's half the battle, right?

In 2009, my wife and I discovered a rustic cabin in the Adirondacks. I say rustic, because it doesn't have all the amenities of home. It wasn't like we had to use the old outhouse (there was one), but there was no cable (who cares?), no washer dryer (So? Bring extra clothes!) No cell phone service (ahh..peace and quiet) No Internet (Okay, I admit, I was in withdrawal) No neighbors...

That was the best part. It took a while to get used to the idea that we weren't being observed by casual drivers by or neighbors (I like my neighbors, but I liked this better...) By the end of the first day, we'd grown addicted to the delightful presence of the water rushing beneath us and the quiet calm of the woods.

The river had a personality of it's own. It's sound - more than a murmur, less than a roar - was cathartic. I opened my window at night to let in the cool (sometimes cold!) breeze to hear the river while I devoured books and slept like the proverbial log.

Of course, there was a reason I'd chosen to escape to this spot. I'd been stalling a little on my current WIP, a paranormal mystery set in the Adirondacks. But I hadn't been there in so many years, I was calling on distant memories and Internet photos. It worked fairly well, but I needed more. I needed the feel of the cool woods around me, the scent of balsam, the crunch underfoot of pine needles on soft dirt. I needed to be immersed. (For the Birds, book 1 in Tall Pines Mysteries)

And of course, the ability to up and go on the spur of the moment is actually one of the hidden blessings of being laid off from my job at Kodak. I never would have taken this week in May to go play in the woods for a whole week. But, with a good tax refund in hand, the possibility became a reality.
For hours each day, my wife and I sat in Adirondack chairs on the edge of the cliff that overlooked the gorgeous Sacandaga River in Hope, New York. (see above)

We were just about a half hour's drive inside the Adirondack Park, on the south side. The cabin reminded me of my childhood summers at camp in Maine (Tremolo: cry of the loon) and was absolutely perfect. We kept the fire going in the old Triumph woodstove.

It was pretty chilly in the morning and the tall pines overhead kept the cabin cool) all day. I cooked gourmet meals at night. We drank a bottle of Riesling most evenings, sat with a glass of Amaretto on ice in the afternoons in the warming sun that went down behind the mountain overlooking the river. At night we watched dozens of our favorite movies.

I read three books in six days: More Deaths Than One by Pat Bertram (fantastic plot!), Longshot by Dick Francis (a wonderful reread that reminded me what damned good writing is all about), and Marley and Me by John Grogan (hilarious and a heartbreaking work that also reminded me simple writing is often the best).

And folks, I wrote like the wind. God, did I write. The scenes flowed as easily as the Sacandaga River, set in the very cabin we stayed in. The cabin became the location my protagonist Marcella's mother had been stashed by the kidnappers; the river became the spot she fought with a rogue FBI agent, the island across the way became the secret spot her mother was abandoned, tied to the tallest pine tree in the center of the island.

In six glorious days, I wrote 13,000 words, and also set up the rest of the scenes in the book. Now I know where the lost "treasure" is located. And I know what form that treasure takes. And I've got all the lovely woodsy details to get Marcella, her mother, and Tony to the top of the mountain where they'll face a surprising end to a twisted story.

But the week was well balanced. Between writing for a few hours each day, reading, just spending time with my wife, and cooking, I also was able to do a little work I'd promised (back in January) on a friend's manuscript. Got about fifty pages done on that, which lessened my ever-present guilt.

I hiked and took photos every day - first around the cabin on the pine needle covered access roads, like this:
Next, I ventured into some grassy trails nearby where I shot wildflowers.
And finally, the day before we left, I accepted my own challenge to climb a local mountain to a remote lake. The experience was humbling, and damned hard. But I wouldn't have given that up for the world. And now I have the location of the final scene in For the Birds. ;o)

You can be sure this little orange newt (or salamander?) is going to show up in the book. ;o)
Even if you can't get away for a whole week, try a walk around the block or a country drive with your honey. Change your routine a little, and take a saunter down a path you've never checked out. Bring your dog and let him choose the way. Be sure not to get lost!) But whatever you do to change your environment for a little while, when you get back, I'll bet you'll write like the wind!

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, writing books, and a new love story, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, SANCTUARY (2014), and VIRTUOSO (2014).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Eight things about writing to consider

Too many years of writing (and listening to people say they want to be a writer) has brought me to develop a list of guidelines to help them bring their desire to fruition. There are eight points of consideration and if one were to administer them to their writing life, they may see publication come their way.

1. Pick the primary goal for your writing.
It’s not enough to say, “I want to be a writer” or “I want to be published”. You must decide exactly what you want to write and when you want to do it. Write down a list of goals and when you hope to achieve them. Keep it posted by your computer and refer to it every day.

2. Use your imagination to dream big.
Wishful thinking will get you nowhere if you do not believe you can achieve it, you must be consumed by the flames of desire to accomplish your goals. Be a go-getter not a no-hitter.

3. Expect to suffer from your choices.
We all have a price to pay for success. If you intend to be a writer, you will sacrifice some of your time for writing. If you intend to be a published writer, you will sacrifice the luxury of laziness for deadlines.

4. Focus on the prize.
Keep your mind free of the clutter of negative thinking. If fear, worry, or other blocking thoughts creep in and muddy the waters of your writing goals, develop a plan of action. Fight against mental blocking and negative thoughts by meditating on your potential and how much you want this for your life.

5. Be willing to fail—in order to win.
Just about every person alive who has been published has failed initially. That didn’t deter them however and it shouldn’t you. Rejection is a facet of the trade that we all have to endure. Consider it the fire that will meld you into fine gold. Persistence and perseverance will pay off in the end.

6. Believe in the power of positives.
My mother always told me that the most powerful force on earth was the power of suggestion. I believe she had that right. If we are constantly bombarded with suggestions from well-meaning friends who write or want to write, we may end writing before it has really lived. You have to believe in your own voice, in your particular story, and keep a positive outlook.

7. Don’t tear yourself down.
If you don’t believe in yourself, you will never succeed. Success is measured sometimes by how strongly we believe in our power. Don’t think of yourself as a bad writer, a doomed writer, or even a weak writer. Labels like that destroy our confidence and send us limping to the notebook instead of running and winning the race.

8. Quit making excuses.
Writing is hard work, and it is oftentimes very lonely. No one can do this for us. Have you ever said, “If only I had more time…” or “If only I had more education…”. These sorts of stalling tactics will only keep you out of your writing chair. Examine the reasons for such negativisms and overcome them. If you let excuses rule your writing, your writing will be excused.

A wonderful illustration of writing and working toward writing goals would be:

George Moore, the novelist, was asked by a young man if he recommended that the young man become a novelist. Moore said no.
The young man asked why, since Moore had become one himself. Moore said, “Because I didn’t have to ask.”

Kim Smith is the author of An Unexpected Performance, a YA time travel fantasy, and coming soon, Loran Rudder and the Secret Key. You can find more about Kim at her website, HERE

Designing a book

copyright Kim Smith

Designing a book has been called by many names. Some people plan a book, some people brainstorm a book, some people (like myself) design a book. And 80 % of that creation happens in my head. I haven't ever even put a word into written form and a lot of the story has already been written in my head.

Some aspiring authors, and some avid readers, have asked


and here is a little tidbit to chew on...

Most writers do their design work through outlining, blogs, and social media site posts.
SCREECH! What?????


They start thinking about what they want to write and the next thing you know they are posting about it online somewhere. They are talking about the idea guts. I do this myself. I will decide to write about a displaced ant family in a fantasy story and what do you think I am discussing on my blog? Ants. Especially if I am a Myrmecologist and know a lot about them. Reader beware, this is how you can tell what an author is going to tackle next. What are they blabbering on about everywhere???

Outliners will build the story in their outline by thinking about who, what, where, when and how. Most big projects are outlined.

Some things for authors who are in this stage to think about:
1. get the basics down on paper(on screen)-theme, characters, ending so you don't forget them
2. carry a notebook-crucial when designing your work

In summary,
1. 80% of creation phase happens in our head
2. most of that thought process ends up on screen on blogs, social media sites, etc. while we are still designing
3. there are a few tools that a writer can remember to help when they are designing, such as carrying a notebook

Hope this helps you!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Colorado Is For Writers


Dora Machado

Colorado has to be one of my favorite places in the world. The views of the Rocky Mountains are breathtaking. The people are friendly, fit and youthful, no matter their age. Nature indulges, facilitating so many of the activities for which the State is known, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, biking, hiking, fly-fishing, rafting and . . .  writing?

Yes, writing.

It's easy to find inspiration among these mountains. It's easy to keep the mind focused when surrounded by such stunning vistas. I find myself energized by the folks who tackled the slopes with the same energy and enthusiasm I feel when I tackle a story. It goes against the principles of oxygen deprivation, but I find that the mind flows effortlessly at ten thousand feet, especially after a few hours of skiing or snowshoeing, and a little nap.

We've had some epic snow dumps so far this year and the snow has been delicious. Those of us who frequent the mountains of Colorado on a regular basis, couldn't be happier. I heard a few people complaining about the cold weather this year, but I'm not one of them. When the going gets tough on the mountain, when the wind picks up and you can't see the chair lift in front of you, I head indoors. The way I see it, it's time for some serious writing.

I've produced some of my best writing in Colorado. These mountains have inspired thousands of words out of me. I'm always grateful for the opportunity to come out to Colorado and share in the state of mind that makes it such a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts and, yes, for writers too.

Do you have a special place that inspires your writing?


Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. She lives in Florida with her husband and three very opinionated cats.

Dora also writes features for Murder By Four, an award-winning blog for people interested in reading and writing, and Savvy Authors, where writers help writers.

To learn more about Dora Machado and her novels, visit her website at or contact her at

For a free excerpt of The Curse Giver, visit  http://twilighttimesbooks.comthingsTheCurseGiver_ch1.html.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sharing the Love, Paying it Forward, or Just Plain Being a Good Guy, by Aaron Lazar

Hello, MB4 friends and fans!

I hope this finds you all well. It's been a very cold and snowy winter up here in The Finger Lakes region of western NY (brrr...) But it's also a wonderful time to burrow deep down in a good book, whether your creating or reading it. 

I'm working on my 22nd book now, and am having a blast. It helps that Bittersweet Hollow is set in the nice, hot summer in Vermont, on a Morgan Horse Farm, no less!

Today I want to talk about cross promotion. 

I love my writer friends. They have carried me through terrific doldrums and stood by my side when I've received awards. They've helped me through writer's block, taken my hand to lead the way in how to promote, and given me amazing links to new propositions, like audio books. 

My writer pals are the best. 

Sure, I may not have met most of them "in person," but I feel as if I know them almost intimately. 

You can't help but share your life's troubles and vent a little when you're writing to each other every day to swap chapters of your current WIP. And when your personalities "click" that can lead to a life-long friendship. So, when I say I care about these folks, I mean it. And I love to share links to their books.

Many of these friends end up in my acknowledgments. With eBooks, I can now put their website links right up front to help spread the word. That feels good!

Sometimes my characters are just setting down a book they've been reading when dialog is about to unfold. Imagine that! Occasionally I'm lazy, and I just pop in the current book I've been reading, or one of my all time favorite authors, like John D. MacDonald. Sometimes I'm just inspired to feature one of my friends' books, too. 

For fun, I went through my twenty-one books (some published and some still in the queue) and searched on "reading" and "books" to see what titles I've had my charactersenjoying over the years. Now, I realize I need to get some of my other pals' books out there, too. If you're not on the list, don't feel bad. You'll likely make your way into a Gus LeGarde or Sam Moore Mystery soon! (I know I used one of Kim Smith's books in one of my novels, but I couldn't find it. Maybe she can remind us!)

Here's the list:

FireSong (book 5 in Gus LeGarde series): TheEmpty Copper Sea by John D. MacDonald.
and The Devil CanWait by Marta Stephens

Counterpoint (book 8 in Gus LeGarde series) (not yet available): Ham Loaf Hawaiian, by Pete Pellissier Crab Cake & Pepper by Frank Weaver, Jr.

Lady Blues (book 10 in Gus LeGarde series): The Moor, by Laurie R. King, HUNTED by SW Vaughn, Laurie R. King, The Art of Detection.

For the Birds (book 1 in Tall Pines Mysteries): Master of None, S.W. Vaughn
Healey’s Cave: The Scent ofGod, by Beryl Singleton Bissell, Tread Not on Me, by R.C. Burdick

For Keeps (book 3 in Moore Mysteries): The Lonely Silver Rain, by John D. MacDonald, Hunted, by S.W. Vaughn

I realize that not all my books included subtle hints on other books to go check out - now I'm going to make it a point to feature several of my author friends books in EVERY title I release! Maybe you can try it, too, and help give your writer pals a leg up.

Stay warm if your up north like me. And remember - spring's coming soon!

Aaron Lazar

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, writing books, and a new love story, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, SANCTUARY (2014), and VIRTUOSO (2014).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Killing those darlings

by Kim Smith

It has often been said that sometimes writers have to "kill their darlings". What exactly is meant by this statement and why on earth would a writer do such a thing?

Well, sometimes a favorite scene, passage, character, or event in a story is not moving the plot forward like it should. It simply exists because we (the writer in question) love it. So the only alternative is to cut it out like a piece of bad apple.

Let's be honest, now.

We love that one line, that joke, that description that is so perfect the reader can smell it. Well, almost. The point is, we LOVE it -- WE the author, the writer of said work has penned something so awesome and earth-shattering that we don't care that it is slowing the story down to a halt. WE DON'T WANT TO TOUCH IT!!!

But touch it we must. Cut it out. Kill that darling piece of writing that you simply adore.

How does one do such a cruel and terrible thing? Well, first you have to discover that there is such a phenomenon in your work.

How do you do that?
Hopefully, you have mean and nasty beta readers who would love nothing more than to tell you to cut it out. Literally. They can be useful things, those betas. Then too, if you are lucky enough to have an editor, that person will be the one to seek and destroy your darlings for you. And the bonus here? You can bemoan the loss of your darling to your heart's content, because you DIDN'T do it truly. The editors and or beta readers were the murderers.

Another way to ditch the darlings in your work is to remember that they ain't dead forever. You can always resurrect those snippets that you cut in another work. Just cut and paste them over in a folder on your old hard drive. There. Not dead forever. Ever.

Thirdly, you will care a lot less about your darlings with each book you write. The more words you pen the fewer darlings you find. It's true, my friend. Darlings can sometimes be a sign of an immature writer. The only way to grow up is to write a lot.

Good luck.

Kim Smith is the author of An Unexpected Performance, Ten Tips for Getting that Book Written, and several mysteries and romances. You can find more about her at her website,

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Saving Cats & Other Parts of Your Novel

Can a Famous Book on Screenwriting Help the Novelist?


Dora Machado

All the cats I've ever owned came from our local humane society, which is probably why a writing book entitled Save the Cat! caught my attention. It turns out that Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need (Michael Wiese Productions, 2005) by the late Blake Snyder is quite the popular book. Wikipedia tells us that it was the number-one-selling screenwriting manual on Amazon for a long time and it has been reprinted fourteen times. Since Wikipedia says so, we must believe it, of course, but I run counter-culture some days, and I like to make up my own mind. So I read it, and guess what? I'm glad I did.

Blake Snyder (1957–2009) was the talented screenwriter of Stop or My Mom Will Shoot, Nuclear Family and Blank Check. By his own admission, he loved humor and infused it into everything he did, including his screenwriting manuals, which is probably why Save the Cat! is actually fun to read. The writer in me chuckled all the way through it. It was refreshing, considering that so many writing books give great tips but also put us to sleep. I enjoyed the way Mr. Snyder used popular movies to illustrate his points. I like a book that educates and entertains at the same time.

Best of all, there are a lot of juicy bits in Save the Cat! that I found helpful and pertinent to writing novels. It's impossible to share all of them here, so I'll just give you three samples of how this book can be totally helpful to the novelist.

Example # 1:

Save the Cat! reminds both the screenwriter and the novelist that the success of any project relies on a killer concept and on our ability to successfully convey that concept. The first couple of chapters are devoted to defining the screenwriting project. What is it that we are writing about? And can we convey the entire concept of a screenplay—or a novel—in one simple but powerful logline?

I know I speak for a lot of my fellow writers when I say that writing that logline can be the most challenging part of a writing project. Some of us spend weeks and months agonizing about the single most important concept line that will either launch or sink our pitches. Mr. Snyder, who grew up in the business, makes a compelling argument for the importance of the logline, both as a concept generator that will launch great writing and as a pitch to sell great writing.

Any writer pitching a project today will benefit from his approach. He tells us that an effective logline must include irony, imply conflict, and present a compelling mental picture of the entire movie—or, in our case, novel. He breaks it down. A good logline must have an adjective to describe the hero, an adjective to describe the bad guy, and a compelling goal that we can all identify with as human beings. He goes on to discuss killer titles and perfect heroes, reminding me of simple points that we novelists sometimes tend to forget. Next time I write a logline, I'll remember Mr. Snyder. I hope you do too. It might save us some time!

Example # 2:

In Save the Cat! Mr. Snyder outlines what he considers to be the perfect construction and internal organization of the kind of screenplay likely to make it in Hollywood in fifteen beats. As a rule, I don't like restrictive models or cookie-cutter approaches to writing. Mr. Snyder's very specific model is not directly applicable to novels, since screenplays are a lot shorter and written for the purpose of making movies. However, I found all fifteen beats, plus the sequence that Mr. Snyder suggests, pertinent to any good novel. I can see a smart novelist using these beats as reference points to strengthen a novel's structure and also during the edit process, where the beats could be helpful to fix structural deficiencies.

Example # 3:

And then, there's my favorite chapter, chapter six, which Mr. Snyder says he specifically wrote for the purpose of saving time. In this chapter, Mr. Snyder defines five or six common problems that writers face and the quick solutions to fix them. The first of these is—you guessed it—the “save the cat” rule. Heroes are hardly ever perfect people, and we wouldn't want them to be perfect because then they'd be real boring!

I love an imperfect hero or heroine. In fact, if you've read any of my novels, you know that I prefer the unlikely hero and the reluctant heroine any day. Not only are imperfect heroes more interesting, they are also more real and human, more compelling and more like the rest of us. But Mr. Snyder makes a very good point. An unlikable hero is the kiss of death to any writing project. What to do?

“Save the cat” is the screenwriting rule that says that the hero has to do something when we meet him so that the rest of us will like him. It invests the writer with the responsibility of syncing the audience and the hero so that the audience/reader can get behind the hero's plight from the start.

Mr. Snyder gives the example of Disney's Aladdin. When the movie opens, we see Aladdin, a "street rat" stealing bread, but then, right after the chase scene, when Aladdin escapes and is about to eat the stolen bread, he sees some hungry children and he gives them the bread he stole. Okay, so he's a thief, but he's a good kind of thief. Perfect “save the cat” moment.

“Save the cat” is only one of the fixes that Mr. Snyder suggests in his book. Years after his death, all of us can still benefit from his diagnostic genius. There's a lot more to this book that will sharpen your writing and save you time, like the Pope in the Pool (how to deal with necessary exposition), Double Mumbo Jumbo (only one piece of magic per concept, please), Laying Pipe (too much setup will actually clog the drain), Black Vet (too much, too on-the-nose) and Covenant of the Arc (every character must change). There's an awful lot of inspiration, analysis and examples too, all of it delivered with warmth, kindness and laughs. No wonder Mr. Snyder's colleagues in Hollywood lamented his early death.

If you haven't read Save the Cat! and you're looking for a very practical, down-to-earth, writer-pounding-the-pavement kind of a writing book, even if you are a novelist, this one's for you. So yes, a book on screenwriting can help the novelist. Oh, and by the way, go save a cat. No, really, I mean it. 


Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her latest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. She lives in Florida with her husband and three very opinionated cats.

Dora also writes features for Murder By Four, an award winning blog for people interested in reading and writing, and Savvy Writers, where writers help writers.

To learn more about Dora Machado and her novels, visit her website at or contact her at
For a free excerpt of The Curse Giver, visit  http://twilighttimesbooks.comthingsTheCurseGiver_ch1.html.

Friday, January 10, 2014

WRITING A LEGACY-MEMOIR by Robert D. Sutherland

Hello, writers and book lovers!

I hope this finds you well in the first month of 2014. We're all looking forward to a healthy and happy new year, filled with lots of great books of all formats: print, eBooks, and audio books!

Following is a great piece by a good friend of MurderBy4 - Mr. Robert Sutherland. Mr. Sutherland's article on legacy-memoirs is a little longer than our usual posts, but I wanted to keep it all together instead of breaking it into parts. I hope you all agree and that this wonderful piece might inspire you to write a memoir for your descendents!

Thanks, Mr. Sutherland, for joining us today. 

Aaron Lazar

Robert D. Sutherland

Copyright © Robert D. Sutherland, 2012                                                                     

A legacy-memoir is an autobiographical record that one writes for one’s descendants. Other types of personal memoirs are usually written for publication, with potentially the entire reading public as their audience. Typically, they’re designed to describe or demonstrate one’s importance as a player in major events, or to provide humorous or titillating anecdote, or to explain oneself, or justify one’s actions (to “have the last word”), or (in the case of celebrities) to please one’s fans and make money. In contrast to this, the purpose of legacy-memoirs is to provide to the niche audience of the author’s descendants reference materials regarding family history, and, in so doing, acquaint subsequent generations with the life, thoughts, and experiences of a far-sighted forebear.

The value in writing such a work (besides supplying family reference material) is to give your descendants an awareness of who you were as their ancestor, an understanding of how life was lived when you were living it, information regarding what you found to be important, interpretations of major events you lived through (which they may know of only through their study of history), and reasons why they should find all of this worth knowing.

A legacy-memoir is a gift to the future, a reaching out to generations of one’s own family yet unborn, sending a message to your great-great-great grandchildren (and beyond) that you care for them, wish to participate in their lives by sharing yours, and hope thereby that they will be able to see how theirs and yours, though different, are yet similar. Your descendants are the ultimate “niche audience”: not much money to be made there! And, as you hopefully launch your gift into the void, you have no certainty that any of those descendants will ever read your words, will want to read your words, or will appreciate or have a response to your feelings if they do. A legacy-memoir is thus both an act of faith and a labor of love.

Legacy-memoirs are edited to accomplish certain specific objectives. In this, they are akin to projects in oral history, which bring skillful interviewers to people “who were there” to glean their memories, impressions, and opinions while they are still present to record them. Everyone has a lifetime of experiences, memories, stories to tell. Everyone, if so inclined, and with the time and leisure to do it, can create a legacy-memoir. If individuals can’t write it themselves, they can dictate it and have it transcribed.

An archival-quality, acid-free, print-on-paper book that can be passed on from generation to generation is a useful, permanent, and portable format to serve as default and backup (who can say what technologies will have evolved by your great-great grandchild’s day?). Magnetic tape is currently obsolescent; here in 2013, digital CD formats, and computer PDF files are available for storage and reading—but what will be the case in 2280? It will be your descendants’ responsibility to continually update the text for retrievability in the technology current to them. Your responsibility—if you wish to leave them a legacy-memoir—is to write it.

I am currently writing a legacy-memoir for my descendants. What gave me the idea to do so, and why I think it’s important to leave a personal record, is the joy and enlightenment I experienced in discovering a group of writings by my great-grandfather, Robert John Sutherland (1838-1921), of which my immediate family was unaware. These writings (a text of over 61,000 words) are currently in the possession of my second cousin, Catherine Muir Butterfield, who inherited them from her grandmother Catherine Sutherland Semple, who was Robert John’s daughter and my father’s aunt. The writings are contained in a scrapbook as a series of newspaper clippings; I borrowed this scrapbook, transcribed the clippings, and published them in 1999 as The Observations of Ulysses or, Notes by an Occasional Correspondent, being Dispatches Sent to THE EVENING STAR, a Newspaper in Dunedin, New Zealand by Robert John Sutherland, of Keokuk, Iowa from March, 1881 to January, 1883. Robert John was an astute observer, highly opinionated, well-read, and an excellent writer inclined to ironic humor. I learned much history from editing his dispatches and found him to be an interesting and engaging man.

About 1848, Robert John emigrated from Thurso, Scotland and settled in Carleton Place, Ontario, in Canada; from there he moved as a young man to northern Illinois to study; in 1861, he enlisted in the Union army to fight in the Civil War. In 1865, as an aide to Brigadier General Joseph B. West, he was present when the last Confederate generals surrendered in New Orleans. After the war he married and lived in Keokuk, Iowa for many years, working for a railroad that ultimately merged with the Rock Island line. He became an American citizen in 1886.

Some years before, his brother had moved to New Zealand in the wake of an Australian gold rush. In 1881, this brother suggested that Robert John write dispatches to the Dunedin newspaper discussing current issues and events in the United States. From 1881 to 1883 Robert John did this, using the pseudonym Ulysses; the brother sent the newspapers to Iowa as they were published, and Robert John’s dispatches wound up as clippings in his scrapbook.

My great-grandfather reported on a broad range of topics, among them American grain and wool production (with tables of statistics), the latest international trade agreements, the legal controversy over Mormon polygamy, the Chinese Exclusion Act (that terminated Chinese immigration, a law he eloquently opposed), the introduction of refrigeration for shipping meat by sea from New Zealand, the closing of the U. S. government’s program for homesteading on public lands, the assassination of President Garfield (whom he supported), the trial of Garfield’s assassin Guiteau, and his personal opinion that Garfield’s successor Chester Arthur was a political hack. He saw the building of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railroad as a scam perpetrated by big business interests against the Canadian people. Of Oscar Wilde’s visit to America in 1883, he said “The Southern States have Oscar Wilde this summer as a substitute for the yellow fever. He is now in Texas. From either infliction ‘Good Lord deliver us’ say I.”

As I edited the old boy’s dispatches one hundred and sixteen years after he wrote them, I found all of this fascinating. Eye-witness commentary on history unfolding! Getting to know a striking and formidable personality whose genes I carry! It was then I began to see the value of legacy-memoirs for those with interest in the past and eyes to see.

I decided to frame my legacy-memoir as a direct address to my descendants, a communication to the future from the past. This was a rhetorical choice. Anyone who undertakes to write such a memoir has to decide what to tell, how much to tell, and how to tell it. I decided to present mine as a cross-referenced mosaic, organized around general topics. I am not writing a conventional autobiography beginning as David Copperfield did in Chapter One with “I am Born”, and proceeding from there. The topics I’ve tentatively chosen (which may change as I progress) are as follows:

FOREWORD (direct address: introducing myself to my descendants and                                         explaining my hopes and intentions)
CHRONOLOGY (timeline of significant life-events with historical context)
FAMILY (brief genealogical summary; description of my immediate family)
WORKING (jobs, training)
TEACHING (professional career)
CONCLUSION (a summing up and wishing my descendants well)

Each of these topics will be treated in its own section, and each section will be free-standing, able to be read for itself. I conceive people reading in the memoir, not through it from beginning to end: picking, choosing, dipping at will. I’ll cross-reference between sections where appropriate.

So far, I have drafted the FOREWORD and am currently halfway through the sections on EDUCATION and WORKING; in both of these I am proceeding chronologically since both are developmental, earlier experiences providing a foundation for later. But not all sections will follow this model: I can see PARENTING, READING, PHILOSOPHY, CONCERNS, and SOCIAL ACTIVISM having their own topical subcategories.  Some sections of the legacy-memoir will be relatively long, some relatively short. Part of the fun is figuring out how to structure the sections. All persons who write legacy-memoirs must determine what they wish to say (choosing what to include, what to omit), how they wish to say it, and how to structure their presentation. There is not a single way to write a legacy-memoir.

However, there are certain things one should consider and keep in mind. Paramount is knowing what needs to be included. Since you are writing to be read in the indefinite future, you must anticipate what your descendants might not know or realize about the time in which you lived, and supply the background, context, and factual information they need in order to understand what you are saying. Facts regarding culture, politics, the natural environment, law and governmental process, means of transportation (cars and highways, trains, airplanes), the energy supply, communications (newspapers, radio, TV, DVD’s, e-mail), etc. that are self-evident to you and taken for granted, may not be at all self-evident to people living two hundred years from now; may be only vaguely understood, or altogether unknown. You must second-guess what those readers might need to have explained or described, and supply that information. (For example, whenever I cite a measurement of length, or weight, or volume, I use the English system (foot, pound, etc.), but always include as a parenthetical a conversion to metric (centimeter, meter, gram, etc.): the English system may still be used a hundred and fifty years from now—but that’s not something one should assume.)

It’s also important for you to try to guess what kinds of things your descendants might want to know or would find informative and interesting about you, your world, your life, your values and opinions, your activities, and your socio/political environment and be sure to supply that information. You have to guess what questions they might like to ask you, and then provide answers to those questions.

You’ve got to remember that you are reporting an “eyewitness” account from what, for them, is a time long past. It’s important to be honest, accurate, clear. (Opaqueness, vagueness, and ambiguity should be avoided, and remedied in your editing.)

Your personal history can be told anecdotally, as vignettes (humorous or grave) and short-short stories within the larger text. Everyone’s style is different. But it’s crucial that your account of what you’ve done, and where you’ve been, and what you’ve thought about it be interesting, informative, and fun to read.

Writing a legacy-memoir entails a lot of work. In the process, you’ll learn much about yourself, recall a great deal that you’ve “forgotten”, and gain new perspectives on what you’ve seen and done.

How many copies of the memoir should you make? A good question. At least one copy for each of your children, at least one copy for each of your grandchildren (present and projected)—and probably at least three each in addition that they can pass on to their children. Potentially burdening your offspring with multiple copies to supply to their offspring argues the need for an alternative plan of storing text through electronic means (continually updated to keep pace with evolving technology). Electronic storage will allow additional copies to be made by each generation as needed.

Also, you might wish to send a copy to the historical society or societies of the region(s) in which you did the bulk of your living. The archivists there might be happy to have your memoir in their collections.
Some of your descendants may be grateful to you for having thought of them, happy to have made your acquaintance, glad to have an accurate and coherent account of what preceded them. Hopefully they will be empowered by your gift to better understand their own experiences and to better manage their own thoughts, actions, and relations to the world.


Robert D. Sutherland taught courses in Linguistics and Creative Writing at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois until his retirement in 1992. He particularly enjoyed teaching Descriptive Linguistics, History of the English Language, Semantic Theory, and Old English. In 1977, he and his co-editor James R. Scrimgeour founded Pikestaff Publications, a not-for-profit literary press that published The Pikestaff Forum, a literary magazine, until 1996. He continues serving as editor at The Pikestaff Press, which publishes books of poetry and prose fiction. In 2009 he began a blog for writers and readers of mysteries. He and his wife Marilyn have traveled widely, reared two sons to adulthood, and worked to promote peace, social justice, and preservation of the natural environment. His publications include a scholarly book, LANGUAGE AND LEWIS CARROLL; a novel, STICKLEWORTAND FEVERFEW (containing 74 of his pencil illustrations), which received the 1981 Friends of American Writers Juvenile Book Merit Award for author/illustrator; a second novel, THE FARRINGFORD CADENZA; short fiction, poems, and essays on literature, education, and publishing. His interests include classical music, the nature of metaphor, reading, travel, film noir, and the comparative study of mythologies.

Robert D. Sutherland

Author of   

Sticklewort and Feverfew: a novel for children, adolescents, and adults  

The Farringford Cadenza. A Novel

both available from The Pikestaff Press