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Jan 21

Fellow Air Force Veteran & Author, Alan Simon, Guest-blogs with Mike Angley

MA: My guest today is Alan Simon, the author or co-author of 30 books dating back to the early 1980s. His writing career began with the 1st edition of How to be A Successful Computer Consultant (McGraw-Hill) that sold approximately 200,000 copies in 4 editions over the next 15 years. He is the author of three titles in the “For Dummies” franchise series and has written extensively about technology and business topics. In 2009 Alan began experimenting in self-publishing with Blocking and Tackling Your Way to Management Success in which he set 40 fundamental management lessons against a backdrop of 40 stories from the history of his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2010, Alan branched out into fiction with the publication of his first two novels including The First Christmas of the War, set at Christmastime, 1941 – only weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Alan currently lives in Phoenix and in the past has lived in Pittsburgh, Tucson, Colorado Springs, Denver, and northeastern Pennsylvania.

Please tell me a little bit about your professional or personal background…the prequel if you would to your writing career.

AS: The best way to describe my professional background is to quote The Beatles: “The long and winding road…” I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA until my family moved to Tucson, Arizona just before my 16th birthday. I attended college at Arizona State in Tempe and then went to graduate school at the University of Arizona back in Tucson before heading off to Colorado Springs where I spent four years as a U.S. Air Force officer stationed at Cheyenne Mountain. In the Air Force I wrote software for one of the real-life “War Games” systems, referring to the early 1980s movie in which Matthew Broderick breaks into Cheyenne Mountain’s computers to play “thermonuclear war.” After my Air Force days I worked for a series of technology and consulting companies in a variety of roles, including several as a national or global practice leader in business intelligence and data warehousing. I began my own firm – currently called Thinking Helmet, Inc. – in 2006.

In many ways my writing career began as an “accident.” When I was an Air Force officer in the early 1980s I started a small computer consulting business on the side mostly so I could stay up to date with the technology of the then-brand new “microcomputers” that were very different than the old-fashioned mainframes we used in the Air Force. One day I was thinking about all of the tasks I had to do to set up my company and learn about new technology and suddenly thought there might be a book in the making there. I wrote a proposal, sent it off to McGraw-Hill, and presto! Book deal! (Little did I know the publishing game wasn’t quite that easy…)

MA: Well, I definitely have a soft spot for fellow Air Force vets, and I am very familiar with Cheyenne Mountain during my work in Air Force Space Command nearby. With such a technical and non-fiction writing background, how did you end up writing fiction?

AS: I began “dabbling” in fiction approximately 25 years ago, sequestered in a near-deserted hotel in the mountains of Colorado in late May of 1985. I had gone there to spend a week finishing up the final manuscript for my first book, How to be a Successful Computer Consultant. (Thinking back, my long-ago writing getaway in the Rockies was sort of a combination of two works from one of my favorite authors, Stephen King: “The Shining” meets “Misery” !)

Whenever I’d take a break from polishing that manuscript during that trip, I’d shift to write two or three more draft pages for an idea I had for a “potboiler” novel; something that in retrospect was heavily influenced by the writing style and typical plot lines from popular writers of the day such as Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon. I shelved that book for all eternity shortly thereafter, but over the next two decades spent thousands of hours – and wrote the proverbial million words of fiction – on any number of long-dormant projects, as fiction writing grew into a deep passion of mine.

MA: Speaking of The Shining, my kids and I once spent a night in the “Stephen King” room at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, where King stayed and wrote the book. Sadly, nothing spooky happened during our stay there. So tell us about your novels.

AS: I wrote two novels in parallel with each other over a period of 6+ years; both were self-published this past year. The first is entitled The First Christmas of the War and is a family saga set at Christmastime, 1941…only weeks after Pearl Harbor. Beyond the overarching and terrifying news coming back from the war front, each family member has his or her own “mini-drama” going on, and the story interweaves the “macro” and “micro” plots in a day-by-day format beginning with the Saturday before Christmas and ending the day after Christmas.

The other novel is entitled Unfinished Business and just like The First Christmas of the War, it’s set in my hometown of Pittsburgh. I like to think of Unfinished Business as “a darker Bridges of Madison County story” that begins in flashback with a brief wartime affair that takes place in 1942. The plot of the story is based around the resumption of that affair nine years later, in 1951, when Roseanne DeMarco’s steelworker husband is called up from the Army Reserves and set off to the Korean War…just as her long-ago “friend” reappears in Pittsburgh as she’s struggling to make ends meet.

MA: I have a hard enough time writing one story, so I can’t imagine what two parallel ones must be like. Who are your protagonists?

AS: In The First Christmas of the War I’m fortunate enough to have a number of main characters who essentially are an “ensemble cast” as the book’s protagonist. The family’s patriarch – Gerald Coleman – is patterned after one of my grandfathers. He’s a shoemaker who is fortunate enough to have made a decent enough living during the Depression. His wife, Irene Coleman, is the classic homemaker of the day…she runs her household and her family and is always looking out for the best interests of every family member. The eldest son, Jonathan, is patterned after characters such as those played by Sean Penn and Nicholas Cage in the 1980s movie Racing with the Moon…he knows with certainty he’s headed off to war soon and is trying to come to grips with this sudden reality. The rest of the family members are all “demographically appropriate” for 1941 children and teenagers.

In Unfinished Business I tried my best to get inside the head of Roseanne DeMarco. Her husband is suddenly sent off to war, she has no safety net to fall back on, and in general she’s sleepwalking through life…and here comes this person from the past who was her “partner” in an illicit yet exciting brief period of her young life. Throughout the book she’s conflicted between the renewal of this excitement and her increasing guilt about what she’s doing while her husband is away at war.

MA: They both sound interesting. Who are the antagonists in the stories?

AS: The First Christmas of the War doesn’t have an antagonist…unless you want to think of Hitler and Tojo as off-the-pages antagonists who made the story (and the war) possible!

In Unfinished Business Frank Donaldson – the main with whom Roseanne DeMarco renews her affair – is very much an antagonist, but a carefully constructed one. I patterned his character after that of Noel Airman in Herman Wouk’s 1955 novel, Marjorie Morningstar. At first he seems suave, debonair, the man of Roseanne DeMarco’s dreams who has returned to her…but increasingly his fascination in the story with Jack Kerouac (then a brand new novelist) becomes symbolic of his own character flaws.

MA: How much of your real life’s story influenced your writing?

AS: When I moved from Pittsburgh to Tucson just before my 16th birthday, I was very homesick for my original city and spent many hours in the high school and public libraries reading books about Pittsburgh and its history. Since I planned to go into the military in one way or another, I was also very interested in the World War II era and the aftermath, including the boom years of the 1950s. So my fascination with mid-20th century Pittsburgh formed the foundation for both of these novels. I spent many hours researching the facts and tidbits for both stories, though when appropriate I took a bit of poetic license in the interest of moving the story along.

In both books – especially The First Christmas of the War – I did use my real-life great-grandfather’s produce business in Pittsburgh as a plot vehicle, and in First Christmas had eldest son Jonathan working side-by-side with my real-life great-uncles in a couple of scenes. I dedicated that book to those great-uncles, all of them gone now, as members of the “greatest generation” who (to use the words of the book’s dedication) “sacrificed much of their youth to the Second World War.”

MA: So what’s next for you? You are so versatile, I can imagine either a novel or some techno-geek book coming soon!

MA: The biggest challenge I have is getting my head and hands around a much-too-full list of to-be-written projects for 2011. In all seriousness, I have a list of about 15 business, technology and management topics; 25-30 ideas for novels and short stories; and another non-fiction, self-help oriented title based on my own personal close call on 9/11. (A schedule quirk put me in Pittsburgh for a speech that morning, scheduled to fly to San Francisco from there that afternoon; otherwise I almost certainly would have been on United Flight 93 since I was shuttling between projects and proposals in New Jersey and the San Francisco bay area for the consulting company I worked for then.)

MA: Wow! I’m glad you missed the original flight, and it’s nice to hear you plan to turn that experience into something good that may help others. With regard to fiction, would any of your future writing involve characters from your first two novels?

AS: The First Christmas of the War is actually the first of a series of four holiday-set, similarly-structured novels featuring the Coleman family. Next up is Thanksgiving, 1942, taking place – as one can tell from the title – eleven months after the initial book’s Christmas, 1941 setting. The next title is The First Christmas After the War, set at Christmastime, 1945. Finally, a concluding novel set in the 1970s takes a final holiday visit with the Coleman family.

MA: Sounds like a nice set of books. Anything else you’d like add before we wrap it up?

AS: Over the years, I’ve had many, many people ask me about the writing business and my own experiences in the context of book or story ideas they’ve had themselves. I always enjoy sharing my experiences with others and am always more than willing to help people navigate today’s publishing world, craft proposals…pretty much anything.

MA: Thanks Alan for appearing on my blog, and thanks for your military service. Please visit Alan’s websites for more information about this amazing author and his projects: www.alansimonbooks.com and www.thinkinghelmet.com.
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Jan 05

One of My Personal Pet Peeves: Fewer or Less!

Fewer or Less
by
Mary Deal

These two words are not interchangeable. I see many incorrect usages but the rules about how they are used can be easily explained. Can you tell which of these sentences is incorrect?

~ I’ve written less books than some authors I know.

~ I’ve written fewer books than some authors I know.

Or how about:

~ I spend less time writing than I do editing.

~ I spend fewer time writing than I do editing.

Or these:

~ There were less pencils on his desk.

~ There were fewer pencils on his desk.

In some sentences, you can tell when it doesn’t sound right. Here again is when the rule “write how you speak” does not apply. We all use colloquialisms and never notice our poor grammar, maybe till we become writers. But keep in mind, an avid reader knows when a sentence is incorrect and will make mental note of it. Too many of these errors and the reader will become frustrated and, perhaps, not read another story or book by that author.

The rule is:

~ The word fewer applies to individual quantities.

~ The word less applies to items in bulk.

My Oxford dictionary offers this:

“Make sure you distinguish between fewer and less. Use fewer with plural nouns, as in there are fewer people here today; use less with nouns referring to things that can’t be counted, as in there is less blossom on this tree.”

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Nov 05

Mike Angley Interviews Best-Selling Author Frank Fiore

MA: Please help me welcome best-selling author, Frank Fiore. Frank has sold over 50,000 copies of his non-fiction books. He has now turned his talents to writing fiction. His first novel, CyberKill, is a techno-thriller that answers the question “How far will an artificial intelligence go for revenge”. CyberKill has garnered five star reviews on Amazon. Frank’s writing experience also includes guest columns on social commentary and future trends published in the Arizona Republic and the Tribune papers in the metro Phoenix area. Through his writings, he has shown an ability to explain in a simplified manner, complex issues and trends. He and his wife of 30 years have one son. They live in Paradise Valley, AZ.

It sounds like writing has been a passion for many years, and you’ve been quite successful at it. Is this something you’ve always done professionally?

FF: I started out as an entrepreneur. During his college years, I started, wrote and edited the New Times newspaper which is now a multi-state operation. From there I went on to start several business and retired to take on writing full-time.

My interests in future patterns and trends range over many years and many projects. I co-wrote the Terran Project, a self-published book on community futures design processes, and worked as a researcher for Alvin Toffler on a series of high school texts on the future. I designed and taught courses and seminars on the future of society, technology and business and was appointed by the Mayor of Phoenix to serve on the Phoenix Futures Forum as co-chairperson and served on several vital committees.

MA: I’ve always enjoyed reading the Tofflers’ works. When I was in the USAF, Alvin and his wife visited the Air Command and Staff College when I was a student there to talk about future trends. Fascinating stuff! With your background, why the transition to novels?

FF: I’ve always wanted to be novelist. I wrote my first novel in high school then another when I was in my late 20s. Both were not very good. Like many novelists, I write to entertain but also to make a point – to try and educate the reader in something they might not have been aware of.

MA: Tell us about CyberKill.

FF: My first novel is CyberKill. Fans of Tom Clancy, James Patterson and Clive Cussler, would enjoy this twist on the Frankenstein myth.

A brilliant programmer, Travis Cole, inadvertently creates “Dorian,” an artificial intelligence that lives on the Internet. After Cole attempts to terminate his creation, Dorian stalks his young daughter through cyberspace in an attempt to reach Cole to seek revenge. When cyber-terrorism events threaten the United States, they turn out to stem from the forsaken and bitter Dorian.

In the final conflict, Dorian seeks to kill his creator – even if it has to destroy all of humanity to do it.

MA: Where did you come up with the idea for the story?

FF: Many years ago I read an article in Time magazine about a young artificial intelligence (AI) programmer. He had created a series of AI agents and sent them out over the internet to see if they would evolve. I thought to myself, what if the programmer terminated his experiment? If the Artificial Intelligence evolved into a real intelligence, would they take his act of shutting down the experiment as attempted murder? From there, I thought “How far would an artificial intelligence go for revenge?” and stalk Travis Cole, my protagonist, through cyberspace to kill him. The end result was CyberKill. (cyberkill.frankfiore.com)

MA: Tell us more about Travis Cole.

FF: Travis is an intelligent and gifted programmer but he’s into shortcuts. That provides the opening that AI agent can exploit and reach Cole.

Readers are not interested in a main character that can do or know everything. It’s not only unreal but it makes for boring story telling. The main hero has to have his sidekicks – people who know what he doesn’t know – and that builds a relationship and makes the characters feel more real to the reader. It also lets the author play one off the other to create interesting dialogue and an interesting story.

I try and combine the male and female leads into what one character would be. Between them, they know enough to drive the story forward with the help of secondary characters. Besides a little flirting and possible love interest adds to the story.

MA: I take it that Dorian is the antagonist?

FF: The ‘bad guy’ is the AI software agent he created. The AI agent becomes super-intelligent and names himself Dorian.

MA: I don’t know if you’ve dabbled with AI at all, but from your background you’ve certainly had an interest in related studies. Any real life influences in the story?

FF: All my life I have been interested in many, many subjects – from the social sciences to the human sciences to science itself. All of this interest has helped me develop interesting and believable characters and stories. Also, CyberKill is speculative fiction with a science bent. That means the technology the geographic locations, government and military installations and organizations, information warfare scenarios, artificial intelligence, robots, and the information and communications technology in this book all exist.

As for the genetic weapon, pieces of the technology are either in existence or in the research and development stage. Now, according to the Department of Defense, it doesn’t exist. But the Fars News Agency of Iran reported otherwise last year.

I wanted to show the reader that what happens in the book could very well happen today. So I had to take what was known, combine it with other knowns and then stretch the facts a little.

MA: (chuckling) That pesky Department of Defense! So what’s next in your writing journey?

FF: I’ve just completed the first two novels of a three book series called the Chronicles of Jeremy Nash.

The Chronicles of Jeremy Nash is a new thriller series about a noted debunker and skeptic of conspiracy theories, urban legends and myths. Jeremy Nash is pressed into pursuing them by threats to himself, family and reputation. The Chronicles of Jeremy Nash capitalizes on the continuing interest of the reading public in conspiracy theories, unsolved mysteries, urban myths, New Age beliefs and paranormal events. I also feeds the growing appetite of the public for ‘puzzle stories’ in the vein of National Treasure and Indiana Jones with a little of the X-Files thrown in. The formula of the chronicles consists of a conspiracy theory, unsolved mystery, urban myth, New Age belief or paranormal practice that Nash is forced to pursue; combined with an underlying real world event, organization or persons that is somehow connected to what he is pursuing. This provides the thriller aspect of the stories.

MA: Fascinating. Anything else you’d like to add?

FF: I watch movies because I write my novels as movies. Movie scripts have a structure that is shared by novels. Both have a similar 3 or 4 act structure (spine/skeleton) that involves a hook, generally with the main character involved, then the ordinary world (who they are, etc) the first turning point, tests and trials, reversals, black moment when all seems lost, climax, the epiphany and reward. This is not a formula, it’s classic mythic structure and it’s used in both mediums. Current contemporary commercial novels are much faster paced than in the past, no matter what genre. Some genres (action and thrillers) move faster than others but the whole market has shifted. We are a USA Today society that deals in sound bites and Tweets, and that doesn’t bode well for the slow moving novel. Read More

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Oct 06

“Talk the Talk” Sage Advice from Mary Deal

Talk the Talk

Is your dialogue authentic?

I write mysteries and watch some reality cop shows listening for police techniques and jargon. It’s a way of keeping stories in the now, exciting, up to date and understandable by readers. With an open mind and ear, you can learn how to make your characters act like the police or the perpetrator. You can learn search techniques or glitches in the schemes of wrong-doers. All of this knowledge enhances the reality of the stories you write, not just mysteries.

When writing dialogue for each character, it’s important that each person in the story have their own personality. When speaking, no two characters should sound alike. So it’s important to make a cop sound like a cop and a perpetrator like a perpetrator. It’s important t make these characters sound authentic in any story.

Especially, dialogue is critical in defining character personality. Here is a piece of dialogue I heard when watching Manhunter:

“Do you have an eyeball?”

The scene was a stakeout. Lenny DePaul, on one side of the building, was asking Roxanne Lopez at the corner of the building, if she had a clear view to the doorway where the perpetrator might appear. In another show, I heard “Do you have an eye?”

A book I recommend where you can find police jargon if you’re not into scrutinizing TV shows is Cop Speak: The Lingo of Law Enforcement and Crime, by Tom Philbin.

Here are some examples from the book that can easily be incorporated into dialogue:

Flashlight roll = A police technique of rolling a flashlight across a doorway of a dark room to illuminate the interior.

Make a canoe = Do an autopsy.

Catch a stack = To rob someone who turns out to have a lot of money.

Grounder = An easy case to prosecute; also known as a ground ball.

Mutt = Police term for a person with very poor character.

Hello phones – Telephones that informants use to reach their police contacts.

Still more of the terms and definitions in this book run from hilarious to dead serious. You can find any term explained and some mean far more than you think they do.

If you want your stories, especially mysteries to sound authentic, this book or other similar ones listing terminology and definitions will greatly enhance your writing and dialogue. Make them part of your instructional library.

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Aug 04

Mary Deal Provides “8 Tips for Beginning Writers”

Tip #1 – Store Your Notes

Usually when I see great writing tips, I have a file set up in Word called – what else? – “Writing Tips.” I copy and paste the advice into my file to refer to when needed. Any handwritten notes I’ve made as reminders also get posted there.

Tip #2 – Be Prepared to Write

Keep writing materials handy no matter where you go. That one item you forgot to write down, and then forgot completely, could have been the one fragment that made your story memorable.

A true writer makes notes everywhere they go. If we’re without a laptop, as I am, we carry note pads and pens. JK Rowling used paper table napkins because she used to sit in her favorite cafe lamenting on her jobless plight – till a shift happened in her mind and she started penning the notes for her first novel.

Tip #3 – Beginnings

Avoid using empty words to start a story. Some empty words are:

There – refers to a place
They – refers to people
That – refers to a thing
It – refers to almost anything

Without first knowing the content your story, we have no idea to what each refers. For example, one person may write:

There were four of them. Without yet knowing the story, ask yourself: Where were they? Who were they? A better way to bring the action forward would be to say, Four of them appeared. Or get directly into the meat of your story and say, Four men dressed in black mysteriously appeared out of nowhere. You can write much more succinctly if you will use descriptive words, and not empty ones to start a story or sentence.

Exceptions are:

The Charles Dickens line: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. I see no way to improve on that – or emulate it.

Also: It was a dark and stormy night, coined by the Victorian writer, Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. Surely, you wouldn’t write: A dark and stormy night had overtaken us. Or would you?

Tip #4 – The First Word of a Story

The first word of the first sentence of the first paragraph under the story title must grab attention. The first sentence must sustain the attention, and on through the first paragraph. If the first word or sentence is boring, or says nothing in particular, the readers’ expectations of a good story are killed.

What if you wrote: It was a quiet town with quiet people. Does that give you any idea at all as to what the story might be about?

You can use the word “the” to begin anywhere, but what follows “the” then becomes the attention grabber.

Here’s an example of starting with “the” from my adventure novel, The Tropics: The jagged scar on Pablo’s belly wriggled like a snake when he ran.

Here’s the attention grabber from my Egyptian fantasy, The Ka: “Witch!” Randy Osborne said as he strode around the room wearing a contemptible smirk.

And from my thriller, River Bones: Blood-red letters filled the top of the monitor screen: Serial Killer Victim Identified.

Then from my latest thriller, Down to the Needle: “The perp torched himself…”

Start your stories with words and action that pull the reader in.

Tip #5 – Use of the Passive Voice

Passive voice should be used with serious consideration as to how it affects your story.

A bad example: The house was cleaned by someone else. Here, the object of the action is the subject of the sentence.

A good example: Someone else cleaned the house. “Someone else” did the action. They should be the subject of the sentence. Ask yourself who or what is doing that action. They are the subject of the sentence, not the action.

Passive voice can best be used, and sparingly, when writing in first person. Example: I was hit by the car.

Tip #6 – A Rejection for a Comma

My publishing house editor returned my manuscript again after I made most of the changes suggested in the first edit. The editor referred me to the Chicago Manual of Style and told me to get it right.

What’s wrong with this sentence? He mumbled as if confused, tried the knob, grunted and tried again.

The Chicago Manual of style says (Page 173 of the 14th Edition):

5.57 – In a series consisting of three or more elements, the elements are separated by commas. When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma is used before the conjunction.

Therefore the corrected sentence is: He mumbled as if confused, tried the knob, grunted, and tried again.

Did you spot the correction? Can you sense the difference as you read it?

In order to avoid rejections, the grammar in your story must conform to the rules if you know a certain publisher adheres to the Chicago Manual of Style.

Tip #7 – Avoid Splitting Infinitives

Be conscious of any form of “to be.” A great example of a split infinitive is “To boldly go where no man…” Everyone knows that line. It just doesn’t sound right to use: “To go boldly where no man…”
Look at these two:

“To be, or not to be.”

“To be, or to not be.”

Though split infinitives are a matter of style, incorrect usage at the wrong time can ruin a good story.

Tip #8 – Edit and Revise

We MUST edit and revise as many times as necessary to get it right. Otherwise, what could we expect but another rejection? Knowing if a story is right comes with experience of editing our own work as if it were someone else’s.

Once writers think their stories are finished and polished, even though they may have had a great edit, they refuse to go through another rewrite. Then, I ask, what’s the sense of having the piece edited? I edited my entire “Ka” novel manuscript – 885 manuscript pages (410 book pages) – a MINIMUM of 30 times over four years and stopped counting after that. Point is, the story had to be right before anyone other than my personal editors saw it. All of that happened before the publisher’s editor saw it. Then there were two more edits following that person’s sage advice.

Most of us writers are not English majors or PhD’s. No matter how good we believe our writing to be, editing is the only means to perfecting our craft.
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Jul 28

“Creative Writing Prompts” An Article by Mary Deal

Writing prompts and story ideas can be found in numerous lists on the Internet, but the best ones are found right around you.

How many times have you searched to find topics that might serve to shake a story out of your Muse? A list of words or phrases just might jog your Muse into action. Then, when you find such a list, you are not enthused by its offerings and you continue to search for more.

Story starters that encourage descriptive writing abound around you. Everything you see day-to-day is a writing prompt. If you don’t see life that way, I encourage you to take another look.

Take new interest in the things you take for granted. Let your mind wander from the probable to the improbable. Fantasize about things and events. Give them new life.
Here are a few samples of story ideas taken from everyday life that might help you see what’s around you in your world.

Imagine you’re walking down a road. Normally you see rocks and you side step and walk on.

If you’re a fantasy writer…

What would happen if all those rocks lying dormant for eons suddenly came to life? They pop. They explode. Wow! Would they be friendly? Or would they be alien, just waiting for the right moment to change the universe?

Want to write a mystery?

Suppose one of those ordinary rocks had fresh blood on it?

A romance?

You find an envelope caught under a rock along the road. It’s open and money is sticking out. You want to get the money to its rightful owner so you return it promptly and find yourself looking into the fiery eyes of…

See where I’m going with this? Writing prompts are everywhere.

In my day to day life in Hawaii, just this morning, I saw or heard the following writing prompts out of my window from where I sit composing this bit of descriptive writing at my desk.

~ The man across the street is trimming branches off a tree with a buzz saw. He stops suddenly and tries to see into the window of the house. (Someone from inside that house may have called to him. But as a mystery writer, I can make a real thriller out of that teeny bit of action.)

~ A kid runs down the street, like he’s real scared. Now I hear a siren coming close.

~ A dog limps across my yard. It has a broken leg, or its favoring an injured leg, and hobbling. A moment later, another dog crosses the yard. Looks as though it’s had one leg amputated.

~ A car passes by on the street. The girl looks like she’s gushing all over her guy, the driver. She’s almost in his lap. They look blissfully happy.

~ I hear a strange sound and it doesn’t sound like any of the neighbors using power equipment as they repair their houses and structures. The sound is most curious and I can’t get it out of my mind.

~ I hear a loud bang, like a gunshot. It comes from the next group of homes adjacent to this small neighborhood. I hear another.

~ The woman in the house to the left is standing out in her yard. She never just stands there. She’s always on the go. Her husband comes out. They talk. They hug. She cries. He comforts.

The best writing prompts are right around you. However, if you wish only words or phrases to trigger your Muse, then here are a few samples.

Buried money and valuables in a box
White powder in the kitchen and you don’t bake
Loving a married person, learning he is divorcing
A child who leaves alien footprints
An ugly knot growing on your body
Learning your spouse is a murderer in hiding
A horrific recurring dream that gets closer and closer
Lightning always striking only your house
The neighbors on your left practice swinging with the neighbors on your right
A rock containing clear facial images that seems to pull you in
A grotesque Halloween mask
A drop of acid rain
Unidentified creature footprints

This list is just a sampling. I could go on and on.

When searching for writing prompts, keep in mind that it is said only twenty types of stories exist. All stories have been written. This is true, but every story contains a different setting, unique characters, and unusual occurrences and endings. That is how we’re able to create new stories all the time.

As you seek mental stimulation through prompts, begin by having an idea in which genre you wish to write. Genre is what you need to decide first. Take for example, this prompt listed above:
~ A car passes by on the street. The girl looks like she’s gushing all over her guy, the driver. She’s almost in his lap. They look blissfully happy.

A romance writer will turn that scene into, perhaps, one of a happy couple of kids. Then life pulls them to opposite ends of the world. They meet again years later, only by chance, depending on the circumstances of the plot, and realize that they still love each other.

A mystery writer could turn writing prompts such as this into a thriller where the girl is gah-gah over the guy, but he’s got other plans. He turns out to be a serial rapist!

A science fiction or fantasy writer would have the guy taking the girl out to a deserted field, she thinks for a bit of petting. Instead, he beams her up to a hovering ship and whatever fate waits.

Know your genre and then, as you read prompts, determine what appeals to the type of story line you wish to create.

Begin to make a list of story starters that you notice. They are innocent gestures and occurrences that you might find in any good novel or short story. Make a list of anything that strikes your Muse.

Allow yourself to dwell on story ideas that may come to mind. Loosen your imagination. Do it now. You will need to free your Muse to write any story. Begin with your writing prompts.
Any story starters that you discover can also be used as occurrences and highlights in the story itself. Story starters need not only start a story. Starters can also fill in the story middles and endings.

I have used many instances from my life and ancient family history as writing prompts. You might wish to read “Grandpappy’s Cows” in the Flash Fiction section on my website to see how my Muse hilariously stretched the truth.

Or you may wish to read what my Muse made of seeing a boy out in the dead of night with a scissors in “Boy at the Crossroad.”

Writing prompts, story starters, or story ideas, wherever you find them, can trigger descriptive writing if you will loosen the reins of your Muse and let your mind wander on things sometimes best left alone. But then, after all, it’s only fiction. Right?

Mary’s stories mentioned above are further analyzed in the Flash Fiction section of her website writeanygnere.com.
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May 19

“A Writer’s Self-Esteem” by Child Finder Trilogy Guest Mary Deal

When ego gets in the way.

My very first short story sent out received rejection after rejection. I always had faith in my writing and kept producing new pieces. Eventually, I sent out all of my stories, but they received rejections as well. I was crushed.

I began to feel that as a writer, I must not be writing anything that anyone wanted to read or know about. Maybe my writing wasn’t entertaining enough. I convinced myself that I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to have anything worth writing about to say to the world. Deflated, I set my stories aside.

After months of not writing, but still feeling the urge to do so, I received one of my SASEs in the mail. I thought sure I had already received as many as anyone cared to return.

To my surprise, the hand-written message on my cover letter, being returned, read:

“I’m sure this will fit into the issue we’re planning for next June. How does $20 for 1st Rights sound to you?”

The Senior Editor of that magazine sent a personally written note! I was stunned that my story fit in one of their planned issues. You bet I agreed. The next June was over seven months away, but that little note told me so much and plumped up my writer’s ego once again.

The story that had garnered the most rejections happened to fit into their future. So it wasn’t really a matter of whether or not my story was good enough. It simply had to fit somewhere.

I began to write again and the flood of pent up stories poured out.

I mailed them all. Christmas was quickly arriving, but I sent out a Christmas story anyway, knowing it would be too late to make it into any magazine in the next three weeks. My writing was good and I just wanted people to know it. At that point, I would have sent anything out.

To my surprise, in the second week of January of the New Year, I got a note back saying a magazine accepted it, saying:

“Thank you so much for submitting this piece far enough in advance. We’re working on this year’s Christmas issue now and would like to have it. Christmas is almost a full year away. Would you be willing to sign an agreement giving us FNASR anyway?”

Timing is everything. Not timing as in getting the stories submitted fast, but getting them sent at a time when a magazine can use them.

When I think about how my self-esteem felt squashed by rejection, how egoistic! It had nothing to do with my ego. Acceptance is about writing the kinds of stories that various magazines can use. It is about getting our stories into the right hands. Of course, the stories must be the best that we could produce, but the rejection itself is never meant to tear down faith in our abilities. Read More

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May 02

Mary Deal Writes about “Naming Characters” in her Latest Article on the Child Finder Trilogy

When naming your characters, the moniker you give them should agree with the role they play in the story.

Think about some of the Classics you adore, or even recent releases. You probably not only love the stories, but the character names as well.

When it comes to naming your characters, try not to make up names that are too far-fetched. In other words… Read More

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Mar 03

Mary Deal Writes About “Words & Sounds” On The Child Finder Trilogy

Count me as one of the people who manage to confuse words in a most curious way. I have always had trouble with when to use “loose” or “lose” until I hit upon the fact that it wasn’t the definition of each word that caused me difficulty. It was the way I pronounced them.

Another difficulty I have is with names. When trying to remember anything, one of the simplest ways for me is to associate it with something else. In try to remember a person’s name, I usually have to say it several times, and associate it with the person’s face, in order to remember. Remembering faces is easier, but names elude me unless I work hard at remembering. Say the person’s name to myself as often as possible while in that person’s presence and while looking at his or her face sometimes works. Still, that’s kind of difficult to do when trying to hold a spontaneous conversation. Read More

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Oct 30

Fellow Writer Bob Doerr is Mike Angley’s Newest Guest-Blogger!

My guest author today is Bob Doerr, who debuts with two novels, Dead Men Can Kill and Cold Winter’s Kill. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that Bob and I have known each other for many years, long before our mutual writing careers. We served together as Special Agents with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, even overlapping once during Headquarters OSI assignments in the late 1980s. Read More

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