Thursday, July 26, 2018

2018 Summer Newschat

Zestful Blog Post 274

2018 Summer Newschat

If you're already on my newschat list, you should have received everything in here. If you're not a newschat subscriber, I encourage you to join, because I can't post the links to the free stuff here. (You can always unsubscribe after getting the free stuff--I won't be upset.) Here's THE LINK TO NEWSCHAT SIGNUP.

Dearest Correspondent,

I’m gonna start with a list of contents, because this message is so crammed with cool stuff:

·       Free starter pack of my writing exclusively for newschat members
·       New short story collection
·       Royal Caribbean mystery writing cruise with me!
·       Florida Book Awards silver medal
·       Murder on the Beach workshop
·       Palm Springs weekend
·       Mystery writing course at Ringling College
·       Latest Writer’s Digest features
·       Calling all STARs
·       What’s next

It’s been so long between newschats because I’ve been writing free stuff exclusively for you, publishing new work, and awaiting the OK to release some incredibly exciting news. Here we go!

Free Starter Pack

I’ve created three short, complete works as exclusive giveaways for newschat members, published under my personal imprint, Spruce Park Press. They represent a healthy taste of my work, both fiction and nonfiction. The newschat signup is now automated (learning curve for me there), so any new signups will get the free stuff automatically. But for you guys, here’s the goods, with my compliments:

Deep Trouble, a Lillian Byrd novelette, stars quirky freelance journalist Lillian Byrd, whose life is never easy. It’s the first Lillian novelette I’ve ever written, and I had a lot of fun with it. Special thanks to my STAR team for pre-reading and feedback! (More about STARs later in this missive.)

Download your copy of Deep Trouble by clicking below:

Next up is a brief for writers, 9 Fast Character Hacks for Creating Vibrant, Believable Fictional People. If you’re a fiction writer hungry to improve, you’ll immediately apprehend the ideas in this piece. I use examples from the work of James Dickey, Sinclair Lewis, Judith Guest, Mark Twain, Mary Higgins Clark, and others. It’s short and sweet, and available nowhere else. (I might add that even if you’re not a writer, you’ll almost surely find the piece helpful in building your insight as a reader.)

Download your copy of 9 Fast Character Hacks by clicking below:

On to something more personal. A while back, the editor of Mystery Readers Journal asked me to contribute an original essay on being a Midwestern writer. I did so, and the piece was published in 2017 (volume 33:1). Frankly, however, I didn’t feel I fully explored everything I wanted to in that essay. So I’ve done some editing and expanding of the piece, which is here exclusively for you. While developing it, I found myself focusing on the Great Lakes, and on my father, who lived and died on the water of that immense ecosystem.

You can download your copy of The Lake Effect by clicking below:

I’m happy to give these books away. My greatest hope is that you enjoy them! And I’d like to hear your opinion of them, good or bad. And again, if you're not signed up, here's the signup to get free books.

New Short Story Collection from Spruce Park Press

If a story by Flannery O’Connor and a story by Chuck Palahniuk got together and had kids, they would be the intense, bitingly sharp tales in Go-Go Day: Four Literary Tales with a Dash of Dark. Basically, I dug as deeply into the heart of humanity as I could, crafting characters who start out knowing what they want, and end up knowing what they need. Their paths are rutted and dangerous. In “Dixon Amiss,” a lithograph pressman gets a visit from a couple of guys with a life-changing message for him. Regina, a routinely shamed student in “The Cashmere Club” has a shitty life, but seizes a chance for a strange yet comforting makeover. The manchild at the center of “West Forkton Days” teaches himself a searing lesson about chance, love, and art. And the heroine of “Go-Go Day” yearns to be doted on, yet seeks ultimate liberation on her own terms. These are stories for readers who love to think—and who love life.

Buy Go-Go Day: Four Literary Tales with a Dash of Dark by clicking below:

Royal Caribbean Mystery Writing Cruise

If you’ve been wishing to study with me in person while drinking mojitos, this is it. Royal Caribbean is partnering with Florida-based Go Travel to introduce “Forensics at Sea: Mystery Writers Cruise,” a 7-day western Caribbean cruise on Oasis of the Seas, sailing March 31-April 7, 2019 from Port Canaveral, Florida.

I must brag that I beat out dozens of other mystery authors and teachers to get selected as the instructor and writing coach. I’ll be joined by Kelly Gillis, coroner and forensic anthropologist, and Jeffry Mouer, crime scene specialist and advisor to TV’s “Forensic Files.” Is this not the coolest thing in the world? I’ll be giving an expanded version of the mystery-thriller workshop some of you have attended, which will include tips and techniques on doing research, plenty of Q&A sessions, and more. Kelly and Jeff will present all kinds of juicy material on crime scenes and forensic technique. And get this: We’re going to put together mock crime scenes for you to examine as we sail through the tropics!

Promo materials are still being developed and edited, but the cruise is live and ready to book. Rates start at $1,063 per person. Learn everything about the whole shebang—and get the early registration discount—by clicking below:

I would be so thrilled if you’d come! If you do sign up, please drop me an email, OK?

Florida Book Awards Silver Medal

I’m honored to report that the novel I released last year, Crimes in a Second Language, won the Florida Book Awards silver medal in general fiction this past spring. My beloved Marcia and I traveled to Tallahassee for the ceremony and had a great time making new friends with writers and readers. My favorite thing is knowing my subversive, profanity-laced writing is sitting on a shelf somewhere in the governor’s mansion, as well as in a display case in the library at Florida State University.

Murder on the Beach Workshop

This one’s coming right up. I’ll be teaching my “Fearless Writing” workshop at Murder on the Beach bookstore in Delray Beach on August 18. This is part of their Authors Academy series, it costs $25, and you can learn more and sign up by clicking below:

Short Story Writing in Palm Springs

The wonderful folks at the Palm Springs Writers Guild (California) have invited me for the weekend of November 3-4 this year. I’ll give a talk at their Saturday luncheon, where guests are welcome, then on Sunday I’ll do a daylong workshop on short story writing. The workshop costs $85 for members and $100 for nonmembers, and you can find out all about it by clicking below:

Mystery Writing at Ringling

Once again I’ll be serving as an adjunct professor in the creative writing department at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota. This fall term I’ll be teaching “Writing Mysteries and Thrillers,” and I’m sorry to say the class is already full. But I want to show you this cool poster produced by art students at the school. I’m sorry I can’t give credit by name at this moment.

Latest Writer’s Digest Feature Articles

I’ve been continuing writing articles for the leading writing magazine, Writer’s Digest, in my capacity as contributing editor.

A feature of mine on writing comedic characters, “Funny People,” appeared in the Comedy Issue, July/August 2018. Coming up in December will be a piece I had a great time writing, about old-school technology. Over the course of a weekend, I wrote with a quill pen, a pencil, fountain pen, ballpoint pen, and 1926 Underwood typewriter. And then I wrote about what it was like, with takeaways for writers. If you get hold of it, I’d love to hear what you think of it.

Calling all STARs

A select group of you are on my Special Team of Advance Readers. If you’d like to join, let me know. STARs get selected new work in advance, read it, and give me feedback. In return, they get my thanks and their own free finished copy of the work before anyone else. Their input on Deep Trouble was invaluable. In the (hopefully) near future, I’ll be calling all stars to read new nonfiction on writing, which will be published and for sale in series form, as well as future projects. I’m looking into more freebies and premiums for stars going forward, as well. Would you like to be a STAR? Just drop me an email.

And the Future?

I’m commencing work on
  • box sets of my fiction, and
  • a series of short books on writing, working title The Writer’s Garret series

And I’m planning new fiction (Lillian Byrd yes) and nonfiction. All for you, my dearest ones!

With thanks and love,


What do you think? To post, click below where it says '0 comments' or '2 comments' or whatever. To get these posts automatically via email, look to the right, above my bio, and subscribe there. Thanks for looking in.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Fast Hack to Shakespeare Knack

Zestful Blog Post #273

I often find myself, when talking to groups about writing, giving a particular piece of advice, and I’d like to mention it here:

If you read and well digest nothing of Shakespeare but the three main tragedies—Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth—you will have all you really need of the Bard. This of course is arguable. There are Shakespeare scholars who would consider what I just said blasphemy. Isn’t blasphemy a good old word? Aye, ’tis.

[my college-days editions, with crayoned prices…bastards always overcharged...]

You can argue for Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, and the popular comedies like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night. You can argue for any of his plays; I mean, the guy was a genius with words and stories. Personally, I find his comedies to be kind of tiresome, with all the mistaken identities and blind misunderstandings. They’re like lots of operas in that way, but without the great songs.

I’m talking about a hack that will educate you pretty damn well as to what Shakespeare was all about, and that will give you a solid grounding in what are considered by many to be his top three plays—as in most influential, most popular, most highly regarded by scholars and dramatists. So many cultural references come from those three tragedies I couldn’t even begin to do them justice. But off the top of my head:

“To be or not to be…” Hamlet
“Nothing will come of nothing…” Lear
“Out, damned spot! out, I say.” Macbeth

Ideally, you’ll read and study these plays via annotated versions, which will tell you things like what the hell a ‘chameleon’s dish’ is and what it’s supposed to mean. Right, that’s from Hamlet. Chameleons were thought to live on air, and thus there might be a pun on ‘heir’, involving a possible implication by Hamlet that he might not be entirely satisfied with the promise of succession to the throne. But others differ. You can start to see why Shakespeare is as heavily studied and interpreted and argued over as the Talmud, which makes it an endless source of interest. You can read and reread these plays and notice and learn new things every time. Then you can go to a Shakespeare festival and have the time of your life. Apart from that personal enrichment, whenever you’re in company talking about literature and the Bard comes up, you’ll have a good grounding and be able to contribute.

Part of my admiration for Shakespeare is his economy. He packs so much plot, character arc, and action into so few pages! My annotated copy of Hamlet is only 172 pages long! Lear is even shorter at 147! Macbeth shorter still at 100!

Now, I call this a fast hack, which is a relative term. Compared with skimming a couple of copies of People in the dentist’s waiting room, reading three Shakespeare plays is slow. But compared with reading all or most of his plays, reading these three is fast.

And there ya go. Are you a Shakespeare devotee? Tell us about your experiences with the work of the great Bard. To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

Before I go, I want to give a shout-out to pal and Zestful Blog follower and commenter Ona Marae, whose debut novel, Gum for Gracie, is available! 

If you'd like to receive this blog automatically as an email, look to the right, above my bio, and subscribe there. Thanks for looking in. [Photo by ES]

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Pencil Cup Census

Zestful Blog Post #272

OK, this isn’t writing advice, but perhaps somehow this post might help you make your writing life easier and therefore more zestful. It’s about analogue tools. I’ve been thinking about such because I recently turned in an article to Writer’s Digest on using old-school tools. I believe it’s going to run in November-December. I had a great time with it, and I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s available.

Pretty much everybody has a desk cup. Whenever I visit somebody’s house, especially another writer’s, I try to get a look at their desk cup, because I’m always interested in people’s tools and how they organize them. I keep refining the contents of my own desk cup, which is fairly small. Here is the story of my desk cup and what I keep in it.

The cup itself was a gift from the Peninsula Singers, a choral group based in Port Angeles, Washington. They had special mugs handmade as a souvenir for everyone who sang or played in a special performance of the Brahms Requiem back in 2005. If you’re not familiar with the piece, it is considered one of Brahms’s masterworks. It’s his longest and biggest as well, involving full chorus and orchestra, with soloists, in seven movements. It takes about an hour or more to perform. [Boast alert!:] I played the timpani, and was gratified to see this email to our conductor from an audience member who appreciated fortissimo:

Dated 12/15/2005  "Dear Dewey, Merry Christmas!  Thank you so much for your gifts to me & the community via music.  I always enjoy the P.T. Orchestra but this year I attended the Brahms 'Requiem'.  It was an epiphany of renewal of faith for me!  I was in tears (two handkerchiefs) through most of it, but especially the 2nd movement.
Please give my especial thanks to the lady timpanist for her verve and emotion in playing.  The ff timpani was the renaissance of my faith.

I will say I did a good job. [Boast alert all-clear.] Sadly, the concert was not recorded, and my sole reminder is the mug. It contains all my most-used implements, and here are photos, followed by the what-and-why.

[My tiny pal Cheetoh guards everything.] 

And now the catalogue:

-        No-brand plastic scissors with metal blades, a giveaway at a trade show when I worked for Borders. The blades have stayed sharp forever; wish I knew the manufacturer.
-        Six-inch steel ruler engraved in inches and millimeters that used to be in my dad’s tool box. This thing comes in so handy, so often, for measuring little things and sometimes scraping a label or carefully prying something.
-        Purple make-up brush, with which I dust off my computer and keyboard every morning. Purple was on sale. One of these also lives in my briefcase, along with a cleaning cloth.
-        Small screwdriver that can be reversed from slot to Phillips.
-        Another trade-show freebie, a snap-off razor cutter for opening packages and slashing pictures of my enemies. [Just wanted to see if you’re paying attention.]
-        Fine-point black Sharpie for addressing packages and drawing mustaches on portraits in museums. [Ditto.]
-        Two ultra-fine-point Sharpies, blue and black, for writing in shiny-coated greeting cards that reject ordinary ballpoint ink.
-        Orange highlighter. I use this most often when prepping my music for the various groups I play with. I prefer pink, because it splits the difference between visible-enough and obtrusive. But my pink one ran out.
-        Faber-Castell TK Fine Vario .7 mechanical pencil, because my sister uses one and I like to be like her.
-        Red Pilot G-2 07 pen, because sometimes you just want the emphasis of red.
-        The same pen in black, for general use.
-        Pilot Hi-Tec-C Maica 0.4 in blue-black, for finer work or just to change things up. The ink in these fine point Japanese pens lasts and lasts and lasts.
-        Ivory Parker Jotter with a strange pale-green-check graphic on it. This model is one of the older ones, with a metal cap and—important for durability—metal ring around the tip. I’ve customized this with a broad-point blue refill by Monteverde. Lovely to write with.
-        Soft-graphite wood-cased pencil such as the Blackwing original or the Faber-Castell 4B. Often it’s a Blackwing 602, which is the hardest Blackwing, but still on the soft side.
-        Fountain pens stay on standby in a drawer; I don’t like to store them vertically in a cup.

You’ll notice there are no multiples of anything. When you have like six pencil stubs, plus four cheap gimme pens from wherever, they crowd up the cup and stuff gets jammed. So, my point today is, you can save yourself a bunch of scrambling around if you just keep a few little things handy, buffered by a bit of empty space.

What indispensables are found in your desk cup? To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.
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Thursday, July 5, 2018

Welcome the Bitch, Welcome the Bastard

Zestful Blog Post #271

The most-highlighted passage in the e-book versions of You’ve Got a Book in You is where I tell writers it’s essential to give themselves permission to write poorly. That passage resonates, because self-criticism dwells within all of us. But if you give yourself permission to produce crummy stuff, you will have the chance to improve. You may or may not improve, but you’ll have the chance.

But that’s just theory, right? The doubts and negativity that spew from the little bitch or bastard on your shoulder as you write—or sit there staring at your notebook or blank screen—are real. Yes! Those ugly, hissed words: Who the hell do you think you are? You suck. You can’t. You’ll never amount to anything as a writer because not only do you suck, your work sucks, and there’s so little of it! And everybody knows it. Anybody who says they find value in your work is just being phony with you because they feel sorry for you. What a crummy loser! Honestly. Hey, here’s an idea: Don’t you wanna check how many likes you got on your last post on whatever the hell social media? Right now? Hey, why don’t you just quit writing for now and go buy a tub of that gourmet ice cream? You’ll only eat a little bit of it. You’ll save the rest for tomorrow.


I mean, did you laugh? Because it’s so ridiculous when you see it all laid out.

Here’s the thing: You can never shut up the bitch or bastard on your shoulder by force. In fact, they love it when you try to force them to shut up. It just gives them more dramatic attention, more strength. So, what do you do? Welcome them. Listen coldly, then go, “Thanks for the shit, pal. I’ll listen to you again soon, but now I’m getting back to work. Chillax until we meet again.”

[When I tried to look at her objectively, in order to draw what she really looks like,
she disappeared. Baffling.]

The fact is, every master started out a klutzy, anxiety-stricken novice. The novices who prevailed to some level of competence learned a key mantra: “So what?”

And that’s all there really is to it. Your work is imperfect. So what? Mine is too. You didn’t get as much done as you wanted. So what? Neither did I. All that matters is that you do it. If the little bitch or bastard hammers at you, so what?

“So what?” is an incredibly freeing mantra.

Do you have any tips on how to work through a self-inflicted shitstorm? How do you pick yourself up if the bitch/bastard gets you down for a while? To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.
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