Storytelling Done Right: The Murdoch Mysteries

When I finished watching all of “Miss Fisher’s Mysteries” the first recommendation that popped up was “The Murdoch Mysteries.” I gave it a try, not expecting to discover a series so good that I would watch the available nine seasons and then immediately start over again. But that’s what happened. After watching 9 season’s worth of episodes twice I developed a theory about what makes this series so compelling. Continue reading


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Chef’s Corner: Instant Pots

One of my favorite moments on “The Simpsons” was when Homer watched Marge leaving on a train, and he called out, “How do I use the pressure cooker?” and she answered, “Don’t!” – it underscored my own deep-seated conviction that pressure cookers were beyond the safe grasp of ordinary mortals. So, it was with giddy trepidation that I purchased an Instant Pot last winter. An electric pressure cooker, it is supposed to be simpler and safer to use than traditional models. Yet, like a traditional pressure cooker, it reduces cooking time drastically, producing fully-cooked meats that are moist and evenly done. Soups containing carrots and potatoes can be whipped up in no time with the Instant Pot. It quickly renders soft the root vegetables that might otherwise take hours of conventional simmering. As a kitchen device, it is versatile and easy to clean up. I’m glad I bought it but have to admit that – despite what enthusiastic foodie bloggers will tell you – it is all-too-often not the best choice depending on the dish you’re making. Continue reading

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A Major’s Minor Flaw

I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I was a pretty lousy English major. I couldn’t diagram a sentence to save my life (or my self-respect) and I would not read anything that bored me, which was nearly everything (I arrived at class early to eavesdrop on my classmates, from which I gleaned enough details to pass quizzes). I did well on essays because, despite reading precious few of the assigned pieces, I could hone in on some key point and belabor it with zeal. I attended class faithfully, wrote well, and had an excellent memory for the few things I learned along the way. Those few things have not served me well. Continue reading

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Filed under 10 o'clock Scholar, Writing, Writing Process

How Not to Sell Things

I recently saw a trailer for a show called “Norman.” The trailer was so bad that I looked the movie up afterward, baffled over how something that looked so unpromising had actually gotten a preview slot in a bonafide movie theater. The summary line at the IMDB was even worse than the trailer: “Norman Oppenheimer is a small time operator who befriends a young politician at a low point in his life. Three years later, when the politician becomes an influential world leader, Norman’s life dramatically changes for better and worse.” (If you were lucky enough to miss the trailer it consisted chiefly of Richard Gere fumbling around trying to talk to people who were trying to avoid him.) Of both the trailer and the IMDB description, I have only one question. Why should I care? Continue reading

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If Horror Stories were Specialized

October sailed by, and it always seems to be the month made for horror stories, what with  Halloween and all. Much as I like the idea of curling up on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn and a scary movie, I have never been into horror. Not because I have a problem with gore or violence or even harsh language. It’s because I don’t find standard horror stories to be horrifying. The ‘scary’ problems are things that I don’t see myself falling for of failing to solve. Monster or bad guy in the closet? Kill it! Ghost in the attic? Not real, ignore what you’re imagining! Creepy stalker in your driveway? Rent a thug! The problems that crop up in horror stories strike me as utterly unbelievable (ghosts, demons, etc.) or as problems with super-straightforward solutions (apply violence). Continue reading

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Story Grid: How to Revise, in Baby Steps

Like too many other budding novelists, I have been writing for years under the assumption that if I just keep putting in the hours I will somehow, magically, develop all the skills I need. Again and again I have finished a novel, tried to revise it only to make it still-lackluster, and moved on to the next new project thinking that this time I’d get it right. I thought, mistakenly, that I was simply bad at revising until I realized that it was just something I’d never learned how to do. After accepting the fact that revision was a skill set all its own, I went in search of how-to resources. There are a great many books out there aimed at helping writers improve their craft, books with advice on how to improve plot, pacing, characterization, etc. But I couldn’t find any with the basic, step-by-step instruction that I needed. Until now. Continue reading

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Two Reviews on Writing-Revising books

When my self-imposed rough-draft deadline whooshed past (in August) and then again (with the extended deadline, in September) I decided it was time to consult others’ advice on the matter of getting things finished. I read Rachel’s Aaron’s “2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love” and am following her advice on making editing a smoother and more thorough process. I went on to read Chris Fox’s “5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter” and was pleased with the word-tracker Excel spreadsheet included with it. Ever the skeptic (I’m more a messy-notecard writer) I tried his ‘writing sprint’ exercise and logged my efforts accordingly. I was really happy to see that it helped my word count considerably. While the real trick to increased word count is staying focused, it can really help to have specific exercises aimed at improving one’s focus. Continue reading

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Gimmicks Don’t Help

I’ve admitted it before, and I’ll admit it again: I was not a typical or an agreeable English major. Part of the assumption people make about English majors is that we all must love literature, which is a class of reading material all its own. My university offered two options, an English BA that emphasized literature, or one that emphasized writing. I took the latter. I distinguished myself (not in a good way) by once telling a professor that the John Donne poem he’d assigned us was “the worst thing I’ve ever read” – only to have him look mildly horrified and counter that he’d written his dissertation on Donne. Continue reading

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The Matter of Manners

A few years ago, before I started making real progress on my own writing career, I was an enthusiastic reviewer of other people’s fiction. I had enjoyed some pleasant exchanges with authors via email and social media after posting positive reviews of books I’d enjoyed. Who knew that authors could be so gracious and so interested in their fans? I was delighted (truly, I was) to hear from writers who appreciated my support. And then, something went wrong. Continue reading

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The Problem of an Ambitious Mess

I haven’t posted in a while. For reasons. Let’s start at the beginning. Back in the spring, a good friend (who knows my penchant for dawdling) extracted a promise from me that I would finish a 90,000-word-minimum draft of a mystery novel I was halfway finished with. This draft’s deadline? August 1. Now, August seems a long time away when you haven’t even dragged the lawn  mower out. I agreed it was a fair deadline. And then I got invited to an awesome workshop. Continue reading

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