Friday, February 21, 2014

Writing Like Hemingway

There’s more to Ernest Hemingway’s prose than brevity, clarity and active language. But those are the things that Hemingway App will help you with. In other words, it’s a fun starting point on an edit, but it won’t make you a literary genius.

That said, Hemingway App is awesome and has an interface so simple and easy to use, it might have been designed by the master himself.

Dump a chunk of text into the online editor and get a grade score as well as easy to parse advice on how to make the sample cleaner and more clear. The (editable) sample text you encounter when you go there also explains how it all works:
Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear. 
Hemingway highlights long, complex sentences and common errors; if you see a yellow highlight, shorten the sentence or split it. If you see a red highlight, your sentence is so dense and complicated that your readers will get lost trying to follow its meandering, splitting logic — try editing this sentence to remove the red.
Adverbs are helpfully shown in blue. Get rid of them and pick verbs with force instead.
You can utilize a shorter word in place of a purple one. Mouse over it for hints.
Phrases in green have been marked to show passive voice. 
Paste in something you're working on and edit away. Or, click the Write button to compose something new.
Strictly speaking, HemingwayApp isn’t an app at all. That is, don’t look for something you can use on your phone: it doesn’t seem to work that way. Rather, at the moment, it’s all done online, in your browser window, though a downloadable desktop version is on the way.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Random Acts

Just now, walking through an East Vancouver neighbourhood. I encounter three 20-somethings, each holding a brass goblet -- likely wine. They’re chatting together pleasantly.

“How very civilized,” I smile.

“Here,” one young man says to me, holding a small plastic bag in my direction. “Take one.”

It’s filled with hand-written notes.

“What did you get?” He asks as I read it and smile. I tell him. Then thank them. It seems a lovely gift for a day that often gets lost in a lot of other things.

When I move on, it’s with a smile and my heart? It feels slightly more full.

Celebrating Your Greatest Love

Valentine’s Day is one of those odd holidays that can create a lot of expectations and breed disappointment. I’ve been in a committed relationship for many years, and there’s even pressure on the two of us to create a perfect day and event. Those without partners or dates on February 14th can feel the pressure so much more acutely. But Valentine’s is a wonderful day for those who are single to celebrate their strength and independence. Loving and valuing yourself is the most important thing and most of us (in and out of relationships) need to do it more.

So here’s to Valentine’s as the day to celebrate all of the love in our lives including (and perhaps especially) the love that all of us need to nurture for ourselves.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Cover Update

Am so proud to be able to share that the David Middleton-designed cover of my 2013 novel, Death Was in the Blood, came out ahead in a very tight race at The Rap Sheet. Thanks to all who voted. You can read more about it on The Rap Sheet here.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Best Crime Fiction Covers of 2013

Was so pleased to see that the beautiful cover of Death Was in the Blood was one of those selected by J. Kingston Pierce, editor of The Rap Sheet, as one of the top crime fiction covers of 2013.

Fourteen other covers have been included and, honestly? They’re all gorgeous. You can see them here. While there, though, scroll all the way down to cast your vote for your favorite.

As Pierce says:
You will find 15 fronts from crime, mystery, and thriller works published last year. All of them, I think, are special in their own ways, whether it’s because of their typographical excellence, their bold imagery, or the manner in which they suggest the intensity of drama to be enjoyed between their covers. 
However it turns out, I’m pleased and proud that the David Middleton-designed Death Was in the Blood was among those considered.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

“Bueller’s House” on the Market

The film was unforgettable. But that house? It left an indelible impression.

Turns out, there’s more than a few reasons. For one thing, it’s special beyond being the abode of Ferris Bueller’s friend. The house was designed by A. James Speyer in 1953. According to TopTenRealEstateDeals:
Speyer was a well-known architect, professor at Illinois Institute of Technology and was Curator of Twentieth Century Paintings and Sculpture at The Art Institute of Chicago. The combination of talents between the Roses and James Speyer created what might be considered by some to be the epitome of a sophisticated adult treehouse designed for endless creative inspiration.
No wonder the house he built for designer Ben Rose and his wife Frances in Highland Park, Illinios, remains a mid-century work of art.
At 4,300 square feet, the home consists of four bedrooms and four baths and is situated on one acre of wooded land. In 1958, the house was one of twelve homes in the nation featured in a Bethlehem Steel publication promoting the use of steel framing for residential design.
Fantastic, right? But, of course, it is for this that we mostly recall that house:
We still cringe at remembering the red 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder convertible fall from its jacks and go careening through the plate glass wall into the ravine below. Teenage lesson learned? You can’t remove mileage from an odometer by running a car in reverse. The 1986 film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” now a cult classic, starred Matthew Broderick as Ferris, who just wanted to play hookie from school for a day to explore and enjoy the city of Chicago for one last time before the responsibility of college began. 
The house is currently on the market at $1.295 million.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Please Don’t Let Your Fiction Suck!

Ernest Hemingway was very good at
creating writing that did not suck.
Avoiding serious suckage should be any writers Job One. Sure, there is so much that is important. So many things to do and not do to create work that seems real to the reader. Things to elevate your words and lift your characters off the page. But before you get anywhere near any of that you need to start with the basics: making sure your work doesn’t suck.

Here Script magazine looks closely at this very issue. Though this piece relates specifically to writing for the screen, there’s a lot here that all writers should be paying attention to in their fiction. Some you may already be watching for, but a few you might not have ever considered.

Though this advice doesn’t have all the smoothness or even the snap we got used to from dear old Elmore and -- certainly -- not all of it applies to work that is meant for the page, not the screen, there’s a surprising amount that does apply to all types of fiction. For instance:
4. The scene begins at the very beginning of the exchange, rather than the middle. Yes, many conversations begin like this in real life. But on the page, it’s crushingly dull. Instead, enter the scene mid-conflict by jumping in as late as possible (without being confusing). Then, make sure to exit the scene before it’s all wrapped up neatly. This leaves some tension to push the reader into your next scene.
And another:
8. We’re introduced to too many characters on the first page. Introduce us to just a few characters at a time. It’s like going to a party: If the host tells you everyone’s name at once, you won’t remember a single name. But if you start by talking with just two or three people, then move on to the next small group, you’re way more likely to get to know and care about each individual.
The full piece is here.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Quote of the Week: Lou Reed

“You do this because you like it, you think what you’re making is beautiful. And if you think it’s beautiful, maybe they think it’s beautiful.” -- Lou Reed

Legendary singer/songwriter Lou Reed died today of as yet undisclosed causes. He was 71. His literary agent, Andrew Wylie, told The New York Times that he “believed that his cause of death was related to a liver transplant Mr. Reed had earlier this year.” From the NYT:
Mr. Reed played the sport of alienating listeners, defending the right to contradict himself in hostile interviews, to contradict his transgressive image by idealizing sweet or old-fashioned values in word or sound, or to present intuition as blunt logic.
“I’ve always believed that there’s an amazing number of things you can do through a rock ‘n’ roll song,” he once told the journalist Kristine McKenna, “and that you can do serious writing in a rock song if you can somehow do it without losing the beat. The things I’ve written about wouldn’t be considered a big deal if they appeared in a book or movie.”
While Reed’s musical (and sometimes personal) exploits are the first thing that comes to mind when you hear his name, Reed was also an accomplished author and photographer. His books include Lou Reed’s New York (Steidl, 2008), Emotion in Action (Steidl, 2008), Between Thought and Expression (Hyperion, 1991), Pass Through Fire (Hyperion, 2000) and an illustrated book of poetry (with Lorenzo Mattotti) called The Raven (Fantagraphics, 2011) based on a series of songs Reed released in 2003. There are others, all  encompassing multiple facets of Reed’s very deep and real talent.

Reed is survived by his third wife, singer and performance artist Laurie Anderson.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Quote of the Week: Alice Munro

“I can’t play bridge. I don’t play tennis. All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn't seemed time for. But what there is time for is looking out the window.” --  Alice Munro
Alice Munro has become the second Canadian and the 13th woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. On so many levels, it’s a wonderful win.

The Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to 110 Laureates since 1901. Upon naming her the winner, the Royal Swedish Academy called Munro a “master of the contemporary short story.” In 2009 Munro was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work. The Nobel Prize amount for 2013 is set at 8.0 million Swedish kronor, which is about 1.2 million dollars.

I wrote about Munro her win for January Magazine this morning. That piece is here.
“That’s something I think is growing on me as I get older: happy endings.” -- Alice Munro

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Death Was in the Blood: Official Launch

I was pleased and proud to officially launch my newest novel, Death Was in the Blood, on August 11, in the garden at the wonderful Galiano Island Books on Galiano Island, B.C in British Columbia’s Gulf Islands.

What a special afternoon, officially welcoming Death Was in the Blood into the world.

This is the third novel to feature 1931 girl friday, Kitty Pangborn and it was lovely to spend time back in her world: both in creating the book and, more recently, sharing it with her newest readers. To those who attended, thanks for taking time out of a gorgeous summer afternoon. It was appreciated!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rough Life, Soft Kitty

I’ve mentioned Nala Cat to a lot of people lately, and here she is. This is a splendid example of a successful 21st century marketing program: as good on the inside as it is on the outside.

A former stray, rescued from an animal shelter as a kitten, Nala (who seems to have a couple of congenital problems that only add to her extreme cuteness) sells iPhone covers, t-shirts and other Nala memorabilia while donating 30% of her earnings to rescue and advocating for strays. Oh: and she has 62,000+ Facebook followers and 805,000+ followers on Instagram, all while being simply steeped in cuteness.

Here’s Nala on the web.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Story Behind Death Was in the Blood

Today on The Rap Sheet, I contribute “The Story Behind the Story” about Death Was in the Blood in particular and the Kitty Pangborn series in general:
I was in a period of reading a great deal of classic noir fiction. More than my share. And amid all the drinking and testosterone-informed shenanigans, I began to see her there, at the edge of things. A voice of sense and sanity (a feminine one, of course) in a rough-edged world peopled by men who’d seen too much and had paid too high a cost in a war years past--one they still carried around with them, emblazoned on their souls. 
Men like that, they’re good men, but broken sometimes. It can be as true now as it was then. We’re luckier now, at least some of the time. We have words for things; acronyms even. And we know that post-traumatic stress syndrome can do funny things to a soldier’s mind and heart. But during the first half of the 20th century? They didn’t have words for such problems back then. “He’s busted up inside,” someone might say. Or, “You mean that Theroux boy? He ain’t been right since he came back. There’s nothin’ wrong with him, you understand. But he ain’t been right at all.”
You can see the full piece here.

Meanwhile, as I understand it, copies of Death Was in the Blood are possibly trickling into a bookstore near you right now.

If you’re thinking you’ll be buying a copy, order it from your friendly neighborhood bookseller now, or pre-order it from your faceless online vendor. All of that pre-ordering or ordering is very helpful to small potatoes authors like me because it lets the people who control such things know you care. (Thus making future books in the series more likely.)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Scarlett Johansson Sues Author Over Use of Her Name

Though the very latest news featuring Avengers star Scarlett Johansson is about her wearing head-to-toe Saint Laurent at the Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday night, the biggest Johansson hullabaloo may still be to come.

The 28-year-old actress recently embarked on a lawsuit that could upset the creative applecart throughout authordom. According to The Independent:
The American star is challenging writer Grégoire Delacourt, and his publisher JC Lattes, after he described a character in his novel as being her “doppelgänger”, or exact double. The case – if it comes to court – could make legal and literary history.
Despite the author insisting that the comparison is meant as a compliment and tribute to Ms Johansson’s beauty, the actress, famed for her role in Lost In Translation, is demanding compensation and damages from the publisher for the “breach and fraudulent use of personal rights”.
She is also seeking to ban all foreign translations and film adaptations of the book – despite the fact that Scarlett Johansson is the perfect choice of actress for the role of a woman who looks like Scarlett Johansson, this being the most obvious job opportunity in cinema since John Malkovich appeared in Being John Malkovich.
La première chose qu’on regarde (The First Thing We Look At) has been a bestseller in France since its release in mid-March. Author Gregoire Delacourt told Le Figaro that he was stunned when informed of the suit Friday morning. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the author “also noted that he compared the main male character to Ryan Gosling and his boss to Gene Hackman in the book as an almost immediate way to invoke recognition of characteristics for readers.”
“This corresponds with the fantasies of our times. All these famous people live with us,” he said, noting that many personal details of Johansson’s love life have been revealed on the Internet and the public feels as if it knows her. “But I wrote a book of fiction. My character is not Scarlett Johansson, it is Jeanine Foucaprez!”
He describes the novel as an exploration of the “dictatorship of appearances and the true beauty of women,” and says he chose Johansson, currently the face of Dolce & Gabbana and previously Louis Vuitton, because she is considered the “epitome of beauty today.”

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Quote of the Week: Deanna Durbin

“There are two ways to learn anything. An interesting way and a boring way. I like the interesting way.”
Depression-era star, Deanna Durbin, died a few days ago, according to her son, Peter H. David. The New York Times said he “thanked her admirers for respecting her privacy. No other details were given.” She was 91.

The Times gave Durbin a lovely obituary, remembering the youthful ingenue fondly. “Ms. Durbin had remained determinedly out of public view since 1949, when she retired to a village in France with her third husband.”
From 1936 to 1942, Ms. Durbin was everyone’s intrepid kid sister or spunky daughter, a wholesome, radiant, can-do girl who in a series of wildly popular films was always fixing the problems of unhappy adults. 
And as an instant Hollywood star with her very first movie, “Three Smart Girls,” she almost single-handedly fixed the problems of her fretting bosses at Universal, bringing them box-office gold.
In 1946, Ms. Durbin’s salary of $323,477 from Universal made her the second-highest-paid woman in America, just $5,000 behind Bette Davis.
Her own problems began when she outgrew the role that had brought her fame. Critics responded negatively to her attempts to be an adult on screen, as a prostitute in love with a killer in Robert Siodmak’s bleak film noir “Christmas Holiday” (1944) and as a debutante mixed up in a murder plot in “Lady on a Train” (1945.)
The Hollywood portion of Durbin’s life ended when she wed David in 1950 when, at age 28 and having starred in 21 feature films, she retired with her growing family to a small farmhouse in France.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Social Media Explained... by Cats?

I can’t believe I’m sharing what is essentially a giant cat joke on my personal blog, but I just can’t help myself! How fun is this? Plus it’s the best explanation of social media and how they all fit together that I’ve ever seen. And some of the cats are super cute. Click on the image to see it up close and personal and, if you’ve a mind to, come see me -- and follow, like or friend me -- on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or LinkedIn.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Path to Becoming A Writer

Recently someone e-mailed to ask about the path I took: the career path followed to get to the place where I am. This person was exploring possibilities for career change. He had a job that did not fulfill him, but that enriched him in physical ways: good money, benefits, retirement possibilities after what currently seemed like an endless investment of years.

So what path had I taken? I sat and looked at the words for full minutes -- five. Maybe ten -- before I could formulate anything that even resembled an answer.

And then I realized: there had been no path. “Path” suggests something sane and sensible. My life hasn’t been like that. It is precarious. It has always been. You do it because you have stories to tell that will make you bleed if they go untold. They reverberate so starkly inside you that you need to do whatever you have to to get them out. That’s not a way of being that describes anything as sane as a “path.” More like a force that pushes and/or guides you.

So paths: the best most sensible path for someone to take if they already have a job that they perhaps do not love but that pays is simply to get up earlier. Don’t do less, do more. Writing doesn’t need to be one or the other. But it can be the salve that makes the rest of it work.

I didn’t explain that well. I’ll try again.

I have heard from many, many people that they wrote their first book while doing a job that did not please them. They carved an extra hour from their day and used it to write their first book. After their writing time, they would go to their job where they'd be able to use some of their workday ruminating on what they'd written and what they would write next, moving the book forward in that way.

That would be a sensible path for someone considering change. But is it the correct one? I don’t think there is a correct path for someone wanting to be a writer. And no clearcut one. The journey is always deeply personal and dictated by your own needs and desires and -- yes -- gifts and talents.

So that ragged path looks something like this:
  • In the first place, one should be writing because one has to.
  • One continues to work if there are bills to pay. 
  • And if one wakes up one morning and the money from the writing is equal to or greater than the bills, one quits the job.
That is the sensible course. But is it the right course? Maybe one day you’ll let me know.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Coming to a Bookstore Near You…

I’m glad to finally be able to talk about Death Was in the Blood now that everything -- including the cover -- is official and ready to be talked about. And it’s such a gorgeous cover, too! David Middleton did a great job… again. Thanks, David.

Death Was in the Blood is the third Kitty Pangborn novel. It’s again set in Los Angeles in 1931, this time against the backdrop of preparation for the 1932 Olympic Games that took place in that city. Here’s the official bumph:
In the third Kitty Pangborn novel Kitty finds herself challenged by what-might-have-beens. When Dex is charged with finding out who’s threatening a wealthy industrialist’s daughter, Kitty discovers herself back in the social class she was raised to, only now she’s expected to come in the service entrance. It doesn’t help that the young woman they’ve been hired to look out for doesn’t want Dex and Kitty’s protection: she’s headstrong. willful and in many ways not unlike Kitty herself.
I’ll be talking more about Death Was in the Blood as we move towards the publication date of June 2013. But if you’re so inclined, go ahead and pre-order the book now. These days, that kind of support makes a lot of difference… especially if you’d like to make sure you see more Kitty Pangborn novels in future!

You can pre-order on Amazon or insist that your favorite bookseller bring in scads of them.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Seven Tips for Writing Great Fiction

Though he wasn’t always the best at living, one thing Papa Hemingway knew how to do was write. And though he’s known for his taut, clean prose, he wrote a lot of words to get himself there. Life Magazine sent Hemingway to Spain to do a series of articles on bullfighting. They wanted 10,000 words. Hemingway came back with about 130,000 of them. They were published in book form as Death in the Afternoon. Hemingway knew how to write. A lot.

So when Open Culture trolled through some of the vast stores of Heminwaybelia to cobble together seven fiction-writing tips from the master, I was easy to pay attention:
Hemingway never wrote a treatise on the art of writing fiction.  He did, however, leave behind a great many passages in letters, articles and books with opinions and advice on writing. Some of the best of those were assembled in 1984 by Larry W. Phillips into a book, Ernest Hemingway on Writing. We’ve selected seven of our favorite quotations from the book and placed them, along with our own commentary, on this page. We hope you will all -- writers and readers alike -- find them fascinating. 
Open Culture has included both quotes and comments, so you should definitely plan a visit in order to see where it all comes from. Meanwhile, here are the seven tips from Hemingway that they’ve put together:

1: To get started, write one true sentence.

2: Always stop for the day while you still know what will happen next.

3: Never think about the story when you’re not working.

4: When it’s time to work again, always start by reading what you’ve written so far.

5: Don’t describe an emotion -- make it.

6: Use a pencil.

7: Be brief.

Truthfully, 3, 4 and 6 are opposite of what I believe. And I’m pretty certain Hemingway didn’t believe 7 himself (I know he didn’t follow it!) but it just goes to show: one of the big secrets is that there are few secrets. This writing business is a subjective one. The most important “rule” is to get your bum in the chair.

The Open Culture piece is here.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

RIP Jett the Australian Kelpie

Jett the Australian Kelpie
November 6, 1999 - February 8, 2013

David and I are so sad to say good-bye to our friend and companion of nearly a dozen years. Jett was rescued from a puppy mill breeding operation when she was around a year old. She spent her formative time locked in a crate and was never properly socialized. When we got her she was afraid of flowers and long grass and even her own shadow. She remained somewhat suspicious of strangers all of her life, though she loved children and puppies, other dogs and her cat, Tiger-Lily. It seems likely, too, that the poor nutrition and bad conditions she experienced in that formative time contributed to the crippling arthritis that led to her passing.

Though she wasn’t keen on grown-up humans, Jett had the warmest heart and the fear she felt never translated into mean, even in the most trying situations. Over the years people often told us how good it was of us to take on a dog with so many challenges, but we really never felt that. She was the sweetest dog either of us had ever met and she thanked us for sharing our lives with her in so many ways, every single day.

It sounds trite to say we miss her, but that really doesn’t even begin to cover it. If good dogs do, in fact, go to heaven, we have no doubt that Jett is there, running as fast as she can, happy to feel the wind whip at her spectacular ears and to be finally free of pain.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Best Books of the Year

I’ve been quiet in this space of late. The holidays were part of the reason, of course. Too much joy and fun and friends and food. (And while you can certainly have too much food, I’m not sure it’s possible to overdose on fun and friends and joy!) Also, however, doing my part of the writing and editing for January Magazine’s Best Books of 2012 feature kept me more than my share of busy for a few weeks. (Especially with all the aforementioned fun, etc.)

In any case, this year’s feature was massive and, in some ways, seemed especially satisfying to produce. I remain so very proud of the fact that January’s Best Books of the year feature remains completely passion-powered. They are the books that our writers and editors liked best throughout the year. Because of that, the books included are all over the map. The efforts of small and independent publishers are showcased right next to the largest imprints in the world. And some of these books were written by names known in every household while lots of them were written by authors I’m sure you’ve never heard of before. What do the books have in common? These are the books that moved the hearts of our writers. I can’t think of a higher recommendation than that.

You can see the feature here.