Handwritten Letters: Redux

I wanted to re-post my first post when I joined Women of Mystery in 2009. It remains one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it!DSCN1543-1

It’s truly an honor and a privilege to be joining my fellow “Sisters in Crime” on the Women of Mystery blog. My heartfelt gratitude to the talented writers for inviting me along; I’m thrilled to be here.

Nearing the first anniversary of the death of their only son, I wrote a letter to a former coworker and his wife. A handwritten letter, not a typed one. I lost my 37 year old brother in 2001, and I know how it feels when anniversaries approach, especially that first one. The man who lost his talented clarinetist son in a tragic car ajpg_pancilhand-2ccident called me to say how touched they were. “No one writes handwritten letters anymore,” he said.

Afterward, I thought about some of the handwritten letters of my past.

In Mrs. Luciano’s fourth grade class at St. Patrick’s School in Huntington in 1970, we wrote letters to soldiers in Vietnam. Two soldiers responded, and I will never part with those letters.

jpg_correspondenceDuring my teen years, I had as many as fifty pen pals. I remember the most letters I ever received in one day — fourteen. Most of my pen pals were fellow Osmond Brothers fans. Kindred spirits find a way to be together, I guess. Besides, what kid doesn’t like to receive mail?

In the late 1970s, I chose “Ethnic Studies” as one of my electives at Huntington High School, specifically for the long-term project: a family tree. Upon learning that my mom knew little of her Irish roots, she suggested that I write to her Aunt Mary.jpg_tree-of-life-and-love

Aunt Mary’s five-page response sparked a flame that’s been burning for over two decades. Genealogy became a passion for me, as well as my mom and my Uncle Jimmy. Our obsession has taken us to Ireland, Pennsylvania, and New York City; to libraries, cemeteries, and genealogy research centers — and to think it all started with a letter. It’s amazing how much we still glean from Aunt Mary’s letter.

In 1979, I wrote a letter to Andy Gibb asking him to take me to my prom. I never heard back; I guess he just didn’t want to be my everything.

My mom wrote to her Aunt Gert in 1980 in search of family photos. Aunt Gert wrote back to say that she had packed the photos away, “in a rare fit of domestic activity,” and wasn’t sure where they were.

Gert remarked, “I know one of these days they’ll come to light (like the Dead Sea Scrolls, Tut-Ank-Amen’s Tomb, Veronica’s Veil and Howard Hughes’ will), but at the moment I think it would take the combined efforts of the FBI, Scotland Yard and Interpol to give me the faintest clue. I know the day will come when suddenly my hand will touch a crumbling cardboard box and upon opening it and seeing the contents, I’ll stagger back and shriek, ‘Eureka!’, rush to the phone and dial your number and say, ‘It’s all yours, baby, come and get it.’ Until then, darling, bear with me, I beseech you.”

She could have written, “I’m not sure where they are, but when I find them, I’ll let you know,” but I’m so glad she didn’t. Aunt Gert’s letter is a gem.

Do you still write handwritten letters? Are there certain letters from your past that you won’t part with? Is it a lost art?
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Follow me on Twitter @katcop13

Writing Inspiration

I had no idea how important other writers would be to me when I began my journey as a mystery writer. At one point, I almost gave up writing my first mystery, Murder at the P&Z. But then I went to a meeting of Sisters-in-Crime, the Tri-State, New York City Chapter. By the time I left, no doubt dwelled in my mind about the book, I couldn’t wait to finish it.

What made the difference? The energy in the room from all the other writers who were in all stages of making their dreams come true, including those who had published series of books to those budding authors. Then we went out to dinner and the supportive conversation continued.

I was with kindred spirits. And so too, being a contributing writer for Women of Mystery.Net. It also fed my author’s spirit and gave me a means of communicating with other writers, and a platform to introduce my new books to readers.

Now I’m working on my third book in the Carol Rossi Mystery Series, the first two published by Mainly Murder Press. Although writing is an isolating venture, we don’t do this alone. We have our beta readers, our writing groups, our blogs, our editors, our publishers, our wonderful libraries who also serve as a platform for our new releases.

At a time when we give thanks for our blessings, I’d like to give mine to all the above.

 

 

Joeseph Finder’s Tips for Writers

I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture at The Center for Fiction given
by Joseph Finder, The New York Times Best Selling Author. He shared his story
—a fascinating one—of how he went from working for the CIA to writing thrillers.

51e-V7ZwpwL._AA160_He also shared his10 Tips for Writers from which he believes every writer can benefit. Here’s a summary:

1. Rejection can be useful. It can prompt you to do more work and get it to the right      editor.
2.   Be stubborn but be smart about it and be persistent.
3.  Learn to value criticism. It can give you good feedback.
4.  The best fiction is about character, not plot. The plot should arise from the character.
5.   Avoid backstory dump. It takes people out of the story.
6.   Every scene should do some work Ask yourself why is it there.
7.   Reveal. Surprise. Cut out the slow parts.
8.   Never underestimate your readers. Surprise them rather than fool them.
9.   Just write the book. Don’t get hung up in the prose or the words.

10. Get lucky. Hopefully get in front of the right people at the right time.

I’ve read several of Joe’s books and have enjoyed them all very much. His last thriller, THE FIXER, a stand alone, certainly proves he takes his own advice.

How about you? What, if any, rules do you apply to your writing? We’d love to know.

Sunday Sentence

I’m participating in David Abrams’ project, Sunday Sentence, from his blog, The Quivering Pen, in which, “Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.”

jpg_bridge300“After three days in the wilderness, he had rotated the tires, mended three water mattresses, built a bridge, filled eight snow-control barrels with cinders, and devised a sophisticated system to de-sand everyone before they entered the tent.”jpg_tent0001

Do you recognize the writing of Erma Bombeck? It’s from If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?.

Speaking of the beloved writer, Erma Bombeck, I am thrilled to be attending the sold-out Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, Ohio, on the campus of Erma’s alma mater, the University of Dayton, from March 31-April 2, 2016. I’ll be joining writers from 35 states, a couple of Canadian provinces, and Madrid, Spain. You can follow the Bombeck Workshop on Twitter @ebww.

How about you? Read any fun or intriguing sentences this week? Do share!

Follow me on Twitter @katcop13

 

Advice to Writers

Are you familiar with the site AdvicetoWriters.com? If not, I highly recommend it. The Daily Quote of the Day is always a gem. The information on the site, “Writerly Wisdom of the Ages,” is collected by Jon Winokur. Advice to Writers also features interviews with writers.

jpg_writing400You can subscribe to email to receive a Quote of the Day, and follow Advice to Writers on Twitter @AdviceToWriters.

Another of my ‘go-to’ sites for writerly advice and inspiration is the interviews from The Paris Review. The archived interviews with authors date back to the 1950s. From Truman Capote to Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway to Henry Miller, and James M. Cain to W.H. Auden, The Paris Review interviews provide hours of fascinating reading.

Do you have a favorite site for writing advice and/or writer interviews?

Follow me on Twitter @katcop13

Stay At Home Writer

A month and a half ago, I left my full-time job. Woo hoo, I thought, now I’ll have more than enough time fojpg_BPA0225r full-time writing and I’ll finish my new novel in a New York minute. Well, not so fast.

Even though the whole day is mine, stretching out before me like the road to Oz, there seem to be so many other things that muscle in on my writing time.

There are errands and food shopping—a person has to eat, right?

Or catching up with friends who were always worried I’d be too busy for a conversation.
And of course, the triple threat: Email, Facebook and Twitter. They reach out to me the moment I sit down at the computer. I could justify all this attention paid to social media as beneficial input rather than procrastination. Sort of.

There seem to be hundreds of obstacles that get in the way of writing my work in progress, including writing about not writing it.

I guess I’m still getting used to finding a routine. When I was working, I got everything in, including writing time. Maybe it was because I knew I had to make it fit; that my opportunities weren’t as numerous as the day is long
.

So how about you? What’s your writing routine and how do you make it work?

Writing Organically

Stephen King does it, he writes organically, and another writer a little lower on the popularity scale, myself, and of course many others.

The First Writer and Editor: 'Take out that part?! Are you nuts? How is the stampede scene at the end of the cave going to make sense without it?!'

The First Writer and Editor: ‘Take out that part?! Are you nuts? How is the stampede scene at the end of the cave going to make sense without it?!’

A recent conversation with my sister revealed that people don’t know what the heck you’re talking about when you say you write organically. I told my sister that “nothing much was happening in my story,” and she delivered a long silence followed by “well?”

The most common reaction to my stories, although I’ve addressed organized crime and human trafficking, is that they are a “fun read.” That was kind of mysterious to me given the heavy subject matter. Then I realized that my books are like many others, they are adventures.

That’s always what I wanted them to be.

Of course, I place myself in my characters’ emotional lives and the physical movements and thought process begins and that’s what keeps the plot moving along. My research on the subject matter usually provides information for the reactions of my characters in a given situation.

If the plot gets stuck, for some reason or another, I just keep plowing along meaning my protagonist continues to do what she’s doing until another element pops up, or some event occurs to change the course of her actions. Which means I focus on another character and that character makes a surprising move and my protagonist reacts.

I also begin with a vision or two. Then I write to the vision, they usually reveal themselves in the course of the research on the chosen subject. I write to make the visions believable when the reader finally reaches them. But, I have no idea how the heck I’m going to get there, that depends on the research, the motives and the personalities of the characters.

Many wonderful writers, other than Stephen KIng, do a complete and detailed outline before they start. One new writer asked me how I began if I had no outline. I usually pick a subject I’m interested in, and what I think is a good move for my protagonist that has to do with research into the publishing business as well. Then my protagonist is fashioned by my own experience, sticking to that principle that you write about what you know. Endless details are the blood of your story, generally you don’t know them if you write about a subject you know little about even given the research.

I was an investigative reporter and so is Carol Rossi, my protagonist. A character, a subject and we’re off to the races.

I can see trying, however, to branch into subjects you know little about.

Do you do outlines?

Do you stick to what you know?

 

 

 

Writing Tips from E.L. Doctorow

image via www.popmatters.com

image via www.popmatters.com

The world recently lost a great literary master, E.L. Doctorow (Edgar Lawrence Doctorow ~ his parents named him after Edgar Allan Poe ~ lived from January 6, 1931, until his death at age 84 on July 21, 2015).

Here, Doctorow is giving an interview about his writing processWriting Clip Art

One of Doctorow’s most famous tips about writing: “I tell them it’s like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

From one writer to another, Doctorow said, “Perseverance is all.”

Doctorow had many quotes about writing, including: “Good wriragtime-novel-e-l-doctorow-paperback-cover-artting is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader — not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”

I was fortunate to have met E.L. Doctorow at the Southampton Writers Conference in 2006. He autographed a copy of The Book of Daniel for my nephew, Daniel.

Do you have a favorite E.L. Doctorow quote? (Mine is: “Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”)

How about a favorite book? (Mine is Ragtime).

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Follow me on Twitter @katcop13.

Organization for the Writer’s Mind (and Desk)

GetittogetherOne of my writing buddies organized the “Get It Together” blog hop, which is five, count ’em, five days of authors talking about how they organize their lives, their books, their writing spaces…everything. I think there are about 30 participating authors, and most of them have put things into the huge, massive giveaway of books, gift cards and organizational goodies that you can enter on any of the blog hop posts. My own post is today on my blog, so you can enter there if you like, and get a peek into the crazy world that is my planner obsession!

Back to Reality

I’ve recently gone back to work full-time, and, boy, has that been an adjustment. I’ve done freelance assignments and written fiction for six years, and I haven’t written a word of fiction since taking my job a month ago.

That is not good.

officeI enjoy writing fiction, but it has been years since I’ve come home from putting in eight hours and set down at the computer again. I write or edit most of the day now, and I find myself doing household chores, vegging in front of the TV, or reading. When I was working from home, I was reading an average of three books a week. Gone are the days…

I like to think I’m going through a period of adjustment…and I hope I get adjusted pretty quickly. My writing partner and I have published two books, and recently had Harlequin back out of our deal for a trilogy for their now-defunct e-book line. That has made it difficult to write too, just the sheer sadness of such a loss.Home

What do you do when you motivation has reached an all-time low? I like to put inspirational quotes on the refrigerator and my computer, so I’ll have visual reminders of what it is I want to do.

How about these?

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”  Mark Twain

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Richard Bach

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”  Phillip Roth

“There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.”  Doris Lessing

These are good quotes, and I’m feeling more inclined to put fingers to keyboard. I mean, I wrote this, didn’t I? Now all I have to do is read the last chapter I wrote so I can catch up on my fiction.