South Carolina Writers


Let’s hear it for South Carolina writers! Recently I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure to read books by authors residing right here in the Palmetto State, Sandy Richardson and Roger Newman. Richardson is a retired educator who lives in SC’s Midlands.  Newman, an M.D. living and working in the Low Country, has been selected as one of the “Best Doctors in America” by Woodward and White for the past two decades.

Since I know the importance of reviews to writers, I took a few minutes to review each of these books and am sharing them in the hopes that you’ll (1) read these books and/or (2) write one of your own.

His Mother, Sandy Richardson

I’ll never eat potatoes again without thinking of Kathryn Etters Lovatt’s mother-in-law, a Westerner who said she didn’t feel like she’d really eaten if she hadn’t eaten a potato every day. That was just one of dozens of things I learned about this remarkable woman and many others in His Mother, a delightful collection of essays and stories written about one of the trickiest and most important relationships in American culture, the one between a man’s mother and his wife. I say American culture because as Richardson points out in the introduction, other cultures such as China and Pakistan have different perspectives about this cornerstone relationship.

Regardless of race, social class, religion, educational level, or knowledge of which fork to use at a dinner party, the married women in His Mother learned to navigate the territory of this “complex and sacred union” with humor, grace, and awe. Their stories are entertaining, insightful, and well-written. Sometimes I find myself smiling as I think of lines like, “In my next life, I’m going to be a cowgirl.” The lesson behind “Isn’t it incredible that we both love blue?” is one I’ve already put into practice.

Bottom line: Great concept and wonderful stories.

Occam’s Razor, Roger Newman

A suspenseful page-turner that held my attention to the last page! Not only is Occam’s Razor spellbinding, it’s also educational. Rarely does a book give me heart palpitations wondering what’s going to happen next AND teach me about so many things about hospital politics, doctors’ daily rounds, drug rings, misused power, courage, and love. The icing on the cake was the mention of numerous sights in South Carolina’s “low country” and coast, especially Garden City.

Whether the incredible events in the novel could happen “in real life” doesn’t matter. What matters is that the reader gets caught up in the story and is zooming with Declan and Helene as they travel from Charleston to Garden City. What matters is that certain people (no spoilers here) get what they deserve and justice prevails. What matters is that the reader is both entertained and informed.

I love that these authors reside in South Carolina. What really impresses me is that they, like all writers, began their journey towards publication with an idea. Unlike many, however, they followed through with their work. Despite the agonizing process of revision, the fear of criticism, they pressed on.

What’s your story, and why are you waiting to tell it?

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Tell Me A Story

There are advantages to getting older. If a person plays her cards right, she has more time to reflect, more time to right some wrongs, more time to meet with old friends and reminisce about the days of yore. Sometimes getting together with friends and acquaintances from the past and listening to their stories can help you better understand your own life and perhaps get a glimpse of the magic that binds us as human.

My writing group (mine in the sense that I’m a member of it) is revising and editing and formatting material for its second anthology that’s being launched next month. As we work on it, we’re reminded of the importance of “story” in our lives. We all have them, several in fact. According to Pat Conroy, the words “Tell me a story” are the most beautiful words in the English language.

Since our anthology is on my mind even when I’m asleep (seriously, I’ve awakened thinking about a member’s poem or story or our looming deadline), my ears perked up when I heard a high school classmate sharing an incident with some friends at a luncheon last week. She was talking about the homes that had been damaged in The Flood last October and remarked that she knew someone whose floors had been irreparably ruined. The flooring had come from an ancestor’s home, and the homeowner wanted them restored.

It wasn’t happening. Finally, the contractor said, “That story’s over.”

That story’s over. Time to move on. Just like thousands and thousands of others, that story is a part of a person, and stories can live on in hearts and minds and souls without physical proof. You don’t need flooring to remind you of your grandmother, not if you have memories and stories.

Our many stories, even of those who came before us, can continue to affect us, in both positive and negative ways. For example, as a teacher, I heard so many tales of woe that even now I’m haunted by some of them. Depending on the student and her (it was almost always a female) current state of readiness to change, I’d tell her that just because her family’s narrative had always been sad, destructive, or pathetic, it didn’t have to remain that way. “You can be a transitional person for your whole family,” I’d say.

But back to the luncheon. As I looked around the table at the ten other “girls,” I saw them all as they were once upon a time as little girls. I knew a little about most of their parents, siblings, addresses, quirks, piano playing ability, singing talent, athletic prowess (or lack thereof). As adults, all had eventually married, and some had divorced and remarried; two were widows. Many had grandchildren. Some had health issues.

All were walking, talking repositories of stories.

Here’s the best one. A friend who had lost her husband over fifteen years ago told of actually dying after a serious surgery. She described what she perceived as heaven although there were no pearly gates or people of flesh and blood. It was light, very light, and peaceful. She felt essences of people, including her husband who had predeceased her many years ago. He embraced her.

My friend awakened to the sound of the doctor speaking to her and began crying. When he asked her why she was weeping, she told him she didn’t want to wake up. She wanted to stay with her beloved husband. I listened to this story and thought If only those who are grieving for loved ones who have gone beyond  heard and believed stories like this, it would make this vale of tears more doable and less painful.

Even if the story doesn’t have to do with death or loss, it can still teach us something. It can still help us make sense of our own experiences. And it can reinforce our human connectedness.

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Seeing Lives Change

Online classes began at midnight today at Horry-Georgetown Technical College, the community college where I began my teaching career in the mid-70’s, and the traditional classes started about thirty minutes ago. Thinking about the nervous excitement felt by the students, faculty, and staff  has sent me back to a project I’ve been working on sporadically for the last couple of years. It’s a slim volume about teaching, part memoir and part how-to.

Here’s an excerpt.

After graduation, I spent a brief stint as a bank teller before I started teaching. It was a six-month period of my life that I try to suppress as much as possible. Not that being a teller is a bad job. It’s a perfectly perfect job for someone with the personality and temperament for it. I was a misfit from Day One. Talking too much, not paying attention, and counting the minutes to break time were all indications that this was not the right field for me.

This was back in the early 1970’s, and my salary was minimum wage, something between two and three dollars an hour. When I was hired as an adjunct English instructor, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Pardon the cliché, but that’s how I felt. I was getting paid a whooping $5 an hour and working twenty hours a week. I’m not a math whiz, but I could see that I’d be working half the hours for twice the money…or so I imagined.

My vision of more money and fewer hours was soon shattered. When I accepted the position, I had no idea how much work I’d actually be doing. Those twenty hours were the classroom hours. No one was paying me for the prep work that included creating syllabi, reading/studying, preparing lesson plans, and creating tests and assignments. Then there was the grading papers part that consumed much of my free time.

The first day of class arrived, and anxious and excited, I stood outside of the classroom clutching my notes, all six pages of them. I glanced to my right and spotted my new dean, surprised to see that he too was giving his notes a last minute glance. It never occurred to me that he might have the first day jitters too. He did, though, and we reassured each other by agreeing that a little positive anxiety was good for our performance.

The 10:00 a.m. hour arrived, and I walked in to meet my first class. There they were, all twenty-five of them sitting quietly and waiting to hear what the requirements and expectations for the term were going to be. As I looked at Rex, Jackie, Wanda and their classmates, my heart was pounding so loudly that I could hardly speak. The fact that I was only a few years older than they were added to my anxiety.

Somehow I found my voice and jumped into the business at hand. I called the roll, distributed the syllabus, and went over all six pages of notes scribbled on my yellow legal pad. Then I gave out some note cards and asked the students to answer three or four questions about themselves before leaving for the day. As the first person rose to turn in his note card, I noted that it was 10:20. All that work, all those notes, all that talking, and it was only 10:20!

That was my first day of teaching, and there was no way I could know at that moment how much I would grow to love the profession. What other job allows an individual to read, write, and share ideas on a continuing basis? Plus, sometimes when you’re sharing some of those ideas, principles, and stories, you see the light come on in another person. You see lives change as people begin to glimpse the possibilities of their own potential.

I’m back to being an adjunct, and my classes began at midnight. The excitement I felt all those years ago while my dean and I waited for the magic hour to begin is still there. What about you? Do you have any first day experiences to share?

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Write what you know, they say. And while you’re at it, write something people actually want to read.

 Okay, got it. Sounds easy enough. Except that it’s not. Sometimes writing about what you know can be difficult, especially if it dredges up powerful emotions or painful memories. The “safe” stuff that I know centers around family, religion, spirituality, psychology, human relations, teaching, and feng shui. But often those topics are boring to others unless a writer has a way of making them interesting.

Then there’s the fact that people like different things. I like the work of Marilynne Robinson, and an acquaintance recently said, “Good Lord, why?” This person likes mysteries. Others like travel accounts, romance novels, crime books, and philosophy texts. One of my grandsons loves Rapunzel’s story and had his picture made with her this summer. (He knows only the Disney version from Tangled, and I don’t have the heart to tell him the Grimm Brothers’ version.)

You get my point. Different strokes for different folks.

The other evening I interrupted my husband’s reading and asked him to read me a paragraph from the book he was enjoying on his Kindle. It was an action-packed scene, one that was so graphic and descriptive that I could visualize the adventure and hear the shouting. It wasn’t my cup of tea, though.

“Now it’s my turn to read something to you, I said.

Somewhat annoyed, he put down his Kindle. I’d been reading a section on primal religions in Huston Smith’s Major World Religions and was fascinated by the fact that because they have an oral tradition, literacy is unknown to them. Here’s the section I read: “Because writing can grapple with meanings explicitly, sacred texts tend to gravitate to positions of such eminence as to be considered the preeminent if not the exclusive channel of revelation….The invisibility of their texts, which is to say, their myths, leaves their eyes free to scan for other sacred portents, virgin nature and sacred art being the prime examples.“

Truthfully, I didn’t read to the end of the second sentence because he stopped me with, “Why do you read stuff like that?”

“I don’t know. I just like it, I guess. And I was trying to make a point.”

He waited.

“People have different types of minds and interests, so naturally they’re not going to like the same types of reading material.”

He agreed and went back to his Kindle.

I’m glad we shared that moment. It fortified me for the next morning at our writing group meeting. Someone told me he couldn’t read all of my manuscript because he couldn’t “cotton to” the subject matter. He thought it was well-written, but well, it just wasn’t his cup of tea. Inwardly, I smiled because he had eased my mind about what I knew I had to say about his document. I couldn’t read it all. It wasn’t something I could cotton to. It wasn’t my cup of tea.

Generally, every member reads every piece the others submit. Even if it’s poorly written, we diligently go through a manuscript and make what we hope to be helpful, complimentary, encouraging, and honest comments. But not this time. This time was different. And that’s okay.

I read Maya Angelou’s Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now on the beach this morning. It’s not a book my husband, grandson, or writing group critic would like, but different strokes for different folks, right? And besides, I couldn’t resist the bait on the inside jacket: “Maya Angelou has packed the wisdom of  a lifetime into this small book.”



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On the Road with a Monk

It’d be nice if people actually read one or both of my blogs, but whether anyone does or not, I plan to keep plodding along putting a little something related to reading or writing (this blog) or to life (Mom’s Musings at

As we’ve all read or heard, “Good readers make good writers,” and lately I’ve been taking advantage of that advice by reading a variety of books, stories, and articles, some good and some better. I began rereading  As I Lay Dying this morning but soon gave it up after I remembered  its many characters, points of view, chapters, and stream of consciousness technique. I know it’s considered among the best novels of the 20th century, but Jewel and Darl required too much concentration earlier today.

Instead, I finished Breakfast With Buddha and reviewed it on Amazon.

“I ordered Breakfast with Buddha on the recommendation of a friend, not to learn more about the Four Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path, but to read a “feel good” book and be reminded of some important basics. Love is important. So are inner peace, compassion, a sense of humor, humility, and stillness.

“In the novel, Otto Ringling, a food book editor, takes a cross-country drive from New York to North Dakota with Volva Rinpoche, an affable monk who’s been foisted upon him by his sister Cecelia. Ringling and Cecelia’s parents have been killed in an automobile accident, and the two of them were to travel to their family home, a farm in North Dakota, to settle the estate. Cecelia, a beautiful, free spirited person, has become attached to Rinpoche and desires to leave her part of the estate to him to establish a holy center. She convinces her brother to make the road trip with the monk and promises to join them at the farm later.

“Annoyed with his sister, yet determined to make the best of the situation, Otto and the monk spend several days crossing the country, making stops along the way for the Rinpoche to speak at various engagements. The two men influence each other along the way, and Otto gradually softens up and begins to see his busy, worldly life through a different lens. He’s determined to show the spiritual guru some of what makes America great, including baseball games, gambling, putt putt golf, and fine dining. The reader (at least this one) doesn’t know whether Otto gets through to Rinpoche, but she does know that the monk influences Otto who, at times, meditates, does yoga, and fasts from a couple of meals.

“Breakfast with Buddha is a fun read, light and serious at the same time. While not a preachy book, the novels force the reader to take a look at her or his spiritual side.”

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Personality, Passion, & Preparation

No doubt about it, the beginning of an enterprise is always more exciting than the middle. At the start, you don’t know the roadblocks and distractions lying in wait. You can’t predict the weariness and frustration that will set in, and you surely don’t expect fear to come creeping in the door.  What if people think my work is sorry?

 Over a year ago, I began putting together ideas for a book on teaching. Though geared towards community college teaching, the completed product was to include information applicable to other situations as well. I finished the manuscript several months ago, finished as in, I’m DONE. Truth is, the excitement of the beginning was over, and the anxiety about putting the work out into the world had set in.

If not now, then when? 

Here’s a section on effective teachers.

It’s a guesstimate, but I’ve probably had nearly 200 teachers from first grade through graduate school, and I’ve had the privilege to work with dozens and dozens more. While most were effective, some were not. However, all the ones who reached the students had some of the same qualities. They had passion for their subject, personality traits that meshed with the profession, and the willingness to put in the preparation.

This trio of passion, personality, and preparation is evident in every effective teacher I’ve observed or known. The awareness of the three P’s gelled with me as I listened and observed a Sunday school teacher with passion for her subject, an engaging personality, and hours of preparation behind her. While teaching adults who willingly attend class to learn more about the characters and messages of the Bible is different from teaching college students with outside challenges and responsibilities, there are some common characteristics.

In both instances, the students are seeking rewards of some kind. In Sunday school, people hope to gain knowledge to help them gain admission to the pearly gates. In a college classroom, students seek knowledge to help them get a good enough grade to complete the class. Completing enough classes merits a degree, and a degree paves the way to a desired career. There’s earthly pressure towards success in a college classroom and heavenly incentive towards gaining knowledge in a Sunday school class.

Examining the three components of the successful teacher trio will help you recognize them as they show up again and again throughout the book:

Personality. The teacher after whom I’m basing this trio of traits is energetic. She moves around, as she talks and listens, not in a distracting way, but in a manner that commands attention. She looks at her students and reads their faces. That way she can tell who wants to comment or who might have something to offer. She’s encouraging and positive and pleasant. “Speak up,” she says. “This is not a solo deal.” While she doesn’t have a smile plastered on her face throughout the lesson, Ms. X is far from dour or dispirited.

 Passion. While we all might feel passionate about a particular interest, vocation, or pastime, in this case I’m referring to passion for the subject at hand and the desire to impart its value to others. “I just love this part,” Ms. X will often say. “Did you read it? What did you think?” When someone remarks, she always acknowledges the comment with an affirming nod or verbal expression such as, “I noticed that too! Don’t you love it?”

Preparation. I’ve been in classes where the teacher might as well have come in and said,“Wassup?” or “What do y’all want to talk about today?” That has never happened in this Sunday school class, and I doubt that it ever will. Ms. X’s hours of diligent study and thoughtful reflection are evident in each class. If she forgets something or gets the characters in a story confused with those of another, she admits it willingly and within seconds, she has located the passage she was referring to.

Community college teachers need the three P’s too. Personality counts. So is passion. But neither of them is sufficient without the necessary preparation. Students can be forgiving, but if a teacher repeatedly fails to deliver, everyone suffers.

I’m beginning to think I can do this thing.

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Works in Progress

I’m focused and committed. Or am I? I came across the following paragraphs in my document files just now and was stunned to see the date they were written: June, 2015. Today is August 12, 2016, and I’m still in the exact same state. What is wrong with this picture?

“Three or four years ago I began working on a beach book. I had seen a small volume in which the author took pictures of the sky with her cell phone and put them all in a book. Very little writing was involved, but there were dozens of pretty pictures of clouds and sky. I remember thinking, I could do that, and I started right away. Armed with a Blackberry, I took photos of beaches in North and South Carolina and matched them quotes, observations, and stories.

” I was working, working, working and let the project slide. Yesterday I took a look at the manuscript and realized with a heavy heart I had missed the opportunity to publish that particular book. Pictures and comments were clearly linked to November 2010 to November 2011. Plus, the gimmick (all photos being taken with a cell phone within one year) wouldn’t work.

“Ever the optimist, I think with some tweaking, I can still put together a nice book of beach photographs. In fact, with a few exceptions, every picture I’ve taken since that period is better than most in the manuscript. And I’d like to think that my writing has improved, largely because of input from my writing group. By mid-July, I’m hoping you can see that book on Amazon. lol

“I’ve also been dabbling with a combination memoir/how-to book on teaching. Light on methodology and heavy on experiences and recommendations, I hope to create something useful, informational, and fun for all aspiring teachers. I’m also hoping some colleagues, past and present, will toss in some ideas and experiences.

“And then there’s the family history book I’ve been pondering for several months. I’m not sure why, but many senior citizens (I can say that now without cringing) feel that same urge. In any case, with a nudge from my sweet sis, I’m typing away. This project will probably take a bit longer since I’m including research from other family members, cemeteries, and archives.”

Update: The beach book is still on the drawing board. We’ve visited a few other beaches since that time, and I’m adding those photographs and captions to the work in progress.

I’ve written three drafts of the teaching book. Striking just the right tone is proving to be problematic. It’s serious material, and yet there’s always a way (and a need) to lighten up. Plus, although it’s important to me and my story, is memoir related material an asset or a liability?

The family history is daunting. Putting together the narrative is the fun part; getting the dates, times, and names is a bit more trying. In preparation for the writing, I read two family history books by a member of my writing group, and instead of being encouraged by them, I felt more discouraged than ever. Without doing a lot of research, the book would be a thin booklet, a dry one at that.

On the plus side, I’ve also written a few stories and have had a couple accepted for publication. More on this later. And I put together a booklet of bios for my high school class reunion.That was challenging but fun.

1653894_10153843170575156_1462099188_nTime to revisit the family history document. I just recalled a quote by Linda Hogan that our writing group used in Serving Up Memory: “Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”

What are you working on these days? How’s your work progressing?








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Now and Then and Now Again

It’s crunch time for shaping up this year’s anthology.

I’m not at the fingernail-biting stage yet. I know we’ll pull it together my mid-August at the absolute latest. We want our book to be top-notch even if it means tacking on another couple of weeks. Truth is, we felt so good about Serving Up Memory’s quality that we’re feeling anxious, downright afraid, lest we might fall short this go-round.

I’ve submitted three pieces, and the third is still somewhere in the writing/critiquing/revising stage. I trust the members of my group emphatically and am earnestly trying to follow just every suggestion they’ve offered. We have an unwritten guideline that if two or three people bring something up, the writer needs to take a look at it and consider changing something.

That’s where I am right now, the second look and some revision. The book’s theme centers on transitions and passages, and we’ve toyed around with grouping stories, poems, photographs, and recipes with seasons of the year. Changes can be just about anything, and so far we have quite a variety.

One of my pieces tells of moving out of one home into another. I wanted the reader to see my farewell walk through the house and feel my bittersweet emotions as I paused at various spots and recalled people and events. Sounds easy enough, right?

But then I added a few paragraphs about one of my brothers coming to help me with the heavy stuff, and right in the middle of that information, I inserted a scene and some dialogue from the morning I’d first talked to my son about moving into a new house. If that wasn’t complicated enough, I decided to throw in a memory of a Thanksgiving when one of my brothers invited a Korean couple, their baby’s back hair standing up in spikes all over his precious head.

Wait! “I’m confused,” said someone in the writing group. “Here you and your brother are eating at the Huddle House, and in the next paragraph, you and your son are looking at the “new” house and considering its potential.” Someone was puzzled about there being two Thanksgivings (years apart), and after a couple of  people pointed out a few time issues, I soon realized that I needed to work on flashbacks.

Home from the meeting, I didn’t waste any time looking up information in Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway, a book that came highly recommended and that I’m enjoying immensely. I’m learning so much from this book that it’s a bit daunting to realize how much I don’t know.

Here are a couple of things I learned about using flashbacks that are guaranteed to prevent the reader from saying, “Huh?” They’re straight from Burroway (p. 214).

  • “If you are writing in the past tense, begin the flashback in the past perfect (she had driven; he had worked) and use the construction “had & (verb)” two or three times more. Then switch to the simple past (he raced; she crept); the reader will be with you.
  • “If you are writing in the present tense, you may want to keep the whole flashback in the past tense.
  • “When the flashback ends be clear that you are catching up to the present again. Repeat an action or image that the reader will remember belongs to the basic time period of the story. Often simply beginning the paragraph with “Now…” will accomplish the reorientation.
  • “Avoid blatant transitions such as “Henry thought back to the time.” Assume the reader’s intelligence and ability to follow a leap back.”

I’ve reworked “Moving On,” and I hope the group now understands the transitions from past to present and back again. I can’t believe I’ve been so ignorant about how to write flashbacks, and I’m glad there are good teachers everywhere.

What’s something you’ve learned about writing from another writer, a teacher, a book, a critique group member, or from some other source?



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Learning from Pearl Buck

After listening to Garrison Keillor talk about Pearl Buck on The Writer’s Almanac, I knew I had to reread The Good Earth. About a fourth of the way through the book, my admiration for the author’s storytelling gifts grew, especially when I learned she was working, writing, and caring for a disabled child during this time.

While many writers have to have just the right environment to summon the muse, Buck wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel in an attic during early morning hours. The book is amazing. Everything we’ve talked about in our local writing group about writing is clearly demonstrated in The Good Earth. Everything that I’ve read about description, character development, culture, dialogue, and “show, don’t tell” is there too.

Speaking of culture, although “people are people,” the Chinese culture of that era is as important as any of the characters. In fact, culture plays such a large role that it IS a character just like Ching, O-Lan, or First Son’s haughty wife. From the food they eat to the clothes they wear, it’s evident that the characters in the novel are not in Kansas.

I recently reread this magnificent novel after many decades, and as is typical, it spoke to me in an entirely different manner than it did thirty or more years ago. At that time, I recall being shocked and yet fascinated by the many cultural differences between China and America. One dissimilarity that continues to amaze me is arranged marriage. In America, there’s still a focus on romantic love while in the China of the novel, marriages arranged by others are prevalent.

This time, I noted the similarities between Buck’s characters and those in American novels. While people might eat diverse foods, wear unusual clothes, worship different deities, and have radically opposing views on filial responsibilities, all humans are similar “under the skin.” We love, strive, hope, dream, fear, envy, and pass through cycles of life in amazingly similar and predictable ways. As a former colleague was fond of saying, “We grow up, we grow old, and we die.”

Protagonist Wang Lung, at one time a poor farmer, becomes a wealthy landowner and father of sons and grandsons. He has daughters too, but they don’t figure as largely (as males) in his culture…or in the novel. Throughout the better part of his life, Wang Lung’s wife, O-lan, whom he bought from the House of Hwang, is his steady, hard-working partner who is responsible for much of his success. Not until her sickness and subsequent death does Wang Lung realize her worth.

What I admire about this book is Pearl Buck’s ability to describe characters, scenes, emotions, sensations, family drama, culture, and life’s cycles in a vivid, stirring manner. She even manages to weave in the seven deadly sins so cunningly that the reader doesn’t even realize it at first. I must admit that I wasn’t sorry to see Lotus succumb to gluttony but was saddened to see Wang Lung give in to lust, pride, and sometimes anger.

I can’t even describe a person’s appearance yet, much less how they smell, feel, and speak. But if I want to improve my writing, Pearl Buck’s novel can help me improve beyond tall and broad-shouldered.

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Keep That Dialogue Real

Do this. Don’t do that. When I first joined a local writing group, I heard those phrases more than I like to think about. Let’s be honest; I still hear those five little words at just about every critique meeting. I’ve always been a “decent” writer, but being a part of this group has helped me become a better one…or at least a more cautious one. I think twice before thinking “done” and submitting a piece to the group for critiquing, fully aware that it will be reworked several more times.

There are dozens of things I’ve learned from my writer friends that I had no inkling of before getting to know them. Here are just a few:

  • Watch those “ing” words. Many are gerunds, and you want to avoid their overuse.
  • Use passive voice sparingly. Use action verbs to add punch to your story and move it along. Say, “He hastened to the barn,” and not, “He walked to the barn.”
  • Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell the reader that your protagonist is sad. Let him see the tear running down her cheek or hear her monosyllabic responses.
  • Make sure your dialogue is “real” and don’t add filler words even if that’s what the person really said. Although speech between humans consists of lots of words like “uh” and “you know,” don’t include them unless they add to the story.
  • And while I’m on the subject of words, don’t repeat the same one in the same paragraph…or even on the same page if you can help it. Sometimes you can’t. Once I read some advice about the folly of using a synonym for banana. Try it. No matter what you write, it sounds strange and stilted. Just say banana. That sounds so much better than a curved, elongated, edible fruit, typically yellow.
  • Remember the importance of time and place. I once got called out on the staleness of a pick-up line one of my characters used in a bar. “How old are these people?” my writer friend asked. “And when did this story take place? No one talks like that anymore.”
  • Read and follow guidelines from style guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style. Until our anthology, Serving Up Memory, was edited, we didn’t realize the importance of choosing and sticking with a consistent method of telling time, capitalizing words such as Marine, or spelling out numbers less than 100. I recently learned that degrees such as BA and BS should include no periods.
  • Develop a thick skin.Good writers and well-known writers (not always the same) still get criticized. Earlier this week, I listened to a podcast on which Malcolm Gladwell was being interviewed. He admitted that although writing books could be a “pain” the hardest part was the aftermath when some “jackass” had some negative comments to make.

You might think all of the rules and helpful hints would have dissuaded me from writing by now, that I would have given up all hope of ever writing something “decent” again. But no, I’ve accepted the fact that writing is hard work IF you want to produce something of quality that people will actually want to read.

I’m working on it, Folks. Blogging (oops, an “ing” word) is good practice.


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