Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I’m taking a vacation from this blog for two weeks, but wanted to end 2012 on a high note. It turned out to be spectacular.

On Thanksgiving day my husband and I had dinner with four neighbors and then spent a relaxing evening enjoying the balmy California desert weather on the host’s beautiful patio. So it was after nine when we came home. My computer was still on, so I went into my office and clicked on my e-mail. I found a message from an editor to whom I’d sent the entire manuscript of EYE WITNESS, a woman-in-jeopardy mystery novel, more than four months before. In it, she offered a contract to publish the book.

I rushed to tell Hubby and then read the sample contract the editor had thoughtfully provided. A good one, with excellent terms and generous e-book royalties. In fact, no problems that we’re warned to watch out for. My friend and co-author agreed.

Carole and I wrote this book many years ago, when I still lived in San Francisco. She and I met in a writing class and soon realized our styles were complementary. She’s a “word” person and I’m a “story” person. First we “brainstormed” the plot of the book and then I wrote the first chapter. I called it “down and dirty.” Then I gave it to Carole and she used her language skills to improve it, adding descriptions, images, metaphors and similes. We wrote the entire book that way and, over the years, as each of us learned more about writing, we revised it a bit. Sometimes a rejection provided improvement ideas as well.

We wrote three books together, the first, SOUTHERN STAR, finally published by Avalon Books in 2010. I wrote about it on this blog, pointing out that I sent the book out nineteen times (twice to Avalon) before it sold. As of October, Amazon having bought Avalon Books, it’s a Montlake Romance and available in both paperback and e-book instead of only hard cover.

EYE WITNESS was our second book and I sent that one out--via query, partial or complete manuscript--forty-one times since 2005. Twice we were offered contracts, but something happened and the deal fell through. It’s due out in August, and our publisher is on the Mystery Writers of America approved list so we should be eligible for an Edgar Award. (I can dream, can’t I?)

The third book is a romantic suspense novel and--between forty-five submissions since 2002--has been rewritten more times than we can remember. Dare we hope for another contract for 2013?

But, wait, there’s more.

Five days after Thanksgiving, I received another e-mail from another publisher about another book, this one a contemporary romance written solely by me. Once more, the contract is author-friendly and the book is due in March. Carole’s second solely written novel, THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU was released in November and she’s working on her third. Could any two authors have such a happy holiday season?

We hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and that the New Year will bring you the same kind of joy we’re so thrilled to report.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Until that morning, I didn’t know Saturday, December 8, was “Pretend You’re a Tine Traveler” Day. Except for Ken Denmead in WIRED and The Passive Voice which reported his article. I’d never have known. I would have loved to follow some of the suggestions offered. Of course you can’t tell anyone that you’re a time traveler, so whatever you do will be a surprise to them and a chance for you to have fun.

Imagine going up to a statue - any statue - and kneeling in front of it screaming, “No! No!”

Or asking someone what year it is and then responding, “Then it’s not too late,” before running off.

Or how about being terrified of airplanes overhead, or pretending you’ve never seen a revolving door, or talking back to a television set? My favorite is handing someone a trinket or a rock along with a phone number and then saying, “In 30 years call this number. You’ll know what to do.” before running away.

It reminded me of a friend I talked about in this blog about a year ago. He and his wife would get in a crowded elevator and then begin to talk to each other, relating a suspenseful tale as if it were real, and then getting off the elevator before the end.

I think we should all have days in which we do things like that. However, unfortunately - as I said in another blog - I’m an Introvert and probably would never really do it. How about you? Have you done something like that? Or would you like to?

The Passive Voice


Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Several articles appeared last week about well-known traditional publisher, Simon & Schuster, starting a self-publishing division. Called Archway Publishing, it’s actually run by Author Solutions, a vanity press in business for some time. As Victoria Strauss reports in WRITER BEWARE, despite the S&S name, it’s the same old game, milking the author. With prices starting at $2000 and “services” that can add up to as much as $25,000, Archway promises to do what Amazon can do almost for free.

S&S is only the most recent of big New York publishers starting a new line to capitalize on the Indie publishing revolution going on. Instead of opening their doors to all authors--not just those with agents--and offering advances and decent royalty rates for e-books, they start a company with a different name. This is apparently a ploy to fool newbie writers that, although they won’t be paid the same as titles self-published with Amazon, they have the prestige of a big name to make it seem legitimate.

I sincerely hope this won’t lure the unwary into wasting time and effort, only to end up with a contract that will hurt them in the long run. Because authors who have seen these contracts are warning writers not to fall for the scam.

Okay, I get it. Not every writer has the time, energy or desire to self-publish, but he/she needn’t feel that it’s an either-or world. There are plenty of small publishers--many having been in business more than a decade--who can do a fine job of producing your book, and won’t require the equivalent of giving up your first-born son to do it.

On my desk right now are two contracts, from two different publishers regarding two different books. True, they pay no advance, but the royalty rates are excellent, they offer a time-limited contract (for a few years, not the life of your copyright) and have none of the deal-breaker clauses authors and bloggers like Kristine Kathryn Rusch warn about.

The second contract had a Non-Compete clause, the first time I’ve ever seen one, although, of course I knew about them. I suggested a change to the wording in that paragraph to make it fair to both of us, but the publisher simply removed the entire clause. Any contract is negotiable. Ask for what you want. It really works.

Writer Beware
Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I’m a little late with my blog post today because I spent the afternoon at a Memoir Writing Workshop sponsored by the writers club I started in our community six years ago. It was a small but interested group and all seemed to have had their questions answered. The instructor, who had written a memoir herself, was well-prepared, with lists of popular memoirs, as well as lists of books on how to write one. We also learned the difference between a Memoir and an Autobiography, or Life Story.

“Wait,” you say, “why did you attend? I thought you’ve already written a memoir.”

True. After I sold my first short story, my husband’s aunt, whom we were visiting at the time, said, “Why don’t you write a story about the time I was a schoolteacher in a logging camp in the mountains?” Those were the Cascades, the state was Oregon and the year was 1913. I took notes, then corresponded and had many phone conversations with Aunt Gladys. The result was not a short story, but--due to her many adventures that first year of school teaching--an entire book. I called it THE GREEN BOUGH (boughs are on trees, and she was new or, “green,” get it? Oh, never mind.)

However, writing about Gladys’s first year teaching nine children in a one-room schoolhouse, is one thing; writing about my own checkered past is quite another. I didn’t know how to start and what to include or leave out. (Maybe I need three memoirs, one per husband.) I was not the only student with the problem of too much material. One man stated that he’d led an adventurous life, “made a million, lost it, made another, lost that...” A woman student wanted to “set the record straight” with her two daughters, who were apparently brainwashed by their father. Still another would make it a humorous look at her past.

I think we all went away with ideas of how to start, what resources to use, and how to cope with relatives we’re forced to include. Plus two valuable pieces of advice. (1) Don’t revise the book until it’s finished, and (2) don’t try to decide if you should aim for a family-only life story or try for publication until you know what you’ve got. Like almost every other kind of writing, it’s a good idea to store the manuscript under your bed for two months first.

How about you? Do you have a true story to tell? Thanks to the ease of self-publishing these days, you can do both.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I may be a strange American but I have never–as far back as I can remember–ever gone Christmas shopping on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. I might have gone with my mother or my sister years ago, before it acquired its name and reputation.

Shopping has never been a favorite pasttime of mine, again unlike other women. I tend to know what I need or want to buy and try to find it easily. Going to shopping malls is fruitless, requiring trying too many stores and too many departments within the stores. None of which ever had exactly what I wanted. On the other hand, catalog shopping is easy these days, even if I sometimes send half the items back the day after they arrive.

Perhaps I was spoiled because my mother, who only had two daughters, was a dressmaker and made our clothes. She also made clothes for wealthy, and not so wealthy, women in our town. Sometimes she’d take us shopping to Marshall Field’s--we lived in a Chicago suburb--and try on very expensive dresses, which my mother could then copy. She also copied beautiful clothes worn by movie stars in films.

Because of that I had many outfits my friends didn’t have, but when they wore cashmere sweaters to school, I had to make do with sweaters knit by my grandmother. She meant well, but “ugly” doesn’t begin to describe how I felt about them at fifteen.

I finally got my first cashmere sweater, made in Scotland, when my husband was sent to England for his job and I got to go too. I bought my second on sale in Canada while visiting relatives. In recent years, a friend and I went shopping at Macy’s the day before Christmas, because all their cashmere sweaters were on sale. I’d buy one, she’d buy three. So my collection isn’t as extensive as hers, but now that I live in the desert, it’s hard to find occasions to wear each of mine even once in a season.

Because my mother was savvy about fashion, my sister and I soon learned how to choose attractive clothes that looked good on us. We did not follow fads unless the current style or color happened to suit us. For instance, I don’t wear brown, beige or orange, never wore leggings, or huge bulky sweaters, or skirts that ended mid-calf. As I told someone once when asked why I wore my skirts at the knee, “That’s where God wants us to wear them because that’s where our legs bend.” By the way, floor-length skirts are okay (legs bend at ankles too), and I love them for fancy occasions as well as long cotton sundresses in summer.

I don’t wear fur or much jewelry. I never wear earrings, which I consider a nuisance, although I do wear the string of real pearls my husband bought me in Hawaii, and a silver chain from Taxco.

While on the subject of “strange,” I dislike war, horror, animated or pornographic films and don’t read horror or erotic books. I do like jazz, most classical music, and what are called “standard” pop songs. In food, I like American, Italian, Chinese and French cooking, but not anything spicy, or unusual. (No hummingbird tongues or truffles–except the chocolate kind–for me.) And make that dark chocolate, please.

I expect a traditional turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce dinner tomorrow, followed by my own super Pecan Pumpkin Pie. Whatever you’re having, I hope you enjoy it and have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


If any of you live in or near the Coachella Valley (about two hours east of L.A.)-- and if you do, why haven’t we got together?–I urge you to see IS HE DEAD? this weekend, Friday - Sunday, November 16-18 at the Joslyn Center in Palm Desert.

Written by Mark Twain (yes, that Mark Twain) in 1898, it was discovered in 2001 by Shelley Fisher Fishkin in the library of the University of California Berkeley while doing research among Twain’s archives. She began reading the play, which had never been published or performed, and was soon laughing out loud.

She took it to playwright David Ives, who turned the overlong, lumpy script with twenty-four characters into a smoother play for the 21st century with only fourteen (eleven when actors took additional parts). Performed on Broadway in 2007, it gained rave reviews even from the New York Times.

The story takes place in Paris in the 19th century and is about an artist who becomes convinced his paintings would be worth more if he were dead. So he fakes his death, but, not willing to hide in a closet for eternity, pretends to be his own twin sister, a charming widow. And the hilarity begins. “Think TOOTSIE meets LA BOHEME,” said Jesse Green of the NYT.

The production we saw was flawless, with great acting, fabulous costumes and a set that went from Grungy to Glamourous during the one short intermission. If you ever get a chance to see it, run, don’t walk, to the box office and reserve a seat.

Besides the clever plot and Twain’s jokes, there’s a running gag about pronouncing the artist’s name, which was Millet. People kept calling him “Mill - et” instead of the correct French pronunciation, “Mee - yay.” I related to that more than others due to having been married briefly to a Frenchman named Tillot. Once again the double-L should sound like a “Y”, as in “Tee - yo” and I suffered being called “Till - ut” here in the U.S. But I really love my current husband and didn’t marry him just because most people can pronounce “Humphrey.”

IS HE DEAD? is going on my list of funniest plays, along with THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, and NOISES OFF. Do you have a favorite play you go to see every chance you get? By the way, movies don’t count because sometimes Hollywood gets it wrong.

Mark Twain

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


With the holidays looming--a time in which we consume a lot, probably more than we need--I thought it timely to discuss the intriguing topic. But what kind? Here are my food memories.

When I was a child, my father worked for the Continental Baking Company, makers of Wonder Bread, so that was our bread of choice. They also made Hostess cupcakes, chocolate Ding Dongs and Twinkies. The original Twinkies had a banana-flavored filling, but don’t anymore. The health food fad hadn’t started yet so no one knew that white bread and sweet snacks were bad for you.

My favorite sandwich was thinly-sliced boiled ham and sliced sweet pickles on white bread. A close second was peanut butter and grape jelly. Third was tuna salad, made with canned tuna, chopped celery and Hellman’s mayonnaise. (Later I learned to put water chestnuts and a little curry powder in it.) And who doesn’t like tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches?

My grandfather (father’s side) emigrated from England, so we often had a leg of lamb for Sunday dinner. We enjoyed roast chicken too, but never steak. I used to wonder why people preferred steak to a meal of lamb or chicken. Or even roast pork with scalloped potatoes. When we had beef, it was usually ground and a favorite meal was ground beef crumbled in gravy over mashed potatoes. My maternal grandmother made home-made egg noodles and sliced them very thin to go into her home-made chicken soup.

An aunt of mine married an Italian man and went to Italy on her honeymoon. In fact, they stayed two years and my aunt learned to make real Italian spaghetti sauce. Everyone wanted to go to their house during the holidays for antipasto and spaghetti.

Turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and yams, appeared at every Thanksgiving dinner, sometimes Christmas. Although ham with brown sugar and pineapple sometimes took its place for Christmas dinner, along with sweet potatoes topped with plump lightly-browned marshmallows.

Dessert for the holidays was pumpkin pie and fruitcake, and I learned to make a fabulous fruitcake that friends often asked for. Recently, even my popular pumpkin pie has been overshadowed by my Pecan Pumpkin Pie, which is baked “upside down” with the filling on the bottom and the crust--made of yellow cake mix, chopped pecans and half a pound of melted butter--on top. Picture a narrow slice of that, with the crust now on the bottom, topped with fresh whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce. Divine.

Well, I’ve made myself hungry so it must be time to stop and post this. Dinner tonight is tuna casserole. That’s a standard too.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Not all people and not just anywhere. The book WEIRD THINGS PEOPLE SAY IN BOOKSTORES by Jen Campbell narrows it down for you. Apparently working in a bookstore has a perk I wasn’t aware of: laughing at customers.

Although perhaps it would be better to keep a straight face in the hope of keeping a book buyer. So here goes. Hands at the ready to cover the guffaws.

1. “Do you have any books by Jane Eyre?”

2. “Did Charles Dickens ever write anything fun?”

3. “I’m looking for some books on my kid’s reading list. Do you have ‘Tequila Mockingbird’?”

4. Customer: “Do you have the Dinosaur Cookbook?”
Bookseller: “The Dinah Shore Cookbook?”
Customer: “That must be it. I wondered what she was up to.”

5. “Do you have ‘Fiddler on a Hot Tin Roof’?”

6. “What books should I buy so guests looking at my bookshelf will think, ‘Wow, that guy’s intelligent’?”

7. Customer: “Have you read every single book in here?”
Bookseller: “No, I can’t say I have.”
Customer: “You’re not very good at your job, are you?”

On a more serious note, book news this week is about the 110-year-old library in Philadelphia that’s haunted, the Penguin-Random House merger, and the coming Christmas season Battle of the Tablets starring Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Barnes & Noble and Samsung (I hope I didn’t miss anyone).

All that on top of a election campaign which spent four billion (with a B) dollars and took three years. I need a nap.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


The week before Halloween is a time of television horror films which I don’t like, so I retreat to my office and do something useful. Like writing a mystery novel.

I don’t like being scared--never have--since childhood when I was taken to a movie theatre to see a film called THE BLACK CAT. I don’t know how old I was and perhaps, today, I wouldn’t have been allowed in the theatre. But I was part of a group including my sister and five cousins, all older than I was. I still remember clutching my oldest boy cousin and burying my face in his coat.

Later I went “trick-or-treating” and then had children who did the same. My most vivid memory of those days is the one in which my youngest son refused at first to participate in the ritual. He said it was for little kids and he was too old for that, although he was probably nine at the time. He refused to let me buy a costume for him, or even suggest ways he could disguise himself. But, finally, that very afternoon, he abruptly changed his mind.I think he realized he’d miss out on gathering a bag of candy.

“It’s too late to buy a costume now,” I told him. “What do you want to do about that?” He didn’t answer, just went upstairs and when he came down I saw him wearing a long black coat of his father’s. He had painted a thick mustache and eyebrows on his face with my mascara and held a large round ball point pen in his hand as if it were a cigar. A large black hat completed the look and he went forth with a paper bag in his other hand. I followed a little way behind and watched him approach our neighbor’s house. When she opened the door and saw him, she said, “Why if it isn’t Groucho Marx!” I had no idea how he knew what Groucho looked like, but he acquired more candy than usual that year.

Movies are spookier than books, but after reading Stephen King’s THE SHINING, I haven’t read another. On the other hand I love mysteries, especially cozies. It’s the puzzle that interests me, and I like to try to figure out “whodunit” before the end.

I write mysteries too--as yet unsold--and also romantic suspense. I enjoy the challenge of creating a group of characters who might be the killer, and then hiding the truth from the reader as long as possible. As E. L. Doctorow said, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


No, I’m not going to quote mine. Or the second one. What hurts is that both were from Publishers Weekly but I rationalize that they should never have allowed a man (I’m guessing) to review romance novels. Today, thanks to Mags Storey alerting me to Flavorwire’s article “Fifteen Early Scathing Reviews of Classic Novels,” I can retaliate by quoting a review by PW of the classic novel, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak in 1963: “...illustrations ...are accompanied by a pointless and confusing story.”

The New York Times had more than its share of the fifteen scathing reviews of books now considered classics. Such as:

LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov. 1958. “There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.”

ABSALOM, ABSALOM by William Faulkner. “...a penny dreadful tricked up in fancy language....The characters have no magnitude and no meaning because they have no more reality than a mince-pie nightmare.” Clifton Fadiman, 1936.

CATCH 22 by Joseph Heller, 1961. “The book is an emotional hodgepodge.”

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger. 1951. “It’s too long. Gets kind of monotonous. And he should have cut out all those jerks... They depress me.”

In 1885 the New York Times published the review of Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN from the Springfield Register, which had stated that its “perusal cannot be anything less than harmful.”

Other reputable reviewers had some not-so-nice comments about books considered “classic,” too.

“It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote LEAVES OF GRASS, only that he did not burn it afterward.“ The Atlantic, 1867.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte. “It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.” Graham’s Lady’s Magazine. 1848.

“THE GREAT GATSBY is an absurd story...Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking.” Saturday Review, 1925.

MOBY DICK. “If there are any of our readers who wish to find examples of bad rhetoric, involved syntax, stilted sentiment and incoherent English, I...recommend this volume of Mr. Melville’s.” Democratic Review. 1852

MADAME BOVARY. “Monsieur Flaubert is not a writer.” Le Figaro 1857.

Now doesn’t that make you feel better? Repeat after me, “Yes, but they could be wrong.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


I suspect most of you know what that title means. It’s the nickname for the National Novel Writing Month, now in its 13th year of existence. The idea is to write a novel, a minimum of 50,000 words, during one month. The month is November, so if you’re planning to enter, start getting prepared.

Although tempted many times, I’ve never entered, and the reason is simple. They picked the wrong month. November is a poor choice, because of time. How can one write 50,000 words when there are only thirty days in November and one of them is Thanksgiving? Plus, did no one think of Christmas shopping?

Any month with thirty-one days would have been better (averaging only 1613 words per day instead of 1667). October comes to mind, in case you consider July and August too hot and January too soon after the holidays. On the other hand, if “writing that book” was your New Year’s resolution, January seems ideal. “Strike while the iron is hot” and the Muse is calling you, right?

I was tempted to try because dashing off an entire novel without worrying about bad spelling, inadequate research and plot holes gives way to the thrill of typing “The End.” My NaNoWriMo book would be just a first draft, and everything could be fixed later. After all, there are no prizes and no one will actually read it unless I want them to.

Finishing a book is the hardest part of novel writing. How many people do you know who say they’re writing a novel, but have only the first chapter or three? For years? In one writing group I belonged to, we strove to win the FTDB Award, the letters standing for, “Finish the Damn Book.” With NaNoWriMo, you finish the book in thirty days. Okay, maybe your book isn’t truly finished on November 30, but 50,000 words is a great start.

So, even though I’m not going to do it--at least not this year--here are the rules if you want to. Register at the site before November 1st and submit your 50,000 words (not one word 50,000 times) for verification. It doesn’t cost a thing, and you can brag about it on your blog. Some authors have sold those novels, although presumably after a little rewriting.

In fact, Anne R. Allen has tips and more information on her blog. Would you believe NYT best-sellers started out there? I started this post before I knew about hers and decided maybe two notices are not too much. So, go for it and happy speed-typing.

Anne R. Allen

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Several years ago, an article in a writing magazine (either THE WRITER or WRITERS DIGEST, I subscribe to both) pointed out that the number one problem of beginning novelists was the placement of back-story. You know about back-story, the information about the characters or plot that the writer wanted the reader to know. They most often put it in the very beginning of the novel, sort of like the first stories we read as children. “Once upon a time there was a magical kingdom, and in this kingdom lived a beautiful princess...”

I haven’t read a similar article lately, and assumed that writers might have conquered that bad habit. I’ve seen many articles about “hooking” the reader with a Killer first sentence, first paragraph and first page. If the author did that, the back-story problem would disappear, right? Wrong.

I recently read a novel where the author wrote an exciting first scene of the heroine being sent away to marry a man she never met (historical romance, right?) which was then followed by 105 pages of back-story. It took the heroine from birth to age eighteen, with descriptions along the way of her parent’s lineage, her step-parents’ seven children, her playmates at eight, her hobbies at twelve and her horse-riding accident at sixteen. Finally, on her eighteenth birthday, the author got back to the actual story.

Admittedly that’s an unusual example, but what other things happened to back-story? In my experience as a reader of fiction by unpublished or self-published writers, I sometimes found it turned up as a Prologue. A murder, violent encounter, or the princess meeting Prince Charming would be written in a way to “hook” the reader, and then the first chapter got the back-story anyway. But at least only twenty pages, not 105.

Second, the back-story simply got shunted off to chapter two, where it remained as boring as it was before. Often, chapter two would be a traveling scene, and the author used the time consumed by the journey–by plane, train or automobile–to acquaint the reader with the Princess’s deceased parents, wicked stepmother, or a local curse. Which at least was entertaining. Unfortunately, in many of today’s contemporary novels, the back-story is no more interesting than reading a resume by a job applicant.

So the question for newbie writers is: Can back-story be made compelling? And the answer is “Yes.” The trick, according to best-selling authors, is to break up the back-story into small chunks and scatter them throughout the book. Not just anywhere, of course, but at the place where the reader needs that information. For instance, if the Princess is going to lose her slipper in front of the Prince in chapter ten, you don’t need to tell us in chapter two that her feet are so dainty she has trouble keeping slippers on them. We’re smart readers and will figure that out.

This is often where “plotters” and “pantsers” diverge. Plotters might write out the entire back-story upfront, whereas “pantsers” just start writing, and–at a particular point in the story–decide the reader needs to know something from the hero’s past, and writes in then and drops it in. I’m a “plotter” myself, so I had to learn to make a list of the elements in my character’s past life and pull them into the story at the point the reader needs the information. And not before.

My current WIP, set in the year 1960, required a lot of research, and it was tempting to describe the story world immediately, but I resisted. Instead, I focused on plot, and only stopped to insert back-story at the point I actually needed it.

How about you? Do your Beta readers or critique group sometimes complain your narrative is boring? Perhaps it’s a back-story problem. Or do you have a system in place to avoid it?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Last week my computer crashed and two experts couldn’t fix it. After two days of lost programs, my genius hubby found a way to get most of my stuff back, but decided I needed a new operating system. Another two days of no computer access, and now I’m learning a new system. Ugh!

The new system decided I needed an e-mail junk file. I don’t want one, and who gets to decide what‘s junk? They do. How dare they make those decisions for me? Spam filters are a waste of time, my time. I had one once for four weeks and - when I remembered to check the Spam folder - discovered they had removed two important e-mails - one from a Harlequin editor! So I canceled the filter and decided for myself what I kept and what I could delete with a click, and not have to waste time going to a spam file first.

My hubby said there was no way to get rid of the Junk file option in the new operating system, but, genius that he is, he found a way to keep it from deciding what was junk.

Today I discovered that I can’t just print an article I found on Google, because - unless I hit ALT first - who knew? - the option didn’t come up. There are many more things that are different and driving me crazy, but at least my books have been restored, so I guess the damage done by the Trojan virus could have been worse.

But my frustration reminded me of the famous comment by Bill Gates (remember Microsoft, who ruled the world in 1999?). “If General Motors had kept up with technology, like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that get 1000 miles to the gallon.”

To which GM’s president responded, “If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would be driving cars with the following characteristics:

1. For no reason, your car would crash twice a day.

2. Every time they repainted the lines on the road, you would have to buy a new car.

3. Occasionally, executing a maneuver like a left turn would cause your car to shut down and you would have to reinstall the engine.

7. Oil, water, temperature and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single “car default” light.

9. The air bag would say “Are you sure?” before going off.

10. Occasionally, for no reason, the car would lock you out and not let you in unless you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed the radio antenna.

12. Every time GM introduced a new model, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again, because none of the new controls would operate the same as on the old car.

13. You would press the Start button to turn off the engine.
(Read the rest at

In spite of all that, I love my computer and the software that lets me correct errors only once and print a novel in two hours instead of four days. I won my first writing contest - in 1983 - because I could enter by the deadline. On the other hand, what other choice do we have these days?

I’d love to read your horror stories about computer glitches.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Recently a question was asked by a fellow member of the RWA Kiss of Death chapter about a scene from a movie whose title she couldn’t remember. The scene was at a funeral where a man enters, goes up to the casket and sticks a pin in the dead man. Three of us immediately e-mailed the right answer. It was from CHARADE starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Since we have a DVD of the movie, it inspired us to watch it again that night.

Then yesterday one of the blogs I follow asked readers about their favorite old films that they’ve watched more than once. Those incidents, combined with the visit of a young relative, results in this blog post.

The young man who visited us last weekend is 26, has been to college and served in Iraq, not a clueless teenager. But he didn’t know who many famous movie stars of the past were, including Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart. He did know the name of Marilyn Monroe and we took him to Palm Springs for lunch so we could visit the twenty-one foot statue of Marilyn recently erected there.

Each evening we showed him an old movie from our collection: SOME LIKE IT HOT, RUTHLESS PEOPLE, and THE BIG COUNTRY (The latter is, in my opinion, the best Western ever made and stars Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston.) He loved all of them.

But it occurred to me that part of our culture is being lost. Many events and lines of dialogue from these old films became part of our shared experience. And one had only to say a few words to make a connection to another person’s memory.

The obvious one is “Frankly, my dear, I don‘t give a damn,” the almost last line from GONE WITH THE WIND. Another is “Rosebud” from CITIZEN KANE. One of the funniest is “Nobody’s perfect” from SOME LIKE IT HOT, when Jack Lemmon tells Joe E. Brown he’s a man. A Bogie fan, I loved his lines from THE MALTESE FALCON, such as “I’m sending you over,” and, “It’s the stuff dreams are made of.” CASABLANCA gave us “Play it again, Sam,” and “We’ll always have Paris.” To say nothing of the fabulous chariot race in BEN HUR.

Of course, it’s possible I’m just old, but I urge everyone who didn’t recognize these scenes, to join Netflix and rent those old movies--and lots of others. You won’t regret it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Picture an old-fashioned telephone, the kind you'd see in a 1940's movie about a wealthy family. The telephone has a large, square base, and an ornate receiver in the cradle on top.  It rests on the desk in their fancy house. Now imagine a picture of that same telephone on the front of a tee shirt, except that the receiver is now shaped like a whale. Beneath the telephone are the words, "Call me, Ishmael." Amazing what a different receiver and a comma can do.

The last time I saw a tee shirt I wanted to wear was when I found one that said, "Hand over the chocolate and nobody gets hurt." But I digress.

 This post is about first lines of novels, and Google will show you lists of the best 25 or even 100.  Here are a few of my favorites:

1. The aforementioned "Call me Ishmael" without the comma, which is from MOBY DICK by Herman Melville.

2. "Last night I dreamed of Manderly again,"  which is from my favorite book, REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier.

3. As a romance writer, I also like, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."  PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen.

4.  "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream, and he had gone 84 days without catching a fish." THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA by Ernest Hemingway.

5. "It was a dark and stormy night."  PEANUTS fans know that Snoopy sat on top of his doghouse, typing that line into his typewriter. I assume you also know the line has been ridiculed as one of the worst, and that every year San Jose State University runs a Bulwer-Lytton contest in which "wretched writers" submit the first sentence of the worst possible book. Many of these are fabulous, but I'm not going to reprint one because it's hard to choose and can be as many as 60 words long.

I actually entered that contest once but didn't win any award. Maybe my sentence wasn't horrible enough, which is, I guess, a mixed blessing. But I still try to write memorable first sentences to my books, and here's a sample of ones I'm happy with.

1. "I landed the assignment to go to Rome, not because I was the best reporter at L.A. Life..." ROMAN HOLIDAY,  White Rose Publishing.

2. "Dana had fallen into a dream job. and. like a dream, it could disappear in an instant." STRANGER IN PARADISE, originally published by Kensington, now an e-book.

3. "Haley Parsons stared into the beauty salon's oversized mirror. A stranger stared back at her." NORTH BY NORTHEAST winner of the San Diego Book Award in 2002.

4. "I wouldn't ask Gary Pritchard to captain Southern Star if he were the last skipper left alive in the Bahamas."  SOUTHERN  STAR, which was published by Avalon Books in hardcover and available for $5 from me. (For more information, send me an e-mail at this website.)

There are a few more opening lines I'm pleased with, but those books are still in the hands of editors, waiting for acceptance. How about you? Do you enjoy trying to come up with a killer first line? Have you written any first lines in your books that you're especially proud of?


Picture an old-fashioned telephone. the kind that sits on a fancy table in a 1940s movie about wealthy people. It has a large square base, and an ornate receiver sits in a cradle on top. Now picture that image on the front of a tee shirt, but the receiver is shaped like a whale.  Below the telephone are the words, "Call me, Ishmael." Amazing what an unusually shaped receiver and a comma. can do.

I haven't seen a tee shirt I wanted to wear since the one that read, "Hand over the chocolate and nobody gets hurt." But I digress.

This post is about opening lines in fiction. Google will show you lists of the best 25 or even 100, from famous novels. Here are a few:

1. The aforementioned "Call me Ishmael" without the comma., from MOBY DICKman Menville.

2. "Last night I dreamed of Manderly again, from my favorite book, REBECCA BY dAPHNE DU mAURIER.

3. As a romlance writer, I also like, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man, in possession of a good fortune, imust be in want of a wife." ride and prejudice by Jane Austen.

4. "It was the best f times, it was the worst opf time..."  


Wednesday, September 5, 2012


A recent news item about space diving, that is, skydivers going to extreme heights before jumping from an airplane, brought back memories of the two brief years I was married to a skydiver. Neither he nor his buddies jumped from those altitudes, which requires oxygen and special jumpsuits. Instead they concentrated on doing acrobatic stunts while free falling, making mid-air formations or trying to land on a target.

My ex had 600 jumps to his credit and I learned that he got that credit because the pilot of the plane had to sign off. Sort of like: “Yes I took him up in the plane but he jumped out of it.”

I especially remember watching skydivers take part in contests, where they got points for landing closest to the target. Those points turned into prizes at the end of the event. They practiced every weekend, and even weekdays as long as the light held.

The earliest targets were simply white strips of cloth in the form of an “X” but later they used a plastic disc barely four inches across. Some parachutists were so good they not only jumped from over a three thousand feet and landed on the disc, they drove it into the ground.

Some events were actually held at night and the jumpers wore flashlights fastened to their boots. They jumped into a circle of light formed by strategically parked cars with their headlights on. Always trying something new, they also jumped over water into a circle of rowboats. The hero does that in my novel FREE FALL, and is “rescued” by the heroine who thought he was drowning.

The activity called “base jumping,” is when a parachutist doesn’t jump from plane, Obviously, he needs a high place, such as a tall building, bridge or cliff to jump from in order to have time for his ‘chute to open and still enjoy the thrill of a few seconds of free flight. El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California, attracted hundreds of skydivers, but the park made it illegal.

Base jumping is also more dangerous than skydiving, with a fatality rate twice as high. I didn’t know anyone who died while skydiving, but I heard many stories about some who did. The son of a well-known romance writer--whom I met at a writers conference in Los Angeles years ago--died while hang gliding, not skydiving, in spite of having won many trophies for the sport.

But we love alpha males, who sometimes lead dangerous or reckless lives, don’t we? They are our fictional heroes and make our job of writing romance novels such fun.

Do you, or did you, have such a storybook hero in your life? And did you ever write about him?

Barnes & Noble


Although Jennifer Gray’s job requires her to work with Colin Thomas on a sports promotion, that doesn’t mean she has to like it. He’s a pilot, skydiver, and owner of Skyway Aviation, and she’s afraid of heights! But she must work with Colin for six weeks, and even though she feels a spark of jealousy when Colin seems to have a love interest, she remains convinced he’s not the man for her. Then a friend’s accident during a skydiving exhibition causes a serious rift. Colin knows a good thing when he sees it but—even with humor, sensitivity and plain old-fashioned charm—can he help Jennifer overcome her fear of heights, and convince her their relationship is just what she needs?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


After some forty years of subscribing to Time Magazine I’m thinking of cancelling. Why? Maybe I’m alone in this, but I hate the fact they’re now printing a lot of their articles in red ink, or worse, light blue. Have they not heard that people are getting older--especially people who are likely to still subscribe to magazines--and their eyesight isn’t what it used to be? Sure, the magazine pages are varied and colorful--sometimes they put a square of orange under an article, but I want to read the content, not admire the d... thing.

I’ve always believed in the saying, “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.” Cloning people comes to mind, but that’s a different topic.


I love my e-mail but now people are sending me messages in color, especially that light blue. Blue letters against the off-white background are very hard to read, especially if they use a ten-point font. Studies have shown that black on white is the easiest print to read. Except for black on yellow. Why do you think STOP and other street signs are black on yellow?

Have you ever seen Closed Captioning on your TV set? Have you noticed they use white letters on a black background? That’s because the contrast is better. In fact, you may not know it, but you can get white printing on a black background on your computer screen and when you click on it, it says, “high contrast.”

Back in the computer dark ages, 1980 or so, computer screens--like the original Ford cars--came in only one color, black. However, you could get colored printing, white, amber or green. We bought our first PC before IBM even had one and I chose white on black. And still do. All my novels and letters to friends are written that way. And then my computer prints them in black on white. And, don’t send a book to a publisher on colored paper.


Another study has told us that. among fonts, italics is harder to read. Yet, in the past few years, romance novels make increasing use of italics, usually in a character’s thought, also known as “interior monologue.”

I was taught that italics were used only for the following:
1. To emphasize a word. Example, “You talking to me?”
2. For foreign words. Example: Mon Dieu
3. For Titles of books, magazines, films or TV shows
4. To reproduce a letter within a story or novel.

The Chicago Manual of Style Online Edition lists twenty-one uses for italics and none of them are, “for thoughts.”

At one of my very first writers conferences, at least thirty years ago, a best-selling author and teacher (I think it was Dwight Swain) said, substantially, “A long time ago, writers put thoughts in quotation marks. Then they put them in italics. But today, we just write them. If you’re in the character’s viewpoint, whatever you write is obviously his thought.”

So spare your readers and skip the unnecessary italics.

I’d follow the rules here, but Blogger doesn’t print in italics.

Time Magazine
Chicago Manual of Style
Dwight Swain

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


One of the many blogs and writing groups I follow mentioned a book with the intriguing title of SAVE THE CAT, which is actually a how-to for screenwriters. The person who recommended it was right--it contains valuable information for novel writers, especially those writing thrillers, mystery or romantic suspense. Because successful movies can teach writers how to build tension.

The short version of the “Rule” is, “Put your protagonist up a tree and then throw rocks at him.” That is, give the hero lots of problems to solve and terrible scrapes to get out of. Stories like that keep the reader turning pages because she wants to know how the hero manages to overcome them all and survive.

Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

John Grisham’s first successful book, THE FIRM--his actual first was reissued later--was an example of that kind of story-telling. On one hand the hero is faced with being killed by his law firm boss, and at the same time he’s wanted by the F.B.I. Some readers complained that the actual writing wasn’t good, but the suspense of watching the hero succeed in that situation was compelling.

SAVE THE CAT also reminded me of the advice I got at a writers’ conference many years ago from a best-selling author. He said--and I‘m paraphrasing here--“Movies have been around for a hundred years, television for fifty. Readers and viewers are accustomed to stories that start immediately with action. You can write like Charles Dickens if you want to, and spend four pages on long descriptions, but the audience for that kind of book is DEAD.”

My first chapters are often rewritten dozens of times because I try to follow that advice and hook the reader with something compelling right up front.

Two years ago I sold a romance novel that had been submitted to publishers nineteen times, three of them to the same publisher. What made them finally buy the book? I’m not sure, but just before I sent the manuscript out the last time, I added a scene in which the hero sabotaged the heroine’s attempt to sell the yacht she’d inherited and couldn’t afford to keep. That gave her one more reason to hate him (before they fell in love). In effect, she was up a tree, and I threw another rock at her.

That book, SOUTHERN STAR, originally written with my friend, Carolann Camillo, was only available in hardcover, but--inasmuch as Amazon has bought Avalon Books--will eventually go digital.

John Grisham
Kurt Vonnegut
Carolann Camillo

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


What do those three things have in common? They came together last week. Author Jenna Bennett reported that her book, A CUTTHROAT BUSINESS, had received an unkind one-star review. The reviewer called it “racist” because the author used the word “darkie.”

However, not only did the book receive many four- and five-star reviews, it’s clear the “shocked” reviewer had not read much of the book and didn’t understand what she did read. The story--a cozy mystery--takes place in the South and a minor character in the book uses the term. What foolishness. Like people who want to take the word “nigger” out of Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN. The author admitted she’d had a hard time selling the book to a publisher, because many editors feared alienating their southern readers. Political Correctness, anyone?

Which is where Bridge comes in. I’m having a hard time selling my own cozy mystery because my amateur sleuth teaches Bridge. I have one chapter--out of 31--where she plays a hand brilliantly and wins a lot of money she didn’t expect. Young editors--and aren’t they all these days, fresh out of college English courses--said “Nobody plays Bridge anymore.” Obviously they don’t know Bill Gates is an avid player, there are tournaments all over the world, books like BRIDGE FOR DUMMIES, Bridge columns in every newspaper, software programs and daily Internet playing.

Just last week I sent off the manuscript to yet another editor and doing so reminded me of my college days. I lived close enough to commute, and when I’d return to the sorority house on Saturday night after a date, I had to sleep in the third-floor “dorm.” It turned out that four girls would show up, steal blankets from unused beds to keep warm, smoke cigarettes and play Bridge. After a few Saturday nights of that, I found a solution. I arrived early and “borrowed” all the lightbulbs. Naturally I hated Bridge then, but later my parents forced me to learn--in order to have a fourth--and now I love it. True Bridge players are often addicts.

In my cover letter, I volunteered to remove the one chapter, but is that “selling out” and should I insist it’s important in my character’s life? Well, maybe. I really, really want to sell that book and start my own mystery series. Like someone said, “Writing is murder.”

P.S. The Olympics are over, but please read my account of the 1984 L.A. Summer Closing Ceremonies under “Beyond Writing” on my website. I guarantee a “good read.”

Jenna Bennett
Mark Twain
Summer Olympics

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Traditional publishers are the subject of lots of news reports and blog posts these days. Other writers have explored those topics more eloquently, but--having added my two cents last week on a similar subject--I’ll add a few more words to these threads.

A respected publisher of non-fiction, fiction of all types and children’s books for more than seventy years, Penguin recently announced the purchase of Author Solutions for $116 million. It’s no secret to professional, or even many (maybe especially) newbie writers, but they are the parent company of the vanity presses Author House, iUniverse, Trafford, and Xlibris. For exhorbitant amounts of money, any of these companies will provide publishing services to writers. What they seldom do, however, is sell books. Two-thirds of their income is from fees paid by the clients.

The average client--Author Solutions has a total of 150,000 writers on its lists--pays $5000 for their services and sells fewer than 150 books. Writer Beware has seen thousands of complaints and warns writers to avoid them.

As author David Gaughran wrote in a July article, Penguin has seemingly bought a company which milks writers. In his example he points out that Author House charges the “bargain price” of $1,199 for a press release and that the author could get more promotional value if he simply set fire to the money on YouTube.

So why did Penguin do it? To give them the benefit of the doubt, I don’t believe they intend to exploit writers. In my opinion, they plan to use Author Solutions’ lists of wannabe authors to find the next Amanda Hocking or E.L. James before they become household names. Penguin may hope to find gold in the slush pile, publish it and then keep 78% of the profits themselves.

But I could be wrong.

I hardly need to point out--especially to my fellow RWA members, they’re the largest romance publisher in the world. As I see it, the class action suit brought by three writers last month boils down to Harlequin failing to live up to its contracts. Instead of paying authors a promised 50% of e-book royalties, they paid 3%. If, for example, an e-book sold for $4.00, the author should get $2. Harlequin, by licensing the book to another entity--which, guess what? they own--the author gets 32 cents. Ouch.

I‘m not a Harlequin author, but the case intrigues me. What will happen to Harlequin? Will they go bankrupt? Will their authors flee to other publishers or Amazon which already has its own romance imprint? Amazon has already purchased Avalon Books (who published my novel Southern Star) and is buying Dorchester. The outcome of this won’t be known for some time, and my guess is eventually Harlequin will settle for somewhere in the millions of dollars, especially if guilty and a judge adds Punitive Damages.

As I’ve said before, this is an interesting time to be a writer. What do you think? Would you query Penguin or Harlequin today?

Southern Star
Barnes & Noble
 Marilee Shaw's inheritance, the yacht Southern Star, is in default to the bank. To save it from the auction block, she decides to honor a Caribbean cruise planned for two couples. But with no captain available, she's forced to approach Gary Pritchard, a man she once loved but refused to marry. He agrees to skipper the cruise, but only if she comes along as crew. In addition to the danger of succumbing again to Gary's charm and good looks, she has other problems. Trying to sell the yacht, the discovery that her customers are not what they seem, and the appearance of an unexpected visitor make the excursion anything but seaworthy. Will the romantic but rocky voyage rekindle their love or scuttle it forever?

David Gaughran
Writer Beware
Amanda Hocking
E.L. James
Southern Star

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Although British author Ewan Morrison’s article in the Globe and Mail drew 248 comments, and the excerpt on The Passive Voice blog garnered another 54, I’m adding my two-cents’ worth in response to one part of Morrison’s discourse.

I read all the comments on The Passive Voice, and many of the 248 on the original article, and I can assure you those opinions were right on. The article was another rant by a traditionally published author who can’t accept that publishing has changed and insists that because of the “digital masses,” there will soon be “no more professional writers.”

Not only are we self-published writers “professional,” that is, being paid, but we’re obviously growing in number. Morrison also shows his arrogance by saying, “I have been making culture professionally for twenty years.” Making culture? He’s not going to wait for history to define his place in the literary world?

Scott Turow (president of the Writers Guild) is quoted as saying, “It (indie publishing) doesn’t allow young writers to flourish.” Is he kidding? Traditional publishers have always favored best selling writers and closed its gates to newcomers. To say, as Morrison does, that the fact Amanda Hocking and E.L. James are now signed with big publishers proves that “all sign a ‘proper publishing deal’ as soon as they are able,” means he conveniently forgets the best-selling authors who turned down million-dollar offers to stay Indie.

I am still a small fish in this big pond, but have been published by traditional publishers as well as digitally. I have no quarrel with either camp. I just resent being told I’m the death of good books and bookstores.

Several years ago, I wrote a memoir, The Green Bough, based on the experiences of my husband’s aunt, who was a schoolteacher in a logging camp in Oregon in 1913. The book won several contests and was praised for “great writing” and “intriguing characters and incidents.” However, after being turned down numerous times because it didn’t fit a publisher’s “current requirements,” or “wasn’t marketable,” I gave up. Finally I self-published because I wanted Aunt Gladys’s relatives to know of her accomplishments. I sold three e-books of that title last week, and--when I attend the two Book Fairs every year--it’s always one of my top sellers in trade paper. In addition, readers come back and tell me how much they enjoyed it and even sent it to their aunts or cousins.

I’m proud to be a member of the “digital masses,” and Mr. Morrison can go whine somewhere else. Do you agree?

The Green Bough

Barnes & Noble


Ewan Morrison
The Passive Voice
Amanda Hocking
E.L. James
The Green Bough

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I’m still on the subject of unbelievable characters. Several years ago the husband of a friend of mine, who knew I was a writer, gave me the novel he had written and asked my opinion.

“Be truthful,” he added. “I can take it.”

The author had a career in the trucking business and wrote a novel about a trucker who regularly drove between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Through no fault of his own, the driver’s vehicle had been poorly maintained, and was involved in an accident. A serious accident, that caused a pile-up on the Interstate and resulted in the death of the governor of California whose limo was heading for Sacramento. Great idea for a story, right?

I wanted to say nice things about the book, but a particular character--a very important one--wasn’t believable. See if you agree with me.

The trucker is married with two teen-aged children. The boy is belligerent and the 16-year-old girl is pregnant. Their mother is an alcoholic, whom the trucker won’t divorce because he’s Catholic. A year or so before the horrendous accident, on one of his many trips to San Francisco, he meets a woman and they begin an affair, which eventually ends in her pregnancy. She dies in childbirth and the trucker decides to turn over the newborn baby to his wife to raise. And she agrees.

Whoops. I think we have two unbelievable characters, not one.

I told the author (but nicely) his trucker was insane, or seriously stupid, if he thought an alcoholic could raise that child. After all, she hadn’t done so well with the other two. And even if she went to AA to clean up her act, the first time the baby became ill and screamed all night, she’d be back to the bottle before he could say, “Bottom’s Up.”

That wasn’t all. What made him think his wife would agree to raise her philandering husband’s illegitimate child? If I were that woman, I wouldn’t do it.

“Oh yes, she would,” he told me. My protests were greeted with scorn and he said my opinion wasn’t representative of most women.

So I took a poll among my friends. I described the situation and asked if they--alcoholic or not--would raise their cheating husband’s b------ child. None would. One friend said, “I might take the baby, but I’d sure kick him out.”

So far as I know, he never rewrote the book and it was never published. I’m sure he’d have told me if it was. However, if you were that wife, would you have raised the child? Also, have you run into unbelievable characters in published books you’ve read?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Last week I started to write a post for this blog about characters in fiction, when suddenly I remembered a real character I met about thirty years ago. I hope you enjoyed that true story. This time I’ll concentrate on fictional characters, specifically unbelievable ones.

A writer I know, who I’ll call Suzy Simple, is actually a pretty good writer. However, she has yet to get a book published, except for the two she self-published with Amazon. I read both of those books, plus two romantic suspense novels she’s trying to interest a publisher in. Of the four, one is a disaster.

Another writer who’s also read the books, agrees with me. The problem with the book I’ll call HEAVENLY, is Suzy’s characters. They are all perfect. The heroine, who was once abandoned by her boyfriend, is saintly, raises her own son and five foster children alone and immediately forgives the exBF when he returns. Said BF apologizes (his earlier leaving wasn’t really his fault) and of course behaves perfectly. The heroine’s current BF also behaves perfectly, as do the girlfriend of the heroine and even the six children involved. All of these wonderful people are literally too good to be true. As a famous writer once wrote, “Constant Reader fwowed up.” I wanted to “fwow up” too. Talk about unbelievable.

Every article and every book on writing fiction stresses that characters must have a flaw or two in order to be realistic, because most people do. They also caution that villains in novels must have a good trait of some kind for the same reason. Real people are complex, varying mixtures of good and bad.

HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE, the new book by Anne R. Allen and Catherine Ryan Hyde, has a wonderful bit of advice that says it all. “Saints in fiction are boring. Unless they liberate France and are burned at the stake. And that’s been done.”

Since Suzy is a friend I don’t want to hurt, I won’t quote that line to her, but I fear she hasn’t changed her book. And maybe it will sell anyway. What do I know? I just know an unbelievable character when I read one, and I hope you-all do too.

Tell me about the unbelievable ones you’ve run into.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Since you know I‘m a writer and blog mostly about writing, you might think that by “Characters,” I mean imaginary ones, the kind we put in our fiction. Not that I haven’t met my share of weird real people over the years, and, in fact, I put some colorful characters in my mainstream novel, CHOICES, published under my maiden name, Phyll Ashworth.

I spent nineteen years selling my husband’s artwork at those art shows you might have seen in enclosed shopping centers or the sidewalks of strip malls. For my fictional purposes, I changed only mildly eccentric artists into murderers, philanderers, cheating wives and even gay bashers. And those were my friends.

The absolute most interesting character I ever met was not an artist but a person I originally thought was a customer. The following is true and took place in San Francisco in about 1980.

* * *

The smooth-shaven man was of medium height, wore a conservative black suit with a maroon striped tie and highly polished shoes. He pointed to my display. "You did these?"

"My husband did. They're original pen and ink drawings, with a wash over them for the color."

"I can see that. They're very good."

"Thank you.” I paused, thinking perhaps I could make a big sale out of this. "They look nice in groupings of two or three. Which do you prefer, the animals or the birds?"

"Oh, I like them all.” He walked over to a display board with animal pictures, and I followed at a discreet distance.

"You see, I know animals. I have hundreds on my estate."

I didn't answer. Hundreds of animals? Who was this guy?

"My family has made me stop adding to my collection, but I could have pictures of them, you see.” His face remained perfectly calm and serious, and I still didn't say anything.

“How much for all of them?"

"You want all of them?” This had to be a gag. I looked around to see if some friends lurked nearby, watching my reaction.

"Yes," the man said. "You see, I want to hang them in the White House. I'm the Acting President of the United States. The White House is going to be remodeled, you know."

A nut. If that wasn't a joke, then he was a nut. I decided to humor the guy. "No, I didn't know."

"It's not my headquarters, you see. I'm turning it into a restaurant. The chef at the Crown Room will run it for me."

"Oh, I think a restaurant is a very good idea. Much better than what they do with it now."

"Quite so. I had lunch in the Crown Room the other day, and they wanted to put me in jail because I wouldn't pay my bill. I was protesting, you see. It was twenty dollars, and you have to admit twenty dollars for lunch is ridiculous.” He paused, continuing to look perfectly normal. “It's inflationary, that's all. I said I would pay seventeen dollars, but the other three were pure inflation and I wouldn't pay that. They made me wait in a back room. My family came and got me out."

I smiled. "That's nice."

"How much for all the pictures?"

"I'll have to think about it,” I said. The man might be crazy, but he was consistent. He remembered he wanted all the pictures. “Why don't you come back a little later and I'll let you know.” In a little while he'd be gone and that would be the end of that. I didn't need to get mixed up with any crazies.

"Fine. I have to see some other artists anyway." He strolled over to another friend. Pity I couldn't warn her.

But in ten minutes he was back. "Ah, yes. Do you have those figures for me now?"

I pulled a number out of the air. "Five thousand dollars."

"That's reasonable. I want you to deliver them, of course. Here's my card.” He scribbled something on a folded business card and handed it to me with a smile. He walked away, still looking like just an ordinary shopper.

I looked at what he had written. The blank folded card had a few words scrawled inside: "$5000. Accepted. Gerald McDonald, Acting President of the United States of North America.”

So he thought he was the President, not Napoleon. I shrugged and put the card in my pocket. I never saw him again.

Friday, July 6, 2012


My last blog post (before the interruption to comment on the loss of Nora Ephron) was about bad news--at least from my perspective--But good news cometh around in the form of books, bookstores and blogging. How’s that for keeping the alliteration going?

First, books. Bowker, who tracks those things, says that in 2011, print book publishing rose by six percent. In another list Bowker tracks what they call “reprint/print on demand” titles and those rose 15 percent since 2009. Of course we know that more e-books are sold than print books these days, according to Amazon who ought to know, but the rise in print books published (but not necessarily sold) is unexpected and welcome. If only half of them are sold, it proves what recent studies show: that e-book buyers buy print books as well. In fact, another study shows that people who borrow e-books from libraries buy more e-books than those who don’t. E-book readers are apparently the real book lovers.

Second: bookstore openings are up. So said an article about the Association of U.S. booksellers (or someone else. I can no longer find the link but trust me I remember it correctly.) In fact, they rose for four of the past five years. Sure, they went down in the previous five or more years, but that was more the fault of the giant chain bookstores cutting into independent’s sales, not the proliferation of e-books. So why would someone decide--in 2011--to open a bookstore? Sure, buyers can order online, but bookstores have always been more than a place to buy books. They were a pleasant place to go, to meet and greet, to explore the literary landscape before making a purchase. Small bookstores are springing up in small towns and in select neighborhoods of big cities, filling that need.

New stores, or those who are surviving the huge changes in the publishing industry, move with the times. They offer a cozy atmosphere for browsing, and sell coffee and snacks. In addition, many stores offer e-books, as well as the devises for them on the site. Another wonderful innovation is that some stores have a “self-published books” section where local authors can place their books on consignment. Obviously, this attracts authors--who are also book buyers--as well as local residents who want to see and buy what people in their neighborhood are writing. A caveat at some such stores is that if they don’t sell a copy of a self-published book in ninety days (or some other deadline) the books are returned to the author. That’s a lot better indication the book isn’t your best effort than getting a bunch of one-star reviews on Amazon.

One other innovation--one that might keep large bookstores in business-is the Electronic Book Machine, which a well-heeled, corporate-owned brick and mortar store could buy--and print and sell a book in fifteen minutes.

Finally, a post on “slow blogging” by Anne R. Allen validated my practice of sharing my thoughts only once a week. Plus time off for bad behavior. I won’t risk being trampled by elephants.

So, fellow writers, if you’re self-publishing, have you found a bookstore that will take your work? If so, tell me about it.

Anne R. Allen

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I was writing a post for my blog when I received the information that Nora Ephron had died, and I wanted to pay a quick tribute to her before getting back to that.

No, I did not know Ephron personally. We didn’t go to the same schools or move in the same circles, and I’m not Jewish. All we had in common is that I, too, had dark brown hair and wore bangs. We’re both writers, but even my fans will agree she’s much better. She was a director of films; I was a director of community theatre plays. She was a journalist with a column at Wellesley and then for the Post. I wrote for my college paper and a weekly column for local newspapers in the suburbs of Chicago and San Francisco. She was a blogger with the Huffington Post; I post a blog once a week which--if I’m lucky--twenty people will read.

In a speech to a graduating class, she once told them they “could always change your mind. I’ve had four careers and three husbands.” I’ve also had three husbands, but only two careers, not counting housewife. The rest were hobbies that no one paid me for. She wrote an essay that was published in Esquire. I was a proofreader for Esquire during one high school summer break.

Yesterday Ephron’s friends Ariana Huffington and Barbara Walters told of the clever things she said, and ABC ran a list of twelve. I tried to be funny in many of my books and also in the one-act plays written for the Repertory Players, but I’ll never equal Ephron’s wit in I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK and I REMEMBER NOTHING, Or the films she wrote, such as WHEN HARRY MET SALLY and SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. I saw her interviewed on television a few times and her adlibs were priceless. I’ll be happy if anyone quotes one line from my novel, STRANGER IN PARADISE, “...going on a cruise is like prison with a chance of drowning.”

So, in deep appreciation for all the joy she brought into our lives just by being herself, I say “Farewell” to Nora Ephron.

Nora Ephron
Arianna Huffington
Barbara Walters
Huffington Post
When Harry Met Sally

Sleepless in Seattle

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I’m back from my short hiatus. Since we live in the desert east of Los Angeles where it gets very hot in the summer, at least half the people leave--some as early as April--and don’t come back until Fall. This is both good and bad for those of us who remain. The advantages to remaining in town are that (1) traffic is reduced, (2) parking places in shopping malls are vacant and (3) many upscale restaurants offer two-for-one deals to diners.

We don’t have a second home, or one we left behind in a different climate, to escape to, but we do take a few short trips to attend graduations, weddings, or just visit friends and relatives. This particular getaway to northern California involved a graduation, visits to two of our sons and their families, and time with three old friends. We had hoped to see three other friends at that time, but they weren’t in town. One was in Hawaii, one in Canada and one in Ireland. Shows what length people will go to avoid having us visit. LOL

While we were away, the famous writer, Ray Bradbury died and, although many others have commented--and more eloquently--I want to express my regrets and my personal experience meeting the man. He was a speaker for at least three writers conferences I attended and autographed a book for me. I often thought it odd that, although a science fiction writer, he was afraid to fly. I also remember something he said in every talk he gave. In addition to telling how he paid ten cents per half hour to use a typewriter in a library, he also admonished his listeners to avoid watching local news on television. “They’re just about murders, rapes and robberies, nothing you really need to know. Use that hour to write something you like.”

Dave Barry was my favorite columnist, and I read his books as soon as they came out, because I love his humor. Yesterday’s newspaper, as well as Barry’s website, tell the bad news that the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band formed twenty years ago by a small group of writers, will perform its last two concerts in Los Angeles later this month. The writers are, besides Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Stephen King, and Scott Turow, among others who occasionally play with them. Bruce Springsteen once sat in with them and declared they were almost as good as a garage band. Nevertheless they raised two million dollars for charities.

My husband and I owned a condo on Maui, and the first Maui Writers Conference was held over Labor Day weekend in (I think) 1993, and it featured the Rock Bottom Remainders. Scott Turow was not among them that year, but I think Ridley Pearson was. Their music and humor were the highlight of the conference.

The other bad news since June 1st is that I attempted to enter a prestigious writing contest, but the entry form which was required--and which I sent an SASE for twenty days before the deadline--never arrived in time: in fact the contest coordinators didn’t even mail it until June 5th, five days after the deadline to enter. Frustration, thy name is writing.

Do you have a sad story about a frustrating incident? I’d love to hear it. Maybe it will cheer me up.

Ray Bradbury
Dave Barry
Rock Bottom Remainders

Friday, May 25, 2012


More and more often lately, I read that characters make a book, that readers want interesting characters they can empathize or even fall in love with. To say nothing of the evil ones who fascinate us. (Hannibsl Lechter, anyone?) Personally, I’ve always been a “plot” person, so that’s something I’ve had to learn.

Some years ago I wrote an article (actually it’s on my Blog under Writing Tips) about the difference between writers who are “word” people and those who are “story” people and how to learn to do both to help you get published. That still applies, but now--in addition to adding description--I’d add words that explore character. I’ve found that when I’ve finished a first draft of my novel, I must go back and “flesh out” my characters. It seems I learn about them as I write the book, as opposed to writers who don’t put a word on paper until they do a complete character biography including not just appearance, but schools, philosophy, phobias, family and friends.

Remember the movie “Ruthless People” starring Bette Midler and Danny Devito? It illustrates the fact that we love “larger than life” characters. Midler and DeVito weren’t, technically, the protagonists of the story. That designation belonged to the young couple who had been wronged by the DeVito character and--although too timid even to kill bugs--decided to get even by kidnapping his wife (Midler) and demanding ransom. But Devito won’t pay the ransom, because he has a girlfriend on the side and wants his wife dead anyway. And the girlfriend has a boyfriend who... Heck, rent the film from Netflix and enjoy one of the funniest and cleverest comedies ever made.

My point is that we tend to remember the quirky characters. I can’t even remember the names of the young couple.

As for books, the same thought occurred to me while reading DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY by P.D. James. As I’m sure you know, James is a famous British author of mysteries and this one is placed in England seven years after the time of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen. However, to my surprise, James’s book received an average of only 3-1/2 stars on Amazon, whereas COLD APRIL, my historical novel, received 4-1/2, including three five-star reviews. How could that be?

My theory is that, while James did a masterful job of capturing Austen’s style, it wasn’t what present-day mystery readers are looking for. Jane Austen, although not a member of high society, was upper middle-class (her brothers attended Oxford and their home was filled with books) and so were all her characters. Not a quirky one in the bunch, and all behave in a civilized manner with perfect grammar. Today’s readers expect today’s style. Austen--and James--had no life-threatening situation confronting them, as I had with the Titanic sinking in my novel.

In fact, I remember a quote from a well-known writer at a conference. He said (approximately) “Movies have been around for 100 years, television for fifty. Sure you can write like Charles Dickens if you want to and have pages of description before any action begins. But remember, the audience for that kind of book-- is DEAD!”

I hope you will give me your opinions, but be aware I’ll be on vacation for the next three weeks and won’t post anything more until I return. But I hope to read your comments “en route.”

Jane Austen
P.D. James
“Ruthless People”

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Last week’s news wasn’t very good for authors. First, an article saying that if a writer isn’t producing more than one book a year, she’s “slacking.” Used to be that those prolific authors had to write under multiple pen-names because the publishers didn’t want them to release too many books each year. Just one more thing that the new world of publishing has changed for us.

Alas, I’m not a prolific writer. One a year was just right for me. And if the book didn’t sell, I rewrote it--sometimes several times--until it did. So perhaps my output is more like one every three years. Ouch.

Then along comes another problem, beautifully discussed on Anne R. Allen’s blog about taking your time, not being in too much of a hurry to self-publish. “Kindle no book before its time,” she said (Don’t you love that?) because debut novels are seldom any good, and many rewrites may be necessary before that magic moment arrives. Allen quoted Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who said, “The biggest challenge to authors today is self-restraint. Many authors, intoxicated by the freedom to self-publish, will often release their book before it’s ready.”

Okay, so now we have to slow down instead of speed up.

As if that weren’t enough to depress me, along came the brouhaha over Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s post about royalties from big publishers. Exactly a year ago, she wrote about the incorrect royalties that were hurting writers and brought it to the attention of writers’ organizations. One year later, had anything been done about it? No. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Aren’t they supposed to lobby for the authors who pay to be members? Why pay $95 a year or more, to a writer’s organization if they don’t pressure the publishers to correct the royalty problems?

Finally a letter from AAR, the literary agents’ association, that claims to work for authors (for 15% of their income) but has, instead, asked the Department of Justice not to investigate publishers who colluded to force a book-pricing system that diminishes the income of writers. Who’s protecting whom?

Will things get better next week? One can but hope. Meanwhile, please comment on what you think writers need to do.

Anne R. Allen,
Mark Coker

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I stole the title of this post (titles can’t be copyrighted) from the production of six funny one-act plays, one of which I’m directing, to be performed here June 1-3. It seemed apropriate because I‘m going to touch on a few topics instead of only one.

Practice Writing

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article here about wasted writing versus practice writing. I quoted a few well-known writers who had something to say on the subject, for instance:

1. Writing is never wasted. If you can’t use it now, save it

2. Writers, like musicians and athletes, need practice.

3. You have to write a million words before you’re any good

4. You can always fix a draft; you can’t fix a blank page.

Then last week I ran across another wonderful quote on the subject. It’s from Lawrence Block and is great advice. “One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself I’m going to do my five pages no matter what, and I can always tear them up the following morning if I want to. I’ve lost nothing. Writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”


I’m a follower of J.A. (Joe) Konrath’s blog and this week he had a “doozy.” A woman writer, who sold twenty-five romantic suspense novels to Harlequin Intrigue, told how she can’t afford to get her son’s teeth straightened because Harlequin pays her so little. Konrath added the numbers and they were shocking. After trying for twenty years to get published by Harlequin, now I’m glad I’m not. Read Konrath’s blog yourself.

Book Covers

I just read a blog by a reader who refuses to buy a book if the cover doesn’t depict what it’s about. My DH is not only my computer guru but is a wonderful artist who provides covers for my books when necessary. Since I got my rights back to the two books Kensington published in 1998 and 2000, I needed new covers for the e-books and he came up with some good ones, IMHO. I’m especially pleased with ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, which was an original oil painting, many prints of which he sold when we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. STRANGER IN PARADISE, set in Hawaii, has an entirely different look, but it qualifies too.

I’d love to know what you think of the covers, and also how you choose covers for your Indie e-books.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


The more I read--and I read a lot--the more discouraged I get about the use of English by today’s writers. I posted a similar article on this blog some time ago, but it bears repeating because those same “boo-boos” keep`showing up.

With all the self-publishing going on these days--and the authors not having their books professionally edited--I suppose it was bound to happen, but, please, fellow authors, try not to make the following mistakes.

1. could’ve - could of. There is no legitimate reason to use “could of.“ I’ve seen it even in traditionally published books, and it apparently stems from the author--to say nothing of the editor--missing an English class. He/she means “could’ve” a contraction of the two words “could” and “have.“ Example: “I could’ve been a contender.“ or “I could have danced all night.”

2. doctors - apple’s. Plural words don’t get apostrophes. Example: “The apples were ripe and the doctors ate them.“ If you put an apostrophe before the “s” you have turned the word into a possessive. Example: “The doctor’s time was limited.”

3. Try to - try and. Technically there is no “try and” (or almost none.) If your character is going to try to do something, use “try to,” not “try and.“ Example: “I will try to help you.“ After all, if you say “try and” you imply you’ll succeed. But what if you don’t succeed? You’ve told a lie.

4. I couldn’t care less - I could care less. Once again, the second construction should never be used. After all, if you could care less, then you must care somewhat. But you’re trying to say that you care so little that it would be impossible for you to care any less than you do.

5. lose - loose. Stop putting the extra “o” in “lose.” Look them up in the dictionary. To lose something is to no longer have it. Example: “I don’t want to lose the lovely watch you gave me.“ Something which is loose is of an unstable consistency. Example: “The watch slipped off my wrist, because the band was too loose.”

6. incidents - incidentses. The latter is not a word. One event is an “incident.“ Two or more events are “Incidents” (add an “s” to make a plural). There is no such word as “incidentses.”

7. roll - role. As a noun, a roll can be a small pastry you eat. As a verb, it means moving or turning over or around. Example. “He let the car roll down the incline into the ditch.“ Role is a noun which describes a part you might play in a film or in life. Example: “The role required him to exit the stage.“ or “I’m tired of playing the role of your wicked stepmother.”

8. I hope I don’t have to tell you that--unless you’re writing dialogue in the voice of an illiterate character--you should never write, “Me and my brother,” “Her and I,” “we was,” or “She don’t.“ But I often see “myself” instead of “me. “ Don’t try to get fancy. Wrong: “She gave the book to John and myself.“ Right: “She gave the book to John and me.“ If John were gone, you’d say, “She gave the book to me.“ Wouldn’t you?

9. breath - breathe. Breath is a noun. Example: “He took my breath away.“ Breathe is a verb. Example: “It’s so hot, I can hardly breathe.”

Well, I see my Top Ten list dwindled into only nine, but these are the ones that make me cringe. There are lots more I could have included. What about you? Are there any blinders and boo-boos that make you want to scream? Share them, please. Let’s all try to improve our writing and help our readers enjoy our work.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Last week, several articles and blogs carried the story that the Pulitzer Prize committee had found no literary work of fiction worthy of the prize this year. Word leaked out--perhaps deliberately--that three novels were being considered, but none was picked. What a blow to those three writers, each of whom was a phone call away from the prize and then denied the glory.

Of course, those of us writing genre fiction might not cry quite as hard as the three “almost winners,” but--even if we don’t find time, or the inclination, to read literary fiction--we should be at least a little upset over this turn of events. The announcement of the Pulitzer Prize and subsequent surge in sales for that author and other literary authors is important for the book industry as a whole.

However, while I feel sorry for those authors--and bemoan the lack of promotion of literary novel reading--I find myself not feeling quite as sad about it as I might have three years ago.

Do you remember three short years ago when we were flooded with articles about the death of reading in this country? Newspapers were dying, book stores were struggling, and people simply weren’t reading anymore. They were watching television, playing video games or texting while driving.

Today that has all changed (except perhaps the texting by teenagers). Thanks to e-books and e-readers, reading is more popular than ever. Statistics tell us that millions of e-readers have been sold, and even more millions of e-books have been produced. In addition, it turns out that people who own a reading device buy more books than they did before.

Apparently, they were just waiting for the process to get easier and the books get cheaper.

So, thank you Amazon and Apple and Nook, and Kobo and all the rest. Perhaps readers won’t immediately search out literary novels. I’m told romantic suspense, thrillers and science fiction are the hot “e-buys” at the moment. But can the rest of the fiction cornucopia be far behind? I don’t think so. But then, I’m an optimist, remember?

I’m churning out my stories as fast as I can. And I hope my fellow scriveners are doing the same. Now is a great time to be a writer. Don’t you agree?


Friday, April 20, 2012


This week I read a couple of blog posts about “Wasted Writing.“First, on April 7th, there was a post by Kirk Spencer on Mental Meanderings. Then on April 16, Marie Andreas wrote on the same subject (possibly from having read Kirk’s post, but I’m not sure). So here’s my idea: let’s call it “Practice Writing.”

I heartily agree with both writers that no writing is ever “wasted.” Not just because--if the material doesn’t work for your present WIP it might be saved for a different one--but because it was practice. Just like athletes and pianists, writers need practice in order to perfect their work and reach their goals.

Many years ago, a best-selling author, speaking at a conference I attended, gave some valuable advice. To paraphrase, he said it doesn’t really matter if what you’ve written today seems inadequate, sophomoric, or just plain “lousy.” You can’t really tell if it is or not until you’ve finished the whole story or novel. “I guarantee that when it’s finally finished you won’t be able to tell which paragraphs you wrote when feeling ‘inspired’ and which you wrote when the Muse was ignoring you.”

Another writer has said, “You can always fix a sub-standard draft, but you can’t fix a blank page.”

Multi-published writer Dean Wesley Smith has said the idea that writers don’t need to practice is a “myth.” A writer who writes one book and doesn’t sell it may rationalize the rejection by saying the editor didn’t recognize his genius, or that he hadn’t promoted it enough and readers couldn’t find it. These days, some of those writers put their first books on Amazon, not realizing first books are often not very good because the author hadn’t practiced enough. Smith says, in effect, “Learn from it and write a better book next time.” In other words, practice.

I think it was John D. MacDonald who said every writer must write a million rotten words before he begins to improve. Practice.

Years ago I collaborated with another author on three books, and one of them was published in 2010, the second was accepted by a publisher and will be released July 1st, and the third is currently being considered by a very good modern publisher. My friend and I decided to write together because we met in a writing workshop and discovered we complemented each other. My strong point was action and dialogue and hers was finding the perfect images, metaphors, and similes and a lot of “killer” descriptions. So when we began, we brainstormed a long synopsis for the book we wanted to write (one ran to sixteen single-spaced pages) and then I wrote the first chapter and got the thing started. I called it “down and dirty” and after that, she took over and cleaned it up, turning it into fine-tuned prose.

That was a true learning experience for me, and, after we went our separate ways, fictionwise, I taught myself how to insert all the lovely words my friend might have provided. And I sold those books too, and my friend has sold one of her independently written books, has the second under consideration and is working on a third. And the moral is that all those words we wrote before we met that weren’t published weren’t wasted. They were practice.

How about you, my friend? Did you practice today? I hope so.

Marie Andreas
Mental Meanderings
Dean Wesley Smith