The Importance of Story

Do you remember your mother or grandmother reading stories to you when you were small? When my son and grandsons were little I read to them before bed. As they grew I encouraged them to “read” their favorite stories to me. Since we read Dr. Suess and Paddington Bear over and over again, they knew what happened on every page and could almost recite the words before they could read.

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There are quotes from books or films (stories) that stick in our minds and never go away. They speak to us. They make us laugh or cry or think. “Everything looks better with pearls,” is one of my faves. I don’t wear pearls but I remember watching Audrey Hepburn and Doris Day in films and they always had pearls on and looked beautiful and confident.

These days superheroes are very popular, everyone wants to be a hero, save the day, have superpowers. Imagine it? Of course, you can, we all can. Stories about ordinary people who find out they have extraordinary gifts inspire us to be greater.

Everyone has stories in them. Our lives are vignettes, scenes that play out every day. Sometimes they are boring, but they can just as easily be exciting, frightening, or romantic. Share your stories. If you don’t want to write them down, speak them to others, take photographs that tell a story, paint a picture, write/sing a song. We all love a good story.friends_n_rain

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Summer colds & the magic of storytelling

mature_womanI hate summer colds. When it’s raining and icy outside I anticipate I’ll get the flu or a virus, but not when it’s hot out. I don’t know why. This past weekend my hubby and I spent it sleeping, reading, eating soup, and binge watching House of Cards (Netflix). We saw a couple other great movies on HBO, too.

The book I just finished was one of JD Robb’s Death mysteries and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s something amazing about an author who can write so many stories about the same characters and keep bringing something new and inventive into the story. Certainly, there are always new characters and murder situations, but the main characters keep evolving and that makes the story even better. It’s set in the not so distant future, say forty years from now and much of life is the same. But getting real coffee and real meat is a challenge and only reserved for the wealthy. Pepsi comes in a tube. And while cars can elevate and fly, they don’t often so we don’t have to worry about suspending disbelief – it could happen.

Do you ever wonder why movies and television shows have exploded and there are so many channels to choose from? (Money for one, but the other is – storytelling keeps us going.) Since many channels show reruns I don’t see how they all survive, but they do, and not everyone has access to all the same stations. What makes these forms of entertainment so popular is the story. We’re captured by the actors, the scenes, the special effects, the music, the drama/comedy/adventure. We are transported into that story, maybe even flying through space on the starship Enterprise as the Romulans attack. I recently saw “Brooklyn” and I was transported to Ireland and then New York City (Brooklyn) during the 1950’s. The cars, the clothes, the music, the hairstyles, the language (love Irish accents) let me be there while I watched the story unfold.

Isn’t that the same thing we want when we read a book? We readers want to slip between the pages, into the time and place, along with the hero and antagonist, so we can experience this new world we’re reading about. I recently read “The Citadel” by Kate Mosse and I have to tell you – I wanted to be in France, but NOT during the 1940’s. The German occupation of France was horrific. Kate Mosse made the time and place come to life.

We authors want our stories to draw readers in and hold them there until the end. When it happens, it’s magical. When the moving pictures in your head get transferred accurately on the page and into the reader’s imagination – we soar with joy. We take the reader along with us and hope their experience is satisfying. Not every story will resonate with every person – but when it does – it is true magic.  One of my readers sent me a message saying she had seen my character, “Annabelle” on the street in town.  Feisty Family Values and particularly Annabelle had come to life for her. That’s what I call MAGIC. Another reader wrote me that she hated Regina in the first book but really liked her in the second. She said she was glad she wasn’t such a bitch anymore. It made me laugh and gave me a sense of pride as well. The character of Regina came to life for her.

I hope none of you out there get summer colds, but if you do – drink lots of fluids, sleep lots, read and get well soon.

Interview with Vicki Hinze

I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to introduce fellow Belle Books author: Vicki Hinze. She’s an interesting person and great author. So read on, my friends…

What parts of you and your background feed your imagination?

I’ve always been a “what if” and “why” kind of person, with one foot planted in the clouds and the other firmly on the ground. My imagination is active. It seems natural to spin out scenarios—my mother and I played games like that when I was a child. My favorite part was to take the illogical and impossible and make it not only possible but believable and almost inevitable.

I guess those things, going back so far into my past, are so deeply ingrained, I’d feel naked without them.

Tell us a little about the very first story you remember writing?

It was a story about a bird who couldn’t fly because she was a tiny girl bird deemed too fragile to fly. She discovered she wasn’t fragile but strong, and that she could fly (or do anything she wanted) if she worked at learning how. At the end, she learned and soared!

Creative people are often creative in other ways, besides writing what else does the muse encourage you to do?

I used to do oil paintings. Flowers and landscapes mostly. I have a serious fondness for irises. And—don’t laugh—I love remodeling. There’s something powerful about knocking down walls. I have admittedly gotten carried away with one project after another until Hubby pled with me for a six-month moratorium. I agreed, but boy was it hard.

What genre(s) do you like to write?

I like them all, except horror, and have written in them all, except horror. My favorite is a hybrid novel with elements of suspense, mystery and romance. If a book has all three, I’m in heaven writing it—or reading it.

Tell us a little about your novel, its plot and the main character(s).

Beyond the Misty Shore is a light paranormal romance. (Romance, suspense and mystery, of course, with a light paranormal element for extra fun.) It’s about TJ MacGregor and Maggie Wright, who discover at Seascape Inn in Maine that they’re linked by an accident that caused the death of Maggie’s cousin and TJ’s fiancé. TJ doesn’t want a relationship with Maggie, and feels himself falling for her, but he’s unable to leave the inn. He’s held their by supernatural forces, though he doesn’t know why. Neither does Maggie, who doubts his being held there isn’t a trick of the mind until she witnesses TJ’s challenge firsthand. Both are wounded, broken, and struggling to find their feet. And forces conspire at the inn to offer them the chance to heal and find not just their feet but their hearts.

Many have said they found the story uplifting and inspiring. That’s how it struck me, too. I love the Seascape books.

Are any of the characters like you and if so in what way?

I’m chuckling here, wondering at the wisdom of admitting it. In their own way, they’re skeptics and stubborn, slow to be convinced and to change their minds. I think we’re alike in those things, but I honestly don’t think those things are bad. Actually, they can be amusing. I found myself amused often writing these two and then again later when reading them.

What genre(s) or author(s) do you like to read?

Suspense, romance and mystery genres. And thrillers. Love thrillers, provided they’re not gory. I don’t like gore. But the books that worm into my heart are healing books with elements of suspense, mystery and romance. Love those immensely.

Where and when do you find the best ideas or inspiration for your stories?

Ideas are everywhere! Boardrooms, bathrooms, overheard snippets of conversations overheard anywhere. My best ideas seem to come when I’m a) in the shower. Naturally, you don’t have a pen there, right? And b) grocery stores. Which proves God has a sense of humor because I don’t cook. If I’m stuck, I go to the grocery store. Ideas are all over there. And if none are the right ideas for what I’m after, I go to my kitchen table.

Growing up, my dad told me that 99% of genius was created at the kitchen table. So if I can’t see my way ahead (in writing or life), I go to the kitchen table to seek answers. They come. I’m not sure if it’s because I believe they will or because I’m so focused on finding answers when I’m there, but they always come.

If there was a message you could share with other writers what would it be?

If you can quit writing, do it. If you love it, you won’t be able to quit, and that’s the fastest way to find out if you’re a writer. Writing demands sacrifices—a lot of them—so you need to know quickly whether or not in it you’ll find and follow your bliss. This is the shortest route to doing so I’ve found.

Where can readers go to learn more about you and your work?

To my website. http://www.vickihinze.com. There you’ll find all kinds of information, chapter previews, blogs, newsletters, videos, and podcasts. More than even my mother would want to know. J

Thanks so much for your interest in me and my books. I hope you’ll enjoy all three of the Seascape novels.

After I’d written the first one, I received a number of letters from readers wanting to book a trip to Seascape Inn. I have to tell you, I’ve felt that way myself many times.

(It’s my pleasure, Vicki!)

Vicki_HinzeRaised in New Orleans, Vicki Hinze began writing before Kindergarten but her journey to writing books included a lot of corporate pitstops. Eventually, she settled in and her first novel landed an array of awards and on the bestseller list. With nearly 40 books published, she’s been back many times with awards in multiple genres and appearances on multiple bestseller lists, including USA TODAY. Vicki is recognized by Who’s Who in the World as an author and an educator and is best known for chilling suspense, trailblazing, and creating series that genre-blend. Her works include suspense, mystery and romance. Since 1994, this former VP of International Thriller Writers has written heavily about military and military families and in nearly all genres except horror. Hinze is a Floridian married to a former Hurricane Hunter/Special Operations Officer. She constantly pushes the boundaries on existing genres, opening the door for new novel blends.

Who tells the story?

kids_sprinklerThe art of perspective, or who tells the story, is vital to a story well told. What does that mean? Usually, the best person to be the main point of view character is the one who changes the most or is most impacted by the events you are portraying. I’m not talking about “I” telling the story (this is POV and the HOW), it can be first person, but it can also be third person (he or she), or the all seeing god-view. I personally like third person, because, “I” can only know what “I” know and not what is going on in any other character’s head. The experience portrayed in this photo could easily be told by one of the children, but also by the mother who witnesses their play. She would no doubt have a similar experience to share from her childhood and be able to relate it using all senses. My point here is that POV and the teller are linked.collage_heart

In romance, the story is about the two lovers (to be or not to be). There can be lots of interesting secondary characters, but they are not the most important to the story – it’s the couple finding their way to each other. So, even if the maid can tell the story, the story is about how the lovers get together, not how she feels about the job or the price of beef. It can be interesting to see an observers view of how a romance transpires, but there is too much distance to the emotions in the story to be satisfying to the reader.

In the story, Driving Miss Daisy, the driver tells us about Miss Daisy and their relationship. He has a very interesting perspective of his charge and is able to share her antics with honesty. Their friendship evolves over the story as her health devolves. We perceive the racial tension in the south, but these two people overcome that barrier. She needs his calm dependability and he needs to be needed. (I confess I saw the film and didn’t read the book, this is how I perceived the story telling.)

glasses_paper_keyboardSo, how does a writer decide who is the best to tell the story? If you aren’t sure, I suggest trying to write it through a couple of different character’s (or POV) and see which flows best. My short story, “The Crossroads” has always been from Sylvia’s POV, but it was in first person first. When I changed it to third person it flowed better. It is “her” story, and no one else could tell it better, but as an author I had to put some distance between us. Being her in the “I” in the story, put me too close to see everything clearly. We decide “who” and “how” the story will be told.

“The Book Thief” interestingly enough was told from the point of view of ‘death’, but it was the young girl’s experience during this time in WWII. As narrator he was able to express the darkness of the time.

What makes the best “teller” in your story? That’s for the author to decide. Experiment. When you’re recounting the story of your toddler in the store shouting, “Mommy, what’s a jock strap?” It’s mommy’s embarrassment and toddler’s antics that make the story. It wouldn’t work if the toddler told how he did this, so the best person to relate it is Mommy or the clerk standing on the ladder witnessing the exchange. friends_n_rain

When I was little my grandmother always told me the way to understand why someone acted a certain way I should, “Listen harder. Walk around in their shoes for a while.” In essence that’s what an author does. We listen to our character and put ourselves in the story in order to relate the feelings, smells, sounds, textures of the experience. If we are lucky, we grow so close to the story that for a little while we become the characters and their story becomes even richer.

Enjoy the journey, my friends.

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Dreams of Media Attention and Snake Oil

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure and honor of being a part of the first WRITERS OF THE WHEAT LITERARY FESTIVAL. What a great time! Lots of friends, families, readers and literary lovers came to visit and listen to a group of authors read and talk about their books.

In preparation for the event we were in the Wichita Eagle newspaper and that was super publicity for us and the event. KAKE and KWCH TV were also on board to talk about the event. LOVE our local news media!

By the way, there are two Bonnie Tharp’s in Wichita. We finally met after being Facebook friends for some time. The other Bonnie is always being asked to sign my books and she shared that with Carrie Rengers a couple of weeks ago. So…check out “have you heard?”

Anyway, what this is all leading up to is this. I received a call today from an online broadcast company who tells me they can make my books a bestseller. Ah, the stars come into my eyes as he tells me all the things I want to hear: my books are poignant, relevant, interesting…. At least those were the words that stuck into my mind, the rest took quite some a bit of my time and sound like “wah, wah, wah” in my memory (like the Peanuts cartoon grownups).

The promise of nation-wide exposure happened to me once before and I bit – I went on the air and got about 2,000 listeners and only a slight uptick in sales. Not enough to warrant the expense, believe me. Was it fun – LOADS! Was it expensive – LOTS! This time, the offer is a bit more money, with the promise of global media exposure, video, web updates, and one year exclusivity – for them, not me. I must admit I almost bit the poison apple again. Their sales people are amazing! You know the kind who can sell ice cubes to Eskimos. I need to learn those skills, because then my book would be a best seller, for sure.

Many creative folks get caught in the dream that their work is worth much more than it’s being sold for now. The snake oil salesmen tell us that we are worth much more than we make. We dream of thousands of people enjoying our work and sharing it with their best friends or families or just shouting it from the social media rooftops how wonderful this or that creation truly is… We don’t have to be rich, but it would be nice to make a living doing what we love. We don’t have to be a celebrity, but it would be nice to be recognized as a really good author. And the snake oil salesman senses our desire, feeds it and boom – SOLD.

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Excerpt from Earl Divine

In 1949, Earl Divine and his family moved onto Miller’s old farm five miles south of the Viola Baptist church on my tenth birthday. He was a tall, good-looking boy of eleven, with a shock of dark blonde hair and cornflower blue eyes. His crooked smile and easy laughter won the hearts of all the girls in our Kansas county, but most especially mine. For the first time in my life I wanted to look nice and make a boy notice me. The fellows liked him, too, enjoying his joking ways. This included my little brother, Tom.

I was a serious girl, doing all of the things Momma taught me – like canning, cooking from scratch, and gardening. I even plucked chickens, which everybody knows are God’s dumbest creatures. Tall and naturally thin, my crowning glory was thick and shiny red hair. I never cared much for freckles, but there’s not much I can do about mine.     Papa said, “Them are God’s little beauty marks, Hannah.”

Personally, I think God’s got a leaky pen, and it splatters some when he draws our likeness.

By the time I turned fifteen, by shear determination I wore him down and Earl Divine and I became a “couple,” much to Momma and the other girls’ dismay. For three years we courted, going to dances, ice cream socials, potluck dinners at the church, and supper at my folks’ on Sunday.

In those days boys were polite about the fact that they wanted to kiss and touch. I’d been raised to keep my legs together, but it didn’t stop the warmth like hot maple syrup from sliding from one end of my insides to the other. That boy made me want to be bad, but neither one of us could bring ourselves to do the deed before marriage. We came as close as we could without breaking the rules, admiring all the parts of each other that weren’t expressly forbidden, often breaking out in a storm of sweat from the fight with our upbringing. Lord, what a beautiful body he had. The curly hair on his torso scratched and made me giggle.

Lord, forgive these raging hormones.

They taught us all about the crazy time we were going through and warned us not to succumb. The preacher made out like sex was evil, but if that was so there wouldn’t be so many big families in the county.

One evening we lay on the hood of Earls’ 1939 Buick gazing at the stars that peaked through the grove behind my papa’s barn. The night sky over the southern Kansas farm country was black as ink, but the stars were bright enough we could almost feel their warmth. Our breathing had finally slowed from a recent bout of heavy kissing. My body felt like cooked noodles and my brain had turned to oatmeal. I broke the silence. “I love the fresh smell of new mown hay,” I said, and filled my nostrils with the glory of the evening.

What a goofy thing to say, I must be crazy.

Earl snorted, but he didn’t make fun of my awkwardness. I think it was then that I truly fell in love with my fair haired beau.

(Excerpt from short story, Earl Divine, available on Amazon.com)

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Writing good dialog – updated

In 2012 I wrote about what makes good dialog. It’s such a critical part of a story that I thought I’d update it.

Good dialog sounds “real.” By that I mean, it sounds like what your character would say and not words you’ve put in their mouth – that may not quite fit. How do you know when dialog sounds real? Read it aloud. Read it to a critique partner or writing buddy. And don’t forget to “LISTEN” to hear what is being said, not what you meant to say.

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I took a Playwriting class several years ago and one of our first assignments was on writing dialog. Face it, theater is mostly spoken and there are no narratives to explain the character or situation. What happens is spoken and physically dramatized. Back to the lesson: our professor said for each of us to go to a public place and eavesdrop. Write the dialog we hear, verbatim. (How cool is getting a grade for eavesdropping? Mother would be appalled.)

The coffee shop listening session was very enlightening. Two high school aged ladies were talking about a recent Friday night frightening date night and looking at fashion magazines. They appeared to be very good friends and spoke in incomplete sentences. One or the other often responded before the speaker finished, assuming they knew exactly what was going to come out of their friends mouth. What I heard were fragmented sentences, as well as thought hopping.bummed_face

SO, I used what I heard in a scene where two teen siblings were arguing and bating one another. You can really speed up the story by clipping sentences off, and interrupting is a fabulous way to show emotion.

The key is “listening” wherever you go. How do mom’s talk to their toddlers? How do couples in love speak and act? How do old married couples converse? It’s amazing what you will observe. USE IT! You are experiencing real day-to-day dialog. Recreate it in your story.

Have you noticed that most people don’t speak grammatically. They often speak in a kind of short hand, punctuating it with body language or a physical act. Here’s an example, teenage Darrin is slouched on the couch with ear buds in his ears, an X-box controller in his hands, eyes glued to the television, feet on the coffee table that is littered with an array of food and drink remains. Mom’s mad. Her hands are on her hips, the dish washing sponge is in her hand and she yells, “Darrin Michael Smith…” splatting his head with the flying sponge. He drops his feet to the floor along side the controller, yanks off one ear bud and says, “WHAT!” Mom grits her teeth and says,”Clean up this mess.”easylistening

Do you see what I mean? Clipped sentences. Body language. Incomplete thoughts. You will seldom hear mom say, “Darrin, get your feet off of the table, put down the remote, pull out your ear buds, and clean up the mess.” He only hears “Darrin” and “mess” anyway, everything in the middle is noise.

Think about it. Try eavesdropping. Try writing a short scene like this and read it aloud. Does it sound realistic? It’s worth a try. Enjoy the writing journey, my friends.

Life Ventures Rocks!

Do you ever wonder what you will do when you retire? There’s a great program called Life Ventures that has groups on the East and West sides of town. They’re learning programs for all ages and I had the pleasure of speaking to the East side group Oct. 28th. What a delightful group of folks came to listen and ask questions about writing family stories and my books in particular. Some came to hear me speak just because they had read my books and others were curious. I had a great time and hope they did also. East Heights United Methodist Church has a wonderful facility and I’m honored to have been asked to participate in this wonderful program. Thanks again!

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Storytelling, art for all generations

storytellingHave you ever heard a storyteller? I’ve met several very impressive storytellers in my time. They were dramatic, physical, and so much fun. They brought their stories to life, with props, their voices, and their body movements. Basically, that’s what oral history is all about, and how families, warriors, and religion was shared across generations. Don’t forget, minstrels and troubadours were very popular in the middle ages. Cowboys around the campfires. Scary ghost stories at camp. And parables in the Bible.

Society is so enamored of stories that we have a plethora of ways to enjoy them. Audio books. Films. eBooks. Hardback and paperback books. Television and movies. Photography, music and art. Graphic novels. Stage plays. Even advertising tells us what we should be buying. Stories are EVERYWHERE. It’s how we relate to each other and the world around us.To Kill A Mockingbird

We all have favorite stories and mediums to experience them. I love them all, really. But reading a book is more interactive for me. When I’m watching a film or TV I feel passive – like I’m absorbing the experience, but not sharing in it. When I’m in a good book I really feel like I am there in the room, or outside, and I’m a silent partner in the story. My imagination works overtime!

Some of my favorite authors have a way of putting me in the story: Dorothea Benton Frank, C. Hope Clark, Diana Gabaldon, Stephen King (just to name a few). I smell the salt of the sea or the blood on the body. I’m transported back in time or to a place where monsters live. While films give you the audio and visual experience your imagination is put on hold. They give you the experience, and it’s not the same as taking it away from a book. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies, they make me laugh, cry, and shudder. I do experience the story.

But…it’s not the same as with a book. At least, not for me.dot_frank_cover

Now is an amazing time for storytellers. They have so many lovely ways to share their stories. Publishing is easier than it has ever been with electronic and self publishers on the web.

Do you have a story you want to tell? Tell it.

Do you have a story you particularly love? Share it.

But most of all – ENJOY stories.

Consumer Reviews

With so much shopping being done online now, the consumer review is more important than ever. We miss the opportunity to chat with another shopper in the store to see what they think of the item you are considering purchasing. (Unless they have chat software, but the person on the other end is being paid to say good things about their products.)

air_mailMost web sites give you the opportunity to review and even remind you in email to review the product you purchased as well as the shipping. I purchased a cool Impressionist Coloring book from Amazon, and the box I received was totally smashed. Thankfully the contents, however, were shrink wrapped and in fine shape. (They will be told the good and the bad of it, so the next customer doesn’t receive their purchase in bad shape.)

I prefer to shop locally, but if the brand I’m looking for isn’t carried here I take my search elsewhere. Perhaps that is why I love quirky shops like Lucinda’s and Watermark Books & Cafe. The service is great and they have really fun things for sale. I also enjoy shopping at antique stores and consignment/thrift shops where you never know what treasures you might find or be able to repurpose.

As many of you know I love comfortable shoes, but they can be expensive.relax So, I watch for my favorite brands to see if they are on sale locally and online. (The shoe sales sites that have free shipping both ways are the best, because sometimes shoes just don’t fit and you have to return them and try again. I read the reviews to see if customers found them true to size or if they were durable and comfortable. )

Whenever and wherever I shop, I let people know whether I had a good (or bad) experience. Through social media. Through Customer Reviews. Through word of mouth. When we discover a great new place to eat we tell everyone we know. We humans love to share experiences, it’s story telling in its purest form. That’s a good thing and has probably gone on since the Neanderthal Grug  warned his mate not to go near the cave where the neighborhood sabor tooth tiger slept. (Warning! See there is value in letting people know your experience?)

Keep in mind, though, if it’s not dangerous – your opinion is just that – one person’s opinion. There’s no need to get nasty, just say I didn’t like it because… or I liked it a lot because… Let others form their own opinions, and be kind enough not to blame the clerk at the clothing store for your bad day. We all have them, so be responsible and courteous when leaving your review or comments. It’s called “constructive criticism.” Make your reviews count!