Friday, February 5, 2016

Issues in Compiling and Editing a Collection by Susan Oleksiw

One of my projects for the early winter is compiling a number of Anita Ray stories, both old and new, into a single collection. The published stories in this group first appeared in Level Best Books anthologies, beginning in 2003, with the publication of “The Silver House.” The stories are consistently around five to six thousand words. That was no surprise. To balance these and vary the reading experience, I’ve written six new ones three of which are fewer than two thousand words.

After I arranged the stories and began reading, I expected to encounter certain editing problems, such as two characters in different stories with the same name, or changes in the details of a certain store or hotel. I expected some inconsistencies in spelling, minor copy-editing issues easily corrected. But I found a few other surprises.

First, my writing has changed over the years, becoming tighter in description and sharper in dialogue. I expected some change in my style, perhaps new quirks and idiosyncrasies to be removed, but I didn’t expect this. The discovery raises the question of what is necessary in terms of consistency and creating a whole. Do I go back to the older stories and revise them to match more closely the more recent ones, or do I leave them all as they are?

Second, the more recent stories are more traditional in terms of the crime and criminal, and offer less in the way of the anthropology of the region in India that I find so interesting. I can’t and don’t want to change the stories in terms of theme and cultural features, but I am taking note of the change and trying to find balance in the arrangement.

Third, I have remained consistently inconsistent and indecisive when it comes to the transcription of certain Malayalam words into English. I can’t seem to decide between Pongala and Pongaala, the name of an annual ritual that is known as the largest gathering of women in the world, verified by Guinness Book of Records. They’re up to five million by now. Nor can I settle on one transliteration of the breakfast food called idli or ittali. I most often use idlies but also sometimes use iddalies or ittalies. The first one reflects current pronunciation in the area where I lived.

Fourth, several recurring characters don’t have given names in these stories; not until a later novel do I finally name them. Do I add those names here, to make things easier for readers who know the characters from later stories, or do I leave things as they are?

Fifth, the role of some characters has changed over the years. For a brief period Ravi served in the dining room, but that soon came to an end. Should I simply remove him from that task and replace him with the established waiter, Moonu. (And I should definitely settle on one spelling for his name.)

Sixth, Anita is addressed in different ways depending on the speaker’s perceived relationship with her. Those who know her well but consider her a superior and want to show respect address her as Chechi, Older Sister. Those who have known her most of her life, perhaps as a family servant, and still consider her the child of the family, might call her Anita Missi. I’m relieved to find that I’m consistent in the use of madam and memsahib.

All in all, compiling this collection has been rewarding as well as a reminder that writing is an ongoing job, and what has been written can always be improved.

If you’re interested in reading one of the Anita Ray stories, go to

or to

Friday, January 15, 2016

Writing and Life

Writing and Life. We authors can't have one without the other. While the creating aspect of writing is a solitary business we wouldn't have much to offer if we weren't - out there - living, interacting with people, experiencing new places and things. Working at jobs. Relationships. Encounters. Participating in sports, yoga, gym workouts, walking the neighborhood. Jacqueline Sewald created a great post last week about where to find ideas. It really spoke to me personally, because I would dearly love to retire and write full time. HOWEVER. I'm not quite sure how we'd manage the bills (especially health insurance, but that is another story).

Making a living with writing is tough. To hone my craft I became a feature writer for a small newspaper and interviewed some of the most wonderful people, who all found unique ways to live their lives. For example:
  • A 104-year-old woman who decided to start riding a motorcycle. 
  • A seventy-year-old woman who learned to fly a small plane. 
  • A retired airplane engineer decided to build replica hot rods and sell them. 
  • Many, many lovely seniors utilize their creativity to help others - quilts, clothing, hats and gloves. 

This is a short list of articles written about people. Ah, people. To me, that's the key to a good story.
What happened? How do the characters feel? Where did do things happen to these people? What did the characters do for a living? Who are they deep down inside? What are their dreams, aspirations, fears? Finding the answers to these questions is extremely interesting. Authors can interview their character and discover and create their story.

Authors can utilize people they know or have seen as prototypes. What did they look like? What did they wear? How did they smell? How did they talk? One of the feisty ladies in my two novels is the image of an instructor I had in college. She floated into a room, her bangles tinkling, her long hair in a braid or bun, her long skirts skimming the tops of her leather sandals. Her grace and physical presence inspired me. Whenever Regina speaks in my story I visualize Dr. Konek. If I hadn't taken a class from her I might have seen her in the bookstore or on the street and still she would have captured my imagination.

The Annabelle character is a compilation of many women I've known, my grandmother being the main one, and she lives and has adventures that my aunts and I have had in the kitchen. Flour everywhere, salt being substituted for sugar in a recipe (yes, it happens) and the ultimate response when tasted. Cherries can be spit quite far.

Whether you have a large family or small there are episodes that will no doubt find their way into stories. Verbal ones or written, it doesn't make a difference. Make it real for the listener or reader. Share your living with them. Share your humor with them. Share your feelings with them. It's what makes story "real."

And don't forget to enjoy the adventure.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Tips on Innovating and Developing New Fiction By Jacqueline Seewald

I am often asked this question by readers: where do you get the ideas for your stories and novels? I answer this question by saying I don’t just sit at my computer all day and pull ideas out of thin air. Here are a few ideas or tips on how I generate new fiction that may prove helpful.

One: Ideas for fiction originate from living life as fully as possible. I am interested in the people and places around me. I talk with friends and family. I communicate with other people. I even listen in on conversations I overhear in restaurants and at gatherings. I pay attention. I observe with all of my senses. Reality gets mixed with imagination in fiction writing. Setting, plot, theme and characterization often originate from living life in the real world and observing what is happening there.

Writers are people, many of whom live interesting and unusual lives. However, some of us tend to find the unusual in the ordinary. It all plays a part in what writers ultimately designate as “fiction.”

Two: Reading sparks ideas. I am a voracious reader as are many other authors. I read a great variety of books, magazines and newspapers. I read both fiction and nonfiction. Reading the work of other writers, both fiction and nonfiction, stirs my imagination and encourages creativity.

Some things I’ve found helpful that may help spark creativity:
·        Visit a bookstore and browse. Buy a new book or magazine you’d like to read.
·        Visit a library and browse. Borrow a print book or audio that looks interesting.

Three: Journal writing serves as a source for ideas. I faithfully write in a journal each day. It is not necessarily great literature but I use journaling to describe things, increasing my powers of observation. For example, I might describe places: houses, sidewalks, backyards and streets, cities. I consider my journal as a kind of travelogue. I often describe people, interesting or unusual, the ordinary as well.

I might jot down snatches of conversation. I think of my journal as a treasure trove or jewel box in which to place gems (quotes, pithy ideas, epigrams, insights, puns, nutshell wisdom). I write a little, think a lot.
I also consider the journal as a laboratory for experiment, a way to try  different writing styles, see what suits, what fits and what doesn't.

In journaling, I can have a record of thought associations, stream-of-consciousness. Journaling can provide fine raw material for future writing.
When I was teaching English at the high school level, I wrote in my journal regularly. A lot of those thoughts, comments, and descriptions came into play when I wrote THE TRUTH SLEUTH. Readers who have also taught commented that this mystery novel has the ring of veracity about it--not surprising since the book is the real deal, one of the benefits of writing what I actually know about. The same was true of THE INFERNO COLLECTION, the original idea for which was sparked by my time working as an academic reference librarian at the university.

Even my YA novels are sparked by real events. In THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, I’ve written reality from my own high school days mixed with the paranormal in a romantic allegorical story.

 In STACY’S SONG, the main character is a girl with a sense of humor but handling many of the insecurities I and others typically dealt with as teenagers.

Four: Exercise is important. I go for walks, paying attention to my surroundings. If the weather is too cold, I either use a treadmill or walk in a mall. My husband does interval training. Jogging works too. Some people like to swim or bicycle. Some like to dance or do yoga. It’s all good! Exercise sends blood to the brain and produces a sense of well-being that lends itself to creativity.

Five: What else can we do to spark our life force, rev up our engines? I’m not just talking about in the creative arts. Every human being needs revitalization at some point. If you’ve become discouraged, suffered a loss of productivity in your field of endeavor, there are ways to deal with it.

Get started by making some life changes in this new year. Get out of your normal rut or routine. Consider doing things you’ve never tried before or haven’t done lately. They don’t have to be dangerous or extreme either. 

Meditation is not something new but certainly beneficial. It’s been referred to as “mindfulness.” Here’s some easy ways to start:
·        Breathe deeply concentrating on the act itself
·        Hug someone, focusing on the interaction
·        Eat slowly while paying attention to what you are eating
The key is to keep focus on the activity and not let your mind wander or worry.
This is just one positive method of increasing your creativity which can lead to increased productivity.

Visit an art gallery, a museum, or travel somewhere you’ve never been before.

Six: Writers need to write. Choose a time that’s good for you and write consistently each day. I prefer the early morning when there are fewer distractions or interruptions. But you may be a night person. Do what’s comfortable. Just make writing a daily habit.

All of these things stimulate creativity which in turn helps originate new writing.

Comments welcome!

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year's Resolutions by Susan Oleksiw

In the spirit of the New Year, I offer a few thoughts for 2016. 

It is hard to be original in generating resolutions. Furthermore, giving advice to others is easy. A new resolution to exercise regularly does not happen on a cold morning in January but on a warm day in the fall when a physical therapist goes to work on a frozen shoulder. In the same way, ushering in the new year is a good time to assess my work habits and practices, and resolve to continue the best of them.

The best habits for writers are simple and obvious, and I follow these every year.

1. Write every day. If you want to write, you have to write. Scribbling on the occasional weekend will not produce a professional or a polished novel. Find a place to work, either in a private room or a corner of another, and go there every day for an hour more or less. The amount of time isn’t important as long as you’re writing. If you fill a page every day, at 350 words a page, at the end of the year you will have a very long book. It will need editing.

2. Editing is also writing. Learn to polish your work, and learn all the dull bits you managed to avoid during English classes. Know the difference between there, they’re, their, and between disinterested and uninterested. Make sure you know when you’re using a sentence fragment and when you’ve forgotten to finish the sentence. Get a good dictionary, new or old, and use it. Spend time learning new words or deepening your understanding of known words.

3. Read, read, read. I never met a successful writer, or a good writer, who didn’t read widely and deeply. And after you’ve read a particular book, write a review for yourself or a review site and consider what others have said about it. Read outside your favorite genres.

But what about my personal resolutions for the coming year?

4. For various reasons, mostly lack of discipline, I find that I begin January with three unfinished mss. One is a collection of Anita Ray stories, both published and unpublished, almost ready to be sent out into the world. The second is a Joe Silva ms that I set aside until my beta readers could get to it. Time passed, and only now am I getting the reports. The third is another Anita Ray mystery, the fifth in the series, which is about eighty percent finished. I have until August to complete it. One of my goals is to complete each of these three projects. My next, and related, resolution is to not leave so many projects unfinished.

5. Over the years I have come to favor certain outlets for my fiction, and I’m not alone. We tend to send our work to editors who are receptive. It’s time for me to expand my options for fiction. I don’t know what this will lead to, but I think it’s a good idea.

6. After being retired for two years, I know that I enjoy being around people a limited amount of time. This year I think I can achieve a balance between my desire to be alone to write and my enjoyment of other people and activities “in the world.”

7. I have a few ideas for stories that don't match anything I've done so far. No one may want them, but I believe in trying new things, and this year I plan to work on them.

8. I have a few other goals, mostly from other aspects of my life. I studied piano for twelve years, and after all this time away from the instrument I realize how much I miss it. No, I’m not going to buy a piano. But I think I will take up another instrument now that I have the time.

I am often reminded of the number of artists, writers, actors, musicians, scientists, doctors, and others who find success in more than one area. Perhaps it is the luck of the draw, being born with an abundance of talent, but it is also equally likely to be the capacity to work hard at whatever one undertakes. That’s the kind of discipline I’d like to have. I’ll know better in a year if I have it. I’ll let you know what I discover.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Giving With Spirit

All of my books so far have been fiction with some true life characters living in them. The story I'm going to share today is not fiction, but it could become the best part of a Christmas story of the future.

                            IT IS A TRUE HAPPENING OF THIS PAST WEEK.

Husband  and I were placing our purchases on the check-out counter at Walmarts. when I noticed that the woman ahead of us had five or six pairs of sneakers, and clothing, all different and all various sizes.  I thought to myself, she must have a large family.

There was a gentleman  checking out in front of her and when he left there was an exchange of words with the clerk which I could not hear. When the woman's purchases were bagged and she was leaving the counter, I heard her say as she turned back to the aisles of the store, "I'm going back and get more".

I was puzzled until it was our turn and the clerk told us that the man who checked- out ahead of the woman heard her tell the clerk  that her order was to be donated, and  he paid for them!
The clerk  added "It is the first time in all the eight years of working at Walmarts, that this has happened on my watch."

It was a heart-warming happening which deserves  blessings for the gentleman with the true Christmas spirit.
                                                And maybe a  scene in a future story. . . 

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


When I began the second Flora Garibaldi Art History Mystery Umber Rome (coming soon, I hope), I had writer’s block. Or rather, Starting-the-Novel block. I couldn’t seem to get going.

My husband, who is a wonderful and creative supporter, came up with a solution. He built me a bulletin board just for writing (no kid photos or dentist cards allowed): a place to tack up pictures, lists, notes, etc., all about the work-in-progress. He attached the new board to the wall above the small desk where I park my laptop at night.

This is the station I use at the beginning of each day, for email and other tasks. It is a wonderful reminder of what I’m supposed to be doing—writing—and I like to think that the pictures and maps jog my brain even when I’m doing something else on the computer.

What did I put up? A large map of Rome, Italy, with major highways and surrounding towns. A smaller map of my protagonist’s neighborhood, with an “X” for where her apartment is. Pictures taken off the Internet of the major locations in Rome such as the Catacombs, where the novel takes place. Lists of Italian phrases I wanted to use, character lists, and photos of people (clothes models, politicians, ordinary Italians) who look something like my mental image of each major character. Pictures and names of Italian food and wine…you get the idea.

The new bulletin board became a visual map of where I was going with the book. I added Post-It reminders to myself, additional neighborhood maps, colorful photos of my favorite places in Italy. As a writer’s tool, it was a howling success. Did it make me finish the book any faster? Maybe not, but it helped me focus.

Now it’s high time to take down the old stuff and put up the new…

Friday, December 18, 2015

Giving the Gift of Time & Story

When I was a little girl I lived with my grandmother. Every year we made cookies for the neighbors and an elderly shut-in that lived down the street. I'd go with her to deliver these gifts. The recipients always shared with me and I love cookies. But even more than that was the joy that it brought to visit and bring such a simple present. It was worth all the cheek pinches suffered at each home.

My personal favorite was the elderly neighbor who lived alone in her tiny house. The things I remember about her home was the coffee smell and the glorious clutter. There were treasures in every corner and piles on every flat surface. The eyes struggled to focus on any one thing because the room was filled with colorful books, nick knacks, quilts and doilies, old dolls and a tiny television covered in dust. She had a tiny silver Christmas tree with hand made ornaments. The living/dining room was toasty and anything she might want close at hand. It was a comfortable and friendly home with Christmas cards on a red yarn string across the walls at grown-up eye level.  We'd stay for a long time visiting and hearing stories about her extended family. She made the stories and characters so vivid I felt like I knew them.

That connection through story stayed with me through the years and no doubt influenced my desire to be an author. The best stories happen over a dinner with family and friends. They will stay with us forever and pop into our novels from time-to-time. Sharing that time and stories is the most wonderful gift we can give or receive.

Have a Happy, Healthy Holiday Season.

Bonnie Tharp
Author of the feisty family series