Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sarah Bewley's Workspace

Sarah Bewley sent me these lovely photos of her workspace, before and after a cleaning. Here's what Sarah had to say about them.

"My office is often a disaster, but periodically I unbury the floor and it becomes a relatively welcoming workspace. Basically, it gets piled up because I'm very busy, and I always have a lot of books I want to read, a lot of reference books for things I'm writing, and I live in a tiny 700 square foot cottage, so there's nowhere to put anything that I'm working with - other than my tiny office."

"But I'm the best at going in with a garbage bag for the papers and boxes, and a box for the books (that I donate to a small town library up the road with very little money to spend), and making sure the floor is under it all somewhere."

A 700 square foot cottage?? Sarah, considering all you've accomplished as a writer, you are definitely today's "Workspace Hero". And friends, if you don't know what I'm talking about here, please visit Sarah's website at http://www.sarahbewley.com/ and check out the awards this gal has won. Sarah is a playwright and screen writer whose work has been produced in theaters across America and in Australia. Her freelance articles have appeared in numerous magazines, and she's taught classes in playwriting and screenwriting. Whew! This is one really busy woman!

Tomorrow being April 1st, I'll be taking a break from these workplace profiles to discuss April Fool's Day stunts, some new, some very old, some funny, some not so funny. I hope you'll drop by and add a comment or two on your favorite April Fool's jokes. I'll be back on April 2nd with more workplace stories from readers of this blog.

See you tomorrow!

Another Workplace Picture

Check 'em out, ladies. Those cool earrings read "Crime Scene - Do Not Enter". Pattie Tierney created them, and they're not the only mystery jewelry she's designed. There's lots more to "oh!" and "ah!" over on Pattie's fantastic website, www.ptierneydesigns.etsy.com.

But before you go running off to buy jewelry with your stimulus check (not the one Washington gave to those scuzzy CEOs who put us in this mess in the first place; no, I mean that little one we've all been promised and hopefully will see one of these days) read what Pattie had to say about her workspace.

"Neat does not work for me. I'm a jewelry designer and if everything is put away, it takes too long to drag it all out to see what goes with what. Chaos is my middle name, and my studio looks like the aftermath of Katrina. But I work well like this, seeing all sorts of designs and patterns in the mess that surrounds me. Personally, I find it inspiring, but I think it drives my family crazy."

If she's creating fun jewelry like the earrings shown above, what do we care if it drives her family crazy? That's what families are for, right?

More workspace pictures coming to this blog! Come visit me tomorrow to see Sarah Bewley's lovely photos! And if you have a free minute, stop by www.myspace.com/marywelk to view the new slide show I've put there. Being technology challenged, it took me forever to do. But it's not bad, if I do say so myself. If you scroll down to the word SLIDE SHOW under my bio, you'll find explanations for the pictures. And yeah, it would have been nice to have the explanations right under the pictures, but like I said, I'm technology challenged. That HTML stuff is awful!!!! :)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Neat or Cluttered -- Your Answers

Last week I showed you MY workspace and asked how neat or cluttered YOURS is. Your responses began flowing in only minutes after I posted the blog. Each day I'll be posting a new response and showing pictures from those of you who sent them.

I'm kicking off the week with this photo from Morgan Mandel, author of Two Wrongs and Girl of My Dreams.

Morgan wrote: "There's your blog on my monitor overlooking my mess. I mean my desk. Candy, money, a note about signing up for a frontier days booth, a calendar buried under papers, my books on my printer, old paystubs, ads about pens, a notebook where I write my blog totals, and lots more of what seems important to me. I need all of it. Even have the little Christmas dog with the cane on my shelf. Wonder if I should keep it there until next year."

Ah, yes. You're my kind of woman, Morgan! Where would we be without all those little odds and ends cluttering up our desks?? LOST, for sure! :)

If you'd like to know more about Morgan Mandel, visit her website at http://www.morganmandel.com/.

And keep those notes and photos coming! Send them to me at kleworks@aol.com. I'll be showing more workspaces on this blog, not all of them belonging to writers, and the fun notes sent with them.

Have a great week!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Neat or Cluttered? Show Me YOUR Workspace!

Okay. This is me on one of my better days, after spending an hour cleaning up the office. Still a bit of clutter on the desk, but nothing like the dozens of notes previously taped to the cabinet on the left, or covering every inch of space to my right. Not bad for me, if I do say so myself.

My husband shakes his head every time he wanders into my office. I keep the rest of the house relatively neat and clean, but this is MY PERSONAL SPACE, a place where 'to do' lists vie for attention with works in progress, promo reminders, notes on research, and every other imaginable thing a writer accumulates while trying to pen that next best seller book. Yes, it all looks rather disorganized, but I can put my finger on any needed item at any needed time.

At least, most of the time I can. Oh, sure. A few things get lost along the way, but give me time -- an hour...or two...or three -- and I can usually find what I'm looking for. And if I can't find it, did I really need it?? Of course not! If it was truly important, I wouldn't have lost it in the first place!

Anyway, that's my rationale, and I'm sticking to it. Now, how about you? Is your motto "A place for everything, and everything in its place"? Or like me, do you squirrel away notes and reminders in little cubby holes in your desk, and tape them up on handy spots like doors and bulletin boards and even windows when you run out of other space?

Send me an email telling me whether you're neat or disorderly, organized or disorganized, when it comes to your workspace, and why that's right for you. And if you'd like, include a picture of your personal workspace with your message. I'll post some of the best excuses...I mean, reasons...for why you keep your workspace as you do right here on my blog.

Not only that, but I'll send a copy of my latest book, THE RUNE STONE MURDERS, to the five people who submit the most creative explanations or most fascinating pictures.

Write to me at kleworks@aol.com . What do you have to lose? Wouldn't YOU like a free book??

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

You Asked For It!

Diana posted a request on this blog for another picture of my newest grandson, Christian Frederic. Well, here he is in all his splendor. :) Christian turned one month old on the 19th of March. My daughter-in-law Cheryl, Christian's mom, took this picture of him next to his favorite stuffed lion. Cheryl's going to take a new picture of him with the lion every month to show how fast he's growing. He's gained two pounds since birth, and he was a big fellow to start with. He's the spitting image of my son John, who is the spitting image of my husband Fred. Strong genes on that side of the family!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Setting the Hook

What do mystery writers have in common with fishermen?

You wouldn’t be wrong if you said red herrings. While kippers are certainly tastier than false clues, the term ‘red herring’ could be called indigenous to the language of both groups. But the answer I’m looking for has nothing to do with deceptive evidence or smoked fish. I’m thinking of something much more important to the success of writers and fishermen alike.

I’ll give you a hint. If you want pan-fried trout for dinner, you have to set the hook quickly when the fish takes the bait. Hesitate, and that beautiful Rainbow will slip away, probably to be caught by a better fisherman than you.

Excuse the pun, but are you catching on now? Of course you are! In the case of mystery writers, the ‘bait’ is the book. An attractive cover or a great review may tempt a person to thumb through a few pages of a new title. But the ‘hook’ is the thing that whets the reader’s curiosity as to who did it and how it was done. It’s imperative for a writer to 'set the hook' early on in a mystery if he wants to capture the attention of potential fans. Whether through dialogue, action, or narrative, the 'hook' must be set in a compelling way. If it’s not, the reader will toss that book aside and move on to someone else’s work.

Let me tell you how I came up with the 'hook' for my first novel.

The basic plot of A Merry Little Murder had been in my head for years. I’d written a first draft of the novel while still in my twenties, but the manuscript lay buried in a desk drawer, untouched until inspiration in the form of a Christmas tree caused me to dig it out again in 1992. Stripped of its original characters and greatly modified in dialogue and setting, only the bare bones of the plot remained in what became the first book in the ‘Rhodes to Murder’ mystery series featuring ER nurse Caroline Rhodes and professor of history Carl Atwater.

The inspiration I speak of occurred on a particularly frigid Saturday in early December. By mutual agreement, my husband was tackling the outdoor holiday decorations while I remained in the house assembling our artificial Christmas tree. The arrangement was working rather well, neither one of us being able to hear the grumbling of the other as we fought our individual battles with tangled lines of lights. I figured my husband had the easier of the two jobs. All he had to contend with outside was a rickety ladder and a bit of frostbite to his toes. I, on the other hand, faced the daunting chore of matching several dozen branches to their corresponding holes in the trunk. Not an easy task considering the branches had lost the paint dabs marking their place on the tree.

Forty-five frustrating minutes of arranging and rearranging greenery resulted in what I thought was a darn good looking tree. Another half-hour and the lights were strung and the ornaments put in place. Thinking I was finished, I plugged in the lights and stood back to admire my work. Much to my dismay, the middle string that had worked so perfectly when tested earlier now refused to glow. Another twenty minutes passed while I stripped the tree, strung a new line of lights, and replaced the ornaments, all the time grumbling madly to myself. Once more I plugged in the cord. The tree looked beautiful – for exactly two minutes. Then the top string of lights made an eerie little popping noise and gave up the ghost. Teary eyed, I began again to strip, string, and replace.

After struggling with the tree for the better part of an afternoon, I was not a happy camper when my husband walked into the living room red-cheeked and radiating holiday spirit. He cheerfully informed me he was done with the outside work, all the lights having worked perfectly from the start. Then he cocked his head and, ignoring the dagger looks I cast his way, he examined my efforts.

"You've got the wrong branch there," he said, pointing to one particular piece of greenery that stuck out an inch farther from the trunk than its neighbors. "You'd better switch it with the one below."

Saint Paul wrote that wives should be submissive to their husbands. But Saint Paul never trimmed a Christmas tree. Nor did he have a wife. Not known to be submissive even in the best of times, I choked back a snarl and yanked out the branch, sending my husband’s eyebrows soaring. They soared even higher when I spun around and almost ran the poor man through with the long metal tip.

Two things stopped me from plunging that branch into my beloved's stomach. First, I recalled the lines of a country western song, "Papa's in the Graveyard, Mama's in the Pen". Imagining my children tearfully singing those words as they stood outside my jail cell was enough to stay my hand. Then I thought, what a nifty way to knock off someone in a mystery!

After carefully replacing the greenery, I kissed my now thoroughly confused husband and ran off to write the first chapter of A Merry Little Murder. For those who haven't read the book (shame on you!), I kill off seven people in that chapter when a bomb packed inside the trunk of an artificial Christmas tree explodes turning the metal-tipped branches into lethal projectiles.

The ‘hook’ in A Merry Little Murder is the exploding Christmas tree. After reading that first chapter, I hope readers will want to know not only whodunit, but also how was it done, why was it done, and which of the seven people the bomb was meant to kill.

Only if that happens will I know that I've been successful in ‘setting the hook’.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Putting Your Writing on a Diet

I was watching The Biggest Loser the other day, watching Jillian Michael scream at her team when they fell off the wagon calorie-wise, watching the women cry and the men sulk, and it occurred to me (as I sat there eating my bowl of chocolate mint ice cream) that writing is a lot like dieting.

Sound crazy to you? Well, consider it this way. Think of that bowl of ice cream in terms of calories where every spoonful equals 16 calories. Eat 16 spoonfuls (one cup) and you’ve ingested 256 calories, or just slightly over12% of the daily recommended caloric intake for an adult. An occasional bowl of ice cream is a comfort no one should deny. But eat 16 spoonfuls on a daily basis and you’ll soon notice the arrow creeping upward on your bathroom scale.

Now think of adjectives and adverbs in terms of spoonfuls where every spoonful equals 16 words. Just as Mary Poppins claimed that "a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down", a spoonful of adjectives and adverbs can make a story more palatable, but only if sprinkled judiciously chapter by chapter. Toss 16 spoonfuls into every chapter and you’ll end up fighting the battle of the bulge when it comes to editing your novel.

If you want to be successful as a writer, it only makes sense to count your words as carefully as you count your calories. Adjectives and adverbs make for fat books, but all that wordiness can detract from the plot, the protein that gives real life to your tale.

Monday, March 9, 2009

History, Mystery, and Writing

"Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book." Cicero

Great line, isn't it? I love this quote became it is both timely and timeless: it was true in Cicero's day and it remains true today.

But what does it have to do with blogging, you ask. Why choose "Cicero's Children" as the title for this blog site?

Well, it all has to do with my love of history, mystery, and writing.

Marcus Tullius Cicero was an orator, lawyer, and philosopher who lived back in the bad old days when intrigue ruled Roman politics and bureaucratic squabbles were often settled through assassination. As consul of Rome, Cicero made a name for himself by uncovering a conspiracy to overthrow the Roman Republic. The conspiracy was ostensibly led by his political rival, Cataline, whom Cicero denounced in a brilliant speech before the Senate.

Having reduced Cataline to the role of rogue in the eyes of his fellow Senators, Cicero immediately ordered the strangulation execution of five of the accused conspirators. This final act was a no-no that landed him in trouble with the powers-that-be. Under Roman law, no citizen of the state could be put to death without a trial; even conspirators were accorded their day in court. His political enemies took advantage of the situation and Cicero quickly became a marked man. He eventually fled to Greece where he spent a year in exile before being pardoned by the Senate.

Life was not rosy for our hero when he returned home. Julius Caesar was battling Pompey for control of the Republic, and Cicero made a poor choice by casting his lot with the losing side. Nevertheless, that old witticism, "Politics makes strange bedfellows", applied even in 48 B.C. Caesar needed Cicero's backing to lend some legitimacy to his role as dictator of Rome. At the same time, Cicero needed to keep his head -- literally! The two men were at opposite ends of the pole politically and philosophically, yet they possessed a wary respect for each other.

Cicero was present in the Senate on the Ides of March, 44 B.C. when, according to Shakespeare, Caesar uttered those famous words "Et tu, Brute?" as Marcus Junius Brutus fatally stabbed the dictator. Cicero's unabashed approval of the assassination, combined with his political machinations against Roman consul Mark Anthony, eventually led to his own murder on December 7, 43 B.C.

Murder, mayhem, and mystery. It's all present in the life story of Marcus Tullius Cicero. What I didn't mention was that Cicero was also a master of the written word. Six of his books, mainly political or philosophical in nature, have been preserved in part or whole. Fifty-eight of his speeches have also survived the ravages of time.

An orator and author. A man of influence and intrigue. Who better than Cicero to inspire a writer of mystery fiction?