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Blogging By the Sea
Saturday, September 18 2021

The question posed this month for our merry band of Round Robin Bloggers is -- Besides novels what other genres do you write in? Any nonfiction?

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My first reaction to this question was, “But that’s what I write! Novels!!” Then I sat back and realized that wasn’t quite true. It isn’t even true that fiction is the only genre I’m published in.

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It began on the first day of Junior English in High School when my new teacher handed out a homework assignment to write 500 words on something you can smell. I really thought I was doomed. I’d always enjoyed English and especially writing, but how on earth was I supposed to come up with 500 words on a scent? That evening I dragged out my theme book – those were the days long before computers when everything was written by hand or on a typewriter which I didn’t own – and sat there, my mind a total blank. But then my brain kicked into gear and memory from my afternoon swept in. I know I’m dating myself, but I’m really old and back then we didn’t have dryers either. I think some existed somewhere, maybe in commercial laundries, but certainly not in my home or that of any of my friends. It had been my task that afternoon to collect the sheets my mother had washed and hung outdoors in the sunshine that morning and bring them in so she could remake the beds. With my pencil poised, I recalled the incredible scent of those sheets billowing around my head as I struggled to keep them from touching the ground and wrestling them into the laundry basket. All these years later, I have no recollection of what I put on that paper, but I got an A+ and perhaps that’s were my writing career got started.

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Over the years since then I got involved with writing newsletters, which unlike the media today, had no slant or agenda. It was all non-fiction: reports of events upcoming, or debriefs on things that had happened already, appeals for donations or applications and an occasional anecdote I thought whatever group I was writing them for might find amusing.

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While I was still a stay-at-home mom, once my kids were in school I got to writing more seriously – at least I thought it was more serious. I was going to write a book! I did write a few. They languish today written on yellow lined paper in pencil in thick file folders tucked way in the back of my file cabinet. I have a feeling my kids will laugh themselves silly if they ever decide to read them after I’m gone. Or maybe I’ll toss them before that event comes along.

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But when I was in the last days of preparing to leave the country for more than two years to share my time and the talents I’d gained over my years of employment as a volunteer with the American Peace Corps, it occurred to me that I might like to submit essays about my experience. I contacted the local paper where I lived at the time and they were excited about the idea. Hopefully I’d have internet access and could submit my adventures via email. If not, there was always snail mail and believe me, that would have been SNAIL mail since it took over a month for anything in an envelope with a stamp on it to arrive from the South Pacific where I was sent to my kids and parents back home. As it turned out, while I didn’t have internet access as we all expect today, I did have the ability to communicate via email. As unbelievable as some of my experiences were, like swimming with whales for instance, they were all non-fiction and I really did go swimming WITH whales. Some of those adventures are currently mounted on my website and you can check them out here: https://www.skye-writer.com/peace_corps  One other thing I learned how to write while in the Peace Corps was a Grant Proposal. Now there's a challenge - how to have your hat out asking for money and make the other guy feel like he's doing a good thing. 

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My recipes are not fiction, but none of them have been published except perhaps one or two in the previously mentioned newsletters. Like how to cook a turkey overnight, or how to make jelly. In my role as chairman of various organizations, there were numerous reports that had to get written, but nothing I’d ever brag about and I’ve served as secretary in other groups so writing up the minutes could be considered non-fiction, but only of interest to the groups involved and probably not even read by the members voting to accept them as presented.

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Then there is my website where I already mentioned my Peace Corps articles, but I also have a page for short stories I've written, another page for interesting tidbits of history I've discovered while researching and my blog. Lots of fun stuff on those pages. My publisher, Belle Bridge Books has also released two short stories of mine that are available in e-book format at no charge. 

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My most recent foray into non-fiction is a short story I wrote that began with the idea it was a “story” – a fictionalized story based on my faithful pooch, MacDuff. But in the end it was a totally non-fiction memoir of my time with him and the hole he’d left in my life when he passed just short of his 15th birthday. That memoir/short story, entitled Duffy’s Footprints was one of those chosen from over a hundred entries for publication in the Florida Writer’s Annual Anthology which will be released next month. I’d include a buy link here, but since it’s not yet available, you’ll just have to wait for Florida Writer’s Association Volume 13: Footprints.  

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In the meantime, why not check out what a few of my fellow Round Robin Bloggers write besides novels:

Marci Baun

Victoria Chatham 

Connie Vines 

Dr. Bob Rich 

Judith Copek 

Rhobin L Courtright 

Posted by: AT 12:02 am   |  Permalink   |  4 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, August 21 2021

Do you believe it's August already? Where did the summer go. Anyway, this month we have the question: do you have any character habits or favorite words that always crop up in your writing?

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I’d like to think that this doesn’t apply to my writing. Being a pantser with mostly character driven stories, I create thorough dossiers on all my main characters, both recurring in a series or for stand alone books. Usually, I end up knowing where they were born, how they reacted to kindergarden, what their life was like in high school and college etc. In doing so, I use a number of sources like birth order, family history, books like Building Believable characters and Writer’s Digest Guide to Character Traits. I also borrow from people I know, and characters on TV. So, I try to create characters with habits and speech patterns that are distinctively theirs.

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A young man I worked with as a reenactor constantly used the phrase “fair enough,” which intrigued me and I’ve endowed one or more of my characters with that habit of speech. Other speech patterns I’ve adopted for my characters come from specific career choices. If one of my characters is a cop, some of the familiar bits of cop talk will become part of their vocabulary that would be very different from the man who wears a suit and works in an office or a seventy-five year old cat lady, or a child. Because I am none of these (Well, I admit to the seventy-five, but deny the lady part and I don’t have cats.) I do a lot of eavesdropping. I volunteer at the USO lounge at the airport and it’s a great place to pick up odds and ends of military jargon and speech habits, one of which is Sir and Ma’am for everyone. That’s also a regional thing as well. In New England, where I grew up, the only person who ever called me Ma’am was the soldier who called our office daily to report in to my boss who was his commanding officer in the reserves, but here in the south it's as common as cornbread and sweet tea.

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Regional dialect is another way of differentiating your characters and settings, so listening to natives of an area helps to pick out themes and habits of speech to add authenticity to your characters. An author can easily go a little overboard with some dialect, though, and totally lose the reader because every sentence is littered with dialect. I have a book out set in 1775 with a hero from Scotland. So, I was careful to choose just a few typical Scots/Gaelic words to set his dialog apart from my heroine who is a time traveler from the 20th century and made sure she had a few very late 1900s phrases and expressions in hers.

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But I admit that personal speech patterns tend to sneak their way into my writing. Like the use of the word “so” at the start of the last sentence in the previous paragraph. I’ve listened to recordings of myself and “so” litters my dialog, along with other totally useless words. Often in my personal speech, I use “ing” words – for instance, “Don’t be telling me that.” Or “I’ll be going now.” Both sentences in another person’s speech might be said as, “Don’t tell me that.” Or, “I’m off.” Most of this personal stuff ends up getting cut in the multiple rounds of editing, but occasionally they get overlooked. I doubt this is just a quirk of mine. We all have personal ways of speaking that just normally show up in our writing, but I’m guessing we all do a lot of editing to get rid of those repetitive things.

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As for habits – it’s easy to use personal habits because you live them every day and you don’t have to go thinking them up. If you love to jog, it’s easy to give your character that habit as well because you don’t have to think about when, where, how, why how it makes the character feel etc. But let’s face it, not every character you create can be a jogger so you have to borrow from others. I Hope you borrow from others, or your characters will begin to blur together.

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I know writers who have had careers in law enforcement (or are close to someone who has) and their characters always “exit” their vehicles. Sounds like cop talk and isn't very descriptive of the activity. Perhaps some of their characters should climb out, or slide out depending on the type of car or truck, or the size and age of the person because it adds more variety, not just to the narrative, but to the characters themselves. The same could be applied to coffee drinkers. A large portion of Americans are coffee drinkers, but not all to the same level. Some folks can’t function without that first jolt of high caffeine heat. Others are more laid back about their coffee drinking and still others drink tea instead.

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As an author, it can be so easy to just put your writing in cruise control and let what is most familiar to you take over. But if you want your characters to stand out, have personalities of their own, you have to avoid letting your personal habits loom so large. Let one of your guys play golf even if you’ve never picked up a club in your life. Have another jump out of airplanes or knit. Just as your characters’ names, careers, and physical descriptions are different, so should their speech, habits and hobbies.

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But that’s just my opinion. Why not check out these authors and see what their take on this month’s question is…

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Anne Stenhouse 

Victoria Chatham 

Connie Vines 

Diane Bator 

Beverley Bateman 

Dr. Bob Rich 

Fiona McGier 

Helena Fairfax 

Rhobin Courtright 

Judith Copek 

Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 12:02 am   |  Permalink   |  6 Comments  |  Email
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    Skye Taylor
    St Augustine, Florida
    skye@skye-writer.com

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