Motivation is in the Eye of the Beholder

eye, green eye, point of view, motivation for writers, authors
People have long recognized the eye-of-the-beholder effect with regard to beauty, to the point that it’s a cliché. We’ve all heard jokes that leave us cold—but leave others doubled over with laughter—or vice versa. Writers are well aware that what’s publishable depends more on the evaluation of the editor/agent/publisher than the inherent qualities of the work.


So, apply that same awareness to motivation. We cannot know motivation directly. We can see what a person does, hear what a person says. These are two of the most common, most powerful sources of information.
ear, listening, writers, authors, understanding motivation
Sometimes we have other sensory information, meaning touch, taste, or smell. Sometimes the information accumulates over time, perhaps years, and we feel we truly know someone.
woman, author, writer, getting to know someone, motivation
But the bottom line is that we cannot know another from the inside. And that means room for interpretation. How we evaluate a specific behavior (physical or verbal) depends almost exclusively on why we think the person did it.

Writing Prompt: Characters’ Motivations

So writers, here’s your challenge. For each of the actions listed below, come up with three possible motives for the actor: one evil, one altruistic, and one self-interested. I know you can do it.

  1. giving away a million dollars
  2. shooting someone
  3. cutting off a hand or foot
  4. kissing someone of the same sex
  5. kissing someone of the other sex
  6. dancing naked in a public place
  7. getting a large, readily visible tattoo
  8. cooking an elaborate meal
  9. killing an ill person
  10. cutting up a bride’s wedding dress
  11. digging up a daffodil bed
  12. cheating at cards
  13. adopting a foster child
  14. running for president
  15. burning down a church
  16. adopting a cat or dog from a shelter
  17. complimenting another’s performance
  18. rewriting a will
  19. keeping a dead body unburied for six months
  20. hiking in the woods
The list could go on and on. In your writing, know your characters’ motives, as well as what other characters think the motives are. How will you reveal all that to your reader? Give sensory info!

I’d love to read your responses to today’s prompt. Did something surprising come out of the challenge? Tell me in the comments below, on Facebook, or Twitter.

Top Ten Bookworm Delights

Top Ten Tuesday logo, Broke and the Bookish, blog feature, reading list,
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, they provide a prompt for bloggers. Today’s prompt is Top Ten Bookworm Delights.

BOOKWORM DELIGHTS come in all guises! I’m talking about the periphery, the delights beyond lovely language, powerful characters, and compelling plots.

Bookworm Delights #1: I love old books.

 DIRECTIONS FOR COOKERY, IN ITS VARIOUS BRANCHES, BY MISS LESLIE, 1843, book, bookworm delights, top ten tuesday
Directions for Cookery, In Its Various Branches
My oldest books are cookbooks. The oldest is DIRECTIONS FOR COOKERY, IN ITS VARIOUS BRANCHES, BY MISS LESLIE, 1843; unfortunately it isn’t at all photogenic. It includes helpful hints, such as two jills are half a pint; preparations for the sick; receipts [sic] for perfumery, and pudding catsup; uses for peach pits and plum stones; and advertisements for a treatise on the physiological and moral management of infancy, a book on the culture of flowers and grapes, and THE HOUSE BOOK: OR, A MANUAL OF DOMESTIC ECONOMY BY MISS LESLIE.
White House Cookbook, bookworm delights, top ten Tuesday
White House Cookbook
Sometimes old books yield bonuses. This 1899 printing of the WHITE HOUSE COOKBOOK came with four 1917 U.S. Dept. of Agriculture pamphlets with titles like “Do You Know Corn Meal? ITS USE MEANS Service to Your Country, Nourishing Food for You.”
I don’t actually collect antiquarian books, cookbooks or otherwise. But I like having old books around, and many on my shelves date from the 1930s onward.
inexpensive paperbacks, bookworm delights, top ten tuesday

Given my druthers, I’d still read the fifty- and sixty-cent paperbacks rather than the shiny new editions from the bookstore.

Bookworm Delights #2: I love sets of books

books by Tony Hillerman on shelf, bookworm delights, top ten Tuesday
Books by Tony Hillerman

When I find an author I really enjoy, I want to read everything he or she wrote. And I keep the ones I like best, both fiction and non-fiction.

Bookworm Delights #3: I love books about places I’ve lived. 

Carroll, Ohio by Mildred Marie Clum, Virginia Curiosities by Sharon Cavileer, bookworm delights, Top Ten Tuesday
Carroll, Ohio by Mildred Marie Clum and Virginia Curiosities by Sharon Cavileer

Therefore, I have an array of books about Upstate New York, Washington, DC, and Maryland, as well as Ohio and Virginia.

Bookworm Delights #4: When I travel, especially abroad, I love bringing home books of memories. 

I have everything from books of cityscapes to fiction in translation and historical summaries. I’ll spare you photos of all the foreign cookbooks I’ve accumulated. But here are a couple representing Germany and Italy, places I’ve visited more than once.

travel book, bookworm delights, Top Ten Tuesday

Bookworm Delights #5: Oddball books give me great pleasure.

My favorites of these are the three volumes of Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter.

The first printing of the first volume was in 1960, and the three volumes are extremely entertaining examples of do-it-yourself publishing. The books contain wonderful paragraphs of opinion and assertion, with no attempt to document sources for the statements. For example, his recipe for Doves Wyatt Earp begins with four pages of purported biography of Earp. The recipe itself begins, “Pick ten doves and cut off their wings, feet and head. Remove the entrails and singe off the hair feathers with a candle.” Some of the recipes are quite tasty, the historical bits are fun reading, and all three volumes are illustrated with hundreds of black-and-white photographs, most of them by the author—at least, no photo credits are offered.

Closely related to oddball books are books on oddball topics—or if not oddball, at least on narrow topicswhich I enjoy immensely because of the information therein.

three oddball books, bookworm delights, Top Ten Tuesday

There are whole books out there on toads, dung, how to hide one’s assets and disappear, and just about anything else you could think of.

Bookworm Delights #6: I love having shelves of unread books!

It feels like money in the bank.

With unread books on hand (and this can include unread books on an e-reader!), should you suddenly find yourself unemployed or otherwise short of money to buy more books just now, no problem! Ditto should you find yourself laid up with a broken back or a lingering case of flu.

Bookworm Delights #7: I love receiving books from family and friends.

It’s better if I actually enjoy the book. But opening books inscribed by loved ones, knowing they were thinking about me and my interests—however imperfectly—when they bought them, makes me glow.

Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson by Alan Pell Crawford, bookworm delights, Top Ten Tuesday
Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson by Alan Pell Crawford

And what are books without bookmarks?

Bookworm Delights #8: I love bookmarks.

My favorite commercial bookmarks are book darts
book darts, Bookworm delights for Top Ten Tuesday
Book darts

They are simple, slim, and elegant. They stay put. They can mark a page at top or side or bottom (though I don’t see the point of bottom). Unfortunately, the local Barnes and Nobel doesn’t carry them anymore.

And did you know that Post-Its were invented by a man who was trying to create a bookmark that would stay put when reading on airplanes?

And speaking of bookmarks, decades ago I started using postcards as markers in cookbooks—books that often need more than one marker AND are opened frequently.

postcards, bookworm delights, Top Ten Tuesday

Bookworm Delights #9: I love coming across a postcard sent thirty years ago by someone traveling near or far.

They make me smile and think of the sender. Many of those senders are dead now. And I suppose postcards are going the way of the dodo bird, as friends now send e-mails with photos. Oh, sigh. All the more reason to treasure the ones I have.

Last but not least. . .

Bookworm Delights #10: I delight in my reading chair! 

recliner where I read, bookworm delights, Top Ten Tuesday
Recliner where I read
True bookworms read anywhere and everywhere. I read in doctors’ waiting rooms, and in the dentist’s chair waiting for the impression gunk to set up. In the car when it isn’t my turn to drive. When I’m in bed, lights out, the only glow that from my Kindle. Yes, I’ve even been known to read in the bathroom. But the best, coziest reading—whether with fireplace or AC—is in my recliner, feet up, padded armrests supporting my elbows.

Bottom line

Bookworm delights are as many and as varied as bookworms themselves. What are yours? Tell me in the comments below, on Facebook, or Twitter.

Writing 101: Jail Time

Writing 101: Jail Time, Creative writing about jail, prison
Every writer who has a scene involving an arrest and/or jail time really should do some jail time—preferably in the local facility. On April 21st, I toured the Richmond City Justice Center (a.k.a., the City Jail). I start by thanking all involved. This facility is modern, clean, and apparently well-run and forward- thinking. While JCRC seems exceptionally good for what it is, you wouldn’t want to live there
Richmond City Justice Center sign, city jail, creative writing about jail, creative writing about prison
Richmond City Justice Center sign, Richmond, Virginia


Even though I had toured the Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office and did interviews there when writing Dark Harbor, time has passed and jails differ by locale—by state, by rural/urban, by tax base. When it comes to jail time for writers, once is probably not enough.


The mission of the Richmond City Sheriff’s Office is, in part, “To maintain a secure jail and a safe court system along with seamless inmate transport and civil process to preserve public safety.” This is, more or less, the mission of sheriff’s in all jurisdictions.


But the devil is in the details. For example, at the RCJC, inmates (whom they call residents) can have one visit every seven days, four visitors at a time, children under 12 not included in the count. At the Pamunkey Regional Jail nearby, inmates are called inmates; a total of three people, counting both adult(s) and minor(s) can visit.


And, by the way—here—any jail with Regional in the name is a for-profit facility.


Both of these facilities require photo IDs for visitors and forbid too short, too tight, too revealing, or transparent clothing. Nothing can be given to inmates (food, paper, drugs, keys, pictures, etc.)  RCJC has options for both face-to-face visits, separated by a clear partition, or a set-up similar to Skype for video visits.


At present RCJC houses approximately 1000 people, approximately 10% women. Most are in the general population, but about 150 are in “The Program,” a 24/7 structured program of education and rehabilitation geared toward successful reentry into the outside world.


WRITERS, get the details right.


CLOTHING: RCJC residents wear jumpsuits that are color-coded according to which pod they live in and whether they work custodial or kitchen duties. There are 32 living pods, ranging from 12 to 76 people each. Only those in for detox or overnight transfer wear orange. Black and white stripes are for the most violent/dangerous prisoners.


MEALS: at RCJC, breakfast is at 5:00, lunch at 11:00, dinner at 4:00. Lights out is at 11:00, so lots of time between dinner and breakfast. Which brings us to commissary sales. Inmates can buy food, t-shirts, and other incidentals (though no tobacco and no makeup).


PRISONER CLASSIFICATION. When taken into the facility, each person is assigned to a level of restriction based on the seriousness of the crime, criminal history, and behavior while in custody. People who are more violent, suicidal, or seriously deranged are in smaller pods and have more restrictions on meals and showers. They have video monitors, take meals in their cells, and are taken from the cells in handcuffs. Showers are in a locked and barred shower stall they call “the cage.”


Much of this information could be obtained online or with phone interviews. But nothing beats actually being there! I toured RCJC with seven other Sisters in Crime, all of us writers. Mary Miley, who teaches writing in The Program every Monday afternoon, arranged the tour. (I’m on the far left, Mary is second from the right.)


Sisters in Crime, Richmond City Justice Center, Vivian Lawry, creative writing about jail
Sisters in Crime touring Richmond City Justice Center: Mary Burton, Maggie King, Frances Aylor, Stacie Giles, and Sandie Warwick


We learned that the carpeted areas are not secure and the tiled areas are. “The Yard” for open-air activity mandated by law is a room with a basketball hoop and open-air ventilation. All furniture can be bolted down, even though it isn’t in most cases. We actually saw the tiny white cells with bunk beds, a toilet, and a washbasin, shoes lined up and everything else in duffels under the bed, virtually bare of anything personal—unless one counts one plastic bowl and one plastic glass. The women had a few more toiletries visible—presumably from the commissary. Family needs to deposit funds for use in the commissary.




By the way, RCJC charges inmates $1 per day (toward the $58/day that their incarceration costs). They could charge as much as $3 per day. If these charges aren’t paid, the inmate can’t have commissary accounts.


Contrary to Orange Is The New Black, women inmates have no nail polish and no makeup—though sometimes they use M&Ms, Kool-Aid, or iodine for the purpose.


LINGO: a click is a phone call; a lick is a theft; a canteen girlfriend is someone who’s into a relationship for the partner’s canteen account; riding the phone means monitoring it.


Technically, jail is for people awaiting trial or the outcome of an appeal, and for those serving sentences up to one year, while prison is for longer incarceration; in actuality, due to prison over-crowding, inmates are sometimes in jail up to three years.


Gambling and bullying are strictly forbidden, but they do happen. Ditto intimate relationships among inmates.

And there’s more: the distinction between public defenders and court-appointed attorneys. The gangs that “own” the phones in the general population. The nine arresting bodies that bring people to the RCJC. The total lack of privacy for phone calls or during visitations—and what people say or do anyway! Inmates and visitors who expose themselves. The girlfriend who calls and barks for fifteen minutes while her incarcerated boyfriend tends to his arousal.


Two things in particular that inmates said stuck with me.

  • Not all inmates are bad people; they’re people who made bad choices.
  • You aren’t your crime.
In short, there’s nothing like being there. Get thee to jail, pen and paper at hand! And be sure to appreciate the access. Thank you, RCJC! Special thanks to Sarah Scarbrough, who conducted the tour.



Have you participated in a jail visit? Please tell me about it in the comments below, on Facebook, or Twitter