If you want dialogue to sound real, listen to it. Literally. Longer, more complex sentences are much smoother and more graceful on the page than in the mouth. Reading silently, your brain fills in and evens out. So, when you feel your work is in pretty good shape, read it aloud.
Any place you stumble needs to be reworked. Reading your work aloud–whether prose or poetry–helps identify rough patches, awkward words, and other problems.
If feasible, it’s even to have someone else read your work aloud for you. (See what I did there?)
But even before you manage to cajole or coerce a friendly bystander, try running your words through a TTS reader. Text To Speech software is becoming more accurate all the time. It improves accesibility for those with dyslexia, vision problems, aural learning tendencies, busy hands, or a myriad other reasons why hearing words is more effective than reading them.
There are several freewebsites that will convert your writing to spoken words, though they tend to sound like robots.
What these TTS apps lack in cadence, they make up in unrelenting accuracy. There is no friendly human brain to fill in a few words or switch a letter here or there entirely without realizing it.
At many tutoring centers and school writing help centers, students are instructed to read their work aloud during sessions. When the brain is forced to process words orally and aurally as well as visually, it’s much more difficult for mistakes to slip through the cracks.
Sometimes, it’s even possible to break free of the “…said …said …said …said” quagmire. When you hear yourself saying said after said after said, you might say to yourself that your characters need to say something else or say nothing at all.
Most medical professionals agree that a reading habit is much healthier than a cocaine habit or a heroin habit (the ones that don’t are the same dentists who don’t suggest brushing your teeth). For one thing, reading is good for your physical and mental health. You probably know at least some of these benefits of reading every day, but just to review briefly:
Improves brain connectivity
Readers are more able to empathize with others
Aids sleep readiness (if it’s a physical book)
Lowers blood pressure
Lowers heart rate
Helps reduce depression
Reduces cognitive decline with aging
So, everyone should read, and it should start at an early age. According to doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, parents should start reading to/with their children from infancy through elementary school years.
Builds warm, happy associations with books
Increases the likelihood that kids will enjoy reading in the future
Reading at home boosts school performance later on
Builds good communication skills
Physically strengthens the human brain
Builds attention span
What Should You Be Reading?
Whatever you can get your hands on! Even before they know how to read, children will learn reading habits such as which way to hold a book and finding familiar pictures or letters on a page. It’s important to expose kids to books both above and within their current reading ability, in a wide variety of genres.
If you want some guidance on what is age-appropriate for children, you can get advice on-line and/or in actual books. Each grade level in school typically requires students to pass reading skill tests before passing to the next level. Libraries are an excellent resource for book suggestions for children of any age or reading ability.
Every child learns differently and at a different pace. Whether in real life or in your writing, it is entirely too easy to limit children by expected levels or shame a child for not conforming to expectations.
Types of Readers
When it comes to reading habits, to each his or her own. To use a biology analogy, the “family” of readers includes numerous “genera.” In some instances, there are even “species.”
Just about every reader belongs to more than one species to a greater or lesser degree. Many people adjust their reading habits as circumstances allow, changing when children are born or a job change requires a different commuting style.
High Need-for-Achievement Readers
These readers read almost exclusively within their professional area, e.g., mathematics journals or business publications or medical research papers, etc. These readers may or may not enjoy their reading, but they read nonetheless. Some professions, such as teachers and paramedics, require continual study and testing to maintain up-to-date certifications to practice.
If you start a book, you finish that book, no matter what. Anything else feels like failure. For more information about the difference between obsessive compulsive disorder and quirky fixations, check out this post I wrote about the character possibilities of each.
Although this group includes those who read (and study) the Bible, it also includes anyone whose goal is spiritual enlightenment and growth. Many Muslims read and recite the entire Qur’an during Ramadan every year as a form of meditation. Writings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh are widely read by people of many faiths.
These readers want someone to talk with about their reads—which can be more or less academic. Depending on how books are chosen, they are likely to end up reading things they would never have chosen for themselves, which can be good—or not so much. Book groups often have a specific focus, such as current fiction, or botany books, i.e., anything from the genre preferences.
Much like a book group, except it’s whatever one’s bridge buddies, neighbors, family members, et al. are reading, recommending, and/or lending. Depending on the interests of friends, this can lead to a very eclectic reading list. Reading what friends recommend or enjoy can strengthen social bonds by encouraging discussion of books read in common.
These readers are up-to-the-minute at the water-cooler and/or cocktail hour. They often operate on the presumption that if it appeals to enough people to be a bestseller, a book will appeal to themselves as well. The traditional gold standard here is The New York Times. The Times tracks the following categories:
Combined print & e-book
Paperback trade fiction
Combined print & e-book
Note: These bestsellers divisions take account of readers’ format preferences and allow for combining with one’s genre preferences.
These people know what they like and stick to it: a genre is characterized by similarities of form, style, or subject matter. Accordingly, pretty much any category of book is a genre—and I’m probably missing some here, but you get the idea:
Often read more than one book a day, limited to a specific genre, sometimes a limited number of preferred authors. Genre Junkies tend to prefer genres in which a plethora of books are available. A fan of books about Arctic Circle Siberian reptile varieties is likely to run out of material much more quickly than a fan of paranormal dystopian romance fantasy books.
Exactly what it sounds like. These people often skip meals and sleep when a book is particularly hard to put down. Accomplished binge readers may even learn to walk, dress, cook, and feed the dog without putting down the book in their hand.
Reads anything and everything: blogs, poetry, nature, non-fiction, fiction, sci-fi, or whatever. An interesting book from thirty years ago is no lower on the list than the absolute latest best-seller. Eclectics are often bright, inquisitive, and frequent readers.
Some readers have multiple books going and bounce back and forth among them. The bedside book, the lunch break book, the evening book, the boring book they know they should read for some obligation but just can’t seem to make it through… I haven’t seen any formal studies on the subject, but I would imagine that ping-ponging readers would be very good at multi-tasking.
Some people have such packed schedules, they can seldom read for more than fifteen minutes at a time. A person who is able to keep track of characters and plotlines despite snatching only small doses has to have a pretty-good memory.
Generally caretakers or parents, some readers have to wait until their charges are asleep before picking up a book. Parenting and caregiving are both stressful occupations, and reading during naptime or after bedtime can provide absolutely necessary stress relief for Night Readers.
Some people use reading as a form of reward, much as others might promise themselves a piece of chocolate or pair of shoes for completing an unpleasant task. Anyone who enjoys reading could be a self-rewarder: a doctor can only read the latest sci-fi bestseller after reading the latest medical journals; a parent can only read after finishing the laundry; a binge reader has to put the book down until dinner is finished.
As a visitor to a blog about writing and reading, you are probably someone who enjoys reading on some level. However, reading is difficult and not enjoyable for many adults. Some researchers estimate that 1 in 7 adults in the US are functionally illiterate; dyslexia, disrupted schooling, dyspraxia, and many other reasons could lead to a person reaching adulthood with only enough reading skill to be able to function in society.
Besides what we read, our reading habits include when and where we read.
Transit readers: they read on planes, trains, automobiles, and subways. Very careful transit readers may be able to read while walking; audio books make this much easier.
Bed-time readers: exactly what it sounds like.
TV readers: while one’s partner/house mate/family members watch something unappealing on TV, they hang out companionably and read.
Vacation readers: weekends, holidays, and vacations, kicking back with a good book.
Not recommended because it isn’t daily.
Boredom readers: any waiting room or line that goes on forever.
Last but not least, how do we read? Today there are more options than ever. There’s no reason not to read every day! The three basic options:
Physical books: the traditional option, most researched, with best/most positive effects on health
E-books (available on devices from smart phones to tablets to computers to dedicated devices such as Kindle and Nook). Often the choice of people with vision issues (any book can be LARGE PRINT), frequent travelers (who once went abroad with a dozen books or more weighing down the luggage), and anyone who likes having a light-weight, portable library at hand.
Audio books: the choice for someone who wants to do something else simultaneously (e.g., go to sleep, knit, make dinner). Can contribute to distracted driving, so don’t do that while behind the wheel. Audio books are also indispensable for people with impaired vision.
Do other formats have the same health benefits of physical books?
A study by Beth Rogowsky at Bloomsburg University “found no significant differences in comprehension between reading, listening, or reading and listening simultaneously” using e-readers—and the test was limited to comprehension. It’s too complicated to get into here, but you can check it out. By and large, the effects of reading physical books daily are well-documented. E-books offer some but not all of those benefits. Audiobooks are the great unknown.
Bottom line: develop or nurture your daily reading habits. There is much evidence that it’s good for you, and no negative side effects on record.
Fear of being buried alive is called taphephobia. Also known as live burial, premature burial, and vivisepulture, it’s been around forever—and is with us still! Those buried alive often die of asphyxiation, dehydration, starvation, or hypothermia. If fresh air is available, the buried person can last days.
Fear of being buried alive reached a peak in 19th century England. More than 120 books in at least five languages were written about it, as well as methods to distinguish life from death. (See below.)
The Sullen in Level 5 are kept just below the waters of the River Styx, forever near drowning.
The Heretics in Level 6 are trapped in flaming tombs.
Murderers in Level 7 are covered by a river of boiling blood.
In Level 8 (where all types of fraud are punished)
Flatterers are encased in human excrement.
Simonists are buried head-first while flames burn their feet.
Fraudulent Counselors are encased in flames.
The Treacherous in Level 9 are buried in ice of varying levels depending on their sin.
Accidental or Unintentional Burial
Reports of being buried alive date back to the fourteenth century. In spite of hype and hysteria, as late as the 1890s patients have been documented as being declared dead and accidentally sent to a morgue or encased in a steel box, only to “come back to life” when the coffin is dropped, the grave is opened by grave robbers, or embalming or dissection has begun.
During centuries when embalming wasn’t common practice, coffins were mostly for the rich, and rapid burial was the norm especially during major pestilences such as cholera, bubonic plague, and smallpox. In these cases, rapid burial was an attempt to curb the spread of the disease.
Several medical conditions can contribute to the presumption of death: catalepsy, coma, and hypothermia.
How to Know When Someone Is Really Dead
Jan Bondeson, author of Buried Alive, identified methods of verifying death used by 18th and 19th century physicians. (Personal reaction: shudder!) The methods were any acts the physician thought would rouse the unconscious patient, virtually all imaginatively painful.
Soles of the feet sliced with razors
Needles jammed under toenails
Bugle fanfares and “hideous Shrieks and excessive Noises”
Red hot poke up the rectum
Application of nipple pincers
A bagpipe type invention to administer tobacco enemas
Boiling Spanish wax poured on patients’ foreheads and warm urine poured into the mouth
A crawling insect inserted into patient’s ear
A sharp pencil up the presumed cadaver’s nose
Tongue pulling (manual or mechanical) for at least three hours
The traditional Irish wake was (and is) an occasion for family and friends to celebrate the life of the deceased while watching the body for signs of movement.
Most agreed that the most reliable way to be sure someone was dead was to keep an eye on the body for a while. To that end, waiting at least 72 hours from apparent death to burial was mandated. In the mid-1800s, Munich had ten “waiting mortuaries” where bodies were stored awaiting putrefaction. Each body was rigged to bells to summon an attendant should the corpse come back to life.
We presume that modern science has surpassed this sort of mistake, defining death as brain death. Even so, earthquakes and other natural disasters often result in people being accidentally buried alive.
But Wait: Sometimes People Are Buried Alive on Purpose!
Sometimes live burial is a method of execution. Documented cases exist for China, German tribes, Persia, Rome, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Russia, Netherlands, Ukraine, and Brazil.
When death was not enough, often a spike was driven through the body of the person executed by live burial, perhaps as a way to prevent the person from becoming an avenging, undead Wiedergänger.
In some parts of the world, live burial is still practiced as a means of execution. Often, the victim is buried upright with only their head above ground. In these cases, death is very slow and painful, often the result of dehydration or wounds caused by animal scavengers.
And sometimes live burials are another horrific act of war.
There are accounts of Khmer Rouge using live burials in the Killing Fields.
Live burial was a form of execution during Mao Zedong’s regime, particularly during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution..
Very rarelypeople willingly arrange to be buried alive, for any number of reasons. Sometimes it is to demonstrate their ability to survive it. The Indian government has made voluntary live burials illegal because the people who try it so often die. In 2010, a Russian man was buried to try to overcome his fear of death, but was crushed to death by the weight of the earth over him.
There are even performances in which people have an opportunity to be buried alive for fifteen or twenty minutes. As a publicity stunt for the opening of the 2010 film Buried, a lottery was held for a few fans to have a very unique viewing experience. Four winners were blindfolded, driven to the middle of nowhere, and buried alive in special coffins equips with screens on which they could watch the film. (A 2003 episode of “Mythbusters” demonstrated that, even if a person buried alive was able to break out of a coffin, they would be crushed or asphyxiated by the resulting dirt fall.)
Irish barman Mick Meaney remained buried under Kilburne Street in London for 61 days in 1968, mostly to win a bet. Tubes to the surface allowed air and food to reach him in his temporary, underground prison.
Bottom line for writers: consider a character being buried alive—or being threatened with it—as a way to up the tension.
Live burial isn’t the only attention-worthy aspect of dead bodies. For more, check out books such as these.
Canadian science fiction reviewer James Nicoll said, “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
Among the many reasons I love writing is the way it allows me to explore the wonders of the English language. Here are some of the posts I’ve written on this blog that directly concern how language can enhance or destroy writing.
Pay attention to what you mean to be saying when you use a or the to designate something. In general, a indicates one of many possibles while the is restrictive to one specific person, place, event, item, etc.
Spellcheck programs will not generally recognize incorrect word usage if those words are spelled correctly. Eliminating word confusion is up to you. This is a writing prompt to practice correct usage of some of the most commonly confused words.
Know the rules of grammar so you can use them or abuse them to suit your purposes! Pronouns can be subject (I/ you/ he/ she/ it), object (me/ you/ him/ her/ it), or show possession (my/ your/ his/ her/ its).
Flabby writing is writing that includes unnecessary words or phrases. I’ll talk about four common types of flab: stating something for which there is no alternative, saying the same thing twice, naming characters or relationships already known, and stating an action that is inherent in another action.
To avoid wimpy writing, attend to the details. I already talked about avoiding weasel words like some, few, or many in favor of specific numbers or quantities. The same applies to vague nouns: flower, tree, shrub, car. Tell the reader it’s a rose, an elm, an English boxwood, a Ford.
You have a vague recollection that sometime in the past–perhaps in high school–someone told you that when writing a newspaper article, you need to cover all five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. That is good advice in general, including fiction–and even memoir.
Nature writing can be add depth, precision, and detailed setting in any genre of writing. This post provides examples of various genres in which nature writing has been used effectively and some tools to develop your own nature writing skills.
The same advice on adverbs applies to other modifiers. Make sure they add something to the story. “Very” should be on your hit list, along with all sorts of weasel words and phrases, such as a little, a lot, big, small, somewhat, sort of. . . You get the idea.
How do you recognize a weak verb? Look for adverbs! When you find a sentence in which you give the reader a tag telling how an action was performed, chances are you have a lazy verb–one you didn’t really think about as you plugged it in.
A touch of dialect helps establish voice, and may lend authenticity to the writing. But for the beginning writer, knowing how much is enough is often difficult. A story studded with apostrophes and phonetically spelled words draws attention to the writing, detracting from the story.
Children’s language development is a very interesting study for psychologists and linguists. It is important that child characters behave and speak appropriately for their age to be believable. However, every child is different; outliers on either end of the development scale can add interest but must have believable groundwork laid.
In my opinion, the best use of slang is setting the time of the story. Used effectively, it lends authenticity to dialogue. But if writing about any time other than the present, tread carefully. Inappropriate slang can ruin the tone and undermine the credibility of the entire story.
Writing historical fiction requires extensive knowledge of the period in which the story takes place, including the slang and speech styles common at the time. This blog provides several resources and suggestions for writing effectively about the chosen time period.
The development of the English language into the distinct dialects used in various English-speaking nations around the world can be mined for examples of characterizations by word choice and syntax. It is also a fascinating story on its own.
Research suggests that writing ability in American students has fallen, combined with (or caused by) a decline in concrete guidelines and principles for those teaching writing. Reading for pleasure has also been declining over the last few decades.
I approached this blog with the opinion that relying on emoticons—i.e., emojis—is dulling out ability to express emotions with rich language and subtlety. Some have asserted that the emoji is the fastest-growing language in history—for good or ill. How do you feel about emojis?
Longer, more complex sentences are much smoother and more graceful on the page than in the mouth. If you want dialogue to sound real, listen to it–literally. Reading silently, your brain fills in and evens out. So, when you feel your work is in pretty good shape, read it aloud.
Search your work for these words and closely examine each usage. They often contribute to run-on sentences that would be stronger and clearer if they were revised into two or more shorter sentences. Be especially wary if one sentence contains two or all three of these words.
When you are trying to get something on the page, moving quickly and just getting it done is the way to go. But know that isn’t the finished product. Go over your draft and mark commonplace words–particularly forms of the to-be verbs and vague adjectives. Consider at least three alternatives–and consider the value of the least expected.
“Very” is a word we all should do searches for in our documents—finding and replacing with something stronger. These are not exhaustive lists. The point is examine your writing to make sure every word is necessary, and then trust your words to mean what they mean!
Whether describing a person, a place, a thing, or a process, long detailed descriptions–unrelieved by action–are likely to be deadly. If very well done, readers will get so involved in the description, in visualizing exactly what the author had in mind, that they are taken out of the story itself. If not well done, those passages are likely to be skipped altogether.
Redundancy takes many forms and it makes for clunky, dull writing. This post demonstrates some common examples of punctuation, description, and incorrect word use that often lead to redundancy and can be removed.
Whenever the narrative Point of View is first person, the story is, by definition, about the narrator. In this case, as in any writing, your goal is to draw the reader in. Therefore, if you choose to use “I” as the narrator, you need to present a quest that many readers would care about.
Dialogue is essential to every genre of fiction; however, sometimes it’s hard to get it just right. Bad dialogue can trip up a reader, and sometimes doing so will make them want to stop reading altogether. That being said, here are a few dialogue dos and don’ts that can help you with writing speech.
Research (and book sales) suggest that modern readers are more interested in story than in style. Many writers appear to focus more on technique and self-awareness, according to an article by Adam Kirsch. Consider whether you think plot or style is more important.
This is writing prompt derived from one of the author’s favorite words. Conglomeration is another of those words I love because it sounds so much itself. Technically, it has to do with a spherical shape, and disparate things brought together in one. But its more common usage, of miscellaneous or even random things brought together (no particular shape) make it a very useful word.
Writers are readers, by and large, and also word collectors. We tend to fall in love with words. Some writers make a career of writing about words as well as with them. This is a quick list of some interesting words that can add flair and tone to your writing.
With so many specifically named colors in the English language, it is important to be specific about which one you mean. There is a close tie between color and mental or psychological state, which can have a great influence on readers’ perception of a scene, a character, or a work as a whole.
There are many things this author gets absolutely correct, but this post will focus on vivid language. We have all heard or read that we should use fresh, vivid language and strong verbs. Here are some of my favorite examples of Diana Gabaldon’s sensory and emotional writing.
Careful word choice, audience appeal, actions or words open to (mis)interpretation, complementary characters, innuendo, denial, and characters revealed by reflected traits of associates are all extremely important in any political campaign. The 2016 election was full of examples of all of these, which are also used in good writing.
You’re a writer—so for purposes of this blog, communicating without words means without dialogue. And there are many reasons you want to be able to do this. The 2016 presidential campaign offers several educational examples.
The 2018 June 18th issue of The New Yorker includes an article titled “High Crimes” by Anthony Lane, a review of Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s book The President is Missing. The article highlights some nuggets of really egregious writing, from mixed metaphors to clichés, offered here for your amusement.
Thanks to Rosemary Shomaker, we have a chance to vicariously experience the struggle of a writer stretching into a new challenge. She discusses her methods of creating a tight, closely-written short story.
It’s important for writers to practice their craft and to set aside a little time every day (or every week) to do so. But people can’t write if they don’t read—especially within their genres. Have you taken a look to see which books are trending or bestsellers in your genre? If not, I’ve put together some lists for you. The lists on which these books show up are in parentheses next to their titles. The books are listed in no particular order.
Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vandereh (Amazon)
I’ve always read—of course. But I never got involved with Goodreads till 2018. And guess what? It’s great!
I got involved by declaring a reading goal for the year. I figured 52 was a good number. In the event, I read 118 books last year. Who knew?
Among other things, Goodreads tell me is who I read the most—not something I ever paid attention to. But going forward, I’ll check out those top authors for anything they have published recently. Goodreads also allows one to check other aspects of one’s reading activity.
Looking at my reading in review, a couple of things I sort-of knew became absolutely clear. (1) My preferred escapist reading is Regency romance, especially Jane Austin fan fiction. (2) When I latch onto a writer, I read everything, whole series, in order.
At Goodreads, you can see what your friends are reading, rate books you have read, get involved in discussion groups, follow specific authors, and so much more! Among other things, Goodreads will tell you which books READERS choose as the best in various genres.
Check out Goodreads for yourself! Are you already using it? Let’s connect!
VL: I’m delighted that Heather Weidner agreed to an interview. Her most recent publication, “Digging Up Dirt,” appears in To Fetch a Thief. In addition, Heather has published two mystery novels and numerous short stories—and dogs show up frequently!
VL: Is the dog in your story in To Fetch a Thief based at all on your dog?
HW: It is. It’s based on my little female JRT Disney. She’s a bundle of energy, a great companion, and she always likes to explore outside. Thankfully, she’s not dug up anything strange.
VL: Disney is definitely cute! I can understand why you would want to put her in a story. But how did you come up with the actual plot for “Digging Up Dirt”?
HW: My husband is a realtor, and people are always leaving things in houses when they move out. That gave me the idea for the random things (that might not be so random) in the story.
VL: No need for a spoiler alert, but I will say I admired the variety of things left behind and how you tied them together. But back to your passion—I don’t think passion is too strong a word—for dogs. Do any of your other stories (or future stories) involve a canine companion?
HW: They do. In my Delanie Fitzgerald Mystery series, my sassy private investigator has a partner, Duncan Reynolds, and Duncan’s best pal is Margaret, the English bulldog. She’s a brown and white log with legs. She has two speeds, slow and napping. But she likes treats, and she’s a great companion.
I’m also working on another cozy mystery, and there is another Jack Russell Terrier in it. Her name is Bijou.
VL: While you are producing stories involving dogs, what do you do with your actual dogs?
HW: There are two dog beds in my office on either side of my desk. If they aren’t roughhousing, then they’re napping.
VL: Most writers are voracious readers. What types of books do you read?
HW: I love all kinds of mysteries, thrillers, history, and biography.
VL: What are you reading now?
HW: I just finished John Grisham’s The Reckoning, and now I’m reading Lee Child’s Past Tense.
VL: What’s your favorite book or movie that has an animal as a central character? Why?
HW: My early favorites were Charlotte’s Web and Where the Red Fern Grows. I have always loved animal stories, and even today, I tend to read mysteries that have pet sidekicks. My favorite mystery authors who include pets are Bethany Blake, Janet Evanovich, Krista Davis, and Libby Klein.
VL: What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now?
HW: I have three TBR piles right now. One’s on my night stand. I have one on a bookcase, and there’s another downstairs in the den. There are always more books than I have time to read. Most of the books in all three piles are mysteries and thrillers. There are a few biographies in the pile.
VL: Based on the locations of your TBR piles, I could probably guess at the answer to this next question, but I’ll ask anyway. Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?
HW: I can read just about anywhere. At home, I like reading on my deck in the early mornings. At night, I like reading in bed with two snuggly Jack Russell Terriers.
As for the writing part of your question, I tend to be a binge writer. At home, I write in my office or on the deck. But I tend to write or proofread whenever I get a free moment, so it could be at lunch at work or in the dentist’s waiting room.
VL: What’s next for you?
HW: I am working on the third novel in the Delanie Fitzgerald series. It’s called Glitter, Glam, and Contraband. I am also working on a new cozy mystery set in Charlottesville, Virginia. I had a nonfiction piece accepted in the Sisters in Crime book marketing anthology, Promophobia, and that will be out next year, along with a short story, “Art Attack,” in the Deadly Southern Charm: A Lethal Ladies Mystery Anthology.
VL: You clearly have a lot going on! Thank you for taking time for this interview.
VL: Thank you, Heather! Congratulations on all you have done so far. No doubt we will see more of your writing in the future, especially Delaney Fitzgerald. Learn more about Heather Weidner below.
Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders are her novels in the Delanie Fitzgerald series. Her novella “Diggin’ up Dirt” appears in To Fetch a Thief.
She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Guppies, and James River Writers.
Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.
Heather earned her BA in English from Virginia Wesleyan University and her MA in American literature from the University of Richmond. Through the years, she has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She blogs regularly with the Pens, Paws, and Claws authors.
I recently read To Catch a Thief. It’s a light and lively set of cozy mysteries: no violence on the page, no offensive language, and no explicit sex. And, what is just as important for me, amateur detectives and perpetrators know each other.
Four local writers each contributed a novella. And I am pleased to announce that ALL FOUR have agreed to write about it! Here’s the background info. Tune in for their guest posts on 12/7 (Heather Weidner), 12/11 (Jayne Ormerod), 12/14 (Rosemary Shomaker), and 12/18 (Theresa Inge).
To Fetch a Thief, the first Mutt Mysteries collection, features four novellas that have gone to the dogs. In this howlingly good read, canine companions help their owners solve crimes and right wrongs. These sleuths may be furry and low to the ground, but their keen senses are on high alert when it comes to sniffing out clues and digging up the truth. Make no bones about it, these pup heroes will steal your heart as they conquer ruff villains.
“Hounding the Pavement”
by Teresa Inge
Catt Ramsey has three things on her mind: grow her dog walking service in Virginia Beach, solve the theft of a client’s vintage necklace, and hire her sister Emma as a dog walker. But when Catt finds her model client dead after walking her precious dogs Bella and Beau, she and her own dogs Cagney and Lacey are hot on the trail to clear her name after being accused of murder.
“Diggin’ up Dirt”
by Heather Weidner
Amy Reynolds and her Jack Russell Terrier Darby find some strange things in her new house. Normally, she would have trashed the forgotten junk, but Amy’s imagination kicks into high gear when her nosy neighbors dish the dirt about the previous owners who disappeared, letting the house fall into foreclosure. Convinced that something nefarious happened, Amy and her canine sidekick uncover more abandoned clues in their search for the previous owners.
“Dog Gone it All”
by Jayne Ormerod
Meg Gordon and her tawny terrier Cannoli are hot on the trail of a thief, a heartless one who steals rocks commemorating neighborhood dogs who have crossed the Rainbow Bridge. But sniffing out clues leads them to something even more merciless…a dead body! There’s danger afoot as the two become entangled in the criminality infesting their small bayside community. And, dog gone it all, Meg is determined to get to the bottom of things.
“This is Not a Dog Park”
by Rosemary Shomaker
“Coyotes and burglaries? That’s an odd pairing of troubles.” Such are Adam Moreland’s reactions to a subdivision’s meeting announcement. He has no idea. Trouble comes his way in spades, featuring a coyote . . . burglaries . . . and a dead body! A dog, death investigation, and new female acquaintance kick start Adam’s listless life frozen by a failed relationship, an unfulfilling job, and a judgmental mother. Events shift Adam’s perspective and push him to act.
Teresa Inge grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today, she doesn’t carry a rod like her idol, but she hotrods. She is president of Sister’s in Crime Mystery by the Sea Chapter and author of short mysteries in Virginia is for Mysteries and 50 Shades of Cabernet.
Heather Weidner, a member of SinC – Central Virginia and Guppies, is the author of the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders. Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. Heather lives in Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers, Disney and Riley. She’s been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. Some of her life experience comes from being a technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, IT manager, and cop’s kid. She blogs at Pens, Paws, and Claws.
Jayne Ormerod grew up in a small Ohio town then went on to a small-town Ohio college. Upon earning her degree in accountancy, she became a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor.) She married a naval officer and off they sailed to see the world. After nineteen moves, they, along with their two rescue dogs Tiller and Scout, have settled into a cozy cottage by the sea. Jayne is the author of the Blonds at the Beach Mysteries, The Blond Leading the Blond, and Blond Luck. She has contributed seven short mysteries to various anthologies to include joining with the other To Fetch a Thief authors in Virginia is for Mysteries, Volumes I and II, and 50 Shades of Cabernet.
Rosemary Shomaker writes about the unexpected in everyday life. She’s the woman you don’t notice in the grocery store or at church but whom you do notice at estate sales and wandering vacant lots. In all these places she’s collecting story ideas. Rosemary writes women’s fiction, paranormal, and mystery short stories, and she’s taking her first steps toward longer fiction, so stay tuned. She’s an urban planner by education, a government policy analyst by trade, and a fiction writer at heart. Rosemary credits Sisters in Crime with developing her craft and applauds the organization’s mission of promoting the ongoing advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers.
[Warning: This blog talks about the incidence and aftermath of sexual assault and rape.]
Like most readers, I have my habits. In the service of exposing my readers to a wider perspective, I have interviewed Christina Cox, fellow book lover, about a recent read she enjoyed: Any Man by Amber Tamblyn.
VL: How did you come to read Any Man?
CC: I’ve been a fan of Amber Tamblyn for a long time, but not for her writing — for her talents as an actor. When I found out this book was coming out, it piqued my interest immediately. Then I found out she was going to do a reading at Fountain Bookstore (down the road from me), and I knew I had to get it!
VL: Is it typical of the books you read?
CC: Not at all; it’s much more intense than the books I typically read. From its jacket description, you can see why:
A violent serial rapist is on the loose, who goes by the name Maude. She hunts for men at bars, online, at home— the place doesn’t matter, neither does the man. Her victims then must live the aftermath of their assault in the form of doubt from the police, feelings of shame alienation from their friends and family and the haunting of a horrible woman who becomes the phantom on which society projects its greatest fears, fascinations and even misogyny. All the while the police are without leads and the media hound the victims, publicly dissecting the details of their attack.
What is extraordinary is how as years pass these men learn to heal, by banding together and finding a space to raise their voices. Told in alternating viewpoints signature to each voice and experience of the victim, these pages crackle with emotion, ranging from horror to breathtaking empathy.
As bold as it is timely, Any Man paints a searing portrait of survival and is a tribute to those who have lived through the nightmare of sexual assault.
As you can see, it’s a dark premise. It’s shocking to read at some points, but Tamblyn does a really wonderful job of introducing lighter parts when you need them.
VL: What did you like best?
CC: Tamblyn began as a poet, so the book is written as a mix of poetry and prose. The writing is breathtaking, and she does a great job of conveying a lot of information and emotion in fewer words. So many pages gave me chills.
VL: What did you like least?
CC: It was hard to read such an intense book; at times I needed to put it down for something else. But at her Fountain reading, she talked about our society’s history of ignoring survivors of sexual assault/rape or sweeping their stories under the rug. I think this is an important story, and an interesting take considering a woman is the perpetrator.
VL: Would you recommend Any Man to family or friends?
CC: I would (and have), but I would do it with the caveat that it’s very difficult to read in parts. I’m careful with whom I recommend it, because you never know if this story will hit too close to home.
VL: Have you read other books by this author?
Tamblyn has several poetry books under her belt, but I haven’t read them yet. They’re definitely on my list!
Yesterday, November 5, I met with Spotlight, the Colonial Heights High School club which focuses on literary and fine arts. I talked with these young, creative teens about fiction in general and historical fiction in particular.
Stating the obvious: in historical fiction, the plot takes place in a setting located in the past. What may not be so readily obvious is that beyond that, anything goes! Although this umbrella covers theater, opera, cinema, TV, etc., and my comments likely apply there as well, my focus has always been on the traditional: historical novels and short stories.
Historical fiction can be any genre and format. Romance, action/adventure, mystery, children’s literature, young adult novels, sci-fi, literary fiction, fairy tales, fables, satire, comedy, horror, even epic poetry—anything you can come up with is fair game. And it can be any length, from flash fiction to multiple-volume series.
The foundation of historical fiction is good writing. Therefore, start by mastering the craft. Ursula Le Guin’s book Steering the Craft is short, readable, and excellent instruction (although my personal opinion is that the sailing metaphor gets a bit trying by the end). But beyond that, consider what will give your writing authority and make it believable. So, here, in no particular order, are sample questions you would do well to answer.
What did people eat? People must eat. Beyond that, nothing is static. Food fashions change. The availability of various foods changes. Cooking methods and utensils change, how tables are set and what constitutes good table manners change. Even the timing of meals change—such as when the main meal of the day was eaten. And what was eaten: one example, a full breakfast is a staple of British cuisine, and typically consists of bacon, sausages and eggs, often served with a variety of side dishes and a drink such as coffee or tea. Prior to 1600, breakfast in Great Britain typically included bread, cold meat or fish, and ale. On an American farm table, pie for breakfast was common. You can search history of breakfast online and retrieve lots of valuable information by period of history and country.
How did people talk? The basic here is vocabulary, the words for ordinary objects and actions. Then, too, a word may not mean the same thing it once did. “Compromise” had a very different meaning for a couple in Jane Austen’s time compared to opponents in a political intrigue set in 1990. But phrasing comes into it, too: at some point, people became less likely to say “pardon me” and more likely to say “excuse me.” Besides the historical period, consider language specific to action; for example, carnival workers or mobsters.
What did things cost? Everyone knows prices change. The basic point here is how much things cost during your time period. And perhaps even more interesting, what was bought? For example, in 1905 a household was likely to buy stove polish (at twenty-five cents a can). Or during the Great Depression in the United States, a man might berate his wife for “driving all over the county, like gas doesn’t cost ten cents a gallon.” Inserting a few such details gives a story authority as well as richness—assuming you get it right. The latest edition of this book (the 5th) is available from Amazon, $155 new and $25 used. For your purposes, new probably isn’t necessary, and library discards come available for a dollar or two.
What did people wear? For example, did women wear underpants? Had bras been invented? Were corsets still in use? And related questions having to do with where the clothing came from, how much of it a person was likely to have, and how it varied by socioeconomic status.
What was involved in birth, death, and marriage? Most historical fiction will touch on one or more of these nearly universal events. Where did births take place and who attended? What about funerary practices? Would bodies be embalmed, burned, put on a scaffold for birds of prey to clean the bones? For marriage, consider age, who consents, what the ceremony likely entailed. For women, what rights did she lose and/or acquire with marriage?
What was happening in the world at the time? Some awareness or mention of major events is unavoidable. For example, if your story is set in 1863, the American Civil War was a relevant event whether or not it was the focus of your plot, and even if your story is set in London or Paris. The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby and finding the body in 1932 was similarly followed worldwide. For an excellent one-volume history of the United States, try Jill Lepore’s These Truths.
Doing your research. The above questions are just examples of things you need to know to make your historical work of fiction live for the reader. The list is endless: recreation and entertainment, mode of transportation and the time it took to get from place to place, weapons, toys, houses or whatever dwellings, how tall people were, hair styles. . . If you know the question you want to ask, online searching is convenient and inexpensive. Personally, any information I’m likely to want to refer to repeatedly, I like to have in physical books. Reading about the time of your plot is extremely valuable. And I find it fascinating. I have many books like the ones pictured above to get an overview of life during the period of interest, presenting answers to most of your factual questions in one convenient package.
Last but not least, read books written during and set in the time you’re writing about. Read extensively—meaning both a lot and broadly. It will give you a feel for tone, pacing, and (probably) things to avoid in your own writing!
BOTTOM LINE: Besides the foundation of good writing, historical fiction is built on research. Enjoy!