Saturday, July 30, 2011

Choices for Painted Pony and other considerations

Hi Readers
 So far we have Jamie and her painted pony at a scene that hasn't yet been described by the author. I figure we have at least 3 choices. Here are the fourI'd like you to vote on.
 What Jamie encounters when she comes around the corner is:
1. A tape recorded trickery that used a trained horse to deliver her to this spot...someone with a sinister motive awaits her.

2. There is a crying baby, the mother is injured in a fall from the horse - the child is crying the mother is bleeding profusely from a gash on her head.

3. A Baby is discovered, surrounded by wolf cubs and a colt - the baby has a note pinned to his/her shirt.

4. a vision - a council fire with elders chanting and singing with the drum - they summoned her to save the Indian burial grounds from developers. Her deceased father is among those present at the council fire. The Painted Pony was sent because her father knew her love of animals would win over anything else going on in her life.

So there are your choices for me to continue - send me an email at Billie and tell me what you think.
Then I will continue with the next chapter next week.
 Search for Watch For The Raven

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Painted Pony Analysis of Chapter One

Watch For The Raven

Let's examine The Painted Pony for a minute. Hopefully, without killing the story. As readers and as writers we come to the story with different expectations.

The read in us, swallows up the words a t a pace that's comfortable, digestible and curious about character, plot, setting and depending on the story, a myriad of other details, all perhaps, subconsciously.  If the writer is good, all these things pull the reader, you, into  and  through the rabbit hole of story into a world you, the reader, want to savor. 

As a writer you may enjoy the same joy of reading and yet somewhere you are thinking. Hook, okay, hook is in place. Horses foster a more or less universal interest. Whether it's a wish for the freedom and  adventure of the old west, or a churning desire to lift our head and stir the wind with an abandoned gallop without the tethers of life and its responsibilities. You, writer/reader, may have your own reasons to be drawn in by that first sense of horse and the thunder of hooves shaking the ground beneath your bare feet.

Not only do we know we're observing a painted pony, why not a pinto, is there a difference? Couldn't it instead be an Arabian stallion, or a Clydesdale, the thunder of his/her hooves would certainly rumble the ground if it were a Clydesdale.  For the moment we must assume the writer has a reason for using a paint, over the others. Does it suggest an era, or a custom, or culture?  My mind is drawn to the graphics, hieroglyphics', on cave walls, some, at least, the horses look like painted ponies, is that the reason for this image? My experience and knowledge will try to reason out the choices as critics try to do as they examine works of deceased authors. I never interpreted any of Shakespeare's works the way my high school English teacher did. Does that mean I was wrong?  I don't think so, now, I think my experience, my creative imagination, saw what it could have been when Shakespeare wrote it originally.

Back to our Painted Pony. Immediately the author names the pony so you, the reader, will get a sense of this horse as opposed to any other. Embers, the glowing coals left in a fire, they aren't blazing fire, though, with the right conditions, they could be. And what of Daisy, she loves me she loves me not, wild flower or garden cultivated, again love by many, thrown away as a weed by others. Both horses could show us dual personalities. Is that the author's reasoning?

The third paragraph grabs emotions. Nearly everyone has felt grief. And there are so many sources and depths of grief. What is Jamie's grief? How does Ember trigger this memory? Or, why?  It's obvious, at least to me, horses play a significant role in Jamie's life. The words she, the author uses to describe Jamie's thoughts of horse, delightful creature, magnificent, not beast, but creature—tell the reader subtly how she feels about horses or at least this horse.

Characterization is a tricky business for writers, especially new writers. How do you describe a person without telling? What has the writer shown us so far about our main character. How did it become part of the character Jamie Lynn without becoming description told to the reader?  The first clue is the way you find out about people in real life—it's through their actions. As the old saying goes, "actions speak louder than words."
We see Jamie slide form Daisy's saddle to feel the earth, sensitive to subtle earth changes I think. We learn Jamie is familiar with mountains, especially these mountains. 

Word choice surfaces as we find out Jamie is Native American and that perhaps that has cast a stigma on her development, at least, in part. But now we see her as a business woman in bare feet, riding a horse, chasing or at least following another horse…why didn't she wear cowboy boots or, given her heritage, moccasins? Subtle things develop your character even when written stream of consciousness.
You can list more things we learn about Jamie form this short chapter. What else do you notice as a reader and/or writer? 

Her father's words, what do they add to the story besides word count? Was the message twofold? Does it tell us more about Jamie? And her father? Maybe even hint at the relationship?
The last sentence is the hook that makes us want to turn the page—a child's distress call –why didn't the author use different words, scream, beller, cry, sob, how many synonyms can you think of that could have said similar, if not the same thing?

As writers our tools are words. Precise, words, not flowery (thank you Mrs. Sartorus) words, but precise, strong, colorful, but not gaudy, words that don't parade themselves in front of the reader telling of their literary prowess with a huge vocabulary base, but instead showing the reader what precisely the writer's imagination sees. 

Showing, never telling, never say never-- because there are times when the narrator needs to condense and summarize to move the story forward quickly. We don't need to see Jamie getting her feet wet in the dew laden grass as she goes to saddle Daisy for her morning ride. We didn't need to know Jamie had bare feet. We didn't need to see her saddle Daisy or feed her sugar cubes, not this time. We didn't need to see Jamie's bare feet or any of the earlier stuff to inform our story, but if it had been important to the later story we could have had our narrator tell us all this—otherwise, showing by action, is the preferred and better choice.

As a mystery writer, pointing your reader's mind and eye is essential. You play fair with your reader by directing their attention where you want them to focus, hiding clues in plain sight.
Next we'll try to get our author to turn her muse loose on chapter two.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Painted Pony

A new story I'm starting today. Here is the first chapter.


Painted Pony
Jamie Lynn watched as a pale cloud of dust signaled the early morning arrival of a visitor who showed up at 6 a.m. every morning for the past week. The thunder of her hooves shook the ground. Jamie felt it in the souls of her bare feet. Her breath caught in her throat as the painted pony glided over the top of the hill. She stopped abruptly and stared at Jamie.

The two of them stood frozen like two moments in time. Jamie didn't dare blink for fear Ember would disappear again. Jamie could feel the heat of Ember's aliveness, she was real, what did she want?  Where did she come from? Why here, why now?

Jamie Lynn's grief was so profound she came to Nimberbrook to regain her equilibrium. She came to figure out if she could go on, which direction she should take. What was the significance of this delightful creature who wouldn't be approached?

As if on cue, Ember reared up, marked the air with her signature, three pawing motions in the air, before she spun and disappeared the way she had come. Today, Jamie was prepared. She hurriedly mounted Daisy and coaxed the horse forward, toward the hill where the painted pony had stood. Ember seemed such an appropriate name. It had appeared in Jamie's mind just as the horse appeared. Ember glowed like a ghostly apparition, but Jamie was sure she was real; at least, until she found no footprints where Ember had stood, she believed she was real. Her image was too distinct not to be real, wasn't it?

The ground shaking thunder of her approach was real. Jamie felt it; it was enough to make her think a herd stampeded toward her, not just one magnificent creature. 

Jamie slid down from Daisy's saddle to examine the ground more closely where Ember made her showing. She ran her hand over the undisturbed ground. The feeling of heat warmed the palm of Jamie's hand. She paused and went back over the area—heat, but no tracks. Was she losing her mind? Her gaze followed the dust that puffed like clouds toward the horizon. No sign of the horse except for those fading puffs of dust raised by her hooves. Distance is hard to judge in open country fenced in by the LaPlata Mountain range, a very familiar sight to Jamie. But, always mysterious, always offering new visions, inner as well as outer. Distance was one she hadn't managed to conquer just yet.

Who did the painted pony belong to? Why did she get the distinct feeling she should follow her?  Daisy seemed totally disinterested in the other horse as she grazed on the tufts of sedge grass poking up centaur-like from the dry earth. No rain in over a month gave the once lush mountain valley a desert tawny hue.

Pursuing the elusive creature who seemed to be luring Jamie out of her comfort zone into untraveled territory seemed her only option. A very strong pull made her move toward the painted pony's path. It wasn't the old west where savage Indians roamed and lurked for unsuspecting travelers. The term "savage Indian", shuddered the nerves of her spine. What a legacy she had inherited. Do people still think savage when they see her? Sometimes she thought they did even with her rise up from nothing to owner of the chain of holistic health and beauty stores across the Iron Range back home in Michigan.  Colorado always held her heart though, her father's land called her back here regularly. She always followed that call. This time Ember stood at the end of that call, or so it seemed she was part of that call.

Slowly, Jamie urged Daisy forward. The horse seemed reluctant to travel in a straight line toward what Jamie saw as her goal—the distant, shrinking dust ruffles Ember kicked up as her bread crumbs in the forest. The Hansel and Gretel fairy tale spirited across her mind as did the word 'lost'. She could never get lost. Daisy would always know her way home, wouldn't she?

Jamie reined the horse in, twisted in the saddle to gaze behind her for a landmark, something to call her home if Daisy should somehow forget. Daisy's fur twitched. Jamie saw why. Coyotes streaked across the path behind her. During the day? Unusual but it was very early. She hoped they weren't after the painted pony, though the pony seemed healthy enough, alone it could be the target for that marauding pack. She nudged Daisy forward. "Come on girl, we need to find Ember."

Daisy snorted and immediately obeyed, albeit, reluctantly. Jamie could tell she was in no hurry to obey her master's orders. Urgency fueled Jamie's insistence that the horse follow her command. Normally, she wouldn't force the issue. Daisy was a seasoned horse and seemed to sense the presence of danger, the avalanche, the rattle snake, the bear, Daisy had balked, and Jamie had listened. And luckily so, yet, this time, not this time, something pulled her toward the distant mountain range and Ember. The coyotes she had spotted earlier crossed her mind, but they were headed due north not west as Jamie and Daisy were. Of course the animals could circle west, nothing except Daisy's nervous twitching told her anything was amiss. Jamie watched the ground for signs, signs of Ember's flight, signs of the coyotes, signs of the mountain lion that had been spotted in the valley lately harassing cattle—she didn't see anything. So why were the hairs at the nap of her neck bristling like a bug crawled among the roots. 

Daisy's ears moved independently of one another like a cats, or a rabbits listening for sound a human ear could never pick up. Jamie knew enough to watch the horses' body language for subtle hints hidden from her human self about her environment. Clearly, Daisy sensed or heard something, but Jamie's insides told her to press on. Whatever Ember's message was she needed to follow her, now. Daisy wasn't stubbornly refusing like she did before the avalanche. Jamie took this as a sign she should be cautious but not to abort her mission of following Ember.

She nearly lost her balance and fell off Daisy's back as she was leaning way over to try to 'read' the signs the ground might give up. The sound of a child crying caught Jamie off guard. A child, here, deep in these woods in the foothills of the LaPlata's? From the sounds of it, a very young child and the hurried mission of the coyotes suddenly spurred her own mission. Daisy snorted in protest, but moved toward the sound as Jamie guided her.

 "Always carry a rifle when you ride these hills." Her father's words echoed in her mind now. Jamie was of a mentality that there was nothing to fear in the settled west anymore. It was silly to borrow trouble. When James Two-Cloud saddled Daisy for Jamie the rifle scabbard was always present and loaded.
"If you ever get thrown from your horse, or run into trouble, you can summon help. You don't have to shoot any creature or human, just shoot the air."

Sage advice Jamie thought now as she urged Daisy forward toward the child's distress call. But, what possible dan—g—er—Jamie swallowed the lump in her throat that felt like her heart had leapt there. 
to be continued...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Most Important Sentence In Your Book

Remember the old Peanuts Cartoon? Snoopy, a lovable beagle, wanted to be a writer. There was a recurring story line featuring Snoopy atop his dog house with his old manual typewriter, beginning his book. Snoopy never got further than his opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

The first line is the most important sentence of any book, be it fiction or non-fiction. That first sentence has a big job to do. It must capture the interest of the reader and convince her to read the rest of the first page and then the rest of the book.

Today’s reader is increasingly busy, distracted, and in a hurry. He will not spend time with a book that is boring, hard to read, or needs twenty-five pages to get to the point.
So, what can you do to craft a compelling first sentence?
Follow these steps to make your first sentence powerful:
  1. Don’t worry about your first sentence until you are in the editing phase of your book project. If you are in writing phase, just begin your book and know that you can come back to your first sentence to polish it during editing. If you try to write the perfect first sentence during the writing phase, you run the risk of never moving past it to the remainder of the book.
  2. Pay attention to headlines in news reports, on magazine covers, and on websites. While your first sentence is not a headline, it is the very first experience your reader has of your book so it should be exciting and invite readers to continue. Begin to notice how these headlines are written and see what you can learn from that style of writing.
  3. Is your first sentence boring? Read it aloud and listen. Does it sound compelling? If not, it needs revision.
  4. Next, look closely at your first sentence and see if it generates curiosity. When a reader is curious, she will want to keep reading.
  5. You can elicit curiosity by leading with a surprising fact, a compelling story, a thought-provoking statistic, or by using a metaphor in unusual way.
  6. Read your first page. Find the most interesting piece of information on that page and make that point in your first sentence.
  7. Pare down the number of words in your first sentence so that each word is crisp, clear, and serves a purpose. Shorter sentences convey more energy.
Continue to work on your opening sentence until you feel satisfied with it. When your book moves into publication, your editor will also review this opening sentence and make additional suggestions if more revisions are needed.
Your first sentence is the prelude to your reader’s experience of your book. Invest time in making that sentence shine and your readers will thank you by continuing to turn every page of your book.

Lynne Klippel is a best-selling author, publisher, and book coach who specializes in helping non-fiction authors write books that build their business and transform the world. For a f.r.e.e. assessment that will help you see your author strengths and opportunities, visit

Monday, July 11, 2011

Old Presidents and Old Leather Journals

Zachary Taylor, 12th President of the United States. The silk bookmark I found in an old leather bound journal indicated he was inaugurated March 5th, 1849 and died on July 9, 1850. What made this even more eventful for me was I found this bookmark on July 9, 2011. One hundred sixty-one years after his death. The book mark was fading and the ends were frayed, but it was still beautifully preserved.

My mystery writer's mind wondered that he died so soon after he was inaugurated, he was only 66 years old. I suppose that was old for back then, but still. How did he die?  Apparently he had helped dedicate the Washington Monument earlier that hot and humid July. Just like it is today. The heat got the best of him and he retired to his quarters early to eat a bowl of cherries and drink a pitcher of milk.

Much controversy over the slavery issues of the time made him a candidate of much ridicule and argument. Did someone poison Zachary Taylor?  Or was it, as one doctor presumed some intestinal infection that did him in? Will we ever know?  I wonder? 

The bookmark and the leather book came from an estate Sale, my mother and my sister used to do estate sales near Detroit, Michigan many years ago. Upon investigating the book further I see that it was made by The New Departure Manufacturing Company, of Bristol Connecticut.  And it was called a Business Year book.  The cover, raised relief pictured scroll work and the name Mr. A Moorhouse in gold-foil inlay lettering graced the front of the journal, the edges were also gold.  I hesitate to deface the pages with my small successes; you see I had planned to use this as a success journal. I would imagine the empty journal, obviously, being housed in a leather zippered stationery holder, complete with writing surface and ink blotter, places for pens, and seals and perhaps postage of some sort, perhaps a stamp or embrossed signature press , gold –foil embrossed in the name of Albert C Marshall are two separate pieces of two different people's lives that really don't matter to anyone any more.  

 I could use it – If I dared. There are so many interesting features in the back matter of the book – a perpetual calendar 1756-1956, Leap years 1756 – 1952, parcel post zone rates – for example a one pound local package would cost you five cents…out to the 8th zone it would cost you twelve cents. What can you mail for twelve cents today?

Each page of the journal has a tiny box that you can place a check mark next to the type of weather for that day-- clear, cloudy, rain or snow. There is a place for addresses, Insurance Expiration dates and other particulars about the policy, 

The American Creed by William Taylor Page, Business Laws, points of constitutional Laws, fifteen don'ts in the use of the American Flag and the fourteen errors of life – by Judge Rentoul as told to the Bartholomew Club(I'm not sure what that was.)
The rules as listed:
Remember these are errors:
1.       To expect to set up our own standard of right and wrong and expect everybody to conform to it.
2.       To try to measure the enjoyment of others by our own.
3.       To look for judgment and experience in youth
4.       To endeavor to mold all dispositions alike
5.       To expect uniformity of opinion in this world.
6.       Not to yield in unimportant trifles
7.       To look for perfection in our own actions
8.       To worry ourselves and others over what cannot be remedied.
9.       Not to alleviate if we can all that needs alleviation.
10.   Not to make allowances for the weakness of others
11.   To consider anything impossible that we ourselves cannot perform.
12.   To believe only what our finite minds can grasp
13.   To live as if the moment the time, the day were so important that it would live forever.
14.   To estimate people by some outside quality, for it is that within which makes the man. "London Standard." 

The Journal's forward first paragraph. "Nothing is new except that which has been forgotten," we will regard the passing of the old ear and the coming of the new one as simply a matter of looking at the calendar, for isn't it true that whatever is, functions as a merger of what has been with what is to come.
The ball bearings this company designed, which also designed and, I suppose, presented this business journal to its employees was:
 New Departure Mfg. Co
De Witt Page, President
Bristol, Connecticut
December 26, 1924

How neat, maybe I will make good use of this journal after all. It will house my successes and help me keep my bearings.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Small Town America

Small Town America
"Small towns have long memories and pass their horror down ceremonially from generation to generation."
That may not be your perception of Small Town America, but it was one author's perception. Setting in a small town can evoke peace, tranquility, safety, but add a few 'what ifs' and you can swing that mood in many directions.

Houses absorb the emotions that are spent on them, or in them.
They say, an untimely or violent death leaves the ghost behind to haunt the premises until that ghost is avenged. Certainly, that could put a different twist on the tone and premise of your small town story. Or, what about the recent news story of the house built on the nesting site of garter snakes. The snakes claimed the residence. They would not be moved or excluded. What kind of milieu would that create for your story? What type of character would it take to live in that house?
Small Town Secrets invites you to explore a small town in rural Wisconsin. Is it your town?  You be the judge. Buy your copy from Amazon Now or from the publisher Wings ePress in all the various formats. Buy Now!

What sets your small town apart from this small town? Email me and let me know. If you sign up for my newsletter on my website you will get a free report titled: Writing the Modern Mystery 
Here is the link: There is a sign up box on the home page.
Hope to hear from you soon.
Billie A Williams,
Mystery Suspense Author,
Speaker, Writing Coach/Instructor
Small Town Secrets by Billie A Williams
ISBN# 978-1-59705-283-2