Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Writer's Space

What is your writing space like? This is a picture of mine. Sometimes I imagine it a hundred years from now, in the Jan Morrill Museum with a sign that reads:

This is where Jan Morrill wrote her seventeen bestselling novels.

Pardon this fiction-writer's escape into the realm of (very) creative non-fiction.

Things I love about my writing space:

1) It has most everything I need in a relatively small space - reference books, the Internet, a laptop, file drawers, a printer, pictures of loved ones, personal treasures, a bulletin board.

2) It has a great view of the Ozarks outside a window that is small enough not to be distracting while I write.

3) I have a comfortable chair from which to type or read . . . and re-read . . . and re-read my manuscripts.

Things I would change about my writing space:

1) I would put a door on it. Sometimes I am distracted - by the television, my dogs, my husband.

2) I wish the Internet was faster and more reliable - but then, I might not get as much writing done.

3) Since I am a writer and can create my own fantasy world, I wish my writer's space would clean and organize itself.

Tell me about your space - your likes and dislikes. Email a picture to me at and I'll post it on this blog!

Take a peek at other writers' spaces:

Dixie Ruth's writer's space shows plenty of inspiration for her books!
Click here to visit Dixie Ruth's blog

Everydayclimb shares her writing space with Henry-the-Cat.
Click here to go to everydayclimb's blog

Victor's space - a lot of potential for creativity!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Serendipity Strikes Again

I love when serendipity strikes: like last weekend, when I drove to Dallas with my daughter, Andrea, to celebrate Christmas with my son, Adam, and his wife, Emily. As many of my regular blog followers know, I am a fan of Fox News. Okay, I'm a Fox News junkie. And, my car is equipped with XM Radio, which allows me to feed my habit perhaps more often than I should -- admittedly, in true junkie fashion.

However, being of a different political persuasion, Andrea is NOT a fan of Fox News. So, though I clutched the steering wheel with white knuckles through my slow withdrawal, I compromised, and we listened to Christmas music. When we both tired of all the fa-la-la-la-las, we listened to NPR. My jitters simmered a little then -- at least it was talk radio.

We listened to the discussions of a variety of topics:

1) "e-polluting""The dirty little secret is that when you take [your electronic waste] to a recycler, instead of throwing it in a trashcan, about 80 percent of that material, very quickly, finds itself on a container ship going to a country like China, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, Pakistan — where very dirty things happen to it," says Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network, which works to keep toxic waste out of the environment.
NPR - What Happens to Electronic Waste

2) An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin. Yes, that would be the comedian, Steve Martin. I didn't know he was an author. Well, this interview discussed the second half of his talented life - his life as an author. NPR - Steve Martin Finds his Muse in An Object of Beauty

3) The State of Kids - Highlights Magazine conducted their second annual survey of children between the ages of 5 and 13. The survey asked questions such as:

What do you like best about yourself?
According to the survey, more than twice as many girls than boys named a physical attribute. Hmmm . . .

If you could change one thing in the world, what would you change? Why?
I loved some of the answers provided by the children for this question:

"I would change cigarete factories into candy factories because cigarete factories are very, very bad for you and candy is sooo delishous."

"I would change the Statue of Liberty to a Godzilla statue because it will be my world.

What new inventions will happen in your lifetime?
Another great answer, perhaps by a future inventor?

"I want to invent a spoon that has 3 parts so you could eat 3 foods at once."

The honesty and imagination of children is fascinating to me. Read more at: The State of Kids Survey

As you can see, it was quite a medley of interesting subjects, and in the end, Andrea and I averted a political debate. I was happy and Andrea was happy.

I must admit, it does a soul good to de-tox every once in awhile.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Tears

Last night I laughed so hard I cried, while watching my grown son and daughter "hula-hoop" with the Wii my son received for Christmas. Later, as I lay in bed thinking of the day's events, I thought about other times in my life when I felt so happy I cried.

Of course, there was the birth of each my children. Within seconds after having them, I was struck by the overwhelming thought that suddenly there was a new soul in the room with us. A not-surprisingly-happy tear moment.

And there have been many other not-surprisingly-happy-tear moments: Andrea's and Adam's high school and college graduations, Adam's and Emily's wedding.

But what about those unexpected tears of happiness? The ones that catch you completely by surprise? I have been lucky enough to have many, but these are the ones that first came to mind.

When my husband, Stephen, took me to see my first Broadway play, The Lion King, the theater was beautiful, with velvet and guilded gold. I was thrilled to be there. But, when the lights dimmed and the music began to play - when the beautiful animal characters walked through the center aisle of the theater, I leaned over the side balcony and my throat tightened in that familiar way that precedes tears. The costumes were incredibly beautiful, and the music, powerful.

A few years later, Stephen and I were on a Mediterranean cruise. The whole trip was magnificent, but the highlight was when our ship pulled into the Grand Canal in Venice. I hurried to the top deck where Andrea Bocelli's voice boomed over the loudspeakers. Venice surrounded our ship, and smaller boats and gondolas swirled around us. I don't know what it was - Bocelli's voice serenading me in Venice, the beauty of the city around us, or simply the realization that I never thought I'd be there - but happy tears welled up in my eyes.

When I finished Broken Dolls, a book I've been working on for over three years, I was happy at my accomplishment. But, that happiness didn't compare to what I felt when an agent asked me to send him the full manuscript after reading the first four chapters. I literally wanted to do somersaults! There is something in the realization that someone likes a story you have written, and I saw his request for my manuscript as a positive step in the direction of fulfilling a life goal - to have a book published. As I told my husband of the good news over lunch, I choked up as I explained that it no longer seemed like just a fantasy - that maybe I really would have a book published one day.

Happy tears - droplets of water so tiny others may not even notice them. But to someone who experiences them, the happiness is so big and full it can't be contained.

Wishing you only happy tears!

Waiting for Emily to walk down the aisle - even Adam is crying happy tears.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Waiting for The Wish Book

Today I was Christmas shopping on the internet - so easy, so convenient, so fast. Yet, wonderful and efficient as this new technology makes gift-giving and wish list-making, I decided it lacks something.

I can't pinpoint what that something is, but today, shopping simply didn't have the same magic that shopping in the Sears Wish Book had. Is it a loss of the sensory pleasures? Maybe. Certainly tapping a few keys and clicking a button doesn't have the same feel as turning every page, listening to its crisp crackle and wondering what would be on the pages that followed. I'd fold down the corners of each page that had an item I wanted Santa Claus to bring that year, hoping somehow "Santa" would see it.

Then again, perhaps it's just a sentimental thing. There was such anticipation, even in waiting for the catalogs to arrive - a veritable fantasy world for a child.

Still, as I clicked and ordered today, I felt a thrill, hoping my loved one would like, whether I had chosen it from the paper page of a catalog or the screen of my computer. The anticipation of giving hasn't changed, thank goodness, even if technology has.

Happy shopping, happy giving and happy Christmas!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Day of Infamy

In memory of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, here is an excerpt from my manuscript, Broken Dolls. In this scene, it is December 8, 1941, the day after the bombing. Nobu, my 17-year old Japanese American protagonist, is in school, about to listen to the broadcast of President Roosevelt's speech:
     Third period arrived and Nobu walked into Mrs. Connelly’s Social Studies class. How was he supposed to sit through the President’s speech? The stares had become like bugs crawling all over him. He wanted to swat them away, squash them, but the creepy stares weren’t so easy to get rid of.
     Still, maybe he could scare one pest off.
     “What're you looking at?” he asked, getting in the face of a boy slumped at a desk in the front row.
     The kid snickered. Smug, he turned to look at the book in front of him.
     Mrs. Connelly rushed over to the boys. "Nobu! I’ll not have any of that in my class.”
     He dropped into a seat at the back of the room. At least there, it wouldn’t be so easy for his classmates to harass him.
     Returning to her desk, she continued to address her students. “Class, as you know, I brought my radio to class today for you to listen to the broadcast of President Roosevelt’s address to Congress.” She removed her glasses and clutched them in her hand. “The attack on Pearl Harbor has raised the emotions of many Americans, but as you listen, I expect you to conduct yourselves in a respectful manner to all students. Face forward during the speech. You may take notes, in fact, I expect you to take notes.” She smiled. “But no passing notes, especially during the broadcast.”
     Nobu took a deep breath. Thanks, Mrs. Connelly.
     When she turned the radio on, static crackled loudly, and she adjusted the volume.
     The class quieted at the sound of the President's words.
     Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. . .

     Nobu’s pulse raced. His neck burned. He wiped his sweaty palms onto his jeans.

. . . The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost.

     Several classmates began to tap their pencils on desktops. Others’ knees jittered up and down. Some of these kids had fathers at Pearl Harbor.
     Nobu’s gut twisted and pinched.

. . . I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

     War. The United States . . . at war with Japan.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Five Questions for Dusty Richards, Western Novelist

********** NEWSFLASH! **************
Just received the news that Dusty was voted "Readers Choice Best Living Fiction Writer" by True West Magazine! Kudos, Dusty!
Prolific. Award-winning. Storyteller. Writing Coach. These are all words that describe Dusty Richards. A winner of two Spur Awards and a Western Heritage Award, he is one of the founding members of Northwest Arkansas Writers, a critique group in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Not only is he working on his 100th+ novel, he is also well-respected in the writing community for helping aspiring writers.

Recently, I rustled up an interview with Dusty.
Award Winning Western Novelist, Dusty Richards
1) When did you first decide you wanted to write Westerns? What prompted you?
I was a Saturday matinee fan of Gene, Roy and Hopalong on the silver screen. Then I began reading Will James. My mother was a good reader, so even though I could read them, I let her read them to me. That was pre-TV. She sat in the ring of light over the wingback chair in the living room and read Will James books to me. Will James wrote other books besides Smoky.

By high school, I progressed to paperbacks. They were a quarter a piece and lined book racks in the drug stores by the zillions. I read one a night. Then I scoured the libraries for Zane Grey, William Haycox and others. A book about Cochise, Blood Brother, sent me to research the Apache wars, since I lived in the middle of all that then. Another book by Tom Lea, The Wonderful Country, really impressed me. Then I found Will Henry's books--I could read them but never could see how he wrote them.

I wanted to write and so I did. I wrote my own books when I couldn't go buy one. I wrote them in long hand and knew they lacked whatever those selling writers had between the lines--I simply could not see what was missing. These were the books that my teenage daughters discovered and read, then told me to sell them. I stepped into the world of writing, dumb as a newborn duck. But somehow I wrote and sold three books to a small printer in Missouri. That encouraged me--but after two years and no published books, I severed that tie, or thought I did.

I learned twenty years later he printed them. But today, I can't find any copies. For awhile, they were on ebay. But before my daughter could find them to purchase, they were sold. My real success began when I met Dr. Frank Reuter at OWL – Ozarks Writers League. He critiqued a book I thought was ready. Oh my, after he finished with it, it was bloodied enough to fill the blood bank. But he encouraged me. I took all the things he said to do to that book and did them. Then, I sent him another and it he returned it - whole pages with no marks. Finally a third book went to him and he told me when I went to pick it up, "I was so busy reading the story I might not have critiqued it as hard as the others.”

I knew then I had a book and with the tenacity of a billy goat, I went out to sell it. It was Noble's Way and my first real sale of a book in New York.

Dusty and wife, Pat
2) You keep a busy schedule, with a variety of responsibilities. Tell us how you are able to maintain a writing schedule that has allowed you to write over one hundred novels.
I tell you what, my wife puts up with me--she encourages me even today. Back then, I had an old Commodore Computer and she pushed me into buying a Mac. I had not sold a book, but I saw what the Mac could do. I was impressed with the machine but had to think on the price. Pat said, "If it was a tractor and did all that, you'd already own it." I went out the door with it.

I write. Even when I worked for Tyson, did an hour anchoring TV show every morning, ran two ranches of my own, auctioneered and rode announcing--every night I was home and I typed from six until ten. At ten my wife came to get me to watch the news with her. Any rainy day, I wrote all day. I didn't know a sitcom on TV.

I never took "no" for an answer. In between books I wrote short stories. Personally, I think short stories are the best thing to practice on. You get results quickly and you learn to be sparse with words. What else can you do? These situations train you for writing scenes.

3) Not only are you well-known in the Western genre world, you are also well-known in the writing community as someone who has tirelessly mentored hundreds of writers. What is the best advice you’ve been given by a writer? Is that the same advice you’d give to new writers?
I would like to save any serious writer I meet from the tough trail I took to become a writer. Admittedly, I was hard headed, but once Reuter showed me the way, I flew. Some people I try to help only want praise. They don’t want to hear me tell them what they must do, so they don’t listen. I want to help that student that listens and learns, not the wanna-bes who don’t read. If you aren't a reader, don’t expect to become a writer.

I know there is a brain-to-finger connection and the only way you accomplish writing is to write. You will never have time to be a writer. You must steal it. You must learn to say no. You must make an obligation to your writing. Sure you will write crap and the real truth comes when you realize that. You have to have faith that your message is coming out. Learn from other writers, but don’t copy them. We don't talk like we write. The only way we get that writing voice is to write, free of concern that what we compose in the front of our brain is coming off in the style we want. Experience will build that in you.

My advice--don't fret about whether it is good enough while you're writing. Write the entire draft first. Then you will have an obligation to edit it and make a book out of it.

2010 Western Heritage Award Winner
 4) You’ve won several awards for your western novels: two Spur Awards and recently, the Western Heritage Award for your book, Sundown Chaser. These are great accomplishments for a Western writer. Any as-yet-unattained goals?
Of course, I would like one made into a movie; either a short story or a book. That will be hard, because they don't take much risk because movies are so expensive. That's why they go back to redo old ones with a proven track record.

2007 Spur Award Winner
5) If you could have a conversation with Louis L’Amour, or any other author, what would you like to talk about?
I read lots of Louie's books. He wrote some good ones and some that are so-so. I won't be critical of him here. I guess you could say the same thing about some of mine. I’ve been lucky to have had an evening with Charles Portis, author of True Grit and one with Larry McMurtey. Elmer Kelton was a dear friend and shared lots with me. Bill Gullic, who wrote Bend in the River, spent hours telling me tales of the days when the Saturday Evening Post paid him $12,000 for books they serialized,

I'd like to have talked to Will James for an evening, fished for trout in the White River with Zane Grey for a day, drank a few beers with Walter LeMay who wrote The Searchers. Then, I’d like to toss in a sunny afternoon visit with Will Henry, who I met but didn't get to speak to. I missed meeting Tom Lea of The Wonderful Country. We were in El Paso for WWA (Western Writers of America) and they went to see him. I missed that and have always regretted it. I met Jack Bickham at OWFI (Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc.) but was afraid I'd sound stupid and never asked him a thing. That was my mistake. And toss in the nice visit I had with Tony Hillerman, who writes about the Navajo Police out in New Mexico.

I have been blessed haven't I? But I am not through yet. I hope I didn't overdo my visits with those folks above, but they--like the Northwest Arkansas Writers where I’ve shared some of my work--are all part of what inspires me to write and why I help folks, wanted or not.
Be sure to post a comment by Monday, December 20 to be entered in a drawing for two of Dusty's books: Sundown Chaser and Writing the West. Drawing will be held on that date, and winner will be announced on this blog and on Facebook.

To learn more about Dusty Richards, visit him at:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Skipping Along the Path to Publication

The opening sentence of Broken Dolls: (That is, if I don't edit it again!)

Nobu knew everything had changed with those words: Japs attack Pearl Harbor. Now, it would be okay for everybody to hate the Japanese.

Yesterday, after working on Broken Dolls for three years, I held the spiral bound, completed manuscript in my hands! The weight of its 444 pages, hearing the binding crackle as I turned each page, seeing the words printed on paper rather than on a computer screen - all of it thrilled me. Most exciting was the clearer dream of seeing it published one day and the wondering of what would be on the cover.

Next comes the process of editing.

After that is completed, I have several wonderful friends and family members who have offered to read it - sleuths on a search for consistency or editing errors I may have missed in my 137 re-readings.

Then, the real fun begins - searching the crowded path for an agent. (Come out, come out, wherever you are!)

So, the work continues, but every step takes me closer toward my goal of publication.

See you at the finish line