Monday, July 25, 2011

Sinful Pleasures

I confess. Yesterday, I snuck in a sinful pleasure. And as usual, I got caught.

It all started when I pulled into Sonic Drive-In to fetch lunch for Stephen. I'd already had lunch with a friend. Searching the menu and trying to decide whether to get him a cheeseburger, chicken wrap or footlong cheese coney, my gaze fixed upon "vanilla ice cream cone." Like a neon sign, it flashed in front of me, refusing to be ignored.


My mouth watered, anticipating creamy coolness on my tongue. Temptation refused to be ignored.

So, I decided on the chicken wrap for Stephen, then into the menu speaker said, "And a vanilla ice cream cone, please." Just saying it felt deliciously sneaky.

As I waited for my delight to be delivered, I noticed on my console that the temperature outside was 102⁰. Oh well, I figured I could eat it plenty fast before it melted. After all, I had to have it finished before I delivered lunch to Stephen - if I was to be really sneaky, that is.

The server handed me my ice cream cone first. Lick. Then she gave me Stephen's chicken wrap, then his drink, then his straw. Lick. I must have been on excitement-overdrive, because I handed the server the straw as payment.

"Oops!" I said, then handed her the real money.

Lick, lick, lick. At last, alone with my ice cream cone. Yummy as it was, I knew I'd have no trouble finishing it before one of two deadlines: before arriving at Stephen's office, or before it melted - whichever came first.

I pulled out of Sonic's driveway as one side of the cone dripped with thick, white cream. Lick. No problem.

I had just about worked my way down to the cone when something dripped on the my lap. Huh? I'd been keeping up with the stubborn melting just fine. Where had that drip come from?

I checked the bottom of the cone. There was another dollop of cream ready to fall to my lap. A dilemma! How would I keep ice cream from oozing through the bottom of the cone, dripping all over me - exposing my afternoon delight?

I licked furiously. Top, sides and bottom. But with every lick, the cone grew softer, drippier. It was a race to see who would win - the ice cream cone or me.

You might ask why I didn't discard the mess out the window. Funny, at the time, that didn't even enter my mind.

At last, I pulled up to Stephen's office. In a desperate attempt to savor every last bite, I bit into the bottom. I thought the cone was empty of ice cream.

It was not.

When coolness oozed through my pants, I looked down to find a large glop of melted ice cream in my lap. Unfortunately, the measly napkin was little help in wiping up the mess on my steering wheel, on the seat of the car, on me. I was left with a coating of shredded napkin mixed with dried, sticky, smelly cream.

When I handed Stephen's lunch to him, his gaze fixed on the messy spot on my pants. "What happened?" he asked.

Mea culpa time.

I had two choices: I wet my pants, or I spilled ice cream all over myself.

Darnit, I never get away with sinful pleasures.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Interview with Duke Pennell, Editor

"I'm learning more from this [editing] than any creative writing class, so keep up with the criticisms . . . your work makes my work better."
                                    --Dan Chamberlain
                                  "The Long Shooters"

The above testimonial on Duke Pennell's editing about sums it up. I first met Duke at the Northwest Arkansas Writers critique group, and I can say first hand that his critique has helped to improve my writing.

Duke has a wide range of editing experience. He is the founder and editor of the online e-zine Frontier Tales, a website for "Westerns and other stories that deal with the raw edge, where civilization crashes into the frontier."

He is also an editor for an independent publisher and provides freelance editing services.

Recently, I sat down with him to ask some questions about the editing process and what he's up to next:

JAN: What are the three most common mistakes you encounter in a manuscript?

DUKE: 1) Point of View. Point of View is so easy to get wrong. You know what you intend but, by the time it’s on paper, what was clear in your mind has become confusing to your reader. Unfortunately, when you re-read it, you still see what you meant, not what is there.

             2) Logic. Every story has a structure and an internal environment. Everything within the story must be consistent with that environment. It’s not fair to say “. . . and then some magic happened!” and expect the reader to go along with it.

            3) Author Intrusion. Almost every story has a message. Usually, the lead characters show us that message by what happens to them and their reactions. Sometimes, though, you’ll see words—lines, paragraphs, even pages—that are “background” information, put there by the author to help the reader understand. Don’t do it! If you require the “voice of God” to tell some key information, please let one of your characters have a religious vision or something of the sort. Unless it’s a memoir, the author should be invisible.

JAN: There is a Japanese Proverb that says, “To teach is to learn.” In editing, have you learned anything new about writing?

DUKE: Lots! When I edit other people’s work, I’m actively looking for problems. Another proverb says “practice makes perfect.” While none of us are likely to be accused of perfect writing, the practice of actively looking for errors has allowed me to see the same types of errors in my own work. They’re easier to fix now, and I find I’m not making as many of those errors as I used to. I’ve moved on to other errors . . . but my writing is better for it.

JAN: Please describe your typical editing process. (ie, Do you read the entire manuscript first, or do you edit as you read? How do you provide comments – via Word Review, or hand-written notes? Do you communicate with the author as you go, or give one review when complete?)

DUKE:  1) I format the manuscript if it needs it. Then, I read it from start to end, doing Line Editing (spelling, punctuation, etc.) as I go. Once I’ve read it all the way through, I’m able to see what message the author has. Then I can go back and do Copy Editing and/or Developmental Editing as needed, ensuring the manuscript is a cohesive whole and reaches the author’s goals.

            2) I comment in whatever method works best for the author. Some like Track Changes, others like highlighting text. The only thing that matters is for the author and me to understand what’s being said. I insert comments pretty liberally, targeting specific areas that need attention. So far, that works better than supplying generalized notes.

           3) I’ve communicated with authors both ways: as we go and giving one overall review. Again, it depends on what the author finds works best for him.

JAN: How can an author contact you for more information regarding your editing services?

DUKE: I prefer email sent to because I don’t often lose those messages.

JAN: You are also a writer, website developer and editor of Frontier Tales. Any upcoming projects you'd like to tell us about?

DUKE: I’m getting ready to produce the first anthology of stories from Frontier Tales. That’s fun and exciting! I’m also writing a novel and a non-fiction reference book for writers. This is on top of the editing jobs I have. The variety allows me to do one thing for a while then, when I get burned out, switch gears to something else with renewed enthusiasm. It’s like I imagine juggling chain saws would be: hard work, absorbing, and tiring -- but not boring!

JAN: Is there a question I haven’t asked that you’d like to answer?

DUKE: I think you should have asked “What’s the most important trait of a good editor?” My answer? You have to want to help people get their message across. You can’t do it for them, and you can’t turn their work into yours. You are a writer’s assistant. No more and no less.

Thanks to Duke, for taking time to share some information regarding his editing services. If you have any questions or comments, email them to Duke or leave them below and I'll pass them on.

Email Duke ( the first ten pages of your work and get a free edit. If you have a completed novel-length manuscript, page count can be extended to the first twenty-five pages. Along with the edits marked, you will receive a free estimate of the cost for a full edit.


Anyone who posts a comment by Friday, July 29 will be entered in a drawing for a copy of the anthology, Voices Volume III, autographed by both Duke Pennell and Jan Morrill.

Visit Duke's Websites:
Duke Pennell
Frontier Tales E-zine

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Premiere of Book Trailer Film Festival

Welcome to the First Annual Book Trailer Film Festival! has an excellent definition of a book trailer:

". . . they are designed to build interest in an upcoming or current novel and to encourage people to buy the book that they are based on. . . .The trick is to convey a sense of what the book is about without giving anything away - and without really clearly defining what the characters look like, as most readers prefer to visualize what they are reading about as they imagine it themselves."

The website also discusses how to make a book trailer and provides links to instructional sites. Once I learned the software (Windows Movie Maker) I really enjoyed putting together my trailer for Broken Dolls.

So, get started, and I'll look forward to seeing your trailer at the next "Book Trailer Film Festival!"

A special "thank you" to all of the authors whose book trailers appear below.  I hope you'll visit the authors' websites and blogs to learn more about them and their books.

Grab some popcorn and a drink and enjoy the show! 

Gloria Teague

Gloria Teague's Website
Gloria Teague's Blog

Jan Morrill

K.D. McCrite

K.D. McCrite's Website

Pamela Foster

Pamela Foster's Blog
Pamela Foster's Website

Ruth Burkett Weeks

Dusty Richards

Sandra Carrington-Smith

Sandra Carrington-Smith's Website
 The Book of Obeah

Glenn Kleier

 Glenn Kleier's Website

Richard Oliver Snelson

A Western Fictioneers Anthology

Claire Croxton 

Claire Croxton

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Super Summer Movie

How shall I say this without sounding strange? I love movies about boys coming of age -- like Super 8. Here's a synopsis from

After witnessing a mysterious train crash, a group of friends in the summer of 1979 begin noticing strange happenings going around in their small town, and begin to investigate into the creepy phenomenon.

Some would call Super 8 a sci-fi-action-adventure movie, but to me, it was a sentimental story of lives perched on the precipitous edge of the innocence of boyhood and the fast-approaching machismo of manhood, so reminiscient of other favorite movies of mine: Breaking Away, Stand By Me, The Sandlot, October Sky.

Awkwardness around girls. Battles with fathers. The longing to fit in. Misadventures. All are common themes to these movies. So why do they appeal to me more than Girl-coming-of-age stories? I'm not really sure. Is it because there aren't as many "Girl" movies? Here are a few that come to mind: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Secret Lives of Bees.

I, too, experienced some of the feelings and events reflected in many "Girl" movies, so maybe the answer lies simply in the fact that movies like Super 8 allow me an "inside view" of the endearing, albeit goofy misadventures "the other side" experienced growing up.

In the introduction to Stand By Me, Stephen King wrote:

"In all our lives, there's a fall from innocence; a time after which we are never the same."

"Boy" movie or "Girl" movie, it is the experiencing of that moment that I love.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sachi's O-koto

Sachi was practicing on her o-koto when she learned that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. Here's an excerpt:

     She knelt beside the long wooden harp on the floor of the dance room. Gently plucking its strings, she tried to mimic the music playing on the record album. After several minutes, her fingers began to throb. Mama said she needed to toughen them up, but today she didn’t feel like it. She lifted the needle and turned off the phonograph.
     Maybe listening to a different kind of music would help. She turned on the radio and heard a saxophone blaring In the Mood. She giggled. How would that sound on the o-koto?
     As the trombones entered the arrangement, a voice broke in:

     "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..."

This is a video of the o-koto and how it is played:

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Priceless Editor

My mother, Age 8

I'm not sure why, but I'd hesitated to ask my mom to read the manuscript for Broken Dolls. One might think that strange, since she is the inspiration for my character, Sachiko Kimura. Sachi is how I imagine my mom to have been as an 8-year old Japanese American girl struggling with her identity through her family's internment during World War II.

So why did I hesitate? These are some of the things I feared:

1) The story would bring back painful memories of that time in her life.
2) Though some of the story is based on fact, most of it is fictionalized. I was concerned she would take offense that the story was not as it had been in "real life."
3) Mom is not a big reader, and I didn't want to pressure her to read a full manuscript.

Through the four years it has taken me to write Broken Dolls, I have talked to Mom about it; asked questions about what happened during those years and filled her in on some of the chapters. But it was only last week that I loaded a .pdf file on her iPad so she could read it.

Honestly, I thought it would sit on her iPad, unread.

But a few days later, my sister called me and said, "Mom has not taken her nose out of your story. I finally had to tell her she needed to take a break or her neck would start bothering her."

I was thrilled. Though many have told me they've enjoyed the story, to have my own mother -- who lived through those years and who is not a "big reader" -- read it and be unable to put it down means the world to me.

Yesterday, I went to visit. When I walked in to her bedroom, I found her with iPad in hand, so engrossed in the story she hardly noticed me. She'd been taking notes about how I could improve the intricacies of the Japanese culture in the story -- something I could not have gotten from anyone else who has read the manuscript.


And my mom is smart as a whip. Dozens of people have read or heard the chapter in the story where Sachiko is stacking rocks on a fence post at Rohwer, one stone on top of another. It was something Papa taught her once -- a way to calm herself when she was troubled. Only my mother caught that there was no way Sachiko could have reached the top of the fence post at Rohwer.

To know that she was that "into" the story? Well, it was priceless.

My mother with her mother

On many mornings, before I get out of bed, my mind fills with thoughts. This morning, I was thinking about this blog entry, and something occurred to me: It was presumptuous of me to assume my mom was so "into" my story that she could visualize the fence post being too high for Sachi. The truth is, she was THERE.

She knew how high those fence posts were.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Trailer Film Festival

Announcing my First Annual Book Trailer Film Festival!
If you'd like to participate, a YouTube link for your trailer to by Saturday, July 9. If you'd like a link to your website/blog included or photos (.jpg) of the book cover or yourself to be included with your trailer, email those too.

Trailers will be posted in order received.

Watch for ...the premiere on Saturday, July 16!!