How Many words does it take to tell a story?

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me3Welcome, Dawn! It’s good to see you again. The last time you came to visit, we heard all about your first book.

This time we’ll learn about Dawn’s second book ‘The Great War 100 Stories of 100 Words Honouring Those who Lived and Died 100 Years Ago’ was published in 2016. Her first book was a YA story published by Muse it Up Publishing, in 2014, entitled ‘Daffodil and the Thin Place’.daffodil-and-the-thin-place-300dpi Her third book will be published soon and is a romance set in the Plotlands in Essex, UK, in 1930. She enjoys a writing challenge and has had stories published in various anthologies, including horror and speculative fiction, as well as romances in several women’s magazines. Dawn has written a script for a play to commemorate World War One, which has been performed in her home town in Essex, as well as in Germany and France. Married with one son, she lives in Essex.

the_great_war_kindle_finalShort story from ‘The Great War – 100 Stories of 100 Words Honouring Those who Lived and Died 100 Years Ago’

(Note from Dawn: This is one complete story – exactly one hundred words long, not including the title)

Final Words

With blank, unseeing eyes, he stares towards heaven.

God rest his soul.

I prise the blood-spattered envelope from fingers that are rigidly clenched over his heart, and I silently vow to carry his final words home, if I live to see my next leave.

A creased photograph of a young girl slips out of the letter.

It’s her heart I’ll break when I deliver the soldier’s farewell.

Should I tell her he died alone in a muddy hollow on French soil, with blood seeping from his severed leg into the earth?

No, I’ll simply say her sweetheart died a hero.

This touches my heart, Dawn. Just one hundred words make up this story. Seven short sentences. Yet they are powerful. Strong enough to make us see what the speaker sees…and feel what he feels.

Okay, guys. Let’s find out more about Dawn. Tell us how long you’ve been writing?

I’ve been writing seriously for about ten years, so I’m a relative newcomer. I’ve always made up stories in my head but it wasn’t until I was trying to encourage my teenage son to do his creative writing homework that I started writing any of those stories down. I gave my son the first sentence and suggested he write the next few sentences. Sadly, he wasn’t inspired – but I was! I finished that story and although I didn’t manage to get it published, I was hooked! I had several short stories published but it wasn’t until several years later that my first book ‘Daffodil and the Thin Place’ was published by Muse it Up Publishing. Since then, I’ve published ‘The Great War –  100 Stories of 100 Words Honouring Those who Lived and Died 100 Years Ago’ and have just heard that a romantic story has been accepted by My Weekly magazine and will be published as a pocket novel.

Everyone has their writing styles. I’m a pantser who does a little plotting. Are you a plotter, a pantser or some combination of both?

I’m definitely a plotter. I like to have at least the beginning and end of a story worked out before I start writing, and I like to know roughly how I’m going to get from one to the other! Often, I make changes as I go, so stories are rarely the same as my initial idea and I would be quite happy if a different ending seemed to work better than the one in my original plan, but that hasn’t happened so far. Without a framework, I think I might waffle and write aimlessly although I know that being a pantser suits some writers.

I love hearing stories about how authors get their ideas. Where do you go for inspiration?

I get inspiration from every day life, from reading, listening to the radio, memories, overhearing conversations or observing people when I’m out. When I first took up photography, I found that my powers of observation developed and I began to notice things I probably wouldn’t have seen before. The same thing has happened since I’ve started writing every day, and I now carry a note book with me so that I can jot things down as I see or hear them, to be used later in stories.

A notebook is a good idea. I carry one in my purse to jot things down I want to remember. Now, Dawn, tell us a little something about your current WIP.

My current work in progress is a play set at the end of the First World War, when the servicemen came home. I’ve already written a play about three First World War servicemen – one from England, one from Germany and one from France – which was part of our town’s Forget Never project to commemorate the start of the First World War. It’s called ‘The Sons of Three Countries Remembered’ and has been performed in my home town and our twin towns in Germany and France. This year, on 11 November, it will be performed again in our home town. Next year, the play I’m currently working on will be performed. I’m quite nervous about it and I’ve started early, so I can take my time and hopefully do a good job.
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What is the best compliment you ever received as a writer?

I think the best and most surprising compliment I have received as a writer was to hear of the reaction of some German friends when they read the script of ‘The Sons of Three Countries Remembered’. In writing a play about the First World War which was going to have an audience comprising British, French and Germans, I wanted to avoid triumphalism or blame. Apparently, the first Germans to read it were touched and several of them cried. I was surprised when they requested that it be performed in Germany and amazed when the theatre was packed. And the standing ovation at the end was completely overwhelming.

That’s wonderful, Dawn. I am impressed. I remember looking at pictures of my grandfather in  uniform (he was a doughboy in WWI) and listening to my dad tell us the stories about what happened to him overseas. This is a wonderful way to pass them on to future generations. 

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I go to the gym about three mornings a week although if I had more time, I’d go more often. Other than that, my hobbies include photography and drawing although I’m more likely to be taking photographs than drawing because I’m so slow at drawing! I like to do portraits and have done Tom Cruise, Marilyn Monroe, Sean Connery, Paul Newman and Elvis, amongst others.

It’s been a pleasure to have you visit again, Dawn. I’m especially fascinated by your stories about the soldiers. We should never forget their patriotism and their bravery or their simple acts of kindness that got them through each day, and we need to make sure we  pass their stories on to future generations.

website and blog is http://www.dawnknox.com

email – dawn.knox@gmail.com

The Great War –  100 Stories of 100 Words Honouring Those who Lived and Died 100 Years Ago https://www.amazon.co.uk/Great-War-Hundred-Stories-Honouring/dp/1532961596/ref=pd_sim_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=1P6GBNJW3KRVN8Z8Q96H

Dinner And A Movie Monday – Robin Hood

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robin-hoodIf you have read many of my movie reviews, you’re probably certain I’m a Russell Crowe fan. And I am, but mostly because I like the kind of movies he does.

Take Robin Hood. It’s a 2010 British-American film by Ridley Scott, based on the legend we all know. It takes place in 1199. Robin Longstride, played by Russell Crowe, is a common archer who fights for King Richard the Lionheart. The story opens during the siege of Chalus Castle. Robin and his comrades are disillusioned and weary of the war. So, when the King is killed during an attack, they decide it’s time to go home, so they desert.

On the way, they come across an ambush of the English royal guard returning to England with the King’s crown and news of his death. Too late to do anything but scare them away. Robin and his men impersonate the dead English knights so they can return to England. He promises a dying knight, Sir Robert Loxley to return his sword to his father in Nottingham.

In London, Robin assumes the identity of Loxley and informs the royal family of the King’s death. He witnesses the coronation of King John, who is swayed by Godfrey, who plans use French troops to stir up unrest and create an opening for Philip to invade England.

When Robin returns Loxley’s sword to his father, the man asks him to continue impersonating his son to prevent the family lands being taken by the Crown. He wants Loxley’s widow, Lady Marion, played by Cate Blanchette, to inherit instead. Robin agrees and in the process, he and Marion fall in love. What I liked about this is the way it happened. A glance, a smile, her hand in his when he helps her up on her horse, they way he studies her when she isn’t looking. They get to know each other and each of them like what they see. It tugs at the heartstrings.

After King John hears Robin’s plea to sign a charter of right and unite his country, a battle must be fought to stop the French marauders from taking over England. It takes place on the beach below the Cliffs of Dover and the cinematography is spectacular.

I enjoyed the movie and the twist at the end, giving us a new take on the story of Robin Hood and how “the legend began”. There’s comradeship. There’s action. And there’s romance. Definitely my kind of movie.

robin-hood-stewMedieval spiced beef stew

1.5kg lean braising steak, chopped into bite-size chunks
3 tbsp plain flour
Oil for frying
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/8 tsp (small pinch) ground cloves
4 black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 tsp cardamom pods, crushed and green pods discarded
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 large sprigs parsley, stalks and leaves finely chopped, plus extra to garnish
900ml beef stock
50g stale wholemeal bread, torn into small pieces
3 tbsp cider vinegar
Pinch of saffron threads

1 Toss the beef with the flour to coat. Cover the base of a large casserole dish with a thin layer of oil and place over a medium high heat. Add the beef in batches and fry, stirring occasionally, until browned.

2 Return any browned beef to the pan with its juices. Add the spices, onion and parsley with a splash of the stock and fry, stirring frequently and scrapping up the crusty layer from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, for about 5 minutes until the onions have started to soften. Add the rest of the stock with a pinch of salt and bring to a gentle boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, until the beef is tender.

3 Meanwhile, soak the bread in the vinegar with the saffron. Stir into the stew and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes until the bread has broken down and the stew is thick. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with bread and buttered green vegetables, garnished with chopped fresh parsley

Meet Alice from Brownstone Faces

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brought to you by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks. They’ve visited my blog before and this time, we’re going to get to meet Alice.

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Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks have been collaborating on books for forty-six years.  Their first joint effort was a student project while Anne was at Bryn Mawr College and Ken attended Haverford. Since then, they have written over twenty books together. They live and work in New York City, where many of their books are set. They are members of International Thriller Writers and of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Ken and Anne’s mainstream novel, Kate and the Kid, was named one of the best Indie books for 2016 by Kirkus Reviews. Kirkus described it as an “engrossing romantic adventure” which “combines mystery and psychological drama in an intricate study of family relationships, economic class, and child abuse.”  Kate and the Kid also won a silver medal from Readers’ Favorite for books involving social issues.

Their Jane Larson series of mystery/thrillers involves a high-powered New York City attorney with a penchant for getting involved in situations that she would be better off leaving alone. These novels have been praised by reviewers for their gritty portrayals of city life, lively characters, fast action, surprise endings and highly polished prose. Jane is cynical and rebellious, but she finds herself drawn to the simple life her deceased mother lived as an attorney who served women unable to afford legal services. The first two books in the series are Weave A Murderous Web and Praise Her, Praise Diana, both published by Melange Books, LLC. A third novel, Mind Me, Milady, will be published in early 2017 by Melange.

Ken and Anne have also created a New York City based series for ‘tween readers, published by MuseItUp Publishing. These books feature the brother and sister combo of Jennifer and James and their friends Sleepy and Kaytlyn.  A talking pigeon lures them into their first adventure in Things Are Not What They Seem. The sequel, Remembering Thomas, will be published in 2017. It sends these young characters back to Revolutionary War battles that occurred in New York City during the fall of 1776.

Finally, Anne and Kenneth have written a series for middle readers in which the first book is Stone Faces, followed by Brownstone Faces and, soon, Splotch, published by MuseItUp. The main character in these three middle reader novels is Alice, and—you guessed it—she is a girl who lives in New York City.

You can read more about Anne and Ken’s books on their website

randh71productions.com and their blog at randh71productions.com/blog. They are now working on their next book, a family saga entitled Minister.

And now, sit back and enjoy Alice’s delightful interview!

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Today we are going to interview Alice, who is the author and also the main character of a series of books she has written. She’s just eleven years old and has written two books already!

Us:  Well, the first thing we want to say is ‘welcome to the blog, Alice.’ We have never interviewed someone quite as young as you before.

Alice:  Don’t be nervous. I’ve never been interviewed by someone as old as you, either.

Us:  Thanks. I think … So, here’s the first question: when did you first think you wanted to become a writer?

Alice:  Actually, I hadn’t ever thought about it because I’m really into sports. All kinds of sports. I take after my daddy in that way. But then my parents decided to get divorced and I had the worst summer ever, and I just had to write about it to let other kids know that I got through it and they can too!

Us: That was very nice of you.

Alice: Thanks. But that doesn’t sound like a question. Am I supposed to respond or …

Us: No, no need to respond. It wasn’t a question. Sorry …

Alice: It’s okay. I know this is your first time interviewing a kid. Just relax.

Us:  Okay, Moving on … What was your first book called and what was it about?

Alice: The first book was called Stone Faces. I wanted to call it “The Worst Summer Ever”, but the grownups said Stone Faces was better. The stone faces belonged to my parents who were getting divorced and looked like their faces would crack when they tried to smile. Of course, I had a stone face too since I did not like them getting divorced. Not only that, the story takes place in Provincetown on Cape Cod, and the stones at the beach there became my friends.

Us:  Wait. Back up. You made friends with beach stones?

Alice: I guess you didn’t read my book, did you?

Excerpt from Brownstone Faces

On Friday, I’m allowed to walk home by myself. But Hannah had become like my shadow, so I walked home with her. She thanked me for what I did in the playground and said she was sorry that I had gotten punished for hitting Johnny. There was that word again.

“Hey, we’re the Sorry Club, remember?” I said. “And Mr. Sentry Man will be very pleased when I tell him what you did.”“Cut it out, Hannah,” I said.

Hannah looked surprised.

“But he will be. He already likes you. Didn’t you see him wink? He only winks at people he likes.”

“That was just a funny sort of shadow as I walked by,” I said. “Stone carvings aren’t alive and they don’t wink.”

Hannah just shrugged, her eyes fixed downward. This time a crack in the sidewalk had her attention.

“Would you like to meet a few more of my friends?” she asked finally.

I didn’t say “yes” because that would mean that I believed her and I was still pretty sure she was kidding. But I didn’t say “no” either and a few blocks further along she stopped in front of an old four-story apartment building. The carved head of a growling lion was set in the lintel over the front door.

“This is Lawrence,” Hannah said by way of introduction.

I decided to play along.

“Oh, I get it. Larry the Lion. Hello, Larry. I’m Alice.”

At that point Hannah flinched. 

Ken and Anne’s blog: http://www.randh71productions.com/blog

Ken and Anne’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Kenneth-Hicks-and-Anne-Rothman-Hicks-622272714477979

Buy links for Brownstone Faces:

Muse: https://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/now-available-in-ebook/brownstone-faces-detail

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Brownstone-Faces-Alice-Friends-Book-ebook/dp/B01MT6HM7V

Ken and Anne, it was so good to have you visit again. Thanks so much for stopping by, guys. And Alice, I can’t wait to see what adventure you have next!

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

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Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

~Dylan Thomas~

This poem has always been a favorite, but lately it really speaks to me.

It runs in the family…

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img_0667In a recent post I mentioned I had talented friends and family. Here’s the first in a series of features about them.

I grew up in a family used to taking what they had and making something better out of it. My sisters and I watched our father restore furniture rescued from second-hand stores. An excellent seamstress, my mother passed along her skills. We rarely bought anything we could make.

In our family we repurposed and recycled long before Pinterest. If we saw something we wanted we got busy trying to figure out a way to get it without having to spend money we didn’t have. We learned how to be creative out of necessity.

My sister, Kim, designs greeting cards. This is only one of the many things she’s taught herself how to do, and this is the one I want to showcase today. Not only does she enjoy making them, but she’s good at what she does.100_0700

Working full-time, taking care of a husband and two boys doesn’t leave a lot of downtime, but she always managed to find the time for a project. This is what she has to say about the subject.

Creating & designing cards is one of my most enjoyable hobbies. Since starting this journey over 10 years ago through colorful papers, 100_0699embellishments, ribbons & stamps, I have made dozens of cards for all occasions.  I usually start with color scheme, or pattern then build from there.  I have also incorporated many personal photos for the main focal point.  Equally inspirational is some of my sons’ artwork that I have included in my designs.  My sister, Susan and I are fortunate to inherit our artistic abilities from both our Father & Mother.

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As you can see, it takes talent to mix the right colors, the right graphics and the right sentiment. Sometimes it’s tedious work. I know. I’ve done it before. And my efforts are nowhere near as good as hers. And there’s another thing, too. People love to get a card they know has been especially made for them. It makes them feel special.

Dinner And A Movie Monday – Big Stone Gap

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big_stone_gap_pst_2001Big Stone Gap was one of those movies my sister and I love to watch. I guess you could call them chick flicks, but to us, there’s more to it. Movies like this tell the kind of story that makes us laugh and cry…and sometimes all in the same scene.

The story takes place circa the 1970s in a small town in Virginia. Big Stone Gap considers Ave Marie Mulligan a spinster. After all, she’s forty and never been close to considering marriage, even though it’s apparent that childhood friend Jack is in love with her and has been for years. She claims the only thing he loves is his brand new truck.

She’s far too busy running the family pharmacy, being involved in her community, volunteering on the coal mining town’s Emergency Response Team, and directing the town’s annual production of “Trail of the Lonesome Pine”.

When Ave’s mother dies suddenly, she discovers Fred Mulligan is not really her father. Her mother was pregnant with another man’s child when they married. She left Ave’s father behind in Italy, but she never stopped loving him. She even kept his letters. That explains why Fred’s sister doesn’t think she should inherit the pharmacy or the house that’s been in the family for years.

Jack admits to Ave he has always had a crush on the little Italian girl that sat beside him in elementary school, and she realizes she has feelings for him. But when he blurts out they ought to get married, she’s offended.

Ashley Judd plays an independent woman who is a romantic at heart. I admire her passion for life. Whoopi Goldberg’s character is every bit as funny as her character in Ghosts. I love her sarcasm. Jenna Elfman is perfect as her wacky, off-the-wall friend. The movie depicts small-town living as only someone who’s been there can pull off. Great little movie.

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Fried Chicken

Nothing says southern small town cooking like fried chicken, does it? There’s an amusing scene involving fried chicken in the movie. Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, John Warner, make a stop in town while on a campaign tour because she wants to try the friend chicken they serve at the diner.

When my family was young and we were on a tight budget, a friend taught me how to cut up a fryer without hacking it into unrecognizable pieces. We each had our favorite pieces. My youngest always ate the legs, my oldest the thighs, and my daughter and I fought over the wishbone.

These days I don’t fry chicken very often, and when I do, I only cook tenders. However, I still use the same recipe. It’s messy, but simple and yummy.

1 lb chicken tenders

1 cup flour

kosher salt and large grain pepper

one or two eggs, whipped

1 cup milk

Salt and pepper the tenders. Coat them with milk, salt and pepper. Dip each tender in a bowl of egg and milk mixture. Return them to the flour mixture one more time and fry in a cast iron skillet using vegetable oil. Cook until golden brown.

Makes the crispiest homemade chicken I’ve ever eaten.

 

 

Guest author: Susan A. Royal – Xander’s Tangled Web

I’m over at Sue Vincent’s place. Stop by for a visit.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Arbor Low and Stanton Moor Imbolc 001 (125)Image: Sue Vincent

I write Scifi, Fantasy and Paranormal. Most of my stories are about people who have adventures they never expected. Think Twilight Zone or Amazing stories. Something along those lines.

I love to talk about writing any chance I get, and during the course of the conversation people invariably ask where I get my ideas. It takes an imagination.

You have to have the kind of mind that absorbs details and recognizes their potential. Little bits of information, witty comments, engaging phrases, even someone’s appearance or mannerisms. You take note of them and when you sit down in front of the computer you begin to weave them together into a coherent story. Before long you’ve built an entire scenario around something most people overlook.

My latest book began like this. The company where my son, Hunter, worked had sent him to a little town in the state of…

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Picture me here, writing my next book.

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There have been some big changes in my life this past year. Good changes for the most part, but I’ve spent a lot of effort putting them into effect. By the time I sit down in front of the computer, I lack the time or energy to make any kind of progress. My writing has suffered.

It’s time to get back into it, and here’s my plan.

Stay active in a critique group. There’s nothing like interacting with fellow writers. They make me think about what I’ve written. They approach my writing with a fresh perspective. I may not always agree with what they say, but there are times when it leads me to the perfect solution.

Set aside time to write. My schedule has always been flexible and will be even more so shortly. It works best for me to plan to write several evenings a week and a few hours either Saturday or Sunday. The times and days are always subject to change depending on what else is going on in my life. Consistent progress adds up.

Blog on a regular basis. Write articles, do reviews. One of the things I do is Dinner and a Movie Monday bi-monthly. (review a movie and post a recipe). Blog swap with fellow authors. Mix it up. This spring I plan to showcase my friends and families’ talents (they are photographers, musicians, artists…what a creative bunch) and write about my travels.

Enter writing contests. Rising to the challenge to write something within someone else’s guidelines is good practice even when I don’t win.

Always have pencil and paper for notes. Because I won’t remember what I just heard or saw that simply has to be written into my next story.

I’ll think of other things once I get going. And when I do I’ll be glad to share. What’s important is to look until you find out what works for you and run with it. Keep your mind open so the creativity can flow.

Good luck!

A New Normal

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Here I am. It’s Sunday morning. After a year filled with life-changing events, it was my intention to spend the first weekend of the new year by putting my resolutions into effect. Getting organized, being productive, and specifically getting back to writing.

I had my to-do list ready. Saturday I planned to clean the closet in the spare bedroom and put away Christmas decorations, along with necessary evils like washing and housework. I wanted to everything looking especially nice because I planned to have a writer friend visit next Saturday. I intended to be very productive so I could spend all of today writing. That was the plan, anyway.

Sometime Friday night the temperature plunged into the ‘teens. This is my first winter here, and I couldn’t sleep for worrying because it’s up on pier and beam. Not that losing sleep made the slightest bit of difference. All the pipes froze anyway. No water for washing, cleaning or flushing. No water for cooking.

Still I tried to be productive and was even able to go down the road to my kids’ house to shower and get water, so it could have been much worse. But it didn’t keep me from getting frustrated. And before long, my energy level dipped along with the temperature. I could barely drag myself from one chore to another. I didn’t care whether I got a thing done. Maybe it was from lack of sleep.

This morning I even considered contacting my friend to postpone our visit . But I didn’t want to do that. This past year writing and things connected with it has taken a back seat to everything else going on in my life. Sometimes it was necessary. Sometimes I just didn’t have the energy to do it. And when I tried, too often I found myself floundering. I’ve been filled with self-doubt and reluctant to take a chance on anything.

Things need to change, and I’m trying, but it’s a slow process. It takes time to find a new normal, and patience is not one of my strong points. But I am stubborn. I won’t let myself give up.

(P.S. My water’s back on! The washer, the dryer and the dishwasher are humming away. I’m at my desk with a hot mug of tea, and I’m about to begin working on my time travel sequel. I know I  won’t get as far as I’d planned, but I’m going to make progress and that’s what counts.)