DEFINITIONS OF BUG USED IN THIS BLOG -
1. Slang verb or noun: concern or annoy (most common use of the word in this blog),
2. Proper noun: best dog I know,
3. Proper noun: name of dog in COMING FLU and MURDER: A NEW WAY TO LOSE WEIGHT,
4. Noun: computer error or flaw, and
5. Noun: an insect
Do you like to thumb through
books when you’re deciding what to read next?
Amazon is great when I know
what I want, BUT sometimes I like to peruse lots of books, especially when I'm looking for something different. Then I go to one of my two favorite bookstores.
Under Charlie’s Covers (primarily a used book store) 505-404-2097
160 S. Camino Del Pueblo
Bernalillo, NM 87004
Treasure House (features New Mexico authors) 505-242-7204
2012 S Plaza St. NW (on the
square in Old Town Albuquerque)
Albuquerque, NM 87104
If you live in the
Albuquerque area, I recommend these two. If you live elsewhere, take time to
visit bookstores in your area and develop favorites. Sometimes, used bookstores
are the best choice; other times bookstores, which focus on local authors, are
Novels and short stories by definition are fiction, but that
doesn’t mean they shouldn’t contain bits of reality. Sometimes an author can introduce reality into her fiction by using her
memories—personal, and probably slightly biased, facts. I guess a purist
would say memories and facts are often distinctly different. I don’t want to
argue the point today.
I combined several of my memories with facts and
lots of fiction. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was awash with Iranian
students protesting the Shah in the late 1970s. I was a professor there and the
graduate advisor of one of these students. Conversations with her and her
friends served the basis of creating the fiery character Farideh in I Saw
You in Beirut.
For example, in an early scene in I Saw You in Beirut, Farideh takes a
knife, which she was using to slice a cake, and threatens an annoying fellow
grad student. Unfortunately, the incident really happened in my lab, but I
changed the names to protect the guilty. I thought this incident was a #way to show not tell about
memories for a short story collection?
Before I wroteThe Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories,
I talked to dozens of people about their memories, especially of their
childhoods and adolescences. Thus each of my stories has a different
perspective, but they all address historical or social problems in the 1940s,
1950s, and 1960, a time that many refer to as the good old days. I think these vignettes
demonstrate past events are often funny, but many would rather remember than
relive the events.
Here are two examples of the memories that triggered
stories: Do you remember your first bra? (Sorry guys, you missed that
experience.) Did it look a bit like Madonna’s costume with two cones of foam
strung together with straps? Enjoy the humorous memories in I
Look Like Papa.
Many towns in the Midwest and New England are awash with
grand Victorian ladies (large houses with endless brightly-painted
decorations). As an old man remembers his glory days as a high school athlete
Dave, he also reveals secrets about domestic violence in these
so-called grand homes.
all have memories usable in fiction. Perhaps, you can remember with
horror a car accident or the death of a love one. You could use your painful
memories of you raw emotions to make a scene in a novel memorable to others.
don’t you search you memory for ideas for your next novel or short story?
I Saw You in Beirut Blurb:
Sara Almquist’s past, as a student at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison and as a globetrotting epidemiologist, provides clues for the
extraction of a nuclear scientist from Iran.
The Good Old Days? A Collection of StoriesBlurb: Are many
nostalgic accounts of the good old days examples of selective forgetfulness?
Before you argue the point, read these fourteen short stories.
Do you realize many famous movies are based on short stories?
The list is long. I’ll only mention four.
"The Sentinel” by Arthur C. Clarke became 2001: A Space Odyssey. “The
Birds”by Daphne du Maurier. “Breakfast
at Tiffany’s” by Truman Capote. “The Body
Snatcher” by Robert Louis Stevenson. Some experts hypothesize that short stories are good bases
for movies because they both tell stories by implications and quick shots
without the superfluous explanation of novels.
How long is a short story?
Debatable. Every publisher and contest uses a
different definition—no longer than 20,000 words, between 1,000 and 6,000
words, or less than 4,000 words are frequent limits. Stories shorter than 1,000
words are often called flash fiction.
However, two famous writers gave the best definitions of
short stories. In 1846, Poe defined a
short story as prose fiction that could be read in “one sitting.” The
problem is “one sitting” is probably shorter now than then. H.G. Wells defined
it as a “half-hour read.”
Short stories versus novels?
In theory, short stories contain the traditional elements of
dramatic structure, but in a condensed form. However, the exposition (the introduction of
setting, situation and main characters) is often deleted and the story begins
in the middle of the action. In many, the resolution is abrupt and/or open to
interpretation. Often short stories focus on a single plot in a single setting.
What’s the history of short stories?
Short stories, as examples of story telling, could be
considered descendents of the Roman and Greek fables and early Christian
parables. Fairy tales are also classic examples of short stories.
In the 1800s magazines created a high demand for
short stories. Hence, many American and English authors (Nathaniel Hawthorne,
Thomas, Hardy, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain) wrote short stories in the
1800s. Probably the most famous author of short stories from that period is
Edgar Allan Poe ("The Tell-Tale
Heart,” “The Pit and
the Pendulum," and "The Murders
in the Rue Morgue").
During the twentieth century, most major authors
wrote short stories at least occasionally. Despite their publication in high
profile magazines, many readers considered short stories to be a lesser form of
literature than novels. However, short stories gained more respect when the
2013 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Alice Munro, the “master of the
contemporary short story.”
Why did I write this blog?
My first collection of short stories—The Good Old Days?—will
be published later this month.
Blurb: Did you ever wonder whether many nostalgic
narratives of the good old days are cases of selective forgetfulness? All the
short stories in The Good Old Days? are loosely based on recollections of
childhoods in the 1940s, 1950, and 1960s. The combination of mirth, fear,
anger, and finally wisdom displayed by the narrators of these tales may make
you reassess your memories of childhood.
Or to put it another way—when
does a memoir or biography become fiction?I
like books labeled as non-fiction to be just that, but I like lots of facts in fiction.
I’m sure many of you will
disagree with me because you love to escape into a different world when you
read. However, Downton Abbey would
lose its zing if costumes, sites, and key historic events in WWI and the flu epidemic
of 1918 weren’t described correctly. Even fantasy novels are enhanced by a few
facts. The evacuation of children to from London during the Nazi blitzkrieg is
the basis of CS Lewis’s Chronicles of
Points to consider when including facts in fiction
1. Create a strong
plot, and #insert facts to create realistic characters.
I’ll give an example from Malignancy. In this thriller,
a woman scientist tries to escape the clutches of a drug lord and accepts a
State Department assignment to set up scientific exchanges between the U.S. and
Cuba. However, the scientific community is less safe than she expected.
That’s the plot. One
of Sara’s surprises is Cuban researchers have patented a vaccine that is
thought to strengthen patients’ immune response against a certain type of lung
cancer. (Fact: The cancer
vaccine Racotumomab is in clinical trials now world wide.). Other surprises involve her love interest
and the dug czar. They are not based on facts. The scientific facts allow me to
show Sara’s expertise and ingenuity. They also keep her from being a busy body,
who wouldn’t be included in real exchanges among “diplomats” from Cuba and the
2. Pick #relevant and exciting topics.
A great author can make any topic interesting but most of us
aren’t great writers. Readers are more apt to be interested in tales based on intrinsically
interesting issues—global warming or curing cancer. Michael Chrichton (Jurassic Park), Robin Cook (Coma), and Ian McEwan (Solar) were particularly skillful at
selecting scary high-tech issues for their thrillers.
3. #Use facts to turn
locations into strong characters.
Realistic locations improve any novel. Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises would be pretty
boring without the hypnotic descriptions of the Festival of San Fermín in
Pamplona. The decadence and beauty of Venice set the mood for Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. The Cuba (I visited three years ago and depicted in Malignancy) is surprising and probably transient.
4. Be as accurate as
A writer of thrillers told me recently that readers accept a
couple inaccuracies in a novel if you have stated most of the information
correctly. I don’t know if that’s true. Certainly, Dan Brown has been
criticized for inaccurate historical information in his best selling novel, The DaVinci Code, but he certainly
included enough facts to ignite readers’ interest.
Why not pick up
copies of Malignancy and see if you
like facts in fiction, too? Malignancy won first prize in the 2015 Public Safety Writers annual contest.
ever wonder why the hottest, some would say the most miserable days, of summer
are called “dog days?" You might think it’s because dogs laze around during the
hot weather. Probably not.
You can blame the ancient Greeks and Romans. They
believed that the close proximity of Sirius, the brightest star in the
constellation Canis Major (Big Dog), to the sun in July and August caused the
really doesn’t matter why hot summer days are called “dog days.” What matters
is finding ways to #beat the heat. The best way may not be to hide in
air-conditioned buildings, but to find activities that are so engrossing you
forget the heat. Time flies when you’re tinkering with electronic devices. However,
you might be less frustrated and feel cooler, if you read a book instead of
struggling with a new app.
even better way to enjoy hot summer evenings, read a book to your children,
grandchildren, or friends and family of any age. Why don’t you consider books
and movies you enjoyed as child? The suggestions below are from lists of the best books
for children and young adults.
·The Cat in the Hat
or any book by Dr. Seuss
·To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
·The Adventures of Tom
Sawyer by Mark Twain
·The Color Purple
by Alice Walker
·The Hobbit by
·The Old Man and the
Sea by Ernest Hemingway
·The Little House on
the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder or other books in the series
· A book in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowlings
·The Call of the Wild
by Jack London
be surprised your memories of these books are faulty. I certainly noted
different aspects in To Kill a
Mockingbird when I reread it after also reading Go Set a Watchman, but that’s a topic for another blog.
read any of these books you’ll learn a bit about yourself. One or two of these
books may seem dated and no longer appeal to you. I suspect you’ll realize
several of these books are more complex and insightful than you realized as a
teen-ager. In any case, I bet you and your audience will get a warm (not hot)
feeling from sharing a great tale together.
So, #read for cool entertainment in August.
You can even read to a pet. Bug loves the attention.
A recent poll of users of social media had a bit to say
about pets. Almost two-thirds of pet owners claim they post two comments or
photos of their pets on social media weekly. Half of these pet owners claim
photos and notes on pets draw more comments and likes than their other posts.
Are these bits of
trivia relevant to fiction writers?
I think there are at least three reasons for including
animals in novels.
Authors may increase the appeal of their novels
to a wider audience by including dogs, cats, and other pets in their tales (Pun
intended.). Consider all the cozy novels built around clever dogs and cats.
Come to think of it, Westerns would be pretty blah without horses.
·Authors can often show a different side of human
characters in their novels by allowing characters to talk to or interact with
their pets. Asta in Dashiell Hammett’s The
Thin Man, Cat in Truman Capote’s
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Argos in Homer’s The Odyssey demonstrate pets belong in serious adult fiction.
·Pets are fun to write about. I enjoy including
Bug, my Japanese Chin, in my thriller series (Coming Flu, Ignore the Pain,
Malignancy, and I Saw You in Beirut). Besides being beautiful, he’s smart. He
deserves attention for his work as pet therapy at local hospitals for more than
eight years. (Don’t I sound like the typical pet owner in the survey?) And he
definitely allows me to show a soft side to my world-traveling scientist and
heroine, Sara Almquist.
Maybe, you should
include a dog or cat in your next novel. Or be creative and give your human
character a more unusual alter ego, like a fish, raccoon, or elephant.
All my books (paperback & Kindle versions are available on Amazon.
Do you, like
most Americans, have a love—hate relationship with food? You love sizzling
steaks and pizzas dripping with gooey cheese, but occasionally you’re filled
with remorse. Then you avoid everything but salads and exercise. After you lose
a couple of pounds, you return to your old routine and regain the weight. This
is sometimes called yo-yo dieting.
Funny? Sad and
pathetic? Annoying, especially to me, a former professor of nutrition. Maybe,
that’s why I wrote Murder…A New Way to Lose Weight.
Let me tell you
a little about my new medical mystery.
is hard. So is fitting into a new job where you aren’t wanted. Linda Almquist
is trying to do both as she investigates allegations against two diet doctors
that they are taking shortcuts in their current clinical trail and endangering
their patients. When she discovers one of them dead, the police suspect the
other diet doctor. Maybe they’re wrong. The murders might be related to
something in the past – something involving her boss the Dean.
subplot in this novel is Linda’s efforts to lose weight. There are many insidious threats to her weight loss plans (i.e. tempting
high-fat foods typical of New Mexican cuisine, vending machines with junk food,
and humongous servings in most restaurants).
a nutritionist, I also wanted to tell readers about a hot new area of research—gut bacteria. Scientists have found the microflora (bacteria) in the
gut change with weight loss. Researchers hypothesize they may be able to help
patients increase weight loss and keep weight off by altering their gut
bacteria. That’s why my diet doctors are studying the gut bacteria of their
obese patients in a clinical trail. However, I was careful to not make false
promises. (I guess I wouldn’t be good on TV infomercials.)
Please note the
diet doctors in Murder…A Way to Lose Weight do not resemble any researchers in
the field, but they do have the characteristics of several overly ambitious
researchers, who have had ethical lapses.