Sunday, September 18, 2016

WHAT IS A SHORT STORY?

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.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

IS IT FACT OR FICTION?


 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 Narnia.

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 U.S.

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 possible.
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.


Malignancy is available at Amazon http://amzn.com/1610091779

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Reading: Cool Entertainment during the Dog Days of Summer

Did you 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 hot weather.
           
It 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.

Here’s an 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 J.R.R. Tolkien
· 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

You may 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.

As you 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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Does Your Writing Bark, Purr, or Neigh?

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.
• In I Saw You in Beirut, a woman’s past provides clues for the extraction of a nuclear scientist from Iran. http://www.amazon.com/dp/1610092201
• In Malignancy, a woman scientist tries to escape the clutches of a drug lord and accepts a risky assignment in Cuba. http://amzn.com/1610091779
• In Ignore the Pain, an epidemiologist learns too much about the coca trade and too little about a sexy new colleague while on a public health assignment in Bolivia. http://amzn.com/1610091310

• In Coming Flu, is the Philippine flu or a drug kingpin caught in a quarantine is more deadly? http://amzn.com/1610090985

Monday, June 27, 2016

Eat! Next Diet and Exercise! Then eat some more!


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.

Dieting 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.

One 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).

As 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.  


Murder… A Way to Lose Weight (paperback & Kindle) is available from Amazon (http://amzn.com/1610092392).

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Writing Advice from Oscar Wilde


 What can you learn about writing from Oscar Wilde - the famous Irish author and wit?

Humor is important.
Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.
Know your audience.
The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.
Experiment with new ideas and approaches.
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
The best fiction has the ring of truth.
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. 
I think writing fiction is a type of mask. Often the “truth” is more apparent in fiction than nonfiction.
Advertise your writing.
The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

Now I’m taking Oscar’s advice and am promoting my newest medical mystery,
MURDER…A WAY TO LOSE WEIGHT, by participating in a GoodReads Giveaway. You can win a FREE copy by signing up by June 4 at: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/188425-murder-a-way-to-lose-weight.

One more piece of advice from Oscar.
If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.

I think you’ll find Murder… A Way to Lose Weight can be read on several levels (and hence several times). It’s a mystery. It’s got lots weird science tidbits (and references at the end), which will make you think and spark your conversation at boring parties. It addresses real problems in medical schools—scientific misconduct and hazing of junior staff and women. These problems can affect the safety of drugs you depend on. 


Here’s the blurb: Dieting is hard. So is fitting into a new job where you aren’t wanted. In MURDER…A WAY TO LOSE WEIGHT, Dr. Linda Almquist is trying to do both as she investigates two diet doctors who are endangering the lives of obese participants in their current clinical trail. When she finds one diet doctor dead, the police suspect the other diet doctor. Then the threats against Linda begin.

Also available at Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ENPSPR2

Monday, May 23, 2016

Garage Sale Your Writing


I’m not talking about selling your books at ridiculously low prices. I’m talking about editing your writing.
1. Get rid of what isn’t useful. The first step to a garage sale is recognizing you don’t need and will never use many of the treasures you’ve stashed in your house, garage, and/or storage unit. They’re just clutter and prevent your enjoyment of useful items.

Similarly, an author needs to read a draft of his/her writing and think. Does this sentence or section advance the plot, develop characters, or establish the location? If not, perhaps the sentence/section should be deleted.

If you really love a section of writing but know it adds nothing to your current story or novel, create a file of deleted sections, which you hope will be useful in the future. These are the items I put a high price tag on at a garage sale and don’t mind if they don’t sell because I can put them out at the next garage sale.

2. Organize your material. I find shoppers are more apt to buy items in a garage sale if the objects are arranged logically and attractively. For example, at my last garage sale I was trying to sell necklaces. (My mother had a fetish for beads of all colors and “heart” necklaces and had bought hundred of them over fifty years. None were of much value individually.) I hung the necklaces from an old wooden clothes dryer rack so that shoppers could examine the wares without tangling or breaking the chains. I sold about a hundred.

Creativity is the key to good writing, BUT many readers today prefer organized material that is easy to read. Paragraphs with more than ten sentences and sentences with three or more commas generally slow the reading process. This is one reason why many readers report they like dialog. The paragraphs and sentences tend to be short. Readers can peruse pages of dialog quickly. 

3. Never call your material junk. A positive attitude is important in any activity. If you don’t value what you’re selling or writing, why should anyone else?

4. Work hard. Successful garage sales and editing are hard work. You may enjoy the work (or maybe not), but you’ll be proud of the final result—a neater house or an improved novel.

5. Laugh at yourself and learn from your mistakes.

So are you ready to garage sale your writing and step up your editing efforts?

Maybe you’d like to examine tow of my editing efforts in the last year.
In Murder...A Way to Lose Weight, two ambitious diet doctors are testing a new way to lose weight. One doctor is killed after she develops a conscious and admits they took “short cuts,” which are endangering the lives of their obese patients. As the police turn up clues, the readers learn a bit about weird poisons and the social mores of a medical school. 

In I Saw You in Beirut, a woman uses memories of her student days at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and of her career as a globetrotting epidemiologist to provide clues for the identification and extraction of a nuclear scientist, known only as F, from Iran. But memories are often biased or incomplete, and she travels to the sites of her memories to gather new evidence.


Amazon sells both the paperback and Kindle versions of Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (http://www.amazon.com/dp/1610092392) and I Saw You in Beirut (http://www.amazon.com/dp/1610092201).