Category Archives: Eleanor Ingbretson

Decline and Fall

I was thinking the other day about the dying institution of marriage. The mystery I’m writing involves an inheritance which, in turn, hangs on the outdated concept of legitimacy.

Mind you, I’m all for dropping any stigma (if any remains) on being born “out of wedlock.” But honestly, older people, if you had been asked in your youth what major changes might occur in your lifetime, would you have predicted indifference to the presence or absence of marriage vows? Of substituting “if it works out” for “till death do us part”?

Anyway, I sat down and tried to come up with other dying institutions that I had thought would live forever. Lo and behold, nearly every one that occurred to me involved reading and writing — one of the core complexes of life for likely readers of this blog.

I had occasion to write something down for one of my grandsons not long ago. He frowned at the note – I thought my handwriting was the problem. I got no farther than, “Oh, sorry, that word’s….,” when he rushed to reassure me. “Oh, it’s okay, Grandma. I can read cursive script.” He can’t write it, though. The schools now teach printing, not writing, because who writes anything longer than a grocery list anymore?

Letters (in the sense of correspondence) no longer exist. Their factual content is now transmitted through email. Their creative, imaginative, playful and literary qualities are just gone. (Worse: their playful qualities are have shrunk and hardened into emoticons created by some wretch chained in an office cubicle.) Email is to letter-writing as tweeting is to thinking.

Now that apps have homogenized all forms of information transfer, “writing down” is no longer a distinct activity with defined functions in society. Do our grandchildren get the point of “The Typewriter,” the famous piece of music that duplicates the rhythm of typewriter keys, the ding of the bell at the end of the carriage and the slam of the carriage return? This tune, without comment, once conveyed “composition” or “news reporting.” (Click the link to hear the Vienna Philharmonic play it, with percussionist Martin Breinschmid on the typewriter.)

Editors are as the dodo. I am still unpublished, but I hear by the grapevine that publishers no longer employ such people. Or if they do, the evidence has vanished from much of what is published. My blogging colleague Eleanor Ingbretson recently read a mystery involving that nasty marine animal, the leech. It was spelled “leach” throughout. WTH. You know what I meant. (That link will take you to the blog of the same name, where you will find fellow mourners of the craft of words.)

(Subcategory of the above: use of the subjunctive. And don’t get me started on “may” and “might.”)

Paper is gone, too, or at least unnecessary. I think text is made of electrons now, but I really haven’t the faintest idea. Vandals burned the monastery libraries of Europe; hackers may yet wipe out War and Peace.

We have lived in the age of the Antonines, and Commodus is upon us. (Don’t bother me with questions when I’m being crotchety. Google it.)


We all have secrets–don’t we?

I noticed a couple of links to blog posts on Facebook today. Possibly there were more but it was hard to pick out what was a blog post, what was a news (real or fake) article, and what was a personal post. Any post that wasn’t about Elizabeth Warren, Betsy DeVos, or the New England Patriots didn’t have much of a chance of getting noticed today.

One of the links was to a blog about benches. Yup, those uncomfortable wooden couches you sit on in the park. I read the tantalizing first line of the post and continued scrolling. But it did make me think, always a risky proposition.

When Heidi, Eleanor or I write a new blog post, the link gets posted on our personal Facebook pages so that our friends can get to it with just a click. I’m wondering how many of our friends “Like” our blog posts without reading them then quickly proceed to the more appealing posts of puppies, babies, donkeys, and a moose standing on top of a car.

Hey, I’m OK with that. If you aren’t interested in reading about writers, writing, books, and authors, you shouldn’t waste your time reading our blog. BUT if we were to make our blog more personal, a little sexier, might we make loyal readers out of you?  Keep in mind, we are three gray-haired ladies in our sixties so you might want to temper your expectations .

While I wait for the green light from Eleanor and Heidi to spice up our content, I have some updates for you.

“NCIS New Orleans” tonight on the leak of sex tapes: we all have secrets. I believe that is true, whether the secrets are current or just partitioned off in our memories. (Feel free to reveal yours in the comment section.) I’m developing secrets for all the potential suspects in my novel, Gabby. I think you’ll like them–my suspects as well as their secrets.

Speaking of Gabby, I’m making progress but I haven’t added a word to my NaNoWriMo novel. How is that progress, you ask? I’m working on what I call the infrastructure of the novel. I’ve summarized the novel into a fourteen page timeframe, which helped me find errors in the timing of plot events. The timeframe summary is also useful for inserting and moving scenes instead of fumbling with 154 pages. At Eleanor’s suggestion, I set up an Excel spreadsheet with the dates and times of day on the left side and my characters across the top. Each cell contains a summary of where each main character is during that time period and what he or she is doing. It makes babysitting all of my characters easier. Still a long ways to go before I am ready to rewrite my first draft.

Arizona is heating up…slowly. We are looking at two days of eighty-plus degree weather then a cool down and some rain. Looking forward to when the temperature stays above seventy-five. I love walking out the door at night or in the morning and not getting hit with a blast of cold air. And when the sun is shining, which it does a lot more than back in New Hampshire, it always feels warmer than the thermometer says. I’ll admit, the cooler weather has kept me in the casita chained to the bed. Writing.




Surviving New England Crime Bake, NaNoWriMo, and Babysitting

Already the middle of November and this is my first blog post of the month. That means you’ve had two full weeks of not listening to me extol the pleasures of NaNoWriMo participation soon followed by my wails of despair as my word count lags behind my goal of 1,667 words a day.

This year was going to be different, of that I was confident. First of all, I started with a detailed outline of approximately the first ten thousand words of the minimum fifty thousand words required. Imagine the shock of this pantser turned plotter when I discovered that writing from the outline was easy. When the outline ran out, I transformed back into a pantser. And the writing transformed into it’s normal state: hard work.

I didn’t let that minor obstacle slow me down. Ignoring most everything else going on in my life, I focused on my novel, racking up well over the daily minimum word count. The New England Crime Bake, an annual mystery conference for writers and readers, was coming up, November 11th through the 13th, and my goal was to spend those three days in Dedham, Massachusetts, without even thinking about my NaNo novel. Except for those moments of pure inspiration when I had to jot down a note for my novel, I almost achieved that goal.

I don’t recall anyone mentioning NaNoWriMo at Crime Bake…There was plenty else to talk about, many wonderful people–published authors and wannabes like myself–to meet, and much to learn. Hallie Ephron’s master class, “The Character Web,” provided a unique way of looking at character development. Julie Hennrikus, Bruce Coffin, and B A Shapiro, among others, enlightened and entertained. My attention never wavered from the Guest of Honor, William Kent Krueger, during his talk, “High Roads and Low: A Writer’s Journey.” He looks like the twin of one of our writing group members–and even Kent agreed! 

Eleanor, William Kent Krueger, and Karen

Eleanor, William Kent Krueger, and Karen

 As soon as I returned from a weekend away with adults I was immersed into babysitting for our two New Hampshire grandchildren for a week. Luckily they are in school all day, as I needed a full day to recuperate from Crime Bake as well as a full week to get caught up on NaNoWriMo. Enough said.

This afternoon, typing away on my laptop, I happened on the “Ultimate Survival Alaska” show on the National Geographic Channel. I’ve never seen this show before, and technically I wasn’t watching it, I really was working on NaNoWriMo. I quickly identified with some of the competitors struggling to win their race. One of the women fell into the whitewater she appeared unequipped to handle. She floated down to her raft that another team member had stopped for her and climbed into it. They took a break on shore where she emptied out her boots of water and removed her wet socks. I realized that if they could put themselves into physical danger to win a race surely I could write a book sitting on my couch in the comfort of my home with the furnace running and a snuggly fleece blanket wrapped around my legs, a hot cup of tea for sustenance.

I can do this.



. . .but it could be a lot worse.

Inside, it’s delightful. There are plenty of Christmas leftovers, mostly the dessert variety, and numerous books to read.

My daughter was given a book for Christmas (which I wrestled away from her), called, Quack This Way. It’s an interview of David Foster Wallace by Bryan A. Garner. It’s a fun, but short read. Its fast pace makes it seem even shorter as the two men take a romping, lolloping, constitutional through discussions of writing, language, and usage. The interview was conducted in Los Angeles in 2006, two years before DFW committed suicide.

Who could resist a chapter called, ‘Crummy, turgid, verbose, abstruse, abstract, solecism-ridden prose’, or one simply called, ‘You need to quack this way’.

Our writing group read a short story by Wallace last winter entitled Mr. Squishy. I loved it. I’m loving Quack This Way, and decided to go whole hog (duck?) and downloaded Wallace’s Infinite Jest to put the icing on the holiday-reading cake.

I’ve only just begun this almost 1,000 page tome. It’s a North American dystopian novel taking place in the giant corporation subsidized years of ‘The Depend Adult Undergarment’, and ‘The Trial-Sized Dove Bar’, where our cold (weather outside is frightful) New England States have become Canada’s waste dump.

Yes, it’s a humorous novel, but only as it is written. Underneath it could become melancholic, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

One critic for the New York Times called Infinite Jest a vast encyclopedic compendium of whatever crossed Wallace’s mind’. That may not be so bad. Years later that same critic backpedaled and hailed it for having enriched today’s literary landscape.

Wallace himself said that his heavy use of end notes in Infinite Jest were a method of disrupting the linearity of the text while maintaining some narrative cohesion. There are plenty of them.

Well, I’m off to a lolloping romp through Infinite Jest this Year of the ‘Whisper Quiet Maytag Dishwasher’, or maybe it’s the ‘Year of Glad’. I’m not sure yet, but I imagine that I’ll enjoy the outing.

Waiting for inspiration

Inspiration…..waiting…..waiting…..when are you going to swoop down and write my blog post for me? That is what usually happens when it’s my turn but this time not so much. Oh, yesterday I wrote enough words to comprise a post. But they weren’t anything I would reread in a few months and wonder if I had actually written them or if my name were mistakenly attached to someone else’s writing.

Yet it’s been hammered into my head that I shouldn’t wait for inspiration. I need to be disciplined, sit down at the same time every day and write. Treat it as though it were a job–unpaid, but a job nevertheless. And some of the members of my writing group do that. They are the ones who produce, who eagerly volunteer to submit their writings for next week’s critiquing by the group.

Where would I be without my writing group? We celebrated our sixth anniversary at last week’s meeting. Six years!! Of the seven attendees, five are charter members and two are “newcomers”  We toasted with port, indulged in a multitude of desserts and snacks, and reminisced. I left feeling reinvigorated, ready to tackle (and finish!!) “Claire.” Again.

The next day the four ladies of the group met for our usual Friday lunch. Heidi provided me with an idea for “Claire” that I absolutely will use. It’s a tweak to the story line that started the wheels in my mind turning and whirring.

Three full days later and I haven’t written a word. But I will.

In addition, the three ladies listened patiently as I outlined, off the cuff, my concept for the upcoming NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. I know what you’re thinking: 1) it’s only September and she’s already started her plot for NaNoWriMo? and 2) she’s going to attempt NaNoWriMo again?  She doesn’t need a new writing project, she needs to finish something she’s already started. What is she thinking??

The answer is, for me writing isn’t about thinking. It’s about feeling. That’s what makes me a better pantser than a plotter.

Also, I mentioned in a previous post that without agreeing to submit to my writing group and posting to this blog, I wouldn’t write. I neglected to include committing to NaNoWriMo. It’s potentially 50,000 words that I otherwise would not write.

My proposed story for NaNoWriMo has a personal foundation going back to my grandmother in Germany. Unfortunately, she’s not alive so I will have to rely on the memory of my eighty-seven year old mother to provide the background for my NaNoWriMo novel. In addition, it will involve research about World War II, something I can do in advance of November 1. “Can” doesn’t necessarily translate into “will” I have found.

Linda, Heidi, and Eleanor were supportive of my concept. And of my writing ability. What a wonderful feeling to enjoy a cup of clam chowder with people who have become good friends, talk about writing–and leave with my ego pumped up just a bit.

Forty-eight Hours and Still Counting

When I last posted I was in the throes of shopping, and cooking, and thinking I could be the next great screen-play writer. The last never happened.  When the phone call came, we found  that our film team’s genre was to be Cops/Detective. Separately, or together, neither one is a favorite topic of mine.  I don’t read Cop/Detective novels unless I pick up a Robert Parker Spencer, or a Nero Wolfe.

Fantasy, or mystery, or even mockumentary would have been nice. Those are fun. Nevertheless I cast my writing lot in with a husband/wife team who have had lots of experience in writing for films. I learned quite a bit about team writing, brainstorming, and running with Out-Loud ideas rather than keeping them in the quiet recesses of my mind. The pros took off with a story that could feature my daughter. Of course I was hooked. There was even a spot for me. It was a great story.

I did contribute bits and pieces here and there, but the story ran away with itself to become an epic with a cast of . . ., well, it was a large cast. It didn’t get past the judgement of the whole team (crew/cast/editor etc.) who were looking for an idea that could be filmed with an economy of time and effort.

So, I was back to being caterer for a fantastic team of seventeen people. I got to see them build their set (a police interrogation room), and I watched them rehearse and I watched them film. They did these things around the clock for forty-eight hours. I didn’t stay. I’m not that crazy. At ten A.M. Sunday morning they declared a ‘wrap’ which meant they could relax a little. The editors kept working and the actors hung around in case another scene needed to be shot. They ate. They slept. They wandered. They took pictures of each other doing things other than act in the movie.

Somewhere around three a.m., Sunday morning, a crew member wandered into the kitchen. My daughter was working there, either making fake blood or writing dialog. I’m, not sure. (I was home, in bed, and asleep.) The poor sleep deprived college kid looked around blankly and asked my daughter where I was. People were getting hungry. She obligingly made toasted cheese sandwiches for everyone. They had no concept of time at that point.

A seven minute movie was finished, and hand delivered to Boston on time. Eighty-five teams competed with perhaps a dozen different genres. Maybe next year I’ll get to write a fantasy/mystery/ mockumentary, but for now I’m enjoying what the team did, knowing that they were well fed throughout the weekend.

It’s now almost three weeks after the Big Shoot and nary a word from the people in Boston as to how the team fared, or how the caterer fared. A last minute perk: a prize for best caterer. I submitted a WRITTEN narrative and photos documenting my culinary weekend. I did get to write something after all.

Hopefully there will be more news soon.

Quandaries in Teapots

As you know, we are five writers in search of a reason not to work on the book right now. Reasons, good reasons, are hard to come by which is why you find me actually working on my novel in progress. It’s a cozy mystery, or maybe it’s a cozy thriller. I won’t know until it’s finished. Lately a lot of genres have been morphing into other genres, and that usually makes for just as good a read, but hard to classify. One of my favorite authors, Jasper Fforde, calls these morphings, cross-genre. If you haven’t read Jasper Fforde yet, he’s amazing. He does a great comedy/fantasy/mystery series that follows the adventures of Thursday Next. I won’t tell you anything more, but please send in a comment if you have read or plan to read anything by J. Ff.

Yes, I ran out of reasons NOT to work on my cozy/thriller/mystery set in New Hampshire in the not-so fictional town of Poke. If my heroine, Gracie Smithwick, has her way the spelling of the town’s name will revert back to Poughke at the next town meeting day. She’s up against great odds not only in re-establishing the correct spelling, but in thwarting THE BAD GUY as he attempts to do BAD things. I’m on my third revision and there’s really no good reason not to continue. I plan to drop some dandy carrots in my postings to entice you to entice me to finish.

If you’re reading this blog you are either fellow writers, or fellow readers. If you are cozy writers or readers, maybe you can help me with a small problem. Problems become reasons not to work on the book right now, and I want no more of that. At least not right now.

If, when you are reading cozies, do you find that the heroine falls for the local law enforcement persona way to often? Like in ad nauseum? Like in cliched tropism?  I’m taking a poll and looking for interesting occupations for my heroine’s potential fellow. If I fall head over heels in love with a suggestion not only will I use it, but I’ll give you credit for the idea. How’s that for a bargain. You scratch my back and I’ll wash your hand. Well, that analogy sounds bizarre, but you know what I mean, a nice symbiotic relationship to ward off any reason for me not to work on my book right now.

A Nasty Piece of Work

Today, gentle readers, we are going to talk about those nasty pieces of work who are not what you would call exemplary figures. Nasty but necessary, because if they didn’t abound, dance around, roam the story seeking whom they may devour, from off whom would you bounce your protagonist? You need that nasty as a foil to show the excellent qualities of your hero(ine).

Protagonists today are not cut from the same cloth as the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy types of yesteryear. They aren’t perfect goody two-shoes. And though they are are still cut from better quality cloth than our antagonists, they can and will lie. Every last character, the good, the bad and the ugly, from the matriarch or patriarch down to the toddler who shakes his head when asked if his diaper is dirty, lies. And it’s not limited to characters on the written page. Fiction is taken from fact and lying is universal. Did you know that on any given day one lies, or is lied to, from ten to over one hundred times?

But we can use that. We can make our good guys lie only about little things, this makes them more believable, and even likeable. We can make our bad guys lie about big things, or, if they are pathological liars, about everything. This makes them more believable, more despicable, more heinous. Whatever you need them to be.

Sometimes the lie is prefaced with one of these old gems: ‘believe me’, ‘honestly’, or, ‘to tell the truth I. . .’, etc.

Sometimes the lie comes with too much baggage in the belief that more exaggeration will belie the lie. Methinks he doth protest too much, someone once said.

Sometimes the lie is delivered with a smile or a warm hearted chuckle. Watch for description of the eyes. Does the sincerity of the spoken word extend to the window of the mind?

Oftentimes the liar, in preparation to putting the big one over on his/her interrogator, will repeat the question, hoping to buy time, ridicule the questioner, or express unbelief.

It’s up to the reader to be as discerning as possible. Look for clues and examine the characters. Go into your next book with open eyes. You can’t expect the author to come right out and say so-and-so is such-and-such. What fun would that be?

All these tricks of the writer’s trade are used to inform the reader who can be trusted and who can’t. Be wary the moment a character darkens the page of the mystery you’ve picked up. This becomes even more enjoyable when the author has penned an unreliable narrator.

Good recent reads about lying: Liane Moriarty’s “Big Little Lies”, and Tana French’s “The Secret Place.”

Answers to Life’s Unending Questions

So, who asked an unending question and who should be so bold as to want to find out the answer to one of THOSE?

We do. Writers do. It’s an indelible, incontrovertible, inalienable fact that writers need to know. How else could we plot a mystery, a thriller, a fantasy, anything that will stand up to the scrutiny of  our  readers, or the even more critical judgment of our very own  group, a company of fellow writers whom we look upon as dear friends? Dear friends that is, until the evening of our critique rolls around.

But this is why we need to know all about everything; about wormholes in spacetime, and how people hit the ground after they’ve been shot, or how it feels to walk through a tree. Not to mention how different poisons work on the individual systems of our bodies, and how to introduce them into said bodies. How, and why, marshmallows can have a deleterious effect on those from the afterlife who deign to pay a visit. And, of course, how a derelict can hide in a spinster’s attic until the time is right to…. You name it, we need to know.

We love trivia. The more arcane the better. Did you know that wormholes have names? That having too much protoplasm invites trouble? That best friends, step-mothers, and old sweethearts are just asking for it constantly?

Writing is fun, entertaining, and hard work. We groan and moan as though we’ve been dealt a rotten hand in Mah Jongg each and every time we force ourselves to sit down to write. But we do it, by hook or by crook, by cracky.

Oh, another question? Who are we? We are five writers united every Thursday evening for one single purpose: encouragement. Though we might be separated by space and time occasionally, we collectively hold our banner high:

‘Five writers in search of a reason not to work on the book just now.’

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