Friday, July 27, 2018

Writing and the Pursuit of Happiness -- T.K. Thorne


      Writer, humanist,
          dog-mom, horse servant and cat-slave,
       Lover of solitude
          and the company of good friends,
        New places, new ideas
           and old wisdom.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Thomas Jefferson felt those three things of such importance, he wrote them into the Constitution of the United States and dubbed them “unalienable rights.”

But what do they mean? 

“Life” isn’t a hard one. I like breathing as much as the next person. “Liberty” may be more nuanced, but we know, at the least, it means freedom from tyranny. But the “pursuit of happiness” has always kind of confused me.

For most of my life, the desire of my heart was to have a horse. My poor parents had to endure the steady entreaties of my obsession, begging that did not wait for gift-giving holidays.  If only I had thought of it, I could have declared it was my right as a U.S. citizen to have a horse because that was the only thing that would grant me happiness.

My sharp mother would have most certainly pointed out that having the horse was not my right, only pursuing it, which I was doing.

Still, the questions remain.  What is happiness and why do I have a right to pursue it and just how do I pursue it? This is not a frivolous question. Please bear with me for a tiny bit of history.

Thomas Jefferson was a self-declared Epicurean. Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who lived from 341 BC and 270 BC, about 2300 years ago.  He emphasized pleasure as the highest goal of mankind. The word today conjures up words such as hedonism, luxury, and sensual pleasure, all with a negative judgment attached. This misinterpretation may be laid at the feet of the early Catholic Church who declared Epicurean philosophy a pagan challenge to the Church and, therefore, heresy.   Very bad things happened to heretics.

The original teachings of Epicurus lifted up pleasure not in the sensual, temporary sense, but in the long-term acceptance of oneself and one’s nature that leads to serenity and inner peace. The journey toward that goal actually called for temperance and moderation.  The Greek word worked its way through Greek and Latin into English as “pleasure,” but perhaps in modern terms the word “happiness” is truer to the original meaning.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s distinguish “pleasure” and “happiness.”  Pleasure is the temporary chasing and fulfilling of desire. [I must have a horse, now, or I will forever be miserable.] Happiness is a state of inner peace and balance where life is lived for the most part in the present. [I love and appreciate horses but if I don’t  have the Black Stallion in my backyard, I will still be a complete and fulfilled human being.]

Go tell that to my ten-year-old self. Ha! . . .Obviously, it takes maturity to find happiness.

Where were we? 

So happiness is something way deeper than pleasure, something so important and basic that it is our inalienable right to seek it. Wow.

What does this have to do with writing?

Again, bear with me for a short backing up.  One of the components of finding happiness is the ability to live, for the most part, in the present. We humans come with a brain that has evolved with the capacity to plan.  That is a big deal and definitely made a difference in our ability to survive.

Planning is not necessarily limited to humans. Squirrels hide nuts for the winter. (I always thought ants stored food too, but unless Aesop was talking about the Messor aciculatus species, that was just a fable.) What we don’t know is if the squirrel is aware that the tasty nut he hides will feed him come winter or if he just acts on instinct, but whatever.  The important thing is that we humans are wired to plan. In ancient days, we sought a cave for when it got dark and dangerous or rained or snowed. We smoked meet to preserve it. We learned to grow and store crops. Now we shop at the grocery store but usually for at least a week’s worth of food.

That’s the good side of concern and subsequent rational planning, but there is an evil twin lurking.  Her name is “worry” on a light day, and “anxiety” on a dark one. Our minds can go into hyper drive about the future or the past. Angst and regret are children of the mind’s tendency to dwell in a time that is not the present. [How’s that for mixed metaphors? *sticking out tongue * It’s my blog and I can do it if I want.]

Memory can be a friend that saves us from repeating mistakes and gives us direction for decision making.  Or it can be a pleasant companion. It can also be a special hell on the road away from happiness. [See above.]

The answer according to Buddha and Epicurus is to find a way to live in the present because that is the only experience that is real, that is truth. There are other aspects of this, but let’s stay with this one—living in the present, also known as mindfulness.  Step One used by Eastern seekers of happiness is meditation.  There are lots of ways to meditate, but the primary goal is to practice bringing the wandering mind (lovingly) back to the now.

We writers are rarely in the now.  We are dreamers.  Our mind wanders as easily and naturally as breathing.  [Sitting down to dinner and noticing silverware while guests talk about politics of the day: How would I hide that knife in my clothing if I were kidnapped—though I put up a brave fight and a breathtaking chase on my black stallion—and a prisoner in the castle of an evil man who wanted to marry me against my will?]

The present?  Very funny. Impossible.

Writers spent a great deal of our lives dreaming and “living” with characters and situations in made-up worlds, so engrossed that the real world, the present, and the passage of time are completely unnoticed.  [Really.  Ask my husband.] We are not in the here-and-now. You can’t get more “elsewhere.”

That makes us failures at Step One, right?

Not so fast. 

Meditation is not an end of itself.  It’s a tool. We exercise and eat well in order to have a healthy body that can do the things we want to do—walk, run, swim, not be in pain.  Unless you are a monk, meditating all day is not the goal. The goal is happiness.  Mindfulness is a state of attention that is conducive to the path or way of being happy.

Wait.  Did you catch that?  Directing our thoughts to what we’re engaged in. 

A potter absorbed in the feel of wet clay shaping in his hands is living in the present. An artist focused on the task of mixing the perfect color is likewise living in the present. A child at play. A reader absorbed in a story. A parent intent on helping his child hold a bat. An athlete in the zone. A fruebd truly listening.

The purpose of meditation is to exercise our focus, so that we can bring our full attention to the moment--to a scene of beauty, a moment of sorrow . . . a task.

When I am writing, lost in the creating or the shaping of what I have created, I am happy. I am not “aware” of my happiness. I just am. I am not judging, not thinking about or worrying about the future or the past. I just am.  It’s my inalienable right.

A retired police captain, T.K. has written two award-winning historical novels, NOAH'S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, filling in the untold backstories of extraordinary, yet unnamed women—the wives of Noah and Lot—in two of the world’s most famous sagas. The New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list featured her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, which details the investigators’ behind-the-scenes stories of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing case. Coming soon: HOUSE OF ROSE, the first of a trilogy in the paranormal-crime genre. 

She loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. T.K. writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, Alabama, often with two dogs and a cat vying for her lap. More info at Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

My Notes on Writing by Juliana Aragon Fatula

Dear Reader,

Today, I'm sharing more of my notes on writing that I've taken since I began this journey to teach myself how to write a mystery. My notes are from the following books on writing mysteries: Linda Rodriguez' Plotting the Character Driven Novel recommends these books on writing: Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life, Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer, Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, Julia Cameron's The Artists Way, Stephen King's On Writing: A memoir of the Craft, Madeleine L"Engle's A circle of Quiet, Leonard Bishop's Dare to Be a Great Writer, Elizabeth George's Write Away, One Writer's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, Brenda Ueland's, If You Want to Write a Book About Art, independence, and Spirit, John Gardener's On Becoming A Novelist, Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft: Exercise and Discussion on Story Writing for the  Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew.

My attention has been distracted lately. You're a writer. Life happens. 

My 83-year young tió passed away in his home in his own bed. His suitcase sat by the door to move into assisted living the next day. He was the last of my Father's generation of ten siblings. 

I met cousins, second cousins, third cousins. I sat in the funeral home with my husband and son. I read Mary Oliver's poem "Sometimes" from Red Bird. I sang an Ojibway death song and shared my family story of mi tió Joe. I didn't know him well, but I knew his caregiver, my cousin, tió Joe's niece. She asked me to do a reading, claro que sí. 

The next day, my husband and son escorted me to my 71-year-old brother in low, Frank's funeral. I've known him since I was eight years old. I shared my favorite memory of Frank for his children, grand-children and great grandchildren.

The death of her father was particularly difficult for my favorite niece because she had been his caregiver for years before Hospice lent a hand.

I made the audience laugh by telling a story about Frank. It was regional. My hometown is predominately white. My family are Mexican Indians, Chicanos. Frank's kids are half Irish Chicanos. His great granddaughter is part Irish, Indian, and Puerto Rican. She's blue-eyed but dark skinned. My husband is white. My son from a previous relationship is puro Chicano. 

I went with my son to the third funeral this week. He knew the grandkids of the woman who had been my mother's best-friend, Mary.

She was a Chicana. Her sons played in my parent's yard with my brother when we were kids. I realized my generation is now the ancestors. Our ancestors have all passed and gone to the party in the sky to join their loved ones.

Two funerals this week were in my hometown. The first funeral was in Pueblo, a predominately Chicano community.  The funeral in Pueblo this week was a Chicano funeral orchestrated by Rev. Lucero. He wore a tailored black suit, white crocodile cowboy boots, rings and chains and turquoise. He gave me ideas for a character in my mystery. He did the service in Spanish and English. He played his guitar and sang old Mexican corridos. It was memorable. 

Tió Joe's son, daughter, and grandkids id not attend. There was no reception or gathering afterward. He received full military honors for his service. The flag was presented to his niece, his caregiver. 
All of tió Joe's brothers and sisters and parents wait for him in the next world to complete the circle of life. I read a poem about a bird. I sang a death song about a bird walking in the sky. Here were tears ands miles and hugs.

The funeral for Frank consisted of a Reverend from Hospice and a recording of Elvis Presley singing Amazing Grace. Frank's children invited my husband, son, and I to the wake. There was bountiful food, beer, alcohol. 

My favorite niece looked like she needed to eat and sleep. She's my favorite because she spent the night at the hospital with me the night my Mother died. It's a memory we share that no one in the family has. It's our memory of Mother's passing while we held her hand and tried to keep each other awake. My husband works at the hospital, so he kept us coffee'd-up. He was there in the room when she passed. My Mother called my husband the Energizer Bunny. 

Frank's funeral gave me the opportunity to be there for my niece and nephews. They call me tía. Frank's funeral hit me hard. 

Mary, my Mother's best friend, had a Catholic Mass, very traditional. I didn't have the energy after three funerals to visit Mary's wake. I said good bye to her and asked her to tell my Mother and Father hi for me. Seeing her open casket was mistake for me, it reminded me of my Mother's funeral ten years ago. I see my Mother welcoming, Mary, Frank, Joe her best friend, son in law and brother in law to heaven. I feel her presence near me. I feel my Father's spirit everywhere especially in Villa Nueva, New Mexico when we visit the place he was born in 1917. 

Attending these funerals has inspired me to be a better person. And to write a will and prepare for my day to join them. 

I observed the people at these funerals and made mental notes for character's in my mystery. The sights, sounds, smells of incense in the cathedral, the perfume of the women I hugged, the difference between the Chicano funeral in Pueblo, the Chicano funeral in my hometown, and the Irish funeral at the funeral home my family has used my entire life. This week will be memorable, but he older I get, the more funerals I attend. The circle of life. 

Here are some of the notes I've taken from some of the master writer's I've studied on the art of writing a mystery. Answering these questions and exploring some of the writing assignments helped me to get started. I hope they help you, too. 

1. Character X wants Y but Z gets in the way.

2. Why does your protagonist want to solve the murder?

3. What if stalker is female?

4. Why is the villain willing to kill?

5. What does your protagonist see, hear, smell, taste, or touch that would startle or frighten her/him?

6. There are two ways to make a character stand out: give them distinctive mannerisms or a relatable conflict that is odd or unusual.

7. What does your character do when she/he is scared or nervous?

8. What brings the character into the story?

9. Describe the character's goal at the beginning of the mystery.

10. What does your character say she/he wants?

11. How will she/he change because of what she/he faces and/or learns about her/himself?

12. What make the character different from others?

13, What is the character's stake for getting involved?

14. What in your character's family history shapes her/his take in the story?

15. Humanize your villain.

16. Don't make life too easy for your bad guy. Give them soft spots and flaws. 

17. Make characters diverse: LGBTQ, people of color and especially women in non-traditional careers.

18. Make everything plausible in the story.

19. Write a climactic scene in which the protagonist demonstrates an ability or skill to overcome the bad guy.

20. Allow the protagonist to fail at attempts to defeat bad guy.

21. Write a scene that shows how this ability is used to rescue a friend.

22. Write a one paragraph flashback showing how and why the protagonist developed and mastered this skill. 

A final note, because my life is diverse, so are my characters. I chose Chicanas for my private investigation team. I wrote characters that are transgender, bisexual, gay, and celibate. My characters are Chicano, white, black, Jamaican and Chinese. They have unusual mannerisms and speak with different colloquialisms. They are based on people I know and people I have yet to meet. But they are real people will real histories and real problems. Think about making your characters diverse like the world we live in and create your world in your mind full of colorful personalities. I hope this helps you. The books I’ve studied helped me immensely and I’ve learned from the masters of mystery how to tell a great story.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sunburn and Books

by Bethany Maines

Last weekend I participated in a “Literary Corner” at a local arts festival.  It was a chance to sell books, meet readers and network with other authors.  It’s always so great to see how other authors sell and a chance to learn some pointers.  It was also, as it turned out, a chance to sunburn my feet.  No one warned me that part of being an author would be having to be cognizant of my sunscreen and footwear choices.  So, if you are also in a summer sun situation, here are some sun burn tips.

1. Act Fast to Cool It Down
Take a quick dip in a pool or other body of water.  But don’t stay in too long and get more burned!
2. Moisturize While Skin Is Damp
Use a gentle, but non-oil based, moisturizing. Repeat to keep burned or peeling skin moist over the next few days.
3. Decrease the Inflammation
At the first sign of sunburn, taking an anti-inflammatory drug , such as ibuprofen. Aloe vera may also soothe mild burns.
4. Replenish Your Fluids
Burns draw fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body. It’s important to rehydrate by drinking extra liquids.

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous short stories. When she's not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some serious butt with her fourth degree black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Happy Encounters

by Paula Gail Benson

Today, I wanted to feature the online publication, Shotgun Honey, which since 2011 has been offering a forum for crime, noir, and hard-boiled shorts of 700 words. It has featured over 400 authors, compiling contributors by photo, bio, and published stories. It offers a great place to find work by favorite writers as well as discover new talent. Here’s the link:

This weekend, I had the great opportunity of connecting with fellow blogger Dru Ann Love and terrific author Dorothy McFalls in Charleston, S.C. (Sorry to have arrived too late to see Tina Whittle, who writes the Tai Randolph/Trey Seaver series.) We toured the Charleston Tea Plantation (, the only tea plantation operated in the United States. Following a visit to its gift shop, we traveled down the road to view the massive, around 400-year-old Angel Oak ( We finished the evening with some great local seafood from Vickery’s at Shem Creek.

Magnificient Angel Oak
Many thanks to Dru Ann and my friend Sue Husman for letting me share photos. So delighted to spend this happy time with great people.

Dorothy McFalls, Tina Whittle, and Dru Ann Love

Sue Husman, Dorothy McFalls, Dru Ann Love, and me at Charleston Tea Plantation

'Neath the Spanish Moss at the Tea Plantation
Dru Ann and Dorothy on the waterfront