Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Linda Austin: Memoir shares elements of fiction writing

Guest Post by Linda Austin

    November is National Lifewriting Month where everyone, writer or not, is encouraged to work on writing down their own stories or those of their family members, particularly elders. Lifewriting captures personal stories, often including history and culture, and may provide inspiration and healing. While memoir has gotten a bad rap the last few years as several authors have been outed for telling blatant lies or accused by family members of great exaggeration, memoir really is nonfiction. But, it is narrative nonfiction, a peculiar cross between nonfiction and fiction.
    A good memoir is not a stuffy history book immersed in dates and facts or a boring recitation of what happened. It is telling a story that happens to be true, and telling it in living color. A memoir may have one overall story arc or be a series of short stories following the path of an overall arc. Like fiction, each chapter must entice and lead the reader to the next.
    A memoir should begin with a hook, have a plot, and bring the reader into the protagonist’s life with realistic dialog and well-developed characters—just as in fiction. Plot should include conflict and resolution. The writer must stick with a theme, avoid distractions, and be skillful if including backstory. Common memoir themes include overcoming tragedy or abuse, surviving or dealing with an illness, learning an important life lesson, discovering oneself. They say a good writer can turn even the most boring life into an interesting story, but then no one actually has a boring life.
    Some memoirs are a series of short stories with an overall theme. Imagine a chapter book from elementary school, or a series of related flash fiction pieces. Each chapter can stand alone with a little hook and a final sentence of resolution or summary. This type of memoir is more common when telling stories that focus on culture or history, such as growing up on a farm or growing up in the 60s. This style is also effective for humorous memoir, say, about parenting experiences or moving to a different country.
    Perhaps the main difference between memoir and fiction is that fiction, even fantasy, must be believable, whereas in memoir, the truth can seem impossible.

Linda Austin wrote and published Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, her mother's memoir of growing up in Japan around WWII, and became an advocate of lifewriting. She encourages others via her website to write their stories or that of their elders as legacy gifts for their families. 

Recently Linda published Poems That Come to Mind, a collection of short poems, mostly haiku and tanka, inspired by the journey through her mother’s Alzheimer’s care.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Giveaway & interview with Warren Martin

This week's giveaway, FORGOTTEN SOLDIERS, is a Cold War Mystery about an Air Force Captain shot down over Vietnam in 1970 and the untold story of why he never returned home. Forty years later, a journalist investigates what may be the sudden reappearance of the pilot and follows the trail to encounter conspiracy, secrecy, and a secretive and seasoned operative who may have answers to the question about “What Happened to Jacob Walden.”

To enter: comment on this post or any of The Writers’ Lens posts between now and midnight, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. Please include your email address so we can reach you if you win.

Autographed Paperback can be purchased from Warren's website and also through links on his blog

Paperback and Kindle e-books can be purchased through the Amazon site

I had the pleasure of meeting Warren Martin recently at 6 North Cafe. His debut novel is “Forgotten Soldiers: What Happened to Jacob Walden,” a Cold War era POW story.  Warren served 21 years in the United States Army, retiring in 1996. He met his wife Debbie shortly after joining the Army in 1975 and they’ve been together ever since. They had three children and while in the Army traveled extensively as a military family to military bases in Kansas, North Carolina, Washington, Okinawa Japan, California, and back again to some of them.  After transitioning out of the Army, Warren worked the next ten plus years for Domino’s Pizza as a Regional Manager in Seattle and Philadelphia and later was a franchisee in Ohio.  He often tells people “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up and am always looking ahead to the next chapter in life.” Warren completed an MBA from the University of Michigan in 2010 and is currently working on a PhD. in business and leadership. He also pursues writing, research, and participation and support of fraternal, charitable, professional and other organizations.
The Writers’ Lens is about "Bringing fiction into focus." What brings your writing into focus-- the characters, the stories, the love of words? I started writing about five years ago and the initial focus was to tell an entertaining story while also telling a story about what I felt was a forgotten issue. Through writing a fictional account of a characters trek as a prisoner of war, I wanted to bring attention to what I considered a forgotten era and the forgotten POW/MIA’s of Vietnam and the Cold War. The building of characters is important and my current book and future books will focus on the character, but will also have a message that concerns bringing attention to issues of social importance, be it keeping alive the memory of forgotten POW/MIA’s, or other issues.

 What do you think readers will like about your book?While the book is a work of fiction spanning almost a forty-year period, the thing that readers will like, and are liking, is that it reads as true story.  I think readers from every generation and those unfamiliar with the Cold War and Vietnam will find interest in the historical aspects in the book while also learning things they didn’t know. The positive feedback from readers also tells me that readers like being drawn into reading the book and enjoy the fact that they find it difficult to put it down. Lastly I think that readers will like learning about the POW/MIA issue, and my hidden agenda and effort to remind people to Never Forget our POW/MIA’s.

How much fact is in your fiction? This is a debatable question. The main character is fictional, but the timeline spanning almost forty years does include actual events like the Son Tay Raid, Hanoi Hilton, the Soviet Union, and other historical and factual events. Readers have already stated they felt it was a true story, and while the main character is fictitious, what happened to Cold War era POW’s and MIA’s was not fiction, and what happened to those who never returned home has been the subject of debate, controversy and conspiracy theories.

Would you share a bit about your next project? The current project I am working I have tentatively titled “Operations Green Light,”  a Cold War action story which takes place in 1989 about a Green Beret A-Team and a C-130 Air Crew that finds themselves behind the Iron Curtain and must figure out a way to get back home, while avoiding starting World War III.  I’m hoping to have it completed and out by next summer.
What's the highest compliment someone could make about your writing? While there are many compliments that can be given, I think I’ve already been given two of the best compliments that someone could receive for writing a fictional book. One is “I couldn’t put it down” and the other is “I thought this was a true story” as well as those who’ve asked if it’s a true story. A film maker and author friend and mentor, Ken Farmer, told me once that the ability to Suspend Disbelief is part of entertaining the reader of books or watcher of films, and feedback has told me I’ve accomplished that.

This is T.W. Fendley. Thanks for reading and commenting on The Writers' Lens. 

You can find out more about me at

Friday, October 26, 2012


Lonnie Whitaker’s novel, Geese to a Poor Market, was awarded the 2011 OWL Best Book of the Year. His stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Missouri Life, The Ozark Mountaineer, and several anthologies.  He was an associate editor for Peculiar Pilgrims: Stories from the Left Hand of God, and was awarded the 2005 Starr Fellowship at the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow.  In addition to writing and his day-job, he is the literary fiction editor for High Hill Press.
The Writers’ Lens is about "Bringing fiction into focus." What brings your writing into focus-- the characters, the stories, the love of words?  Definitely the characters.  I love character-driven novels.  The formulas for telling a story are fairly standard, but the characters are what we remember. Geese to a Poor Market has an ensemble cast of crooks, moonshiners, preachers, lawyers, and odd-ball characters.  Author John Dalton provided a cover blurb  that referenced the characters: "They're all here--the pious, the foolish, the wise, the scheming and the troubled, the quietly virtuous." They're distinctive, often colorful, and memorable. One of my favorites is Ethan, who I like to describe as a cross between Ernest T. Bass of the Andy Griffith Show and Rainman.
What do you think readers will like about your book? The sense of place. Readers will be taken back in time to the Ozarks of the 1950s.  One reviewer observed that the setting almost felt like a separate character. Or as Rita, the principal female character, said, ". . . when you go south of the Jack's Fork River, you go into a different world." It was a world of brush arbor revivals, creek baptisms, cisterns, hard scrabble farms, and honky-tonks. It's a life that most people have never experienced.
What's your favorite way to interact with fans/readers? I think book clubs are a great way to interact with readers. The discussions can be wonderful, and there's an opportunity to provide the back-story to a scene, or what a character looks like in my mind's eye. J. Bob, a lawyer character, I've always thought of as resembling Kevin Spacey. In my view, the grandfather in Geese has the temperament of Will Geer in The Waltons.

Fill in the blanks: Writing/Editing books is like driving to a new townYou never know who you will meet.

Geese to a Poor Market is a geographic slice of Americana with an ensemble cast of crooks, moonshiners, preachers, lawyers, and odd-ball characters. I like to say it has one leg that wants to boogie, and the other planted on a pew.

Geese to a Poor Market is available from Amazon as a trade paperback or an e-book (Kindle) or from my web site:  Please check out the web site to see the book trailer and reviews, including Harry Levin's review in the Post-Dispatch.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lens on Echoing

Lens on Echoing
By Brad R. Cook

Introducing the new Lens On series of articles.

I wanted to focus the Writers’ Lens on a variety of issues that writers encounter. Am I an expert imparting sage wisdom? Nope, but I do want to start a dialogue about how to fix them. Today, I’ve aimed the lens on something that plagues all rough drafts – Echoing.

Echoing, you may know it by other terms, is when a word or phrase is repeated multiple times in a paragraph or on a page.

Yes, sometimes this can be done for dramatic effect, but that’s not what I’m talking about in this article. I’m focusing on the ones we don’t mean and need to be edited out of any manuscript.

All writers have words and phrases we repeat without even knowing it. Some would call this voice, but it’s really our own idiosyncrasies. I’m sure there is a psychologist out there who would tell you these words have deep insight into our psyche, but I just know I have a short list of words and phrases to keep an eye out for. You’ll find them in any rough draft, they might try and sneak by, but once you know what to look for they pop right off the page.


Jack burst through the door as shots rang out down the street. He shot the two men inside. “Clear!” Monroe charged across the room to the stairs and motioned with his hand. Both men hurried up the stairs and burst out onto the roof. Jack shot the man with the rifle ending his grip on this neighborhood.

Obviously, I echoed burst and shot. I know it’s a bad paragraph, but I couldn’t find any examples in my writing – I don’t have anything that rough at the moment. My next WIP, though, will be filled with them.

Here’s how it should look:

            Gunfire echoed down the street as Jack burst through the door and shot the two men inside. “Clear!”
            Monroe charged across the room to the stairs and called Jack forward with his hand. Both men scrambled to the roof. Jack saw a man laying prone with a rifle and pulled the trigger twice, ending this sniper’s grip on the neighborhood.

Ahh… editing. As you can see, burst and shot, are only used once. It makes the paragraph more interesting and keeps the reader from only seeing burst and shot and none of the words in-between.

One could argue that I am also echoing – and or the – but we’re talking about key words and phrases.

One way to stop this is to go through and highlight all the repetitive words. Soon you’ll see them without having to highlight them, but this is why we edit – to find these little snafus. You can also read the piece out loud; you’ll hear the repetitive phrases more easily.

So watch out for those out for those echoes…

What words or phrases do you echo? Do you have any tips for spotting the echoes while you edit, let us know in the comments.

Brad R. Cook is a historical fantasy author and President of St. Louis Writers Guild. Please visit or follow me on Twitter @bradrcook
Check out my poem Clayton: The Little City in St. Louis Reflections

Meet A LIFE IN PARTS authors Brannan, Bennington 10/27 at 6 North Cafe

Meet Vicki Bennington & Daniel Brannan, authors of A LIFE IN PARTS, from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Oct. 27 at:
6 North Café
14438 Clayton Road
Ballwin, MO 63011

VICKI BENINGTON is a writer and editor whose work has been published in newspapers, business journals, historical books, Fortune 500 company literature and web sites. She has been recognized for her journalism work and fiction writing and is conducting research for her first novel. Vicki lives with her family in Godfrey, Illinois.

DANIEL BRANNAN has been the Executive Editor of The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, since 1997 and is the author of six other biographical books. Daniel is a state and national award-winning journalist. He lives in Glen Carbon, Ill.

A LIFE IN PARTS: A TRUE STORY OF AN IDYLLIC LIFE, A DEVASTATING LOSS, AND ONE WOMAN'S RESOLVE TO RISE ABOVE IT -- One cold December morning, Loretta Goebel was wrapping gifts in her basement when the doorbell rang. She ran upstairs and in her haste, hit her hand on the banister. This injury resulted in the loss of both legs, her left hand, and the fingers on her right hand. 

Her adjustment and recovery led to a friendship with Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, also an amputee. Loretta's story of triumph is a testament to anyone who is struggling to adjust to difficult circumstances, whatever they may be.

Autographed books will be for sale on October 27th

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dream Libraries

Dream Libraries
By Brad R. Cook

I Love Libraries! Who doesn’t, beyond being an orgy of books, they are temples to knowledge, hoarders of information, protectors of wisdom, gatekeepers of entertainment, museums to the printed word, and the den of free thinkers. Libraries are safe havens from a tumultuous home life, quiet retreats where one can actually work, a safe place to take the kids for awhile, and contained within are thousands of portals to worlds both near and far.

They are libraries – and I’m not just talking about the big buildings people pass by but rarely enter.

What lover of books doesn’t have some form of a library in their home? It may be an overstuffed shelf, with books crammed into every corner, and layered two or three deep. It may be a cavernous hall with tomes stacked on oak shelves trimmed with bronze. If it is the latter, please invite me over.

I wish all libraries were places of wonder, like an amusement park for books. The kids sections should be alive with color, with tiny chairs and tables, and a cave, what kid wouldn’t want to read in a cave, or a pirate ship. Awesome. Now, can we get the rest of the library to be as cool, because I would love to read a book while sitting on the branch of a tree growing out of the center of the room? Too much, it can be a fake tree. I know the problem is funding, it’s always about funding, but perhaps the real issue is that it is public, I think what I really want is a grand library in my home.

As a lover of old books, libraries are like candy stores. But I must confess, I wish I were a part of the super rich, not for the cars, yachts, or spaceships, no, I would want the library. An ever-growing, filled with my favorites, and all the books I’m going to want to read, with new stacks coming every week, ahh, heaven, or maybe not. I would become a recluse, never leaving the library until passing away with a book in my hand. AHH. Okay, maybe all I really need are a bunch of shelves and a big comfy chair.

I think books look best, though, when displayed on wood and marble. From the Library of Congress to the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Branch, these grand temples to literature throughout our country are stunning works of architecture, beautiful even without their contents.

Then there are the libraries of our dreams, like the one Beast gives to Belle in the Disney movie, or the ones I see running through my Facebook feed. Created by artists, or master craftsmen, they are places wrapped in imagination and fun, little worlds to curl up in and get lost for awhile.

My ideal dream library would have a tree house, a cave, a castle, and a pirate ship. Parts would be marble and parts would be wood. There’d be a circular staircase in one corner, and those ladders that slide along the stacks, oh, and don’t forget a giant comfy chair.

So, what would your dream library look like? Tell us in the comments.

I also highly recommend doing a Google Image Search for “Dream Libraries”, “Awesome Libraries”, or “Cool Libraries”. I would have posted more pictures, but that might get me in trouble, so check them out and start planning your dream library. We might not be able to build it in this life, but I can think of worse places to spend the next.


Brad R. Cook is a historical fantasy author and President of St. Louis Writers Guild. Please visit or follow me on Twitter @bradrcook

Thursday, October 18, 2012

PICKLE JUICE author at 6 North on 10/20

Meet Shelly Lee Gossett, author of FOR THE LOVE OF PICKLE JUICE, from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Oct. 20, at:

6 North Café
14438 Clayton Road
Ballwin, MO 63011

Story Time's at 11 a.m.!

Shelly was laid off in July of 2011. Instead of searching the employment ads, she decided to pursue her lifelong dream of writing children`s books and starting a publishing company. Her mission: to providing entertaining and educational books to enrich the lives of children.

For the Love of Pickle Juice is a beautifully illustrated, clever, rhyming book filled with figurative language through the use of idioms, and has been celebrated by teachers and parents alike! The younger children love the silly illustrations, and the 8-9 year-olds are learning idioms in school, so it is a great book that spans several age groups!

Autographed books will be available for sale on Oct. 20.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writing Hitchcockian—the Three Emotional States of Writing

The darkened corner of The Writer’s Lens is void of living beings—or human anyway, as you quickly discover when you step through a cobweb you failed to notice. The clingy film of the web sticks to your nose, across your eyes and in your hair. You wipe and pull the web loose, hoping you are free and the eight legged predator who spun it was long gone and not crawling across your flesh. Wind blows as if seeking escape from the crumbling walls—all crumbling except a portion that looks nearly new. On the earthly floor you find a small mound with a shovel reaching out of the freshly dug grave. As you turn, you find on the ground a rope with a frayed end as if it once held something only to lose its strength and release its heavy burden.

As you travel deeper into the corner you see the statue of a man, at its base is a plaque. You light a candle and try to approach to read it, but the smell of rotting escapes from the cement. You cover your nose and breathe through your mouth as you find the courage to approach again. The candle’s flickering light dances upon the plaque and you read the word “Naysayer” carved in an angry hand.

A distant scrapping sound whispers ghost like to you. You pause, trying not to gag on the rotting stench. Your eyes narrow as you search the darkness for the source of the sound. It is a scrape-rock-scrape sound. As you move in the darkness, your single candlelight pushing against the shadows, the sound gets louder with each step. Finally it is loud and no longer a whisper. You look to your right and then to your left. You turn like a dancer to search the shadows around you. But there is nothing to see.

“Hum-hum,” a voice from above coughs to get your attention.

You look up to see a body, wrapped as spiders prey with rope, swinging like a slow moving pendulum back and forth. You hold the candle up into the air and can see two light colored eyes staring down at you.

“I dare say,” the voice from above says, “would be so kind as to cut me down? Life and my bill paying job has left me tied up, but I sure would like to get back to our discussions on writing Hitchcockian. Wouldn’t you?”

It has been a while since we last discussed the elements that the Master of Suspense used in his movies and how we might be able to apply them to our writing. If you have forgotten our conversations, they are:

On May 23, 2012 I had promised that our next conversation on Writing Hitchcockain would be to explore the three emotional states, that Alfred Hitchkcock used to lure his audience into his movies and how we can use it to lure our readers into our books. Hitchcock would spend relentless time with his screenwriters to get the movie down right before the shooting ever began. What are the three emotional states that Alfred Hitchcock used in his screenplays and the movies he made from them?
How many of my readers, if they will admit it, said, “Terror, Fear and Suspense?” I know I would have and did when I first started studying Hitchcock for writing purposes. The answer actually is a lot simpler, applicable to every genre of fiction writing, and much more complex to pull off. The three emotional states are:
  1. Empathy
  2. Sympathy; and
  3. Identification.

While in future entries on The Writers’ Lens, we will explore each of the emotions and how to use them, let us now just touch on what they are and what a writer wants to succeed in doing by using them.

Empathy: The author wants the reader to feel the emotions that the character or characters feel, or sometimes feel the opposite effect. Sometimes the author wants the reader to feel the emotion but then in a comedic effect feel the opposite on purpose. For example, a character is sad. The author may want the reader to empathize with the sadness and feel it as well. On the other hand, the author may purposefully allow the reader to feel sad with the character and then laugh at the character for their sadness as the reason for it is ridiculous.
Sympathy: The author wants the reader to sympathize with the character and their struggle. This is an internalization of the struggle, striking upon psychological needs that caused the reader to turn the pages even after their bedtime.
Identification: The ultimate achievement of an author is to have their reader identify with each of their characters.

Thank you for reading and please visit and You can also follow me on twitter @Owlkenpowriter and the Writer’s Lens @TheWritersLens. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Winner of the Immortally Yours Giveaway!

The Winner of the Immortally Yours Giveaway!

Congratulations to Twisty J, the winner of the signed copy of Immortally Yours by Angie Fox!

Thank you to everyone who entered and many thanks to Angie Fox for allowing The Writers’ Lens to feature her interview and latest release.

If you didn’t win we still encourage you to check out Immortally Yours, book one of Angie Fox’s new Monster M.A.S.H. series.

For more about Immortally Yours, or to hear about Angie Fox’s writing process please read her interview:

Thanks for stopping by, we hope you have enjoyed The Writers’ Lens!

JAGUAR HOPE: FREE today on Kindle!

by T.W. Fendley

My novelette--JAGUAR HOPE--tells of the ill-fated journey to Earth's Age of Crystal in this action-packed prequel to my debut historical fantasy novel, ZERO TIME.

Two black jaguars become the symbol of hope for a race facing extinction when they accompany a dying traveler back to her home planet.

99 cent Kindle ebook -- FREE today, Sunday, 10/14

Friday, October 12, 2012

From a Crime Writer’s Library—How to Write a Dick

I don’t know many writers who live in a house. Most of the writers I know live in a library that just happens to have a kitchen, bathroom, and important furniture like a bed. If you are a writer, you have heard the old cliché of “write what you know.” If you are a reader you might often wonder where the ideas and the information for the story came from. They came from the home and the public library—from the web and from the conversations and research a writer does.

Crime writing is one of the genres I write and it is the focus of my corner of The Writers' Lens. As such,  I have decided to share on my “For the Reader Friday” blogs one of the many reference books that I use for my stories.

I am currently working on a Private Investigator (or PI) novel. While as a high school student I fantasized of being one of those hard boiled detectives. The real life of a PI doesn’t often resemble the fantasy world. So, how does a writer learn about the PI life? There are many ways (books, podcasts, websites, blogs and following the real ones on twitter).  One of the resource books I find useful opens the door on this profession and is writing by writers who are PIs. The book is How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, by Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins.

About the book (written on Barnes and Noble’s synopsis):
“The private eye genre has come a long way, baby, with new subgenres – from teenage PIs to vampire gumshoes to geriatric sleuths – attracting new readers every year. Although it can be safely said that all fictional sleuths, or private dicks, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, are thinking machines, depending on their powers of observation, analysis and curiosity, the 21st century has opened up a brave new world of investigative technology, tools and Internet resources that would have made Sherlock Holmes weep with joy.

“Unfortunately, most writers are not aware of the state-of-the-art developments that shape today’s professional private investigator, which sometimes leave writers floundering with impossible and antiquated devices, characters and methods in stories. Which is why we wrote How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, whose material we culled from our working a combined 14 years as private investigators (and for one of us, several decades hiring and managing private investigators). As a team, we have taught online classes and presented workshops at writers’ conferences about writing private investigators, and we write the blog Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes on a wide variety of investigative techniques and tools. How to Write a Dick isn’t about how to write a novel, but what you need to know to write an authentic, compelling 21st-century sleuth character or story.

“Writers, readers, researchers, investigators and publishing professionals can use How to Write a Dick as an aid for:
• Writing stories/characters in the PI, mystery, suspense and thriller genres
• Understanding the real-world of PIs and their fictional counterparts
• Using the book as a reference resource for writing articles and other research
• Researching the techniques, tools and legalities used by your favorite private eyes in film, books and other media

‘Forget Google and Bing. When you need to research PI work, go to the experts, Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman: they live it, they teach it, they write it. How to Write a Dick is the best work of its kind I’ve ever come across because it covers the whole spectrum in an entertaining style that will appeal to layman and lawmen alike. This will be the industry standard for years to come.’
- Reed Farrel Coleman, three-time Shamus Award winner for Best PI Novel of the Year and author of Hurt Machine

‘If you want authenticity in creating a fictional private investigator for your stories, then this is a must-have reference book. Its authors, Colleen and Shaun, are living breathing PIs with years of actual experience in the PI game.’
- R.T. Lawton, 25 years on the street as a federal special agent and author of 4 series in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.”

This book is a recent addition to my crime library and it has already taken a prominent place on my desk.  It gives the writer the business side as well as well as an up-to-date guide that allows a writer to really understand the world of the PI. If you are a writer writing about PIs and want to take your story across the threshold into the grit of the real world, I would suggest that you check out this book.

Thank you for reading and please visit and You can also follow me on twitter @Owlkenpowriter and the Writer’s Lens @TheWritersLens. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.