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The Chainsaw Manuscript

Less is More—Words of Wisdom When You Must Cut Words

Fifteen years ago I handed my bulky, single-spaced first draft of Bear Woman Rising to Marjorie Abrams, the mystery writer in our critique group, who bravely agreed to read it. After several weeks, somewhat bleary eyed, she heaved it into my arms and said, “I got bogged down in back story. Sorry.” As well she should have since the behemoth manuscript contained nearly 190,000 words. 

Embarrassed and discouraged, I needed time to lick my wounds before I summoned the courage to take a knife to my precious words, or more appropriately rev up my proverbial chain saw. Ultimately, over the course of the next dozen years, I managed to eliminate approximatel...

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Oh the Dread Critique Group

Whether or not to join a critique group is a big decision. Writing can be a lonely venture, especially for an extrovert like me. I was so tired of only hearing the drone of my own voice in my head, I became desperate to hear what other writers had to say about my work. So in 2001, I swallowed my fear of criticism and helped to create a five member critique group. At our first meeting I felt like I was about to toss my beloved manuscript into the proverbial lion’s den to be chewed to bits. That proved not to be true, largely because we adopted ground rules that we adhered to diligently. Rule 1:  Reviewers will point out a positive characteristic of any manuscript first. ...

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Be Careful! Or you will end up in my novel

Throughout the decade I spent writing and rewriting Bear Woman Rising, I was always taken aback when people asked, “Am I in your novel?” I hated seeing their disappointment when I told them, “No.” On the other hand, most of my close friends posed the question differently. They would corner me, lower their voices, and ask, “I’m not in your novel, am I?” So when my brother, who knew me better than most, realized my story would appear in print one day, he gave me a t-shirt with the above inscription, Be Careful! Or you will end up in my novel.   
Given that cautionary inscription, readers do well to ask whether my characters were inspired by real people. I confess, the characters you will meet in Read More ›

As Luck Would Have It

As I created Jesse Bookman’s journey across the United States and into her traumatized childhood, I was reminded of the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In Bear Woman Rising it takes an eclectic group of women to help Jesse overcome the cultural and psychological road blocks she encounters along the way. These women become Jesse’s “village”.  Ruth, a roadhouse cook, provides an understanding shoulder and a brief haven. Kara, a young mother and songstress, challenges Jesse to recall her what-do-you-want-to-be dreams. Mrs. Hanson, a one-time neighbor, paints a revealing picture of Jesse’s troubled mother. Marcie, Jesse’s apartment manager, tells her not to be afraid to ...

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Saving Spoken Words, What Writers Do

A writing instructor in Rockville, Maryland, told me she kept a notebook handy to jot down conversations she overheard on buses or waiting rooms or restaurants. In this way, she captured the cadence, phrasing, and word choices of the people she overheard. Over time, she created a rich repository of speech patterns from which to draw when developing dialog for her own characters.

I came to appreciate the value of documenting speech patterns, especially those spoken by people for whom English is a second language. I grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin where I heard German spoken on the bus, in the butcher shop, and at the Five and Dime every day. In the 40’s and 50’s, “Vas ist Los?” and “Guten Tag,” were every day phrases. And whenever I overheard my German neighbors c...

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Building Blocks of Stories, Part 2: The Characters

Someone once asked how much of myself was in the characters I’ve created. Most of my characters are truly composites of people I’ve met whose voices I recall and whose actions and reactions I see quite clearly. They pop out of my memory bank and onto the page with relative ease. However, Jesse Bookman, the female scientist in Bear Woman Rising, brought back painful times in my own journey that I would have preferred to forget, if not for her.

My journey into adulthood began with a jolt mere minutes after my college graduation ceremonies came to a close.  While parents and new graduates gathered in the June sunshine to congratulate one another and say goodbye before we left the campus one last time, my father took me aside and imparted these words of wisdom, “Whatever y...

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In some stories, the setting becomes as important as the characters who act out their lives within its parameters. We begin to “see” the story unveil in the context of place. That place may determine what our characters think, and say and do.

In Bear Woman Rising, Jesse describes Whitey’s Road House as a “home to wayfaring strangers”. It is a safe haven for locals to gather and for strangers to feel welcome. As such it provides a backdrop for the proprietor’s wife, Ruth, to discuss her concerns for Kara’s mental stability with Jesse, whom she has just met. And later, we hear Kara tell Jesse, whom she has just met, that left alone in a cabin with blizzard force winds beating at the door, she hears an animal scratching t...

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I began telling stories in elementary school, and yes sometimes they got me in trouble, particularly when they were well, let’s say, departures from the truth. But as my third grade teacher wrote on my report card, “The class enjoys listening to Dorothy’s original stories.” Spurred on by that young audience, I never stopped writing. My heart wrenching scribblings in my early diaries, the teenage poems I wrote inspired by the vastness of Lake Michigan, and later, as an adventurous young woman, the descriptions I wrote awed by the Chugach Mountains blushing alpine pink that ringed Anchorage, Alaska, all document my life’s journey. 

My journey is unique. Each person’s journey through life is unique to that person. But if we don’t share our journeys—our joy, our heart brea...

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