Tuesday, July 22, 2014


As part of the Summer Author Blitz going on over at Book Boost PR I will be doing a Q&A over at BOOKS WITH A TOUCH OF ADVICE on Wednesday, July 23.

JESSICA COKER is the winner of the free book giveaway.  Jessica, please send your  mailing address to my Email so I can send you a book.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What Kind of Writer Are You- Plotter or Plodder?

I've been told there are two types of writers, those who plot out every detail of their story before they begin, and those who plod along, letting their characters take them where they will. I believe I'm a hybrid of these two extremes.

What kind of writer are you?

A story is a journey. Therefore, to figure out what kind of writer you are, it might be helpful to consider how you travel when you are on a real life road trip. Ask yourself a few simple questions.

1. Are you the sort of person who makes plans weeks in advance, or do you tend to hop in your car on a whim and start driving, content with wherever the road takes you?

2. Do you make reservations with or without a cancellation option? If you book a hotel and pay for it ahead of time with no way to back out without losing all your money, you may be a Plotter. If you don't book the room until you are sitting in the parking lot looking at the Holiday Inn Express sign, you may be a Plodder. If you make reservations with a cancellation option, you are probably a hybrid.

3. How do you pack? Do you check the weather channel for the five day forecast of your destination city and then plan your clothing accordingly or do you toss a few essentials into a duffle bag and hope to buy whatever else you need when you arrive wherever you happen to land?

4.  Do you type out your entire itinerary and send it to family and friends ahead of time so they will always know where to find you or do you expect them to stay informed of your activities through your Facebook and Instagram posts?

There is no right or wrong way to plan a road trip and there is no right or wrong way to plan a story. It is helpful, though, to know what kind of writer you are and NOT try to squeeze yourself into the mold of what someone else says is the best way to navigate the writer's journey. 

If you do that, you may leave people confused when they see your Instagram pictures from the Disneyland Light Parade when the itinerary you sent them clearly states you were planning to spend the night at the KOA Campground in Bakersfield. Know thyself. Everything else leads to confusion.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


I am posting the short version for the first lesson of my free writing workshop on my blog site. If you are interested in receiving the rest of the series, please sign up HERE. If you have previously signed up for the workshop and you do not receive Lesson One via email today, please contact me. 

The series will last for four weeks, there is no homework other than what you decide to complete, and the structure is designed so you may move at your own pace. 

It is summer after all!

So... if you are climbing the Swiss Alps you may do the lessons on your phone or tablet or save them until you come down from the mountain.


Part One - Learn the twelve steps of the Secret Language of Stories and apply the plot analysis to books and movies.

Part Two - Create a 2-3 page plot outline for your own original novel, screenplay, short story or picture book using the structure of The Secret Language of Stories. 

Part Three - Use your plot outline to get started writing your own original story.

Part Four - Make a road map for completing your journey.   



1) Learn about the structure of The Secret Language of Stories.
2) Study my plot analyses for one or more of the following:

     A. Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves (A        non-fiction picture book by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.)
     B. City of Bones (A young adult novel by Cassandra Clare).
     C.  I Am Legend (a 2007 film starring Will Smith based loosely on a      1954 Novel by Richard Matheson of the same Title.)
     D. Romeo and Juliet (a play by William Shakespeare).

3) Create a notebook with dividers for each of the 12 steps, or you may create a computer file. One page per section is enough to suffice for now.
4) Begin filling in each section with examples from books, movies, and plays. This list will continue throughout the four weeks and hopefully beyond. Don't feel like you need to completely analyze one entire book or movie. That might be a stretch if you're just getting started.

That's it! Simple, right?

If you would like to continue receiving Parts 2-4 of this series and you have not already done so, remember to sign up HERE

If you have comments or questions, I would love to receive them at my email.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


It's officially summer vacation and my FREE ONLINE WRITING CLASS is just around the corner. It will begin on Saturday, June 14, 2014 and last for four weeks. Lessons will be delivered via a series of  newsletters and you may unsubscribe at anytime. If you are interested, sign up HERE. You should receive a confirmation email from Mail Chimp. If you don't, please send me an email to follow up.

The workshop will be based on The Secret Language of Stories - The story plotting analysis I use to structure my novels as well as to teach creative writing to kids and adults. For a preview check out my SLOS blog page.

There are several reasons I'm offering the workshop in this format:
1) People keep asking me when I'm going to offer another writing workshop. I work during the school year and only have summers available, but folks are out of town so it makes it difficult to pin down dates.
2) I wanted to create something as flexible as possible. If you don't have time to do a lesson, just save it for the following week. There are no time constraints since it is all online.
3) I'm offering the workshop for free so I can get feedback and fine tune the information. Your input is your entrance fee. Any questions or comments you send to me may be published in upcoming newsletters and books.

It's free, it's easy, it's summer, so kick back and have some fun!! Sign up HERE!

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Check out my plot analysis of HAMLET over at Spellbinders. To read about my plot analysis system, check out my tab for The Secret Language of Stories on this blog. Watch for details about my free writing workshop coming June 14, 2014.

Friday, May 2, 2014


This is it -- the Ball of Infamy.

On May Day, Thursday, 5/1/14, the Albuquerque Isotopes played the Salt Lake Bees during the School Day Matinee, a special event for New Mexico students. Buses came from all over the state bringing eager young fans to watch baseball and pig out on funnel cakes, popcorn, and hot dogs.

I was on a field trip with some of my high school students, minding my own business, talking to the school social worker (okay, maybe I should have been watching the game a little more closely) when a ball came slicing through the air and hit me.

Contrary to rumor, it was not in the head.

The two women in front of me parted like the Red Sea and I felt an alarming pain in my left shin. It wasn't until I saw the ball bouncing off of my leg, and back toward the two women, that I realized what had happened.

A man who worked for the ball park came leaping toward me asking if I was okay.

Obviously I wasn't.

I told him I didn't know. I thought so. Maybe. Hopefully. I was conscious after all. Soon there were EMTs and a policeman bringing ice and a wheelchair and asking me if I knew where I was and what day was it. They said I could go by ambulance to the ER if I wanted.

I didn't. I pictured a four hour stint as I cued up behind gunshot wounds and drug overdoses. As it turned out, Lyle, a teacher I had never met before, offered to drive me to the Urgent Care. Thanks Lyle. Nice to meet you.

It all started when we went for a walk with several students in search of funnel cakes. We had left our cozy seats behind third base and ended up on the grassy area at the FAR side of the field where we decided to sit and watch the game from a different vantage point.

We never got the funnel cakes. Maybe they did. I didn't. I left before it was over.

I found out later that the whole thing was captured on video. Check out this Video of Joc Pederson's Homerun. It is aptly titled Pederson socs one.

I was the one.

Watch closely as the ball goes flying over the fence and out into the grass. Paula, the social worker, is sitting next to me in the orange baseball cap. I'm in the black t-shirt. The Isotopes guy in the light blue shirt and tan pants suddenly runs down toward me and people come rushing from all directions.

The EMT suggested maybe I should have been watching the game. I was at a dangerous sporting event after all. As he was saying this he had his back to the field, not exactly setting a good example. See photo above.

When I got to the Urgent Care, the doctor was more understanding. He said a baseball game was a social event, not just a sporting event and you couldn't watch it every second (especially not when they have to stop after every inning for things like building a human hamburger). That was kind of cool, actually.

The doctor may have been more sympathetic because his wife was once knocked out cold after being hit by a hockey puck in the head.

But all's well that ends well. The Isotopes beat Salt Lake 3-2. I received a day off of work to elevate my leg, was awarded a clear plastic case for the ball, and got a good story out of it.

Only a writer could suffer agonizing pain and still have the presence of mind to ask the nice policeman who wheeled her out the the curb a host of questions, "Was that the first home run of the season, what inning was it, who hit that ball?"

"I have to get the facts straight for my story," I explained to him.

Wednesday I walked out to my car, discovered I had a flat, and had to ask a co-worker to drive me to ACE Hardware so I could buy an air compressor to pump in enough air to make it to the mechanic's. Turns out I picked up a screw.

Thursday I got hit by a baseball and ended up in the Urgent Care.

Today is Friday. I'm locking the doors, shutting the blinds, and staying home!! Doctor's orders.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


The most important stories in the world are the stories about real people. I was reminded of this last month when my father-in-law died. The last four weeks have been a whirlwind of travel, memorial planning, and sharing stories.

Right after Charlie's death, I drove down to Texas to be with my mother-in-law. She had asked me to write his obituary and it was something I wanted to do in person rather than by phone. Charlie was a great man who had lived a long and very colorful life.

My niece arrived soon after I did and the three of us spent the next few days sharing stories, hunting through the attic for old photographs, and remembering the man Charlie had been before dementia set in and he had forgotten our names.

The obituary became a mini-biography. Here is the truly wonderful thing about obituaries, you write them, pay for them, and the newspaper/s prints them. It's a simple yet wonderful (though pricey) way to give a final tribute to someone. No approval process, no rejection letters, though I did get an interesting email from the Odessa American stating that a death certificate would have to be provided due to the submission of "suspicious" obituaries in the past.

I'll bet there's a story there!

As I was writing the obituary, I remembered how I'd always wanted to collect my father-in-law's stories. He was a master storyteller and much of what I learned about crafting tales, I learned from him. All of his stories were true... mostly.  He had a phrase I will never forget:

Any story worth telling is worth embellishing.

As he grew older, I tried to get him to repeat his stories so I could write them down. I suggested tape recording him. Facts get forgotten over the years and the power of a story is in the details. But he was too modest (or perhaps proud) to retell his tales for perpetuity, so the best I could do was to collect bits and pieces as I recalled them.

Charlie had been born in poverty during the depression, served in the Navy during World War II, returned to Texas and scraped together enough money to buy a jewelry/ watch repair shop, and then had lost everything when his jewelry store burned down. He had eventually gotten involved in the oil business and become quite successful, but his road to success was long and difficult.

He'd gotten his first job at the age of five, poking a mule all day long with a stick to prod it along as it circled a sugar cane mill in the making of syrup. At the end of the day, instead of paying Charlie cash, the owner gave Charlie's father a jar of syrup. The young boy reeled at the injustice. His father told him, "Son, I have to feed my family." Charlie didn't understand the full significance of that statement until many years later.

Every time I visited Charlie at the Alzheimer's facility where he spent his last couple of years, I was heartsick to know that it was too late to collect his stories.

Then, as I was writing the obituary, a wonderful thing happened. As people arrived to give condolences and bring flowers or food, they started telling stories.

I had my iPad ready, since that's where I was writing the obit, and I started taking notes. The vignettes were so plentiful I decided to write them down and create a collection for the family. As each new person came to visit, I told them what I was doing, and they added to the stories.

Most of the tales were hilarious. It was a wonderful way to remember the man Charlie had been, instead of the man he had become in his last few years.

I believe that even works of fiction should fundamentally start with a real person. Not necessarily a biography, but something capturing the essence of who people are - their hopes and aspirations and their struggles.

And here is the truly powerful thing about writing about real people... It doesn't matter if your audience is the world, your immediate family, or just yourself.

The obituary writing process reminded me that the most important stories in the world are the stories about real people. They are tales filled with heartache and laughter. Dreams and despair. They remind us of who we are and where we have been. They enlighten us about our history and illuminate our path. They help us understand where we have been, and if we listen very closely, they just might give us a light to see where we are going.