Writing Tip — Favorite Stories

turkey-1299176_1280As a former children’s librarian, I like books for children and love recommending my favorites. So if you are looking for Thanksgiving books for your kids, or you can still appreciate a great picture book, check out the list below.

s-l225Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin. This is the first in a delightful series about Maggie and her grandmother who live in New England next to a cranberry bog. Maggie’s best friend is Mr. Whiskers, an old sea captain who Grandmother is convinced is trying to steal her secret recipe for cranberry bread. By the end of the story Grandmother discovers who is her real threat.

My kids and I love these books. Maybe it’s because it takes place in a small town, where everyone knows everyone, like where we live. These are also longer picture books so you get more story as well as wonderful illustrations.

Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey. A field trip turns into a rescue mission when the school kids find out the destinies of the turkeys on the turkey farm.

The riff on the Christmas poem is great fun and the way the kids help the turkeys escape is accompanied by illustrations that always make my kids laugh.

 

A Plump and Perky Turkey by Teresa Bateman. A town desperate to find a turkey for their Thanksgiving feast set about trying to con one. But Pete the turkey proves “a plump and perky turkey can be pretty doggone clever.”

This story, told in rhyme, has detailed illustrations that kids can study and an unusually imaginative plot about how Pete turns the tables on the townsfolk.

 

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts

ThanksgivingThe memory that stands out in my mind about Thanksgiving is the double dinners.

When I was a kid both my grandparents lived within thirty minutes of our house. Late Thanksgiving morning, my parents, my three sisters, and I would pile into our car and head to my mom’s parents for Thanksgiving lunch.

Thanksgiving lunch was, of course, a full-blown Thanksgiving feast, and we kids would gorge ourselves. Then around four o’clock, we’d pile back into the car, which didn’t seem as roomy as before, and head to my dad’s parents.

Thanksgiving supper at my paternal grandparents’ house was a full-blown Thanksgiving feast. My sisters and I did our best to gorge ourselves again, but we just didn’t have the stomach space.

Over the weekend, we would return to my mom’s parents to eat leftovers. Or, as my grandpa said, “Just put on my tombstone: ‘The leftovers did me in’.”

What are your favorite memories of Thanksgiving?

Writing Tip — Writing With Senses

jellyfish wordsCyle Young at Hartline Literary Agency has a wonderful post on using the sense of touch in writing.

This sense is often underused because we are such sight-dependent beings. Unless you have a character who is blind, is in a dark setting, or is an animal or imaginary creature whose main sense is touch, this sense gets crowded out by sight and touch.

Reviewing my own book, I see I used the sense of touch to convey the humidity of its summer setting. Humidity forces me to explore the sense of touch because it is the only way to experience it.

When my main character works on a roof all through a humid July day, he says, “I felt like I’d gone swimming in tomato soup.” He describes a mist as “clinging to my skin like a fungus.”

When my main character is sneaking around his property in the West Virginia mountains in the dead of night, I will try to include some description of touch, Right now, I only mention the wind whipping around him and sweating.

Writing Exercise

If you want to practice your writing with touch, write a comment to Mr. Young’s post. Or use the above photo. What’s interesting about using this photo as a writing exercise is that there are at least two people touching the jellyfish and possibly three. Each character can experience the feel of the jellyfish in a unique way, and that way tells something about him or her.

For example, the hand coming from the left looks like a child’s and he can be thrilled with touching a live jellyfish while the hand hovering behind can belong to an adult who touched the creature and was revolted. (I might share that reaction).

How would you use the sense of touch in the photo above?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts

ThankfulTo get ready for Thanksgiving, I thought a prompt about thankfulness would be appropriate.

Even though I am grateful for all the major events and people in my life, like my family and graduating from college, I want to focus on little things I’m thankful for

Driving to pick up my oldest at school, I passed a harvested field of corn. A large bird of prey rose out of the field. Its tail was white above and below so I couldn’t identify the species. I stopped my car, so the huge, roaring machine wouldn’t scare it. The bird turned and flew across the road in front of me. It was a bald eagle. I had never been so close to a wild one before.

Driving on, I felt my whole body lift and lighten. I hadn’t been having a bad day, and yet the sight of that bird made the whole day better. Maybe it was the surprise of the sighting. Or the brush with wild nature. But I thanked God for the experience.

A psychiatrist I knew said often it’s the little, positive memories that carry us through a dark time.

So what little thing are you thankful for?

Writing Tip — Favorite Author

PoirotThe opening of Murder on the Orient Express in theaters tomorrow reminded me of a time when I inhaled Agatha Christie mysteries. In high school, I read almost all of them. Over the years, when I wanted a comfort food book, I often returned to my favorite novels and short stories. As I’ve grown older, I find more flaws in the storytelling than I did as a teenager, but some of the novels still can’t be beat for plotting in a mystery.

That was Mrs. Christie’s strength, mystery plots. Her characters were often one-dimensional but characters, unless they were the detectives, were not why people made Mrs. Christie the best-selling author after Shakespeare. They loved her plot twists and the opportunity to solve a puzzle along with her detectives.

Of her two main detectives, I like Miss Marple better. I like the idea of this elderly spinster being so good at reading people from her experiences in a small English village that she could apply her knowledge to just about any person she met. Like in Pocket Full Of Rye, she becomes suspicious of woman’s husband when she realizes the woman is the nice kind who always falls for troubled men.

If you want to write cozy mysteries, you must read some of Mrs. Christie’s novels and short stories. If she didn’t invent many of the conventions for cozies, she at least made them popular, such as the nosy amateur detective and gathering all the suspects together so the detective can reveal the identity of the murderer.

Recommended Reading

Breaking with conventions. In the 1930’s, certain rules had been developed about how to write crime fiction. Mrs. Christie “murdered” those in Murder on the Orient ExpressThe Murder of Roger Ackroydand And Then There Were None.

Hercule Poirot. Two of my favorite novels with the Belgian detective, Christie’s busiest creation, are Death on the Nilewhich was turned into a very good movie, and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, which is my favorite Christmas murder mystery. It has everything you expect: a large country house, a toxic family, and a clever murder with a murderer, who also breaks with conventions.

Miss Marple. Even though I like this character, I think  her novels aren’t as successful as Poirot’s. But try The Body in the Library and The Moving Finger.

Short Stories. If you like short stories, like me, read Thirteen Problems with Miss Marple and The Mysterious Mr. Quinn, who certainly lives up to his adjective.

If you like cozy mysteries, what are your favorites?

 

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