Dear Friends and fellow writers,
This blog, The Joy of Story, is taking the rest of the year off. I'll be back Saturday, January 4. Until then…
I wish you all a Happy Solstice, welcoming back the warming sun.
May you all have a Merry Yuletide, however you choose to celebrate.
And may your New Year's Resolutions include a promise to keep writing as much and as well as you can. That way you'll surely find pleasure and success in the joyful art of storytelling.
John M. Daniel
Saturday, December 14, 2013
This week I am especially pleased to have as my guest James R. Callan, a talented and successful writer who, as you’ll read below, takes great joy in his writing. He also takes pleasure in supporting other writers, a whole posse of them, acting as coordinator and host for spreading news and views via email and blog posts. Let’s hear what Jim has to say about the joy of writing.
The joy of writing for me is twofold.
When I write a paragraph or scene that can bring tears to my eyes or cause me to laugh out loud, even when I read it for the tenth or fifteenth time, then I not only know why I sit and write, but I know the true joy of writing. I can know I have created a work of art. No, it’s not a painting. It’s not a sculpture, nor a piece of music. But it is art as surely as a Monet is, or a variation by Rachmaninoff is. It has stirred an emotion which is greater than the actual piece itself.
It brings to mind a quote from a play by Edmond Rostand, written in 1897. The play is Cyrano de Bergerac. The play is based on a real Cyrano de Bergerac. In the play, Cyrano is a character bigger than life. He is an incredible swordsman, soldier, friend, and writer. In the play, the Count De Guiche’s tells Cyrano he could garner the favor of some higher official and profit financially from his writing. Cyrano replies, “When I have made a line that sings itself, so that I love the sound of it, I pay myself a hundred times.” Cyrano knew the joy of writing.
The finished written word should be the real joy of writing.
The second part is the satisfaction of creating a plot and characters that work together, that blend smoothly, that give the reader great satisfaction when finished with the book. It is not sufficient to have a great plot or to have great characters. You need those two parts to fit so well that a reader will not be able to think of one without the other. You have created a project that is as smooth and finished as Michelangelo’s statue of David.
Neither of these two parts is easy to achieve. But then, the struggle to produce the paragraph, the scene, the polished book makes the joy of success even more intense. And when I achieve one or both of these, I have found the true joy of writing and I do, indeed, pay myself a hundred times.
I have no doubt that James R. Callan took great joy from the writing of his newest success:
A Ton of Gold
A contemporary suspense novel
Can long forgotten, old folk tales affect the lives of people today? In A Ton of Gold, one certainly affected young, brilliant Crystal Moore. Two people are killed, others threatened, a house burned and an office fire-bombed – all because of an old folk tale, greed and ignorance.
On top of that, the man who nearly destroyed Crystal emotionally is coming back. This time he can put an end to her career. She’ll need all the help she can get from a former bull rider, her streetwise housemate and her feisty 76-year-old grandmother.
That sounds great, doesn’t it? Check out this excerpt:
Crystal Moore’s eyes shot wide open and she sat bolt upright. Disconnected pictures, all bleak, flashed in Crystal’s mind, as a chill descended over her. “Tried to kill you!” Her voice almost failed her. Her chest felt like something was crushing it. She could feel her blood pulsing in her veins. “Are you Okay?”
“Where are you?”
“Home. Where else would I be?”
In the hospital. “What happened?”
“Some fool tried to run me off the road.”
Crystal’s back relaxed slightly. "Nana, I don’t think he was trying to kill you."
"Were you here?"
Crystal reminded herself that this was her grandmother, her only living relative. "Okay. Tell me what happened."
"Well, I was going to town. And some redneck tried to run me off the road. Clear as could be. Meant to kill me!"
Crystal rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. She worried about her grandmother driving, or living alone, for that matter. At seventy-six, reactions slowed. Maybe her grandmother shouldn't be driving at all.
"Every week somebody tries to run me off the road while I'm driving to work. He just wasn't paying attention, that's all."
"That dog won't hunt! I was paying attention. I saw him. He looked right at me, then pulled over in my lane. I could see it in his eyes. He intended to run me right off the road—or hit me head-on. He cotton-pickin' meant to kill me."
"Did you call the police?"
"What for? They'd give me the same routine you are."
Crystal took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "What do you want me to do, Nana?"
"Nothing. Nothing you can do."
Crystal struggled to keep her voice as neutral as possible. She dearly loved her grandmother but Nana could be difficult sometimes. She saw the world very clearly, with seldom a doubt on how to interpret it. "Then why did you call me? Just to worry me?"
"No.” Crystal detected a trace of hurt feelings in her grandmother’s voice. "Because I wanted you to know somebody's trying to kill me. And if I die under questionable circumstances, I want you to tell the police it was murder. And make sure they do something. You know how old Billy Goat is. If you don't stick his nose in it, he can't find—"
"Nana!” Crystal cut her off. "Bill Glothe's been the sheriff for ten years——and your friend a lot longer than that."
"Ugly truck. One of those, ah, what-cha-ma-callits. Ah, four-by-fours. Big as a dump truck. Puce."
"Puce? They don't make puce-colored cars."
"Well, maybe he painted it, I don't know. Looked puce to me."
"Are you Okay? Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Yes and no. I'm fine and there's nothing you can do. Just remember what I told you. Anything happens, get Billy Goat on it."
A Ton of Gold
By James R. Callan
From Oak Tree Press, 2013
On Amazon, in paperback, at: http://amzn.to/UQrqsZ
Or the Kindle edition at: http://amzn.to/12PeHJb
Or from Oak Tree Press at: http://bit.ly/WJXcWl
Brief Bio of James R. Callan
After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing. He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books. He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mysteries, with his sixth book releasing in Spring, 2014.
Blog site: www.jamesrcallan.com/blog
Book website: www.atonofgold.com
Amazon Author page: http://amzn.to/1eeykvG
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Greetings, readers and writers! And Happy New Year! May auld acquaintance be remembered and turned into great stories.
This week, as I do on each first Saturday of the month, I present 99-word stories sent to me by writers from all over. That includes you, I hope. All writers are welcome, and all submissions will be accepted (unless I find a story offensive, but I’m broad-minded.) There are a few rules to follow, and they’re presented at the end of this post.
This month’s theme is “The Gift,” and I urged contributors to include irony in their stories. I received three stories answering the challenge, and they’re presented below.
Because there are only three stories this month, I have some extra space to fill, and so I’m going to insert here a commercial!
Looking for an entertaining book to put on your New Year’s reading list? I not-so-humbly recommend Hooperman:A Bookstore Mystery. Yes, I wrote it, and yes, you’ll like it! Publishers Weekly says (in a starred review!): “Pleasant and unusually good-natured, this novel from Daniel harkens back to a time when printed books mattered.” For more information about Hooperman:A Bookstore Mystery, see http://www.danielpublishing.com/jmd/hooperman.html
And now, as promised, here are three stories contributed by writers of the 99 Society.
GRAB BAG BIZARRO
by Jerry Giammatteo
It was our annual Holiday grab bag at the office. Three items remained when my name was picked. I selected the largest package and opened it.
I stared at it. What was it? It looked like an ugly bed quilt with a pocket. Obviously, a re-gift or something buried deep in someone’s closet.
“What is it?” somebody shouted out. I shrugged.
I brought it home. My wife asked what it was. I shrugged again
The ratty thing is long gone, but we found a use for it as a beach blanket. It was hideous, yet it served a purpose.
by Joseph M. Bonelli
Christmas Eve dinner was tradition at my paternal grandparent’s home.
Grandpa was thought to have more wealth than people knew.
He hinted about gifts to Dad, who alerted his three sons.
Mom said, “Don’t expect too much.”
After dinner Grandpa passed an envelope to each of us and wanted my father to open his first. A penny was taped inside Dad’s Christmas card.
I had two pennies; the middle grandchild had three, and the youngest, four cents.
My grandfather left the room and returned with a bowed hanger, bearing a new fur coat for Mom, his daughter-in-law.
A GIFT FOR CHRISTMAS
by Christine Viscuso
Dr. Berman removed his mask as he stepped from the operating theatre. “Detective. What are you doing here?”
“Waiting for you. How is he?”
“It took you fifteen hours to save that crumb’s life. You gave him life for Christmas. He killed twenty-five kids, plus ten adults. He killed a cop before trying to end his miserable life. We’ll take it back; bet on it.”
The doctor shrugged. “It’s not for me to decide. I took an oath.”
“To you, making people whole is a challenge. Were you aware that your son died in that carnage?”
Attention all writers—
Next month’s prompt: “They’re Gone!” What do I mean by those two words? You tell me. No. You show me in a story. I insist that your story be fiction, and you show me that you have a wild imagination!
Here are the rules:
1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot, characters, and conflict.
4. The deadline: the first of the month.
5. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: email@example.com
One more request. This time, whether or not you send me a story, please send me one (1) word. Any word. I’m collecting words, your words, for next month’s assignment.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Two days ago was Thanksgiving, and I spent that day with family and food, and a heart full of thanks for many blessings. It seems crass and self-serving to exploit a national mood of gratitude to promote my new book, so I will refrain.
Or at least I’ll be subtle about it.
I genuinely am thankful to my publisher, Billie Johnson of Oak Tree Press, and to her fine, capable assistants, Jeana Thompson and Suzi Yazell. They’ve been a pleasure to work with, they make fine books, and promote them well.
I’m also grateful for the support, advice, and encouragement I’ve received from a large network of writing colleagues, most of whom I’ve never met in person. These include a gang called “The Posse,” a gift created by Sunny Fraser, which is now coordinated by James R. Callan.
To close, I will quote the last paragraph of my book:
As always, I thank my friends and supporters: the members of my writing group, The Great Intenders; Toby Tompkins, Meredith Phillips, Janine Volkmar, and Larry Karp; Michael Moreland, for introducing me to the gentleman on the cover of the book; and most of all Susan Daniel, my partner in all I do.
Oh yes. The name of my new book is Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery. Here’s what it looks like:
For more info, http://www.danielpublishing.com/jmd/hooperman.html
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Actually, my birthday was yesterday, November 22, and like most Americans over a certain age, I spent some time on my birthday thinking about November 22, 1963, which I remember quite clearly as the day the world as I knew it fell apart. It happened to be the day I turned 22, which was a bit of a coincidence. Another bit of coincidence was that I hailed from Dallas, Texas at the time.
On that somber note, I'm going to take a week off from my blog, as a gift to myself.
I'll be in touch next week.
On that somber note, I'm going to take a week off from my blog, as a gift to myself.
I'll be in touch next week.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
This week it’s my pleasure to host a writer known for her generous sense of humor. My guest has been called “Canada’s undisputed Queen of Comedy.” Folks, meet Melodie Campbell!
Melodie Campbell has been a banker, marketing director, comedy writer, college instructor, and (she claims) possibly the worst runway model ever. Melodie got her start writing comedy, so it’s no surprise her fiction has been described by editors as “wacky” and “laugh-out-loud funny.” Melodie has over 200 publications and six awards for fiction. She was a finalist for the 2012 Derringer (U.S.) and Arthur Ellis (Canada) awards for crime writing. Melodie is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.
I asked Melodie to contribute to this blog a piece of writing about what “The Joy of Story” means to her. She responded in no uncertain terms what she expects a novel to do for her.
Don’t Lecture—Entertain Me!
Who doesn’t love a good story? Something that takes you out of yourself and lets you live another life for a little while. You can do me no greater honor than to call me a great storyteller.
So you can imagine my angst when a magazine interviewer challenged me about the purpose of fiction. Should it always contain a moral message? Specifically, should crime fiction?
My instant answer: No! The purpose of crime fiction should be to Entertain, and nothing should come before that.
Why? We have countless other venues that preach morality. Religions seek to teach us how to behave. Every day we are bombarded by newspapers, radio and other nonfiction outlets that expose us to the “evil” of greedy politicians, nasty world despots, and out-of-control celebrities.
If fiction— and crime fiction in particular—were required to follow a moral code, we would miss so much. If the good guy always won—if the bad guy always got caught—wouldn’t that make crime fiction lamentably predictable?
Does that mean crime fiction can’t teach us something? Of course it can! Put me in the mind of a serial killer for a few hours. Let me know what it feels like to experience the overwhelming greed of a con artist. Dress me up as a torch singer, with a black heart and a gun in her stocking.
Let me discover something about how other people think, if only for a little while. But above all else, entertain me. Don’t preach at me, even from a distance. I don’t want it from my fiction.
Just tell me a damn good story, thank you. Take me out of the real world for a few hours.
That’s the joy of story.
Speaking of damn good, entertaining stories, Melodie Campbell’s fourth book, The Goddaughter, a comic crime caper, received the following review from Library Journal: “Campbell’s comic caper is just right for Janet Evanovich fans. Wacky family connections and snappy dialogue make it impossible not to laugh.” Library Journal, Sept. 2012.
Praise like that is to die for. (Die laughing? Way to go!) And although The Goddaughter was not Melodie’s first book, (her first book, Rowena Through the Wall, was an Amazon Top 100 bestseller), it appears that the Goddaughter will be the heroine of a series. Melodie’s fifth novel, The Godddaughter’s Revenge has just been released by Orca Books.
An irresistible cover, no? Like author Melodie Campbell, it’s entertaining, funny, and tempting. It makes you want to read what’s inside, so here’s the opening of the book, to get you started:
Okay, I admit it. I would rather be the proud possessor of a rare gemstone than a lakefront condo with parking. Yes, I know this makes me weird. Young women today are supposed to crave the security of owning their own home.
But I say this. Real estate, shmeel estate. You can’t hold an address in your hand. It doesn’t flash and sparkle with the intensity of a thousand night stars, or lure you away from the straight and narrow like a siren from some Greek odyssey.
Let’s face it. Nobody has ever gone to jail for smuggling a one bedroom plus den out of the country.
However, make that a 10-carat cyan blue topaz with a past as long as your arm, and I’d do almost anything to possess it.
But don’t tell the police.
The Goddaughter’s Revenge is available on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/kmgjgsf
The Goddaughter is available on Amazon: http://ow.ly/dnObH
Follow Melodie’s comic blog at www.melodiecampbell.com
Saturday, November 9, 2013
The mating game is at the heart of more novels, more plays, more movies, more songs, and more stories than any other theme. Why is that?
It’s vital. It truly makes the world spin round, and it keeps the planet populated.
But why is relationship so very important to us? Well, we come into the world all alone. We exit this short stay on earth all alone. But most of the time we spend between birth and death is spent searching for a relationship, avoiding a relationship, being in a relationship, leaving a relationship, missing a relationship, or finding a new relationship. Love is our common obsession.
So write about this. Celebrate the joy of romance. Yes, write of bluebirds in rose gardens, canoe rides in the moonlight, first kisses and shared pleasures. But don’t forget the dark side of love: the loneliness of being without love, the sorrow of love gone bad, the conflicts that need to be resolved, or the failure to resolve them. Write of squabbles petty and huge, the wrong words spoken, jealousy, betrayal, heartbreak.
Why am I so negative? It’s because good stories need conflict to take flight. There’s no reason to write a story about a perfect relationship, if such a thing exists, because it would put your reader to sleep. A general rule: a relationship is as interesting, in terms of story, as the problems to be solved. The question asked in every successful relationship story is some form of Ladies’ Home Journal’s classic question: “Can this marriage be saved?”
My new novel, Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery, is as much a love story as it is a mystery. In fact my protagonist, Hoop Johnson, the shy, stuttering, skinny bookstore clerk, has two great loves in the course of the novel. In the main story he falls head over heels for Lucinda Baylor, a fellow clerk. She’s different from him, and unlike any other woman he’s ever known. She’s hefty. She’s also a chatterbox, completely open with her feelings, whether those feelings are made of laughter or outrage. All poor Hoop knows is he’s moving fast into a relationship without a map or a guidebook. Luce likes loud music, and she’s ready to party.
Another problem is that Hoop still hasn’t gotten over Jane Gillis, the famous poet he used to be married to. As we learn in a series of back-story vignettes, Hoop and Janie fell in love in second grade, because they were so much alike: both speech-impaired, both quiet and scholarly and full of poetry. They were the perfect couple, and then she left him.
To tell any more about Hoop and his two loves would be to tell. We writers know it’s better to show. Here’s a scene showing Hooperman and Lucinda on their first “date,” dinner and more at her apartment. Note that relationship glitches are already in place. Can this “marriage” be saved?
He rang the bell. Heard the footsteps. Bit his lip.
The door opened, and there she stood, wearing a warm smile. Wearing a hippie gown, some long thing with little mirrors all over it. “You came,” she said softly. “I was worried.”
He nodded and held his gifts out to her, over the threshold, one in each hand.
“For me? Oh, Hoop! You didn’t have to do this! Wine! Roses?” Lucinda took the gifts and held them to her bosom. She shook her head and said, “Get in here, you. Let me put these in the kitchen so I can give you a huge, huge hug.”
Hoop followed her through the living room—thrift store furniture, Modigliani poster tacked up on one wall, the stereo playing Ella Fitzgerald, “Knock on Wood”—to the kitchen, where she set the flowers and the bottle on the counter. The garlicky, oniony, herby smell of simmering pasta sauce complemented the hefty, happy brown woman who walked into his arms.
“I’ve missed you, dollbaby,” she murmured.
“Let’s open that wine up.” She read the label. “Petit Syrah. Cool. Here’s a corkscrew. You do the honors, while I give these posies a drink.” She handed him the bottle and the corkscrew and scrounged in a lower cupboard for a jar big enough to hold the bouquet of small roses. When the flowers and the bottle were on the kitchen table, breathing in and out, and the sauce was bubbling gently, Lucinda took Hoop’s hand and led him back to the living room, where they sat down on the lumpy couch, one at each end.
“I been missing you, Hooperman,” she said. “I’m going to get us a glass of wine.” She stood up and walked to the kitchen.
When she returned, bottle in hand, she placed two wine glasses on the coffee table, on straw coasters like the ones he and Janie had bought at Cost Plus.
She filled their glasses, set the bottle on the table, and sat down, closer to him this time. They clinked and sipped. The little glass mirrors on her dress winked at him.
“Nice,” she said. “You’re so sweet.”
“You were a muh,model? Are?”
“Not a fashion model, if that’s what you’re asking. I used to model for all the art departments around. Stanford, De Anza, La Cañada, Foothill, Santa Clara, and some private groups, too. Adult ed, Jewish Community Center, and stuff. They seem to like my fat black body. Who knows why. All I know is the pay’s good, ten dollars an hour. Trouble is getting the gigs. I used to belong to the Palo Alto Model’s Guild, but I quit when I started working for the bookstore. Shoot. Maybe they’ll let me back in. Shoot. I’m doing all the talking. Am I nervous, or what? Come on, Hoop. You talk for a change.”
Hoop took another sip. “That would be a chuh,chuh,change.”
“Or we could just sit here. Hold hands? Listen to the music?”
Ella: “Yellow Man.”
They tried sitting quietly, gulping through two more glasses of wine, but Hoop began to fidget, and Lucinda’s peaceful smiles grew more and more forced. “So,” she said, as Ella moved on to the next number, “how’s things at the store? I saw that poster in the window—Jane Gillis! Coming to Palo Alto! God, Hoop, you must be stoked!”
“She’s your favorite poet, right? I mean, you know her personally. God.”
“Used to,” Hoop said. “While aguh,go. In cuh,cuh,college.”
“Was she your girlfriend?”
“How much more?”
They sat in silence, until Lucinda took a deep breath and let it out. “Maybe we’d better change the subject,” she said, fingering one of the mirrors on her chest.
She refilled their glasses, finishing the bottle. “Come to think of it,” she said, “I’m starting to get hungry. How about you? You want to come toss the salad while I cook the pasta? And I got garlic bread in the oven. How’s that sound?” She rose to her feet.
“Wonderful!” He stood up.
“I didn’t make you a dessert. I don’t know how.”
Hooperman took the big woman in his arms and whispered to her ear, “You’ll buh,be all the dessert I want.”
She squeezed back, and in a little, little voice, she said, “I love you, Hoop.” She cleared her throat and quickly added, “I mean, I’ve missed you so. You know?”
Ella sang: “I’ll never fall in love again.…”
Dinner was delicious and nearly silent. He asked her questions like, “Oregano?”
She answered, “Mmm.”
They drank the last of their Petit Syrah, and Luce got up and hauled a jug of Red Mountain out of the fridge and filled their glasses. They slurped linguini and crunched lettuce.
The music stopped. Lucinda stood up and said, “I’ll put something on. What do you like? You like Aretha?”
“Guh,got anything sss…hofter?”
“Whiter, you mean?”
“No. I di,di,didn’t mean that. Not at all.”
“Sorry,” she said. “Just kidding. Bad joke. Hoop, forgive me. I’m nervous. How about Brubeck?”
“You have Buh,Brubeck?”
“You sound surprised.”
“I don’t know the name of it, actually. Somebody left it here. I mean—”
“It’s okay, Luce. Sss…hit down. We don’t need any music. Guh,great spagheh,ghetti!”
“Same thing, actually. Honest to God, why did I do that? Correct you? Jeeze. Sorry Hoop. I’m sort of weird tonight. Hoop?”
“It’s none of my business, but that poet? Jane Gillis?”
He gritted his teeth. “Mmm?”
“Were you lovers?”
“It was a long tuh,time ago, Luce.”
“Were you married? You were, weren’t you?”
He didn’t answer.
“You still have any feelings?”
She paused a moment. “That’s another word for love,” she told him. “And now you’re going to get to see her again. How will that be? Huh?”
Hoop stood up. “I’m sss…horry,” he said again. “I’m afuh,fraid I’m.… I.…” He ran out of things to say. “I think I’d better guh,go.”
“You mean that’s it? It?”
“Why are you so damned angry? Jesus.”
Angry? Maybe. No, hurt. No, embarrassed. No, just damned eager to get out of this apartment with a woman he liked so much he couldn’t stand being with her another minute. “I gotta run.”
She nodded and put a hand on his shoulder. “Run, then, sugar,” she said. Her smile had turned south. “And if you ever think of running back this way, call me first, okay? To be sure I’m not seeing somebody else by then? Somebody real famous maybe?”
Hoop turned away. Just before he reached her front door, he heard her say, “Hoop?”
He heard her say: “One more thing.”
He turned. She approached him until she stood a slap away. But it wasn’t a slap. She walked even closer and kissed his bearded chin. “Dollbaby,” she said. “Thank you for my roses.”
Note: More information about Hooperman: a Bookstore Mystery can be found at: www.danielpublishing.com/jmd/hooperman.html
Note: More information about Hooperman: a Bookstore Mystery can be found at: www.danielpublishing.com/jmd/hooperman.html