Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What’s Your Sign?

The only way I can ­explain reveal my voice, other than in my writing, is to say that I’m a tried and true Libra. When in balance, everything hums along; writing flows, butterflies grace my yard, the clouds part to reveal the sun and I even hear angels singing (oh, sorry, that was the stereo next door).


When I’m out of balance—well I won’t go there. Just know, everything is the opposite of in-balance. So, when I try to write in the latter state, it usually goes like this:
            I dfon’t don’t know anyghitn anything gor for sure. Damn, spilled my coffee on my note book. But I may have moments of clairyt clarity once in a while. . .

If you are a Libra, you will understand. Everybody else, you have your own problems when not in primo form. I partially understand the Pisces’ fish and the Taurus bull (family members) signs, but how does anybody really know all the forces at work to create our bad and good days and temperaments?

When I struggle to find the words to explain the mysterious ways in which we perform to perfection or drag to distraction, I keep flopping around like a fish out of water trying, until those forces align and my writing hums. Some days it just doesn’t come up to the standard I would want, but I still have to have a post so I do what I must.

Organization helps. But when it comes to pencil to paper or finger tips to keyboard, if it’s not upstairs flowing like honey, it comes out all sticky and slow. My contradictions and conundrums show but I keep on typing for that moment of clarity.

The idea for this blog post was a moment of insight, just briefly as I lay in bed this morning wondering what the he!!? I was going to write about. I’m already one day late for my Monday post and the pressure only makes it worse. So, here’s what you get, perfectly suited to my new log line: drinking from the eclectic cool-aid (with a “c”on purpose-think about it).

Archetypes, Astrology and the Tarot


I love this subject. It’s at the heart of characterization. Understand the archetypes like Joseph Campbell described http://bit.ly/qRNlfz  and you are well on your way to developing your characters. But all characters are a mix of real psychological types, scrambled with contradictions. So I decided to bring up some thoughts about how they might work.


Let’s start with the astrological sign of Libra which I know so well as moi (I never took French so forgive me if I slaughtered correct usage here—it just sounded so perfect—thank you Miss Piggy).

Libra is the sign of balance, shown with the scales of justice (always weighing things back and forth like a see-saw, often in turmoil deciding if it’s this or that, right or wrong, correct or incorrect, spending an inordinate amount of time making a decision—before eventually achieving the middle ground).

The Tarot
Libra, with its scales of justice, is the ruling sign of the Tarot card, Justice.

Our courthouses have Justice blindfolded with the scales—so she won’t be swayed by emotion which would throw her out of wack (you don’t know the half of it).

Libra also refers to the Greek word for yoke. . . The astrological glyph for Libra resembles both a balance and a yoke. Criminals are yoked by the balanced application of the law, and spouses are bound or yoked together by matrimony. Mythological images of scales, yokes and swords (another symbol of justice and a suit of the tarot) have early roots in Western myth and culture.”

But, some say The Empress is the card for the Libra, being that Venus is the symbol of female fecundity and fertility and the planet that rules Libra.

She influences love and the emotions (which can be very pleasant and loving or play havoc with how you perceive people or circumstances, as well as the state of your own emotional mindset.) Like Venus, the Empress also means justice or adjustment.

“The main symbol for this card is a balance or scale used for measuring weight. The scale is held by a goddess who holds an upright sword. The symbolism represents the law of cause and effect; those natural forces which seek a balance or moderation in all things. The figure shown in the Thoth deck is the feminine complement of the Fool, a young and slender woman. She is poised on her toes and crowned with the feathers of Maat, the goddess of justice. On her forehead is the Uraeus serpent. She is masked (Harlequin) and holds a magic Swords in both hands between her thighs. She is wrapped in a Cloak of Mystery. Before her is a large two-pan balance. This card represents the conscience. The imagery suggests the archetypes of justice, fairness, and balance.”
            by Gerald Schueler, Ph.D. © 1997

But, the best explanation: is that when Venus is in the sign of Libra, “from a Tarot perspective, would be likened to the Empress is wearing the clothes of Justice. She’s gotten tough and taken up the sword. She
“is about creation and abundance. She encourages play and wants to shower the whole world in joy. She’s a hands-on type mother, and maybe a little indulgent, but she knows the world can be tough. If she can provide her children with protection from what’s ugly and cold, she’ll do it.And she’ll do it with style.
The Empress is beauty in all its manifestations, and love fills everything she touches. Justice, on the other hand is a little more hard-core. It’s not that she doesn’t love, but she’s more concerned that things are fair or right.
She insists on balance, clarity and respect for authority. Not the authority of the dictator, but the authority of a more universal law. Rules are guides to ‘right living’, and can be very useful. But Justice is more than just rules. She’s the guardian of nature’s interplay.”  http://bit.ly/wbJYSr

So there you have multiple, and complex ideas, on how to write a Libra character. A few of our local writers here in town are astrologers and go about building their characters through knowledge of astrology.

Have you ever used the Tarot or astrology to help you build one or more or your characters?

Do you take much time researching psychological types for your characters? (Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell)

Do you recognize this character in movies or TV? (can be male or female)

If I continue this column (depending on positive responses), which sign would you like me to talk about? If yes, then I have to ask, what’s your sign

Tags: #tarot #astrology #archetypes #CarlJung #JosephCampbell

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Vision Quests, Shamans and Mara'kame


Psychic.  Occult.  Possessed.  Sacrifice.  Voodoo. 
What associations, visions and emotions do these words evoke in you?

How about:  Angels.  God.  Heaven.  Altruism.  Sacrifice.

Different sets of words both with sacrifice. Associations you already hold in your mind play a big part of your perceptions. Words have power because of what the reader brings. Since I consider metaphysical subjects quite often, I thought I’d give you some food for thought. 

I have been intrigued by native medicine and healing practices for a long time. I have researched and ordered rain forest herbs for specific ailments, carefully tried to get all the vitamins and herbs (notice plural-you should see my kitchen cabinet) that I need for my body, and have gone to healers (non-doctors) at certain times in my life when traditional medicine failed me. I was also part of a healing group that worked with the etheric body (subject for a later post). Part of my journey has been like a research project on myself. Always open to alternate methods of healing, I still hold a scientific reticence that it could be a con, or just the suggestion of the mind--words again, and the associations we hold. Nevertheless, I have seen some amazing things and try to remain open minded.

Many years ago, my husband and I went to Mexico and were told of this elderly professor that collected yarn painting by the Huichol Indians and that she might have some of her collection she would be willing to part with, but she needed to talk to us first (check us out?). After talking to us for quite a while, she brought out some of her yarn paintings.

You may have heard of these yarn paintings and for those who have not, let me give you a short explanation. 
          The Huichol Indians (like national treasures) are revered in Mexico. http://bit.ly/xAhnam . Their sacrament is the peyote—yeah, that one—which they gather while on a spiritual trek into the desert. They eat the peyote to bring on visions that draw them closer to their spiritual center. They glean inspiration on their journey that they then share in paintings and statues (made of yarn or beads) and through embroidery.

So, this lady sold us two of her yarn paintings and a statue made of beads pressed into bee's wax. At that time in the seventies they were inexpensive (now you often see them in museums) and we were thrilled because I really loved the whole idea of these people; descendants of the Aztecs who the Spanish could not conquer, who had kept their culture intact and had become recognized as a national treasure because of their integrity and beauty of spirit.

It wasn’t until several months later while staring at one of the yarn paintings hanging on the wall, in a moment of complete relaxation--sort of meditation where no words were running through my mind, that this head popped out like a psychedelic blip. In the swirl of red and orange designs was the head of a mara’kame in the negative space that I hadn’t seen before and didn’t know was there.  A mara’kame (mar-uh-ka-may) is a Mexican healer or shaman. 

(For more on mara’kame, shamans and use of peyotehttp://bit.ly/zz78Rk Personal reminiscences of Mexico's Huichol people III: the shaman by Ronald A. Barnett )

When I got past the surprise and excitement of the moment, I gleaned deep insight into what the Huichol artist had seen and experienced and was able to bring out in his art. I understood the wonder of his peyote experience, the power of the mara’kame as shaman, the power of color and art in healing and teaching by getting beyond words. I felt it all at once in that moment of stark clarity when I wasn’t holding any resistance or mental blocks.

For those with pain or illness, check out this blog:

http://bit.ly/zYdRf2 Deal with Resistance First

Are you open to what lies just over the edge, beyond words? 

Have you had any metaphysical experiences? 

I'd love to hear about them.

 Tags #native american healers #native medicine #power of visions #metaphysical

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Absolutely Most Important Thing a Writer Must Have?


We all have a voice. And Whitney was dubbed the Voice. Ted Williams is dubbed, the golden voice, and Kevin Clash created the voice of Elmo (some very insightful things about voice and character in this interview).

The most important thing a writer must have is a voice that grabs and holds the reader and makes him want to read on past the hook, past the first page, past the first chapter and on to the end.

I have read dozens of blogs in the past two months and I came to realize that there are a few things that make me look forward to certain blogs—the voice of the writer; her take on and expression in the world. Is the voice authentic? Is the blogger trying too hard to be clever? Do I believe the writer even if I don’t always agree with her/his opinions? Does the writer speak my language? Or a language I can relate to? Ah, that’s getting closer.

When I started the journey with Kristen Lamb’s Blogging To Build Brand class to develop a blog, I didn’t realized that it would also be a journey to develop my voice. When Kristen helps us with log lines, she is trying to identify our voice. But our log line won’t keep the readers reading, it will only help us get their attention.

Do we have content with purpose or are we just rambling, trying to fill a page? Does the writer talk at, over or through me? Or does he speak to me.

I found great, in-depth advice on how to develop your voice over at Cori Padgett’s Copy Blogger site

Do you have your blogger voice or are you still trying to develop it? 
Have you seen development in other Wana peeps as we have traveled the path with Kristen’s class? 
I’m sure your comments will help other peeps, bloggers and writers that are still confused so don't hold back.

Tags: #writer #voice #bloggers 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Soul Music

"The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business."
John Steinbeck

I was awakened this morning to the crashing sound of hail all around the house. I drank my coffee while watching the crystaline beads destroying the plants outside my window. I turned on the computer and pulled up Kristen Lamb's insightful post Bracing for the Impact-The Future of Big Publishing in the New Paradigm. I wanted to crawl back to bed and pull the covers over my head. This day was not starting out well. I know she didn't mean to affect me like this, just one of my blah days I guess.

When I got up, again, I read my emails, Facebook, checked Twitter and read blogs on Triberr and Tweeted but I couldn't do the one thing a writer is suppose to do, write. I was un-inspired. Sorry, can't bring up the juices when they won't flow.

I turned back to John Steinbeck, hoping for inspiration and found: 
"A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it." 

Yeah, already got that--can't control my inspiration on my writer's journey. I read on, 
"A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us."

Okay, forget the writer-ly advice. This is far from inspiring me. I turned to the only thing that works for me--music--rock on momma! 

Okay, now I feel better.  
What do you do on your blah days? Advice anyone?

Tags: soul music, writer, writer inspiration

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Writing 101 -- Part II, Submitting Short Stories

How do you to choose a short story contest right for you? How do you avoid the pitfalls?

As an offshoot of my local chapter of Sisters-in-Crime (national mystery writer’s organization promoting women writers), we’ve created the Coveted Dead Bird short story contest. This gives our members a chance to generate stories and hone their skills.

(Sisters in Crime does not condone contests within chapters because it pits members against each other—judges them, so our contest is kept separate.)

But our writers get excited to try and win that quirky upside down dead bird (not real) on a trophy because of its ‘prestige’—ha! We even have Sisters in Crime members from other chapters on the East Coast submitting, trying to get our Dead Bird.
One good idea is to check locally for writing organizations and clubs that are having contests. It’s a good way to get your feet wet if you have never submitted before. Some will even include a critique of your work, but not usually.

The reason I bring this up is because when you start to write short stories, you need the practice. The fundamental thing to remember is that a short story is not a short novel; it is a story that cuts to the point and gets out quickly. No time to ramble. Don’t try to take a scene from your novel and make it a short story—it usually doesn’t work. Although I wrote a short story that I’ve been encouraged to expand into a novella- but it will have to undergo significant changes. It's harder to do the reverse.

Check where you are submitting, they often have previous year winning stories posted—you will do better if you read their previous winners to get a feel for what they’re looking for. Also key—find out who the judges are if you can; what they write, what they like to read, etc.

You MUST follow guidelines to a T. If it says 150 words, then don’t send 151 words—and count the words, don’t use a computer word counter. You can be eliminated before you even get read if you don’t follow the directions. I usually print off the submission guidelines and when I think I am ready to submit, I check off the guidelines to be sure I have met each one exactly.

You will most often have a submission fee, but when starting out, I don’t recommend entering contests that charge a lot. I am always suspicious of that unless they are offering a huge amount as the winning prize, which then means the odds of winning are much greater (ex.. Writer’s Digest yearly contest has a $3000. prize). http://www.writersdigest.com/competitions/short-story

Winning some contests will simply get you published in an anthology and are usually free submission. You will get a copy of the anthology when it is published and maybe something else, but the important part is that you get the writing credits for having been published in an anthology, often with some well known authors.

The kind of contest you enter will be determined by what you write. I write genre fiction, not suitable for journals or university magazines. If you are starting out, pick a small contest, with less entrants, your chances of winning are better.

Here is a link for a list of writing contests:

I came across this contest when I was Googling around. Looks like a good one to start with if you have never entered before, it’s only 750 words: http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php
Check out the judge, Elise Capron with the Sandra Dihkstra Literary Agency. Who knows where winning this contest could take you for a $10.00 entry fee (have a novel ready to go?).

Here is another list of calls for submissions for anthologies and magazines. These are more varied.

Good luck and let me know if you enter one. (I even spotted one I’m interested in submitting to while researching for this post.)

So, tell me what genre of fiction you write and if you have any short stories in your files. Now is a good time to think about getting one out there. You never know where it will take you.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Writing 101 – Is Your Fiction Writing Any Good?

What experience have you had with fiction? Have you taken fiction writing classes? Do you have a critique group that tells you your writing is wonderful? Well, test it before writing that novel, or, test it while writing that novel.

In my experience, I have found short story writing an excellent way to sharpen writing skills. And what better way to evaluate what you have learned than by writing for a short story contest. Contests give you a word limit which helps you tighten up your verbosity—chop out non-essential words—and then chop out even more. You quickly learn to axe those beloved adverbs and adjectives when you have to count every word.

Some say they can’t write short stories. Why? Because they're long winded? Because they don’t want to let go of the adjectives? Because they can’t think small? It is an excellent way to challenge yourself as a writer.

If you decide to give it a try, where do you find those contests? And more important, how do you choose the right ones for you. Some of my fellow writers don’t agree with me on this, but I won’t submit to a contest where I don’t get something in return. I strongly believe an author deserves to get paid for his/her work—especially if someone else is going to gain from it. Some contests are seeking stories to be included in an anthology, some are for monetary gain (usually small amounts, but not always), some are for a trophy or certificate.

I think if there is a local writing club or organization that is having a contest for a certificate, it is fine to begin there (you can always use that story again later).

When our small group of writers decided to find contests and submit, we used the term guerilla marketing coined by Sunny Frazier (see a few articles back for Sunny’s guest post: http://coraramos-cora.blogspot.com/2012/01/whats-your-genre.html. Now the term has morphed into other meanings. After we had been to several conferences/conventions and talked on panels, another author wrote a book with that title. I don't think that book was about short stories, but it certainly expresses the way to individually approach short story contest writing and submitting (commitment, consistency, aggressively apply to contests, continue to improve, don't give up, etc.)

It was quite effective to think about attacking short story writing contests with a guerilla mentality. We met together and charted our progress and successes like a horse race (we actually used a progress board with our individual horses showing our progress). We shared contest information, listed our contest attempts and celebrated our successes when published.

Mord zwischen Messer und Gabel. 34 Krimis, 99 RezepteOne of my early wins was for inclusion in an anthology of short stories of culinary crime created by members of Sisters in Crime in Germany, translated as Murder Between Knife and Fork (Andrea Busch). For years, that anthology was reissued and when I met Andrea at a Bouchercon Convention (http://bouchercon2012.com/), she shared that she read my story at dinner readings in restaurants throughout Germany, always with great reception. 

That one story taught me a great lesson, although it was only about 600 words. Small does not mean menial. It can have great value to your self esteem. I did continue to get residuals on that story for years—not enough to retire on, ha!—but certainly enough to build my self confidence as a writer.

Next time on part 2 of Writing 101 I will talk on how to choose a short story contest right for you and how to avoid pitfalls. Meanwhile, here are some sites on writing short fiction and some contests to check out:

Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Contest—deadline May 1st

Elaine Pillay host to Anthony Ehlersshort story writer from South Africa. http://elainepillay.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/short-story-writing-tips-for-the-essential-voice-competition/

Kate Thornton-Writing the Mystery Short Story

Short Mystery Fiction Society

Coppola’s Zoetrope--All story short story contests:

10 best short stories of all time

Anybody out there knows about the law? Here’s a good legal fiction contest coming up in March—judged by major authors:

For those who aren't writing short stories, visit Kristen Lamb's blog for really great advice on completing your novel and avoiding the pitfalls of a critique group: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/a-new-approach-to-a-traditional-group-the-concept-critique/

Have you written/submitted to short story contests? Share what you gained from the experience? 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Opening Hook

What do you look for when you choose a book to read?

At a writer’s conference a while back, my friends and I sat down to go through the free bag of books we each received —all different. We read opening lines/paragraphs out loud to see what grabbed us, looking for that great hook that would entice us to read that book first.

First lines/paragraphs are all some people look at when choosing a book. I decided to give you a few today to see what grabs you. You may want to go back and re-write the opening lines of your own novel after this.

(Titles and authors are listed at the end—but first see if you can guess the authors, or match them up to names at the bottom before looking at the final answers) Most are mystery writers but not all.

1.         Nathan Rubin died because he got brave. Not the sustained kind of thing that wins you a medal in a war, but the split-second kind of blurting outrage that gets you killed on the street.
            He left home early, as he always did, six days a week, fifty weeks a year. A cautious breakfast, appropriate to a short round man aiming to stay in shape through his forties. A long walk down the carpeted corridors of a lakeside house appropriate to a man who earned a thousand dollars on each of those three hundred days he worked. A thumb on the button of the garage-door opener and a twist of the wrist to start the silent engine of his expensive imported sedan. A CD into the player, a backward sweep into his gravel driveway, a dab on the brake, a snick of the selector, a nudge on the gas, and the last short drive of his life was under way. Six forty-nine in the morning, Monday.

2.         The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted. Trisha McFarland discovered this when she was nine years old. At ten o’clock on a morning in early June she was sitting in the back seat of her mother’s Dodge Caravan, wearing her blue Red Sox batting practice jersey (the one with 36 GORDON on the back) and playing with Mona, her doll. At ten thirty she was lost in the woods. By eleven she was trying not to be terrified, trying not to let herself think, This is serious, this is very serious. Trying not to think that sometime when people got lost in the woods they got seriously hurt. Sometimes they died.
            All because I needed to pee, she thought . . .   

3.         My worst dreams have always contained images of brown water and fields of elephant grass and the downdraft of helicopter blades. The dreams are in color but they contain no sound, not of drowned voices in the river or the explosions under the hooches in the village we burned or the thropping of the Jolly Green and the gunships coming low and flat across the canopy, like insects pasted against a molten sun.

4.         Everybody lies.
            Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.
            A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows this. The judge knows this. Even the jury knows this. They come into the building knowing they will be lied to. They take their seats in the box and agree to be lied to.
            The trick if you are sitting at the defense table is to be patient. To wait. Not for just any lie. But for the one you can grab on to and forge like hot iron into a sharpened blade. You then use that blade to rip the case open and spill its guts out on the floor.
            That’s my job, to forge the blade. To sharpen it. To use it without mercy or conscience. To be the truth in a place where everybody lies.

5.         The secret is how to die.
            Since the beginning of time, the secret had always been how to die.
            The thirty-four-year-old initiate gazed down at the human skull cradled in his palms. The skull was hollow, like a bowl, filled with bloodred wine.
            Drink it, he told himself. You have nothing to fear.

Hint: here are the authors out of order, can you match them up? 
Stephen King
Lee Child
Dan Brown
James Lee Burke
Michael Connelly

Okay, here are the answers:
  1. Lee Child – Die Trying
  2. Stephen King – The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
  3. James Lee Burke – The Tin Roof Blowdown
  4. Michael Connelly – The Brass Verdict
  5. Dan Brown – The Lost Symbol 
How did you do?
Did this give you any ideas on how to improve your own work?
What do you look for when you choose a book to read?

tags: mystery, horror, thriller, writing, reading 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Crop Circles and a Mayan messenger

When I began my last blog on the Maya, I wanted to talk about their system of math, but decided it was too long to include in that post.

Then I viewed Kim Griffin’s blog: http://thefitnessmoms.com/2012/01/30/red-strings-connect-us/ “Introducing Mathematical Monday, a time to explore numbers and patterns and their place in the universe.”

It inspired how I would focus on Mayan math for this post. Without giving a long explanation of their system, I’ve included a chart that is self-explanatory: dots=ones, bars=fives and a shell symbol for 0. It is a base 20 system unlike our base 10 system.

These numbers can be seen on many stela in the Yucatan documenting dates of important occurrences (past and future events—like an important battle by a chieftain, a birth date, or the beginning and end of their cycle that began in 3114 BC., etc.)

On July 5, 2009 there was a crop circle that appeared near Silbury Hill in southern England that floored me. I immediately saw the distinctive Mayan numbers within this crop circle. 

I calculated the numbers but couldn’t make any sense of it—I thought it might have to do with the Dec. 21, 2012 end date (which is not the end of the world-merely the end of a cycle and we don’t know what that means; we can only speculate), but it wasn’t. I put it out of my mind knowing that sooner or late someone would figure it out.

I will let those interested, go to this site and peruse all the connections the author has made in detail. One connection is the date a comet came near earth around 32 BC and of the comet expected this year of 2012.

http://news.discovery.com/space/will-earthbound-comet-fulfill-2012-prophecy.html (nearly 300 million miles away and barreling toward us. The intruder from deep space, called comet Elenin, crosses Earth's orbit on its inbound leg and again on its outbound swing around the sun later this year.)

Does this indicate that another cycle is closing? And what of the unmistakable symbols in this crop circle for the legendary Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent messenger? Is he returning this year?

Agreed, you will leave this post with more questions than answers, but maybe it will stimulate your creativity like red string theory and the “coincidences” all around us.

An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle but will never break.

Not limited to lovers (the subject of my novel that dips into that Mayan past) it means all the connections in the universe—so a crop circle in England is somehow tied to the plumed serpent (Quezalcoatl) and the math of the Maya indicating comets coming toward earth, beginning and ending cycles and . . . 

What does it all mean? What do you think?