News from Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tips on Writing Dialogue

Note: Maddie's Choice will be available for 99 cents from Amazon in early June. Send me an email if you want to be reminded.
The goal when you’re writing dialogue is to give a different voice to each character so everybody talks differently. It doesn’t have to be major, and it can include mannerisms, like biting a nail of shuffling feet. Hand and body movement, and facial expressions are all part of dialogue—the constant advice you hear to “show, don’t tell.” That way you don’t have to use a tag.

You could write: “I didn’t have nothing to do with taking that book,” she lied. However, it’s much better if you write: She sat huddled in the chair, head down so she couldn’t meet his eyes, her voice a whisper. “I didn’t have nothing to do with taking that book.” You’re not telling; you’re showing she’s lying.
I’m going to use my Southern novel, Maddie’s Choice,” for examples of dialogue because it has many characters of all ages and experience. Maddie is from New York, early thirties, writer of romance novels, and she has writer’s block. She’s on an Arkansas cattle ranch she’s inherited half of, to get her mojo back. New Yorkers are brash, smart-mouthed, and they tell it like it is. (Donald Trump a case in point.) She uses a lot of clichés. Her arrival at the ranch is greeted with unexplained hostility. She quips, “Not quite the reception I expected, but it will have to do. Don’t bother to kill the fatted calf, I’ve had lunch.” Nobody laughs. She finally loses her patience at her hostile reception, turns to the gorgeous hunk of man, Gideon, who is the owner of the other half of the ranch, and demands help with her luggage. With a smirk fit to cow a New York waiter into submission, she says, “Since you seem to be in charge, Macho Man, it’s your call.”
Pete is the grizzled, elderly ranch foreman, wise but unsophisticated, Southern to the core. His opinion of Chardonnay wine that Maddie brought is: “I never did care much for grapes in a bunch; don’t know why I’d like ‘em in a bottle, but it gets the job done.” He tells Maddie, “You’re gonna be a hard dog to keep, under the porch, ain’t ya?”
Gideon is ex-military with a bad case of PTSD, which has made him avoid getting close to anyone. He’s well educated and speaks five languages, all Afghan dialect. He’s lonely and is attracted to Maddie, but she confuses him. I’ve given him a habit that expresses this. When he’s confused because she talks too fast for him to keep up, he says, “Well, Hell.”
Maddie’s Choice is about small-town Southern living and culture. Maddie encounters sweet tea and Ritz Cracker Pie as well as a motorcycle drug gang. One of the comedy characters in the book is the sheriff’s wife who dresses like Dale Evans and ends every sentence with, “So to speak.”
Writing dialogue is the best part of the book for me. Visit my website at or my Amazon Author’s page to read more. Each of my novels is a different location with a different dialogue style.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Let's Do Something Different--Eureka Springs Style!

A miracle is about to happen.
When the soil is consistently about 50 degrees, strange things erupt in the woods all over Arkansas. There's fungus among us! Eureka springs goes crazy!! Morel Mushroom season is upon us and we celebrate. Of course we do. We celebrate everything, but on April 16 the Annual Morel gets underway in the parking lot outside the Chamber of Commerce Office on Highway 62, at about 9 a.m. We will have a seminar on how to hunt, find, clean and prepare the little buggers for eating. There will be a guided mushroom hunt to follow. Morells are nature's wonder, but you have to be there. They must be fresh and succulent; locally considered to be one of the  basic food groups. There will be a cook-off between our local restaurants and B&B's, music, booths to buy mushroom memorabilia and, of course, one more Eureka t-shirt to add to your collection. Go to    for more info. Before you go home make reservations for May 2. That is the kick-off for the May Fine Arts Festival and Saturday Drumming in the Park, led by our drummer professional, Yao, with his huge African Drum. Kids love this. 
 Let Them Make Noise!
 If you happen to be in downtown Eureka Springs on the first Saturday of the month, around 6:00 p.m., and you see a crowd of people hooping and hollering and banging away on bongos, frying pans, toy drums, and buckets with spoons, don't worry. It's perfectly normal. Some will be dancing, some will be swing hula hoops and some (newbie visitors) will be stunned speechless. It's free. Everybody is welcome and nobody cares what you wear.
Notice the look of pure delight the drummers have on their faces. There's something about beating a drum that makes new friends and chases worries. Bring your camera. Lots of Selfies going on.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Specters and Manifestations - The Haunting of Aaron House

    From that day in first grade when words began to emerge from the jumble of letters on the page, I knew I wanted to write. My father raised me from the age of six, in Lancaster, PA, the setting for The Haunting of Aaron House. He was a voracious reader, so I became one. This was the 1930’s and 40’s when television, Internet, and Xbox didn’t exist. We got our information and entertainment from movies, radio, and reading. Folklore, superstition, and the supernatural were accepted as facts of life in this then rural community. My paternal grandmother was a folk healer, or Pow-Wow Woman, or sometimes witch, as they are called. She could cast spells. I listened to many frightening stories as a child--of ghosts and supernatural happenings--so I developed a natural interest in the subject, and later, while growing up, began a reference library. My prize possession is John George Hohlman’s, Pow-Wows, Or the Long-Lost Friend, a compilation of spells to heal and ward off spirits, published first in 1830. I use the book a lot in Aaron House. The exorcism at the end of the book is from here.
     When I was ready to become an author, I decided my first novel would be about an unsuspecting family haunted by ghosts who need their energy to become strong enough to destroy each other.
The main protagonists in Aaron House are Paul and Samantha Barlowe, and their son, Andy, who come to Lancaster from Chicago to shoot an historical documentary film. They temporarily reside in Aaron House as guests of the local chamber of commerce. Immediately upon their arrival the haunting begins. Your first hint is in the novel’s prologue. My characters know nothing about ghosts, and have a lot to learn about the awful dangers of ghostly possession. If you don’t believe in ghosts now, you might when you finish reading the book.
     You’ll discover there are seven classifications of ghosts, according to their power. Most Western religions teach that man is two beings: the physical, which dies, and the spirit, which lives on, encouraging the idea of life after death. Thus, right after death there is Stage One, or the memory impression.  Many of you have experienced this, but ignored it. This is the sense you get in a space when a presence lingers, but is not visible.
This happens often at historical sites in Eureka Springs, especially at our local cemetery, and some of our local hotels, but most visitors are not open to the idea, so don’t feel it. As the spirit lingers, instead of passing on, usually because of some unfinished business or violent death, it becomes stronger with time, taking the form of a mist, and gradually grows in strength until there is form. This is the way Amalie first appears to Sam and Paul. Older spirits can transmit thought, and move objects. Finally the last, Stage Seven, is achieved. This is the most dangerous and powerful.
     Phineas is here. He has form, can enter bodies, and take over completely. He can kill. It takes years, and feeding on the energy of many humans, to reach this strength. Amalie hates Phineas and needs all of Samantha to reach level seven, so she can destroy him. When she enters Sam, flashbacks to earlier times in Amalie's life begin, and Sam experiences some of the early American history of the region. Paul refuses to believe this can happen until Phineas invades him, during a very inopportune moment.
     If Paul, Sam, and Andy are going to survive, they need the wisdom of a Pow-Wow Woman to succeed. Let the fun begin.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Out Takes: The Best of Love in a Small Town

The first draft of my latest book, Love in a Small Town, had to lose about 20,000 words to bring it in under 80,000. Two of the out takes were worth saving, Logan’s Haircut and Sarah’s tattoo. Here is the story of the haircut.
Logan is the class resident geek and genius who hangs with three friends, Dakota, Anthony, and Karen, also considered class misfits. He sees Sarah’s discomfort the first day, responds to her misery, bit is too shy to connect until the day she catches him following her home from school. Sarah responds to him and they become friends. Sarah’s nurturing soul decides he needs a makeover to improve his acceptance. One day, on the way home from school, she talks him into a haircut. We’re in Logan’s point of view.

Logan's Haircut

“You want to do this today?”
“Absolutely. Right now, before you have a chance to change your mind.” Sarah grabbed his hand and pulled him along the sidewalk at a trot, in a hurry, he guessed to get a haircut before he could figure a way out, sure men didn’t get haircuts where women did.
With no chance to do more than voice a futile plea for time, he was there—at “Hair by Delon.” His father would go ballistic at the thought of him getting a haircut at a place like this, and probably by a gay. In a community as diverse as Eureka Springs, you learned to be comfortable with gays, but, on the two occasions per year he was ordered to get his hair cut, his Dad sent him to the local barbershop, also a fishing and hunting guide service. His hair was pretty long, so maybe his Dad wouldn’t ask questions.
In an agony of embarrassment, he allowed himself to be dragged into the shop and hauled before the only person there, probably Delon. The guy was good-looking enough to be a model, and he smiled at Sarah affectionately, like she was his favorite person.
“Delon,” Sarah said, “we need your help. My friend, Logan, must have something done with his hair. I promised him you’re the best, and wouldn’t do anything radical, just make him look like a hunk.”
Logan felt his face flush. Delon gave him a wink that was pleased and sympathetic at the same time. “I can relate. Our Miss Sarah is hard to resist when she’s on a mission.” He whipped a cape from a wall hook and ordered, “Come over here and sit in this chair.”
The chair was next to a sink. Logan looked at it, warily. Was this guy going to wash his hair? He would have bolted for the door, but already he was in the chair, lying head back, in front of the sink. Warm water drenched his scalp. Soapsuds clogged his ears.
“Sarah.” It came out a strangled cry.
Sarah held his hand, patting it soothingly, like he was some scared little kid. He understood this was her turf, and she was in charge. “Relax, Logan. Hair has to be wet to be cut properly.”
“Sweetie,” Delon nodded to Sarah, “go put the Closed sign on the door, and lock it.” He winked at Logan, giving him an understanding smile.
Logan sighed. At least nobody he knew was going to come walking in the door and see him. This guy was all right.
Done. With his head wrapped in a towel, he was led to a swivel chair, in front of a mirror, and told to sit, while Sarah and Delon discussed his hair like he wasn’t even there.
Sarah circled him intently, like a cat considering possible prey. “Maybe a Matthew McConahey, but longer.”
 “He has such lovely hair, and thick. Once it’s thinned, we’ll find too much curl for the McConahey look. I can do better.” He seized his scissors and advanced.
Logan’s eyes widened in alarm. Delon just laughed.
“Trust me. You’re going to walk out of here looking gorgeous.” Rapidly he sectioned the hair and fastened it with clips. Logan cringed at his image. Alarming amounts of hair fell in clumps all around him. Delon turned the chair away from the mirror.
“You can’t see what I’m doing until it’s over. This is going to be marvelous.” He purred with anticipation, scissors snapping like teeth.
It didn’t take long. Clippers were used to shave the back of his neck, after which a large, soft brush dusted all the loose hair away, and the cape was removed. A short session with a hair dryer, and he was finished.
Delon spun the chair with a flourish. “There, now. How’s that?”
 He looked so different. His hair barely covered his ears, curling softly around his face. It looked a lot thicker on top and part of it fell onto his forehead. Actually, it looked pretty neat. Yeah, he looked good.
“It’s cool,” was all he could manage.
“Logan,” Sarah’s voice was hushed in awe, “you’re absolutely beautiful. I had no idea. You have incredible eyes.”
Delon hummed. “Wouldn’t you just kill for eyelashes that long? Absolutely to die for.” He sighed, resigned. “I’m a genius, but I manage to live with it.”

Thursday, January 28, 2016

How To Add Interest To Your Writing With Time-travel

Using events in another time period to advance your plotline adds interest and color to your story. Generally you achieve this with either time-travel, which is moving your present-day protagonist physically to the location, flashbacks to another time within the protagonists lifetime, or reincarnation, where they emerge as another person. Your readers really don’t care how you get there; they simply want to be there. Research carefully, find interesting tidbits about your time period, like the food, the clothing. Your reader wants to be a tourist along with having an adventure.
Travelling in time is only theory and not something you can look up in Wikipedia, but research into the possible theories, learning new things, investigating new places adds a whole new dimension to writing that makes the job of committing some 70,000 words to paper exciting. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about whaling in 1865 when I wrote Love Out of Time, and discovered a fascinating event in the Civil War called The Stone Fleet Incident. You didn’t want to know how they did laundry on a boat, but I told you anyhow.
The wildly popular, romantic “Highlander” series by Diana Gabaldon has brought back interest in this genre. She uses Scotland and the Battle of Culloden in 1746, as her historical period. Her female character passes through an energy force to get there, and back again. Her romantic interest is hauntingly memorable.
In my novel, The Haunting of Aaron House, I use flashbacks of the ghost inhabiting Samantha’s body. The main secret to this writing is a strong sense of place. Your reader wants to be there with your protagonist, so you must put yourself there to observe small details, like clothing, speech, and manners—reacting to the scene so your readers hear the sounds, smell the odors around them. Garbage? Food? Blood?  In The Haunting of Aaron House, Amalie, the ghost in Samantha, is having a flashback to the Battle of Gettysburg. She’s in the middle of Pickett’s Charge.
“Amos! Amos, my beloved, where are you?” She stopped, holding her mouth, coughing. “I can’t breathe. The smoke from the guns is choking me. Too much noise. Cannons exploding, and men crying, horses screaming in pain.” She ran farther, her hands over her ears, staggering to avoid soldiers, and fell to the ground, crying for Amos.
Love Out of Time uses time-travel, complicated by shifts to parallel universes. We go to 1865, and a whaling village in Massachusetts called New Kensington. My main character, Sara Burkhart, rents a beach house in present day New Kensington that is haunted by a sea captain, leader of a group of time travellers from the old town. Sara’s ghost, Caleb, sends her back in time to i865 New Kensington. In this brief excerpt of Sara’s first visit, she wakes in the middle of the night.
Cautiously she opened one eye at a time, afraid of what she’d find, peering through the mist. It was night. She was outdoors. The smell of salt water indicated an ocean nearby. Roughly clad male bodies shoved past her, ignoring her presence. Judging by the shadows of tall-masted sailing ships in the distance, the sounds of bells and creaking timber, and the odors of rotten fish, unwashed bodies, and wet wool, she was somewhere far removed from her time.
Looking up. She saw a sign hanging overhead, the words “Sounder Inn” painted in coarse letters around a spouting whale—a tavern. …….Cautiously, she ventured inside. A strange mix of men of all races and nationalities…..some nearly naked and covered with tattoos.
You get the idea. Try it and go places you’ll never be.
See these books on my Amazon page.

Friday, December 11, 2015

How To Write Good Dialogue

I'm a dialogue junkie. The first thing I look for when I read a novel is quotation marks.
 If I don't see any by page 2, I'm out of there. I like to be inside my characters in a scene and see, the way it looks and smells to them. You learn this by constantly describing people and scenes in your mind all day, wherever you go. When you meet someone with a characteristic you can use, describe them in your journal. When you write dialogue, you are the character, playing out the scene.
Most people use clichés when they speak, according to their culture. I live in the South, and one of my favorites is, “He’s a hard dog to keep under the porch.” “Back in the day” is used too much. I save it for people I don’t like. When teenagers are relating a conversation, they often start with, “He goes…” and then, “I go…” I like to give pet expressions to my characters. The sheriff’s wife in my book, Maddie’s Choice, is a loud, buxom woman who ends a lot of her sentences with “So to speak,” and has Maddie doing it sometimes.
 Since I write women’s lit with romance, I create, first, a female and a male main protagonist, and I’ll probably write in each one’s point of view, which means I have to know the character intimately before they speak—be in tune with the emotions governing their speech, as well as their background and culture. How do they feel at that moment? Okay, here’s a for instance from my romance, Maddie’s Choice, set present day, at an Arkansas cattle ranch.
Maddie Taylor is from New York, a successful writer of romances and has inherited half of the ranch.  She’s just driven in and is greeted by a very unfriendly crowd of cowboys. Clearly she’s not welcome. We’ve already met her in New York so we know how she’s looked forward to living on a ranch, yearning for real friends. Disappointed almost to tears at their attitude she loses her temper and explodes into a rant. Feisty Maddie has a smart mouth. Her speech will reflect her background as a successful writer, educated, with a large vocabulary at her command.  She’s just been told Uncle Gid said she’s some Bimbo who just wants to take the money and leave.
Fueled by anger, she planted her bright red boots solidly, put her fists on her hips, and raged, “Whoever implied that is a sexist, judgmental, bigoted ignoramus who doesn’t have a clue, and has no business giving opinions on subjects about which he knows nothing. Where might I find this paragon of Western wisdom so that I might enlighten him?”
“Right here, ma’am. You have somethin’ to say to me?”
The deep voice came from right behind her, full of challenge, loaded with sarcasm, and entirely too close. She turned and looked into the eyes of Mister Sex, himself.
“I’m here to stay. Now, deal with it.”
“Well, hell.”
This is Gideon, the other half-owner, who has decided not to like her, although she excites him. He’s street-smart and his speech reflects his gender. When he’s at a loss for words, he often says, “Well, hell.”
The following are snippets from a conversation Gid has with Pete, the grizzled senior citizen, foreman of the ranch for years and surrogate dad to young, orphaned Gideon. By now we know that Gideon is a damaged war veteran with PTSD and although yearning for love, is afraid to get close for fear he’ll hurt someone. In this scene, Gid is sitting alone in the barn, depressed after another argument with Maddie, nearly drunk from a bottle of wine. Pete enters.
“Gid, what are you doing here? I thought you were with Maddie?”
Gideon gestured with the bottle. “Here, it’s some wine I found I the kitchen.”
Pete accepted the offer and took a drink. “Jesus,” he gasped, coughing, “what is this stuff?”
“Chardonnay. Maddie bought it for the party. She says New Yorkers drink it.”
Pete grimaced. “It wouldn’t be my poison of choice. Hell, I don’t like grapes on a bunch, why would I like ‘em in a bottle? Guess it gets the job done, though.”
Gid got to the point. “I don’t know a damned thing about women.”
“Women are different ‘n men,” Pete agreed with a nod.
“Ain’t that the damned honest truth?”
Gideon goes on to explain his latest dust-up with Maddie, his confusion, and despair. Pete tells him his problem.  Hell, boy. You’re already half in love with that woman.”
“I don’t believe in love. People don’t have it in them to give. This man-woman thing is all about sex. There’s no such thing as love. How would you know, anyway?” He raised the bottle to his lips “You’ve been married to Bea for more’n fifty years. Do you love Bea?” It took a lot of wine for him to find the nerve to ask that. A man his age shouldn’t be ignorant of such things.
Pete thought a bit. “In the morning I wake up, in this warm place that Bea and me made, with her curled up against me, holdin’ on to me like I was the most important thing in her world. No matter how my day goes, I know she’ll be there when I come home. The thought makes the day worth living. That’s how I know.”
I could have left the tags off all Pete’s speech because his words were so different from Gideon, but they serve to pace the scene, so I left some on. 
Don’t be afraid of making your men human. There is a film I watch every time it is on TV that does this to perfection. As Good As It Gets, with Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and Greg Kinnear. The men bare their souls to each other in a heartfelt way that makes them no less men. The realization that men speak differently when they are among their own was pioneered by Paddy Chayefsky, a brilliant playwright of the 1950’s and his breakthrough play Marty (1955). His style was termed “kitchen realism.”
In this book Gideon’s army buddy shows up with the DEA when Maddie is kidnapped, right before a gun battle with the local drug-smuggling motorcycle gang. Gideon’s army friend is Australian. That needed a lot of research into Australian slang. At the end of the last scene, after the gun battle, when Maddie’s life has been saved by an Angus bull, he remarks, “If the bikey comes good, he’ll need a new set of knackers. That bull made a mess of him.”

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Night Virginia Stole The Baby Jesus

     If you saw  the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, aired July 29, you know Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is a cantankerous town that ignores what the rest of the world thinks, goes its own way, and considers most laws merely suggestive guidelines. The dispute reported on the Daily Show was about a non-discrimination ordinance we passed defying a state law that sanctioned, even encouraged, the persecution of gays. No way was that going to happen here. We welcome everyone, as long as you behave, don’t intend harm, and don’t try to tell us how to live…which brings me to the subject of this blog.

It is that time of year when a lot of us celebrate the holiday season known as Christmas with a nativity scene in Basin Park. Predictably, anti-religious groups protest, claiming we're promoting religion. We could set aside space for groups to celebrate traditional events, holidays that happen around the same time…like the Jewish Hanukkah. We could do that, but these zealots don’t want compromise…they want no evidence of Christmas anywhere. They even object to Holiday Lights and money being spent for any decoration, even  decidedly unreligious Christmas trees.
Eureka Springs survives on tourism. Christmas decorations and events translate into out-of-town visitors and retail sales, so we ignore these haters, as we do anyone who tries to tell us what to think, but understand our display is unique. It means a lot more to us than the celebration of a birth. It is the commemoration of an event dear to all our hearts; an event that is part of our history, a tale repeated endlessly, making us laugh and remember. We're celebrating “The Night Virginia Stole The Baby Jesus.” 
Before you hear the story, you have to know that Virginia Voiers is a very gracious and elegant lady, proper in all ways, and highly regarded by the community. Just about every committee in town seeks her gentle presence, and she's served on a lot of them, always arriving dressed to perfection. We are in awe of Virginia.
For many years, during the Christmas Season, it was the custom of a local sorority to create a nativity display in the band shell at Basin Park, in the center of town. It was also the custom of the juvenile element in town to steal the Baby Jesus and have it turn up somewhere else. One night, some thirty years ago, as her husband, Bill, remembers, Virginia, her grown daughter, and her son were having dinner downtown, during the holidays. They passed the display while walking home, and Virginia’s daughter noticed the baby was still in the manger. 
Her daughter said, “C’mon, Mom, let’s steal the baby.” Well, Virginia enjoys a good joke, so she did. Unfortunately, the local carriage driver, passing by, witnessed the deed and called the police, who came and arrested Virginia, and took her to the station where the local sorority head, apparently not amused, preferred charges. 
What? Virginia? The town was agog. Sides were chosen. Tempers flared. For weeks, it was the main subject over evening libations at The High Hat Lounge.
Stan Adams, the local Methodist minister, stayed by her side the whole time in court as she was convicted of thievery, malicious mischief, and damage to private property. The sorority (which, you understand, must remain nameless) claimed the baby was damaged. Virginia was given probation and told to apologize. She wrote a check.  Didn’t apologize. Not our Virginia!
But that isn’t the end of the story! About a year later, as Bill tells it, Judge McBeth remembered the missing apology and cited her for contempt of court. Police came to the door, took our Virginia away in handcuffs. If there had been cell phones, it would have gone viral, and she spent about half a day in jail, the Methodist minister by her side, until her lawyer came.
So, if, some Christmas, you are visiting and, hanging out by the nativity in Basin Park, and you  hear someone say, “You remember the time Virginia stole the Baby Jesus?” you will now become one of us, because you know the story.  Remember to smile.