Archive for December, 2011

So–this is a motivational discussion?

December 30, 2011

Talent is nice. Language skills are nice. But, for a writer, I think it’s MOTIVATION that’s indispensable.

I’d enjoyed writing since beginning school, had been editor of a college newspaper, and donated articles here and there,  but I didn’t get going, motivation-wise, until coming to Spring Hollow in the Arkansas Ozarks. That kicked me into writing for publication. I loved this place. Why couldn’t I share it with others who would never see it?

After John and I bought the land at Spring Hollow, ideas for sharing information, inspiration, and stories began bubbling inside me, then popping out on paper. (This was in pre-computer days, unless you’re talking about air-conditioned rooms full of huge beige boxes humming in the basement of the office building where I worked.)

What about you who are reading this? Each writer, each creator, has a somewhat similar story, I imagine. Don’t you know of something in your life that has given you motivation and said: “It’s time to ACT?”

Motivation is not a one-time thing. It has to have enough steam to keep you going through problems, discouragement, set-backs, and outright rejection, whether you’re writing a magazine article, writing a novel, or starting up a new business featuring your own ideas.

Simply said, Spring Hollow helped me learn what Sense of Place means, and I wanted to share that. The rural Ozarks area is beautiful of course. Sometimes I find it so beautiful I can’t take it all in. But, since our own area, even back at the beginning, was rapidly becoming suburban, I realized Spring Hollow as I knew it initially, was doomed. If I wanted to keep this forested landscape and all the varied species of animals and birds that lived here alive,  even in memory, I needed to preserve their stories on paper.

It became a writing challenge to find out if I could construct Spring Hollow in words, and share it with others that way. I believe writing what our senses tell us about a place is better than pictures or virtual reality, because we convey more than sight or sound. We open doors for the reader by allowing him or her to bring their own individual perceptions and experiences into what we share, making the sharing much richer.

The challenge was and is:  Can I be so accurate and honest that what a reader brings to my writing will enhance what I want to give life to in magazines, newspapers, or book pages?

Experience has now told me I have had some success in this. Whether I am writing truth about Spring Hollow (as recorded in my collected essays in DEAR EARTH: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow), or re-creating loved Arkansas areas accurately as a background for fiction (the TO DIE FOR mystery series featuring senior detectives Carrie McCrite and Henry King), people seem to enjoy visits here. Indeed, I hear reports of people coming to Arkansas at least partly because they want to experience in person what I have shared on paper, (or now, in e-books). From the beginning I learned that my experiences here translated happily into the lives of readers, not only in the United States and other English-speaking countries, but in Germany and China as well.

How do I feel about that?  Guess you could call it motivation satisfaction.

So–what motivates you?  Right! Carry on!

Does Branding Hurt?

December 23, 2011

Does branding hurt?  Nope, not when you’re talking about author branding  Brands are considered a good thing when it comes to identifying cattle and some other four-footed farm animals (though cows may not agree) and branding of another type is good for authors.

Why?  Because in the case of an author, branding means the special niche or type of writing or some other significant continuing quality that readers will find in the work of that author.   Want vampires, or women with peculiar life experiences?  Then think of  CHARLAINE HARRIS.   How about cozy mysteries featuring a sometimes bumbling but very caring ghost?  Try CAROLINE HART.  You all know about what to expect from Stephen King, or Kathy Reichs (“Bones”) or Nora Roberts.  Right?  If you enjoyed one book from these people, the assumption is that you’ll enjoy them all, and that often proves to be the case.

For canned goods or candy bars, motels or restaurants, shirts or shoes, branding of a good product helps build customers.  This is just as true when the product for you to buy and enjoy is written on paper or a screen.

For example:  If you want to learn about the Ozarks and what life is like here,  I suggest  I’m one brand for you to try.  (Learn more at Whether in fiction or non-fiction, all my writing is inspired by my love for the Ozarks area, its hills and hollows and forests, its people, its unique caves and geology and . . . . everything else Ozarkian.   You can trust the Ozarks you visit in my writing because extensive research spurred by the mentioned love and appreciation saturate the stories I write, the tales I tell.  And there’s plenty of material here for me, whether I’m writing about gardening or weaving a tale of mystery and adventure.

The history of the Ozarks,  its landscape and tourist attractions, offer fertile ground for mysteries to happen and, indeed, in many areas, real mysteries already have.  My non fiction writing reflects that, and, though the fiction IS fiction as far as most characters and the plot are concerned, you can rely on the locations to be about what you’ll find if you choose to visit them yourself.  (And, many people have after reading stories set there.)

Though I will never be wealthy, I am rich in happy experiences.  Though I will never visit far-away places I once dreamed of seeing, what’s better than discovering the wonderful tourist destinations near home?  And, after all, what’s better than daring to be me, doing what I enjoy, and sharing it with people who find they like the brand.


December 6, 2011

The second annual national TAKE  YOUR CHILD TO A BOOKSTORE DAY was celebrated on  Saturday,  December 3.  TYCTBD was founded in 2010 by author Jenny Milchman.  Jenny is an active promoter and, in fact, went on a cross-country “vacation” tour across the USA this past summer, calling on bookstores all the way from her home in New Jersey to Portland, Oregon to promote the special day.

The idea caught my attention from the beginning and, this year, I contacted bookstores in my area of Arkansas about taking part. Four independent booksellers ended up joining with enthusiasm, bringing in children’s authors, holding special events like in-store  scavenger hunts,  and  story time.

Since the stores are in four different towns, I could only be at one. I presented the TAKE YOUR CHILD TO A BOOKSTORE DAY program for Trolley Line Books in Rogers, AR.

On that day I was afraid few would come since it had been raining, the weather was cold,  and Christmas parades were scheduled in several towns.

Though Trolley line is not a large store, the owner had set up space in a comfortably furnished back room and provided snacks and juice.  The program was scheduled for 10:00, and until almost ten we had one active girl and her grandmother.  I was talking to Chloe (the child) when a bustle from the front of the store interrupted us, and I looked out to see a crowd of people, children with moms and grandmoms flowing toward us.

We ended up with a good-sized group of children ranging in age from five to thirteen, and I wondered how children with such a wide spread of ages would respond to my program.  I soldiered ahead, and began by reading one of my published short stories suitable for children. The two youngest in the group were bored, I think, but their grandmother stayed with them in the room and managed to offer a bit of side entertainment.   From the reading, I moved on to telling a bit of child-oriented information about writing a mystery story. All the older children understood about having a main character, a “mess up” problem for them to solve, and an interesting place for the mess up to happen. I also talked about writing an opening sentence that invites a reader to continue with the story.   After I shared a few more child-size examples,  everyone was given a booklet with blank pages, a clip board, and a pencil.  Most of the children spent a short time thinking, then all but the youngest began to write.  (Grandmother got the two young-uns to do their story by drawing pictures. Bless her!)

There were questions, plus a bit of conversation and discussion during the writing time, but we were all engaged for maybe twenty minutes while a newspaper photographer moved around taking pictures. (He showed up early, and stayed for the entire program.  Distracting, but nice to be noticed–right?)

Now, I’d like to share with you the charming story written by one of the participants. She honored me by giving me her completed story at the end of the program.  (Side note:  The emphasis in many schools today is not necessarily on spelling or punctuation.  That isn’t this child’s fault. Her creativity is awesome, and her opening sentence definitely a hook.  Watch for her touches of humor!)

I present here  Christina Marshall’s story, THE DRAGON  (Written in twenty minutes with no chance for the author to go back and  edit.  Could the average  adult first draft  short-time writer do much better?)


The Dragon is gone agian.

My Dragon keep’s geting away. Well I should tell yoo who my Dragon is he is a Dragon and his name is Bod. Bod all was gets away then come’s back for food. I try to keep him here but he keeps geting out and he needs to stay here because he Is not allow to be here because he’s a Dragon and the town is not a big fan of him.

I try to keep him here in my back yard because they try to take him away but I want to keep him. He is a baby a big baby. Here he come’s flying over my house and into my back yard.

He’s a good Dragon but people don’t know him so they are scard of him so when they see him they tell on him and the people will try to kill him but he know’s I willn’t hert him so he come’s to me when he is in troble. When he stays here I feed and give him a bath and keep him warm.

I have been trying to build a big back yard an inside yard well right now I have to feed him and he is geting mad at me because I have not got him something to eat.

By Christina Marshall, 6th grade, White Rock
Congratulations, Christina!  And may you become a best-selling author some day.