Staci Troilo

Suspense, Passion... Fiction That Flutters The Heart

Category: Writing (page 2 of 9)

John Notaro—A Prequel to Bleeding Heart

This scene is a prequel to Bleeding Heart, releasing later this month. It gives a bit of backstory concerning the heroine’s father, John Notaro.

John Notaro

Bleeding Heart 7:00 pm. Foundry. Come alone. Don’t be late.

The message hardly surprised him. John had been receiving texts from an untraceable number for a while. Would have considered them pranks, but the sender knew too much. Saw too much. The pictures of his girls would have been enough to make him take the texts seriously. The threatening captions—We can get to them anywhere. Anytime.—sealed the deal for him.

He knew the cops would be useless, so he turned to Sal Trunzo. His handler. His protector. Sal did everything he could to trace the texts, but so far had no luck. He and Sal spent days in private meetings going over every contact John had, every person—no matter how innocuous their connection—John might be in contact with. It all proved futile. They had no idea who was contacting him. John knew his time was running out.

Then the last text came.

John trusted Sal and his partners with his life. He had to, and so far he hadn’t been disappointed. But something told him all that was about to change. He forwarded the text to Sal, the reply coming within seconds. I’ll handle it. We’ll be in place, just like we discussed. Don’t be early. Give us time to scout, get in place.

He sent his daughters home. Wiped his cell history. Left his wallet and wedding ring at his office. If the meeting didn’t go well, and he didn’t expect it would, he didn’t want to leave any trace of what was going on. And he really wanted to be certain his family got his belongings.

John took a look around his office. A last look? Pride and accomplishment puffed his chest out before crippling sadness deflated him. Everywhere he looked wasn’t just success. He saw family. Donni had decorated their headquarters top to bottom, from the lobby to the conference rooms to the individual cubicles and offices. Toni added all the hardscape and softscape outside, every plant, bench, and sculpture lovingly selected. Jo spearheaded the construction of this building just a year earlier, working off Franki’s creative designs.

His first building had been a place to get work done. This building was an extension of his family. Leaving it would break his heart.

Leaving his family would devastate him.

Not that he’d be around to deal with it.

John turned out the lights, ran his fingers through the cascading waterfall in the lobby, and stepped outside. When he heard the click as he locked the door, it seemed to echo through the empty parking lot.

It sounded so final.

Even in the snow, the Pittsburgh skyline stole his breath. The city was lit in the early February darkness, thousands of pinpoints of light glowing through the winter storm. He drove the icy roads from his Mt. Washington office, through the city, down the parkway and across the highways, all the way to his hometown of Vandergrift… and with hardly a slip on the snow-covered surface. Even in the blizzard, he had no trouble following the route he’d taken most of his adult life. If it weren’t for other cars on the road, he could probably drive it blindfolded. He knew the route by every twist, every turn. Every bump and tilt.

Bleeding HeartA tear rolled down his cheek when he passed the sign welcoming him to Vandergrift.

John fought the urge to drive past his house. He wanted a last look at it, but he didn’t think he’d be strong enough to avoid going in. And once he entered, his family would never let him leave again. That would put the danger on them. And he determined they’d never be affected. Never learn the truth.

Instead, he drove straight to his destination. The drive went too fast. He was early. But he trusted Sal and his group to be ready and in position. The buildings were dark, the parking lot empty. Even the foundry had apparently closed for inclement weather. Just as well. He didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. Hopefully Sal could put an end to this tonight.

Who was he kidding? It would never truly be over. If Sal saved him tonight, there would always be another threat, another location, another night.

He climbed out of the car, held his coat together against the bracing wind. His phone beeped, and he took it out of his pocket. Maybe it was Sal.

Last chance. Will you work with us?

John sighed. Not Sal.

If only it were that simple. It wasn’t just working with an enemy, it was signing his soul over to the devil. God help him, fear washed over him and he considered it. But in the end, he knew it was wrong.

With trembling fingers, he typed his response. Never.

The response was instantaneous. And exactly what he dreaded. Wrong answer.

The shadows started moving. First, he made out one figure. Then another. And a third. He saw weapons in their hands, realized his worst fears had come to fruition, prayed Sal would intervene in time.

When the first figure stepped into the light, panic clawed at his heart.

It was so much worse than he’d imagined.

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of backstory to Bleeding Heart. If you’re interested in reading more, visit the Bleeding Heart page on this site (purchase links are available there), my Bleeding Heart Pinterest board, or a sample chapter from the sidebar.

Setting Descriptions in Novels Reveal Character Details

I write different genres. One style of storytelling just didn’t enable me to say everything I want to say. I’ve already released a mystery, which lets me explore crime and problem-solving skills, and a mainstream novel, which lets me explore characters and their motivations. Both of these genres let me do what interests me most—delve into relationships and family dynamics. And the novel that’s coming out this spring? It’s a paranormal romance, but the main point of the story is, once again, relationships.

Pittsburgh_skyline7That said, I get to do something in my new series that I haven’t done before. Explore Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is near and dear to my heart. My hometown is only about forty minutes away. It’s the city I spent much of my time in as I grew up. I went to college there. All my favorite sports teams play there. If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s amazing. And if you haven’t, you really should go.

The things to do and see there are too numerous to count. I’ll introduce a smattering of them over the coming weeks. But today, I want to talk about the museum. Specifically, the art museum, as Pittsburgh has several museums.

If you thought museums were boring or for only student field trips and upper crust society, you couldn’t be more wrong. There’s something for everyone at a museum.

And they’ve been in the news a lot recently. If you watch international news, you’ve heard about the museum in Tunisia. I want to turn the conversation to something happier.

The Carnegie Museum of Art has a Hall of Architecture, in which is housed the largest plaster cast collection in the US (third largest in the world) with almost 140 pieces. These are full-sized pieces, one of which is the largest in the world.

hall of architectureIn my novel, Bleeding Heart, the female lead studied architecture and (both in college and in her current life) spent a lot of time in the Hall of Architecture. I drew on personal experience for this part, because in college, I also spent a lot of time there. (I would now, too, but I live too far away.) Of particular interest to her is the cast of the Porch of the Maidens.

In Greece, the Erechtheion is a temple on the side of the Acropolis in Athens. It was dedicated to Poseidon and Athena. On this temple is a porch with six supporting columns sculpted in the shape of women—desirable and strong women—presumably holding up the stone roof as they gaze at the Parthenon. In Pittsburgh, the front four maidens are displayed in the museum, a life-sized cast depicting both the power and beauty of the feminine form.

My main character is focused on these four women, in part for their aesthetics, but also because she is one of four sisters. She is drawn to these figures, and we learn interesting facts about our lead through her study of the work.

Writers, consider your setting in your WIP. Setting descriptions in novels can be used to reveal so much about characters and plot. I’m not recommending you spend pages and pages describing a place, but a few well-placed details can not only ground your reader, but impart necessary information about the characters.

Readers, pay attention to the details writers give you about the setting in their novels. Writers don’t waste words, so if the information is in there, it’s important. Many people gloss over those setting descriptions as nothing more than purple prose, but in reality, those descriptions might hold clues to the characters that you would otherwise have missed.

If the Porch of the Maidens interests you, visit this site for more information.

If the Hall of Architecture interests you, visit this site for more information.

If Pittsburgh museums interest you, visit this site for more information.

And if Bleeding Heart interests you, visit this page on my site for more information.

I’d love to hear what you like about Pittsburgh, what’s going on in your WIP, what settings helped you better understand characters and plot in novels you’ve read. Let’s discuss it. Comment below.

How Embracing Family History Can Result in Poignant Stories

italian american

Click image to be directed to PBS:
The Italian-Americans.

There’s a lot of buzz in Pittsburgh right now about a PBS special called The Italian Americans. It’s not just running in Pittsburgh; I was able to watch the series here. I just don’t think people are talking about it here like they are at home. (Probably because my family and I are the only Italians in Arkansas. Hyperbole, anyone?)

My husband and I watch the History Channel a lot, so watching a documentary on PBS isn’t much different from our usual viewing. What was different, however, was my visceral response to the program. I was already aware of much of this history—my grandparents have shared some of their stories with me—but seeing it brought to life? Totally different. I thought I knew our history, but there was so much I was unaware of. Probably even more that you don’t know. You should check it out; it’s an honest portrayal of the good and the bad. I’m lucky my grandparents shared what they did. I’d love to hear even more.

When your grandparents tell you stories, they may make you laugh. They might make you cry. But they don’t often share their feelings about the events. It’s kind of like the hard parts are filtered out, like they’re trying to protect us—or themselves—from experiencing the pain.

It takes a special storyteller to not just scratch the surface but dig deep down to the heart of the issue. (Agree? Tweet this.)

That’s what I strive to be—a special storyteller. My history not only shapes me as a person, but it shapes me as a writer. (I think that’s true of all writers, to an extent. Writers often say their characters are a reflection of themselves in one way or another.) Not all of my characters are Italian-American, but all of them find familial bonds to be of the utmost importance. That’s my heritage, and that’s reflected in my writing.

Italian Americans

My Great-Grandmother, My Grandfather, and His Siblings…
Italian-Americans, and Proud of It

When I write a story, I don’t want to scratch the surface; I want to dig deep down to the heart and soul of these characters and have them express powerful emotions brought on by their situations. I want to write words that make readers laugh, cry; feel outrage, indignation; question situations, opinions.

And when someone reads my work? I want them to experience everything right along with the characters.

For Readers:
Think about your favorite book. What did you respond most to? The plot? The setting? The characters? The next time you read that book—or any book—consider the hero of the story; consider the villain. Do you know enough about them to relate to their perceptions of the world? Does it matter if you can relate? Would you like to know more about them and their situations? What would make them more relatable?

For Writers:
Are you just scratching the surface in your work? You’ll know if you are by the level of comfort you feel. Telling deep, resonating stories requires you to leave your comfort zone and tap into the pool of emotions you’re used to suppressing. If reading your work doesn’t move you, it’s not going to move anyone else, either. My current WIP, Bleeding Heart, delves into Italian-American family life, and I’ve been able to enrich my characters by drawing on personal experience.

For Everyone:
I’m a family person. If you’ve followed my blog or read my work, you know family and history is important to me. What about you? Do you know where you come from, what your history is, how it’s shaped the person you’ve become? Do you prefer stories that barely get into a character or do you enjoy the ones that dig, even to the point of exposing raw nerves? Let’s talk about it. Comment below.

Do You Get What You Deserve from Political Fiction?

United States GovernmentI thought since Monday was Presidents’ Day in the US, I should tailor this post toward the political. And as I’m not one to discuss politics in a business setting (although my family and I have heated debates), this would be the perfect time to discuss the genre of political fiction.

Fiction, when done correctly, helps us make sense of the world around us. Therefore, politically-themed fiction should help us make sense of war, trade embargos, terrorist attacks, immigration, government coups, voting debacles, scandals, etc. Look at the Civil War novel Gone with the Wind, the WWI novel A Farewell to Arms, and the WWII novel The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank, just to name a few stories with political themes. These stories give us a picture of their respective wars, but more importantly, context with which to understand them.

And just how do we achieve this context? I’ll give you a hint—it’s not by excessive description of battles and death.

political novelsGone with the Wind isn’t about Sherman’s March; it’s about a girl struggling to overcome the aftermath of that march.

A Farewell to Arms isn’t about the crushing defeat of the Italians in the Battle of Caporetto; it’s about a man searching for love amidst the horrors of war.

The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank isn’t about the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands; it’s about the tragic life of a young girl in hiding during those years.

We get historical context through character development in fictional works. (Agree? Tweet it.)

So many of the novels dealing with today’s tragic events focus on the horrors of war. They become military thrillers. And I love a good thriller; don’t get me wrong. But except for the exhilarating and terrifying journey they take me on, I’m left with no message, no commentary. No understanding of the conflict, no comprehension of how it affects me or the world around me.

Political fiction, successful political fiction, has to help make sense of the conflict and the resolution. (Agree? Tweet it.)

How do Gone with the Wind, A Farewell to Arms, and The Diary of Anne Frank differ from today’s political thrillers? They focus on the characters, which ultimately gives us a context with which to process the historical significance of the wars.

Good fiction, regardless of the genre, is driven by characters.

  • Who they are before the inciting incident.
  • How they react to the changes in their lives.
  • How they behave in the climax.
  • Who they become in the resolution.

Plot-driven fiction is exciting, but still needs character development to work. Character-driven fiction is compelling, but still needs a viable plot to drive the action.

In fiction, character and plot are difficult to divorce, even when one takes precedent over the other. Both must be strong for a story to be a success.

But in political fiction, we’ll never understand the complexities of events, and the results on our lives, if we don’t delve deeply into the characters and let them relate their stories. One small slice of a person’s experience in a great conflict can tell us more about the situation than an overarching picture of the whole thing.

Are you working on a political novel? Is it character- or plot-driven? Do you see the difference between the two? What are your goals—an action-filled ride or a psychological commentary on the event? You have to have solid answers (and reasons for them) in order for your novel to work. Spend some time thinking about that.

Do you enjoy reading (or watching) political fiction? Do you have a favorite book or film? How did it make your list? Let’s talk about it.

Valentine’s Day Dinner

FFFFLast year’s free fiction selections consisted of a 12-part serial piece. I had great fun with that, and I hope you enjoyed it. Those pieces, and all my First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF on Twitter and Facebook), can be found under the Freebies tab, a sub menu of the My Work tab. This year, I’m going to try something a little different. If it works, great; if not, we’ll try something else.

How else can you learn and grow except by trying new things? (Like this? Tweet it.)

So I’m taking a writing prompt and writing a story. Or a scene. I guess we’ll see what happens.

The work itself will be free-standing, no annotations. Afterward, however, in the “For Writers” section, we’ll dissect the piece for different fiction elements. And of course, we’ll end with comments (from anyone, not just writers).

And I will take suggestions for new prompts.

Today, however, the prompt has already been determined. So, without further ado… the writing prompt. It’s Valentine’s Day, and…

Here’s what I wrote:

Valentine’s Dinner

dinerSo, it’s obvious Satan works for the greeting card industry.

I hate this day. The rest of the year, I’m relatively well adjusted. But for some reason, February 14—every year—I’m a red hot mess.

My married friends are at home, having intimate dinners with their spouses. They’ll get long-stemmed red roses and tiny boxes of jewelry.

My friends with long-term boyfriends are at romantic restaurants as we speak. One—or more—will probably come home with a ring on her finger and a request for me to be yet another bridesmaid. Never a bride, oh no, not me. Just the perennial attendant. I can picture the hideous gown now, red satin and puffy sleeves. Why?

And my friends who are casually dating? They’re also out, probably at jazz bars where the lighting is low, the music is sultry, and the drinks flow freely. Expensively, but freely. They’ll dance with their men, a sensual hint of what’s to come tonight.

My dinner tonight is also intimate. It’s just me. And the restaurant has atmosphere, all right. It’s my favorite diner. It smells like strong coffee, fresh baked pie, and hot grill grease. The fluorescent lights really do wonders for my coloring—they make pale look ghastly.

And I’m also at a bar. Or should I say counter? I’m perched on the cracked red Naugahyde stool, listening to 50s music from the old jukebox in the corner. It’s just me, an old couple in the corner, Pearl, and Sid. Pearl flirts with Sid through the peek-a-boo window that affords a glimpse of the kitchen. He works at the grill and makes lewd comments about the heat.

Even my freaking waitress and the fry cook are an item. Between them and the Cleavers in the corner, I’m about to go ballistic.

“Here, hon.” Pearl hands me a few napkins and refills my water. When I raise my eyebrow, she points to the corner of her mouth.

I reach up, touch my lips, and pull my fingers away, sticky with cherry syrup from the pie I simply had to have. And the gloppy mess promptly falls on my white t-shirt. Pearl just smiles a sad, half smile… the smile that says, ‘Poor Katie. All alone on Valentine’s Day and a slob to boot. No wonder…’ And she slides a glass of water my way before turning back to the window to talk with Sid.

Scrubbing at my shirt proves fruitless. I’ve taken a small dark red spot and created a larger, wetter, lighter red spot.

So much for my plan to head to the movies. I’d probably just run into a plethora of couples lined up to see Fifty Shades of Grey. I want to see American Sniper—I’m feeling militant and violent at the moment and crave someone’s blood—but no way will I risk it wearing my dinner on my clothes.

I should have stayed home.

In Fifty Shades, the heroine gets the man of her dreams. Who happens to be a rich hottie. Who needs that kind of pressure on Valentine’s Day?

Of course, he also has a red “playroom” full of… devices. So no man is perfect.

The bell jingles as the door opens. I stop scrubbing at my shirt and look up.

So, maybe one man is perfect.

He walks in, shaking the snowflakes from his thick wavy hair. Stripping off his coat, he places it on the stool two down from me, then gestures to the empty one beside me. “Is this seat taken?”

Does it look taken? I guess I could have a companion in the restroom… I glance down at my yoga pants and stained shirt, lift my hand to my messy ponytail. Who am I kidding? He knows I have no one.

I lean forward, trying to hide the stain behind the counter and my coffee mug. “All yours.”

red chairsI picture it… He’ll make small talk, I’ll laugh. Then he’ll say that cheesy line, ‘I can’t believe a beautiful woman like you is all alone. And on Valentine’s Day!’ And I’ll demure, but he won’t have it. He’ll put a quarter in the jukebox and play something romantic, like ‘I Only Have Eyes for You,’ then we’ll dance between the rickety tables on the scuffed linoleum floors. He’ll invite me back to his place, and I’ll leave my car, riding with him because I feel so safe. Hell, if he has a playroom, I’ll happily enter.

I turn toward him, ready to make my fantasy come true, when the bell over the door rings again.

He turns toward the sound before I make my move, leaving me to stare at his back. His broad-shouldered back, with the wet curls of his hair tickling the collar of the red shirt he wore under an expensive, tailored suit jacket.

Then I hear her voice.

“Darling.” She walks over to him, and he embraces her.

I sit, glaring at my pie, while they discuss the lateness of the tow truck and whether they’ll make it to the opera before curtain.

Yellow flashing lights signal the tow truck driver’s arrival. Mr. Right throws money on the counter, despite not having ordered anything, and leaves with the woman. Whom I hate, just on principle.

Pearl picks up the cash and looks at me. “Your dinner’s covered, honey.”

I put on my jacket and slink out to my car. I’m headed to the comfort of my home. And my cat. And my bottle of cabernet sauvignon.

You’ll never convince me Satan’s not behind this whole godforsaken holiday.

# # #

For Writers:
So, a little over 900 words. Okay for a writing exercise. Not flash fiction, but not a substantial story, either. Was it enough, or is it merely a scene? Let’s look.

Character: —The beginning establishes character right away—a (temporarily?) bitter woman, alone on Valentine’s Day. Is she always bitter, or just that one day a year like she says? We don’t know, because we don’t have anyone else’s opinions of her, and we don’t see her on any other day. She could be telling the truth, but she could also be an unreliable narrator.

Plot: —Plots require conflict and follow a pattern, escalating to a climax and then tapering off in the denouement. We typically look for five points:

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising Action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling Action
  5. Resolution

Exposition is the beginning. Did we establish the character and the problem? In this case, yes. Katie is alone on Valentine’s Day. Everything reminds her of that. She’s upset at her situation.

Rising Action is the main problem coming to light and the complications that arise in the character’s attempts to overcome her situation. Did we meet this criterion? In this case, more or less. This is more of a psychological/emotional story, so the plot won’t be action-packed and fast moving. But we do see Katie making plans to go out anyway, and then changing her plans when something (she perceives as) better comes along. So she does encounter a change in her situation and attempts to do something about it.

Climax is the high point of the story, although not necessarily the most positive place the character can be. This is the dark moment, the time when it all hits the fan. Did we have a climax? Yes. Katie’s visions of a happily-ever-after ending is shattered when Mr. Right’s Woman walks in the door.

Falling Action is the result of what happened in the climax. Did this exercise have falling action? Yes. The couple leaves, discussing their perfect life—the life Katie envisioned. Katie is again alone, and now hurt even more than in the beginning.

Resolution: This is the end, where the fate of the character is resolved. It can be a happy or sad ending, but the character must have changed and loose ends must be tied up. Did this passage have a resolution? Yes. Katie goes home, alone, to drink her sorrows away.

So is this a complete story? I’d have to say yes, it is. That doesn’t mean it can’t be turned into a longer piece, even a novel-length work. This could be the opening to a romance novel or a pivotal moment in a dramatic piece. We’d have to do much more character and scene development, but this could definitely be expanded.

It can also stand on its own.

Other points to note:

The Prompt: The prompt does not have to be the opening sentence of the written work. It doesn’t need to be included in the story at all. But it does have to inspire the story.

POV and Tense: I am most comfortable writing in third person, past tense. But this is a writing exercise; I can explore new things, practice different options. I wrote this in first person, present tense. Not my most comfortable writing style, but it was fun to play with. We get deep in Katie’s POV and the action happens real-time, right along with her. I think, for an exercise, it works.

Setting is explored sparingly. We learn of the jukebox, the red stools, the counter and the pass-through to the kitchen. We hear the 50s music and smell the food. I didn’t devote long passages of description to this (and in fact, I shouldn’t have), but rather reveal these details in snippets as Katie experiences them. Could I have done more? Sure. But I don’t think I need to. If I turned this into a longer piece, I would.

Theme is pretty obvious. The lonely need love to thrive. Did you notice anything else in the story? Anything subliminal, maybe, that you picked up on? What about the color red? Red represents everything making her miserable in the story. She’s a “red hot mess.” Valentines, roses, bridesmaids’ dresses, the stool, the cherry glop, his shirt (because she can’t have him), the wine she’ll drink at home… Even Satan is often drawn red. Red becomes a metaphor for all the evil in her life, all that’s making her sad.

So, all told, despite the short length, this passage does meet the criteria for a complete story, even though it could become a scene in a longer work.

For Everyone:
So, what do you think? Is it a story or just a scene? Did it work for you? Did it remind you of any of your Valentine’s Days or of anyone you know? Let’s talk about it.

Why I’m Giving Away My Novel… For FREE

Cathedral Lake Series Book 1If you’ve read the title, you’re probably wondering what’s wrong with me. Why would I spend all the time and energy that goes into writing/editing/publishing a novel just to give it away? I must be crazy, right?

Well, maybe a little. But not because I’m giving my book away. For other reasons, though. (Anyone who knows my obsession with light switches facing the right way could attest to that.)

I worked hard on my novel. Really hard. And I think I probably worked even harder editing it. That kind of effort should be rewarded, not handed out to the masses. Or should it?

See, studies have shown that if you give your content away, you’ll reach a larger audience. That only makes sense. I wouldn’t necessarily shell out any money—let alone a substantial amount—for an unknown author or book. But if the description appeals to me, I’ll pick it up for free and check it out.

And that’s the premise behind giving the novel away. Not only do authors hope to reach a broader audience by giving their work away, they hope their new fans will be interested in reading more of their work, and will recommend them to their friends and family. After all, word-of-mouth marketing and repeat customers are the best methods of cultivating a fan base. And, as writers, we really want a strong fan base because we really want to share our stories and ideas with the world.

Just as important as reader numbers is review numbers. People look at reviews on Amazon to determine whether they’re interested in reading a book or not.

That’s why I’ve listed my novel on the Story Cartel website. There are several benefits:

  • The book is only offered free for a limited time, so I won’t always “lose money” on it.
  • The readers are asked to leave an honest review on Amazon in exchange for the download. There is no pressure to give a favorable review; if a reader doesn’t like the novel, constructive criticism is perfectly acceptable.
  • More people visit the Story Cartel website than my own site, so I have a broader audience to offer my work to.
  • Even if you aren’t a marketing guru, your personalized book page can be seen on various social media sites and shared by readers to their followers.

Please consider supporting authors and expanding your reading list by visiting Story Cartel, downloading a novel, leaving a review, and telling your friends. You’ll get to expand your library and you’ll help an author in the process.

To get your free copy of Type and Cross, please click on the hyperlink. And, if you download a copy, thanks in advance for your review. I hope you enjoy the novel.

Here’s an excerpt:

Type and Cross

Do You Focus on the Negative?

couchWe broke down and bought new furniture for our family room. We’ve needed it for a while, but with two dogs that jump on it and two kids who eat in there, we didn’t see the point.

Until the dogs ate the stuffing out of the cushions.

We went to several stores and were never really satisfied with anything. So we settled on a sofa and loveseat that would match our existing chair. However, it doesn’t match our walls, so now we have to paint.

My living room hasn’t been painted since we moved in. But now we have another room on the list.

We intended to keep this set pristine. But the dogs are already using it as a bed, and my kids are eating on it again. It’s probably only a matter of time before I’m picking up stuffing off the floor.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not complaining. I’m actually grateful.

See, this month was difficult for many of my family and friends. My uncle is sick and deteriorating rapidly. My mother had two surgeries. A high school friend is marking the one year anniversary of her mother’s death. An online friend’s father is in the hospital. And the list goes on…

How can I complain about furniture when so many people have much bigger worries to contend with?

This month we celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s less than a week away, actually. Are you going to be grateful for the blessings you have or complaining about your have-nots?

There are many disappointments and tragedies I could focus on this year, but I’m choosing to be thankful. I hope you manage to do the same.

For Writers:
An easy personality trait to give a character is negativity. What about gratitude? Do you have a character that needs to be fleshed out, better developed? Try making him or her altruistic, especially if he or she has little to be grateful for. This is a great way to add dimension to a flat character.

For Everyone:
Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. I wish you all nothing but health and happiness this year. Hopefully you find contentment and peace.

Is Time Passing You By?

Seth birthday

My son on his 16th birthday. Hard to believe a whole year has passed already.

Today is my son’s birthday. His seventeenth birthday.

How the heck did that happen?

I remember waiting for my due date. Waiting after my due date. Waiting three extra weeks for him to arrive. I had bonded with him long before he was ready to appear, and when he finally did, he was rushed to the NICU and I didn’t get to hold him anyway. Not for two days.

But when they wheeled me out of surgery, they took me to him. And when I said hello to him, he lifted his head and looked right at me. The nurses were stunned; they said babies don’t do that. But I knew from the moment I conceived him that he was special.

Just yesterday he was cradled in my arms. Except yesterday is apparently seventeen years ago. My yesterday is seventeen years of bottles and diapers, then toys and books, and then sporting events and academic awards.

Yes, my son is special.

So even though I won’t get to see him much today (he goes straight from school to his varsity game and won’t get home until late), I’m making his favorite foods to commemorate the day. Homemade stuffed pizza and cheesecake. You only turn seventeen once, even if you aren’t home for it. Might as well mark the occasion. (And trust me, even at midnight, he’ll eat pizza and cake!)

See, next year is the last year he’ll be home for his birthday. When he’s nineteen, he’ll be away at college, and I’m pretty sure his aspirations are going to take him far away from here. I don’t have much time.

Yesterday flew by, and tomorrow will be here before I know it.

It’s so easy to get lost in the mundane minutia of everyday life. Take the time to make each day special. (click to tweet that)

So happiest seventeenth birthday to my beloved son. May each future year be even more wonderful than the last.

For Writers:
Do your characters get lost in their day-to-day activities? It wouldn’t make for a compelling read if they did. But it’s not too realistic if they are constantly in flux, either. Try to strike a reasonable balance. Their character arc will be much more believable if we meet them when their lives are routine, but then watch them grow into people who break out of the mold.

For Everyone:
Are you stuck in work-rut? Do you do the same things, day after day? It’s time to stop and smell the cake. (Trust me, it smells AMAZING.) Appreciate life. Actually live, rather than exist. Life is all the better when it’s lived with purpose.

What the Subject Experts Say:

Is Your Writing Like Angel Food Cake?

angel food

Photograph via Lucy Baker

Honestly, you can’t make these things up. Today is National Angel Food Cake Day.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I love to bake. Italians show love through their food, and the old saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” was probably said by someone’s nonna after winning her man with homemade cannoli.

I’ve made countless desserts in my life. More cakes than you can fathom. I’ve even decorated dozens of them for birthday parties.

But I’ve never made an angel food cake. Never.

Don’t get me wrong, I love angel food cake. I’m especially fond of it soaked in raspberry Jell‑O and topped with whipped cream (maybe cut into cubes and mixed with fruit, too). But I’ve never baked one. I don’t have a pan, and every grocery store sells them ready made. Not quite as good as homemade angel food cake, but it’s hard to pass up the convenience.

Angel food cake originated in the United States and became popular in the late nineteenth century. It gets its name from its texture. It’s an incredibly airy cake (not at all like a dense pound cake) that is made by whipping egg whites and folding them into the rest of the ingredients. It’s then baked in an ungreased tube pan (the lack of greasing helps the cake cling to the sides of the pan and rise tall). Because of its white color and light texture, angel food cake was called the “food of the angels.”

I don’t know if angels eat, but if they do, I could see why they’d like this cake.

And why am I telling you all this?

Because it’s interesting, in a not-so-fascinating kind of way.

How did a cake get a whole day devoted to it? Why October 10? Who decided to make the first cake in an ungreased pan (madness!)? Why don’t people frost this cake?

No one seems to know.

But two things struck me about this day. One, angel food cake is a lot like writing. And two, angel food cake day is actually a life-lesson we can all benefit from. Don’t believe me? Read on.

For Writers:
Indulge me for a bit.

Angel food cake is difficult to make and is only successful if a specific formula is followed.

  • Egg whites have to be whipped into meringue.
  • Stabilizer has to be added for structure.
  • The proper pan must be used for lift.
  • The cake has to be cooled upside down so it doesn’t fall.

And isn’t a novel the same?

  • Plots have to be whipped into shape.
  • The three-act structure gives it stability.
  • Fully-developed characters carry the story.
  • It will all fall apart if the ending isn’t crafted properly.

Writers, take the time to make your novels a masterpiece instead of a hastily slapped-together work that might not rise to your readers’ expectations.

For Everyone:
The story of angel food cake and its achieving a national holiday is a lesson we can all learn from. Most of us won’t leave our history behind. We won’t be written about on Wikipedia and our biographies will be lost to the masses.

But like the cake, even though our histories are lost, our legacies will live on.

Through our family, our friends, our work.

Are we going to stand out from the crowd, elite and exceptional?

Or are we going to blend in to all the others, uninspiring and easily ignored?

I want my legacy to be the stuff angels crave. And that will only happen if I rise to the occasion and be the best I can be.

What about you? Are you an angel cake or a dry scone? Let’s discuss (but grab a cup of coffee and a piece of angel food cake first!).

Compassion, Team Spirit, and Laziness Do Not Mix

put the grove in the graveI attended my son’s season opener last week. Both schools had been looking forward to this game since they met last year—even though the two schools aren’t in the same division anymore (our school just moved up one), it’s our biggest rivalry. It also happens to be the district just a few miles up the road, so these kids know each other well.

I was saddened to hear that one of our opponent’s coaches had died earlier that week from a battle with cancer. Coach Green. I knew it was going to put a damper on an otherwise high-energy game, but I was powerless to change that.

Before the game, my daughter informed me that we were having a white out. That means everyone on our side of the field was supposed to wear white to support our school. The other team, whose colors are black and gold, was having a green out in memory of their departed coach. Despite our white out, however, everyone was asked to wear green somewhere as a sign of our respect. Most of the crowd complied. Along with our white shirts were green hats, green ribbons, green bandanas, green face paint… Anything to show our sympathies for their loss.

I was touched at the show of solidarity. These schools aren’t friendly rivals, they’re bitter rivals. And it warmed my heart to know those differences could be put aside in the face of a tragedy.

And then I saw the banner for our kids to run through upon entering the field.

Put Grove in the Grave.

With an RIP tombstone on it.

I was shocked. Horrified. Embarrassed.

I’m sure that banner was made before our school learned about Coach Green. At least, I hope so. What I didn’t understand was why it wasn’t changed.

Were we too short of funds to make another one?

Were we too short on time?

Too proud of the creativity of the slogan to change it?

Just too lazy to bother?

Or were we completely oblivious to how painful that sign would be to anyone who knew the coach?

I’m not sure why that sign was used in the game. I don’t even know if I care. But I do know it was wildly inappropriate and totally undid any bridge-building we had done by wearing green. And it didn’t have to be that way.

School spirit is a good thing. Compassion is a wonderful thing. But when mixed with laziness or complacency or hubris, it’s a terrible combination. It would be better to show none of these things than all of them. (click to tweet this sentiment)

For Writers:
It’s so easy to write characters who are flat, uninspired, one-dimensional. Characters who are stereotypes and clichés because we forget to add in other emotions and reactions. We’re cautioned against that all the time. We typically are told to consider motivation and give our characters unexpected character traits to make them seem more realistic.

The solution IS NOT to add two such diametrically opposed traits that they completely conflict with each other. Which is the real emotion? The real motivation?

How are we supposed to get to know a character when his actions are 180 degrees from what is logical?

Be careful when you develop your characters. A situation like the one above could be used to show a passive-aggressive personality, or to show someone’s thoughtlessness. But most often, it will just confuse your readers.

Remember, reality doesn’t always make good fiction. (click to tweet that)

For Everyone:
I like to believe that people are inherently kind and good (like the wearing of the green was supposed to show). I know people can be mean, but in this case I’d like to think it was just oversight that caused the faux pas. Maybe we could all be a little more considerate, though, and a little more careful.

I know after seeing that banner, I made a resolution to think things through better.

So what do you think? Why was that the banner at the game? Why do your characters do the things they do? Let’s talk about it.

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