Peg Herring's Blog – December 2008 Archive (23)

Don't I Look Like Myself? (R)

In novels, characters are often defined by their physical appearance. The man who frowns all the time is negative and irritable; the woman whose conscience is clear shows it in her relaxed demeanor. It's a useful tool, and it may often be true that our natures are betrayed in physical manifestation. But I don't think that's always the case.

I direct a choir of some fifty people, and if their expressions while singing were used as a judgment of their mental state, one would conclude… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 31, 2008 at 10:23pm — 3 Comments

Judging Writers

I've been thinking about judging, reviewing, and opining on books lately for two reasons. First, I've asked a reviewer/judge/friend to guest blog in this spot for the first four Wednesdays of 2009. P.J. Coldren is a reader for the Malice Domestic Contest as well as a frequent book reviewer. She will explain her credentials in her blog and give some ideas on what makes a winner, whether in a contest or as a published novel.

The other reason for my thoughts on judging is that I… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 30, 2008 at 10:34pm — No Comments

How Your Brain Feels about Your New Year's Resolutions

Some of the scariest modern research, at least for me, is the stuff that looks into how the brain works and how it affects the body. The person I thought I was, that creation with Free Will, is largely imaginary. The real me is a mix of chemicals and neural pathways that have little to do with choice and a lot to do with repetition. In real life we don't choose very often, at least not with anything like free will. That makes resolutions sort of superficial, dependent on whether our brains will… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 29, 2008 at 10:56pm — No Comments

When Do You Give Up on an Idea?

I've got a million of 'em. News stories, friends' anecdotes, observed oddities, all form possible stories in my head. The next step is to try to write them down, and here I'm successful about a third of the time. It's heartening to know that big authors struggle with the same problem: Michener did all the notes for IBERIA decades before he actually wrote the book, and authors like Martha Grimes express frustration that they have other ideas they'd like to work on while their agent/editor/public… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 26, 2008 at 9:28pm — No Comments

God Rest Ye Merry

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas..." Check.
"I'll be home for Christmas..." Check.
"Christmas time is here..." Check.
"Jack Frost nipping at your nose..." Check.
"Have yourself a merry little Christmas!"

Added by Peg Herring on December 25, 2008 at 9:18pm — No Comments

My Wish for Your Christmas

We talk about peace on earth, but that's a joke, as is good will to men. We wish folks happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa knowing that they have heartaches that won't go away just because it's the holiday season. So what genuine wish can be sent out?

I'm not sure how I'd say it in person, but the wish I have for every person is that he or she finds a passion in life that makes all the rest of it worthwhile. For some it's family, and their faces light when they speak of their children, spouse,… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 24, 2008 at 9:00am — No Comments

That Jeremiah Johnson Feeling

What must it have been like to go for months without speaking to another human being? Were the trappers of the old west crazy to choose that sort of life, or were they more sane than most? Thoreau wasn't alone at Walden, but he recommends even that much solitude for those who want to decide what matters. I don't necessarily want to shun the company of others, but I wonder what long periods of solitude might bring.

I'm sure you talk to yourself, but then, I do that anyway. I'm betting… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 23, 2008 at 10:42pm — 2 Comments

Writing a Bad Book

No, not naughty-bad. Talent bad. Many people will tell you that the first book you write is likely to be bad, maybe even stinky bad. I don't know if that's always true or not, because there are first-time authors who succeed. But who knows how many manuscripts they hide away before they publish that stunning "first novel?"

What is clear to me is that authors can't tell when their books are bad. I had a conversation recently with someone who read, or tried to read, a book by a mutual… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 22, 2008 at 10:30pm — No Comments

Speaking of Research...

The more I learn about a time period, the more I want to know but the less I want to visit. Using powdered rabbit head for tooth cleaning doesn't appeal to me, but for the Tudors it was either that or honey.

I'll stick to minty-flavored chemicals.

More than the day-to-day oddities, I'd object to the overall likelihood of pain and death at an early age. The government, the entity formed to care for its people, could brand, maim, imprison, or even kill a person pretty much at the… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 19, 2008 at 10:22pm — 3 Comments

Research Now or Research Later?

You're whirring along at a good clip, the story is playing out in your mind just ahead of your fingers on the keyboard. Events happen that need to happen, and people act out their fictional lives at your command. Suddenly, you realize that you don't know if Character A could have done as he did. There will have to be research, and the question is, do you do it now, or do you mark that passage and come back to it?

Can't give a definite answer, because I'm of two minds. Sometimes I… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 18, 2008 at 9:59pm — 3 Comments

The Answers to Life's Questions

The problem with living is that you learn some things as you go, but new questions keep popping up. You understand the playoff process that leads to the Superbowl, but you can't understand why some perfectly good teams can't get there. You learn the basics of healthy living but can't explain why some people who ignore them completely seem to do just fine. And if you're an educator (or maybe a parent), you learn that you may control a child's behavior but you can't change the way he… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 17, 2008 at 9:41pm — No Comments

Who Deserves to Live?

The answer to that question has gone through several phases in my lifetime. When I was a kid, bad guys were shot dead left and right, and nobody gave them a second thought. Then we got into the idea of rehabilitation, and bad guys were arrested and led away with "Book 'em, Dano" or something similar. When cop/sleuths' personalities began to enter into fiction, we had to deal with the fact that they FELT like killing the really bad guys. For a while there, it became pretty common for the bad guy… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 16, 2008 at 10:14pm — 6 Comments

Mozart I Isn't

Rumor has it that Mozart wrote down his work only once; it sprung from his head complete and perfect. Well, that isn't me. I read, re-read, and read again everything I write, and each time come closer to what I want to say. It takes a lot of time and a lot of paper, because I have to have a hard copy for most edits. I suppose it's trial and error, and we all know that's inefficient, but it's how I like to work.

I enjoy watching characters slowly become themselves. At first mention… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 15, 2008 at 11:02pm — No Comments

Christmas Crimes & Causes (R)

A couple years ago I asked readers to tell me what they most liked and hated about Christmas. Here's what they said. The list works for every year, so I guess that means we're a consistent people. Any additions or corrections?

I like Christmas because

reindeer fly, monsters become good guys, and the ugliest Christmas tree is O.K.

poor and rich, wise and ignorant, powerful and powerless, all stop and consider their purpose

you get to see people at… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 12, 2008 at 10:21pm — No Comments


In Steinbeck's THE RED PONY, there's a grandfather who tells the same stories over and over. When it's pointed out to him, quite rudely, he says something like, "I don't know why I do it; I only know how I want people to feel when I do." Revisiting stories is about how they make us feel.

I seldom read books a second or third time, but I know people who do. Why? They know what to expect and how it will make them feel. When life is unpredictable or too tragically predictable, books… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 11, 2008 at 10:11pm — No Comments

Choosing the Next Project

I've been stalled lately, and it's not all my fault. Publishing is as scary these days as everything else: will my publisher make it through the hard times? Will they slash their schedule to save money? If they do, will I be a slashee?

The uncertainty makes it difficult to decide what's next on my agenda. I should iron out the wrinkles in the sequel to Book One, but will anyone care three or four years from now when it's done with editing and all the et ceteras? I should work on the… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 10, 2008 at 10:24pm — No Comments

Remember Ruth Buzzi?

The first time I saw her was in a skit where she was a magician's assistant, with a name something like Shegundalah. The first thing you noticed was her large chin, and of course she emphasized it for the sake of humor. Ruth made quite a career out of that chin, but I read once that she had to resist all kinds of pressure to "do something" about it. "They" said she would never make it in show business otherwise.

Sara Paretsky was told early on that she'd made two really disastrous… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 9, 2008 at 9:54pm — No Comments

I Should Be Banned from Football

Forget druggie athletes, gambling coaches, and dishonest GMs. I should be banned from football, maybe all sports, because the slightest interest from me and a team goes into a disastrous tailspin. They couldn't win if the other team decided to boycott the second half and stay in the locker room where it's warm.

Of course I'd like to see Detroit win a game. It's humiliating that Michigan is the nation's worst state in so many areas, but football? Come on, we're the tough guys, the… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 8, 2008 at 10:36pm — 1 Comment

Down Time Is Downright Frustrating

Call me crazy -- wait, don't do that. I'm just a little overly focused on the next task, which frustrates me in terms of creative work. I can't seem to write if there's something big on the horizon.

Take yesterday, for example. I direct a large community choir, and it was the day of our annual Christmas concert. I had everything ready to go by noon and the concert was at 7:30. Even with getting dressed and all that, I had a good five hours with nothing to do. Should be great writing… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 5, 2008 at 9:18pm — No Comments

Helpful Hint for New Writers

I've been giving workshops on writing for a while now, and there are lots of things to think about. I want to help aspiring writers as much as possible, and that includes a bit of inspiration (you can do this), a bit of warning (it isn't easy) and a lot of practical advice from someone who read and rated other people's writing for a very long time. There's no way to tell a person everything he needs to know. A lot of it is picked up from noticing good writing, focusing on your own writing, and… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on December 4, 2008 at 10:08pm — No Comments

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