My Storytelling Quilt

110 West 80 St-4R, NY, NY 10024Welcome to my crazy quilt (click to catch my Alabama sound).

In mountain tradition, my Southern grandmother created free-flowing art that warmed her family on winter nights. She pieced scraps of twill, denim, corduroy, children’s outgrown clothes, men’s shirttails, worn-out dresses, and cotton sacking into the “memory gems” of life. Like her, I toss aside perfection for small, unpredictably shaped patterns. This blog is my verbal crazy quilt. The color and richness, my garden of perfect moments.

For more southern voices, leap to the story of moia tale of southern accents, or southern dowagers on a thank-you note rant.

Check out the categories on the sidebar: Characters, Creatives, Humor, In the Garden, Places,  Poems, Southern Crazy Quilt, and On Writers & Writing. If you’re a writer, scroll down the sidebar for helpful publishing links. To read tidbits on southern lifestyle and culture, drop by the Random Storyteller Facebook Page.

Hen Party catherine hamrick

Apple Chill

Harald Bischoff 480px-Calvados_Apfel_0596_pe

Orchard branches gnarled,
You plucked an apple,
Sepia-grained red,
And sliced into the flesh—
Pale seed-dimpled halves
Tartly chilled our mouths;
The quarter horses
Nuzzled yellow grass
And nibbled their fill
Of bruised ripening,
Lips velvet and damp.

* * * * *

Dabbling in poetry is a fun exercise for prose writers. Working with an economy of language and images is a fresh change in my routine. I find syllabic poetry liberating. The number of syllables—whether fixed or constrained—takes on primary importance whereas stresses become secondary. Marianne Moore, one of my favorite poets, was a master of syllabic poetry.

In an interview (Marianne Moore, The Art of Poetry No. 4, Paris Review), Donald Hall asked about “the rationale behind syllabic verse.”  Moore answered in her beautifully straightforward manner, “It never occurred to me that what I wrote was something to define. I am governed by the pull of the sentence as the pull of a fabric is governed by gravity. I like the end-stopped line and dislike the reversed order of words; like symmetry.”

Learn more about Marianne Moore at The Poetry Foundation.

Photo Credit:

Harald Bischoff

Need an editor? You better shop around

Need an editor.

Looking for an editor? Don’t hire the first one you meet. Shop around.

There is no one-size-fits-all editor. Hire a professional suited to your field/genre. When interviewing candidates, clearly communicate the required services. Editorial terms vary. However, a general breakdown follows.

Manuscript Review: Examines purpose, audience focus, content development, readability, style, tone, voice, need to rewrite, structure, cohesiveness, flow, and word choices. (In fiction, also examines hook, characterization, point of view, conflict, plot, setting, time frame, awkward passages, and detail.) A critique does not involve proofreading, copyediting, line editing, developmental editing, or rewriting. It is an overall review of the text so the writer can address major issues to shape the manuscript.

Developmental Editor: Addresses format, logic, structure, style, tone, voice, cohesiveness, clarity, flow, text to rewrite, information gaps, and unfocused copy.

Heavy Copyeditor: Performs basic copyediting. Addresses style, tone, voice, readability, logic, structure, cohesiveness, flow, consistency of content, elimination of ambiguity, triteness, wordiness, jargon, redundancy, appropriate word choices, context, and smooth transitions.

Basic Copyeditor: Addresses grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, mechanics, cross-references, and order.

Proofreader: Checks basic grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and mechanics. Cross-checks table of contents, tables, lists, and other matter.

ErnestHemingwayNote: A manuscript review is a wise investment, especially if you’re a first-time author.  It’s a reality check on how much work your text requires before you turn it over to an editor.  Revise, revise, revise.

Question: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Question: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
The Paris Review Interview, 1956

Credit: Tetra Pak

Pink Skywalkers

morehead planetarium pink rosesSundial Rose Garden, Morehead Planetarium, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Pump Up Your Secondary Characters

Karen Albright Lin Social media is a beautiful thing. It leads to friends nationwide, indeed the world over. I first connected with Karen Albright Lin in a literary discussion group on LinkedIn and quickly discovered her gifts.

Karen is a triple-threat talent—author, editor, and pitch coach. Her presentations at writers conferences and on cruise ships (cool gig!) include editing from the top down and writing the nonfiction book proposal. She has ghostwritten novels and done work-for-hire writing for newspapers, magazines, and film directors. Learn more from Karen and her colleagues at Sisters of the Quill. Her editorial services address the development of fiction, nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, cookbooks, and screenplays.

Today Karen shares her thoughts on the importance of secondary characters. After absorbing her tips, take the reader challenge!

The circus is not as fun if players are missing. The juggler is out sick, the casting director forgot to hire the trapeze artist, or the clown car is empty. It can be the same with your novel or script. It might need an extra character or two. Even if you have a full complement of secondary characters, they may need to be made more robust or play a bigger role.The_Sandow_Trocadero_Vaudevilles

It’s usually not enough to simply add a character. That would be like adding one more dancer to a group of 26 background dancers. Make him or her count. Large casts of supporting characters demand deft handling, as exemplified by Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo, who created rounded secondary characters.

In Harold and Maude, secondary characters make this magnificent movie about death and love into a perfect one. In an early scene, Harold’s blind date beats him at his own staging-suicide game by simulating hari-kari in his living room. It surprises us and mocks his mother’s matchmaking.

It hurts, but sometimes you need to excise one of your characters. On the one hand, meld two characters into one role. On the other hand, you may add one whose job is to create an additional obstacle. The fairytale “Cinderella” could unfold without one of the stepsisters; however, combined with the wicked stepmother, they become a seemingly insurmountable force. Three is often a magic number. If you have two people, consider collapsing them into one for a stronger character or adding another to make a happy triangle.

You could use a secondary character as an audience surrogate like Stingo in Sophie’s Choice. He observes and comments on Sophie’s life, current and past. John Wheelwright relates a current story as well as Owen’s story in A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Add a character that is much older or much younger to offer another perspective. In The Blind Side, Sandra Bullock’s enthusiastic young son only has one essential scene, yet he adds a layer of sweetness that enhances a tender and profound story.

Ben Stiller’s future mother-in-law in Meet the Parents plays the quiet role of foil to her overbearing husband. Technically, she could disappear from the plot, but it’s nice to see someone rooting for poor Ben. Take the lead from this movie and throw in an animal to add zing. Perhaps give it a prominent role. Painting a cat’s tail—exposure of the subterfuge—sparks the climactic showdown between Ben Stiller and antagonist Robert De Niro.

A historical or imaginary character may come forward in time. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which we find Dorian Gray, The Hulk, Dr. Jekyll, and others, is an extreme case of this modus operandi. Many time-travel romances use the technique. Reversing that approach, The Magic Tree House series and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court take us back in time to meet secondary characters.

If you write fantasy, consider giving an aunt an unexpected magical power. Add an impersonator, a character in disguise, or characters who trade places. A mentor (e.g., the fairy godmother, Gandalf, Mr. Miyagi) comes in handy, as does a rival who is key to the resolution (e.g., Harry Potter’s Lupin Werewolf and Pettigrew Rat).

An ancillary character is not always a mentor, sidekick, or foil. She can be a plot plant. Mysteries often add villains who seem to have something to do with the crime but don’t. Red herrings are the stuff of great suspense—the more, the merrier.

These are only a few ways you can add, subtract, enhance, or fashion another purpose for a secondary character. Be sure to provide a sense of who they are in relation to main characters, even if they don’t get much stage time. Create them as carefully as your protagonist and antagonist and you’ll richly layer your work.—Karen Albright Lin
Malvolio 12th Night

Malvolio is the legendary Shakespeare character that audiences—and the primary and secondary characters in Twelfth Night—love to hate.

Here’s my take on a marvelous cast of primary and secondary characters:

Shakespeare, the master of sexual confusion, exploits love triangles, disguise, and trickery in Twelfth Night. Viola, disguised as the boy Cesario, falls for Orsino, who courts Oliva, who adores Cesario. Olivia mistakes Sebastian, Viola’s twin, for Cesario and declares her love. Household steward Malvolio, who has the hots for Olivia, disguises himself as a nobleman in crossed garters and yellow stockings to woo her. Maria, Olivia’s gentlewoman, tricks Malvolio by forging a letter that declares her mistress’s love. As Malvolio’s station falls, hers rises when she hooks up with Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s kinsman, who revels in the hilarity of this bedlam. Feste, Olivia’s fool garbed as Sir Topas, plots a future as a nobleman and talks to Malvolio after he’s falsely pronounced mad and locked in a darkened room by Sir Toby and Maria.

Got that? 

For the rest of the story, head to the nearest Shakespeare festival.

Reader challenge! Who are your favorite secondary characters?


Théophile Gautier and His Cats

Theophile Gautier

Happy birthday to French art critic, journalist, fiction writer, and poet Théophile Gautier (30 August 1811–23 October 1872), who was an early proponent of Romanticism. However, after publishing the poetry collection Albertus (1832) and Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835), he embraced l’art pour l’art, or “art for art’s sake.”

A charming story about Théophile Gautier’s cats appeared in the Daily Telegraph, Issue 7488, 5 October 1895.

Gautier and His Catstheo gautier and catstheo gautier and catstheo gautier 5_pe

#TBT What Not to Say to a Writer

It’s a funny thing–when I tell someone I’m a writer, it can draw a perplexing response. Here’s an oft-repeated remark that kicked in 20 years ago.

If you’re in the writing/editing biz, share that golden crumb!


Publisher Nancy Sakaduski: 10 Steps to Getting Published

Nancy SakauskiLike indie bookstores, regional publishers love good books and deliver to faithful readers. Moreover, they promote authors who spin vivid stories often set in their backyard–in this case Delaware’s beaches. Publisher Nancy Sakaduski of Cat & Mouse Press goes a step further. Every year she sponsors a popular writing competition that has evolved into the Rehoboth Beach Reads series. Each volume features stories by published authors as well as first-time writers.

The award-winning books have received enthusiastic reviews.

The Beach HouseThe Beach House: “It’s the perfect book to tuck in your bag or leave in your own beach house”–Susan Kehoe, general manager of Browseabout Books in Rehoboth

The Boardwalk: “I love these stories. Now when I sit on a white bench and people-watch, I’m reminded that there is more to Rehoboth boardwalk than meets the eye.”–Lianne Hansen, National Public Radio personality

Have you thought about a leap into publishing? Nancy shares her top 10 tips to jumpstart your first work.

  1. Start small. Instead of a 95,000-word novel, begin with a short story, an essay, or an article. There are many more outlets for shorter works, and shorter forms give you more opportunity to try ideas without such a large time commitment.
  2. Start local. Submit to local newspapers, magazines, publishers, or contests. This year’s Rehoboth Beach Reads (RBR) short story contest received about 130 submissions, and 25 were published. You won’t get those odds on a national level.
  3. Do your research. Read the publisher’s magazines or books to see what has been published in the past. Don’t submit something that has already been done. Don’t submit a genre the publisher doesn’t use. Look for magazine sections open to freelance writers, publishers actively seeking a particular type of book, or agents looking for a specific genre. Read the publisher’s guidelines carefully and follow them exactly.
  4. Perfect your writing. Go to conferences, join writers groups, take classes, and have your work critiqued. Then edit, edit, edit. Yes, the publisher can edit your work. If your work is sloppy, it will never get that far. Don’t let typos or formatting mistakes cut your chances. And, even with fiction, check your facts!
  5. Have a killer title and a killer hook (first sentence or two). There were 21 writers with stories in The Beach House. One of them had an idea for a book of short stories set in beach towns. The title? Sandy Shorts. Who could resist? Publishers are overwhelmed with submissions, so they judge quickly about whether to read on. You have to grab them.
  6. Be different. The theme of the first RBR contest was “The Beach House.” Many people submitted reminiscences of summer vacations at a beach house, but the stories that really attracted the judges’ attention were the ones with a different slant. Try taking a familiar topic and give it a twist. Use an unusual point of view, an unlikely character, a different time, or an out-of-the-ordinary setting. Have an uncommon background or connection to a hard-to-access place or person? Use it! Find the stories only you can write.
  7. Write about things people want to read. Publishers are business people. Their business is selling writing. If you want to be a published writer, your goal is to provide saleable writing. (If you don’t care about selling your writing, keep a journal.)
  8. Make professional contacts. Who you know can make a difference. Look for opportunities to meet agents and publishers. Ask permission to submit—no bathroom ambushes, please!
  9. Be confident, but don’t be a jerk. Advocate for your writing. Explain why you think it’s a good match for the publisher, why you’re the person to write it, and why readers will love it. But respect the needs and preferences of the publisher.
  10. Don’t give up! If your work is rejected, review, revise, and resubmit it.

To learn more from Nancy, follow Writing Is a Shore Thing, which features industry news, writing tips, writer events, self-publishing information, and how-to for short stories. Also, you can sign up for the Cat & Mouse newsletter.

Next week, Nancy will share why a “beach read” is a year-round pleasure.

The Beach House

How to paint a water lily

Remembering Ted Hughes (August 17, 1930–October 28, 1998): What excites my imagination is the war between vitality and death, and my poems may be said to celebrate the exploits of the warriors of either side.”

Duke Gardens Dragon Fly & Lily

A green level of lily leaves
Roofs the pond’s chamber and paves

The flies’ furious arena: study
These, the two minds of this lady.

First observe the air’s dragonfly
That eats meat, that bullets by

Or stands in space to take aim;
Others as dangerous comb the hum

Under the trees. There are battle-shouts
And death-cries everywhere hereabouts

But inaudible, so the eyes praise
To see the colours of these flies

Rainbow their arcs, spark, or settle
Cooling like beads of molten metal

Through the spectrum. Think what worse
Is the pond-bed’s matter of course;

Prehistoric bedragoned times
Crawl that darkness with Latin names,

Have evolved no improvements there,
Jaws for heads, the set stare,

Ignorant of age as of hour―
Now paint the long-necked lily-flower

Which, deep in both worlds, can be still
As a painting, trembling hardly at all

Though the dragonfly alight,
Whatever horror nudge her root.

Ted Hughes composed the poems in Birthday Letters over 25 years. It’s a haunting collection of love notes, memories, and reflections that recall his life with poet Sylvia Plath.

August 14, 1945―bravery and wishful peace

Ernie_PyleMy 19-year-old dad gave thanks on an LST off the coast of Okinawa. It was August 14, 1945―the war was over. It ended sooner for Ernie Pyle. On April 18, Japanese machine-gun fire cut down the celebrated combat journalist on Iejima, an island off Okinawa.

I thumbed through Brave Men, a firsthand look at boys on the front, more than 40 years ago. Along with William Shirer’s Berlin Diary―a day-by-day account of the momentous events leading up to the war in Europe―it taught me about writing, authenticity, and style.

In recent months, I read several biographies and histories about Churchill, Roosevelt, Ike, Patton, McArthur, Stalin, and Hitler. However, the stories of everyday soldiers and civilians took on greater meaning:

Hampton Sides’ Ghost Soldiers relates the saga of the Bataan Death March, the grim reality of prison camps, and a daring rescue mission.

Caroline Moorehead’s Village of Secrets spins the intriguing tale of a French village that helped save thousands hunted by the Gestapo.

Pyle, the master of storytelling, related the harsh truths and poignancy of war as lived by anonymous GIs. He wrote of personal anguish displayed by the gear littering the Normandy beaches.

“Here in a jumbled row for mile on mile are soldiers’ packs. Here are socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles, and hand grenades. Here are the latest letters from home, with the address on each neatly razored out. . . . Here are toothbrushes and razors, and snapshots of families back home staring up at you from the sand. Here are pocketbooks, metal mirrors, extra trousers, and bloody, abandoned shoes. . . .”

This quiet image outlived Ernie Pyle; it’s well worth remembering: “Someday when peace has returned to this odd world, I want to come to London again and stand on a certain balcony on a moonlit night and look down upon the peaceful silver curve of the Thames with its dark bridges.”

Charing_Cross_Bridge,_Monet (2)

NASA earth moonDonald L. Miller delivers a comprehensive, even-handed account in The Story of World War II. This critically acclaimed work knits the voices of soldiers, civilians, and leaders―their terror, desperation, and courage. 

The Atlantic captures striking images of people and places after the war in a 20-part retrospective.

Sources estimate the death toll at 60 to 85 million―about 4 percent of the world’s population. The Chronicle of War estimates statistics (military and civilian) by country. The following countries suffered the most casualties: Soviet Union, 23,400,000; China, 20,000,000; Germany, 8,680,000; Poland, 5,820,000; Dutch East Indies, 4,000,000;  Japan, 2,700,000; India, 2,587,000; French Indochina, 1,500,000; Philippines, 1,057,000;  Yugoslavia, 1,027,000.

“Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”―John F. Kennedy.

Look for more posts on the Catherine Hamrick site.


Charing Cross Bridge/Claude Monet

#MotivationMonday What will you read this week?

Nothing beats reading a book about one of US history’s most voracious readers and authors: Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

What are you reading? And why?

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