6 Lessons from Actors for Authors

ToscaniniWhat Actors Can Tell Authors about Writing

  1. Don’t do anything cute with your voice. Speak with your heart, and give the audience a clean delivery.
  2. Study the way Humphrey Bogart moves, the smooth way he puts on his coat or straightens his tie. Practice until each movement is perfect.
  3. Never, ever read reviews.
  4. It’s not enough to know your lines and to deliver them well. You must study audience reaction to the play.
  5. Know your audience and give them what they want.

What Conductors Can Tell Authors about Writing

The story is told of someone walking into Toscanini’s dressing room an hour before the maestro was to make his debut conducting the MET Orchestra in 1913. The visitor expected Toscanini to be deep into the music about to be performed, but instead, saw the maestro on the far end of the room running toward a wooden box placed on the floor. Unaware of his interloper, Toscanini leapt onto the box, bowed low to the room, tapped his baton in the air, and waited a beat before jumping back down. He repeated this sequence several times.

“Arturo, why aren’t you studying the score?”

“That’s the easy part. I’m practicing my opening.”

Photo: Arturo Toscanini, Public Domain

5 Stars for Death In Bagheria

Death In Bagheria: A Serafina Florio MysteryIt’s Serafina’s latest, and the book just got a five-star review from Readers’ Favorites.

Review of DEATH IN BAGHERIA by Dr. Oliva Dsouza for Readers’ Favorite

“An intriguing and interesting plot with the suspense maintained till the end, this Serafina Florio mystery is a captivating read.”

Death in Bagheria by Susan Russo Anderson is another interesting book in the Serafina Florio mysteries. Asked to investigate the truth behind the death of Lady Caterina Notobene, Baroness of Prizzi, Serafina dives headlong into a web of lies and deceit. Is the suspicion of the Baroness’s daughter right? Did the Baroness get betrayed by the people who she trusted the most? Was her death a murder or is Serafina on a wild goose chase? The truth is out there and Serafina is determined to expose the liars and the people who planned the ruin and death of the Baroness. But will she succeed against the sinister and powerful people who are out to stop her?

Readers' Favorite 5 StarsAn intriguing and interesting plot with the suspense maintained till the end, this Serafina Florio mystery is a captivating read. The book cover with its hauntingly beautiful look made me want to read the book badly and it did meet my expectation. The historical aspect of the book gives a glimpse into the life and times gone by and the author has done excellent research to present the most authentic account of life in those times. Each character has been presented very well and the needle of suspicion points to many people without actually resting on anyone till the end. The best part is the way the plot unfolds at the end and the truth is laid bare. Hats off to the author for weaving a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat till the end like a roller coaster ride.

The Art of Story

Winding Road

Do you tell stories or write words?

Writers use words. They are our primary tools. We hold them in our heads or roll them on our tongues or look them up in dictionaries. Words spill from our hands to the page; they are counted, kept in a cage. With words, we touch the business of writing.

Storytelling is not so easy to tame, still less to name. Storytelling deals with art. It is an ancient line that wraps itself around the galaxies, slinking in between the stars, running ahead, teasing me. Story makes me breathless as I shuffle my words, reaching for the line, trying to make it flesh.

Photo: A Line in the country near Allentown, NJ

Collin Tobin: The Upload Tour

Upload by Collin TobinCollin, believe me, it’s a pleasure to have you with us today and congratulations on the publication of UPLOAD. Now, I could read your poetry all day, but then I wouldn’t have a chance to talk with you, so here goes.

I’m curious, Nabokov is one of your favorite authors. How has he influenced your work?

Ironically, he’s probably slowed my evolution as a writer down a great deal. I’ve had to work very hard to not attempt to write like him, because I adore his style so much. I remember David Foster Wallace said something like… wait let me look it up… Here it is. Wallace listed authors that had had made a great impression upon him as “patriarchs of his patricide”. And he actually lists Nabokov as one, along with Barth, Coover, Pynchon, etc. I think that’s a bit much. Send those poor old men out to pasture, sure. But is a staged execution really necessary? I have a lot I owe Nabokov, not the least of which is the urgent need to write in such a sparkling way as he was able to.

I am anxious to read UPLOAD published by Red Adept Publishing. Tell us about it.

Upload, I hope, is pure fun. There are of course very serious topics necessarily threaded throughout the story—stories of abuse, of violence, of the worst of our vices. Upload takes a unique look at the basest of our human behaviors and what we are to do with them. At its center is Jay Brooks, a teen who has tragically lost his mother and virtually lost his father in the follow-on grief. Jay stumbles upon a unique upload, whose trail he follows with the help of his friend Bennie, and expose an evil sort of rabbit hole they will spend the rest of the book attempting to climb out of.

“UPLOAD takes a unique look at the basest of our human behaviors and what we are to do with them.”

When did you first realize you had a gift for writing?

The question makes an assumption I can’t easily dodge. I don’t know if it’s a “gift”. I would say I’m a pensive, reflective person, and writing has become a nice outlet for sharing some thoughts and observations. If I do end up writing something “right”, that rings true, I hope it’s more than chance that has caused it.

Who influenced you the most? Who are some of your other favorite authors (novelists or poets)?

I was a big thriller/horror reader when I was younger, with a smattering of sci-fi and fantasy. So of course, my shelves were lined with Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Piers Anthony, Peter Straub, and the like. But then in college I was exposed to other writers, like John Updike, Raymond Carver, John Irving, T.C. Boyle. Each one of those in their own way struck a new cord of honesty I didn’t think was possible in fiction. One moment that will stick with me forever is Updike’s “Separating”. I can’t remember the passage exactly, but something about the father breaking down at dinner while eating lobster, and the taste of his tears with the lobster—still almost makes my own throat ache to remember it.

What are you reading now?

Nabokov’s “The Gift”, Edward Lorn’s “Dastardly Bastard”, Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding”. I’m a miserably slow reader.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

I can put in 3-4 hours in one shot, but can’t continue further. My head gets to foggy and my brain seems to swell and get claustrophobic. I wish I wrote out on pad and paper—then I could write anywhere. But my penmanship is slow and atrocious and seems to become even less legible as time passes, like the last line is caught on the pen, and the rest just tightens together like a horrible snarl. I’m unfortunately bound to my computer for writing. But I have been enjoying a new program ported from the Mac to the PC called “Scrivener”. It allows for the most flexible sort of writing process—writing out of order, outlining as much as you want, cork boarding ideas, etc.

Interesting. But most of all, we want to hear about your work in progress.

Sure! I recently finished the first draft of a novel I call “dirt”, which is the story of two brothers with a Caine and Abel type of relationship. The black sheep, Thad, is unexpected invited back to his family home by his older brother Danny. Fresh out of jail and with nowhere to go, Thad accepts the invitation, even with the one crazy condition: that he help Danny dig a secret tunnel extending from their childhood basement to an undisclosed location.

Sounds fascinating and I can’t wait to read it! Thanks so much for your time, Collin!


Born, raised, and still lives in Massachusetts with his wife Gina, and two wonderful daughters, Abby and Rachel. Collin currently works in the software industry.

Links (website, FB, Twitter, etc):

FB: http://www.facebook.com/collintobinwriter

Twitter: https://twitter.com/coljtob

Blog: http://gatheringfluff.blogspot.com/

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5951928-collin-tobin



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Plot Pivots: Hanging Up Laundry

Hanging Laundry_600_ from Chiots Run

Plotting is like hanging up a large load of laundry.

Picture it, a beautiful Monday in June. The air is fresh, the breeze is flappy, and you’re doing three loads of wash. Don’t you dare use that drier. Get a rope and two poles.

  • Tie one end of the rope to the house.
  • Tie the other end to that big old maple at the end of the yard.
  • Prop up the rope—the storyline—with two poles. Best to prop it at about the two-thirds point on the rope—roughly, the golden mean.
  • Place the second pole somewhere after the three-quarter mark, Part Three of the story, the beginning of the climax leading to the end.
  • That way you can hang all the light laundry on the long length of rope, scenes which develop core conflict and character and move the story. Clamp the heavier stuff to the smaller lengths toward the end of the rope.

Hanging Laundry_square_from Chiots Run - Version 2When I start to plot, I know the beginning and the end and the two plot pivots, all subject to change of course. I jot in the bones of these five scenes intermingled with some character sketches, perhaps the arcs of the most important players, and pretty soon, the story is writing itself.

When you read fiction, whether it’s a short story or novella or novel, look for those two pivotal plot points. Name them, re-read them, because it’s around these two points that meaning clings to the story like barnacles to a ship.

Photos: Hanging Laundry from Chiot’s Run (Flickr), Creative Commons.

Characters We Remember

Sunset in Sicily_by Villa Ghimette

Fleshy Breathers

I call them fleshy breathers—characters we remember long after we’ve read the book. They are flesh-and-blood real, larger than life, perhaps ahead of their time. We meet them at a point of no return in their lives and we watch, fascinated, as they pivot or sit there, all broody. We may have forgotten their names, but they and the events that entice them to change are a big reason why we keep reading books.

Fleshy breathers are born in imagination, strut their stuff in books, pop out every once in a while in our memory. We can see them waiting for the bus or walking down the block a few steps ahead of us, or remember them in the agony of their central conflict. I swear I’ve seen the white rabbit shooting down a manhole. They are amazing creations and have spellbinding stories to tell, and they go on and on.

We love them or love to hate them, but we’re not indifferent to them. They hold us in thrall. Full of longing, they carp, mope, dream, love or lament, have quirky habits, sleep too much or not at all. They change or sort of change or vow to change next week. They slip and fall. They make us fearful or frightfully angry, and sometimes they even disgust us. But because of the unique way they stumble about the page, they surprise, they shock, they stick to us like glue.

These are some of my favorites—at least for today—but mind you, as soon as I post this, I’ll think of others: Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment (mostly I want to ring his neck), Humboldt, Molly Bloom, Hamlet, Hercule Poirot, Andy Dalziel (the only character I know who breaks wind on a regular basis), Anne Eliot, Emma, Ahab, Jude Fawley, the Thomas Cromwell of Wolf Hall, and I mustn’t forget his wife, Liz, who, although she has a small part, is powerful; Sarah Berg in Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs, Dilsey in The Sound and the Fury, Jack Burden in All The King’s Men.

Who are some of your favorite characters?

Photo: Sunset in Sicily by Villa Ghimette (Flickr), Creative Commons.

Revising Ebooks: Visions and Revisions


From flat to fleshy breather.

This isn’t easy to admit, but my first book in the Serafina Florio mystery series got some not-so-stellar reviews from readers who liked my book but had trouble understanding (read ‘they were bored by’) parts of the narrative and the dialogue of a few characters. And they didn’t like the sentence structure of one in particular, Rosa.

My first reaction was defensive. “What’s the matter with their reading skills? Don’t they know she’d speak that way? Haven’t they read historical mysteries?” And they weren’t the first voices who told me that readers would have a difficult time with this ‘Yoda speak,’ as one critic puts it. Call me a late bloomer, but after I read two or three reviewers complaining about Rosa’s dialogue, I finally took notice and began revising the manuscript, and …

Six months after I first published the ebook, I uploaded the changed file to Amazon. I’ve asked KDP to take a look, comparing the original to the newest version, and they’ll tell me within four weeks if they plan on notifying my readers. But for my part, I can’t call these updates a revised edition since they don’t really change the plot or the flow of the story. These days, books are different, especially ebooks and PODs, at least those distributed by CreateSpace. They are living and breathing and easy to change if you have the right tools.

Here’s what changes:

  • Narrative flow
  • One chapter break, and,
  • The biggest change of all, I think, is the transformation of Rosa from a one dimensional character into a fleshy breather.

She grows, I think, or so she delights in telling me. In the first version, she was a carping, one-sided character. In the second version, she becomes more of a traditional sidekick to Serafina, the protagonist. Too early to tell if readers will like it, but ultimately, I think, we must write for our readers AND for ourselves and I’m happy with the book. Happier with the series and with Rosa who goes on in the third book to have—what would Serafina call it?—a dalliance.

Formatting my own manuscripts has given my pocketbook new life and the freedom to revise frequently—or should I say, the ability to indulge my bad habit of constant revision. In a later post, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned about importing a Word document and formatting it in Adobe InDesign, then exporting it to .mobi format for uploading to Amazon. And in another post, I’ll tell you how I use InDesign to format the interior of a book for printing.

Photo: The editorial department at the Seattle Daily Times, 1900. Credit: Wikipedia Commons.