Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

How To Find Story Ideas When You Feel Uninspired

You’re staring at a blank screen. You want to write a piece for your blog, for your writing class, or your writing project, but your fingers remain motionless on the keyboard. You know you must have something to say, but the words just won’t come. What do you do? Maybe you should give up; you’re not a “real” writer anyway, right?


If you’re one of the many who have difficulty getting started, here’s a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

keep a story idea file

I learned this in a writing class years ago, and it’s my personal favorite. Get an accordion file (or you can use a file drawer) and start collecting items of interest from the newspaper and magazines. It could be an article on a topic of interest, a picture, or even a potential character name. Or maybe it’s the location of the story that intrigues you. Get in the habit of writing notes when an idea hits you, and add these to the file as well. You can also include your own photographs that might spark an idea.

Add to your file regularly. I like the portability of an accordion file, and I’ve labeled each section in mine to help keep it organized. It won’t do you any good to collect items and not be able to find them when you want them, so develop a system that works for you.

people watch

try to collect ideas and character sketches from people you encounter in everyday life. You can start with your family and friends. Everyone knows someone who would make a great story character. If you live in a busy neighborhood, sit outside and listen and watch the activity around you. Take pictures as well. Or go to a coffee shop and observe people as you enjoy a mocha latte′. Take notes on traits or speech you find interesting. Get in the habit of noticing people you encounter throughout your day, whether it’s co-workers, the lady at the dry-cleaners, or the guy who comes to fix your leaky faucet. They all have the potential to become a fascinating character in your next writing piece.

use a writing prompt

One of my favorites is at Writer’s Digest. (

There you’ll find a daily writing tip and a writing prompt to create a 500 word (or less) piece, which you can post online at their site if you choose to do so. There is also a list of additional writing prompts for you to peruse. Try this a few times and it should generate some new thoughts.

keep a notepad and pen by the bed

What the heck was that dream about?

When you awaken, write down anything you can remember from your dreams. It doesn’t have to make any sense to be a potential story idea.

stream of consciousness

Sit quietly in a room for thirty minutes with nothing but a pen and paper. Write whatever comes into your mind. Again, it doesn’t have to make any sense or even be written in complete sentences.  If you are having trouble, pick a topic and write whatever comes into your head about that topic. You can go back later and glean writing ideas from whatever you’ve written. (You can add these to your story file for future reference).

Write back and share what sparks your writing ideas.


Hooked On “Hooked”

I love to read. I always have, from the time I was a young girl. These days, however, the amount of time I have to read is much less, and therefore more precious.

I see lots of stories that might be good or even great— if I could manage to get through them. How the story begins is a good indicator as to whether I’ll spend my limited time reading that particular story or not.

That is the premise of Hooked by Lee Edgerton, a great book for anyone writing a short story or novel they hope to get published.

We all know that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but if the beginning doesn’t start in the right place, it’s not likely any agent or editor will continue reading after the first few paragraphs.

In a world where mountains of manuscripts are rejected on a regular basis, how does a writer get theirs off the proverbial heap?

Hooked was written with the intention of helping writers do just that. The secret is in the beginning of your story. This book covers modern story structure, opening scene dos and don’ts, where to put that backstory you’re just dying to fit in, and more. The last chapter contains some thoughts from editors and agents about what they’re looking for in manuscript submissions— and what they don’t want to see.

Don’t waste time polishing up your prose until you make sure you’re giving your story its best chance at success— with a beginning that’s worthy of the rest of your story.

All Aboard the Glimmer Train!

If you like to write (or read) short fiction, I recommend checking out Glimmer Train Press, an independent quarterly literary journal started in 1990 by two sisters in Portland, Oregon who personally read all submissions. is packed with information about the journal and detailed writing guidelines and FAQ’s about submitting your work for consideration for publication.

Submissions must be original, unpublished fiction. They do not publish novels, poems, or stories for children.

You can select either standard or competition submission. There are no reading fees for standard submission and you receive $700 if your story is accepted for publication. There is a $15-20 reading fee for competition submissions, but the payout is higher.

You can also purchase a subscription to Glimmer Train for $36/yr or $58 for two years. Each issue is about 200 pages (8-12 stories). Back issues are available for $12 each.

They also publish Writers Ask, a quarterly 16 page non-newsletter for writers packed with information on writing from accomplished literary writers and mentors. A one year subscription is $20, or $33 for two years. Back issues are available for $6 each.

Whether you’re an experienced writer or a novice, this journal provides an opportunity for you to get your short fiction published. Give it a try, and drop me a line if your submission is accepted for publication- I’ll be cheering for you!

Interview with Aaron Paul Lazar, author of “Tremolo”

This is one of the last stops on the Tremolo virtual book tour, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to interview a wonderful author, Aaron Paul Lazar.


Tremolo, set in the summer of 1964, is the prequel to Lazar’s Double Forte’ from the LeGarde mystery series.

Eleven-year-old Gus LeGarde, the protagonist in the LeGarde book series, is in Maine for the summer with his parents and best friends, Elsbeth and Siegfried, and their parents. The youths idyllic vacation at the lake is violently interrupted by a sudden brush with death, and in the same evening, an encounter with a terrified young girl running wildly through the woods– pursued by an apparently drunken man. She disappears before Gus can get her to safety, and he remains haunted by her image as he vows to find her. His quest uncovers many peculiarities along the way that indicate there may be much more going on in this quiet little town.


The interview with Aaron Lazar:

Q: E.B.White once said, “Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar”. Do you agree?

A: Hmmm. Good question, Nancy. An act of faith? I’m not so sure if that works in my case. To me writing is more like the proverbial itch that needs scratching, a fundamental thirst so strong it must be quenched before life can go on. I feel cheated if I don’t get my writing “fix” each day.

Of course, I do trust my readers – in an intimate act of faith – to process my words without turning on me, which is unfortunately part of writer’s angst. I guess that really is an act of faith! And naturally, I don’t expect them to read stuff fraught with grammatical errors. That said, grammar is not the essence of writing, just a necessary cousin to words poured from the heart.

Q: Do you think there are inherent differences between writers and non-writers?

A: Another excellent question, one I haven’t pondered before. I guess if we define “non-writers” as those who don’t currently write and who don’t have the skills/talent/drive to write, then I’d be able to analyze it properly. Some folks are “writers,” but don’t know it yet. But they share many inherent mechanisms with established writers. Let’s lump these “potential/future” writers into the “writer” category and compare them with the folks who have no desire to put pen to paper, ever!

I’ve noticed some commonalities that propagate across writers.

– Writers soak up every little detail in the world around them and are consumed with the need to record it for all time. This is much like an artist or photographer in many regards.

– Fiction writers have stories that pummel them from the inside, begging to be let out. They dance with delight when given an opportunity to spin a story from an original idea. For example, my critique partner, Patricia Fowler, just sent me a scene that popped into her head. No story line was attached to it, but the characters captivated me and the setting was glorious. I wanted more. I suggested a few twists that could happen to these lovely characters, she countered with a few spicy ideas, and I added some fanciful notions to that – and we were both in Heaven, delighting in the possible permutations of this book-to-be.

– Fiction writers pay special attention to dialogue and dialects. They often have a talent for mimicking accents with the written word, and can masterfully recreate life-like conversations.

– Writers often read voraciously. A frequent complaint is that they can’t find enough time to do both – read and write. But by reading, they are taught by some of the best. That’s how I learned to write – by reading and absorbing the literary nuances of my favorite authors.

What about non-writers? I think these folks – whether readers or not – are equally absorbed by their own passions, whether they be medical researchers, astronauts, or armchair quarterbacks. Being true to one’s soul is the key here. It doesn’t matter if you write or don’t – as long as you pay attention to your calling and love your family.

Q: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

A: My favorite part is that mind-dumping whooshing that happens when a story flows out of me for the first time. It’s immensely satisfying – like an amusement park ride. The scenes tumble out – sometimes planned, sometimes popping out of nowhere. The characters deepen. The action gets my blood pumping. And I can’t wait to get back to the computer each day to dash down the next chapter.

Q: What makes a character interesting?

A: I can only answer this from my own point of view as a reader. I am drawn to characters who live and breathe, to whom I can relate, and who I distinctly visualize. I usually am drawn to “real people” characters who exhibit heroic efforts in their own lives and who sometimes have a twist of the exotic. But occasionally I’m taken by an “evil” character, such as the character Jenner, in SW Vaughn’s series that starts with “Broken Angel.” (coming soon from Lachesis Publishing)

Q: How well do you feel you know your characters?

A: I know them inside and out. I have to – since I’m a series writer! But sometimes I forget a stray element when I move from one series to the other. Thus, I keep a list of “reminders” about their history, etc. on hand to keep me honest.

Q: Gus LeGarde seems to be a virtuous and admirable husband, father, and friend. Will we see a darker side of Gus in future books?

A: There is no darker side of Gus. What you see is what you get! LOL.

Of course, Gus will always be faced with failings or flaws that keep him humble. I believe there is enough “darkness” portrayed by commercial vehicles today and purposefully created a character of great inner strength and tenderness, one who young people would strive to be like and from whom all folks could learn.

Q: Are there any types of scenes you find particularly difficult to write?

A: Fortunately, I have a rather vivid imagination. If I can “picture” the scene, like a moving playing in my head, I can write about it. For scenes based in areas where I have little or no experience, I’ve got movies and other books to help me create it.

Perhaps, though, I do avoid such material. I don’t have any scenes where a surgeon is operating on a patient, or a smart-as-a-whip lawyer is cross-examining a criminal. Since I don’t have a lot of experience in those arenas, I guess that’s why I don’t write about them!

Q: Is it difficult is it to stop tinkering once you’ve completed a story?

A: God, yes. It’s impossible. If I pick up something I wrote a few years ago, I cringe. It’s never good enough. If I didn’t have deadlines, I’d never be done. Of course that absurd desire to perfect the book is balanced by my all-consuming need to start the next novel. So it works out in the end.

Q: Have you ever trashed a story before it’s completion? I remember reading how Stephen King threw out his initial work on Carrie, and only after his wife Tabitha retrieved it from the garbage and encouraged him to continue with the story did he decide to complete it. Of course, we all know how that turned out!

A: Not yet. But I’m considering it with my current WIP. LOL!

Q: Gus is portrayed in your books as an avid gardener and cook. Are you a good cook and do you have a specialty dish? Do you have any plans to write a cookbook and incorporate some of the recipes for dishes you’ve mentioned in your writing?

A: I guess I’m a pretty good cook. My family seems to think so, anyway. I love using fresh garden vegetables and making all kinds of soups. But I don’t have a specialty dish. Hmmm. I guess I’ll have to work on choosing one! But I do hope to publish a Gus LeGarde cookbook some day. All of the meals Gus prepares in his books are based on real meals I made. The only problem is I don’t measure anything. Ever. I just throw it together and it comes out tasty. So I guess when the cookbook comes out, I’ll have to back track through Gus’s meals and recreate them with photos and measurements.

Q: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that engineering is your “day job”; do you find engineering disciplines helpful in your writing career?

A: Indeed I do, because I work with a wealth of wonderful people whose lives I share in one respect or another. The stories that come out of real life are superb fodder for plot ideas and spin-offs. There is also a great commonality in the realm of solving mysteries in engineering. Whether you’re solving a complex problem in a digital printer or trying to design a new dry ink to meet tough industry standards, the methods required to solve such challenges can be similar to that of solving a murder mystery.

Q: Some people feel it requires selfishness (in addition to hard work and a lot of luck) to become a successful writer. Do you share that opinion?

A: I agree with the hard work and luck comment, but I don’t think one necessarily has to be to selfish to get one’s writing done. It’s possible to balance your writing with home life and still be a loving spouse/parent/friend to those around you. Note I said, “possible,” and not “easy!” It’s hard to balance both without making yourself into a martyr or becoming too self-involved.

Q: If you could write only one more book, what would it be about?

A: Oh, Nancy, you just made my heart stutter. Only one more book? I can hardly imagine it. But if I were diagnosed with a deadly illness and had to choose today – it would be one more book from Gus’s childhood, a literary romp through the sixties that would make readers swoon with nostalgia.

Thanks, Nancy, for the unique and insightful questions and for being a host on the Tremolo book tour.


Tremolo is the third book in the Gus LeGarde mystery series after Double Forte’ and Upstaged. Read excerpts from all three books (and much more) at Mazurka, the fourth book in the LeGarde series and Healey’s Cave, the first book in a new series, Moore Mysteries, ( will be released this summer from Twilight Times Books.