The Need for Stories by Sandra Carey Cody
“We’re always the same age inside.” Gertrude Stein
The Jennie Connors/Riverview Manor mysteries are set in a retirement community and the characters are a variety of ages. The youngest is Jennie’s six-year-old son; the oldest is a ninety-pound, ninety-something, feisty southern belle who still thinks like a teenager. Other characters run the gamut of ages.
The inspiration for this setting came from a bittersweet time in my life. My mother and one of my aunts lived in a facility similar to my fictional Riverview Manor. Their health had deteriorated to the point where it was impossible for the family to care for them. I won’t go into the anguish involved in this decision; that’s not what this is about. This is about … well, you’ll see.
I visited Mom and Aunt Hedy fairly often in their new surroundings and, as an unexpected bonus, spent time with some of the other residents. Most of them were also in poor health and no longer physically active. They were old. Very old. That’s all I saw at first but, as I got to know them better, I learned to look beyond their physical limitations. I started to listen – really listen – and I saw the young person they still were inside. I realized they each had a story and what they wanted most was someone to tell their story to. They were all individuals, came from different backgrounds, but each had a story to tell.
Are any of these people in my books? Not really. My characters are cobbled together from bits and pieces of a lot of people, myself included. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Nate, an 84-year-old retired actor who was and, in his own mind, still is, one of the finest interpreters of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes to ever grace the stage. Nate “struts and frets” a lot, demanding more than his share of attention. He’s not a nice man. He does and says the mean-spirited things most of us don’t allow ourselves to do or say. Maybe that’s why I created him. Writing scenes for Nate gives me a place to put out my own mean-spirited impulses. Turning those impulses into fiction forces me to examine and (hopefully) understand them.
That’s one of the reasons we need stories, both as readers and writers. In fiction, we meet people who are of another world, sometimes another generation. Their experiences may be different from ours, but when we hear their story, we begin to understand them and, if we listen – really listen – we see past the differences and realize how alike we are inside.
My characters aren’t real and Riverview Manor isn’t much like the place that inspired it. It’s a mythical place where all problems have a solution and there’s always someone who wants to hear your story. And isn’t that what we all want? Some to listen to our story.
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Sandra Carey Cody was born and grew in Missouri, surrounded by people who loved stories, whether from a book or told on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon. She now lives in a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania. Wherever she’s gone, books have been the bridge to her new community and new friends. Being the quiet member of a noisy family, her story-telling manifested itself in writing, mostly crime fiction. If you would like to know more, you can visit her website: www.sandracareycody.com or her blog: www.birthofanovel.wordpress.com
5 Tips for Writing a Good Article or Blog Post by Lourdes Venard
With social media, blogs, author newsletters, online news sites, and more, there’s an overabundance of items to read. If you’re like me, you’re never able to read it all. Some days, I can barely keep up with my email!
So how do you make your item stand out? I’ve been in the newspaper business for 30 years, and I’m editor of First Draft, the newsletter for the Sisters in Crime Guppy chapter. Below are five tips I’ve learned through the years and which you can use, whether you are writing for a blog, a newsletter, or even a Facebook post.
1) Give a promise of advice. Did you notice the title for this article? I purposely picked five points I wanted to touch upon. Telling readers that you are giving them five pointers (or any specific number) is one way to grab the busy reader’s attention. I learned this technique from a marketing professional, but as I thought about it, it’s really a time-honored way of getting people to pay attention. Moses, after all, came down the mountain with 10 very specific commandments.
2) Grab them with your first sentence. This is a lesson from Journalism 101. Journalists call their first sentences the lede, and the idea is to either impart the most important information or have something that will hook the reader. A good lede is golden. One of my favorite crime reporters (who became a crime fiction author) is Edna Buchanan, who wrote for The Miami Herald. She was known for her offbeat ledes, such as the one that topped a story about a drunk ex-con who wanted his food immediately and got into a fight in a Church’s fried-chicken outlet while still at the counter. He was shot and killed by a security guard. Her lede: “Gary Robinson died hungry.”
3) Write with authority and write what you know. This is one of the first lessons that I learned as a young journalist. Obviously, you need to have all the facts to back up your authority. Once you do, convey to the reader that you know your stuff. Comb your article for “probably,” “maybe,” “supposedly,” and other milquetoast words. The “write what you know” part comes before the “authority.” A journalist does a lot of reporting, more than what goes into the final product. If you are writing about a new subject, research, research, and research. Don’t make assumptions, and get all your facts. Then write as you know your subject—which you should, at this point.
4) Keep it short. More is not necessarily better. As an editor, one of the things I do most often is trim. Remember, readers don’t have unlimited time. If you have a long article or blog post, they may never reach the end. Strunk and White’s The Element of Style exhorts writers to “omit needless words.” This book is one of the slimmest volumes ever written on grammar and good writing, yet it is a classic. The authors certainly took their own advice.
5) Be genuine. There’s a place for blatant self-promotion, but if that’s all you ever do on the Internet, people will notice—and you will get a reputation. Be yourself, share as much about yourself as you are comfortable, and be social—because that’s the idea behind social media, right? I admit, as an introvert, I sometimes struggle with social media. I like posting inspirational sayings on my business Facebook page, but find that people really connect with the personal—photos of my cat (very popular!), the deer in our yard, my family, and food I’ve cooked. People also like personal, self-effacing stories. When a writer whose books I read turns out to be funny, passionate, or offbeat online, I love her all the more—and she doesn’t need to tell me for the 20th time that her new book is out. Believe me, if I like her, I’ll make a point to seek out her newest books.
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Lourdes Venard has worked at major American newspapers, including The Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Newsday. She is also a freelance book editor, editing both fiction and nonfiction. Her work as a freelance editor spurred her to write Publishing for Beginners: What First-Time Authors Need to Know, an e-book available at Amazon.com