Monday, June 17, 2013

A WOULD-HAVE-BEEN AIRPLANE CRASH, Chapter Three, “There Is No Way We Can Survive”

The banging engine struggled to continue producing power, we had no forward visibility, and every few seconds a fireball erupted from the engine cowling and lit the night sky in sickening orange and yellow. I asked my friend to declare an emergency to Jacksonville Center, you might recall that only my friend could talk to the outside world through his headset and the push to talk switch mounted on his side of the airplane.

He did as I asked, declared an emergency, and described our situation to the man in a darkened room on the other side of Florida. The controller verified he understood and stated he would guide us to the Crystal River airport 24 miles away. He immediately gave us a heading. When I heard the incorrect sounding numbers I checked the bouncing magnetic compass (our Directional Gyro was powered by engine vacuum and no longer worked), it confirmed my fear, like the control tower in Tampa Jacksonville Center gave us a wrong heading. I asked my friend to tell him it was wrong. The trembling voice that came back over the radio instantly corrected his mistake. In the meantime I was already making a right turn to what I felt sure was the direction of the nearest town. My intuition matched our reality and I quickly rolled out on a magnetic course to the airport.

The sound of the engine was many times louder than normal, probably due the fact that there was an 18 inch diameter hole in the top of the engine through which all but a cup full of oil had spewed. My friend turned to me and asked if we could survive. I switched off the intercom that looped his son in our conversation and explained that we most likely would not survive. I don’t remember exactly, but I suspect I used somewhat more colorful language. If we tried to land in the rough and craggy ocean below, our fixed gear aircraft (the wheels do not retract on this model) would flip us upon impact regardless of how excellent our landing. We would die in the crash or drown. Our other fatal option was the 76 gallons of high octane avgas, which filled our wing tanks, would explode midair. Our aircraft could not glide to the airport without an engine and the likelihood of our mangled power plant continuing to produce power was slim.

There was no good news and I had life or death split second decisions to make.

Tomorrow: Chapter Four, “The Lesser of Two Evils, My Choices”

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Friday, June 14, 2013


We leveled off at 6,500 feet above sea level, tuned our transponder to the assigned code, and switched radio frequencies to Jacksonville Center. My friend made contact with someone sitting in a dark room on the opposite side of the state of Florida and informed him of our course, altitude, and confirmed our transponder code.

The sky was clearing by the minute and the moon shined through the breaks in the clouds more often than not. The west coast of Florida was on our right. Through my right side window I could see the white caps leading the waves below, still crashing in the aftermath of the thunderstorm, which was nowhere in sight.

As a new pilot my friend was particularly diligent as he closed the cowl doors, checked the carburetor heat, leaned the mixture, adjusted the prop’s pitch, and continually scanned the instruments in a prescribed pattern. He was my father’s flight student and had learned his lessons well. It was going to be a clear night and a pleasant ride home. The sky wrapped around us like a black and white translucent security blanket, I crossed my arms and smiled to myself.

Eighty miles north northeast of Tampa, one second we were cruising, the steady hum of the six cylinder two hundred thirty horsepower Continental engine filled the cockpit, and the next instant an explosion slammed the airframe, threw the nose first up, and then down. The propeller stopped for seconds that seemed like an eternity, oil covered the expansive windshield, and for a short time we were partially inverted and the only sound was a second explosion and radio static in our headsets.

I immediately took the controls, pushed the nose down, and righted the wings. The propeller freed and began to turn without my assistance. I pushed the mixture full rich and pumped the throttle. The engine started roughly and with the guttural sound came a third explosion followed by a ball of fire, which erupted from the engine cowling directly in front of the windscreen. Every few seconds thereafter the pattern repeated itself. An explosion, then a ball of fire, which we could somewhat see through the heavy dark oil film that completely covered the Plexiglas. We had no forward visibility, we had lost 1,500 feet of altitude, and we were 24 miles west of Crystal River, Florida with 20 miles of rough water between us and the coast. It was eleven o’clock, Saturday night August 19, 1989. We three were alone.

Monday: Chapter Three, “There Is No Way We Can Survive”

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Many of us have had near misses in our lives. For example, a car runs a stop sign and misses us by an inch. Adrenalin pumps, our heart beats wildly and we repeat our story at least 20 times over the following days. I have had plenty of traffic near misses in my forty plus years of driving. However, the colossal near miss of my life took place in a single engine airplane over the Gulf of Mexico at eleven o’clock a storm scattered, moonlit Saturday night August 19, 1989. We were twenty miles off the coast of Florida when our newly overhauled aircraft engine exploded and caught fire.
In a series of posts during the following several days I will tell you the whole story of how we survived without a scratch. This is my TRUE story!


My friend, his 15 year old son, and I were scheduled to leave Tampa, Florida much earlier that particular Saturday. I had business in Tulsa on Sunday afternoon and wanted to return to Missouri for a short rest, repack, and departure to Oklahoma. A severe thunderstorm system hung over Florida and much of our return route all day and well into the evening. Finally, at 9:00 PM the sky began to clear. A short conversation with the weather center confirmed it; we would have good weather all the way back to Missouri.

My friend was my partner in the aircraft and a new VFR pilot. We agreed that he would pilot the 1973 Cessna 182 Skylane for the trip home. We had bought the airplane less than a year before and soon after discovered it needed a major overhaul. When our tires lifted off the tarmac in Tampa we had 39 hours on a fresh overhaul by a Federal Aviation Administration licensed mechanic. It is important to note that I am the son of a flight instructor with high time in a variety of aircraft, especially this particular model. My friend and I had previously agreed that, due to my experience, if there was ever a problem when we were flying together that I would fly the aircraft.

My friend settled into the left seat and I in the right, the Tampa tower cleared us for takeoff to the west toward the Gulf of Mexico. A few hundred feet above the runway the tower gave us turn instructions that I should have taken as a bad omen. He directed us to turn to the wrong heading to the south. Our route home was set as north northeast with a single fuel stop scheduled in Birmingham, Alabama. I pointed out the tower’s error to my friend and he instantly relayed the message to the controller.

My friend was our only contact to the outside world. We wore headsets, which allowed us to comfortably talk to each other. To communicate by radio it was necessary for the left seat pilot to key the microphone via a yoke, or steering wheel, mounted button and speak into the boom microphone protruding from his headset. The controller immediately responded to our requested course correction with a new, unapologetic heading. We began a gradual climbing right turn to our course and assigned altitude of 6,500 feet.

I leaned back slightly and relaxed, we were finally headed home.
Tomorrow: Chapter Two, Oh My God, Our Engine Exploded!

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Monday, June 10, 2013


I love the movies! I enjoy movies at home, but I find a good movie playing out on the big screen irresistible. Until the last few years I was occasionally annoyed by a talker, crying child, or a seat back kicker. That is until cell phones and texting became the norm for nearly everyone. Now, nearly every movie I see includes at least one occasion of a text addict with something so important to say or know that it cannot wait. Suddenly a smart phone and its annoying beacon appear like a lighthouse in the middle of a dark room. Yesterday was the epitome of my in theater cell phone experiences.

I immediately knew it was an unusual matinee when cell phone screens continuously popped up in different areas of the theater. It looked like fireflies in mating season as the users sent and read text messages. A person directly in front of me used his phone several times, but the screen was so dim I hardly noticed. However, two empty seats to my right a man in a baseball cap used his phone every few minutes. When he did he held it inches from his nose to read and type, which he did so slowly that the key taps looked like a woodpecker in super slow motion. The screen was bright to the point of being unbelievably distracting.

I endured several instances of this behavior until the cost of admission and my enjoyment of the movie collided with my patience. I leaned over and in a relatively low voice told him that his phone was very distracting and asked him to stop using it. He seemed to ignore me so I raised my voice a bit, increased the sternness of my tone, and asked again. Finally he acknowledged me and put the phone away for the duration of the movie.

The others in the theater must have heard me, but obviously thought my displeasure did not apply to them because they continued to use their phones.
When the credits began to roll the man I had spoken to jumped up and left the theater. I suppose he wanted to avoid me, but I too was happy to not have to deal with him in the light of day.

Leaving the theater I was nearly through the lobby doors when I heard a man call to me. “Sir,” he said as he crossed the ten feet that separated us. Surprised, I stopped. He immediately shook my hand. “Thank you for asking that guy to put away his phone. It was so distracting that I had to shield my eyes with my hand and I did not have the nerve to say anything.”

The grateful stranger made my day. He reminded me that I am not alone in my belief that cell phones have no place in the movie theater. If your message to the outside world cannot wait go to the lobby and focus on your communication. Please do not ruin the movies for the rest of us. It is your right to pay for your ticket and waste it. However, you do not have the right to waste mine.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Friday, June 7, 2013


The rivalry between the Army’s elite Green Berets and the Navy’s select few Seals is undoubtedly as old as the existence of Special Forces. Both groups are carefully chosen, highly trained, and extremely brave. Perhaps the difference boils down to something as simple as rough march versus grueling swim. I am convinced that if you would ask 100 members of each group what the differences are their answers would be similar regardless of to which group they belonged.

Recent events and news coverage has undoubtedly favored the Seals with the killing of Bin Laden and the making of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty.” However, historically we heard more about the Green Berets. In 1966, Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, who was recovering from a leg wound suffered in Vietnam, and Robin Moore wrote “The Ballad of The Green Berets.” Sadler recorded the song and it was a long running hit that year. In the lyrics they mentioned that Green Berets were comprised of the top three percent of those who applied for the program, a fact that holds true today.

In 1968 John Wayne starred in “The Green Berets,” which was popular among Wayne fans and came at a time when the public secretly wanted to know more about the highly unpopular Vietnam War, or conflict as many preferred to minimize its importance. Much later, in 1990, Charlie Sheen made “Navy Seals,” which for me seemed some mixture of comedy and drama. I am a John Wayne fan and not at all impressed by Charlie Sheen and his public idiocy. In this competition I vote Green Berets ten, Seals zero.

The bottom line is, there is no right answer. Love the Seals or love the Green Berets, it does not matter. They are all fearless American heroes who are willing to do whatever it takes and risk everything to defend our nation. Irrespective of my John Wayne preference, I am in the bag for the Green Berets, of whom my son is one, but I am proud of them all.

A few years ago I visited one of the places where the Army memorializes Green Beret casualties. It was an expansive, carefully tended grassy area. Each casualty was honored with a granite marker and a magnolia tree. It was a heartbreaking and prideful experience. It is hard for me, as the father of a soldier, to see or remember these things without feeling a mixture of pride and sadness. What a nation, what a people we are.

“O’er the ramparts we watch,” I am proud to be an American!

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Yesterday afternoon the crowd began to gather, along old Route 66 outside my office, nearly two hours before our fallen hero arrived. It was not an air of excitement or enthusiasm, more one of respect and anticipation. I walked across the street to ask an onlooker when the processional was expected. She was texting with someone who was waiting 15 miles down the Interstate and they still had not passed. We knew they had left the airport nearly an hour before. It was obvious they were moving slowly.

I waited with my own brand of anticipation. My every thought was of gratitude for the young man’s service while relieved that the hearse’s silent passenger did not bear my name.

I was near the overpass, between Route 66 and the Interstate, when they came up the ramp at 3:15. I had expected a small group of cars and one hearse, I was very surprised. I was filled with awe and respect at the scene that unfolded before my eyes. The processional was led by several police cars, fire trucks, something between 30 and 50 motorcycles many of which were flying flags, assorted cars, veterans’ vehicles, and finally a sole white hearse. Fire trucks and firemen lined the overpass, the ladder truck’s ladder was fully extended and flying a giant flag. A small helicopter hovered overhead. People were everywhere.

Overwhelmed, I crossed my heart and did my best to focus on the scene. The firemen stood at attention and saluted, everyone around me crossed their hearts, and not a word was uttered. The only sounds were the rumble of Harley Davidson’s and the helicopter’s rotor beating the air. I trembled.

After they passed, and disappeared from my sight, I turned to walk away. A lone man standing nearby was stock still, his hand locked solidly over his heart. It was as though he was unwilling or unable to move.

A young man made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. He gave all so we can continue to live freely. Most of us will never deploy, we will never go to war. That honor is reserved for a brave few, but we can do our part. We can uphold and defend our freedoms and democracy at home. We can reduce our national debt, increase our GDP, and work together to make our country better.

Today is the anniversary of D-Day. On June 6, 1944 Allied Forces invaded Normandy, France. Yesterday a hero came home to Missouri.

Let us remember why we are free. Let us all respect the incredible cost associated with our way of life. God Bless America!

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

One Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice is Coming Home Today

A fallen soldier, a young man from my hometown is coming home today. Last night I found a post in my Facebook news feed regarding the young man’s arrival from Lambert Field. He will be brought by hearse to the local funeral home. The post invited everyone to line the route with American flags and give this young man the commemorative honor he deserves.

I think this is so wonderful, what we do to support the families of our troops and to remind ourselves of the importance of our soldiers in the world constantly protecting us sometimes at the ultimate price. It gives me cold chills and reminds me once again of how fortunate I have been with my own family members.

Of course there are always those who do not seem to understand. There was a comment on last night’s post from someone who said she could not make the event because she would be on another street. Ours is a small Missouri town and the street she referenced is only a few blocks away from the designated route. I read that and thought it a ridiculous excuse. If you cannot or will not go, do not draw attention to yourself with such a ludicrous/lame statement.

Then there are the crazies from the Baptist Church in Kansas. I have heard no rumblings that they will be here. Probably because of the distance and not enough media audience, whatever the reason I do not want them here. I recognize that our freedom means they can protest whatever they want. However, I would think simple human decency would prevent them, they call themselves Christians, from doing what they do. I often wonder how they would like it if we protested the funeral of one of their children with signs that said things like: “He deserved to die!” They would probably think we were unconscionable, inappropriate, and cruel, hmmm.

Let us pay our respects to our fallen when it is necessary, support our injured at every opportunity, give flowers (figuratively speaking) to those who serve, have served, our nation, and in this month of remembrance and gratitude leading up to the celebration of our independence, let us remember how fortunate we are.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


I am confident that there is no American, of a sufficient age, who does not remember what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. I departed Lambert St. Louis airport that morning enroute to Cape Town South Africa. My flight was nonstop to Atlanta where I was to meet an associate and fly together to Cape Town. My plane landed in Atlanta at the same time as the first plane impacted the first tower in New York.

At the gate and in the concourse I neither saw nor heard anything, the news was still not out. In the South African Air lounge I settled in with a cup of rich black coffee to watch the news. As I sat down I saw the second plane crash into the second tower live on CNN. I frantically tried to call home, but it was too late all of the phone lines were busy. My experience of being deserted on an urban island began.

My friend arrived from Detroit, I filled him in and we watched in horror as the events of the day played out before our eyes. Within hours the airport was closed, our luggage was already in the belly of our departing aircraft, where we were informed it would stay, and we were on our own. Outside the terminal it was a mad house; not a single taxi was available. With the help of a couple of Ben Franklins we commandeered a limo and made our way to a restaurant somewhere between the airport and downtown Atlanta. We discussed our options over a half-hearted lunch and finally decided to try and wait out the air travel shut down. We located a hotel and with only our carry-on’s, we checked in.

The next couple of days were identical. We met early for breakfast, discussed our options, watched the news in the bar until noon, ate lunch, and discussed our options. We spent the afternoon and evening in exactly the same pattern. We never ventured out of the hotel. We called rental car companies to check car availability and we waited. Finally on Thursday morning the news came through that the airport would likely open that day. We hurriedly packed, checked out, and shuttled directly to the airport. We arrived to find yellow crime scene tape still sealing the doors in giant X’s. Through the glass we saw encouraging activity inside. We pulled the tape down and the airport was officially open.

After several stages of unusual activity we boarded our scheduled flight to Cape Town and departed Atlanta. Ours was the first commercial flight to leave the continental United States. By the time we reached the African continent we were informed that our plane was being diverted to Johannesburg. We never did find out why.

We spent ten days in Africa. There were plenty of questions regarding what we had seen and how it made us feel. In retrospect the whole trip to Africa feels surreal and I recall the conversations as more polite than probing.

We returned to the United States on schedule. I remember the news regarding our campaign to find the perpetrators, the Dow Jones’ devastated stock values, and the ghost town, which was the Atlanta airport.

I thought a lot about what I would do when I returned home. I considered how I might make a difference. Admittedly, the fact that I am a Missourian from a small town played greatly in my thought process. “After all,” I considered, “how can I possibly make a difference?” When I arrived from the St. Louis airport I went straight to my place of business where an employee meeting had been organized at my request. I announced additions to our benefits program and vacation packages. I told everyone that we must stick together and look to the future. I reminded them that we are Americans and above all we survive and prosper. I am sure I used the word persevere.

Later I learned what else I could do when my brother, son, and nephew were all sent to the Iraqi battlefield.

911 changed me, I remember it well. We are Americans, we are free, and we do have a responsibility to protect ourselves and our country. In the face of our enemies, both foreign and domestic, we must not allow them to negatively affect our financial markets, hamper our trade, or change our society. We must not allow them to send us frightened to cover.

Together we must preserver!

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Monday, June 3, 2013


In my blog entry last Wednesday, “Our Veterans Stories, Our Span of Wars,” I wrote about the deployment of my immediate family members. However, I goofed. I failed miserably because I excluded a very significant family member and his service. My nephew, actually my favorite nephew (as he aptly programmed his contact information in my cell phone and I happen to agree) deployed to the Middle East where he flew numerous helicopter missions as Pilot in Command of an Army gun ship. My omission of this information in my original post was one of those things you do without realizing what you have done and when you finally remember, you feel awful. Well, I officially feel awful.

My nephew is truly a special person in my life. I was eighteen when he was born. He was my parent’s first grandchild. He is a handsome, intelligent individual with beautiful, bright children of his own and excellent parenting skills. Off and on over the years we have spent good amounts of time together. When he was a baby and I lived in the University dormitory he came to stay occasionally. We always had a great time and in many ways we grew up together. I watched him become the man he is today and wow am I proud of that.

When he returned from deployment he brought home an American flag, with which he flew a mission, and gave it to me. I keep it at home in my library and count it among my most cherished possessions. Like my father, son, and brother, I am proud of my nephew’s willingness to risk his life in the service of our country. He came home safely and I thank God every day that he is in my life.

I regret having omitted such an important person in my original post. I liken it to leaving your child behind at a gas station. Today I carry the burden of bad uncle and will work hard to do better in the future. In addition I have many other extended family members who served our country. Uncles and cousins on both sides of my family did their duty. I am and shall always remain proud of them all.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Friday, May 31, 2013


Tomorrow is a very special day. Tomorrow, June 1, 2013, marks my only son’s thirty-sixth birthday. Sometimes I joke that the day he was born was the worst day of my life. I say that because there were some delivery complications and I waited for some number of hours frightened of the outcome. The fact is it was the best day of my life. He fills in all the little spaces that I cannot. He is there when I need him and he needs me. I like that!

At twenty one he decided to join the army. I drove to Fort Sill, Oklahoma to watch him graduate basic training, which was an eye opener for me. There were plenty of parents there, together we watched our children march in formation, do coordinated calisthenics, and stand at attention. Practically without exception I saw the young people divert their eyes and glance at the smiling faces of their proud parents. I say virtually without exception because my son never looked my way, not once. His was a face of absolute concentration, a resolute focus that convinced me he would excel at whatever he undertook. His was the face of a man on a mission.

Within months he was invited to go through Selection. This is the Army’s thirty-nine day process of assessing who has the best chance of becoming a member of the Special Forces. Only three percent of those invited to Selection become Green Berets. This program defines and recognizes the best of the best. My son is one of the three percent.

He did his duty in Iraq twice, seven months each time. He overcame hardship, worked hard, and along with his small team accomplished his mission. He returned home safe and unharmed. Sometimes I think he leads a charmed life. He was in many situations, like an IED exploding under the Humvee he was riding in, where others were hurt, but he was not.

If there is any fear in my son, it never shows. He is kind, generous, and compassionate. He has an incredible intellect and an ability to see the world and its machines as they really are. I often wonder if I have made my mark in life. It occurs to me that my son is my legacy. He is the best of me without the worst. He carries my name and continually makes me proud. If people do remember me, it will be as his father.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Yesterday I wrote about Memorial Day, our veterans and my family. The piece was well received by many of you and in keeping with the season, the weeks between Memorial Day and Independence Day, I would like to continue with this theme. As I mentioned, my older brother served in Viet Nam, Desert Storm, and Desert Shield.

Recently I was cleaning out some files and I found something I wrote in March 1991.


When first he went, it was 1970, I was sixteen years old. I knew where he was going and I had a vague idea of what he might be doing, but I certainly did not understand why my brother had to go.

He went with many other young American soldiers to Southeast Asia to fight a war that no one really understood. It was on every newscast, not the 24 hour news cycle we have today, but still it was a lot of information. Yet, no one understood. Without question he proudly did his duty.

Thank God he came home alive, but he was no hero. There were no heroes in 1971. Our dead exceeded 57,000 and our casualties filled military hospitals across this great nation while society turned its back and pretended innocence. Many of those brave men and women who returned often wished they too had died and still we turned our backs.

Twenty years passed and in those people, who came to be my personal heroes, I found strength and valor that I might not have otherwise discovered.

This time when he was called I was thirty six. I knew where they were going and I knew why. They were on their way to the Middle East to protect our shrinking world from a powerful tyrant.

At first I was angry, angry because he had volunteered, angry because he was risking a life that is very dear to me. My anger was followed by an acute feeling of helplessness. In this situation I would have no control.

The day he left I stood in the soft grass on a little knoll for a better view of a man who sees inside my soul. His helicopter was fifth from the end. As they lifted, hovered, and then turned in formation cold rain and warm tears stung my cheeks. I was filled with pride, fear, and hope. Hope for the life of my brother and his friends, fear of the unknown, and pride in those inspiring souls and this wonderful country.

Now they are again coming home. This time there are few injured and fewer dead. I was proud the last time and now I am prouder still. We are all Americans and they are all my brothers. This time they are coming home heroes and with them they bring peace and hope.

Paul D. Alexander
March 4, 1991

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Our Veterans' Stories, Our Span of Wars

I was born between wars. I celebrated my eighteenth birthday in February 1972. The timing was such that the draft was abolished and I missed the military and the Vietnam War by weeks. My mother was pleased; my brother spent a year in Vietnam during 1969 and 1970 and she had enough. She insisted her second son not go to war.

My brother survived, he came home with a heavy heart, but he survived. Later he flew –med-evac helicopters in Desert Storm and Desert Shield. My mother did not like it, but she kept her mouth shut. My dad spent the last part of World War II in Japan, but that was before he met my mother. Since I have never been to war I cannot say how difficult it must be. I know it must be almost overwhelming. However, I do know from very personal experience how hard it is to be the one to not go. To be like my poor mother, home waiting, wondering and praying.

My son was a Green Beret; he did two tours in Iraq. Because he was in Special Forces he had access to satellite phones and computers, overall his ability to communicate with me was extraordinary. Still, the only peace I had during that total of seven months was in those telephone or Skype conversations. The rest of the time I held my breath. Like my mother I waited and prayed, all white knuckled.

If you have done the math you see that my immediate family has deployed a total of six times. Maybe it does not seem like a lot to the casual observer, but for me, the guy waiting at home, it was six eternities and a history lesson.

We celebrated Memorial Day this week. Many did so at the end of a ski rope or a barbeque fork, but there are still too many U.S. soldiers deployed around the world continuously paying our price for freedom. They may have celebrated, but they did so with one eye on the horizon and the other on the trigger.

I salute those brave men and women who have served and protect us still. I bow before those at home who wait and support our soldiers and their service. Memorial Day is a time for us to remember the high cost of liberty and democracy. Whether we are at home or deployed, in our hearts and minds we all pay a price.
Make an effort to thank every veteran you meet, hear their stories, and remember what you are told because it is our history, our history of peace.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Friday, May 24, 2013

Indy Books, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

There are those who look down upon Independent authors and their books. They probably do so because their perception of the quality of those books, and the writing, is poor. If and when they do read an Indy book they are probably more critical of the grammar, composition, and spelling, right along with storylines and characterizations.

It is true that traditionally published authors have more people behind them proofing, editing, reviewing, and generally ensuring the quality of the books. That does not mean they do not make mistakes, you can find a few in virtually every book in print. Indy authors can also have the same kind of support if they are willing to pay or if their circle of friends, who are willing to work for free, have the kind of expertise necessary.

Bestselling Traditional authors can bend the rules of grammar and composition, invent new words and new spellings, and be perceived as unique for their “style.” When an Indy author bends the rules he/she is typically seen as substandard, sophomoric, or just plain bad.

Indy authors write great stories, not every single one, but a substantial number. When an Indy author writes a bad book the only way to recover is to start over, from scratch. Traditional authors write bad books and sometimes fail miserably, but somehow we forgive the exceptions and look forward to the next page turner. Traditionally published books are not always great, neither are independently published books. However, there are many books out there in both categories that are fantastic.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, or its publisher. Read samples of books online before you buy. Decide for yourself if you like the work based upon the merit and ability of the author. If you like the book, buy it!

Our world cultures all depend upon the written word for our tactile foundations of understanding. We can all do our part to maintain the word’s significance in our lives and in the lives of generations yet to be born. Read more, read well, it can be a brand new world.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bookbub, Kicking Butt & Taking Names

Recently an author friend of mine signed up with Bookbub to help promote one of her books. She is an Independent, Indy, author and writes non-fiction. Her promotion is still in progress with great success. Bookbub should be of interest to readers as well as writers because they always promote good, highly discounted books. They have more than a million subscribers to their free discount notifications. When reviewing comments about their site and service I found a substantial number of grateful readers who mentioned the advantages of being steered toward outstanding, affordable books.

Let’s break this conversation down into a segment for readers and one for authors.


Readers can go online to the Bookbub site, sign-up, and choose a genre of titles to receive, all for free. Bookbub’s editorial committee reviews every book that is submitted for promotion to ensure quality and an acceptable discount. They promote free books, 99 cent books, and even $2.99 books. The books can be available electronically from sites like Kindle, Barnes & Nobel, Apple, Smashwords etc. Print copies can also be obtained, although the deep discounts do not usually apply. As a reader, just imagine that an impartial third party will send you a brief e-mail every day with a list and short description of the kinds of books you like.

Indy authors work just as hard, if not harder than traditionally published authors. They are responsible for the writing, proofing, editing, publishing, and promoting. It is a daunting task with myriad variables and incredible competition. I try to read at least one Indy book per week. They are not all to my liking, but neither are all traditionally published authors and works. If I find no value in a particular book I may not finish. If I like a book I try to post a review and/or let the author know what I think. For my predilection the world is too full of negativity. If I don’t like a book I usually keep my opinion to myself. After all, it is just my opinion.


Let’s call my friend, the Indy author and subject of this post, Madame X. Her first book has been out for more than a year; she has had free KDP promotions, sales events, she blogs, posts everywhere online, and wins awards for her work. She receives ample good or excellent reviews and still her sales have been not great, until Bookbub.

Bookbub reviewed and approved her work, she agreed to lower the price to 99 cents and keep it there for at least a week. Within the first couple of days of the promotion X’s book made it to 53 on the Kindle paid bestseller’s list. As authors we all know how hard it is to improve your ranking on Kindle. The competition is fierce and on the more popular days with book buyers everyone’s sales increase.

I am not saying Bookbub is the do all and end all. There is a small cost involved with the process. However, it is working for X and we all need all of the help we can get. I wish you good writing and great selling. What we need is the opportunity to put our books in front of a mass audience. What good is the work if no one reads it?

Readers, please be kind. Writers, be diligent and persistent. Together we can improve the literary standards of our world.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fiction is Harder Than Truth

Before we begin, in keeping with my tracking of Dan Brown’s “Inferno” success (not infernal), he is still ranked at number 1 in Kindle books with 382 reviews, 36 of which are 1-star. As we noticed before the percentage of poor reviews to good is continually decreasing. I credit this trend to haters losing their momentum.

Fiction is harder to write and more subject to harsh criticism than non-fiction and memoirs. This is not to say that authors of non-fiction are any less skilled or work less. Fiction comes from the author’s imagination and although he has some freedom with facts, geography, and imagery, in the end it all has to, in some way, be believable. In non-fiction, if the facts are correct, if you have all the persons, places, things, and occurrences in the right place and in the right order there is nothing to criticize about the story itself. Critics can review grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the author’s choice of topics, but that’s all.

In fiction, the characters must seem real and be believable. If the reader’s perception of a character’s actions, dialogue, or situation is that it could never happen, the reader believes it poorly written. Needless to say, every reader has a different opinion and preference of what will pass as real. Thus we can explain the huge difference between Dan Brown’s euphoric fans and his adamant haters. It does not necessarily mean that Brown is a bad writer; it means that his work is not believable, and does not appeal to a particular reader. A fiction writer can cause a character to survive a 100 foot jump from a building. It only requires a few keystrokes. However, to make it believable the jumper must be able to justify his survival. We all know vampires, werewolves, and superheroes can easily jump from any height, right? The novelist must either create normally believable scenarios or some extraordinary justification/explanation that readers will accept.

Fiction writers are subjected to readers’ grammar, spelling, punctuation, and composition reviews along with plot, characterization, dialogue, and story. Fiction can be stranger than truth if the writer wants it to be, it just has to be believable.

The next novel you read, try to imagine the author’s perspective, and if the story is a good one, give him or her a break.

It is motorcycle season and signs everywhere caution us to watch out for bikers. Let’s do that and while we’re at it, let’s watch out for authors.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Novel’s All Important First Line

If other writers are anything like me, they struggle with the first line of every novel. It is the line that catches the readers’ attention and sets the tone for the entire story. The most notable first lines in history are well and widely known. Who can possibly forget lines such as?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Perhaps we don’t all remember every word of this incredibly long sentence. Unless you are also prone to memorize poetry you probably do not get much past the first twelve words. In that one sentence Dickens gives us an overview of the story to be told. Memorable, poignant, and important, the elements we all strive to produce in our work and most importantly represent in our first line.

My first attempt at a first line is usually quite easy. Of course after I finish the prologue or first chapter I generally rewrite the first line. After the second chapter I do it again and I continue this process throughout the writing. What happens to me is, as we have discussed before, the characters influence their own stories and their personalities and by making these changes they alter the first line introduction to the story.
The process is fluid and self-settling, it requires the author to be open to the possibility that the opening line is not in his mind. Rather, it comes from the minds of his story’s characters. If the opening line does not touch the writer’s sensitivity, it most certainly will not touch the reader.

When you begin a new novel I encourage you to read the first line aloud. Allow it to roll off your tongue, savor the moment, and let it touch your heart. Remember how it makes you feel. You might even write those feelings on a slip of paper. When you finish the book bring that memory out and consider how the first line set the stage for the book you just read. See if that feeling matches your impression of the book. I hope you will find many first lines equivalent to the quality and creative uniqueness of the books you read.

There is so much to be discovered on the written page, we have only to look!

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
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Monday, May 20, 2013

Gatsby’s Style and Pageantry, Fitzgerald Would be Proud

Today, I want to talk about the movie The Great Gatsby currently in its second week of Screening nationwide. However, before we get into that, in keeping with my last several posts, I checked in to see how Dan Brown’s Inferno is doing on the bestseller’s list. He is solidly holding the number 1 spot with an incredible 253 reviews of which only 26 are 1-star. The percentage of one star to total reviews is lessening. I think this means those people, who rush to write bad reviews for the attention, or feeling of superiority, or for whatever reason, have lost their initial momentum. It will be interesting to continue tracking this percentage over the coming weeks.

One other aside, my friend and fellow author Marlayna Glynn Brown is ranked number 61 on Kindle bestsellers with her memoir Overlay. Marlayna has several books out, of which Overlay was her first. It is a candid, uplifting story of overcoming the difficulties of an alcoholic, abusive family. Congratulations Marlayna, keep writing and selling those great books.

Now let’s examine our topic, The Great Gatsby. I am a huge F. Scott Fitzgerald fan. I have a leather bound copy of The Great Gatsby, which I reread before going to see the movie. Having done so I went to the theatre with great trepidation because my past experiences have typically resulted in disappointment in the way movies fail to capture the essence of books. However, in this case I was thrilled at the result. With very few minor variations the movie closely followed Fitzgerald’s story.

The cinematography was incredible. We have already discussed the importance of authors seeing their characters and surroundings in their minds’ eye as their stories play out. I think Fitzgerald’s mental image of Gatsby and his environment, the house, the parties, the people, and the cars must have been very close to what we saw on the big screen. In fact, the movie was shot and edited in such a way to make it feel as though you were reading a book. The scenes and point of view POV changed just as it must on the written page.

I left the theatre encouraged by the experience and proud because F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous book finally got the big screen treatment it deserves. If you have not seen the movie I encourage you to do so. Let me know what you think!

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
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Friday, May 17, 2013

Are Kindle FREE Books A Good Deal For Writers or Readers?

I am still checking Dan Brown’s Inferno progress daily. Kudos, he is holding solid at number one in Kindle books. Mr. Brown’s reviews for this work have hit 90, 13 of which are 1-star. The price you pay for fame and financial success appears to be public criticism. Anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming rich and famous can look at the lives of those who are and decide for themselves if it is a fair exchange.

Kindle provides authors the opportunity to offer their books for free. Their primary requirement is that the authors give them exclusive digital rights to distribute the book for a minimum of 90 days. Within that 90 period an author can provide his book to readers completely free for a total of 5 days divided in any full day increments that the author chooses.

Authors who successfully promote their books for free do so by preparing the market for the upcoming giveaway by assaulting the Twitterverse, Facebook, LinkedIn, and every other social media. When the giveaway day arrives if the preparation has been well done the author is rewarded with massive downloads, which can number in the tens of thousands over a forty eight hour period. During that time the author can admire his ranking, his fifteen minutes of success, and feel like a bestselling author.

However, there is no such thing as a free lunch. So what happens with writers and readers post successful giveaway?
Authors generally experience greatly improved sales in the days and weeks following a giveaway. It would appear that a good rand in free books translates into being noticed by paying customers after the fact. This is good for the author.

The reader on the other hand may be a serial downloader who regularly hunts the free ranks in search of interesting titles or intriguing covers to add to their Kindle library. I suppose some number of those books eventually get read, but the fact remains, perceived value is everything and if it was free we tend not to value it. Therefore, those books go to the bottom of the reading list and often never get read. This is bad for the author and not good for the reader. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?

A recent study reveals that negative reviews are more likely to be written by readers who did not pay for a book. The assumption then would be that if readers do not respect the value they do not respect the work.

Are giveaways a good thing or bad? It is up to each of us to decide. I have promoted my books for free on Kindle and experienced some degree of success laced with a modicum of heartache. I would do it again. I have downloaded some number of free books to my Kindle. I try not to download anything I do not intend to read and I avoid downloading too many for my time constraints. I never think of those books as valueless, I choose to consider them a gift from the author for which I am thankful.

Download as many free books as you like, but please remember there is a hardworking author on the other end counting on you to appreciate the effort if not the work.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
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Thursday, May 16, 2013

What is the Right price, Fair price, for Kindle Books

Yesterday I discussed Dan Brown’s newly released Inferno and I had to check in today to make sure he was still ranked at number one, which of course he is. By the way, I also mentioned he had nineteen reviews, two of which were rather cruel one-stars. Today he has fifty seven, six of which are one-star. I understand someone not liking a particular book or writer, but I will never understand a reader’s need to write a mean spirited review. There are thousands of ways to deliver a critique without making it a personal assault.

Anyway, I digress. My theme today is e-book pricing because in a readers’ forum I read a rather spirited discussion about the excessiveness of Brown’s $14.99 price tag. I admit it is a lot of money for something you cannot hold in your hand. However, the value of something, perceived being more important than actual, is based upon what the buyer is willing to pay and the seller willing to accept. In this case Kindle readers are paying a premium to get an early look at the work of someone they like or a book that has incredible buzz. Given, the hardback is only a few dollars more and although I love my Kindle I would always rather have a bound copy of something I like for my shelf. There are still an incredible number of readers out there who only want books on their Kindle or Nook for the convenience.

Amanda Hocking is the perfect example of a young YA Indie author who made a huge success of her books at 99 cents. It was not until later, when she signed a traditional publishing agreement that her prices began to go up.

The point is this: Are Hocking’s books worth more now that she is with a publisher? Are Brown’s books worth more because everyone is talking about them? Is the true, fair price for an e-book .99 or $14.99? I think the answers depend upon you, the reader. If you like an author and want their book then $14.99 may be of little consequence. If you are shooting in the dark and guessing that you may or may not like a new book then you might be overpaying at .99.

The author’s perspective is quite different than the reader. The author spends countless hours writing, rewriting, editing, researching, and trying to ensure the highest quality book. There is a value for this work. If a writer can sell millions of copies at .99 and make .35 for each then perhaps that is a good deal. However, if his work is so popular that he can sell millions and charge $14.99 then he has established his own perceived value.

We make published authors’ books worth what they charge by what we are willing to pay. If you want Dan Brown to lower his price, stop buying his book.

To Mr. Brown I say again, congratulations, job well done!

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dan Brown, Burning It up with Inferno

Every man, woman, and child who has ever picked up a pen or switched on a computer, with a storyline in mind, has dreamed of the astronomic success enjoyed by Dan Brown. His newest Robert Langdon novel, Inferno, was released this week amid incredible fanfare and today is ranked number one on Kindle with nineteen reviews and a whopping $14.99 price tag. Achieving and maintaining this lofty spot on the best seller list quite possibly means dozens of downloads per minute. Dan Brown has certainly won the literary lottery.

Albeit two of the reviews are one star, today Dan Brown is king and his book is the law of the literary land. I am sure Brown does not like bad reviews, but he probably looks at his bank balance and finds very few number ones. The naysayers are undoubtedly soon forgotten in the comparison. If I were he, I would remind myself that the greatest artists and writers in our history also received some amount of negative feedback. After all, you cannot please everyone.

Doubleday seems pleased; they are reportedly printing an incredible four million copies of this, fourth in the series, tome. I am certain they have no worries that those volumes will gather dust on the store shelves.

It has been four years since Robert Langdon’s last symbology riddled adventure. This chapter in his story promises to continue pleasing Brown fans as it is replete with the requisite enigmatic characters, art, science, criminal enterprise and human angst. Aided in great detail by Dante’s Divine Comedy the hero races through the streets of Florence assisted by this version’s adhoc, platonic heroine.

Of course the story depends upon the threat of a global conspiracy. Fortunately, in this new millennium of conspiracy theories the thesis becomes even more believable than before.

I say if you don’t like it, don’t read it. I admire Brown for his work and his success. I would never consider myself qualified to negatively critique an author who draws readers like moths to the flame. Rather, I say thank you Mr. Brown for showing the rest of us what is possible.


Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

To Write or Not Right, Purple Prose is the Question

Purple Prose got its name because the color is representative of royalty. Therefore, the language associated with this flowery representation of the writing craft is considered by many to be too fru-fru, overly sensitive, and exceedingly descriptive. Others say that the demise of purple prose is due to common readers unable to associate with colorful, well developed descriptions. Charles Harrington Elster made a case for the erosion of our collective vocabulary and general disdain for purple prose in the following quote.

"Purple prose doesn't seem to have become wholly pejorative until the twentieth century, when steep declines in the vocabulary and reading comprehension of college-educated Americans caused a panic in the education establishment and the newspaper industry, which together launched a campaign against prose that displayed royalty, grandeur, and power. This led to the disappearance of the semicolon, the invention of the sentence fragment, and a marked increase in the use of words like methodological."
(Charles Harrington Elster, What in the Word? Harcourt, 2005)

I must confess I like purple prose, especially in specific doses that you might consider purple patches or passages. Sometimes, as a reader, I want a description of the dawning sun against a colorful backdrop of landscape, clouds, and sky that makes me believe it was a work in progress being created in the moment on some magnificent canvas being painted by God.

When a basic description of a person, place, thing, or action lacks color and excitement purple prose can breathe in new life. Imagine how dull and mundane his work would have been had Shakespeare written Romeo and Juliet in the following way:

“I wish I was her glove. That way when she touches her face it would be just like me touchin’ it.”

Perhaps Paul West said it best:

"It takes a certain amount of sass to speak up for prose that's rich, succulent and full of novelty. Purple is immoral, undemocratic and insincere; at best artsy, at worst the exterminating angel of depravity. So long as originality and lexical precision prevail, the sentient writer has a right to immerse himself or herself in phenomena and come up with as personal a version as can be. A writer who can't do purple is missing a trick. A writer who does purple all the time ought to have more tricks."
(Paul West, "In Defense of Purple Prose." The New York Times, Dec. 15, 1985)

Purple Prose is not for everyone. However, before you take up arms against it, remember sometimes a little color is good for the soul.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
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Monday, May 13, 2013

Novel Characters Need Their Own Voice

Entry Four “Let them be true to themselves”

I have read book reviews that plainly stated the author’s use of dialogue was unrealistic. Certainly there are times when this is true. However, it is important to remember that just as dialogue was created by one writer the review was created by another (both flawed humans). In other words don’t always take another person’s opinion as fact. Decide for yourself, read the dialogue in the context as written, consider the background of the characters as developed, and then decide if characters of a particular age, socio-economic level, academic preparedness, and geographic upbringing would actually say those things as purported.

Mark Twain is renowned for his characters and their use of language. Perhaps if Twain were a newly published author today his critics would not be so fond of his use of language, dialect, and vocabulary. In fact I am certain many would say it was unrealistic. Of course Twain would have laughed them off and probably advised that they try not to drown in their own ignorance.

Most writers work hard at creating realistic settings, language, characters and stories. Let’s not rush to judgment and assume to know what is right or wrong. When in doubt give the author the benefit of the doubt.

Stay tuned, next entry I plan to take on “Purple Prose or no Purple Prose, that is the question.”

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
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Friday, May 10, 2013

Novel Characters Need Their Own Voice

Entry Three

In my last post, Entry Two, I mentioned that how characters in a book look and sound is not always the author’s decision. I probably should have said, not completely the author’s decision. When we begin a new novel we have a story in mind, which should make its way to outline form along with the establishment of the cast of characters. Then we create what we think is the physical description of each and develop a first draft of each individual’s speech patterns and dialogue style.

I think most authors begin the actual writing at this point. In this way the characters are allowed to flesh themselves out. With first draft pages in hand we have an image of how the characters interact with each other. If too many characters are blonde, it creates confusion. Likewise if every character uses the same words, expressions, and has the same accent the reader is unable to discern who is who. Of course we can specifically write “Peter said” after every dialogue entry, but how unimaginative is that?

When the characters begin to speak to each other we hear the differences in their voices and their choice of words. Every character does not need to sound like he comes from a different part of the world; the differences can be quite subtle, especially when creating family members. After all, being raised and educated in the same environment by the same set of role models will cause us to in many ways sound the same. This too can be a useful tool. We might hint to the reader that two individuals are brothers by the same use of some unique phrase.

At the same time, overuse of a particular hard to read accent, or an annoying phrase can alienate the reader. Too much of a good or a bad thing does not create interest. I cannot overemphasize the importance of salient dialogue that represents the individual characters and makes them real in the reader’s mind’s eye.

When we focus on believable we can see and hear if the characters work together. When they effectively communicate with each other the reader is drawn into the conversation. Whether writers test dialogues in model situations or begin writing and see how they work, they will always depend upon the characters themselves to establish their uniqueness in the novel.
The next time you have your nose in a book try to imagine the characters in the setting as described, having a conversation as written, and ask yourself one simple question. “Is this realistic?”

Stay tuned for my next entry.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Novel Characters Need Their Own Voice

Entry Two

Beginning at the beginning in character development means a physical description. I like to start with the Protagonist, quite likely the most important person in the story, and then move on to the antagonist. Following these two characters with the rest of the cast in order of importance is very helpful when visualizing how they will interact in the execution of the plotline (plot is a completely different conversation, which we can discuss at a later date).

As important as each character’s degree of beauty is how that character will react to others in the story. If the protagonist and antagonist are a couple is it important which is taller and by how much. For example, if the female is the antagonist perhaps it is beneficial that she tower over her mate both physically and emotionally. Conversely, if she is the weaker of the two she could be diminutive and frail in all senses.

The same consideration of interaction, as explained in the previous paragraph, can apply to many, if not all, physical as well as evolutionary characteristics. Strong, self assured, characters can have gone to good schools, had loving parents, learned their lessons well, and can be well spoken and even avoid regional accents and dialects. Weak or despicable characters can have had the opposite experience, which could result in a completely different view of everything that surrounds the characters.

Weak characters may maintain the continual use of profanity as an important element in their vocabulary. Strong, well educated, characters can avoid profanity or in certain circumstances use it to make a point. If the author only allows this character to use a particular expression or word once, in the making of a point, it seems more like a mistake. Should we choose to use this tool it is important to establish a pattern of use, which will provide the reader a certainty of purpose.

In “The Great Gatsby” F. Scott Fitzgerald allowed Gatsby to use “old sport” so much that even Nick Carraway grew weary of its use. This was part of Fitzgerald’s characterization of Gatsby as a man who needed an anchor to a superfluous life. Like the planned creation of his history and surroundings, Gatsby used this expression to camouflage certain other longings and the heartache that haunted the character since childhood.

How characters look is not necessarily the author’s decision. Often they are a product of their purpose and everything about them is created to enable them to serve their function. Love them or hate them, they all have their place.

Stay tuned for my next entry.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets
Dark Star

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Novel Characters Need Their Own Voice

Entry One

Reading a novel has the potential to be more fulfilling than watching a movie. A skilled author can put you inside the characters’ minds, describe surroundings in minute, explicit detail, and provide insight that may not be noticed on the big screen. However, if the writer falls short of good characterization, meaning insufficient physical descriptions and inadequately developed personalities, the story becomes unbelievable and very often two dimensional.

In this and subsequent blog posts I will endeavor to explain some of the considerations in the development and continuous delivery of characters in a book.

I have read many explanations of how other authors create their characters and give them their unique voice. Once I read an interview with a bestselling author wherein he explained how he often tests his characters’ voices by writing multiple versions of the same dialogue, while experimenting with different expressions, word usage, and verbal characteristics. In the end he chose the version that best represented the essence of each character. I like this process and have experimented with it myself.

Before we can get to the voice (meaning each individual character’s choice of words, accent, delivery, favorite expressions, and any other elements that make the character unique) we must first know the character and understand his/her role in the story. In any book primary characters will receive more attention, and greater detail, than other individuals with a much smaller role. Too many primary characters in a story often confuse the reader and distract from the plot.

First, before we can know how a character sounds we must develop basic information through which we can imagine, or hear in our mind’s ear, his/her unique voice. It begins with the simple stuff: gender, height, weight, hair and eye color, ethnicity, education, upbringing, propensities, geographical culture, and how we envision the character in the story.
Once we have a mental image of the character we can begin to listen to what he might say and how he might say it. From there we can actually write a few versions of the aforementioned sample dialogue and see which entry best represents the character.

Stay tuned for my next entry. In future posts we will discuss accents, word usage, grammar, profanity and the importance of individualism in truly memorable characters.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

Elizabeth’s Secrets

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Monday, May 6, 2013

The Value of Reviews, Good and Bad

Authors, Artists, and Performers build their reputations and their name recognition on reviews, word of mouth, and a general buzz. The ability to create and produce their art is dependent upon the artist’s creativity and flair. However, the same personality traits that allow one to be creative also foster a certain degree of fragility in the creator’s emotional make-up. There is no greater feeling than a positive, uplifting five star review and nothing more devastating than a one star. This is particularly true when that lone star comes with acidic words sans tact.

Creative types establish their own ways of dealing with these situations. Some avoid bad reviews altogether (much easier said than done), it is akin to trying to look away from a train wreck. Others allow advisors to read the reviews and only relate what the artist needs to know. Sadly, most artists read their own reviews, obsess over the bad ones, and bask in the temporary solace of the good ones. (The latter fits me.)

I offer this suggestion for artists and audiences alike; consider the quality and accuracy of the review before you choose to believe what has been said or written as a true representation of the work. Reviews that include some criticism of the facts as portrayed by the artist can be judged by the accuracy of the reviewers’ use of the same or related facts. In books, if a reviewer is critical of composition, grammar, or spelling consider the quality of the review itself. The bottom line is simple, if a review is poorly written or inaccurate how can it be considered a fair judge of someone else’s work?

Remember the artist cannot defend himself without being bombarded by the wrath of sour grapes. It is up to us, the audience, to defend those whose work we like and respect.

Defend your favorite artists, performers, and writers today!

Elizabeth’s Secrets

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Today is the beginning of a new series of blog posts and corresponding tweets about writing and the writing life. Stay tuned!