Writing in Color

So Many ColorsThey say a picture is worth a thousand words.

I write thousands of words, my books generally run around a hundred thousand words.  Sometimes longer.

So a thousand words seems like a no-brainer.

But try describing the delicate pink blossoms as they hover on the dark branches of the ornamental plum. It’s a sight that must make the most harried person stop and look in wonder.  Or that blue the sky takes on when the clouds have passed and the sun shines through unhampered.  Or the sheer exuberance of the yellow forsythia when all you can see is a fireworks display of color shooting toward the sky, and curving back toward earth

A thousand words.

Four manuscript pages.

Should be easy.

In these fast lane times if you took four pages to describe Armageddon, much less a spring flower, you’d be shown the publishing door, and kicked back into the nineteenth century.  (Okay, most of us don’t actually see a real door, but you know what I mean.)

In those days, readers savored their books, there weren’t that many being published each month.  And there were only a few books stores.  If you weren’t near a book store or lending library, you had to wait for the cut versions to be delivered by mail.  Which came by stage coach, an amazingly quick method of transport as long as the horses were fresh. You waited eagerly for the next installment of Dickens in the London newspapers or—remember these?— monthly magazines.

The working and poorer classes didn’t have too much time for reading.  We don’t have that much time either.

But those were before the days of the twitter attention span, live streaming, pinging and poking. Of course it was also the days when the majority of people had no indoor plumbing.  Which probably cut down on bathroom reading considerably.

These days you pretty much have to sneak a description in during the action or your character.  I don’t mind that.  It makes sense to see the world through your protagonist’s eyes.  Even the eyes of the villain.  It makes more sense than having the anonymous all seeing narrator ( accent on the second syllable, please) interjecting just when you’ve become totally absorbed in the characters’ lives.

But there’s something sad about not being able or knowing how to take the time to savor a slow passage of writing. To roll it around on your mental tongue; appreciate it’s rightness.

What we want are page turners.  Which I always thought was a strange designation. Until recently you had to turn the pages to read any book.  But we know what they mean.  Write a book that is so constantly compelling, so full of hooks and cliff hangers that the readers can’t put it down.  Will stay up late, miss their train stop, forget to pick up the kids.

When did reading become such an exhausting activity?

Wasn’t it Elmore Leonard who when asked how he writes, said “I cut out the parts the reader skips over.”

Smart man, sad commentary on how we read today.

What words at their most succinct can do is trigger a picture in the head of the reader that expands and expounds on what they’re reading, letting them complete the scene in their imagination as we draw them into the next page.

Which kind of reading do you prefer, slow and lazy or page turning thrills?

The New York TImes

Love my Times

I was traveling quite a bit lately so I put my Times on vacation.  I’ve been back a week or two and was beginning to wonder when my Times would return.

When I looked out of my window this morning and saw that bright blue plastic wrapper it was like Christmas, Easter, and my birthday all rolled into one. Or like meeting an old friend after being apart.

And I did something I haven’t done in months.  I poured myself a cup of coffee and instead of heading for my desk, I took my paper and coffee out to the sunporch.  Even though I had synopses and a new work in progress, not too mention loads of publicty stuff for my June women’s fiction, Beach Colors,  I sat at my cafe table in my wicker arm chair and spent the next half hour learning what was going on in the world.

I already knew what was happening.  I do have the internet and television and my Iphone.  i see the headlines at the deli or the airport.  But there’s something more satisfying and more memorable about the tactile experience of turning the pages for the continuation of a story.  Pulling the page closer and farther away as you peruse a photo.  Knowing my favorite section, the Arts Section is just several turns and folds away.

At first it felt strange.  And a bit cumbersome.  But pretty soon, the rattle of the paper as I turned the page became a familiar habit.  The shake to make the seam just right. The fold in half to make it small enough to fit on the table. All became a familiar and natural beginning to the day.   And by the time I finally opened to the Arts Section I was feeling right at home.

It was a concentrated half hour.  I didn’t check my email.   Didn’t scroll through text.  Didn’t   tweet or text.  It was just me and my Times.  The news wasn’t all good.  The news never is. But it felt real and it carved out a niche in my day.   Jump started my thoughts. And I was glad to have it back again.

Fashion Sense


Hello, my name is Shelley and I’m a fashion nightmare.

I wasn’t always like this, an embarrassment to my children, whenever I start to leave the house.

There was a time pre carpools when I didn’t blink at four inch heels and silk blouses, at pencil skirts and evening gowns.  Alas.  I’d like to blame  my children and the suburbs for my fall from haute couture, but actually it’s all my fault.

When I was a dancer and appeared on stage in front of huge audiences I always appeared “done” even to rehearsals. Now as a writer of mysteries and women’s fiction, I spend hours a day sitting at a computer.  That, and evidence of computer spread, was enough to send my fashion sense out the door.

Beware it doesn’t happen to you.

Take this typical example.

You’ve just finished 3,000 words for the day  You’re feeling great, you’ve spent the day at the computer, working.  You didn’t even stop for lunch.  (It isn’t really that hard to type with one hand while you eat with the other.)  You didn’t even spill any crumbs on the keyboard.  Maybe just a drop or two of mustard down the front of your sweat shirt . . . and there seems to be a grease spot on your yoga pants.

And then . . .

You realize you’re going to a fundraiser for a local charity and you do have to dress up and your only outfit that still fits is at the cleaners from where you wore it to the last big event, possible months ago.

It’s quarter to five and the cleaners closes at five.   For the briefest second, you consider quickly changing  into jeans, but that might make you late.

Besides you’re only going to the cleaners and coming right back, maybe edit those 3,000 words.  Who will notice those little spots of food residue.

Really?  You’re going to the cleaners.  If they’re good, that’s what they do.

Never mind.  You get there and back and no one gasped or pointed.

Next day . . .

Only 982 words today.  Not so good, but not horrible.  Maybe you should take yourself out to lunch, just the local diner. You’ll come right back and write some more, so there’s really no reason to change clothes.  You go to the diner.  No one mentions you have a teeny tear in the armhole of your tee shirt.

Lunch is good, but you don’t feel the words coming.  Maybe a trip to the mall—

And so begins the downward  spiral of a fashionista to a fashion disaster.

But here’s the good news.  Fashion sense, like word count, comes back with a little practice.

It helps to have your own live-in fashion police.  Or a fashionista daughter who lives nearby.

How’s your fashion sense?  Did you look down when I mentioned the mustard stain on my sweatshirt? Gotcha.