Friday, December 23, 2011

Oh, that Christmas Jolly or was it Jelly

Twas the fifteenth of January in O' twelve, no willpower be.

No Ides would I fret, nor feet somewhere down yonder could I see.

The arm's once easy keyboard stretch now had fingertips barely touch;

The stomach plumped by Christmas berry pies, raisin pudding and such.

In upstairs closets and attic trunks I'd searched for a shirt and pants.

The only pants that circled the waist came from verbal "why, why" rants.

I'd eaten and eaten, no stop to my glorious holiday food intake folly.

Hams and potatoes, yams and jams, all entirely delicious, by golly.

A toast for the merry; glorious eggnogs, all whiskey or bourbon laced.

There was no thought to the dusty scale with the pound record I faced.

Another day I'd fast; for the next eleven months promised plenty of days.

Without holiday friends, no way could I exist, couldn't be me, no ways.

So today I cry, grunt and strain to tap keys to write this celebration lament.

Thank the bountiful cheer of Christmas, I do, good friends, family, and Lent.

May all enjoy a very Merry Christmas and the blessings of a New Year. Here's a thanks to the inspiration of Mr. Moore for this humble jumble of words. Enjoy novel A Body To Bones click here in 2012. And, The Bones Dance Foxtrot, Abbey Burning Love, Baby Bones. A preview of all are at .

And, to all a good night. Oh, guess you heard that before. May the road rise to meet you. Oh, that's an upcoming celebration. Let's go back. And, to all a good night. Happy Hanukkah, Kwanza, too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Newer Quotes Over Time

Done once before; now done again. Or is that well done. Let's hope.

Author Donan Berg click for website previously shared quotes. Now for the promised more.

Fiction is mankind's alternate face.

A riot is the exploding unheard expression of the oppressed.

A prayer can't be a wish turned inward.

Life is like a ten-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use. (Charles Schultz as Charlie Brown)

Back to the quotes of Donan Berg:

Life is a dead end street with a fire escape if we look up.

Forget royalties, take free dry cleaning. (Advice to writers.)

Popularity -- a writer's smallest glory.

Popularity is the heady drink that fills the cup of vanity.

Captivating fiction is a beautiful flirt with a good heart.

If our life were a play, let's hope the plot isn't swallowed by needless drama.

And that's today's more. Come back for more quotes. The key will be in the door. (This line not a quote to the curious.)

Author Donan Berg has published four murder/mystery novels described best as entertaining mystery -- heartwarming romance. Visit here to learn more click for Donan Berg novels. Titles include A Body To Bones, The Bones Dance Foxtrot, Baby Bones, Abbey Burning Love.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Write Better with Four-Top Conflict.

By Donan Berg
Author of A Body To Bones
and The Bones Dance Foxtrot

            Conflict attracts and builds fiction readership. The concept is not a mystery, but challenges fiction writers with every story. How can authors master the task?

            Conflict as defined for writers is the clash of beliefs, values, and/or moral judgments. Conflict is not a left jab, right upper cut punch combination. Nor is it a hero defeating each opponent at every mile marker post on the interstate between journey start and finish.

            The author begins with a story hero, often called the protagonist. If he or she lives in an idealistic state with satiated desires and no worries, the hero may love it, but the reader will be bored. Life’s reality contains ups and downs; the reader expects novel conflict to surpass actuality with greater intensity and proportionality.

            In its simplest form, conflict for the hero involves one antagonist or a villain, as mystery writers will label the person or peril of nature. For illustration purposes the villain will be another human. To have the greatest conflict both the hero and villain must seek the identical goal. Both may crave the final say where there’s but one authority position. The hero desires to win the election to provide justice for residents. The villain desires to win the same election to fatten his or her bank account. A detective hero investigates to learn the killer’s identity. The villain uses every trick, lie, and false insinuation to avoid detection justifying the action as self-defense or biblical revenge.

            Hero versus villain is a straightforward back-and-forth contest. Like a tug of war, one can have the advantage, then the other, back to the first, the second resurges, and eventually the hero prevails, well most often, except in the tragedy. While this format presents an acceptable template for storytelling, the good versus evil conflict remains largely superficial without engaging character depth. The hero evokes no lasting emotional attachment in the reader’s mind.

            How can the author increase the conflict? And expand the emotional attractiveness of his or her characters. Try four-top conflict. Four-top is restaurant terminology for a table with four seats. Authors will have the hero at position one, the major villain at position two, nature’s peril or another adversary at position three, and the third adversary at position four. The potential for competing values is vertical, horizontal, and/or diagonal. The hero must not only face attacks from the major villain, but his or her weakness is exposed to positions three and four as well.

            Let’s consider a public safety mystery novel example. The detective hero must solve an accountant’s murder. The major villain must thwart the hero’s murder-solving goal so as not to jeopardize a personal real estate business scam. The major villain tries to pull political strings to have the detective’s boss reassign or not authorize the tools the detective needs. At position three is the actual killer. A winter storm traps and almost kills the hero at a desolate cabin in pursuit of a clue or the actual killer, a gun for hire. The killer becomes unhappy and threatens to expose the major villain unless he’s paid additional money. This pressure intensifies the major villain’s actions against the hero. The hero’s fourth position adversary can be a fellow detective who seeks promotion to the one departmental advancement vacancy. In acting for personal gain, the fellow detective intentionally misfiles evidence, doesn’t pass on evidence tips, and/or tells a potential witness that the witness would be better off not speaking to the hero.

            It’s easy to visualize the diagonal possibilities between the actual killer and the hero, often a simple clue detection tug of war. However, utilization of the four-top conflict model allows the major villain to complicate the perils the hero must overcome and aid the actual killer’s actions to prey upon the hero’s weaknesses. For example, unbeknownst to all others, the major villain plants a false clue that causes the hero to walk into a booby-trapped restaurant where the major villain had also induced the real killer and fellow detective to be spreading button on the same bread loaf. If the fellow detective avoids death, the fellow detective can challenge the major villain with exposure as he or she strives for personal promotional glory. The real killer may decide on revenge against the major villain.

The author’s illumination of how and why the hero acts and reacts to three, not one, adds depth to this main character. The same happens to other characters when the author shows how they are challenged or required to respond to the actions of others to attain desired goals.

Can the same four-top concept apply to subplots? Yes, for example, the home life of the hero can have tugs between a spouse, child, and mother-in-law. There are countless possibilities. Forget the mother-in-law and give the hero a serious addiction, your choice. Create the relationships between the hero and others or internally to show the hero with praiseworthy values and a personality flaw as a rounded character.

Don’t forget that the challenges to the hero’s beliefs, values, and moral judgments will change him or her in incremental stages to create a totally different personality when the story ends.

(Comments? Author Donan Berg may be contacted via e-mail at A Body To Bones mystery novelLatest E-book novel, Baby Bones.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why Trekkies Come Home for Thanksgiving. It's not the turkey

This week brings the annual Thanksgiving trek for sons and daughters to the parental home. In the United States families are torn apart and harsh words linger for months if the respectful journey is not made. Of course there could be exceptions like medical or alternating years for married siblings. Not overlooked is late November storms, especially in the northern states.

Thanksgiving became important when the original colonists wished to thank God and native Americans for help in a bountiful harvest necessary to ward of disease and hunger to a dwindling encampment. Thus Thanksgiving became aptly named.

The holiday became inwardly focused unlike Christmas, which looks to religious deity, Easter, again religious, and then the other days that celebrate Presidents, national unity or individuals like sweethearts, Moms and Dads. These later ones are for personal recognition, not geared to the family unit.

Thanksgiving stands alone as the family reunion holiday. In the United States it's the societal tribute to the family unit. Even when family units multiply in structure not dominated by one man, one woman, and kids, the family as a unit remains the underlying bedrock.

Sons and daughters who plan to start and continue with their own family units adhere to the annual trek home to be infused with the annual tradition. The food can be an attraction for some, but not all. The first Thanksgiving focus overcome by a highlight on family unity.

Thus, wherever you are this Thanksgiving, may it be a Happy Thanksgiving.

Abbey Burning Love  Baby Bones available in MP3 for that drive to and from the turkey or tofu feast.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Body To Bones Reading Guide

When reading Author Donan Berg’s A Body To Bones, consider the following:

1.  The story begins in a church confessional ten years before Chapter One. What kind of emotional tone does this establish? Does the tone, in perhaps a different context, reappear? Is it engaging, neutral or off-putting?

2.  Are there any visual descriptions that leave a physical impression, either on what just happened, what may be in store, or that cleanse the reader’s palate? As to a cleansing pause, consider James Joyce in “The Dead” where he ends one scene with the following before beginning a subsequent dramatic scene:

            “The morning was still dark. A dull yellow light brooded over
            the houses and the river; and the sky seemed to be descending.
            It was slushy underfoot; and only streaks and patches of snow
            lay on the roofs, on the parapets of the quay and on the area railings.”

3.  In all mysteries a reader should expect clues, red herrings, and suspense. Did you find any or all? Is there a pace consistent with the action?

4.  The story is told in the present tense with several point-of-view character shifts (i.e., the character whose head the reader is inside). Does either tense or point-of-view character shift accentuate or detract from the story narration? What about tense or point-of-view in gaining an understanding of the novel’s characters?

5.  Are there any symbols that are important? E.g., a dove represents peace.

6.  Sarah, the leading character, has what positive character traits, flaws? Could she represent a broad spectrum? Midnight Assassin commented on isolation of midwestern women at the turn of the 20th century. What 1963 book contemporaneous to and mentioned in A Body To Bones has similar theme?

7.  Does the author present a theme as distinct from an action plot or subplot?

8.  Does the author inject social criticism? If so, what? How is it treated?

     (Please note there are no correct or wrong answers to any of the questions.
      No test nor penalty for ignoring these and thinking of your own.)

The above utilized for a book discussion group. A Body To Bones novel available here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Murder by Souffle

     Drive-weary Irene Kraft leaned on the kitchen doorframe, the 2011 soufflé recipe award in her right hand definitely superfluous. A steel mallet would’ve tenderized chicken breasts the way thumping Cranberry Falls, WA, EMTs pounded the woman’s chest—and with equal life-saving result. Tugging wrinkles from a casual red pullover above blue jeans and sneakers, Irene guessed the blue-purplish grotesquely distorted face on the stretched prone body to be Ellen, the newspaper-reader-voted recipe award recipient for the greater Puget Sound area.
     Ellen, in the entry’s biographical data, touted her culinary sisterhood as a soufflé that never collapsed. Five twenty-something women, first meeting at a township chocolate tasting, fast became inseparable enjoying fluffy desserts and aromatic specialty breads. After two decades, maternity ward visits, Lamaze coach stand-ins, and now calorie counting waist watchers, they’d bonded for life.
     From the five’s 2009 soufflé cookbook cover, Irene recognized the three in the kitchen. Kerchief-wearing Ruth, slumped in a chair, dabbed a napkin to swollen eyes and morphed into irrational blubbering protoplasm. Gertrude squeezed past Irene to clasp Ruth’s hand. After the kitchen door slammed a minute ago, Thelma’s chest heaved in and out behind a monogrammed yellow apron as she leaned backward against the kitchen’s center island. Right hand yellow-tipped fingers grasped white cotton gloves.
     “What happened?” Thelma asked. “Sarah and I stepped outside for a few puffs. Warned Ellen last week thirty pounds way too much for her to lose in two months.”
     “Why? Sarah dropped forty this summer, and smokes,” Ruth muttered aloud.
     Irene scanned the huge kitchen, nothing seemed out of place. No blood drops or splatter. No plausible murder weapon discernible or visible. “She been sick?” Irene asked.
     “Not recently,” Gertrude replied. “Suddenly confused, collapsed. When she didn’t respond, I punched 9-1-1 on cell phone. Maybe five minutes ago.”
     Strutting into the kitchen, color faded quickly from Sarah’s face. A sun-tanned Gertrude dropped Ruth’s hand to rush to her strudel-eating friend. The crouching, stocky EMT dipped head to avoid Gertrude’s swinging arm. After a shrug, the EMT assisted a colleague in raising the gurney with straps belted across a still Ellen, discarded oxygen mask dangling to head cushion’s side. Gurney wheels clunked past Irene before two EMTs lifted Ellen and gurney into an awaiting ambulance. Irene noticed no lip blisters or redness nor pressure marks on distended neck veins. Thelma began to soak a dishtowel under foamy suds in the kitchen sink. “Don’t wet anything,” Irene called out. Ruth shuddered as if attacked by the sound waves.
     “We ain’t gonna cook no more. Can’t leave Ellen’s kitchen like this.”
     Among the bowls, utensils, and baking paraphernalia, Irene spotted ten or more fluted white porcelain ramekin dishes, contents partially eaten, dotting the island, kitchen counter, and stovetop. “Stop,” she yelled at Gertrude tossing silver and wooden spoons into dishwasher. “You’ll destroy evidence left by Ellen’s killer.” As the newspaper’s food critic, Irene carried no official power, although two years ago Seattle police credited her insight with exposing a soda jerk killer with the research help of a medical examiner boyfriend who’d chased off bystanders and chastised police officers for not protecting death scene integrity.
     Sarah’s knees buckled; her limp torso caught in the arms of a pivoting Gertrude.
     “Did Sarah eat the same as Ellen?” Gertrude, hugging Sarah erect, asked of no one in particular.
     “Didn’t we all?” Thelma replied.
     Irene stepped to Gertrude in case she needed help with Sarah and to ask questions. Gertrude explained: Shared ingredient use rare. Constant baking surveillance, never. The five swore a culinary sisterhood oath on family spatulas never to divulge either ingredients or methodology unless agreed or published. An uneasy truce most often adhered to with a wink and a nod. Tasting forbidden except with permission. Only a peculiar phobia of Sarah’s had her don latex gloves to mix or knead instead of using floured hands as the other four did.
     A recomposed Sarah allowed Gertrude to answer the telephone. Gertrude, jiggling like a hooked fish suspended on a raised line, let the receiver slip from left hand and dangle above the floor. Thelma and Sarah rushed to Gertrude’s side. Ruth, helped by a hand on the island, staggered to join them as Irene heard Gertrude mumble,  “Ellen’s mother notified her daughter passed.”
     Irene, respectful of the moment, waited to step forward. “Which dish did Ellen eat from?”
     “This one.” Gertrude’s right forefinger pointed left to the counter next to the stovetop.
     “So what was in this?” Irene bent forward to eyeball a ramekin, soufflé partially eaten.
     “Egg yokes and beaten egg whites combined with sugar and selected ingredients. We were testing soufflé recipes for a second cookbook,” Gertrude said. “We all, except Sarah, won county blue ribbons. In fact, Ellen garnered the most by a two-to-one margin.”
     Blue ribbon disparity among friends for twenty-plus years represented a weak motive for murder, Irene thought. “Ellen married?” She remembered Ellen’s initially dropping left arm and hand’s ring finger circular paleness, not created by flour whiteness.
     “Was. There’s restraining order. Her ex gets really violent.”
     “Anyone here this afternoon besides you four?”
     “Ellen spoke to Rev. Randolph, Thelma’s husband, in the dining room. He left half-hour ago. Thelma tried to eavesdrop.”
     “Did not,” Thelma muttered. Unmoving eyes above hand shielding mouth glared at Gertrude.
     “Reverend held Ellen’s hands at church,” Ruth said. Gertrude’s head shook sideways.
     “Any recent confrontations not involving the husband?”
     “Ruth argued with Ellen last week,” Thelma spit out.
     Ruth with brows tight and lips compressed slowly raised a fist to Thelma as the latter shoved gloves into apron pocket. “She claimed I gave her the wrong sweet soufflé sugar blend. I didn’t.”
     “Now, ladies,” Gertrude interjected. “Ruth’s right and Ellen apologized.”
     “What about Sarah’s complaint at the Spokane contest?” Thelma continued. “Ellen was furious. Failed to dial down an oven and burned first soufflé ever.”
     “Stick a fork in it, Thelma,” Sarah blurted out, eyes squinting, lips compressed. “That oven overheated because Ellen got distracted answering the telephone for your UPS sugar delivery.”
     “You’re making up tales,” Thelma retorted. “Ellen didn’t need to pick up the phone.”
     “Not so quick you two.” Gertrude stepped between them, fixed eyes on Thelma. “Don’t say you don’t use special sugar?”
     Thelma twirled and stopped short. “Never.”
     “What about your Boy Scout cookie recipe with its secret sugar/spice mixture?” Ruth asked. “You wouldn’t let any of us sample the package you had.”
     “Why you battering me,” Thelma replied. “I needed that. We all help community charities.”
     Irene asked, “Where’s your sugar, Thelma?”
     “Why?” Thelma planted both feet shoulder-width apart, hands on hips.
     “Look in the green plastic bag under the dining room table,” Gertrude suggested.
     Irene lifted the re-taped white and blue sugar package from the green bag and returned to the island to slit the clear plastic inside. She pressed two left hand fingers into the white powder, licked fingertips. “Taste isn’t sugar. Thelma, don’t leave.”
     Gertrude, after calling police, cornered Irene. “What made you suspect?”
     “Sudden disorientation. Soufflés. Sugar. Drug taste like cocaine. Had to be one of you since neither ex-husband nor minister present close to the collapse. As to motive, a jealous Thelma misinterpreting why Ellen befriended Randolph, while not conclusive, seemed most logical. Collapse either natural causes or induced. If induced, drugs likely used and it’s easy to substitute cocaine for sugar to overdose. And, no pun intended, but finger pointed to Thelma clutching white cotton gloves, you said you four never wore baking.”
     Author Donan Berg can be contacted at . His latest full-length fiction novel is entitled Baby Bones. Click title to order e-book or mp3. Happy Veteran's Day Friday 11/11/2011.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Oops, Writing Too Tight

Cramming old magazines into shopping bags, buying an extra flashdrive, saving everything because one never knows when it will come in useful are hoarding traits we can practice or relate to, at least in a limited degree. Writers attempting to cram big thoughts into few words is a gargantuan task. I know. Been there; done that.

When newspaper copy editors do a wonderful job we seldom pause to admire, however, the reverse is a horse of a different color. After many years I can still recall trying to create a headline for a short story about Richard M. Nixon on vacation playing golf on several consecutive days. I came up with: Nixon Teed Off Fourth Day In Row. Of course, it was self-censored and not printed. Nevertheless, the task of headline writing has stuck all these many years.

All writers, journalists, fiction novelists, and jingle creators at times need to hone the craft. What is a headline if not the title of a book?

It's a serious undertaking and, if not done properly, the fodder for late night TV. Thus, headlines can be humorous, give the reader a chuckle in a bland boring day. So stop and think at the following examples. They give a hint at how singular words can have multiple meanings.

-- Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers      (What will happen on Election Day?)

-- Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over    (Guess more than his heart is in the right place.)

-- If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile  (Dah)

-- Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures  (Wasn't the hand close enough to the sun?)

-- Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half  (What the Dickens? Or, was Alice scared?)

-- Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors  (Did somebody step on somebody's toes?)

-- Miners Refuse to Work After Death   (No dedication?)

Attributes to the guilty have been left off. One has to have some compassion for other writers even in a time of whimsy. If you're writing anything short, inspect it at all angles and delve deep to expose all intended and unintended meanings. However, if the words sell your book, disregard all changes. And remember, when you're bending down to place that tee in the soft earth, it's not improper to say a prayer that you'll send the ball off into the distance, maybe 300 yards.

A Body To Bones - Donan Berg novel  Thanks to the shelving of A Body To Bones by Barton Library, El Dorado, Arkansas, and Seminole County Public Library System, Casselberry, FL.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Plot Threads in Grandma's Attic

To create a metaphor, fiction plot threads are like the things in grandma’s attic. They are the sought after surprise treasure, the unfulfilled dream, the neglected memory, and the meaningless clutter packed away in a close location seldom visited.
Let’s not get into a circular debate on how many plots exist nor trod again the ground of Aristotle.  Plot threads are not fully developed plots, but the idea with loose ends, the construct without the “struct.” They are the ideas scribbled on Post-it notes, in the margins of manuscripts, in the disjointed computer file, on the back of a used envelope. Once thought promising, they’ve languished in limbo. The trick upon discovery is to jog the memory to re-ignite the treat or magical journey once envisioned.
How do you evaluate?
  1. Remember your writing genre. A tidbit about Uncle Tom could fit well into a memoir, less likely to be crammed into a coming of age story if the thought highlighted his birthday party with seventy burning cake candles. If the thread drives a gruesome unhappy consequence, likely not destined for a romance with its required happy-ever-after required ending. Introspective thoughts not likely a suspense or action tale.
  2. How much setup is required? If the thought requires loads of explanation, that was probably the reason it lingered unused. Likewise, if the thought in the light of day is frilly, fluffy, and weighs less than a feather, give it a puff of air and send it on its way.
  3. Is its question banal, stupid or inane?  That should not disqualify it. There are many successful selling stories based on characters doing outlandish things. How else would there be comedy? The underlying question is not the outlandish nature, but reader believability that a person would do such a thing. How many stories are based on a misunderstanding? Several. And, what should be instantly cleared up is dragged out because a second outlandish circumstance is added, and then another, then another, until it’s hard to remember who or what started the eventual multi-car pileup.
  4. Can the idea be combined with another to give a new twist? This is not to be coy and create deception or false suspense. The reader hates deception and artificial manipulation by withholding information to keep the reader disorientated. Would your revisited thought require you to write artificially hiding relevant facts or parcel out information piece-by-piece staying true to the perspective of the protagonist? The latter definitely preferred. Great inventions came about because a thinker combined two existing familiar concepts into a third. A thought of a grandmother exhibiting at a county fair combined with a winning race car driver can morph into Formula One or stock car Grandmother using the race circuit to win money to pay for her granddaughter’s life saving operation. Envision the conflicts. A family who thinks it’s too dangerous. How does granny learn to drive? The values of yesterday that would keep women next to the stove versus becoming breadwinners. The chauvinistic racecar driver who thinks it a hoot to let Grandmother behind the wheel. Then there’s the competitor who doesn’t play fair and rigs the carburetor.
  5. Tossing out an ill-defined thought is the hardest part of evaluation. Besides wrong genre and other handicaps noted above, the best solution might be to consider the thought to be what would be classified as attic clutter. If it never had any usefulness, has become outdated, and/or now represents a fad that has run its course, get on to better ideas. Never chasing a fad is always good advice.
Should one have never begun to collect thoughts in the first place? No. While it may not be conscious, the thoughts can generate new growth in your mind, become the bridge to better and more complete ideas, and/or fertilize existing thoughts. Memory experts say that human beings remember things better if engaged by more than one sense. Thinking is one sense. Writing down a thought another. Speaking it out loud is a third. Reading it at a later date is a fourth.  Utilize the practice every day. Then on that one rainy day when the outside world doesn’t attract, rummage through the figurative Grandma’s attic. Who’s to say you didn’t pack away on a scrap the Pulitzer Prize winning idea?
 For murder/mystery not in Grandma's attic visit A Body To Bones

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Apple in Book Selling

Never a day goes by that one doesn't hear the old adage about apples and oranges and how they don't mix or that one shouldn't mix them. Well, I don't grow oranges but do have an apple tree. I look at it periodically, especially in the morning. Today, the sparse fruit left reminded me not of the absence of oranges but how best an author can maximize sales of his or her creation. Weird? See if you can follow this logic.

Each year I don't harvest every apple and do leave fallen ones on the ground. I do this to share the fruit with creatures that provide moments of joy and, frankly, those that do not but provide the protein for the joy producers. The apples on the ground are attacked by squirrels and chipmunks that scamper to and fro. There is one squirrel who is very economical. He (or she) leaves the bitten apple on the deck railing next to the tree to return a day later for further bites. That is if the morning doves (I say plural because they always seem to come in romantic pairs.) don't peck it to nothing first. The sharing squirrel is nonplussed for he (or she) commandeers another apple and the second core replaces the first. Birds feast on apples still clinging and dangling in the breeze sweeping through the tree. Fascinating to observe a swooping blue jay land as if a dinner bell rang. An apple skin once pierced becomes home to a variety of insects. If the apple falls, the insects ride the fall and bump to continue the feast.

How does this apple adventure provide a book selling metaphor? In a grand scheme it symbolizes that you must offer your books for sale in a multitude of places for your potential customer is in varied places. I leave apples at the highest, weakest branches. They are safe from the larger animals, but accessible to the smallest creatures. I leave apples near large branches, mostly horizontal, for tree-climbing poachers. Thus, make sure your books are available in niche locations as well as the major bookstores, including brick and mortar as long as they last. If you abandon the brick and mortar, they surely won't last. Remember the squirrel sharing the deck rail bounty. Your book is like an apple in that you have more than one and can place a new copy in the place where the prior one sold.

It is extremely worthwhile to remember that an apple is available for multiple days before it becomes enriching stomach food. Thus, your book should be displayed and available for a potential customer to come once, twice, or more. An insect can't eat the apple until it gets help, usually a bird nibbling that breaks the skin and allows entry. Likewise, one customer making a purchase can open the doors of additional selling opportunity when the original idea of purchase wasn't available.

While there is a limited time for this year's apple crop, the good thing to remember is that the tree, like your mind regenerating new ideas and plots, will grow a new apple crop this upcoming season. The customers, old and new, will be back. If you keep talking up your book, like apples, the word will spread that there is a feast to be enjoyed by all. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Life's Hidden Secret

Each day made Samuel crazy. His constricted way of life. He wanted to be wasteful: eat half a sandwich and throw the rest away, rip to shreds T-shirts when one hole appeared or trash paper clips still capable of holding multiple paper sheets together without leaving rust marks. Those were simple thoughts to distract from what really bothered him: meal leftovers. Tallied bread crusts saved to fill a measuring cup for pudding, hamburger crumbs glued together with ketchup three days after grilling, and limp celery stalks, oh, how he hated celery.

Samuel's best friend Ernie commented one day while both jammed sandwiches into mouths like squirrels reacting to the first blast of cold winter air that life had been good to them since automobiles still broke down even in an economy hurting from recession and they were there to fix them. Samuel had to agree, but he recognized Ernie only perceived the upside of a seesaw destined to bump the ground again.

Samuel recalled a decade prior when he'd been eighteen and Dad would be in blue jeans, green flannel shirt and baseball cap bending next to a hot sputtering hard-starting lawn mower. Mom would be in a house dress, mixer blades whirling and a raggedy, threadbare dish towel posed at the ready. With the immediate chores accomplished, both would turn to fixing things. Mom held nails while Dad pounded, a repaired curtain rod securely attached. Next came the screen door, the radio batteries, the hem on a dress shortened to be stylish in length even if the material faded and old-fashioned. Nothing discarded  We were keepers, Dad said. Waste not, want not, chipped in Mom.

Samuel gulped the last dry bread crust and bore his eyes into Ernie's gaze. "I want to be wasteful," Samuel said. Forget saving. The envisioned trumpet announcing affluence meant Samuel could be wasteful. Things could be thrown away for a hefty bank balance meant more could be obtained when needed. He dreamed of life with buldging pockets straining to retain wads of folded C-notes. An unending line of credit always paid off without interest. Neighbors envious of a new car each fall.

Reality intruded upon Samuel the day an ambulance whisked his Mom to the hospital. The doctor's notification finally received that he could visit her room; Dad, teary-eyed, disheveled next to the bed. When Dad moved to allow Samuel to squeeze next to Mom's bedrail, the room's window allowed the heavenly sun to explode its warmth upon Samuel. Mom's lips formed words of love before her chest became still. A green line ran across the bedside monitor screen. Dad pulled the monitor's plug from the wall socket.

The pain of learning that life is not infinite, but finite, overwhelmed Samuel. While he may have known of the inevitability of human fraility in the deep recesses of his mind, it never choked him as hard as it did in Mom's hospital room. Mom would never again be a help to her family, or him especially. The extended usefulness of material things would slowly ebb away with Mom not there to add sustaining life.

Dad said one thing to Samuel that reverberated like a Christmas bell. Mom was happy, he said, because the family provided meaning and emotional nourishment.

Samuel knew that wasn't Mom talking about the wash machine she complained of frequently, nor the socks that needed constant darning, nor the stretching of meals with pasta the last week of each month. Those were not heading her list of importance. The smile across Mom's face the brightest when she reminisced about reading Samuel a story when an infant, the hugs from Dad each time he left for work or family holiday celebrations and the handmade ornaments.

The love expressed through human acts that didn't require expensive payment were the currency that required keeping. Samuel made a mental list of family and friends to be thankful for. He'd keep them front and center in his life. The material things no longer cluttered his dreams or longings.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Lesson From the Geese

As each migrating goose flaps its wings, it creates an "uplift" for the bird following. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds a seventy-one (71%) percent longer flying range that if each bird flew alone.

LESSON: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier when they travel on the thrust of one another.

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front.

 LESSON:  If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed where we want to go.

When the lead goose tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose takes over at the point.

LESSON:  It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks, and sharing leadership because people, like geese, are interdependent upon each other.

The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

LESSON:  We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging, not something less helpful.

When a goose gets sick or wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow her down to help and to protect her. They stay with her until she is either able to fly again or dies.  Then they launch out on their own, either with another formation or to catch up with the original flock.

LESSON:  If we have as much sense as geese, we'll stand by each other like they do.

Adapted from: "A Lesson from the Geese." Text originally appeared in November, 1986, edition of Nebraska Synod (ELCA) Update, where it was credited to Milton Olson, one of the region's directors for outreach.

Author Donan Berg's latest murder mystery, Baby Bones contains no honking geese, but does contain suspense and human drama. He's the author of prior novels Abbey Burning Love, The Bones Dance Foxtrot, and his debut A Body To Bones. Click on novel title to obtain more information. Previews of all novels available in book section of . Search for Donan Berg. Your comment to any blog posting encouraged.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bookshelf Reading Browse

A Sunday New York Times writer this week rued the loss of books from home bookshelves as a result of the electronic revolution. Books were to be one way to obtain an insight into the personality of the holder.

What would a filled bookshelf say about you? It caused me to consider my latest books read, not to evaluate my personality, but to examine the vibes I may be spreading by reading in public.

Here's the three books in no particular order.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Copyright 2006.

This memoir of a divorced woman traces her personal journey across Italy, India and Indonesia. The three Is are a nice point although the text refers more to Bali as the final stopping point. The reader will never know the specifics of the failed marriage that provided the sendoff for Ms. Gilbert, although referring to it often, refuses to tell the reader. Thus, the critical point of why this memoir is nothing more than a travelogue remains vital and unanswered. There are multiple holes in the narrative. Ms. Gilbert late in the book mentions about coming home for the Christmas holidays and then drops the reference.

That the book was made into a recent movie of the same name and already shows up on my cable TV free-movie selections suggests it wasn't a box office hit. Why? Can't say since I've not viewed it.

I doubt the average reader will gain much useful relationship advice. Going to an idyllic Pacific island could be a fantasy. However, be apprised that the locals will be out to drain every resource the visitor brings by every available tactic, including creating guilt to a hurting psyche.

Hannah's List by Debbie Macomber. Copyright 2010.

The prolific output of romance writer Debbie Macomber hangs several character sketches on the clothesline of a cancer victim's one year delayed letter to her pediatric doctor husband offering three women for him to create a new romantic life with. Adding bulk, if not focused on the husband, are the stories of two females selected to be marriage candidates.

Be prepared for repeated references to how depressed the husband is, which borders on on being off-putting even if considered necessary to refocus the reader after a voyage into the relationships of the two women not selected. That shouldn't be a game spoiler for this is a romance with its required happy ending. I'll not tell you who, but it should be obvious early.

Romance genre readers will find this a good read, others probably not so.

"D" Is for Deadbeat by Sue Grafton. Copyright 1987.

Yes, this is an early novel in Ms. Grafton's march to touch every one of the 26 alphabet letters that she is soon to complete. The use of the word "Deadbeat" is a stretch. With a deadbeat being defined as one who tries to evade paying for things.does not match the victim. There is another D word that better describes the victim: "Drunk." He's often referred to as one and his drinking is a driving force in the story's events.

In 1987, this novel probably pushed the sexual envelope of genre mystery novels, although not the pacesetter for literary novel writers such as John Updike written approximately two decades previous. That the PI is named Kinsey Millhone, at least the first name, may be an inside joke on the sex researchers who issued a 1960s decade report.

This novel is a classic mystery where suspects are multiplied and then ruled out. With a few humorous moments, the pace moves with steadiness. The heaviness is in the abundant metaphors and casting eyes always at the weather which rarely changes.

Greed, murder and false piety constantly stirred by Ms. Grafton creates the desired and expected turmoil. One will always ask why the PI didn't consider modes of travel other than a taxi in an urban area.

Your comment always welcomed.

Donan Berg is an offer of novels A Body To Bones, The Bones Dance Foxtrot, Abbey Burning Love, Baby Bones.  Baby Bones  His debut novel named his website home at .

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quotes Over Time

Quotes by Donan Berg from days past.

"Don't let a storm of words be a drought of common sense."

"Reverse gear doesn't signal your power's off."

"Rudeness, like paint, doesn't hide rot underneath."

"The heart has two chambers - one to collect and one to dispense love."

"Cruel criticism is a ruler without markings."

"Ridicule by another can authenicate one's worth."

"To depend on fate is to wait for train when there's no track."

And, a personal favorite:

"Human hearts die but don't retract love given."

To be continued without notice or prearranged schedule. (Ps, that's not a quote.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Reviewer You?--Yes, you

Many a book reader enjoys giving a review of a book read, usually oral to friends, but what about online? This article will explore how you approach the task. (Note, two cautions will be mentioned at the end of this article.)

Here's my take on Book Review 101.

1. Read the book, the whole book. Taking notes is optional. If you're a reader that sketches out character outlines, plot twists, or memorable quotes, sentences and words you mean to check out in a dictionary, keep doing it.

2. Consider the theme. Examples are a) loss and reconciliation, b) life and humanity, c) emotional and physical slavery, d) choices and, when they are present, sometimes not the choices we'd want to make, e) using knowledge to gain freedom, and f) forgiveness. Look at the world. There are many themes. Did I list the generic good versus evil?

3. Do the characters realistically interact? Are the scenes rationally and casually interrelated? Characters go from point A to point B for a reason, even if that reason is they don't have one. Has the author kept you in a constant point-of-view (POV) with clearly defined POV shifts. Emotional relationship to a character is strengthened by a consistent POV. The story, if not linear in time, should give mileposts to keep you informed.

4. Is the setting realistic and actions consistent with the time period? Would you consider it disturbing if characters drank Tab before it came into being and/or watched color TV before its invention. That occurred in K. Sockett's bestselling The Help.

Considering the above points, what would your review consist of?

1. Go beyond "I liked the book." There should be many connection points in the book.

     a.  You can connect on a geographical level. The book takes place in your neighborhood or a place you visited. The protagonist is a Navy Seal, like you are or were. The neighbor bakes apple pie. You love to eat apple pie and just adore the smell of cinnamon.

     b.  You can connect on a personal human emotional level. You cry, laugh, or both.

     c.  Your passion is stirred. If not to action, you pound your fist on the table when crooks swindle the sweet older person out of a life's savings. You agree that the death penalty is wrong or that government is too big and taxes unfairly. You might even attend the next civic rally, or vote.

     d.  You agree with the author on an intellectual point. You understand the science.

     e.  You can't find any character depth. You're run across the stereotype before.

2. Articulate how the book made you feel and if it in any way changed your life, either permanently or temporarily.  If it didn't, was it merely a great time "passer."  Any book unliked at first reading can become an educational tool for a later read.

    To be continued....

    Referenced cautions: 1. You may be asked to do a review to snare an e-mail address and never receive any further reply. 2.  If you save ninety-nine cents ($.99) or more by doing a review, be honest and keep your integrity even if you feel compelled to "be nice" for the free book. You're not doing the author a favor, but building resentment against him or her by future readers. Visit Author's Website Read an excerpt of all Donan Berg novels at using their inside the book feature.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Book Discussion Guide - Stewart O'Nan

            Bettendorf, Iowa, Library Director canceled my appearance to lead 2010 Contemporary Book Discussion Group discussion of  Mr. Stewart O’Nan’s novel entitled Last Night at the Lobster. I had transmitted ahead of time these reader guide questions:

  1. What significance does the snow have other than portending an actual storm?
    2.   What memorable characteristic does Manny DeLeon, the leading character, have?

    1. Does his drug use alter your perception?
    2. What does this memorable characteristic present to other characters?
    3. If Manny were kind, why would Fredo slice his jacket? Did he? If a box cutter is missing, does that indicate Fredo acted on impulse or with premeditation? Is there any proven connection between the missing box cutter and Fredo?

  1. What does Manny as the central character want? In compelling fiction the hero desperately wants something. Does he want love, wealth, revenge, safety, redemption, freedom, or simple peace of mind? Did you think of something else?

  1. Are the restaurant diners believable individually and/or representative of a group?

  1. How many critical choices face Manny that last day? How do they affect the story?

  1. How do Manny’s managerial experiences on that last day change his interactions with others, employee and/or diner? If he doesn’t change, isn’t that also okay?

  1. How would you say Manny the individual changed from page one to the novel’s end?

  1. Who or what is the villain in the novel? Is it expressed or merely hinted at?

  1. Consider the following sentence as a given: A novel is an amplification of real life. Is this novel more fun, more romantic, more glamorous, and/or more dangerous? Is it wittier, braver, courser, faster, and/or bigger? Does it have more taste, smell, and sound? Are friendships closer and enemies crueler? Are children more mature and senior citizens more profound?

  1. At the end of the story did you feel satisfied? In what way? If not, why not? (Length of novel isn’t a relevant consideration.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Editing Never Easy or Ironclad

Every author needs practice at editing and feedback both before and after the revisions.

The following is an example of an author's draft, not mine, where I tried to enhance it in my personal way staying true to the author's original prose. If you'd share how you'd do it different, we all gain. An old adage never more important than practice, practice, practice.

Here is the original sample:

As dusk approached, Eric marveled at the rifle Zachariah had once ownedand now through the old man’s generosity, Eric owned. He grasped the barrel with one hand and the stock with the other. It was a handsome piece of craftsmanship of walnut stock and glimmering steel. He clicked on the safety button and pushed the locking lever to disengage the barrel. There were two cartridges in the chamber. As Zachariah always said, the rifle was useless unless it was always loaded. It was an impressive clicking sound when he opened and closed the chamber. He felt empowered by the heft to it. He took out the two cartridges, fondled them in the hands, a cool and somewhat unsettling feel to them and put them back in their chamber.

Here is my suggested revision:

Dusk hovered ready to descend or be blotted out by the massing crow wings. Eric stood motionless, gravity tugging at his lower jaw, as curled fingers clutched the rifle Zachariah once owned, now his through the old man’s generosity. Eric thrust out both arms to again admire the everlasting craftsmanship of a polished walnut stock routed out for oiled glimmering steel. Bracing the rifle’s butt against his right shoulder, he clicked on the safety and pushed the locking lever to disengage the barrel. Two cartridges in the chamber. Why should he have expected otherwise? Zachariah repeatedly said the rifle useless unless loaded. An impressive sharp click sounded when he flexed the chamber open, closed and open again. The heft empowered him. He fondled the two cartridges in his left hand, the cool metal casing giving them an unsettling feel. Zachariah’s shells more at home nestled in their chamber ready for the firing pin.
Please note I added the crows which show up in the paragraphs after this initial chapter opening. The result for me more descriptive with a sense of drama and a link to the paragraphs that follow. Thank you for reading.

This and That Opinion

Iowa Writers' Workshop Tidbits

Two news items mentioning graduates of the Iowa Writers' Workshop came across the desk today. As a summer enrollee keeping the school on the radar screen, there's always been an interest in whether or not attending fulltime would be beneficial.

First Article. Awards story about M. T. "M.T. received her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in May 2011 and returned to waiting tables in Dallas."

Second Experience. From the library picked up the writing craft book written by Stephen Wilbers entitled (and it's hard to put title in writing for there's a three-key symbol and parenthesis around word "keys" above words "to Great Writing.") Obviously he's a professor who requires student book purchase. Inside the book he states he attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop and wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the history of the program. So far the book content has not been unique or absorbed with staying power. If you're a business student struggling with English, probably beneficial. Did enjoy the description of the city of Minneapolis, which book cover blurb gave as home of the author. But then again, I'm a fan of the Twin Cities, if not its sports teams.


After that last paragraph, perhaps it was good that Sunday's gospel lesson was Matthew 18:21-25.

The theme of forgiveness has multiple facets. Begin with the truth you've received forgiveness in your life. Someone has overlooked wrong that you've done. Someone has given you a new chance, a fresh start. Someone has released you from the ball and chain of your own wrongdoing. And, it need not be criminal in the eyes of the state. Thus, Matthew quotes Christ as being mad at one who does not forgive another.

Forgiveness is courage, endless courage.

Cutting for Stone

This book by Abraham Verghese was the subject this week of one of my book clubs. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that he too is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. While there was a group positive consensus for this New York Times bestseller, there was also a strong rip tide undercurrent of the book's verbosity. This latter comment exemplified by one person stating: "Should've cut 200 pages."

Other than wordiness, other writing examples surfaced. On page 319 at the top there is reference that character had no belt, no holster, no shirt. Then, at page 321, this character in the same continuing scene sticks gun deep into waistband "behind his belt buckle." What?

Readers got confused by numerous point of view shifts without warning and at one place where Thomas Stone could see the real world WHILE ASLEEP.  Or a character wears a gown and then is said to have tears on a blouse. Or a character's statement of what the future will be when he hasn't gotten there yet.

Trust Mr. Verghese will forgive for the above. The novel's passion burst forth even if the writing execution demonstrated faults. Should one also forgive if this blog is quoted as saying of Cutting for Stone that "The novel's passion burst forth...?"

Monday, September 12, 2011

Opening Day NFL Football

Missing the Chicago Bears/Atlanta Falcons home opener as the first Bears home game that didn't have me in a Soldier Field stadium seat wasn't as traumatic as expected. Partly because Da Bears defense showed up and played with a heart and vengence. "Old" hands such as Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman meshed well with new team members who created a defensive rush without blitzing. And, the offensive line, commendable with great hopes for the future.

Matt Forte did what he does best, most everything that a running back need do.

Yes, there will be a dent created in the recliner. After one game it appears to be a happy dent. Although the tailgaters atop the parking deck next to Gate 0 are missed. That happy throng of fans. Staying at home meant no one to loan condiments to or no one to trade use of a grill for left behind bbq sauce. The memories live. The Chicago Bears helmet grill not a relic, but a treasure. The picture of it in the Chicago Tribune two decades ago graces the Bears' wall with mementos of all sorts.

If the Bears play well, next game may see the first team TV broadcasters. Second thought, let's buck the trend and keep the Bears with the announcers and create a winning streak long into the season.

Former Bear note---

With Rex Grossman having a good day with the Washington Redskins, can one dye the white jersey I have with his name and number 8 into what "maroon and gold?" Might be the same colors of my alma mater?

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Welcome to the A Body To Bones mystery novel blog by author Donan Berg.

We welcome each of you on this day Americans remember 9/11 on the tenth anniversary of the infamous attack on three United States locations.

If you have a comment or input, please feel free to express your thoughts within the bounds of common decency.

We look forward to sharing with you excerpts of past novels, future novels, and short stories. Author Donan Berg has published four murder mystery novels: A Body To Bones, The Bones Dance Foxtrot, Baby Bones, and Abbey Burning Love.  He's also published a collection of short stories entitled Bubbling Conflict and Other Stories.

Visit this blog and help us grow. You can also visit author Donan Berg at