Monday, December 31, 2012

Sweet Pickle Juice, Oh Yeah

Feeling guilty about throwing that sweet pickle juice away after the gherkins are eaten? It happens alot during the holiday season, and immediately thereafter.

This blog can't promise you'll feel better, or anything else about what follows. If you try anything, do so with the utmost of care.

So when the sweet pickles are gone ----

1. Add the sweet juice to fat-drained pork chops that have been browned in a skillet. Heat covered, turning the pork chops over once or twice. The sweet pickle juice should tenderize and glaze.

2.  Grind leftover ham, add finely diced green pepper and celery, stir in pickle relish and sweet pickle juice. Spread on bread and enjoy.

3.  Whip the sweet pickle juice with cream cheese and use as a vegetable dip. Friends have used potato or other kinds of chips.

4. Make pickled peppers. Cut green, orange and/or red peppers, add juice, seal in jar, and leave for about two weeks. You may try this also with zucchini, although I'll say it's not my favorite.

5. Cook green beans in pickle juice, add bacon bits or slivered almonds.

6. Put your dill pickle slices in sweet pickle juice for a distinct new flavor.

7. Add sweet pickle juice to stews, soups, and homemade spaghetti sauce or cole slaw.

If you don't wish to consume, sweet pickle juice can help keep drains clean and sweet.

And, can't vouch for this, but a gardener told me that sweet pickle juice poured on gardenia bushes or azalea bushes once a year makes them thrive.

Happy New Year and may all your pickle days be sweet.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Character - A Poem



The character appears on page,

but of his design who’s to gauge?

From the printed word we decide

where in our favor he’ll reside.


If he’s battered with rags-a-tatter,

from him we will all scatter.

If he’s in tailored coat and tie,

for his rapt attention we’ll vie.


If he staggers up from the gutter,

we expect all profanity to utter.

If high society lists him by name,

our invite to dinner won’t shame.


If he knows how to bow with style,

we suspect a nature without guile.

After all study our mind’s decided,

this character is really divided.


Copyright Donan Berg 2010

Copyright DOTDON Books 2010

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Halloween Candy Whimsy Part II Answers

Here's the answers from this corner on the Halloween Candy Whimsey, Part II.

1.  Babe Ruth

2.  5th Avenue

3.  Mr. Goodbar/Millionaire/SugarDaddy

4. Milk Duds

5. Skor

6. Hollywood

7. Kit Kat

8. Hershey

9. Almond Joy

10. Candy Kiss

Thank you all for comments, tweets, and having fun.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween Candy Whimsy, Part II

We tried this a week ago with success and suggestions. The encouragement strained our minds to expand the test to identify Halloween candy treats. (Ps, the answers at the bottom of this post relate back to the prior October 17, 2012 post.)

1.  Famous former baseball player.

2.  Famous New York street.

3. Single women look for him.

4. Dry cow.

5. Determines who wins the game.

6. Home of movie stars.

7. A feline.

8. Two female pronouns.

9. Nut happiness.

10. A sweet sign of affection.

Good luck. The only sought after prize is your enjoyment.

(Answers to October 17, 2012 post: 1. Three Musketeers; 2. Mounds; 3. Milky Way; 4. Bit O Honey; 5. Life Savers; 6. M&M's; 7. Mars Bar; 8. Snickers/Chuckles; 9. Butterfingers; and 10. O'Henry. If you guessed me for the author, I blush, but you're wrong. Don't you think, however, that a nice candy name could be made from the book title A Body To Bones changed to be called "Body Sweets" so it isn't too ghoulish. Happy Halloween, and parents check your child's candy just to be safe.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Can You Identify the Following Halloween Candy Treats?

Halloween is always a good time for whimsy. And, candy, candy, candy. Test your
sweet tooth memory with the following clues that identify candy brands.

Example:  Superman's favorite hangout; answer: Clark Bar.

Now it's your turn:

1.  A favorite swashbuckling trio

2.  Indian burial grounds

3.  Galaxy

4.  What bees make

5.  Round flotation device

6.  Twin letters

7.  Red planet

8.  Not laughing out loud

9.  Can't hold on to anything

10. A famous author

Answers will be forthcoming.

Monday, October 8, 2012

To Revise Is Not Failure

If you were halfway through a Scrabble game with lines of words and random letters on the board in front of you, do you consider yourself a failure? Of course not. You stay in the moment, organize the letters you have before you and summon potential strategies to choose your next move realizing there may be no exact right or wrong word to be chosen. For example, the word initially played commanding the most points may lock out subsequent words that will garner a greater sum.

Each joining together of separate alphabet letters is not a failure. So too, the combination of ideas, thoughts and emotions written in a first draft may fill a page, but not express the volume of ideas, thoughts and emotions that will be sculptured into a greater vision.

Revision is not editing. It is not changing a comma to a semicolon or any other similar grammatical correction task. Revision is to bring forth from the initial draft the essence or understanding or desire the writer wishes the reader to come away with. Consider the initial draft as raw material. It is the iron ore that will become steel and frame the tallest skyscraper that touches the sky.

Therefore, the first tool for revision is to jettison a focus on grammar and read the entire piece, aloud works best, with particular attention paid to the substance, rhythm and evoked emotion. If desired, have a sheet of paper to jot down any reaction. The key word is jot, not an extensive writing that keeps you away from continuing with the read-through.

It may be hard, but trigger your subconscious to visualize the scene created by the raw material.

Pay special attention to the ending. Does it satisfy the ongoing theme? Was the most important element of the raw material highlighted and fully explained?

Are there underlying themes? Do they choke the main theme or add fashionable jewelry to an already stylist outfit. For example, a romance element can be either a distraction or a spotlight on a character’s defining trait.

After, and only after, the first complete read-through, is it time to focus on specific parts. Do the same technique with the parts as with the whole, i.e., read the entire part.

At each reading, cut the distractions and everything else that doesn’t fit in, mold the ambiguous into a recognizable shape and sharpen the feel and expression of what strikes you as being on target.

Jettison the notion that there are set number of revisions to be accomplished. There isn’t. Your heart and gut will tell you when the best is achieved.












Friday, October 5, 2012

"Rainy Night" Play Thank You

A short and heartfelt thank you to CASI Senior Theatre, actors and director, who performed my one act play "Rainy Night."

And, a second thanks to the audience and your positive reaction. After the September performance, we look forward to an encore.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review: Idomeneus, A Play

Billed as the United States premier, Chicago's Sideshow Theatre Company shuffles and struts on a shifting real sand set to bring Idomeneus by Roland Schimmelpfennig, translated by David Tushingham, to a Midwestern public during the months of August and September 2012 when most theater venues are dark awaiting the new season openings.

The DCA Storefront Theatre on East Randolph in Chicago is an intimate seating. Translate the two words into a minimal, find your own seat, bare-bones theatre. If you want red carpets, ushers in tuxedos and dainty champagne flutes during intermission, this theatre is not for you. The ticket price reflects the environment. The stage production, little over an hour with no intermission, is rightly the attendee's main focus, and, while the production is ambitious, it definitely comes across as fuzzy.

Idomeneus goes back to Greek mythology. Theatergoers are given a half-sheet handout on the Trojan War. If you don't read it, don't worry you haven't lost any understanding of the play. Idomeneus is not a well-known historical figure. At most, he was the King of Crete, mentioned in Book III of the Odyssey. In Homer's Iliad, Idomeneus was in the first rank of Greek generals. He was superior in the battle at Troy. By some accounts he rode inside the legendary Trojan Horse.

After being victorious at Troy, he supposedly struck a deal with Poseidon during a return-home voyage to save his ship during a violent sea storm that sunk seventy-nine other vessels laden with the general's troops en route to Crete. The deal struck is that, upon landing, Idomeneus is to slay the first living being he comes across. This turns out to be his son.

This is where "fuzzy" comes into focus. If the review reader doesn't understand the preceding sentence, then that is how the person in the play's audience often feels. Throughout the play there are several presentations where something is said to happen, and, then, not to happen. The energetic presentation by the actors is overwhelmed by the contradictory words. The fuzzy nature is parallel to what history says, and most often doesn't say, about Idomeneus. If the play was summoned out of nothingness, as it appears, then any moral imparted would be that of the author. In the end, the play ends without apparent moral.

The stage is mostly sand, a real honest-to-goodness child's sandbox. When Idomeneus is buried to the waist at the play's conclusion, it's easily done. The symbolic significance is not readily apparent. What is apparent is the energy of the cast who never really go off stage. They move in well designed movement. Special credit goes to McKenzie Chinn, Katy Carolina Collins and Joshua Davis. All actors, by their biographies, have been well grounded in regional theatre. It will not be a surprise if more than one goes on to greater national roles.

Live theater has a charm all its own. If one grasps the full meaning of the play, so much the better. The glass in this production is still half full and its not the local staging nor the actors that let one down.

When one leaves the theater, there is a chance to fill out a questionnaire and receive a piece of candy. That in a nutshell explains the experience of this production. One shouldn't have to take extra steps to fill in squares on a sheet of paper to feel rewarded.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Objects: A Key to Suspense

Objects: A Key to Suspense

By Author Donan Berg

Every reader desires suspense and writers strive to create the page-turning anticipation. That last word “anticipation” is the definition of suspense. One could write a book on creating suspense. However, let’s focus our penlight of inquiry on a tiny spot. In that tiny spot is our protagonist. All around him or her are varying shades of gray (dare we count them to equal the number fifty, no, not today) destined to become the darkness we label as the color black.

Suspense may set up housekeeping within any genre. It’s the romantic secret, the dark hole of sci-fi space, the path to the mystery’s clue, the rattlesnake coiled on the cowboy’s prairie, or the youngster’s hand reaching into what he or she thinks is a chocolate chip cookie jar.

Common objects can be used to create suspense. Why? Because there is a history or association that the object carries along with it. It’s the traveler’s baggage, so to speak. For example, if one were to read the word “toga,” what comes to mind? Romans, Caesar, Animal House, Belushi, wild party, girls, sex. (That last word was a no-brainer, wasn’t it? The three-letter word could punctuate any list of human association examples countless times without being wrong.)

Can you foreshadow suspense? Sure. Common objects invite association with pending dread. Halloween is the easiest example. The holiday has witches, spooks, skeletons and all sorts of objects linked to fear, foreboding and horror. If the author said the protagonist lived on Elm Street, would you think of scissor blades for fingers, hockey masks or “Father Knows Best?” What if the day happened to be the thirteenth of the month? And, add to that, a Friday. Each day of the month is obviously equal in creation, but the world has added associations. Is death any more horrible if it happens on Friday, the thirteenth? What about the Ides of March?

Children’s dolls are the Utopian fun object and the acme of all that is good, hopeful and innocent. And then an author created Chucky. What made Chucky more terrifying? His actions, of course, but he broke a perception of what a doll normally stood for. Anyone desire to open a drawer and spy a voodoo doll? An object, the doll, that stood for good, now acts or stands for evil or a premonition of bad. The opposite is when a mild-mannered reporter steps into a telephone booth and re-emerges as you know who.

A second more common foreshadowing of suspense is to use an object itself associated with foreboding. The most common example is the storm, either in full-blown glory or massing clouds on the horizon. Once Dorothy was sucked into the Kansas tornado, the reader didn’t expect the girl would be sitting down to milk and cookies. Remember, you don’t have to have terrible things happen after each suspense foreshadowing. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. If the proverbial cat walks out of the shadow after causing its owner a panic attack, the next time there’s a noise in the shadow confronting the owner it may not have to be the cat. Be careful of dream sequences. Ever since Bobby Ewing on TV’s “Dallas” opened the shower door in the 1980s, or maybe before that, announcing that the event had been a dream has carried its own association, and it's very negative, a reader turnoff.

Look for ways to create suspense in all kinds of situations. One way of many is to find a prevalent object in cultures, religions and/or exotic locales and set your mind to work. What could be different? What does the protagonist expect? What does he or she not expect? What moves the plot forward? Is the pumpkin a descriptive object to announce Halloween or to become a princess’s carriage? Or maybe the carved smiley face with the burning candle spooks a pair of lovers trying to sneak into what they anticipated to be an unoccupied cabin miles from nowhere.

Let’s try an example of a typical scenario of the police waiting to capture suspects arriving at an abandoned Midwest farmhouse. Should be a straightforward situation, or not? Detective Second Class Adolph Anderson is sweating out whether or not he’ll earn a nomination for a gold shield. Officer Sean Finnegan dreams of sewing on sergeant stripes.

 What follows is an excerpt by the author from his currently unpublished manuscript entitled “Garden Bones.” All rights reserved.

“C’mon, dirtbags, we’re ready for ya,” Adolph muttered to no one in particular. He endured the ear itch his stretched black stocking cap created and shook his head to drive out the arid smell of burnt field stubble the westerly breeze carried into his nostrils. Before he organized this stakeout, he’d demanded his daughter Kirsten promise not to leave home and be at Mary’s side. Adolph had personally verified all exterior home door locks worked. His cell phone listed the number of the security company scheduled to install perimeter sensors the next day. He heard two owl hoots and braced his shoulder against a sturdy cottonwood.

Two pairs of headlights turned off the county road into the graveled farmyard, the second pair those of a small truck. If Luann’s prediction came true, she’d be in a van with Rebecca. An old Cadillac sedan’s headlights illuminated the two words “Salvatore Pizza” on the visible side of the panel van. Adolph strained to count two women, five males, and an unidentified smaller person before the doused headlights returned the farmyard to the night’s murky darkness. Luann right again. Damn. Could be the teenage girl. Adolph hated the complication.

The parade of visitors disappeared into the farmhouse. Second story bedroom lights went on after the first floor living room. Adolph wanted to wait until the lower level lights were flicked off, but they stayed on. He thanked God no vehicle guard patrolled and the numerical odds were even, better than even if he could count on Luann being on the inside. He fumbled for his walkie-talkie not regretting he hadn’t invited the SWAT team with its audio headsets. He spoke one word into the walkie-talkie: “Forward.”

The noose of officers tightened around the farmhouse.

Tense leg muscles subdued rising adrenaline to slow Adolph’s steps. He brushed against the words: “Salvatore Pizza.” He hesitated. Finnegan would take longer to get in position at the rear farmhouse door. A shadowed figure to his left waved. Adolph raised his left palm now holding the bullhorn. He peeked across the van’s hood. Lights remained on on both farmhouse levels. To his thinking that wasn’t a good sign. If the impromptu porn studio existed in the master bedroom, all inside actors should be on the second level. Yet, a black form passed in front of what had to be a lamp and behind the gauzy living room window curtain. A light beam flashed on and off in the basement casement window.

Adolph ignored the tightening knot in his stomach and his fears of being seen. Someone inside had merely checked the house entrances and exits. If concerned, the yard light would’ve been flicked on. Patience. Keep cool. He lowered his left arm. Two owl hoots. Finnegan positioned. Adolph waved to the figure on his left and exposed his upper torso from the cover of the van. Until he reached the solid surface of the front walkway, he tried not to kick the pebbles in the gravel underfoot. No moonbeams guided his effort. To his right, a third figure, crossing the lawn, matched Adolph’s advance. The three men joined forces on the front porch. Both officers, shotguns vertical, fingers on their respective triggers, nodded to Adolph and flattened their backs against the house clapboard on opposite sides of the front door.

Adolph gulped two shallow breaths and pressed the bullhorn to his lips.

“Police. Come out now. Hands up.” He angled his body forty-five degrees to the door to protect against bullets shredding the wood and striking him. He tapped his 9mm against the bullhorn’s flared-molded end. His companion officers stepped out and pointed their shotguns at the front door.

Adolph called out again. “Police. Come out with hands up. (Silence) Now.”

No answer greeted his third shout. The silence irritated, but didn’t surprise, Adolph. The Dragons had to be calculating their escape. Or, eliminating hostages!

Adolph shouted, “Finnegan.” His bellow wasn’t the planned signal, and Adolph’s shoe sole slamming into the front door near the door handle elevated Plan C to Action Plan A. Following his sole, he burst into the living room. Empty. He heard the back door squeak and Finnegan emerged from the kitchen. Adolph tossed the bullhorn to the carpet and pointed his left forefinger at the ascending stairs. He ordered one of the officers with him to go back outside and stand guard at the two vehicles. “Don’t shoot. Expect hostages or innocents fleeing.”

With Finnegan’s butt tight to his, Adolph tiptoed up the stairs. He stopped two treads from the landing. An eerie silence. C’mon, Luann, knock something over. Give me a hint as to which room you’re all in. He braced his left hand against the peeling floral wallpaper. The 9mm weighed down his right hand. The glove worn didn’t allow the moisture gathering on his palm to streak the gun’s butt. A new scalp itch intensified. Brain cells warned his timing had to be just right or someone’s going to get hurt.

He rotated his head toward Finnegan. Their eyeballs met. Finnegan’s gaze mirrored Adolph’s thoughts: What now?

Adolph leaned forward; placed his left knee on the higher tread, sliding his left hand lower on the wall. Without exposing his head, he listened ever more intent on deciphering the slightest of noises. His ear canal might as well have been a laboratory vacuum chamber for the absence of noise-transmitting air. He straightened up. His butt bump alerted Finnegan to his next move, which was to bolt ahead, pivot into the upstairs hallway, and flatten himself against the wall ready to fire.

All upstairs inhabitants might as well have been possums playing dead for the amount of sound Adolph’s ears detected. When Finnegan’s face appeared, Adolph’s hand motioned toward the master bedroom door, his choice for room most likely occupied. He swallowed a premonition that he wouldn’t like what he was about to find. What to do? Indecision no option.

Adolph called out, “Come out. Play’s over.”

Only the scratch of Finnegan’s boots as he sidled up to Adolph drifted to the ceiling. Adolph lifted his right foot and feigned a kick. Finnegan nodded and braced himself against the opposite hallway wall, shotgun shouldered and aimed.

The bedroom door thudded its inside door handle three times against the wall and gouged a crescent into the plaster.

“Damn.” Adolph’s expletive echoed among the disturbed dust particles floating beneath the lit ceiling light fixture. “Damn. Double Damn.”

“What the hell!” Finnegan exclaimed.

Finnegan’s surprise wasn’t lost on Adolph. He pulled back the black window curtain and waved to the officer standing on the front lawn, next to both suspect vehicles still parked where first seen. Adolph’s supposition verified when he raced through the two adjoining bedrooms and the bathroom, opening closet doors, and finding nobody present.

He met Finnegan in the hallway. “What’d we miss, Sean?”

“Thought you’d know... Sorry.”

“No one came out the front.”

“Not the rear, either.”

Adolph slumped against the wall. Think, stupid. He recalled house lights on both the first and second stories. He’d seen a figure later moving on the first floor, and then the basement light. “Let’s check the basement. Only place left.”

Adolph led the twosome’s clomp down the stairs. “Nothing upstairs,” he said to the officer in the living room. “Hand me your flashlight and stay here while we check out the basement.”

Finnegan unclipped his own flashlight and the two beams preceded Adolph and Finnegan into the basement. Dark and dank, they found it devoid of human life. The arachnids skittered within the heaven they’d created. Adolph swiped at a cobweb before he noticed a cleared path above his head and scattered dust on the concrete floor.

“Was told a torture chamber existed with an entrance here in the basement,” he told Finnegan. Adolph purposely left Luann’s name unmentioned. Where was it? She hadn’t explained that. “Check behind those shelves moved out from that wall to your left.”

“There’s a door.”

“Let’s go.” (End of example)

If the above were a full novel, the reader wouldn't be ending here, even if it was a chapter ending, which would be totally acceptable. All hopefully will pardon the abrupt ending here for further discussion of suspension creation. To be successful, suspense shouldn't always race on at unrelenting warp speed. The trick is to create a pause, a release. The forward momentum to be similar to a radio wave with its up and down variation gracefully accomplished. In the above example, could the reader have expected gunfire? Sure. Was there any? No. Where did the suspense come from? Objects like shotguns are typical in a police procedural. What or where else: an empty farmhouse; the internal dialogue of Adolph monitoring his emotions, what he expected at the farm, including Luann’s help; the security features he was installing on his own home and what about the possum?

Two final notes:

(1) The extent of the reader's expected knowledge of the scene or situation can dictate the amount of necessary writing detail. If the locale is exotic, include additional description to ground the reader.

(2) Holding back information can add or detract from suspense. To hold back information the viewpoint character possesses can be a cheap trick that will irritate the reader. Likewise, adding words to the effect that the main character didn't know he would be hospitalized the next day are also to be avoided. In the example above, was it fair for the author not to detail who exactly constituted the group of suspects? Later, the excerpt reader learns Adolph knows a woman named Luann and that she’s inside and may or may not be a suspect. In context, to be fair, Luann was a detective assigned to be Adolph’s partner. The reader would know this from earlier events. Now, everyone’s up to speed. No suspense. No anticipation.

Ps, And who's that standing behind you?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Discussion Guide - The Bones Dance Foxtrot

Author Donan Berg's The Bones Dance Foxtrot, Second Skeleton Series Mystery, will be the featured book at CASI Book Club, Davenport, IA, in September. The following book club discussion topics have been prepared especially for them.

Book Club Discussion Questions

The Bones Dance Foxtrot by Donan Berg

  1. How does protagonist Jake respond to the death of Athena? Is his response to his wife’s death realistic? If not, why? Is there any “normal” reaction to a spouse’s death?
  2. For the characters, Emily, Patricia, Kate and Chief Coltraine, what is disclosed in their individual past life’s history that influences their actions? Do persons in real life always act consistent? What about Robert?
  3. Jake’s occupation is as an over-the-road truck driver. Would he act different if he were employed as a person who “drove” a desk eight hours a day?
  4. Prophet Jeremiah’s biblical words are quoted frequently. What do they foreshadow? If someone said it was an author’s trick to advance the story’s plot or to generate artificial suspense, would you agree or disagree? Is there a logical connection between a truck driver’s life and the fact that motels place Gideon Bibles in nightstands?
  5. Within the novel, the author expends many words, including in-person point-of-view, to detail actions from a police perspective. Is that helpful, engaging or distracting?
  6. Many of the characters, including Jake, participate in Emily’s local community theater. Does Patricia’s actor role foreshadow her personality or is her reality the direct opposite of the role she plays? How does Patricia’s role impact Jake, if at all?
  7. Does Kate’s desire, as a widow, not to remarry square with her outward interactions with Jake? Also, is her diner veteran’s wall a true memorial or is it a business strategy?
  8. Is Chief Coltraine’s gut reaction about Jake based on his experience or is it illogical for a veteran police supervisor, in a new job, to go against other department members?
  9. Emily extends a hand of friendship to Jake. What motivates her? Is Jake a father figure? Is Emily just friendly to anyone who joins the acting troupe?
  10. What does Emily’s hiring of Clem say about her? Does Clem impact Jake?
  11. What about Jake’s quirk concerning measurements? Do you know any such person?
  12. Is there humor in the story? What about Jake picking up the stuffed chickadee in his search for the stolen gold? Any other examples?
  13. How important is Oscar in solving the mystery? Has the author, considering his previous novel, A Body To Bones, in which a young boy named Oscar found a skeleton, purposefully selected the name of Oscar to point to a significant discovery?
  14. What role do the dances play in the story? What about the clothes worn by the dancers? What about Jake’s relationship with whom he dances? Does his treatment of his dance partners reveal anything about Jake’s personality?
  15. The bank robbery is a past event happening before Jake arrives in Paradise. What ramifications impact on Jake?
  16. Jake is a veteran. He talks about his military service with self-deprecation. Is there something else about his military service that has remained hidden? Could it be he didn’t even realize how service to his country could impact his actions?
  17. Jake is presented with a crisis. What motivates him to react the way he does? Is it a past or recent experience or a person? Does Jake’s reaction indicate he’s more concerned about one person’s well-being or that Jake would act as he does for anyone in peril?
     Author Donan Berg's Baby Bones, Third Skeleton Series Mystery, now available in trade paperback at and . Earlier releases included an Ebook and Mp3 (audio) book.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Libraries Shelve Donan Berg's Novel "A Body To Bones"

With the greatest of appreciation, acknowledgement is given to the latest three public libraries to shelve Author Donan Berg's debut murder mystery novel A Body To Bones.

Patrons can now find A Body To Bones, First Skeleton Series Mystery, at Bangor, ME, Public Library, Brown County Library, Green Bay, WI, and the latest addition Gary, IN, Public Library.

Check out for a list of all known libraries. Since the list may be incomplete, ask at your local USA public library. Libraries solicit patron input. Help them out.

To all, libraries and patrons, we say, thank you.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Lucky 7 Meme Award

Call me crazy or a bloke sucked in, I've been nominated or invited to participate in the Lucky 7 Meme Award which may be farther from a dramatic red carpet stroll than an unwritten farce. If any reader watched Inspector Lewis on PBS Masterpiece Mystery Sunday (July 8, USA) then this may be akin to the brainaic Oxford University Wednesday Club without the craxy clothes, multiple teasing notecards, and, hopefully, completely devoid of any participant being found by authorities floating face down in a nearby river or body of water.

Here's the rules I've been told by my nominator: Earl B. Russell, @earlbrussell. It's an adventure on so get your game piece in hand and follow these rules:

1. Go to your original manuscript, finished or not, and stop on either the 7th or 77th page.

2. Drop down to the 7th line. (Beginning to realize why it's called Lucky 7 Meme Award?)

3. Copy the next seven sentences or paragraphs. No editing. (If it's slanderous, then by all means don't put us all in a boiling kettle. Find another manuscript. If you've been an author for any stretch of time your nightstand or computer flashdrive is replete with oodles of starts that went at least seven pages before the inspiration bounced off a mental wall.)

4. Now for the fun part. Tag seven authors, giving twitter names, and tell them they've been nominated by you. Ask them to participate.

     Here's mine:
  • Alexandra Lanc @AuthorLanc Florida USA multi-genre author
  • Ali Atwood @aliwood1 Florida USA erotic paranormal and sci-fi romance
  • Jamie Metcalf @wmetcalf Long Island NY USA Author Tony Gavel PI series
  • Mark Dodge @markododge (world is guessed) Working on first novel.
  • Chris McGoldrick @McGoldrickChris Orange County NY USA Working on first novel.
  • Laura Pfundt @lauracatherinep Melbourne AUS Fantasy and YA author.
  • Laurie J. Grove @LJGroveArts Portland OR USA Author The Icarus Files
5.  Here's my seven sentences from page 7 of the still-in-progress murder mystery entitled "Garden Bones" as a working draft.

"Her outstretched arms, with jerky finger movements, pointed into the water. Adolph haphazardly piled socks and his sport coat blazer atop his shoes already resting on the inclined slab poured to be a boat launch ramp. On instinct, to account for the river current, he chose a spot to dash into the river twenty feet south of where the woman stood screaming. Her words, “My boy, save my boy,” raced the breeze propelling him into the water.
"The five minutes he bobbed under the surface seemed to him an eternity until the cloth he tugged offered weighted resistance. When he planted his toes into the silty river bottom, stood and splashed toward shore, the shallower August river depths freed his arms as the lowered surface wavelets now only lapped his armpits.
          "With the boy given to an EMT, Adolph paused halfway up the boat ramp concrete."
For bullets 6 and 7, add thank you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy 4th of July

Celebrate the Fourth of July, U.S. Independence Day, with resolve and compassion. Stay safe, and if you have a moment, lend helping hands to others and support those in need. Heat, as well as cold, kills.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Donan Berg Skeleton Series Mystery Reviews

On the backcover of the newly released murder/mystery novel, Baby Bones, Third Skeleton Series Mystery, is the following:

Praise for Donan Berg's Skeleton Mystery Series.

A Body To Bones, First Skeleton Series Mystery

"I found myself quickly drawn into this book. Author Donan Berg (creates) interesting mix of mystery, suspense, hidden secrets, sin, deception and intrigue to weave a book that is well worth the price and in fact is a book which I so readily recommend that I would strongly suggest purchasing it for gifting." - S.P. national online reviewer

"Donan Brg writes a nice, clear, consistently readable prose, and he manages to create a winning character in Sarah Hamilton." - Writer's Digest judge

"Excellent. Greatly enjoyable book, well written and filled with intrigue, suspense and drama. Five Stars." -
L.C., national online reviewer.

The Bones Dance Foxtrot, Second Skeleton Series Mystery

"Five Stars. If you enjoy a good mystery with twists, turns, false leads, a little gambling, betrayal, clues left in the unlikeliest of places and a hidden stash of bank loot, then pick up a copy of The Bones Dance Foxtrot." - Featheredquill Book Review

"Clues eventually fit together in clever and significant ways." - National reviewer

Baby Bones

Baby Bones, Third Skeleton Series Mystery, continues author Donan Berg's showcase of winning characters in Sheriff Jonas McHugh, Deputy Bonnie Walsh, and VP Melanie Stark. The absorbing, fast-paced, satisfying major mystery surrounds a female skeleton buried with baby bones. Fears abound: the coroner scared of abortion vigilantes, Jonas anxious for re-election, and Bonnie alarmed for the safety of young daughter, Cindy. The addictive tale spins with an elaborate web of unsuspected turns sprung with gusto.

About the Author

Having landed twice in the winner's circle of the Fifth Annual Dixie Kane Memorial Contest, Donan Berg earns a claim to accolades of entertaining mystery, heartwarming romance. He's also authored Abbey Burning Love, a 387-page small city murder mystery/romance e-book and Bubbling Conflict and Other Stories, where the lead story highlights the never-ending sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

Find Baby Bones and Abbey Burning Love e-book downloads for all major e-readers at and . Also at both websites are trade paperback copies of A Body To Bones and The Bones Dance Foxtrot. If none are at your neighborhood library, make a patron request. E-mail Author Donan Berg at and get answers to your questions and obtain an author autograph with your purchase.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dialogue - Write it Right

Dialogue — Write it Right

Be it to increase pace, slow pace, or impart information, dialogue construction need not baffle any writer. Perhaps it’s neither the dullness of studying punctuation nor the belief of its simplicity, but the focus on dialogue content that hinders fiction writers in nailing dialogue punctuation. While rules and conventions can be described as legion, budding authors need to understand and apply the following basic principles to create a favorable impression with any serious reader or acquisitions editor.

Dialogue can either be internal to the point of view (POV) character or external. Thoughts are internal dialogue. Spoken words, no matter how uttered, classified as external. A common convention for indicating exact-word internal dialogue is to put the words in italic. Example: Claris stepped back. Stupid horse. She tossed the saddle onto the blanket.

The italics used in the example to indicate internal dialogue are replaced by quotation marks to show the exact words a person or character vocalizes externally. Words enclosed in quotation marks indicate the exact words and order in which spoken. This is referred to as a direct quotation. Example of direct quotation: “The house on the corner is where I grew up,” Jane said.

The same information can be conveyed via an indirect quotation. Example of an indirect quotation: Jane said she grew up in the house on the corner. No quotation marks or italics are used for what Jane said. Her exact words aren’t being quoted. However, the information content of these two examples is identical. The quotation marks are a signal to the reader that the speaker is being quoted verbatim. The italics used for “Stupid horse.” in the internal dialogue example above also indicate those are the exact words thought, but not uttered. For character internal dialogue that doesn’t impart the exact words the author may write: “Claris thought the horse acted stupid.”

Be on guard for the incorrect use of quotation marks with indirect quotation.

Correct indirect quotation:  John said he didn’t wanna go.

Incorrect indirect quotation: John said, “he didn’t wanna go.”

Identifying the speaker is done with what is called an attribution tag. The word “said” is, and should remain, the workhorse. Most reader minds skip over the word making it almost invisible. That is good, really. For questions, the word “asked” will replace “said.” While writers may unnecessarily search for attribution tags to substitute for “said,” there are several that express the how or the sound of what the character says. Example: muttered, whispered, uttered, etc. A waiting trap is to use a word that has everything to do with an action and nothing to do with speaking a sentence. Example: “Wow,” John smiled. “Smiled” is an action, not a way language is spoken. Actions are not to be used as attribution tags. (A second problem with a word like “smile” is that a character speaking can’t “see” a smile unless utilizing the cliché of gazing into a mirror.) Coughing and nodding used as attribution tags duplicate the same mistake as when smile is inappropriately relied upon. However, they, unlike smile, are physical actions a POV character does not have to see to understand that they’re happening.

Since the POV character is the main speaker in most fiction, an author can often dispense with attribution tags altogether by utilizing the convention that each time a character speaks he or she begins a new paragraph. Thus, once identified in a two-person conversation, the paragraphs keep track of who’s speaking. To help the reader and give context to the dialogue, little bits of action can be included, especially as relates to the POV character. The following example illustrates.

“Where did you say you lived?” John asked.

“The house on the corner is where I grew up,” Jane said.

John gazed past the white picket fence. “Wow!”

“Didn’t think so then.”


“Always had to do chores after school.” John glanced at the horizon; eyes refocused on the fence as he waited for Jane to quit fiddling with her knapsack and continue. “Loved music. Mother forbid playing the piano until house swept, dusted or...”

John’s thoughts of a troubled childhood with vaguely linked foster homes snaked through his brain and interrupted his retention of Jane’s description of unending chores. He would’ve enjoyed having his own room and the security that came from living under the same roof for more than a year at a time. (End of example.)

The above example with its short dialogue bursts may not always serve the author’s purpose. While short, crisp, one-line statements speed up the reader, a longer dialogue insertion may be needed to match reality and/or satisfy the author’s need to slow the pace without going into narrative. Lurking in the background is the “comma splice.” This is a term used when two independent clauses are linked with a comma. Authors remember the independent clause. It’s a grammatical unit containing a subject and a verb and could stand alone as a sentence.

In dialogue it may appear thusly: “The way the forwards have been playing, the team will be lucky to advance into the playoff’s second round,” the announcer said, “I’m fearful the goalie will bolt for greener pastures next season.” The comma after the word “said” must be replaced by a period.

Where you place the attribution tag, is always a consideration. There are three locations.

In front: Jane said, “I wanna go now. Not later.” Generally, this is the weakest location. Although, when a speaker is interrupted by environmental action and then continues, it may be clearer to say: Jane continued, “I wanna go now. Not later.”

In the middle:  “I wanna go now,” Jane said. “Not later.”

At the end: “I wanna go now. Not later,” Jane said. While the attribution tag is strongest at the end of a sentence, where there are several sentences the tag is usually best after the first sentence. “I wanna go now,” Jane said. “Not later. The sun gets so hot in the afternoon. I’ll burn something fierce.”

Reading the examples aloud should give a sense of the different rhythms. Placing the attribution tag in the middle tends to give a slight pause. If the author wishes to indicate a pause, here’s a way he or she could rewrite the middle example: “I wanna go now.” Jane paused. “Not later.” Remember, the following would be incorrect:  “I wanna go now,” Jane paused, “not later.”

In addition, please note that if you’re quoting more than one sentence the quotation marks go at the beginning and at the end when the speaker finishes. If the same speaker goes on for more than one paragraph, quotation marks are at the beginning of each paragraph and then closing quotation marks at the end of the concluding paragraph when the speaker finishes.

While the focus has been on quotation marks, other punctuation can show the speaker’s physical action or that of another character. Ellipses show that the words of a speaker trail off. Example: Jane pushed back from the table. “I wanna go...” Use a dash to show that a speaker is interrupted. Example:

Jane pushed back from the table. “I wanna go—”

“Not so fast, sis,” Alice said. “It’s your turn to do dishes.”

This last dialogue example also demonstrates that when a character-speaker directly addresses another by given name or nickname, be it Jane, Sis, Mr. Jones, Honey, the direct address is set off by commas front and back.

Also note that every comma, period, ellipsis and dash is inside the quotation marks. This is the standardized American convention and the list also includes question marks and exclamation points. Colons and semicolons will most often appear outside quotation marks. Differing conventions apply in British English and some writers eschew quotation marks altogether in favor of dashes, colons or whatever. No opinion is expressed. All authors need, however, to be aware of the maxim that not one rule or convention governs the world.   

Author Donan Berg has published four novels, A Body To Bones, The Bones Dance Foxtrot, Baby Bones, Abbey Burning Love and a collection of short stories, Bubbling Conflict and Other Stories. Contact him through or .  


Monday, May 7, 2012

Writing Reviews - Ultimate Catch-22

Any budding or independent author encourages, even relishes, a glowing review. Multiple steps are taken to gather the desired reviews. Following the searchlight of major online book retailers, booksellers open up digital space for customers to post reviews. For writers this is both a positive and a negative.

The negative is that if you tick off any individual they can go online and anonymously cue a review that has no words, only the lowest star rating possible. Is this a review that is helpful? For the writer, no. For a potential reader, more than likely it has an impact, especially to the casual online site visitor who reads only the summary star rating. Thus, any vindictive review lowers dramatically the star score of any book with limited reviews. In fact, this technique has been encouraged by those with a chip on their shoulder wishing to damage a writer in any way possible and, going after their work, is the greatest personal insult.

The positive is that savy online book buyers respond only to well written reviews and discount blank reviews as well as other blatantly scandalous and obviously vindictive verbiage.

What about the community of writers?

While generalizations are hard and can be misleading, personal experience offers several insights.

Writers use Twitter, for example, to request reviews. Often if you ask for a copy of the work, reserving the right not to promise a positive review, you won't receive the work to be reviewed. Then again, if you receive the work, read it completely, and send it back to the author with a less than raving review, even with notation of spelling errors, gaps in logic, and dangling syntax, the review recipient will brand you a (put in the vile words you imagine) and disassociate from you in every way possible. They wish to retaliate by stabbing the reviewer with all negativity they can, if its merely one less follower, on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace, iTunes, or whatever links are out there in cyberspace.

It also works in reverse. If you're an author asking for reviews you either get ignored or have to expend hours summarizing your novel with faint hope that the person asking has ever desired to spend the time to do a creditable job.

Yes, there are exceptions. And this is not a reference to the writer who gets a review and creates a push-quote that completely undercuts the true meaning of the honest initial review. Example: original review sentence says, "This was an interesting novel if one can live with no discernible plot." The push-quote says, "This was an interesting novel." And the example doesn't go so far as some review notations that say: "Interesting" "Unparalleled" "Amazing." Ever read movie ads lately?

What can be the answer? Really? It's simple. If a writer, ask for reviews and assume the reviewer represents your potential readers. You'd treat any reader with respect. Treat the reviewer with like respect. If a great review, good. If not, it's your chance to improve your writing. Isn't that better than an aging manuscript with digital computer cobwebs that in a decade will be cyber junk?

If a reviewer, give honest grades with detailed reasons for how you compiled your end opinion.

If an author, have you ever considered that a reviewer has family and friends who buy books or may later recommend an author who impressed by initially exhibiting honesty and common courtesy. Moreover, any successful author writes more than one novel.

In the end, for readers and writers, reviews are not an open door to flim-flam.

A Body To Bones, First Skeleton Series Mystery

Author Donan Berg has written novel reviews without charge to the author. He also reviews manuscripts for a minimal fee. Four of his novels are available at and other major online retailers.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Correct Spelling Review and AtoZChallenge

New post in the AtoZChallenge is out: Q is for Quack. Visit for Author Donan Berg's guest post. Then return for the spelling challenge below. There's no relationship except fun and learning.

DIRECTIONS: Some of the words below are spelled correctly, some are not. Where the spelling is wrong, write the correct spelling following the word. Do nothing if the word is correctly spelled. Work quickly. If you wish, time yourself.

already _____________
convenient _______________
government ______________
referance ________________
accident _________________
fourty ___________________
deside __________________
nuisence _________________
accept __________________
beleive __________________
committe ________________
definitly _________________
minute __________________
ninth ___________________
realy ___________________
permenent _______________
invoise __________________
apologize ________________
consideration ______________
remittance ________________
assure ___________________
immediatly ________________
foriegn __________________
morgage _________________
responsability _____________
bookeeping _______________
application ________________
desireable ________________
develope _________________
withold __________________

Your results are yours. The goal is self-improvement.

Brought to you as a free service of Author Donan Berg. His mystery novels available at and and other national retailers.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Editing Exercise

Bench for All Seasons

On a cloudless Midwest spring day, a dawn visitor sits to squint into the golden splendor of a dazzling, radiant sun. Atop the crest of a small bluff, four sturdy A-frame metal poles with concrete feet shoulder the visitor’s bulk with the help of a horizontal bar sporting eyehooks from which hangs a park bench with arms. The bench’s seat no more than an average knee height above grass and compacted dirt. This one bluff within the environs of Raspberry Island rises above constructed asphalt walking paths that sprawl like a clump of worms wiggling for freedom. On the bench, resting one’s body or catching a breath, there’s a visage to behold, replete with nature’s full arsenal of aromas, sounds, and creatures, seen and unseen.
In spring the five-foot length resting perch becomes a lookout to spy, from overhead, on sparrows, finches, and robins building nests of twigs, dried grass, and/or the discarded snagged-kite-string remnant. Black and brown squirrels frolic, jump, and sprint across bending and springing-back tree branches.
Summer with its rising temperatures and storm breezes brings to the bench the fragrance of nearby blooming wildflowers and the whispers of three-foot-high grass. With a westerly wind, the bench swings to and fro to cast off a newly arriving grasshopper. A person’s gentle foot push aids the breeze to enhance the swinging sensation. Looking through the trees and downward, there’s a floating dock on the far shore of a stagnant water pond. Only this day the water splashes as unleashed dogs romp back onto land with clinging droplets to spray their owners. On the bench’s side of the pond, an earthen path juts left and right to a six-foot sandy beach where kids scour the shore for flat rocks to skip into a watery grave.
When the yellow, brown, and red fall leaves swirl and flutter in a tug-of-war between wind and gravity, spring’s green unfurled canopy no longer hides the approaching winter view. A mulch carpet of leaves often rustles as practicing cross-country runners approach and pass behind the bench.
Often unnoticed is the rectangular memorial plaque mounted on a concrete base. The gracious tribute to an eco-friendly soul who once, or more likely often, would stand on the bench's exact spot and wish to linger longer, to enjoy the quiet, and to be nurtured by nature's pulse.

How would one edit the above? Are there metaphors not organic? For more by Author Donan Berg visit

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Recipe: Irish Soda Bread

When the green-green grass of home appears in March, it's time to check that collection of time-tested family recipes fit for the season. That means soda bread. There are, it seems, as many as spirits in Ireland. (On purpose, the definition of spirits is up to you.)

Heat up your oven to 375 degrees. Here goes:

Irish Soda Bread (Two loaves)

6 cups all-purpose flour (3 white and 3 wheat here. Or 6 white if you prefer.)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups buttermilk

(For those who want an option, add a handful of raisins. They're not in the recipe proper for some 19th Century folks used the term "raisins" in a less-than-complimentary way.)

Add all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. If your mother said: "toss, buttermilk on the side" that works, too. Grab a wooden spoon, if not already in hand, pour all buttermilk into the large bowl, and stir. In no time you'll have a soft dough. Let it be rough at the edges. Tumble dough onto smooth surface, like a counter. Knead, counting thousand one, etc, until you reach sixty to one hundred. This kneading designed to make you feel like a baker, using flour-covered hands, and to evenly moisten dry ingredients with buttermilk.

Divide dough in half, round each portion, and, with hand, flatten top slightly.

Place each loaf on ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle flour on top. Not too much. And, oh my goodness, don't use this step as means to dust-off your hands. Pinch a wee dab of flour from the bag.

By the handle only, grab a sharp knife and make the sign of the Cross with slashes on the top of each loaf.

Allow the loaves to rest for ten minutes. This is the juncture in the recipe where the baker can take a wee nip for the hard part is over, if there's a timer at hand.

Bake in the 375 degree oven for forty (40) minutes. Best to use center rack position. Since ovens vary, the loaves are done when golden brown.

Cool on racks. Enjoy. Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Novel, A Body To Bones by Author Donan Berg

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Multiple Five Stars for The Bones Dance Foxtrot

The author interrupts stock market whimsy to present breaking news from Writer's Digest where a judge has awarded multiple five-star ratings to The Bones Dance Foxtrot, Second Skeleton Series Mystery. The February 2012 announced results are as follows:

On a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) the following scores were given to The Bones Dance Foxtrot.

Plot:  5

Grammar:  5

Character Development:  5

Production quality and cover design:  5

Judge's Commentary:

Engagingly titled, this mystery will keep readers absorbed until the satisfactorily detailed end. The main character is arrested after his arrival in a small town and accused of a murder he didn't commit. As the multi-faceted plot develops, mysterious signs, drug traffic, loot from a bank robbery, a kidnapping, and other murders all come into play.  Befriended by some locals, the protagonist takes root in the community. While his case is dismissed other accusations occur. Romance, involving participation in an acting group and dance sessions, also develops while the police try to piece together different crime strands. The characters are believable, the situations credible, and the dialogue is crisp.

The Bones Dance Foxtrot followed Donan Berg's debut mystery, A Body To Bones, First Skeleton Series Mystery. The third mystery, Baby Bones, is available in #E-book and Mp3 formats.  Another murder mystery published by Donan Berg available in E-book is Abbey Burning Love. See all at DOTDON Books

To go back to the stock market whimsy, click on the earlier February 7, 2012 blog post at this site.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Profit in the Whimsy Market

With all the New Year attention focused on the rising stock market, perhaps now is a good time to evaluate stocks that should be on the Big Board. To be specifically clear, what follows is not investing advice. No brokers were hurt or are expected to be hurt in the creation of the following whimsy related to the United States Stock Market. If a chord is struck, i.e., you wagered on the New York Giants at 100-1 before they became the Super Bowl Champs, definitely don't rely on the material herein. You have your own ground game to destiny.

Here's the past and present stock movements worth considering:

Recreational boats dipped after new wave surge.

Prunes declined after the grape market dried up.

Escalators climbed steadily up.

Pencils lost a few points.

Snow shovels scrapped bottom.

Writing paper last month was stationary; toilet paper touched bottom.

Cola slipped into a bear market.

Helium soared; balloon prices remained inflated.

Rubberbands stretched to reach new limits, then snapped.

Light switches were off.

Axes cut into tree futures.

Sun stocks entered day low, then peaked at midday.

Arrows pierced expected target.

Weights in heavy trading were up; feathers down.

Mining equipment hit rock bottom; diapers remained unchanged..

Author Donan Berg has four published novels: A Body To Bones, First Skeleton Series Mystery; The Bones Dance Foxtrot, Second Skeleton Series Mystery; Baby Bones, Third Skeleton Series Mystery, and Abbey Burning Love. Visit him here or at . May your personal fortunes be increasing, not only in terms of money, but in love, family, and cherished values. Check out previous Author Donan Berg blog posts that include quotes, book reviews, and writing advice. Southwest Georgia Regional Library System (Bainbridge, Colquitt, Donalsonville, GA) became the latest known library to shelve Donan Berg's debut mystery novel A Body To Bones.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Survival or Getting Through First Paragraphs

Review excerpt from Survival by A.M. Hargrove (Editor Sarajoy Porter) available on

Maddie slowly cracked opened (sic) her eyes to see the brilliance of the morning peeking through her tent. Squinting, she poked her nose out of her sleeping bag to test the temperature, and just as she imagined, the frost in the air nipped at her. She knew she would have to get up soon to use the facilities, if you could call the outhouse that, and also to make breakfast as well as break down (sic) her campsite.

(Three line paragraph excised. Think Christmas Day.)

She quickly unzipped her toasty sleeping bag, slipped her boots on, threw on a jacket, and unzipped the door to her tent. When she got her first glimpse of the morning, her jaw hit the ground, and she sucked in her breath. She was standing in a winter wonderland, complete with a three inch blanket of snow.


Cat was full of life. There was just no other way to describe her. From the first moment I met her. I knew we'd be BFF's-and I mean forever.  She was my soul sister. AND we were so much alike it was uncanny. Like me, she was constantly in a rush, and she always looked like she had just survived a hurricane. When Catherine made up her mind about something, well, that was it. She was as hardheaded as a cinder block, again, like me, in that regard - and funny! OMG, that girl could make me laugh until my sides were killing me.

She was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, so it was easy to find one thing we both loved. That was, no surprise, hiking. She had spent over the summer hiking the Appalachian Trail and was hooked.

Moments later, two adults appeared, which I correctly assumed were her parents. We quickly introduced ourselves and then the question I had so been dreading was popped.

"So Maddie, are your parents here?"

I felt my head swin a bit as I was thrust into another disturbing flashback. (End of quote.)

No star rating expressed since this reader stumbled with the distractions presented by the entrance into the novel's world. It's billed as a young adult paranormal, although the line of teendom and older becomes blurred by the main characters being in college. A male character, named "Henry," could be because the credits list a spouse as a Henry or it's a veiled reference to the character Henry in The Time Traveler's Wife.

Let me put forth my reaction to the excerpts presented, in no way highlighted as representative of the entire novel, just that the words arrived on early pages.

1. The words "cracked opened" in the first line must be a typo. The two words "break down" caused a reading hiccup. Perhaps the term should be "breaking down" or "strike," but, since these words apply primarily to the tent alone, the greater action may be to "pack up" the campsite.
2. Then there is the participle "Squinting." Participles are words ending in "ing" or "ed." They are to describe the subject of the conventional sentence. Does "squinting" describe the nose? Of course not.
3. Maddie supposedly sees the brilliance of the morning peeking through her tent. A paragraph later says, "When she got her first glimpse of the morning..." How can that be? If she had seen the peeking sun brilliance, she couldn't be first glimpse awe-struck when stepping outside her tent minutes later.
4. As one reads, one cannot help but be bombarded by the constant use of "to be" verbs. These inert verbs require the action to be exhumed and enlivened by vigorous verbs. Count the number of times the "to be" past tense verb "was" presents itself in the latter portion of the excerpt.  The inert verbs highlight the "telling" of a story, not its "showing." Review clauses such as "full of life," "were so much alike," and "like she had just survived a hurricane". What specifics are told? Are they cliches, overused and/or meaningless?
5. Metaphors can be confusing. Consider the use of the words "cinder block" connected to "hardheaded." A normal construction cinder block has a hollow core. Does the author wish to convery the character is an "airhead" or merely "stubborn." The traits could be polar opposites.
6. In the latter part of the excerpt, would  the two words "Moments later" be enough to avoid a mind-jarring interruption or merely slight confusion with the time shift from the past to the present?
7. Is all believable? Would a teenage female meeting her parents introduce herself? That's what the language says when it refers to "We quickly introduced outselves."
8. This final comment brings forth the question: Where's the present inciting action that sets forth the central conflict? The introduction travels through backstory with a minimal reader grounding. Yes, this is young adult literature, but how many teenagers spend today trudging through the past. If a teenager lost a parent, do they, at seventeen, lament their seventh birthday party when Mom lit the cake candles or do they suffer losing a job interview or being late for a longed for date when the car won't run and Dad's not there to fix it? And then, there's the placement of the two incidents on the conflict scale.

Author's Note:
Author Donan Berg writes murder mysteries with strong romantic elements and his latest E-book novels are Abbey Burning Love and Baby Bones, neither of which are young adult novels. They may be purchased at and through major E-book retailers. Previews of all four Donan Berg novels are presented at .

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Simple Thing - A Happy Reader

It's preached ad infinitum: the simple thing, do it, live it, praise it. For a writer it's often left unsaid what the "it" is. Let's take a crack.

It's simple to write about the tried and true, chase the hot fad. However, it's usualy counterproductive. Ask the author with the wastebasket of rejection slips attached to vampire pages.

How does one not follow a trend. First, stop. Second, think. Third, experiment. An author's desk surely has large paper clips scattered about or horded in a drawer. What use can be made of them other than clipping printed draft pages together until that chapter is finalized. And, by finalize, the smart author knows a rubber band for loose pages is the better method for publisher submission than paper clips. The leftover paper clips can be bent into holiday ornament hangers, while a stray one or two can manage unruly hairstyles.

Other everyday writing aids, pre-computer definitely, can have uses not stated by the manufacturer. Liquid correction fluid becomes a common solution to scuffed shoes when that personal publishing house interview is obtained. Binder clips might be the granddaddy for multiple uses. They can be seen holding bags closed, i.e., those chips munched on at two in the morning, clipping a reminder note to the vehicle visor, keeping tubes of paste rolled up, and, of course, maintaining tidy coiffures.

So when writing and the heroine/hero needs to keep a hair strand out of those gorgeous, sexy eyes for an extended period, amaze or comfort the reader with a paper or binder clip. If the reader hasn't come across this particular usage, haven't you created a moment where the reader thinks you're a creative genius. And, if a mystery, that clip foreshadows a later more critical use, e.g., the villain who thinks it hilarious and tosses it aside leaves a damning fingerprint fragment or a DNA sample.

Other than crime clues, everyday objects can become a symbol of a character quirk, fetish, red herring or point for humor. What does sucking a paper clip say that sucking a toothpick doesn't? Was the infant death by ingested paper clips accidental, negligent or murderously intentional by a distraught parent or caregiver.

When done thinking of 101 uses for a paper clip in your romance, adventure, western, saga, and/or paranormal, experiment. Do it until you begin to read dozens of stories with fantastic paper clip uses. Then stop. It's a fad. Remember, we don't follow fads. Now take out a piece of scrap paper and, for an exercise, scribble frantically how you can use the rubber band in your writing. Don't get too attached to the actual rubber band before you for it'll be mailed off to that editor adoring your story.