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Chatting with Chesapeake Romance Writers

I was down in Chesapeake, Virginia this past Saturday speaking to the Chesapeake Romance Writers about Dialogue.  Had a great time and really enjoyed the group.   Thought I’d share a few tips from my talk.

Know Your Character. Character is the center of all my stories and everything, including dialogue, grows from it.   Does your character have a southern accent?  Does he speak with stutter?  Are his sentences short and clipped or long and meandering?  The answer lies in character.

SAID is not a four-letter word. Many new writers try to avoid said when in fact it is a very effective word.  Not only does it tag or denote which character is speaking but it is nearly invisible to the reader.

Avoid the Data download.   Dialogue can be a great way to reveal back-story but the trick is not to load the reader up with a lot of information all at once.

Don’t Think So Much. Often new writers spend a lot of time with a character’s internal dialogue.  Though it can be effective times, it can also slow down pacing.  If your scene feels slow, have your characters speak their minds and see what happens.

Read Aloud.  Not sure if your dialogue is working, then read it aloud.  I have my computer read back all my books to me.  It’s amazing what looks good on a page falls flat when heard out loud.

P.O.V. Switch.  Scene feeling flat?  Change the P.O.V.  You’ll be amazed how it changes not only the dialogue but the whole mood of the scene.  Who’s P.O.V. should you choose?  I always choose the character with the most at stake.

Silence is Golden.  Sometimes it’s better not to say too much.  Let white space or a character’s silence do the talking.

A few of the attendees at Chesapeake Romance Writers September 2010 meeting.

Banned Book Week Summer Reading

With 72 Days Until Banned Book Week I picked up my second banned/challenged book from my local library as part of my summer reading challenge.  I decided to keep it light this time and chose a children’s book called Witches, Pumpkins and Grinning Ghosts—The Story of Halloween Symbols.  Halloween is my favorite holiday so I am a bit biased…but I really enjoyed this quick read, which was chocked full of tidbits about the origins of Halloween.

Where did the symbols of witches, Jack-O-Lanterns and black cats originate?  I’ll leave that to you to discover when you read the book.   The book did say that cake and breads were a big part of the Halloween tradition hundreds of years ago.  Hmm… Check back in a couple of days.  I’ll bet I have a recipe that fits this bill.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD’s Lane Cake

As part of my commitment to Banned Book Week (September 25-October 2, 2010), I’m reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD along with a number of other banned or challenged books.  TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a reread for me but I’m still loving it.  This time around I noticed a reference to Lane Cake.  I’d never really thought about Lane Cake before but anything to do with cake is fine by me.  A quick Internet search produced several recipes and a good bit of history on the confection.  Seems the recipe first appeared in Emma Lane’s cookbook Some Good Things to Eat, which she self-published in 1898.

All the recipes I found were a little different but they do share common themes:  white cake with whipped egg whites; a cooked fruit filling with yolks, sugar and raisins; and a white icing.

Since temps here yesterday reached 105 degrees I was in no mood for a trip to the grocery store so decided to see if I could pull off the cake without a trip outside.  Turns out I had a box white cake mix in the pantry, an assortment of fruits and butter and confectioner’s sugar.  My cake wasn’t going to be exactly like the traditional versions but I decided to give it a go.

The box cake mix called for 3 egg whites, which I whipped into soft peaks like the Lane Cake recipes expected.  I followed package directions and mixed in the oil and water and then folded in the egg whites.  Lane cakes generally have 4 layers but I had only enough batter for two, which was fine by me.  I filled two buttered rounds with my mix and baked at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

The fruit filling started with a ¼ cup of butter and a ¼ cup of white sugar (like many traditional recipes).  I melted both together over a double boiler.  I then took the remaining three egg yolks, tempered them with a little of the hot/sugar mix and when the eggs had come up to temp I mixed them into the sugar/butter mix.  This is the part when traditional recipes call for all kinds of dried fruits.  I had no dried fruits except raisins so I improvised and mixed in a few fresh peaches as well as one cup of frozen mangos, strawberries and pineapple (from a Dole fruit smoothie mix).  I let the mixture cool completely.   This mixture turned out to be a little moist for my tastes so I drained all the excess juices away.

Then I mixed a ¼ cup of butter and a ¼ cup of cream cheese with a couple of cups of confectioner’s sugar and a few tablespoons of milk.  To mimic the traditional use of coconut (which I didn’t have) I tossed a little coconut extract into the icing.

To assemble, I placed the first cake layer on a plate, spread my fruit mixture and then placed the top layer in place.  I iced and popped in the refrigerator.

I’d made so many modifications I wasn’t sure how this cake would turn out, but it was actually quite tasty and got two thumbs up from family and friends!

MB's version of Lane Cake.

July 4th Kicks Off My Banned Book Summer Reading

On the heels of yesterday’s Fourth of July festivities it seemed fitting to celebrate our first amendment right to free speech by reading a banned book.  The book I picked up at my local library was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  It’s a book I’ve read before but still find something new to enjoy each time I read it.  Published in 1960, the book is full of humor, wisdom, great characters and challenging issues.

Banned Book Week, sponsored by the American Library Association, is scheduled this year for September 25 to October 2, 2010.  This week long event celebrates our intellectual freedoms and our open access to every book.  As a writer and reader, I maintain that we need to protect our rights to all information, no matter how challenging the subject matter.

Last year I organized a Banned Book Reading at my local library.  We had a good turnout, a little media coverage and a great time.  However, this year I want to take it a step further and not just reach out to my local library patrons, but to everyone.  Choose a banned or challenged book and read it this summer!

I’ve chosen a dozen books at random and plan to spend my summer reading as much as I can.

For a list of Banned Books visit the American Library Association’s site: www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/index.cfm.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was adapted into an Oscar-winning movie in 1962.

Xterra East Championship Race in Richmond

Yesterday I headed down to Brown’s Island to watch the Xterra off road triathlon.  I don’t run triathlons any more but I still love to watch the races.

Swimmer's swam in the James River from Brown's Island to Belle Island and back.

Seconds before the start of the swim portion Championship race.

This racer had a flat tire and suffered a broken chain during his 30K ride but was able to make repairs on the rugged course and finish the race.

Championship racers covered an 10K course of tough trails.