First Drafts

Here I go again—struggling with the unruly first draft of a new novel. When it comes to writing a new novel, I frankly HATE beginnings. I implore my brain to supply the perfect first line that will immediately grab the reader’s attention and hold it for 100,000 words (I write long). Like a crazed gold prospector, I mine the thesaurus for action verbs and spend too much time researching, while discounting the voices in my head shouting, “Just write the damn first draft!” So, I decided to “research” quotes on writing the first draft by famous authors. Here are my favorites.

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything good.”―William Faulkner

“Getting a first draft done is like pushing a peanut with your nose across a very dirty floor.” ─ Joyce Carol Oates

“You can always fix crap. You can’t fix a blank page.” ─ Christina Dodd

Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” ─ Michael Crichton

The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” ─ Robert Cormier

 “The first draft of anything is shit.”—Ernest Hemingway (indelicate, but that’s Papa)

Great advice, but my favorite quote comes from a fictional writer.  

“No thinking – that comes later. You write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”  William Forrester, played by Sean Connery, in Finding Forrester.

Thanks for stopping by   ~~~ Deborah               

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250,000 small


Collateral Damage in Fiction


By Karen Wills

We’ve all seen feature photos that show victims of war—collateral damage is the modern term for them—the nonmilitary who suffer. Think of the crying infant by the railroad tracks of post-bombed Hiroshima; the agony of the naked Vietnamese girl’s face as she runs toward us, the beautiful shocked eyes of the Afghan girl.

By chance, I’ve lately come across characters, literary inventions, which are collateral damage in two big novels. I marvel at how the authors made them into what author David Long calls “bright human images.”


One of the novels is E.L. Doctorow’s, The March. It’s a broad epic depiction of Sherman’s March to the Sea. I hadn’t realized what a cross section of humanity, not just military, joined in the March. They included freed former slaves, nurses, refugees traveling with the very army responsible for their displacement, Southern deserters, and opportunists.

One memorable character is Emily Thomas, genteel daughter of a distinguished Southern judge. When her father dies just as Union Soldiers take over his house, Emily throws her lot in with the Union surgeon who helps her see to his burial. She becomes a nurse, like the doctor blind to blue or grey. She becomes stronger than she could have thought possible.

Pearl is an adolescent “white Negro” who carries a letter she intends to deliver written by  the Union officer who protected Pearl on much of the March. It’s written to his wife in Washington, D.C.

Each homeless person in the book finds a rough shelter and some measure of companionship on the journey. We see them as resilient, desperate, but purposeful, individual survivors.


The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundahti Roy has a more modern and terrible take on what countries warring over religion, power, and land can do to their own inhabitants. Written to show historic upheavals between India and Pakistan, and especially the battles over Kashmir, Roy gives us memorable characters of collateral damage. These include transgender people who become more and more marginalized, and those who lose loved ones to torture and murder on the part of police and military, and those who love well, but not wisely ( feminist Tilo and Kashmiri freedom fighter Musa) in dangerous times.

We care about these people and we think about what war has done to them. They become symbols of collateral damage of war. These books, and our own country’s present and historical involvement in war, make me think of the importance of creating characters who remind us of the importance of humanity, even in extreme times.                                                 river with no bridge

Face Book: Karen Wills Author

My Inner-Children Have Issues

Sis. McCaffrey    By Janice McCaffrey

In my early teen years I envisioned myself as a best-selling author of “THE great American novel” until . . .

Mrs. Foster’s 8th grade English class when we were assigned to write a descriptive paragraph. My imagination took over and I penned what I thought a fabulous portrayal of a Regency Era carriage.

The next day, expecting an A+, I sat at my desk straight backed and proud. Then Mrs. Foster handed my paper to me and instead of an A+ there was a huge red D; the paragraph riddled with red ü marks. In that horrifying moment, my writing career ended. I never received explanations for the check marks. And pretty much saw grammar and good writing over my head and out of reach. Yes, I could identify and properly use the basics: subjects, predicates, nouns, adjectives, verbs, and past, present and future tenses, but never grasped the finer points.

But then I’ve never been a quitter. So as a young mother with an infant I signed up for a fiction writing correspondence course. Yes, the one advertised in match books. I didn’t like following the formulas taught and eventually one instructor told me that before you can be a novelist you needed something to say. Obviously, I didn’t have anything to say.

very few years, I’d try again; receiving rejection letters from popular magazines (i.e. Redbook, my Bible of womanhood).

Then, as life would have it, in my retirement I found a good friend who just happened to be a published author. It took a few years of her encouragement, but I’m back to my early writing goal. My friend is my mentor, critique partner, and . . . a retired English teacher.

Now when she gives my papers back to me there are no red checks or grades and, in fact, there are often comments about good ideas, writing or scenes. But every now and then I hear “You have a dangling participle.” And there I am sitting in Mrs. Foster’s class holding that D paper. My mind freezes.

Then my 10-year-old inner-child comes to the rescue with humor erupting with, “Who the heck made up these words?” We laugh. She tries to explain in a way I can understand as I attempt to calm my inner- 8th grader. I go home, study grammatical rules and lingo and rewrite.

After several of these interactions, my friend loaned me Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto. I found the explanation of the word participle: “Greek – shares or partaker. Latin to English: Capture or participate.” An online dictionary says: “a participle is a word formed from a verb and used as an adjective or a noun. In English participles can also be used to make compound verb forms.”

And you’ve guessed it, my 8th grader’s brain froze and my 10-year-old shouted, “Who the h— thought this stuff up? My inner-children continue their habits whenever they hear grammatical terms, but thank Heavens I have a patient friend and mentor who parents these headstrong children with kindness and humor.

Thank you, my friend!


October Book News

Harvest Moon

2017 the Harvest Moon will occur October 5th.


Lise McClendon here… from the far southwest tip of Montana. Not the end of the world but you can see it from here! I’m still letting people know about my new women’s fiction/suspense novel set in France, the fifth in the Bennett Sisters Mysteries. It’s called The Frenchman, a title so bland it’s been used a million times. Hence, here is the link: THE FRENCHMAN. If you haven’t had a chance to read any of the novels, start with Blackbird Fly.

October brings an anthology of riffs on conspiracy theories that roiled through the Obama years, edited by the talented Gary Phillips. I have a short story in The Obama Inheritance: Fifteen Stories of Conspiracy Noir, set in a fictional Montana town called Forked Tongue. It is, needless to say, about Russian trolls and fake news (maybe not so fictional… 🙄) Walter Mosley is the big name in here but there are lots of fascinating takes on aliens, ninjas, and Michelle. Something for everyone, for sure. And, yes, Obama is blue on the cover!

From the publisher: “In an era where the outlandish and fantastic has permeated our media 24/7, where mind-bending conspiracy theories shape our views, THE OBAMA INHERITANCE writers riff on the numerous fictions spun about the 44th president of the U.S. Although Obama himself does not appear in most of these stories, contributors spin deliberately outlandish and fantastic twists on many of the dozens of screwball, bizarro conspiracy theories floated about the president during his years in office and turn them on their heads.”

It’s available for pre-order now. It goes live in ebook and paperback on October 10, and will be in Montana bookstores (or by special order.) Have a lovely, leafy autumn 🍂🍃🍁

Leslie Budewitz: Congratulations, Lise!

Christine Carbo and I just returned from the Montana Book Festival in Missoula, where we were part of a conversation about the contemporary mystery set in the west. In mid October, we’ll both be attending Bouchercon, the annual world mystery convention, being held this year in Toronto! And I’ll be leaving the board of Sisters in Crime, the international writers’ organization focused on the recognition, advancement, and professional development of women crime writers. It’s been an honor to serve — writing is a solo activity, but every opportunity I’ve had, and many of the joys, have come to me because of a group.

Wishing you the pleasures and joys of this sweet season!