A Lesson from the Classics

Today’s guest is Donn Taylor, a poet, a writer of mysteries, suspense, Donn_Taylorand historical novels as well as essays on writing, ethical issues, and U.S. foreign policy.  Wow.  He taught English literature for eighteen years following service in the Korean and Vietnam wars and work with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia.

A Lesson from the Classics

It’s no surprise that we writers learn much from literary classics, but in this blog I’ll look at the way one classic handles a problem we have to deal with in every story, namely, the problem of portraying evil. For even the most escapist romantic fantasy must portray some degree of evil. Without it, there can be no conflict, and conflict is the most essential ingredient of fiction.

donn-_Una_and_the_LionIn Book I of his epic romance, The Fairie Queene, Edmund Spenser ( -1599) provides an exceptionally astute and subtle treatment of evil. Book I tells how the Redcrosse Knight (St. George) grew to become the Knight of Holiness. His mission is to go with the lady Una (Truth, una vera fides, the One True Faith) to slay a great dragon that is terrorizing her land. In the beginning he believes his own virtues give him strength enough to cope with evil, but a series of failed encounters teach him differently.

The figures of evil who divert Redcrosse are the woman Duessa (Falsehood) and Archimago, the Satanic maker of false images. Deceived by images of Una being unfaithful, Redcrosse deserts both her and his mission. Believing that his strength comes from his own virtue, he is led by Duessa into the House of Pride. From there he descends yet further until he encounters Despair, who shows him the half-truth of his own worthlessness, suggesting suicide. But Una (the full Truth) reappears and leads him through repentance to redemption in The House of Holiness. What he learns there equips him to fight the dragon.

Even then, Redcrosse falls several times during the three-day combat. But each time he falls, he comes back with greater strength until, at length, he kills the dragon. One might expect then a denouement of the story with all problems solved and everything in harmony.

But it is what the realistic Spenser actually does then that holds most interest for us as writers. There is no happily-ever-after. There is only better-than-things-were-before. Yes, some problems have been solved. That particular dragon is dead. The evil image-maker, Archimago, is in prison. (Internally, this allegorizes the supremacy of Reason over the false images of Imagination.) But Duessa (Falsehood) is still loose in the world. And Redcrosse must labor in that world for seven years before the marriage of Truth and Holiness can occur.

Spenser knew that in this world our victories over particular evils are always temporary, never final. We can only beat evil back until the next encounter. To avoid giving our readers false expectations, then, we should follow Spenser’s example and never portray evil as completely defeated. For evil will never suffer total defeat until the Second Coming.

In my novel The Lazarus File, for example, the conspiracy between donn-MurderMezzoForte 500x750 (1) Colombian drug lords, guerrillas, and Soviet/Cuban subversion fails. Hero and heroine go on to new lives. But the primary drug lord remains unscathed and in full operation. In that novel’s sequel, Deadly Additive, the terrorist attack is prevented, but the godfather of international black market arms sales remains at large.

The writer’s objective, then, should be to provide a satisfactory solution to the immediate problem and give the reader a sense of aesthetic closure, yet leave a thread of evil for someone to deal with in the future. For Duessa is very much loose in our world today, and Archimago has apparently escaped from prison.

JIM:  Folks, I’ve read several of Donn’s books, both his mysteries and his suspense books,  and I can recommend them.  Murder Mezzo Forte can be found on Amazon by clicking on the book cover above.

Donn’s website is at:  www.donntaylor.com

Donn’s blog is at:  http://authorculture.blogspot.com

And please leave a comment.  Thanks.



It’s a Party !

The Book Launch Party for A Silver Medallion was a smashing success.

But First —

Next Sunday afternoon, June 26, from 1 – 3,  I am participating in an “Oldie Authors Book Selling & Autographing Event,” or some such name, in Dallas, at the huge Half-Priced Book Store near the corner of Northwest Highway (Loop 12) and Greenville Avenue.  If you are in – or even near – Dallas next Sunday, please stop by and say hello.  No need to buy anything, just have a visit.  Of course, I will have books to sell – just in case.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming – last Saturday’s book launch party. It was my first such event, even though it is my eleventh book to be published.  We, my wife Earlene and I, had no idea what to expect. But with the help of the Pittsburg Texas Pizza Inn owner Bob Sehon, we got it set up before the first person arrived.  Perhaps the biggest help came from Galand Nuchols, an author of middle grade and YA books.  She helped in many ways, not the least of which was to handle all the sales, while all I had to do was visit with people and autograph  books.


Two people arrived about five minutes before the advertised start time, and then people came in steadily after that.  Some stayed a short time, got books and left. Others stayed for most of the party.

Midway through, I read the first chapter of A Silver Medallion.  Then, Bob Hibbard, a professional actor and expert on all things Tarzan, read a short scene from the period when Crystal is in Mexico. Fortunately, I read first, or they would have thrown rocks at me.  Bob’s read was amazing.

We had a large glass jar filled with pieces of candy. People could write their name and a guess as to how many pieces were in the jar.  Shortly before the end of the party, we opened the jar, revealing the actual number of pieces, and then checked all the entries for the one closest.  Writer Linda Hobbs made an amazing guess of 108.  The actual number was 107.  Lori McAdoo was second with a guess of 110.  Linda won a pair of books.

All in all, it was a rewarding experience, with an excellent crowd, plenty of book sales (including some of my other fiction and non-fiction), and good refreshments  Best of all, everybody seemed to enjoy themselves with a lot of visiting between writers and readers.

“A Silver Medallion is a gripping, action-packed adventure from talented author James Callan.  Crystal Moore is a tough and savvy heroine…”
New York Times Bestselling Author Bobbi Smith

“James Callan’s A Silver Medallion is a fine blend of colorful characters, action, suspense, and serious.  Crystal Moore and her grandmother, Eula, are a great team as they take on modern-day slavery and academic fraud in this nonstop novel.  Check it out!”
 Bill Crider, bestselling author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series

A Silver Medallion is a Crystal Moore Suspense. It follows Cover - A Silver Medallion A Ton of Gold, the first Crystal Moore Suspense. In A Silver Medallion, Crystal meets a woman, Lucita, held slave in today’s Dallas, Texas. The woman is held, not by chains, but by threats to harm her two young daughters she has left behind in Mexico.

Lucita’s husband died and she found it impossible to support her family in her small town in Mexico. A man offers to get her a job in Texas where she will make a lot of money. He will pay her transportation and he will take care of Lucita’s two small girls until she can save the money to pay for their transportation to Dallas. She is told she will make very good money and can save enough to bring her daughters up in a few months.

But once in Dallas and at the home of Hunter Blackwood, it’s a different story. She is paid nothing and told that if she leaves, or even tells anybody of her situation, her girls will be killed. She quickly learns Blackwood is a ruthless man and will carry out his threat. Out of fear for her children, she says nothing and will not consider escaping.

Crystal would like to forget she ever found out about Lucita. But her conscience won’t let her. She finds she cannot sleep without nightmares about Lucita and her two young girls. Crystal’s only hope to return to a normal life is to free Lucita and her daughters. That means rescuing the girls first, for only then will Lucita consider escape.

And that means going into the Mexican jungle and challenging a merciless drug lord.

A Silver Medallion is in print and Kindle editions. Click on the cover to visit the book’s site on Amazon.   Or, better yet, stop by the big Half-Priced Book Store in Dallas Sunday, June 26 between 1 and 3 and visit. I hope I see you there.


Today’s guest is Renee-Ann, the author of Stella’s Plea (November giggie2012), which shortlisted in the Word Alive Press publishing contest (2011), and recently released her second novel, Emma’s Prayer. She’s now working on her third, Charlie’s Plight. She and her husband live on the Canadian Atlantic Coast. Her favorite quote: comes from Benjamin Disraeli: “The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write about it.”  Here is ReneeAnn’s take on ―

I’ve always loved writing stories, but it remained a hobby for a great many years. I also enjoy a good challenge so when I first attempted to write a novel, I decided to try my hand at a court drama. Ouch! It wasn’t at all what I’d expected. Little did I know how hard it would be. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun trying, I usually do when I make up stories, but although I had what I thought was a great beginning and end, I had absolutely no idea how to tackle the middle, the court case itself. Reading courtroom dramas is one thing, writing them is another. What was I to do?

People advised me to watch TV shows like CSI and the likes. I don’t watch much TV and couldn’t get into any of those, so I began with what I felt was the obvious: Reading. After all, writers read too. I began to familiarize myself with real court cases, did some research on the internet, and sought the help of lawyers, but didn’t get anywhere. After much frustration, I decided to set it aside. It was either that, or give up entirely, and I wasn’t willing to do that. I did, however, follow the advice a bestselling author gave me. He said, and I quote:

“I urge you to finish that story and start another. This emotional separation will give you two great assets. First, you gain an emotional distance from your work. Second, you learn through doing that your profession and your current work are not one and the same.”

giggie- stella's pleaTry as I may, I couldn’t finish it, because I didn’t know how to develop that middle, but I did start a second novel. Once I’d finished it, and for months after that, I edited, did a lot of rewrites, and edited some more – yes, with the help of a professional editor – until she said, “it’s ready.” That’s when I self-published Stella’s Plea. Then I returned to the court drama, and tackled it again. I tweaked it to make it easier to write, and this past February, Emma’s Prayer became my second self-published novel.

You see, I could have given up so easily, tossed it aside and never look back. The problem is, taking that route wouldn’t have put my story out there. The same goes for you. You have the desire to write, and you have ideas, all you need is to dig deeper and find the words. One thing that helps is a change of scenery. Instead of sitting at your desk, or on the sofa, you might want go to a coffee shop, or the library. Different sounds sometimes spark ideas on what to write next. It may even be a different room in the house. Personally, I have a desk in my ‘office’ but much prefer sitting in bed, laptop on my breakfast tray, and back pillow behind me. Whatever works best for you.

Another wonderful advice I received from that same bestselling author Printwas to attend Christian Writers Conferences. For me, that’s become a must. I save frequent flyer points to cut cost otherwise I couldn’t afford to go, but it’s worth every penny I do spend. It’s knowledge gained that will never go to waste. It’s a place where you learn from those “who’ve been there done that,” meet awesome writers, and make wonderful friendships that will last a lifetime. There are many wonderful conferences out there, and chances are, there’s one not that far from you.

Now go on and get writing. Blessings.


Stella’s Plea: https://www.amazon.com/Stellas-Plea-R-Giggie-ebook/dp/B00ANURJJ2

Emma’s Prayer : https://www.amazon.ca/Emmas-Prayer-R-Giggie-ebook/dp/B01BVXDN2Q

Sign up for her blog at http://reneeanngiggie.com You can also follow her on: http://www.facebook.com/ragiggie



The Secret of Great Writing

A special treat today.  We have a post from Caleb Pirtle III. He’s been calebin the publishing arena for 40 years. He’s worked at pretty much every level. He’s made a name for himself at each of those levels. He’s had sixty-five books published, three scripts made into TV shows, and countless shorter pieces. So when he speaks, it’s a good idea to listen.  So, here he is giving us the secret of great writing. Caleb —

I have lived in cities.

I have fought the traffic.

I have battled the crowds.

Didn’t like it.

Don’t want to go back.

Personally, I prefer Small Town America.

Little towns are distinctive.

The ones I like are off the beaten path.

They are self-sufficient or should be.

And an odd assortment of people walk their streets.


Or sunny.

Out of sight.

Or in plain daylight.

It doesn’t matter.

Each of them has a story to tell.

They may not want it told until they die.

It may be the reason why they die.

Small towns think they have their secrets, but almost everyone knows what the secrets are. By mid-morning, everybody knows who did what to whom and why – and how much money or sex was involved.

Small towns are partly fact and partly fiction, and somewhere through the years, the lines began to blur.

That’s why so many great novels have been written in or about small towns.

They are full of love.

And love lost.

They are full of hate.

And sardonic smiles.

They are smitten by greed.

And jealousy.


And revenge.

We know them even if we have never met them.

They are our neighbors.

They are us.

No one ever captured the spirit and soul of Small Town America as well as Sherwood Anderson in his Winesburg, Ohio, a collection of short stories featuring an array of of people who, by fate or fortune, both good and bad, have chosen reside in the small Midwestern village. When cleverly woven together, their lives become the stuff of an unforgettable novel.

In his books and short stories, Anderson never emphasized plot or action.

Instead, according to one critic, he used “a simple, precise, unsentimental style to reveal the frustration, loneliness, and longing in the lives of his characters.”

His voice was unmistakable, and his writing greatly influenced and served as a guidepost for the works of William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Thomas Wolfe.

Anderson knew that all good novels were tied together with a little fact and a little fiction. Only imagination knew the difference.

Fact sounded like fiction.

Fiction becomes fact.

Imagination made them both real and believable.

The reader never knew which was which, nor did the reader care.

Anderson once wrote: “The life of reality is confused, disorderly, almost always without apparent purpose where in the artist’s imaginative life there is purpose. There is determination to give the tale, the song, the painting, form – to make it true and real to the theme, not to life …

“I myself remember – with what a shock – I heard people say that one of my own books, Winesburg, Ohio, was an exact picture of Ohio village life.” Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

As Anderson wrote: “The book was written in a crowded tenement district of Chicago. The hint for almost every character was taken from my fellow lodgers in a large rooming house, many of whom had never lived in a village.

“The confusion arises out of the fact that others beside practicing artists have imagination. But most people are afraid to trust their imaginations, and the artist is not.”

That, when it’s all said and done, may be the secret of great writing.caleb-night side of dark

Find a little fact.

Let your mind spill out a little fiction.

Work them together.

Figure out a hook.

Then trust your imagination.

And let’s see where it leads you.

JIM:  Please add your thoughts on the subject.

You can find more about Caleb at:  http://venturegalleries.com/about/caleb-pirtle-iii/



Writing is About More Than Just a Story

Today’s guest blogger is Karin Beery.  She is an active member of American BerryChristian Fiction Writers, the American Christian Writers Association and Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network.  She is represented by Steve Hutson of Word Wise Media.

Patience is a virtue, it’s just not mine.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve said that, I could retire tomorrow on my own private island. It was fun to say – people laughed at my cleverness, but it also gave me a way to jokingly explain my impatience. For years it worked. Then I started writing.

I started my career with a novel. When I realized how little I knew about publishing, I started to explore other forms of writing while I revised my manuscript. I knew it needed a little work, but I had high hopes and expectations – a tweak here, an edit there, then I’d be ready to sign a contract. But life happens.

You end up taking a fulltime job, so your part-time writing job fills up your spare time, and the novel gets pushed aside. You quit your job to stay home and care for your aunt, but then your health declines, and for two years you can barely function. When you can function, your novel doesn’t even make the top half of your to-do list. One thing after another lands on your calendar, filling your days and novel-writing hours.

It doesn’t take long for depression to join you. You see your friends’ names appear on books and watch them win awards while you struggle to finish a chapter. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like you’ll finish anything.

But you keep writing.

And what you don’t notice is that while you’ve been struggling, you’ve been learning. And growing. And strengthening. And when you’re manuscript is finally cleaned up, you suddenly have an agent who enjoys working with you. And that’s when you realize it – you’ve become a writer.

Writing isn’t for the faint-hearted. You can’t be sensitive or emotionally attached. You need to see your work for what it really is – a product that you created. It’s not you, and how people respond to it isn’t a reflection of you. There are rules, guidelines, and techniques that need to be understood, mastered, and sometimes broken, but understanding that doesn’t come with writing one manuscript; it comes from years of hard work, studying, practicing, and writing.

When I started writing, I thought all I needed to do was write a good story. Yes, you do need a good story, but you need to become a writer too. You need to become someone who can take the criticism, put in the effort, and dedicate yourself to the cause of not just writing a story, but creating the best manuscript possible. For some, that happens quickly. For others, it takes time. For the dedicated, however, it doesn’t matter – keep learning, keep going, and keep writing.

JIM:  Now’s the time to throw in your two-cents worth. Add your thoughts on the writing journey.  Just click on the “Replies” button cleverly hidden below.  Thanks.

You can also follow Karin on FaceBook at   http://bit.ly/1ZetNlm

Find her on Twitter at  https://twitter.com/karinbeery

Her website is www.karinbeery.com

Dreading the Inevitable or Expecting the Impossible

Today’s guest is Ginger Solomon, a mother of seven who  manages to solomonfind time to write romances, quite a few, in fact.  She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, writes regularly for two blogs, and is president of her local writing group.  Oh, she also likes to do needlework.  Here’s the good and the bad of a recent trip, and at the end, how it relates to her latest book, Second Choice.

Have you ever had to do something, and yet you dreaded it all the way to the moment it happened? Was it as bad as you expected?

What about the opposite? Have you expected a great adventure or event—a vacation, trip to visit family, etc.—and then been disappointed when it didn’t meet your expectations?

Recently my sixteen-year-old daughter and I went on a cruise together. She and I headed to the Caribbean via the Carnival Dream for seven glorious, fun-filled days. Or so I thought.

We’d both been looking forward to the trip for months. I needed the time away from responsibilities around the home, and she wanted to swim with the dolphins like her older sister did on her trip.

Day one (Sunday): Uneventful. We enjoyed walking the ship and checking out where things were. We got lost a few times. Later in the evening, she went to the older-teens meet and greet.

Day two: (A day at sea) She woke up sea-sick. The waves were tossing the boat just a bit. I bought her some pressure-point bracelets. They helped. Thirty minutes after she put them on, she was off to find some other people to hang out with. I read, ate lunch alone, read some more, took a nap, and read some more. Can you see where this is going?

One thing you should know is that I am almost 100% introverted (depending on the quiz I take). My daughter is almost completely opposite. She LOVES hanging with people. I bore her. She wearies me.

Day three: (A day at sea) Repeat day 2, except the sea-sickness.

Day four: Isla de Roatan. Remember that part up there about dreading something? This was the day I dreaded. She wanted to zip-line. You should know I’m not afraid of heights. It’s the fall that bothers me. J But I did it. For her. AND I HAD FUN! Was it scary? Yep. Was it as bad as I thought? Nope.

Day five: Belize. She slept late (1pm). We didn’t go ashore. See day 2.

Day six: Cozumel. Dolphin time. I knew I would like this one, so it was fun. Then we shopped. I got blisters. And forgot to get something a child at home asked for. L

Day seven: (a rocky day at sea) Repeat day 2, except now I’m the one not feeling so well.

Was the trip what I expected? No. Was I disappointed? A little, BUT (and it’s a big but) my daughter HAD A GREAT TIME, and that was good enough.

The trip didn’t meet my expectations, but the dreaded event was better than I expected. I’ve found in my… cough, cough… years that seldom do exciting events live up to our exaggerated expectations just as dreaded events are rarely as bad as we imagine them to be.

Solomon bk coverPrincess Anaya, the heroine in my latest release, Second Choice, dreads a talk she must have with her father, the king, about her upcoming wedding. Her groom disappeared, leaving a cryptic note behind. Three weeks before the wedding. Her anxiety level is high as she approaches her father’s office. When he hears her news, he is at first outraged, but then he takes a moment and considers the situation. In the end, her father shows her a bit of unexpected affection—something she desperately needed. It wasn’t as bad as she anticipated, and it had an unexpected result. She and her father grew closer.

What about you? Have you ever anticipated an event to only be disappointed? Or dreaded an event only to realize your imagination had made it worse than it actually turned out to be?

Her website is at:   www.gingersolomon.com

Find her on FaceBook at:  www.facebook.com/writerGingerSolomon

Her Twitter handle is  @gingerS219

BUY LINK:   http://amzn.to/26xXfYX

JIM:  We’d love for you to leave a comment about any experience you had that just didn’t work out (good or bad) the way you expected.






The Storm

The storm roared in at 1:02 in the morning. Rain, hail, wind, lightning. lighteningEnough to wake a person from a deep sleep. In the end, we received nearly an inch of rain, but no real damage. That is significant because we live in the middle of a forest and such storms often leave with trees on the ground, and quite possibly no electricity in our house.

But what is significant about this particular storm and its arrival at 1:02 in the morning is that Mark Scirto, meteorologist from KLTV, had predicted that the storm would reach our area about 1:00 a.m.. And, he had made that forecast 31 hours before the storm actually hit. Impressive. I ignored the two minute discrepancy.

As I thought about this the next day, I remembered a student I had many decades ago when I was teaching a computer science course at the University of Oklahoma. He was an Army officer sent back to school for additional training. Each student in my class had to undertake a major project. His interest in weather forecasting led to his project: produce maps of isobars. This would be a map with lines connecting points having the same atmospheric pressure.

That far back in computer history, instructing the computer to draw a map was difficult. There were no packages to facilitate such a task. The student had to write the code to position and guide the plotter.

The army officer worked hard and produced a commendable project. isobarsBut he could only get data that was many days old, much of it a week old. To gather data from more than one weather station was not straight forward.

Today, we have an app on our smart phone and can get such a map accurate within the last five minutes. Of course, we can get many other types of weather information, showing the conditions over the last hour or five minutes ago. And we are not limited to our local area. If we want to know about the weather where one of our children is living, be it Pennsylvania, or Kansas, or California, we can get it. Quickly. As fast as we can type.

Of course, we are very interested in the weather this time of the year when thunderstorms and tornados are born, raised, and wandering around. But as an author, it reminded me of the rapid change in the publishing industry. Amazon, Print on Demand, and digital book readers have changed the atmosphere for authors and readers.

Amazon was created on July 5, 1994. It’s difficult to know exactly when POD first became commercially available, but not very far back.

Living in the woods of east Texas, I find it important to keep track of the weather. Ignoring it could be disastrous. Disregarding the rapid changes in the publishing industry could be dangerous to an author.

James R. Callan

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Insight into Sight


This gallery contains 2 photos.

Today’s guest blogger is Mary L. Hamilton.  She claims she grew up at a youth camp in Wisconsin, so when she writes her Rustic Knoll Bible Camp series, she knows what she is talking about.  Thus far, there are three … Continue reading