Writing Wednesday — Location Scouting

Leslie’s desk

Nothing like boots – or sandals or tennies – on the ground.

I’m a very placed writer, and walking possible story locations, in person or in my mind, helps spark ideas. I’m at that point in the beginnings of a new novel, and fortunately, a good chunk of it is set close by, so I can check out locations I think might be important to the story. I can see what my character sees and begin to think “if he parked his RV in this campground, he’d want to be way at the end, away from other people.” That thought helps me flesh out what I know about him and his worldview and worries. Then I look out at the patch of river and begin to imagine ways it could be part of the story. I can see where a divorced dad might meet his teenage daughter for breakfast on Saturday mornings, and get a feel for their relationship. In a book where the conflict between the haves and have-nots is an important part of the back story, I can see how the grand historic home of one man, with its views of the river and the mountains, might grate on another man, who feels he can never get ahead no matter how hard he tries. Their sons go to the same school but go home to very different worlds. How will that play out?

I say a specific spot “might be important to the story,” because I don’t know. It’s early. The characters will tell me, as we take our journey together, whether they do in fact live in this house or another one. But by taking a look at the possibilities, I’m feeding my subconscious, the key to any kind of creative work.

Grab a friend if you can. My husband scouted an RV park with me. When my BFF visited, I dragged her to a town thirty miles away for breakfast (no serious hardship), then we prowled through a historic building together, walked a city park I’d never visited, and explored an old cemetery. Her questions about the town and neighborhoods prompted me to think about my characters in new ways. She saw things I might not have seen—how the trees would have grown and changed a view from when thirty years ago when the story conflict began, for example.

We’ll talk another time about using Google Maps, Facebook photos, and other online tools to ground-truth a story. Meanwhile, lace up your walking shoes, grab your phone or camera, and walk the mean streets with your story people.

Saturday Creativity Quote

“Writing is an art. But, like any art, it depends on craft techniques, which can be taught to anyone who is willing to learn them. They are not easy. Like any craft worth mastering, writing calls for hard work. The tools of the craft are the writers hand, brain, heart and senses. They all have to work together to shape up the finished product. Writing thus calls into play the whole personality of the craftsman.”

— Robert Strumpen-Darrie & Charles F. Berlitz, The Berlitz School of Languages (1956)

Saturday Creativity Quote — creativity and aging

Tranquility by Tabby Ivy — oil on canvas
(collection of the author)

Being creative is “having the ability to make unexpected connections, either to see commonplace things in new ways — or unusual things that escape the attention of others — and realize their importance,” as Georgetown University psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal describes it in this Washington Post article titled Creativity may be key to healthy aging. Here are ways to stay inspired. It isn’t limited to the arts, of course; there is much creativity in everyday activities, from rearranging the furniture to advising a teenager. And it may be a big boost to healthy aging. I can’t summarize the suggestions here — do read the article; it isn’t long — but what most struck me was the observation that we become truer to our vision as we age, able to solve problems, whether they involve pages, paint, or people, with less dependence on others’ expectations.

So it seems fitting to share a painting by an over-70 artist friend who got serious about painting after retiring from another career, and whose work sometimes turns expectations upside down

Writing Wednesday — eavesdropping on our characters

Leslie’s desk

So there I was, sitting at the keyboard, making a few notes about the secondary protagonist in my fledgling WIP, a man in his late 50s, a wildlife biologist whose father was murdered when he was in college. And all of a sudden, I found myself transcribing a conversation only I could hear, between the man and his therapist. I didn’t know he had one — now that I’m further into the planning process, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t, and my subconscious invented one on the spot, to give me an ear on the man’s innermost thoughts. And in those few minutes, the character got a name and a broken marriage and a daughter and a lot of history I would not have discovered, or would have needed a lot more time and work to unearth, if I hadn’t been willing to listen to those voices.

Try it. Take your character out for coffee and scribble in your notebook what she might say, how the conversation would go, if she were sitting across the table from you instead of in your mind. What is she wearing? Did she dress with care or throw on her stained gardening clothes? Is she calm or fidgety? Talking slowly and deliberately or a mile a minute? How does she take her coffee and does she cradle the cup for warmth or let it grow cold? Does she care what you think? Is she sweet to the server or rude?

Maybe you and your character think by moving. Take a walk and speak your conversation into the recorder on your phone. And no, no one will care — they probably won’t notice, assuming you’re on the phone for real.

Imaginary friends. They truly are the heart of fiction.

A little help from my friends …


Friends, I need your help. It seems sales of BITTERROOT LAKE, my suspense debut written as Alicia Beckman, have not yet convinced the publisher to take on Alicia’s next novel. In my editor’s words, “we need something to push you over that bubble.” Would you please take a moment this week to tell at least one person to buy BITTERROOT LAKE? A friend, your sister, a librarian—they love hearing from patrons and many libraries have online request forms. While I plan to keep writing cozies as Leslie, I love writing moodier stories as Alicia, and I know many of you have enjoyed the book. I hope you can help—and let me know if you do!

Here are a few places to find BITTERROOT LAKE:
Barnes & Noble
Indie Bound
And your local booksellers!

In the Flathead Valley, find my books at Bookworks in Whitefish, the Bookshelf in Kalispell, and Roma’s Gourmet Kitchen Shop and the Bigfork Art & Cultural Center in Bigfork.

My thanks, always,


Saturday Creativity Quote — creating and connecting

I’m a big fan of what author Dan Blank, who works directly with writers and other artists to develop their author platforms, launch their books, and create marketing strategies, calls “human-centered marketing.” He challenges those who say they hate marketing or to reframe it as connecting with their audience — and we all want that.  

“The more we create, the more we express, the more we connect. Creating is the best marketing, and the foundation for all the other ways your work will get shared.”

Dan Blank, newsletter 8/20/21

In other words, stop thinking of marketing as an evil separate from your creative work, and apply those key principles — creativity and connection — to all the work you do. Your readers will notice the difference — and just as importantly, so will you.