Monday, September 29, 2014

How to Have a Good Day

It's easy to get discouraged these days. All you have to do is listen to people, whether on the news or in everyday life. You'll hear enough bad news to make you seriously consider moving into a cave on a high mountain and not leave a forwarding address.

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch... we've all had those days.

There always seems to be an overabundance of bad things happening to good people. If you watch or listen to the news, you begin to wonder if anything good ever happens anymore. As a result, many people begin to develop a negative attitude toward life in general. They get a flat tire on their car and suddenly the whole day is ruined. A bad grade on test or lousy performance review means that their whole life is ruined. Their doctor gives them the news that their blood pressure is too high and they're borderline diabetic and it's a tragedy on par with getting the news that they only have a week to live.

Real tragedy is, of course, tragic when it occurs. But many people have gotten into the habit of seeing every minor setback or disappointment through magnified lenses. Sure, it's an annoyance when your order is delivered and it's wrong (especially when you're on a tight lunch schedule) or road construction delays you on your way to work (when you're already running late as it is.) But in the grand scheme of things, just how important, how devastating, how life-changing are such events?

What happens when REAL tragedy strikes? What if that tire didn't go flat until you were on the highway doing 65 mph? What if your boss says your performance is fine but due to cutbacks, you're no longer employed? What if your doctor says it's stage IV cancer? If you can't handle your pumpkin spice latte going out of season or a shopping cart ding in your bumper, how will you be able to deal with the big stuff?

At some point, all of us (myself included) need to learn how to think more positively, even when it seems like everything is going wrong. I mean, seriously, what is "everything" that is going wrong? Is the sun still shining? Are you breathing? Did you have something to eat today, a place to sleep last night? I don't mean to make light of people who live with true disabilities and terminal diseases and are homeless... surely they have reason to complain. But in all honesty, most people I've met who truly are suffering from tragedy have a better outlook and positive attitude than those of us who are merely inconvenienced by day-to-day events of everyday life.

I think we can all learn to be a little more patient with others, with ourselves, and with life in general in spite of the daily speed bumps and irritating quirks and shortcomings. It's amazing how taking a deep breath and just shrugging or laughing off life's little setbacks can make a huge difference in how one deals with life's BIG setbacks. In fact, it changes your whole attitude about everything. You learn to appreciate all the good that goes on around you all the time... and you learn that there is actually more good than bad.

I think it's worth a try. Who's with me on this?

"Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you."--Charlotte Whitton

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Meet Catholic Writers Guild Member Margaret LaCovara-Reveira!

On today's Back Deck Blog, I'd like to introduce another Catholic Writers Guild member, Margaret LaCovara-Reveira. Though Margaret has yet to publish a book, she is actively writing and sharing her faith through her blog. Let's get to know Margaret!
Margaret LaCovara-Reveira, age 61, is a lifelong native New Yorker who has worked in law enforcement since 1978.  Following a 16 year absence, Margaret returned to the Catholic Church in September 2011.  Margaret loves the Lord and her passion is to instruct others on God's covenant promises and the truth of His Word.  Her blog, Exuberant Catholic, can be found in Word Press -, and her writings are also contained in  Margaret and her husband reside in New York City where she is an active participant of her parish, Our Lady of Grace.

Although the desire to write was fostered in Margaret at the age of 10, she did not give it serious consideration and opted to pursue a different path. In 2004, the Lord spoke to her heart and informed her that to be a writer was His will for her life.  Margaret continued to seek Him in prayer, and in a step of faith, initiated Exuberant Catholic.  Although she continues to work in a profession that she loves, Margaret realizes that the Lord will eventually call her to write on a full-time basis.  
That wraps up my Catholic Writers Guild member blog blitz on The Back Deck Blog! Hope you enjoyed meeting some of my friends and perhaps found some food for thought in their work!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Creating Memorable Characters

Quick: How many characters from books can you name?

Time's up! Okay, now, how many characters can you name from books you've actually read?

Of course, almost anyone can name a lot of characters from books and, thanks to movies, you don't even have to have read the books (believe me, I can tell you who the characters from the Twilight series are and I haven't read the books or seen the movies.) But how often do we read books and have very little remembrance of the characters?
When writing in a particular genre like mystery or romance, it's especially important for a writer to create memorable characters. The reason is because each genre has certain characters that must be included in order for the story to fit the genre: a mystery must include a victim (whether they survive to the end of the book or not depends on the kind of mystery), the villain or perpetrator, and the sleuth. Also included must be the secondary characters who may be “red herrings” to lead the sleuth astray of the truth. Since my Black Horse Campground series revolves around mysteries, we'll focus on that genre.

Since all mysteries must necessarily include these characters, there's always a danger of creating “cookie-cutter” characters—characters that look, sound, and act similarly to other characters in other books in the same genre. When I first became interested in becoming a mystery writer, I was 10 or 12 years old and I had been a big fan of Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators. Naturally, my early inclinations were to create sleuths who were bright teenage girls (with their own cars, of course) or young adolescent boys who happened to have access to a vintage limo (okay, THAT would be hard to imitate without giving away the source of inspiration!) But that highlights my point: each of these sleuths had something to make them stick in your mind.


As I got older, I got hooked on reading Agatha Christie mysteries and she has created some of the most memorable sleuths since Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes (that name alone will stick in your mind, never mind all the other traits Holmes has become famous for!) Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot remain in your mind for their unique traits—Poirot's appearance and eccentricities and Miss Marple's “ordinariness”. Those two sleuths are examples of opposite ends of the spectrum of making a character memorable.
The “different”kind of character—there is something about this kind of character that sticks in your mind because of a physical trait that sets them apart from other characters in the story and other characters in other books. Another author who pulled this off is George C. Chesbro, whose PI, Dr. Robert Fredrickson, a.k.a. “Mongo the Magnificent”, is the epitome of different: a retired circus performer who is a university professor along with being a private investigator and also happens to be a dwarf. Not only does a unique character like this stick in the reader's mind, the character is bound to have a circle of friends and other situations that can add complications or opportunities to the character's story. The problem is that utilizing this form of creating a unique character is that the writer runs the risk of creating a caricature instead of a character. Even Agatha Christie grew tired of Hercule Poirot and his eccentricities after a while!

The “ordinary” kind of character—this is the Miss Marple proto-type: an ordinary, every day kind of person who finds him or herself involved in the action of the story. And yet, Miss Marple, because she could be your aunt or grandmother and is generally the kind of little old lady a reader can care about, is a character that sticks in your mind. The danger lies in creating an ordinary character that doesn't do anything, just has things happen to them. An “ordinary” character must, at the very least, have an extraordinary sense of curiosity or justice or something that makes them pursue the mystery... or else they get mixed up in the mystery themselves and have no choice but to act in order to protect themselves or their business or whatever happens to matter to them. And an “ordinary” character doesn't have to be a civilian, like Miss Marple; even a police officer can be an “ordinary” character, just doing his or her job, until something about the case makes it personal. What makes an “ordinary” character stand out is what makes us care about that character.

Not sure who this actress is, but I never could quite see Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple!

In my Black Horse Campground mysteries, the characters are all as “ordinary” as you can get... just small-town folks (including the local law enforcement) who appeal to readers on a personal level. I wanted to create characters who stick in a reader's memory because they have come to genuinely care about the characters and what happens to them. I believe the easiest way for a writer to accomplish this is to make sure that he or she, the writer, cares about the characters.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meet Catholic Writers Guild Member Karl Bjorn Erickson!

Today, The Back Deck Blog is pleased to host Catholic Writers Guild member, Karl Bjorn Erickson! Karl Erickson is a man of many talents: a recent political candidate for Oregon's 20th District, author and essayist, photographer, and State of Oregon employee since 1997.  He is also active within his local Catholic parish.  
Karl has called Salem home since 1996.  He lives on the south side with his wife, two children, and an ever-growing Newfoundland puppy named Chester.  While he's been state employee for nearly two decades, he identifies himself primarily in the role of a author and essayist.  He's the writer of two lighthearted children’s books: Toupee Mice and Tristan’s Travels.  Both are published by Rafka Press.  His wife, Kimberly Erickson is their wonderful illustrator.  He also recently completed his first mystery novel (for older audiences), The Blood Cries Out.  The latter tale is set primarily between Seattle and Friday Harbor.

Besides writing fiction, his articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications--from America, The National Catholic Weekly and Seattle Pacific University's Response to a guest opinion writer for both the Portland Tribune and Statesman Journal.  While he also enjoys humorous writing, he doesn't do much on a regular basis.
In Karl’s infrequent "spare time," he works as a Status Examiner for the Oregon State Employment Department.  He first began working for the State of Oregon at the Department of Revenue in the summer of 1997.  He's worked as a Revenue Agent, Status Examiner, Tax Auditor, and (again!) as a Status Examiner.  (He even was one of the founding members of DOR's Tobacco Tax Task Force back in July of 2001, but he's hopeful he'll never need to check another Oregon cigarette tax stamp again in his state career.) 

When time allows, he loves hiking in the Pacific Northwest forests or along the Pacific Ocean, and you will often spot him carrying his trusty Canon EOS Rebel T3 camera.  (One of Karl's favorite hikes is into Mt. Jefferson's beautiful Lake Pamelia.)  Karl and Kimberly also enjoy playing with their new Newfoundland--a quickly growing puppy in excess of one hundred pounds.
Visit Karl's website ( and get to know this multi-talented gentleman and, if you have the time, pick up a copy of "The Blood Cries Out"! I'm only a third of the way through it and I'm hooked!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Meet Catholic Writers Guild Member Karina Fabian!

Today on The Back Deck Blog, I'm tickled to introduce Karina Fabian, Catholic Writers Guild member and author of science fiction and fantasy novels! Let's learn more about Karina and her work!

Karina Fabian is a mild-mannered writer for Top Ten Reviews and mother of four. But in her other lives, she's a snarky dragon detective, a nun doing dangerous rescue missions beyond Mars, a psychic driven insane by his abilities, a zombie exterminator… Her rich fantasy life has compelled her to become a writer, and she has written 9 science fiction, fantasy or horror novels and has stories in dozens of anthologies and magazines. She's won multiple awards for her fiction, but the best reward is when an editor or fan asks her to write some more.

Because her imagination suffers from "squirrel!" syndrome even worse than the dogs in UP, she alternates her writing efforts among multiple universes. She recently submitted the last novel in the Mind Over Trilogy and wrote a novella to marry off two of the main characters. Her serial novella coming out in Liberty Island in November features zombie Exterminators Neeta Lyffe and Ted Hacker as they take on skiing zombies on the slopes of Utah. Neeta Lyffe's first book, Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator, is now out in audiobook as well. She has two science fiction novels with publishers for consideration and is working on the next DragonEye, and maybe… SQUIRREL!

Karina also writes about the lives of the saints for a Catholic service called SaintConnection, plus homilies for FAITH Catholic. And, of course, her new full-time job is writing reviews of small-medium business services like eCommerce and social media monitoring software. In addition to writing, Karina has taught online classes on aspects of writing and marketing from worldbuilding to time management and even housekeeping for writers.

You can learn more at

"One of my favorite metaphors comes from Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time Trilogy.  She describes life as a sonnet: we are all given a strict structure and rules, yet have complete freedom within those rules to create ourselves into unique individuals. 

Fiction writing is like that:  There are rules to follow on grammar and story structure, yet we have incredible freedom of imagination.  No matter how strict the rules, no two people will create the same thing.  My story, Greater Treasures, is a good example of this.  I wrote this story while watching The Maltese Falcon,( so while I watched the movie, I took careful note of the plot progression and iconic scenes, like the confrontation between Sam Spade and the police chief.  So I had the structure and basic character set: detective, partner, police chief, damsel in distress with a dark secret, even the competing treasure hunter and his henchman.  Then, I exercised my creativity by placing this structure into my DragonEye universe and let my characters in that world play out their parts.

The result is a very different story from the one written by Dashiell Hammet.  The stakes are higher:  the life of Vern’s best friend (Sister Grace) vs. the fate of an entire world (one that has not treated Vern very well).  The femme fatal, of course, would not be able to use her feminine wiles on Vern, who’s a dragon.  She needed a different pull.  In addition, Vern is a little more savvy than Sam Spade (Sorry, Sam); plus, he’s seen The Maltese Falcon.  If you’ve seen or read The Maltese Falcon, then you might recognize some of the events and catch a couple of in-jokes; however, there’s no mistaking Greater Treasures for the noir classic—if it becomes a classic itself, it will do so on its own terms.
There’s a saying that there are only 10 original ideas (or 4 or 42 or…)  The number does not really matter, because it’s not the idea or the structure that define the story.  It’s what you do within that structure that makes it yours."

Karina, thanks for visiting us and letting us get to know you better and for sharing a glimpse of your work and some great writing advice!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Meet Catholic Writers Guild Member Ellen Gable Hrkach!

Today, I'm pleased to have Ellen Gable Hrkach visiting with us on The Back Deck! Grab a glass of tea or a cup of coffee and get to know Ellen and her books and work!

Ellen Gable Hrkach is a freelance writer and author of five books, President of the Catholic Writers Guild, self-publishing book coach, speaker, NFP teacher and book reviewer. Since 2010, Ellen’s books have been downloaded over 500,000 times on Kindle.  She and her husband are the parents of five (nearly grown) sons and they live in rural Pakenham, Ontario Canada.

(Released April 2014) A Subtle Grace (O’Donovan Family #2) is already a bestseller! (#1 Religious Drama) 1896, Philadelphia: In this sequel to “In Name Only” (2009, FQP), “A Subtle Grace” continues the story of the wealthy and unconventional O’Donovan Family as they approach the dawn of a new century. At 19, Kathleen (oldest daughter) is unmarried with no prospects. Fearing the lonely fate of an old maid, her impatience leads to an infatuation with the first man who shows interest. The suave, handsome son of the local police chief seems a perfect match. But will her impulsive manner prevent her from recognizing her true beloved? A disturbing turn of events brings a dark shadow that threatens the life-long happiness she desires.
(Note: Although “A Subtle Grace” is a sequel, it can be read as a stand alone book, independently of the first book in the series.)
Amazon Kindle:
Novel website:

Ellen’s other books:
In Name Only (O’Donovan Family #1) (published 2009, winner 2010 IPPY Gold Medal in Religious Fiction and Amazon Kindle #1 Bestseller March-April 2012) One sentence synopsis: 1876, Philadelphia: Orphaned teen girl marries virtuous man but he dies and she must marry his immoral and obnoxious brother.
Amazon Kindle:
Novel website:

Stealing Jenny
(Amazon Kindle #1 Bestseller in Religious Drama with 240,000 downloads)
One sentence synopsis: Mentally unstable woman kidnaps pregnant mother of five.
Amazon Kindle:
Novel website:

Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship
12 true life courtship stories
Novel website:

Emily’s Hope
Based on true parallel stories of a modern woman and her great-grandmother.
Amazon Kindle:
novel website:

I began writing fiction in 2001 after my husband suggested that I write a novel based on the parallel true stories of myself and my great-grandmother.  Although Emily’s Hope is overtly preachy and not as well-written as my other novels, I learned the basics of novel writing over the course of those four years.  Back then, there was only one Catholic fiction publisher (Ignatius). They weren't taking submissions and the only option was to self-publish.  It was a lot more difficult in those days (no Print on Demand companies and there was a stigma attached to so-called “Vanity Publishing.”)  I hired editors, proofreaders, and others to assist me.

Advice to writers: Never give up, keep writing and trying to polish your skills. Avoid being “preachy.”  Write a good story well and the message will shine through.​  If you're going to self-publish, hire others (editors, proofreaders and cover designers) who can help you to produce a professional quality product to compete with the bigger publishers.

Thanks for visiting with us today, Ellen, and sharing your story, your books, and your great advice! Here's hoping you find many new readers here on The Back Deck!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Meet Catholic Writers Guild Member Erin McCole Cupp!

When I became a member of the Catholic Writers Guild, I had hoped to find a group of people who shared my passion for writing as well as my Faith. Little did I know what a talented bunch of people I'd also end up meeting! So this month, I'd like to introduce my Back Deck Blog readers to some of my fellow Guild members.  First up is Erin Cupp, author of "Don't You Forget About Me", the book that introduced me to her and made me a fan of hers!

Erin McCole Cupp is a wife, mother, and lay Dominican who lives with her family of vertebrates somewhere out in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. Her short writing has appeared in Canticle Magazine, The Catholic Standard and Times, Parents, The Philadelphia City Paper, The White Shoe Irregular, Outer Darkness Magazine, and the newsletter of her children’s playgroup. She has been a guest blogger for the Catholic Writers Guild, and she blogs about year-round meatless Fridays at Mrs. Mackerelsnapper, OP. Her other professional experiences include acting, costuming, youth ministry, international scholar advising, and waiting tables. She has been voted “Best Speaker” for her chastity talks at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania’s Newman Center. When Erin is not writing, cooking or parenting, she can be found reading, singing a bit too loudly, sewing for people she loves, gardening in spite of herself, or dragging loved ones to visitors centers at tourist spots around the country. Both of Erin’s books are available on Amazon.

"My first novel, Jane_E, Friendless Orphan, had a lot of interest from agents and editors all over the place but just never got picked up.There was also that unfortunate experience with an agency who asked for a ONE YEAR exclusive to which I was too naive to say "no," but that's neither here nor there.  Finally, I decided to try my hand at forming a publishing company with Jane_E being the first book.  No sooner had I started that and released the book when my toddler twins were diagnosed with a neurological disorder.  I'd always asked God to make it obvious when it was time to put aside my writing for my family's sake, because I know which is more important.  Well, He made it obvious!  I had to let the company fold and took desk jobs to pay for the kids' therapy, but I could never shake the itch to write.  Three years later I heard on local Catholic radio that there was going to be a Catholic Marketing trade show about an hour from my house.  I went to check it out, and that's where I found the Catholic Writers Guild, and at the CWG Online Conference, I met my publisher.  Where else but CWG could I have been "discovered" by a publisher when I mentioned I was working on an "NFP murder mystery?"  That's how Don't You Forget About Me found a home."    

Some writing advice?        

"I'm capable of giving advice (not sure I am), I'd tell the writer to stay teachable.  If you're not humble enough to be teachable, then your work will never get out of the first stages of amaturity.  Is that a word, "amaturity?" Let's make it one.  Anyway, I think the faithful Catholic writer has a leg up on this, because we regularly go before another human being (in persona Christi, of course) in the sacrament of Reconciliation to speak our sins aloud.  This practice of humility leaks out into our writing, if we let it."    

Thanks for joining us on The Back Deck Blog, Erin! I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Don't You Forget About Me" and I look forward to reading more from you! Here's hoping you find a few more readers here on The Back Deck!

Monday, September 1, 2014

First Person vs. Third Person (Part 2)

Last week I covered the differences between writing in the first person point-of-view and third person point-of-view. Let me state that my preference is for third person limited and I have discovered that, for me, it is an ideal point-of-view, especially when writing mystery novels.

My Black Horse Campground series is written in the third person limited point-of-view, two of them, actually: Corrie's and J.D.'s (and before anyone asks, I've tried to write from Rick's point-of-view, but--as you've probably noticed--he likes to keep things to himself!) When writing a mystery, I've found that having two points-of-view gives me the opportunity employ suspense, which I've found to be an important element in writing a mystery.

The difficulty I've found in using first person when trying to build suspense is that suspense is vastly different from surprise. In first person, if someone is going to jump out from behind a parked car and grab me, I won't know about it till it happens. Then, depending on whether I get conked on the head, threatened at gunpoint, or just confronted verbally, I react to whatever comes along and the reader has to go with it.

In third person, if someone is going to jump out from behind a parked car and grab Corrie, or J.D., or any other character in my story, I (the author) can let you know that... but leave my character completely unaware that they are in danger. Alfred Hitchcock was the master of suspense. Letting the audience know that there is something going on that the protagonist doesn't not only ratchets up the suspense, it keeps the reader engaged (always a good thing!) The reader wants to warn the protagonist: "Don't go there! You're in danger!" Oh, wait! Her cell phone rang and she stops walking. Will she stop long enough for someone else to arrive on the scene? Will she turn around and go back? Will she keep walking and the person on the other end hear something?

I create suspense by giving information, not withholding it. With two POV characters, a writer gets to exploit this a little more. Corrie knows something that J.D. doesn't know... a crucial bit of information, like his life is in danger. But she can't get to him. Why? Take your choice: her cell phone is dead, his cell phone is dead, she's locked in a closet with no cell phone, they've had an argument and he's not taking her calls, the list goes on. Now the reader is engaged, wondering if Corrie will be able to warn J.D. in time and, if not, what will happen?

It might be possible to pull this off in the first person with two POV characters, but the writer has to be careful not to confuse the reader with two "I"s that sound alike. Each character must have his or her own voice... and stick to it. And it's not an easy task (those of us who grew up reading Paul Zindel's "The Pigman" might think it is... but he was a Pulitzer-prize winner!)

In any event, the benefit of having two first person POVs rather than just one is similar to writing in third person limited: you can let the reader in on information that your main (or one of your main) character is not privy to and build suspense.


During September, I'll be hosting members of Catholic Writers Guild (of which I am a member) to tell us about themselves and their books! Our first author will be presented on Friday, September 5. You can find out more on my facebook page!  Hope you'll join us on The Back Deck and get to know some more of my writing colleagues!