A special family member gets into a book

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Monday musings

By Toby Neal

Memory can be a powerful source of writing inspiration…

Her eyes are milky now, this old dog of ours, and her muzzle adrift in silver. She gets up in the mornings from her bed and walks like I feel some days, stiff and sorry that dawn has stolen comfort. She has never been a dog to make assumptions, boldly thrust her nose into my hand and demand petting like my young dog Liko, with his bold stares and entitlement. No, she’s respectful, and keeps her eyes down, and merely follows me from room to room to make sure I’m safe and okay. If I’m sad she will sense it, and come close, and sit with me, and it’s powerful because I know it costs her something.

She came to us fifteen years ago when the kids were young, a tiny pup the kids discovered on Kauai while we were camping.  A hippie girl had the litter in her tent, and the pups were adorable even if the hygiene wasn’t.

We’d had a trail of failed dogs thus far: the Dalmatian that was too hyper, the beagle mix that bit, and Shepherd that knocked the kids over and tracked dirt everywhere. We’d always had to give them away with accompanying heartache and tears, so I said no. And no again the next day. And finally, as the begging reached a crescendo, yes.

Nalu, named because of wave shapes in the markings on her cheeks, was so little that we carried her home to Maui in my purse.

Nalu protecting her people on a beach walk.

She patrols the grounds every day to protect the family, even now with her limp, and the hunch in her back since she fought a pit bull who dared to come too close to our home, and was shaken like a chew toy for her courage.

Nalu has always been a very big dog, for a Chihuahua.

Nalu loves going to bed, because we give the dogs a treat, and pets too, and she can lie down with that sigh she gives at the end of the day, knowing her work guarding us and keeping us company is done.

And Nalu, passed away now, was the model for Keiki, the fiercely loving and loyal Rottweiler who’s been Sergeant Lei Teixeira’s companion in 12 USA Today award-winning books, the Paradise Crime Mysteries. She will live forever, now.

See the books at https://tobyneal.net/ and meet Keiki yourself!

And if you like true stories, you might enjoy my memoir, Freckled. It’s a whole lot of memories strung together.

Toby Neal

Award-winning, USA Today bestselling social worker turned author Toby Neal grew up on the island of Kaua`i in Hawaii. Neal is a mental health therapist, a career that has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her stories. Neal’s mysteries and thrillers explore the crimes and issues of Hawaii from the bottom of the ocean to the top of volcanoes. Fans call her stories, “Immersive, addicting, and the next best thing to being there.”

Neal also pens romance, romantic thrillers, and writes memoir/nonfiction under TW Neal.

 Visit her on her:

And follow her on Twitter @TobywNeal.

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Monday musings: The inspiration of memory

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By David C. Cassidy

Do memories inspire my writing?

Human Chess at the World Bodypainting Festival in Pörtschach am Wörthersee, Carinthia, Austria.
Photo by JIP – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41470182

In a word, yes. I have always had a vivid imagination, one that’s immensely visual, and that shines through in all of my stories. But at another level, recollections of past events—whether they happened to me or to others—have always inspired my writing in one way or another.

In Fosgate’s Game, a creepy tale of greed, dark magic, and murder, I pit two well-to-do Englishmen in a battle of wits over something as innocuous as a game of chess. It’s not that simple, of course, as they’re playing with dark forces that neither truly comprehends. The story was actually inspired by a memory of me playing chess as a young boy against one of my brothers. During a rather lengthy turn where he was taking his sweet time to make a move, my mind began to drift, and I began to wonder what might happen if the chessmen were somehow alive.

The Dark is an atmospheric supernatural thriller where a young child has lost his father in a dreadful accident, and in his desperation, is seduced by an ever-present evil that draws him into another realm—a wondrous place that includes his father. In my younger days, I used to enjoy tobogganing down this rather treacherous sledding hill in a park, and on one particularly fast run, I nearly spilled into an ice-cold creek at the bottom. I was this close to disaster, barely stopping myself in time. It was getting rather dark, and when I picked up my sled and turned to head back up the hill to go home, I suddenly froze, staring up at this towering—and rather ominous—oak tree. It just startled me, and to this day, I don’t know why. It was just one of those eerie moments when one gets a case of the chills for no obvious reason. Little did I know then that that hill and that very tree would be the basis for an award-winning novel.

A short story of mine, Never Too Late, was inspired by a deeply painful personal event. The story is a cautionary tale about regret—how we all, at one time or another, figure we have all the time in the world—only to learn the agonizing truth when the unexpected happens. Years ago, my mother passed away quite suddenly, and I was devastated. I never spent nearly enough time with my parents, always figuring there was plenty of time for that. You know, I’ll seem them soon. I’ll make time later. Well, I was wrong. It was the hardest lesson I ever learned.

Velvet Rain, a supernatural thriller with elements of time-travel and alternate realities, was not so much inspired by memories or personal events. And yet, a lot of the characters in the book, including the main character, Kain Richards, possess those human frailties and personal characteristics of people I’ve known—including family. One character, Al Hembruff, a no-nonsense farmer in 1960s Iowa, at one point refers to his daughter, Lynn, as “honey-child”. My father, God rest his soul, used to call his own daughters the very same. I hadn’t heard him say it in years, but as I was writing Velvet Rain, the memory came back, and it just seemed to work in the moment.

In all honesty, I don’t consciously write out of memory—I write out of inspiration and imagination—but I certainly don’t discount the subconscious when it strikes. If the shoe fits, I wear it.

David C. Cassidy

The award-winning author David C. Cassidy is the twisted mind behind several chilling books of horror and suspense. An author, photographer, and graphic designer—and a half-decent juggler—he spends his writing life creating tales of terror where Bad Things Happen To Good People. Raised by wolves, he grew up with a love of nature, music, science, and history, with thrillers and horror novels feeding the dark side of his seriously disturbed imagination. He talks to his characters, talks often, and most times they listen. But the real fun starts when they tell him to take a hike, and they Open That Door anyway. Idiots.

David lives and plays in Ontario, Canada. From Mozart to Vivaldi, classic jazz to classic rock, he feels naked without his iPod. Suffering from MAD—Multiple Activity Disorder—he divides his time between writing and workouts, photography and Photoshop, reading and rollerblading. An avid amateur astronomer, he loves the night sky, chasing the stars with his telescope. Sometimes he eats.

Get to know David at his:

And follow him on Twitter @DavidCCassidy.

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Fishnet shirts and memory

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Monday musings
By DelSheree Gladden

BestSelling Reads authors are exploring the intersections between their own personal memories and their writing. This week, the author of the Eliza Carlisle, Girl’s Handbook and Date Shark series muses about the weird things she has seen that inspired her.

One of the ways memory affects my writing is all the little details that get stored away in my brain over the years. Sometimes, I even make notes on my phone about odd or funny or unusual things I see or hear. Most of them just sit there and I forget about them, but more often than you might think, these little tidbits provide some inspiration for part of a story.

This happens most when I’m trying to develop or flesh out characters. I meet a lot of interesting people through work. They tell me about their lives, their jobs, and the crazy things that happen to them. A friend once told me that she was a building manager and had to clean up an apartment after a resident was murdered. That helped to inspire a scene in the first Eliza Carlisle Mystery book, Trouble Magnet, where Eliza’s best friend and building manager, Sonya, is left responsible cleaning up after a murder and isn’t very happy about it.

There are also cases where a random experience inspires something bigger than a scene or a character trait. A lecture from a high school history lessen about how Aztec human sacrifices of children were largely incorrect popped back into my head years later and got me interested in the culture and mythology of the Aztecs … which led to my first novel, Escaping Fate, where Arrabella must uncover the truth of her family’s curse before she is set to die on her sixteenth birthday.

My favorite things to take note of throughout the day, are instances that make me stop and realize how unique people are. For example, I was meeting a friend at the theater last week and got out of my car just as a large Native American man slowly drove by in a sporty little sedan with his windows rolled down, blasting Sinatra. Everything about that experience would have been completely average if he’d been playing rap or even country music. Sinatra? However this guy was introduced to Sinatra, he loved it enough to share it with everyone else in the mall parking lot. I’m sure there’s a story behind his music choice. I won’t ever know what it was, but I can certainly create one that will interest my readers!

Writing fiction always holds the challenge of creating a believable world and characters without making it so realistic that it becomes mundane. Rather than writing a scene about a character walking across a parking lot, lost in her thoughts about whatever is about to happen, interrupt her musings with an odd encounter that will take her thoughts in a different direction, or cause her to notice something important. Storing away little goofy memories helps me bring uniqueness, as well as real life, into my writing.

Someday, a female character wearing a black fishnet shirt (completely see-through), with two sparkly shells sewn on in just the right place to keep her decent in public, is going to make an appearance in one of my books. So keep an eye out for her.

DelSheree Gladden,

USA Today Bestselling Young Adult and Romance Author, loves books—reading them and writing them.

Fiction makes it possible to survive reality.

Writing is her escape, and she has escaped to Aztec temples in the Escaping Fate Series, into Native American myths in the Twin Souls Saga, to a dystopian reality in The Destroyer Trilogy, into invisibility in The Aerling Series, into wicked desires in the Someone Wicked This Way Comes Series, into wacky mysteries in the Eliza Carlisle Mystery Series, and into sweet romances in The Date Shark Series and the Handbook Series.

DelSheree lives in New Mexico with her husband and two children. When she is not writing, DelSheree is usually reading, painting, sewing, or working as a Dental Hygienist.

Get to know DelSheree better on:

And follow her on Twitter @Delsheree.

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Books and memory

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Over the next few weeks, BestSelling Reads authors will explore how their own memories inform their writing. In this installment, Scott Bury describes how the memory of his father-in-law and the subject of his Eastern Front trilogy meshed with a childhood recollection of his wife, and how it all fit into one of his books.

Going through some old papers and memoriabilia of my wife’s parents, we found a picture from World War II—it’s 78 years old. It’s a picture that my wife said she remembered seeing when she was a little . It’s also a picture that Maurice Bury told me about before he passed away: a picture taken in a small town in western Ukraine as it suffered under the Nazi occupation.

I wish I had found this photo years ago, before I published the first edition of Army of Worn Soles. You can bet it will be in the next edition.

It’s a photograph of my father-in-law, Maurice Bury, on the day he returned to his village of Nastaciv, Ukraine, after escaping from the German POW camp in late 1941. The woman beside him is his cousin, Tekla, who was named after her aunt, Maurice’s mother. Tekla was the first family member who met Maurice on his return home.

Here’s the story as told by Maurice, years ago

Even though it was wartime, the market bustled as farmers sold the last of their harvests: corn, wheat, parsley, apples, pears, onions and beets. Townspeople pressed through the stalls, haggling over vegetables, chickens and animal feed. Behind a stall selling eggs stood a slim woman whose dark brown hair threatened to burst the knot in her kerchief.

Maurice tapped her on the shoulder. “Hello, Tekla.”

The woman spun to face him, expecting trouble. She glared at him for several seconds before her eyes widened. “Maurice? My god, I cannot believe it.” She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tight. She had to lean over her table of eggs, but she held on. Maurice hugged back, wary of knocking eggs down. When she let him go, she looked at him as if she were afraid he was about to vanish again. “What are you doing here?”

Tekla was his cousin, daughter of Myhailo Kuritsa, his mother’s brother. She had been named after her aunt.

“I’m coming home. Can you give me a ride?” he asked.

She threw her arms around him again. “Of course, Maurice, of course. Oh, I can’t believe it. We heard you’d been…been killed.” She held him at arm’s length. “You’re so thin. You must have been starving.” She called to the woman in the stand next to hers, who had been staring at them. “Hanyah, please, sell the eggs for me.”

“Of course, dear. Take the young man home and give him something to eat. Right away,” Hanyah said. She was older than Maurice’s mother, and Maurice did not know her, but she smiled at him as if he were a grandchild she had not seen for a year.

Tekla re-tied her scarf and pulled on her gloves, took Maurice by the hand and led him out of the market. “My wagon is over here,” she said, then stopped. “You know what we should do, Maurice? Let’s get a picture together.”

“Can’t we…”

Army of Worn Soles cover

But Tekla interrupted, took his hand and led him through the market to a small shop, where she paid a few rubles for a picture. The photographer had Maurice sit on a stool in front of a cloth draped against the wall, and posed Tekla standing next to him. Tekla could not stop smiling, nor babbling.

“I can’t wait to see Auntie’s face when she sees you standing on her doorstep. Oh, and my father, too. It’s too bad your father is not here, Maurice. He would be so relieved, so happy to know you’re home safe. Are you sure this is my better side?” She asked the photographer as he adjusted the camera. He smiled, nodded and calmly pressed the shutter.

“The print will be ready on Thursday,” the photographer said and handed Tekla a ticket. “Welcome back, friend,” he said to Maurice.

How it got here

The print was promised for that Thursday in 1941, 78 years ago. It’s suffered a little over the years, and it will appear in a new edition of Army of Worn Soles as well as the single-volume edition of the Eastern Front trilogy.

What about you readers? Have you ever read a book that meshed with your own personal memories?

Scott Bury

Scott Bury’s military biography trilogy comprises Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War. It’s the true story of a Canadian-born man drafted into the Soviet Red Army in World War II.

Scott Bury has also published two Hawaiian Storm mysteries, Torn Roots and Palm Trees & Snowflakes. Another mystery, Wildfire, is set in California during the wine country wildfires of 2017.

His first published novel is a historical fantasy, The Bones of the Earth.

Learn more about Scott on his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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Monday musings: The difference between imagination and memory

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Photo: Photo by Vidar Kristiansen on Unsplash

What’s the difference between the way a writer imagines a realistic scene, and the way a reader experiences something? Could it be similar to the difference between the way we watch a motion picture about, say, a day at the lake, and the way we remember a day at the lake?

I sometimes edit novels for other writers, looking for ways to improve the story and the way it’s told, without changing the author’s voice.

I have noticed I often change or suggest a change to a particular kind of writing: excessive description of a sequence of small actions. They’re little things that happen in a story, but that the reader doesn’t need to read. And it makes me think about the difference between the way we remember and the way we imagine.

I’ll make up an example here:

She pulled the lever and opened the car door. She stepped onto the dirt driveway in front of the summer cabin, and walked past the old porch in front. She passed the little cedar trees that had never grown very high, past the big old maple and down to the wooden dock. She walked to the end, and sat down on the boards. She removed her sandals and dipped her bare feet into the lake, only to jerk them out—cold!

It’s way too wordy. Sure, it describes what happened. It takes the reader through all the action. But it doesn’t actually bring the reader into the setting. And do we really need to read every single action?

When I think back to summer days at the lake, I don’t really think of long sequences. My memories are things like seeing my grandfather standing in his wooden boat, tinkering with something in his hands as the boat bobbed gently on the water. Or the backs of my father and grandfather, looking up at the big tin barrel that collected rainwater as the wind rippled the backs of their shirts. Or sitting on a dull, cloudy afternoon on a big rock over the shore, my uncle beside me, holding a toy fishing rod in my hand.

Which brings me to the original question: what’s the difference between imagination and memory?

It’s an important question, as things like “false memory syndrome” have a bearing on criminal cases. And maybe it’s part of the profound influence of motion pictures on our whole society.

Think about the passage above. It’s not from any particular book, but it’s typical of what I tend to tell a writer to re-write. And it’s kind of cinematic. It might be the way a screenwriter would provide instructions to a cinematographer. It has all the action, something that an actor and a camera operator could follow.

This is how I remember arriving at my grandfather’s summer cottage.

Thin fir boles and low-hanging evergreen branches framed the back of the cottage. The tires crunched softly over the dirt and forest litter before the car bounced to a stop. I popped out of the back seat—no thought of seat belts then—to be greeted by the scent of forest and water and the outhouse tucked behind a thin screen of bushes.

I ran around the log cabin, reaching out to touch the structure supporting the tin barrel that collected rainwater. The lake gleamed far below the cabin, separated by a steep slope crowded with dark evergreens and lighter deciduous bushes. A bright leopard frog leaped away, into the bushes as my sneaker-clad feet made soft drumbeats on the beaten ground of the path down to the dock.

See? Flashes, like the “Live” setting on photos on my iPhone these days. Not a long cinematic sequence.

What do you think? Are your memories more like cinematic sequences, or short live photographs?

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