Small town stories

POSTAL CLERK Sabrina Parsonson, left, and Postmaster Kathy Jacques, right, stand near a hitching post in front of the Coloma Post Office Friday Feb. 6. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins
Mt. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins

Since I am not a native of Northern California, my favorite thing to do on weekends is explore the area’s many small towns (I had no idea there were so many). It’s a happy surprise when you discover a new one, because when most people think of Northern California they think of San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, perhaps Silicon Valley or the Pacific Ocean, not well-preserved historic communities.

Not only do I enjoy exploring small towns, I also like to read stories that take place in small towns; and, the contemporary fiction stories that I write take place in small towns (where the town is one of the book’s characters).

So when I needed a place to set my story, THE HERMIT BOOKSTORE, I instantly thought of Lotus (population 295), a community that dates back to California’s gold rush days (165 years ago). Lotus has one main road, Lotus Road, a few old farmhouses, a friendly vibe, and lots of residual spirit energy left over from the California Gold Rush.

THE HERMIT BOOKSTORE is a modern day story that evolves over the span of a week in April 2014. The story is about a mysterious bookstore that suddenly appears on Lotus Road where an old farmhouse used to be. There’s a quirky bookstore owner, Jolene, who meets three people who live in Lotus. These three characters need to fix a piece of their life but can’t seem to do it without a little push. Jolene happens to know what they need and how to push them in the right direction.

If you also enjoy small towns and would like to read about California’s oldest continuously functioning post office that you can still visit today in Coloma (around the corner from Lotus), go to “Coloma post office still delivering mail after 165 years.”

How to write better fiction

8 ways to write better fiction

Anyone can write. Here are 8 ways to write better fiction.

#1 – To write a great story, forget all the rules and just write. Write every day. Visit the story every day, even if it’s only to write one sentence. Keep at it until you reach the end. Then edit like crazy.

#2 – Look for story and character ideas in everything you do — books you read, movies and TV programs you watch, people you talk to, and while eavesdropping in public. Being observant is a very important characteristic of a writer.

#3 – The job of each chapter is to encourage readers to want to read the next chapter. That means revealing details slowly, just enough to build suspense so the reader wants to know what will happen next.

#4 – If you allow yourself to think about all the things that go into a novel — characters, themes, place, plot(s), ending — you’ll get overwhelmed. Instead, break it down into smaller tasks. First develop the story’s theme. Then develop the characters and where the story will take place. The rest will likely come during the writing and editing process.

#5 – Write what you want to write, not what someone else recommends because it’s a popular genre.

#6 – Your research material will add depth and richness to your story. Learn to love the research process.

#7 – Don’t worry if your story isn’t long enough. The story will find its own natural length. If parts of the story need more, you’ll know it. If it has too much filler, you’ll know that too. Most readers like tight, efficient stories and don’t like rambling.

#8 – Get out into the world. Interact with it. Travel. Meet new people. It will all become part of your stories.

Authors get their best feedback from author events


Authors get their best feedback from author eventsJay Leno has commented a number of times in interviews that it’s important for stand-up comedians to continue their stand-up work even when they no longer have to. Getting in front of a small live audience is a valuable experience, because it keeps you sharp and provides an opportunity to understand what people like and don’t like about your work.

My books were published last year and I’m new to book marketing, but I’ve noticed that Jay Leno’s advice also applies to authors. The more I talk to readers about my books at events, the more I learn what they enjoy about my writing. It’s information I don’t get in a book review or an email. It’s real, instinctual feedback that they provide with their words, facial expressions, laughter, applause, and physical energy.

Last night at an event where I was one of five authors on a panel, I introduced new information about the way I write and discovered more than I could have imagined. This is what I shared:

  • My stories will always have a strong sense of place. The story’s location will be one of the characters. I want readers to connect to the story’s location via their senses, e.g., smell, touch, sight, etc. This comes from my love of travel.
  • I write fiction to communicate an idea. My book THE MEDIUM communicates: it’s comforting and healing to connect with someone you love on the Other Side. My book THE HERMIT BOOKSTORE communicates: there’s no such thing as a coincidence.
  • My story ideas and themes date back to my childhood when I first became interested in things most people can’t explain. For example,
    • when you walk into a room and can feel that something is wrong
    • a feeling of deja vu when you travel to a place you’ve never been but it feels familiar
    • receiving a sign from or connecting with someone on the Other Side
    • feeling the influence of a full moon
    • a coincidence that doesn’t feel like a coincidence, either when it happens or a few months later when you’re thinking about it
  • I refer to these events as “mysteries of the human experience”. We feel them. We experience them. We know they happen. But we can’t explain them. My stories will always include these types of events because they are part of being human (whether you notice them or not).
  • I think it’s important to write stories about these types of events, because it helps people validate their own experiences.

While sharing this information I learned that readers better understand the types of stories I write, and they enjoy reading about characters who have these experiences. It also adds a bit of mystery to the story, which everyone enjoys.