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Happy New Year!

Where better to celebrate New Year’s Eve than in the ultimate party city, New Orleans?  The setting for my upcoming novel, Crescent City Lies, NOLA is the ideal city to ring in 2017.

The Audubon Zoo and the Louisiana Children’s Museum hold events for the entire family. The Allstate Sugar Bowl New Year’s Eve Parade, which proceeds through the French Quarter is fun for all. You can also enjoy the festivities from the deck of a riverboat or a balcony in the French Quarter, or at one of the many fabulous restaurants scattered across the city

My favorite way to welcome the New Year is the celebration in Jackson Square. An annual tradition with music, the traditional fleur-de-lis drop, and spectacular fireworks show called Symphony in the Sky,  the heart of the French Quarter is the place to welcome 2017.

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If you’d like to peek at the New Year’s Eve Party in the French Quarter, visit the Earth Cam which broadcasts 24/7 from Bourbon Street!

http://www.earthcam.com/usa/louisiana/neworleans/bourbonstreet/?cam=bourbonstreet

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Sources:

http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/seasonal/newyears.html

 

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Deborah Ratliff: The Writer’s Voice and Other Elements of Style

As I write this, the manuscript for my first novel and I exist apart. The words I’ve written now in the capable hands of my editor. It was a conversation with him regarding my writing idiosyncrasies that provided me with a clearer insight into my writing style and the voice I choose.

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of writing to comprehend is the concept of style. Like fingerprints, one author’s style of writing is unique from another’s and can vary depending on several factors, including the intended audience. Sentence structure, word choice, and the more elusive writer’s voice constitute the elements of style.

Before I returned to writing fiction, a passion from my youth, I wrote professional articles, policy and procedure and training manuals, newsletters, and advertising copy. At times, I might work on policy in the morning, a newsletter in the afternoon. What I failed to realize was I was changing my writing style to fit my readers.

Let’s look at how the description of a thunderstorm varies from one audience to another.

A scientific journal article on the elements of a thunderstorm would present a technically correct explanation of how warm moist air rapidly updrafts into cooler layers of air forming cumulonimbus clouds. Precipitation follows, and cold air sinks creating downdrafts and winds. Electrical charges build up in the water and ice cloud particles and release as lightning, which heats the air with such intensity producing a sound wave we know as thunder.

A storyteller would write of the darkening clouds, the rising winds, a prickly feeling on the skin as the storm intensifies, the driving rain, brilliant lightning flashes, the roar of thunder. Thus, setting a mood or a backdrop for the characters to interact.

The same author can write in an impersonal, technical style or in descriptive prose. It is the choice of words, sentence structure, and the author’s voice that creates style.

Word choice:

Writing experts teach authors to eliminate unnecessary words. To be concise, to choose the best word, an action verb demonstrating a physical or mental act or a concrete noun conveying sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch to convey meaning. We limit our use of adjectives and adverbs and the overuse of certain words such as ‘as,’ ‘that,’ and ‘it.’ Polysyllabic words, alliteration, and consonance create flowing sentences, while onomatopoeia and monosyllabic words can break up the flow.

Sentence Structure:

Good writers carefully structure sentences to extract the most meaning and to facilitate flow. When constructing a sentence, vary the length of the sentence to achieve different rhythms. Also, consider the word and phrase placement within a sentence which can emphasize the sentence meaning. Removing unneeded, vague or repetitive words, and including subordinate phrases and clauses will tighten up a sentence and make it more readable.

Voice:

The most subjective of the three elements of style is voice. Voice is unique to each writer and impacted by the author’s personality and one element of style, word choice.  Whether detached, passionate, objective, humorous, serious, it is yours.

This discussion of style brings me back to my conversation with my editor. I had two repetitive issues in my writing. The underuse of the word ‘that’ and my love of run-on sentences.

Somewhere, while reading what all the writing ‘experts’ suggest, I took the suggestion to eliminate the word ‘that’ where I could. Apparently, there are times when that makes a sentence clearer. My editor decided to replace those I had eliminated in my own edit. Then he read the story again and took them out, deciding the inclusion interfered with my writing style.

The run-on sentences are another issue and result from my desire to write with a smooth flow. I wrote a short story for a challenge a few years ago and received this critique, “Great story, well-done, but use an ‘and’ every now and then.” Apparently, I didn’t heed that message.

My editor offered the following advice. That the choice to construct sentences in this manner was mine. It was my style of writing and my decision to change them. It was at that moment I realized I had the final say on how my book would read.

Granted, I am at liberty to make these choices because I am self-publishing. I doubt the editor of a traditional publishing house would allow me the leeway of making these decisions for myself. The fact is I respect my editor and will likely take his advice, but his words made me realize that the style I choose to write in, my writer’s voice is mine.

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Deborah Ratliff is an administrator for the Writers Unite! Blog and Facebook page. Her first novel, Crescent City Lies, a murder mystery will be published in the Fall of 2016.

Personal Blog: the coastal quill

Author Page: D.A. Ratliff

Facebook: Writers Unite!

Radio Interview

Last Monday, I was fortunate to be interviewed on the “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” program. As an author and musician, Paul Reeves is an avid supporter of the arts and as a former educator is keen on groups that mentor and educate artists.

He invited me on his show to discuss the Facebook writing group, Writers Unite! where I serve as one of the administrators.  Founded by Karl Taylor, an aspiring author from Texas, Writers Unite! has shown phenomenal growth in a short period of time. Only nine months old, Writers Unite! has grown to nearly 7000 members.

In addition to discussing Writers Unite!, Paul and I discussed writing in general and the publication of my book, Cresent City Lies, hopefully, in September 2016.

Here is a link to my interview. Hope you enjoy!

(http://pwr.podomatic.com/entry/2016-07-11T18_28_12-07_00)

“Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” airs live each week on WNZK, 690AM, in the Detroit area from 11:00 a.m. – Noon Eastern Time. The show is also live streamed on Tunein.

 http://tunein.com/radio/WNZK-690-s21615/

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Short story: Protected

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Protected

To most of the residents and tourists of the sleepy little coastal town, the storm rolling in from the Gulf was only a thunderstorm. The first fluffy white cloud appeared before sunset, far offshore and high in the sky. As the minutes passed, the sky turned violet, pink, and then orange as the sun set, the cloud growing in size, becoming dark, ominous.

This was no storm. This was an invasion.

Jessica Dane stood on the beach, her partners Marcus Allen and Jorge Sanchez by her side watching the approaching storm cloud. Embedded in the cloud was an intergalactic ship carrying the Vordons. Her heart was pounding, but Jessica had trained for this day. For years, the governments of Earth knew the aliens were coming and had prepared. While life continued as normal for the majority of Earth’s population, the Consortium had formed, and a new race of soldier created. Faster, stronger, more intelligent, and possessing skills of comic book superheroes, they were called Lancers, after the powerful photon lance they carried.

Throughout the world, the Lancers stood on beaches and roadways, in the desert and the rainforest awaiting the enemy. As she stood on the white sand beach, Jess knew soon the rest of the planet’s population would know what they knew. Earth was not alone.

She smiled, glancing at her fellow soldiers, the determination on their face mimicking hers. As lightning exploded on the perimeter of the storm, the first of the Vordon fighters emerged from the cloud.  Taking aim, Jess, Marcus, and Jorge, along with the other Lancers stationed on the beach fired their powerful weapons and the fighters fell from the sky. Wave after wave few toward the beach, with the same results.

Earth may not be alone in the universe, but she wasn’t unprotected.

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Photo prompt courtesy of Facebook Writing Group, Writers Unite!  No commercial use intended.

Short Story: The Return

12745490_10208050651411590_3839600164579233939_n Photo by Jo Smoley.

The Return

The cottage was exactly as I remembered it. The stone walls crisscrossed with wooden beams, shutters framing the paneled windows. Madam Verna was old when I knew her as a child helping her tend the garden, yet the flowering plants and shrubs lining the path were neat and tidy as they were then.

Nearing the wooden front door, I stopped, not certain I was doing the right thing. I had left this life behind. A life of sorcery my family had embraced for eons. Feeling betrayed by my defiance, my family had disowned me and left for the hinterlands, where I would no longer be welcome. Only Madam Verna had supported me, her knowing smile reassuring me I was doing the right thing for me.

My life had been good, I married a mortal and we brought two children into the world. We were happy until my family intervened. One night when the moon was full, my brothers invaded my world, murdered my husband, Thomas and kidnapped my children. My oldest brother Nicon struck me with a sword, telling me no children of mine would be allowed to live in the mortal world.

I buried my husband and when I healed from the wounds inflicted by my brother, I left my life behind. Word of an uprising in the wizard world reached me, sent by Madam Verna I was certain. Now, I stood at her door ready to enter a life I had left behind.

The door opened before I could knock. Her wizened face exactly as I remembered, her eyes a startling shade of citron. Her silk garments the hue of midnight blue rustled as she led me into the tiny cottage, motioning for me to sit on the burgundy velvet settee. She did not speak, and I knew not to until she did. She lifted a tray holding a teapot and cups from the hearth and sat it before me.

In her deep raspy voice, she said, “Drink my child, then we talk.”

I did as I was told and when I had drunk my tea, she spoke again.

“In your tea was the elixir of power, I have returned the magical skills I took from you so many years ago. Your family has risen against Wizard Aton and our world. They were always evil but I knew you did not possess their malevolence. However, you must lead us against them.”

“I do not want to lead anyone. I only want my children.”

Her smile wry, wisdom beyond years flowing from her eyes, Madam Verna replied, “You have no choice. To protect the lives of your children and to ensure the continuation of our way of life, you must use your powers to destroy your family.” Her eyes darkened, her gaze intense, “I promise you, more than the lives of your children are at stake.”

Madam Verna stood, returning to the hearth to stir the fire. I gasped when the image of my husband appeared in the flames.

“What is this?” I implored.

“I received word of the attack on your family but was too late to prevent it. All I could do was protect your husband. He is in a place between life and death and only the destruction of the Sword of Thesia carried by your father will return his mortal life. Do this for Lili and Liam, and for Thomas.”

The elixir was working. My power of sorcery was nearly restored. I joined Madam Verna at the hearth, tears brimming as my husband’s image faded. To have my family returned to me, I would fight whatever evil lay in my path.

Madam Verna grasped my hand, “My child will you help us?’

Squeezing her hand, I whispered, “Yes, it is time for me to return.”

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This short story was prompted by the photo provided by Writers Unite! Writers Unite! is an excellent writing group found on Facebook.  No commercial use intended.

The Visit… Memories of Charleston, South Carolina

cfiles9903  The Battery, Charleston, South Carolina (photo courtesy of http://www.city-data.com)

 

The Visit…

The drive from Kentucky south was as interesting as my friend told me it would be. The mountains of Tennessee and the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina were ablaze with color in the mid-October sun. Serenity settled into my soul as I gazed at the leaves turning crimson and gold, knowing the trees renewed themselves in spring.

Deciding to take a leisurely trip to my destination of Charleston, South Carolina, I stopped overnight in Ashville. I spent a wonderful evening enjoying a taste of North Carolina bar-b-que, its thin vinegary sauce hot and tangy to the palate.

Rising early to misty fog hanging over the valley, I toured the Biltmore House, then headed to the interstate and continued my drive to Charleston. Leaving the South Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains behind, I entered the Piedmont region of rolling hills before crossing the fall line, the limit of navigable rivers, leading to the sandhills. At least, that’s what the man who pumped my gas told me at a service station near Columbia. The road beyond took me through low rolling hills to the flat coastal planes, tall pines and scrub palmetto trees lining my way.

Once in Charleston, I exited the interstate onto King Street and followed it south toward downtown. Quaint building’s housing art galleries, toy stores, and other emporiums along with the ever-present palmetto palms lined the narrow street. King turned into a residential street, and I was impressed with the homes, some federal in design, some antebellum, and all beautiful. I had rolled the windows down to enjoy the balmy seventy-five degree weather, and as I approached the Battery, the sharp salty air flowing from in from Charleston Harbor filled the car.

Turning onto South Battery Street, the famous Battery seawall located beyond White Point Park was to my right. I decided to check in the bed and breakfast inn my friend recommended, then explore.

The inn was three-story white antebellum home nestled among stately oak trees. I was greeted warmly and taken to my room. The four-poster bed looked extremely inviting, and though I prefer showers, the claw-foot tub looked inviting as well. However, I came to see the sights not sleep in luxury, at least until later.

I walked through the stately oaks in the park to Oyster Point, the tip of the peninsula the city sat on. There were many tourists strolling along the sea wall, and I picked a spot where I could look out over the harbor. Sea gulls soared above me, and I could hear the low growl of a ship’s horn, likely a container ship headed for the commercial docks.  On the horizon, the outline of Fort Sumter was visible at the mouth of the harbor.

A sense of history surrounded me, and I expected to see a regiment of British soldiers or Confederates march down the street at any moment. I did a little research about Charleston before I arrived, and I was struck by the fact that most people automatically associated Charleston with the Civil War. The fact was Charleston and the colonists who supported the American Revolution were instrumental in the success of the Revolutionary war.

I walked for a couple of hours long the tree-lined streets, though downtown before I returned to the hotel. After a short nap and a long soak in the tub, I headed for a seafood restaurant recommended by the inn manager and was treated to the best Shrimp and Grits I’ve ever eaten. Succulent shrimp, spicy andouille sausage and the creamiest grits served in a beautiful atmosphere overlooking the sea. I could get used to this. I drove around for a while, getting the lay of the land before I returned to the inn. Tomorrow, I would meet up with my friend’s cousin who would serve as my tour guide.

Cousin Franklin was in his mid-forties and full of more energy than a four-year-old. I’d eaten a light breakfast and now wish I fortified myself for what was going to be a busy day ahead. The first place we visited was the infamous Boone Hall Plantation. The eight mile drive took us over the incredible Ravenel Bridge, a feat of engineering, which represents the modern Charleston and into the community of Mount Pleasant.

Spanish moss hung like gossamer silk from the huge pecan trees on the plantation, and I was mesmerized by the quiet and tranquility on the property. A sense of regret passed through me as we drove past a line of old brick cottages once used as slave quarters. Franklin seemed to sense my unease and told me the reaction was normal. He shook his head, and said despite all the hard work to bring equality to the races, there were still “jackasses with their heads where the sun don’t shine.” Those idiots aside Franklin told me he was proud of the relations between blacks and whites in Charleston. It’s not perfect he said, but there was deep respect, so they were going in the right direction.

We spent the morning touring the mansion, its brick walls filled with the history of the once cotton and pecan plantation. Founded in 1681, the plantation now grew vegetables for sale to the public. On the way out, we stopped at the Boone Hall Pumpkin Patch, open every October, where I bought a pumpkin and six spicy pumpkin cookies, which we gobbled down before we got back to Charleston.

The afternoon was a whirlwind of Charleston history. We spent most of it downtown visiting the Old Slave museum, street vendors making straw baskets, and several art galleries that featured work from local artists. Franklin is an attorney and a supporter of the arts, and his enthusiasm was contagious. After a late lunch, where I had bar-b-que chicken dripping in sweet spicy sauce, Franklin took me to The Citadel. I’d always been fascinated by the red and white checkered courtyards and had the opportunity to walk across them. I found it a bit dizzying.

The day was coming to an end, but Franklin insisted I come to his house for dinner and meet a few Charlestonians. Promptly at seven o’clock, I arrived at his lovely two-story shotgun house a glass of wine shoved in my hand the moment I walked in the door. The evening was a blur of eccentric characters from the elderly grand dame Agatha, another patron of the arts, to Dean, a jazz musician who plays at a local restaurant.  I ate too much, drank a bit too much, and laughed harder than I ever had at their stories of Charleston, old and new. By the time, I headed for the inn I began to believe I was a native.

I slept like a baby in the comfortable bed, and despite a slight headache I looked forward to my last day in Charleston. Franklin picked me up again and first on our agenda was a tour of Fort Sumter. We drove to Patriot’s Point and took a boat tour to the fort.

I have to admit the fort was a bit overwhelming. I always react to historical places with a sense of awe, but standing in a place where Americans fired on Americans was eerie. I asked Franklin his thoughts regarding the Civil War. He leaned against one of the cannons and told me he thought all the fuss about pride was nonsense. He said the war happened, and we should recognize it, remember it, but not glorify it. It was war, brother against brother and too many people died. Franklin added, slavery of any peoples is an abomination, but it was a way of life then. It isn’t now. People should be free. He slapped me on the back and said it was time to go tour a Navy ship.

The day flew by as we prowled the decks of the USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point, the USS Laffey, and the USS Clamagore, a submarine. So interesting to visiting a historic fort and modern machines of warfare on the same day. I will admit to being a tiny bit claustrophobic in the sub, but it was fun.

Franklin and I parted with plans to meet again, and I spent my last night in the city having a delicious meal downtown, then walked around, ending up at Oyster Point, watching the lights from the commercial ships as they entered Charleston Harbor. Tired I finally decided to call it a night.

The next morning as I drove along the interstate I looked to my left and right seeing the Cooper and Ashley rivers flowing past the peninsula and laughed. At dinner, Agatha told me an old saying that the two rivers come together at Charleston to form the Atlantic Ocean. She called the comment vain. I call it the truth. My friend was right, she told me I was going to fall in love with Charleston. I did.

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I wrote this ‘travelogue’ as an exercise for a wonderful writing group… Fiction Writers Boot Camp on Facebook. The exercise was to take the moderator from Kentucky where he lives to  a destination we love for a visit.  For me, the choice was never in quesion, my destintion was Charleson. The purpose of the exercise was to developed strong descriptor skills. The group was created to address the fundementals of writing. https://www.facebook.com/groups/674413989356676/

By the way, Cousin Franklin is a fictional character.

ravenel-bridge   The Ravenel Bridge (photo courtesy of http://www.sciway.net)

DSC_0022 Boone Hall Plantation… ancient pecan trees dripping with Spnish Moss. (Photo courtesy of allthingsgrceful.com)

 

 

 

 

New Episode: The Last Chance

The Last Chance Book Cover  Sm copy
Previously on The Last Chance:  McCord rides to view The Last Chance, drawn there by his growing desire for Eme. Gazing at the beautiful ranch, he decides he will stay in Wickenburg to help the sheriff rid the town of Grainger’s evil. He made the right choice. Grainger confronts Eme outside the bank, and their argument quickly escalates. Once more, McCord comes to her rescue.

Click on The Last Chance on the menu line and select page eight.