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Monday, September 29, 2014

Quest Stories

Who doesn’t love a good quest story? Remember Beowulf going off to slay the monster/dragon Grendel? Or Bilbo Baggins seeking a treasure? What about Luke Skywalker’s journey to join the rebellion?

In his book The Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell shows the commonality of myths and legends—the journey each hero takes to accomplish his goal. When Christopher Vogler worked in the development department at Disney studios, he came up with a memo based on Campbell’s mythic journey for determining a good screenplay. That memo eventually became The Writer’s Journey, a must-have reference book for all writers.

Since I love adventure stories—in books, movies, and TV shows—I also love writing them. While my characters aren’t mythic, I find using the Campbell/Vogler’s structure makes the stories easier to write.

Writers tend to describe themselves as plotters or pantsers. Some writers have to plot the whole story before writing it. Others write by the seat of their pants—they start writing with only a vague idea of where the story is going. When I first started writing, I just sat down and started typing away. Those first stories will never see the light of day. LOL Like any craft, you learn by doing. The more I wrote, the better the stories became. Sort of. Until I discovered Vogler’s book. Prior to that, I’d read LOTS of how-to books. While I took bits and pieces from each, I didn’t connect with any until reading The Writer’s Journey. Maybe it was because he used Star Wars (my all-time favorite movie) to illustrate the structure. Whoo-hoo! The lightbulb over my head lit up.

I’m still a pantser, but . . . And here’s the big but—I have a basic structure to follow. If I go off on a tangent (as pantsers often do), the structure hauls me back. As an example, I started writing One Red Shoe back in the mid-nineties. It was rejected, rewritten, rejected, rewritten, etc. When I finally applied the mythic structure, the story became much better and was published by The Wild Rose Press.

According to Campbell and Vogler, the story begins in the hero’s ordinary world. Think Luke Skywalker on the moisture farm, grousing because his friends have gone off to the Academy and his uncle won’t let him leave, too. In One Red Shoe, my heroine Daria is leaving home (Iowa) for a writer’s conference in New York City. Her overprotective brothers are still trying to dissuade her from going, but she’s determined. This conference is going to be her big adventure. Or so she thinks.

In the next step of the journey, the hero hears the call to adventure but refuses. Luke meets Obi Wan who wants him to learn the way of the Force and become a Jedi knight like his father. Luke has a number of reasons why he can’t go and refuses the call. Daria finds a wounded man who needs her help to get out of a building without the bad guys seeing him. At first, she dithers. But when Sam nearly falls over she knows he can’t make it without her. But she can only help him so far, though. She has to get back to her conference. She has a great opportunity that she can’t miss. She continues to help him a little more, but each time she tells him that’s it, no more.

For each hero, an event pushes them over the edge and they accept the call. For Luke, it’s returning home and discovering his aunt and uncle have been killed and the farm destroyed. For Daria—savior of every wounded animal that’s ever come into her life—accepting the call isn’t so dramatic. When Sam falls asleep in her car and she can’t wake him up for direction to the next stop, she makes her decision. If she leaves him, he’ll surely be captured. Not only can’t she leave him, her journey is about to get worse. This isn't the adventure she thought she was embarking on when she left home.

If I’ve piqued your interest, One Red Shoe is available at:

One Red Shoe buy link: http://amzn.com/B00FDXRHZA


When elementary teacher Daria Mason left Iowa for a writers’ conference in New York City, she didn’t expect to come home with a wounded spy. Sam Jozwiak works for a shadow agency that gathers intel vital to U.S. security. From the moment he steals digital files from a Russian Mafia kingpin, Murphy’s Law takes over. No matter how he covers his tracks, the kingpin’s assassins find him. What’s worse than getting shot in the butt? Accepting help from an Iowa tourist. Thus, begins a road trip that takes Sam and Daria cross country with the assassins right behind them.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Sampler - DAMAGE DONE by MJ Schiller

When an unhappy youth leaves him damaged, will Teddy Mckee be able to find love?
“Teddy Passmore McKee was born in Cork, Ireland, with a limp and a chip on his shoulder that threw his balance off all the more.” When he falls in love with the dark haired beauty born of an Irish father and a Spanish mother, will Gabrielle Quinn be able to restore his balance? And what about the charming Sean Hennessey? When Gabby catches his eye, too, will Teddy’s playboy best friend cause his own damage?

Fourteen years later, will Teddy and Gabrielle’s son be able to overcome the damage done to him in his childhood?
“Even through bloodshot eyes he could see she was different.”  But can Michael leave behind the bottle, and his womanizing ways, to win over the lovely Tess Flanagan? Tess has sustained some damage of her own. Can she and Michael overcome the terrors of the past and learn how to love each other?

And if they do, will they be able to elude those after them who want to create their own damage?
On the run after an altercation leaves their boss in a pool of blood, will Michael and Tess be able to stay one step ahead of their pursuers? Or is it simply too late to correct the damage that has been done?

You can find M.J. at:

You can find DAMAGE DONE at:

“Tessie…” He offered again. “We have to get out of here.”
She remained frozen in her spot, staring blindly over the cliff. He moved a step closer and gently grasped her elbow. “Tess—”
She whirled around and his heart caught in his chest as he stared into her wild green eyes. Tears shone on her damp cheeks, glimmering in the moonlight like trails of scattered diamonds. “Nay, Michael,” she said, her words coming out choked. “I have to tell them the truth. It’s my fault. …I k-killed him.” She sobbed.
He looked at her sadly, begging her, “Let me help you.”
The back door creaked open and light spilled out from the bar across the grass, startling them. He saw Jimmy Flynn’s outline in the doorway. “They’re out here!” he yelled.
Without waiting for a response, Michael took Tess’s arm and steered her along the cliff’s edge. He stepped over the railing and helped her to the other side as well. They stood on a narrow ledge. To the left a trail dropped off toward the sea. He led her skittering down the path, loose rock pebbling the beach far below. He had taken the pathway many a night when he was drunk and feeling particularly reckless. Tonight he hurried over it with only self-preservation and Tess’s safety in mind.
They heard voices above them, coming from every direction as searchers fanned out along the top of the cliff. Their eyes met. They hardly dared to breathe. A flashlight beam ventured over the railing and along the cliff face. She clutched his hand, squeezing it until he lost feeling in his fingers. He tried to flatten himself even more tightly against the rock face, wishing it would somehow melt and absorb them. Several seconds passed and the beam of light was joined by another, and another, each swinging away, and then toward them again.
He grabbed a quick look at the churning sea below then closed his eyes for a second, and his stomach dropped. He took a deep breath before turning his head to look at Tess. Her eyes were closed and her lips were moving fervently, but she emitted no sound. He swallowed, wondering again why the sight of her affected him so. After several minutes a voice called out, “You won’t get away with this, Mikey.” Had someone seen them? He heard Jimmy Flynn mutter, “Wherever they are, we won’t find them tonight.” One by one the lights disappeared until only a solitary beam shone.

MJ is a lunch lady in the heart of Central Illinois. My gosh! Can you get more folksy than that? She met her husband at the University of Missouri-Columbia and now she has a nineteen-year-old (how did that happen?) and seventeen year old triplets! She loves to read, karaoke (where she can pretend she is a rock star) and spends WAY too much time on Facebook. She grew up in St. Louis and still has family there.

Here's another teaser:


Monday, September 22, 2014

The Reluctant Hero

Before Christmas, I fell for the worst ploy. Sign up for a free month of Amazon Prime and enjoy all the benefits—free two day shipping (I really needed that for gifts), unlimited free movies and TV shows (sounded good), over 500,000 free books (even better), 20% off diapers (didn’t need that). If you like Prime, do nothing and we’ll bill your account. If you don’t, cancel before the end of the trial period. Ri-i-ight. Did I remember to cancel? Of course, not. So there I was with something I really didn’t need and had already paid for.

Flash forward to this summer. Hubs discovered Falling Skies. I remember watching the first episode when it began four years ago. Slow, boring. Still, when you have 800 channels and nothing’s on . . . Suffice it to say, we watched the show. I have to say it wasn’t boring. However, this was worse than coming into a play after the second act. Who were these people? Everybody hated Karen. She seemed okay to me. Then the season ended—on a cliff-hanger, of course. The new season hadn’t started for our favorites. Desperation again.
So how are the two paragraphs above connected? Remember the unlimited free movies and TV shows? Ah, hah! We figured out how to get them on our television. We could watch all the previous episodes of Falling Skies. Again, when there’s nothing on besides endless reruns . . .

So here’s where the title of this post comes in. I’ve never thought of Noah Wyle as a hero. He looks too . . . cute. After watching Falling Skies, I finally got it. In the show, Earth has been invaded by aliens with a conquer-and-kill-the-natives mentality. The natives didn’t think too highly of that scenario so after being stunned by the brutal deaths of family and friends, they decide to fight back.

Before the attack, Noah Wyle’s character, Tom Mason, was a history professor. Sure he knew all about revolutions. In books. What did he know about actual fighting? That’s what our military is for. But who were the first casualties of this war? The military, with a few exceptions. So who’s left? Regular people like you and me. People who escaped and hid from the invaders. People who lost family, friends, their homes. People who were scared to death. Ordinary people looking for somebody to tell them what to do.

Their military leader is more concerned about fighting than protecting the civilians. A reluctant Tom Mason steps forward. What good will it do to fight the invaders if there’s no one left to begin again? Tom’s not a natural leader. He’s more concerned about the safety of his three sons. Slowly we watch him become stronger, more confident. He’s not just a hero, he’s Every Man.

When all is lost, we either give up or fight back. Who among us wouldn’t fight to save our children? I’ve never handled a real gun. At a demonstration, I fired an AK-47 fitted with a laser instead of bullets and shot at a screen. Didn’t hit a darn thing. But that wasn’t real. Could I shoot to kill a living thing? If it threatened my family, I not only could but would, for sure. (Did you just hear the Mama Bear in me come out?)

I now see the appeal of Falling Skies. Tom Mason could be you or me. Someone with the courage to fight, to lead. Someone to protect the children. Someone to fight for the future.

I don’t usually have reluctant heroes or heroines in my stories. But in Switched Resolution, a secondary character becomes one. Shy, quiet Communications Officer Lilliam Cabbeferron is caught aboard her starship when rebels steal it. If they find her, they’ll shove her out the airlock into space. She does what anyone would do in the situation—she hides. Until she realizes someone has to do something. Someone has to take back the ship before the rebels kill her captain. Since there’s no one else, that someone has to be her. She mounts guerilla warfare against the bad guys. Like Tom Mason in Falling Skies, Lilliam is a reluctant hero.
Switched Resolution is available at:

Am I glad I signed up for Amazon Prime? You bet. Now I can (finally) watch Downton Abbey and Doctor Who (the reboot) from the beginning.