joanne Weck Author Page

Monday, April 29, 2013


"Writing is nothing more than a guided dream." Jorge Luis Borges
If writing is a guided dream, then as a writer I need to make that dream vivid (but more comprehensible than the average dream). Thus the "guided."

Dreams often follow no logical sequence, but a fiction writer's work is to create a dream that draws the reader in and keeps him involved as it progresses through conflicts to climax to conclusion.

How does a writer guide a reader through that dream? By creating one scene leading into another, each one connected and vital to the overall plot.

As a screenwriter you must think visually and concisely, but you have only sound and visual images to work with.  In writing fiction you also have the opportunity to appeal to the other senses as well.

Not only must you make the reader see each scene you set, you can draw him in more completely by adding the sense of taste, of smell, of touch.

This is true for any writing, fiction or nonfiction, prose or poetry, but it is especially important if you are creating a world of science fiction or fantasy that has never existed in our "real" world. Concrete images and details of the senses can lure the reader into life in another dimension or onto another planet.

In my short story "Flight of the Fairies" (first prize winner in a Fantasy Gazetteer contest) I tried to create a very vivid picture of ordinary life to which I added an element of fantasy in the concluding scene. By basing the story in a realistic setting I created a believable familiar world so that as the story shifted into fantasy the reader followed. WRITE ON!

Thursday, April 25, 2013


“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
― George Bernard Shaw

A writer once said that anyone who survives to the age of twenty has been provided with enough material to write for the rest of her life. Every family has secrets, eccentric relatives, strong personalities, people who are generous, sensitive, thin skinned, vicious, prejudiced, unforgettable in some way.

Anyone who survives to the age of twenty has experienced joy, pain, betrayal, love, hate, jealousy, ecstasy, depression, danger and the situations that cause them. These are the raw material of any stories. Tragic stories, humorous stories, fantastic stories,.

Seeking for material for your writing, you need not look any farther than your own life, your own friends, your own family. This doesn't necessarily mean that you ought to alienate the people in your life by exposing their secrets, (although many a writer of memoir and  autobiography has done that).

To me it means finding situations and models from life. As a writer I can rework the family stories told over the years. I can combine the stories of two great aunts who were dramatic and unusual or were in love with the same man. I can imagine the life of an uncle who went to seek his fortune and disappeared forever. Naturally I change the names of everyone. Even when I write the truth as I see it, others seldom recognize themselves as the model for my stories. By the time I've crafted their lives and mine into fiction a strange alchemy has transformed them into something rich and strange. Don't be afraid to look for ideas close to home. WRITE ON!  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


"Violence is one of the most fun things to watch. I don't think Pulp Fiction is hard to watch at all."
Quentin Tarantino 

This is a popular opinion judging by the success of Tarantino's movies. True, some people find the portrayal of violence in his films horrifying and outright dangerous. I heard an interview on NPR in which Terri Gross asked him if he felt that his films contribute to the violence in our culture. His answer was that people know the difference between art and reality and that, yes, "violence is fun to watch."

Every writer has to find their comfort zone whether writing a screenplay, short story, novel, or news story. If you enjoy violent movies, video games, and novels, as a writer you'll no doubt have fewer inhibitions when it comes to creating those blood and guts scenes.

Reading mysteries is one of my pleasures. But I've always thought of it as a genre a little lower than that of the literary novel, one that demanded less talent and craft--until I decided to write a mystery myself. Then I discovered that any creative work demands all of the talent and craft a writer can muster.

When I wrote CRIMSON ICE and now in writing A KNIFE IN THE HEART I wanted my antagonist to be truly evil, a perpetrator of violence, a villain so vicious he must be overcome at all costs, yet when it comes to writing the climatic scenes I find that it is not an easy task.

How to make it feel real, without overdoing it? (I tend to think Tarantino's violence goes over the top, verging on the cartoonish). I didn't want to be derivative, merely imitating what I've read or seen on the screen.

Sometimes less is more. The hint of danger or impending violence can be more suspenseful and terrifying than the violence itself. As I wrote and rewrote my scenes of violent action I tried to create a sense of menace and danger and then an explosion of sorts without overdoing the bloodshed. The reader of course is the final judge of my degree of success.

Monday, April 22, 2013


The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.

Every writer needs friends who are encouraging to their art. Every person needs friends who are there for them when they feel isolated, stuck, or insecure. I celebrate the  people I can turn to when I need an emotional boost.  I have a dear friend who encourages me while not being afraid to give an honest critique of my work. I have sisters who cheer my every success. I have a network of people I think of as my support system.

Some of these people are writers like me; some are artists of another sort. All of them are engaging in the same effort to contribute to the world in a positive way.

People who support you and your art are not competitive. They don't see the world as a collection of winners and losers, but as humans struggling to do their best in whatever field they choose.

If someone has a negative attitude about life and other people, I can listen, but I refuse to let them bring me down. They may come in handy as a model of a character who only sees the worst. But I choose to spend time with people who are optimistic and positive. My writing group always inspires me to keep plugging away at my project, even when I can't see where it's headed.

As a final thought, consider the advice of Julia Cameron, author of The Artist'sWay: be your own friend. Allow yourself to listen to your best thoughts, not your worst. Make a list of accomplishments you are proud of. Write yourself a cheerful letter to read when you need a message from a friend. WRITE ON!

Sunday, April 21, 2013


“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
Harper Lee

A Midsummer Night's Dream
 To the King's Theatre, where we saw "Midsummer's Night's Dream," which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.
Samuel Pepys' Diary, September 29, 1662.

William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies'
 20 publishers rejected it. One with the comment: "an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull."

Vladimir Nabokov's 'Lolita'
Lolita was rejected by Viking, Simon & Schuster, New Directions, Farrar, Straus, and Doubleday. Called "overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian...the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream...I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years."

One thing I've learned about rejection--you've just got to suck it up and go on.
When one of my stories or novels is rejected I console myself with all the times the experts got it wrong. If Samuel Pepys hated Shakespeare then how can I take any rejection seriously?. I remind myself that someone, somewhere is waiting to embrace my story!

If you are going to offer your writing to the public, and by this I mean to a teacher, in a workshop, to your writing group, or for publication in a journal, online or to an agent or publisher, you have to accept the fact that you will most likely get more rejections than acceptances, at least at the beginning. If you wilt under criticism, your work may never be shared with the one person in the entire universe to whom it may mean the most.

Consider each rejection one step closer to acceptance. Let's say the universe decrees that you have to get a certain number of rejections before your work reaches the right hands. Each no moves you closer to a yes.

Someone will hate what you write, no matter what. But someone will love it, or at least appreciate it, or be infuriated by it...but they will read it and publish it. Just don't be stopped by those who aren't clever or perceptive or joyful or insane enough to "get it." If it comes back, send it out again. Most of my stories were rejected at least 20 times before they were accepted and even won prizes. Don't give up.
Don't give up! WRITE ON!  

Saturday, April 20, 2013


“Always get to the dialogue as soon as possible. I always feel the thing to go for is speed. Nothing puts the reader off more than a big slab of prose at the start."
 P.G. Wodehouse

I love dialogue in novels and short stories, even in nonfiction. It makes the people come alive for me. Perhaps that's why I wrote plays even before I wrote stories. Plays depend on dialogue to intensify and direct the action. The most important part of writing dialogue is capturing the real speech of real people, but without the flab.

What do I mean by the flab? Real conversation includes boring stops and starts, lots of "uh's" and "you know's"--repetitions and meaningless pauses. A good writer makes her dialogue give the impression of actual speech while moving the action along, creating suspense, or heightening tension.

If you want to know how real people talk, eavesdrop in restaurants, grocery stores, school hallways, in the elevator. It's a good way to keep up with the current slang and catch phrases. But don't quote what you hear verbatim because much of it will be boring.

Two people meet in the elevator:
"Hi, how are you?"
"I'm fine. Uh, fine. How are you?"
"Fine. Looks like rain, doesn't it?
"You think so. Yesterday was nice."


Cut to the chase. Use dialogue with a purpose. Use dialogue to make your reader wonder about the character's motives. Use dialogue to illustrate something about the character's personality and view of the world.

Two people meet in an elevator:
"Good morning. How are you?"
"How do I look?"
"Sorry, I was just--"
"Sticking your nose in. Why don't you mind your own business."

Now this might be the start of a story. What it the elevator gets stuck or the next person who gets in is an attractive member of the opposite sex?

A character's speech tells a lot about him, where he comes from, his social class, his education, his aspirations. It changes with the times. Don't make your present day characters sound like they're from a movie filmed in the thirties, and don't have characters from the past use modern expressions.
Put words in your characters' mouths, but with a purpose, not just to make them chatter. WRITE ON!

Thursday, April 18, 2013


It may be true that readers want action on the first page. Television and the movies have changed our expectations. No longer can a writer start a novel or story with a leisurely description of the landscape, the sun coming up over the horizon, or the slow creation of a mood through details of the mountains, river or desert.

Still writers know that time and place influence the emotions and attitude of characters and have a major impact on the action. So how does a writer introduce these elements without boring readers?

My first mystery novel CRIMSON ICE takes place against the harsh winter background of the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania but there is no single long paragraph describing the mountains, the snowstorms, or the icy lakes and ponds. Instead, I start with action. A young woman races through a winter night to come to the aid of her sister. We see her driving through the night and braving the storm. The storm itself becomes part of the action.

For example: Frankie's foot pressed hard on the gas pedal. She was headed northwest, climbing steadily into mountainous country where the snow was deeper and there was more wind.  Finally, the outline of dark mountains indicating the Delaware Water Gap appeared dimly ahead.  She slowed for the E-ZPASS at the bridge and crossed into Pennsylvania.  Her Honda, one of the few cars on the highway, ate up the empty miles.  She was unaware of the state trooper behind her until the lights flashed and a siren sounded.

In my short story, "Autumn Wedding," the setting is rural Pennsylvania in the mid-1800's.  I don't need to mention the date or the exact location, but as the details appear in the midst of action the reader draws conclusions about the time and place.

For example: He clicked to the horse, and they clattered off down Main Street, toward the bridge and home. But then they’d taken a detour past the old Presbyterian Churchyard and the long dark stretch of the park. He’d let the reins slacken as the sleek chestnut mare grazed. He hadn’t spoken, merely reached for her and begun to kiss her. And then...  Don’t think of that.

Mood is important. Setting is vital to creating mood but it must me approached obliquely and subtly.
Get the weather right. WRITE ON!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.”
Leigh Brackett

Some writers focus on plot--lots of action and conflict to keep the reader turning those pages. We don't imagine James Bond sitting by the fireplace with a newspaper and a good cigar. Lots of conflict and action, but his cool demeanor in the face of danger makes him memorable.

Other writers swear that all fiction is dependent on creating interesting characters. Consider of some of the fictional people who seem so real that you can't quite believe they were dreamed up by some author. It is well known that people wrote letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes. But would you remember him if he hadn't been actively solving all of those mysteries?

Maybe the answer is that both are equally important--intriguing characters facing conflict and taking action. A fascinating character who does nothing will quickly bore the reader. Lots of action and conflict that involves sketchy characters can also fail to captivate. But if you can manage to combine the two you're off to a good start. Now all you have to think about is setting, theme, symbols, etc. Let's consider those another day. Meanwhile WRITE ON!

Monday, April 15, 2013


“Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.”  William Faulkner

Available on Amazon
People often ask me (and other writers) "Where do you get your ideas?"   I'm always open to possibilities--from life as I see it going on around me, (I do a lot of eavesdropping), from stories I've heard as a child, from the classics, from the Bible, and from the daily news.

The idea for CRIMSON ICE came a very common news story about the disappearance of a lovely young woman on her way to work. The novel grew out of my speculation about the possibilities.

How do I get ideas? I read the headlines! I read the obituaries. I read the editorial pages. I wonder and speculate: Who are these people? What motives propelled them?  Then I invent. I imagine. I embroider.

A novel I'm working on now is tentatively called A Bridge to the Moon. It was suggested by a terrible crime in which an obsessed stalker killed a whole family and made off with a young girl. I wondered how the tragedy would affect the only survivor. I wondered if she would blame herself for what happened to her family. I didn't write about the actual story but imagined a similar story and invented characters to live it out.

I'm still working on it. I'm still deciding how it all will end. WRITE ON!

Thursday, April 11, 2013


"I write journals and would recommend journal writing to anyone who wishes to pursue a writing career. You learn a lot. You also remember a lot... and memory is important."
Judy Collins 

Why do so many creative people believe in keeping a journal? It was my eleventh grade English teacher, a woman I adored, who told me that serious writers kept a notebook to jot down ideas and to examine who and what had influenced them.

 Since I aspired even then to be a serious writer, it seemed a marvelous idea. I bought myself the prettiest book I could find, sacrificing my hard-earned babysitting funds, and I began my first foray into journaling. It was an excellent tool for introspection--except for one thing--my mother (who had many wonderful qualities) believed it was her responsibility to control what her children thought and believed. Nothing was off limits to her. I knew that if she found my journal she would read it and attempt to "correct" any thoughts or behavior she disapproved of. Did that stop me? Absolutely not. In fact, it became a point of clandestine rebellion.

 I read the most controversial books I could get my hands on and expressed the most outrageous opinions. Perhaps it was just yearning for independence, but I indulged in observing, thinking, and sometimes even doing things I knew would horrify my very conservative, religious mother. I hid my journal in the most secret spot I could find.

Eventually she found this little book "quite by accident" and I was lectured mercilessly by her and my father. But that didn't end my passion to record the details of my life and my seeking. If anything, it strengthened it. I found a better hiding place.  I continued the journal habit as  I left home, went to college, got married, had a son, made a career, all of the time considering writing as my primary vocation.

I wrote late at night and early in the morning and whenever I could find a free moment. I used my journals to express my joys and frustrations and to scribble down ideas for stories, poems, or  plays I would write when I had the time. When I did find a free moment, I mined my journals for the ideas and feelings I had stored up. It was a marvelous resource and still is. Although the times have changed, emotions remain the same. I can read about an experience of heartbreak or joy and be swept back to the moment I experienced it. With effort I can transform it into my current work.

Some writers say you should choose an ugly tablet for your journal because then you won't feel pressure to "write" when you scribble down your thoughts, but I find I prefer a notebook that gives me pleasure to hold, look at, and write in. I don't feel the need to be impressive in my journal, just to get down my thoughts and hopefully find something in it for later use.

What are your thoughts and preferences about keeping a journal ?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


“Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.” 
― Vladimir Nabokov

We experience the world through our senses. From the moment we're born we look, we taste, we touch, we hear,  we smell. A baby puts everything in his mouth as a way of learning about his environment. He giggles with delight watching his bottle bounce to the floor. He snuggles in his parent's arms feeling the smooth flesh or the texture of flannel or silk. He recognizes his mother's voice at birth and can distinguish her scent from any other person's.

We may not always be aware of how we interact using our eyes, or ears, or sense of touch, but a writer must be conscious of how the senses influence the recreation of a particular time, place and milieu. The stink of garbage or a piece of music affects our emotions and can transport us to another time and place.

Recently I came across a small blue bottle with the logo Evening in Paris in a second hand shop. Uncorking its fragrance swept me back to my mother's bedroom and childhood memories of her dressing to go out. The scent led not only to a total visualization of the room, the little vanity with the hatpin doll and lace cloth, but also of my mother's presence, the feel of her warm bosom,  the touch of her lips on my cheek as she kissed me goodnight.  

A writing teacher once suggested that every scene in a story should appeal to at least three of the five senses, not in an obvious way, but as an integral part of the character's experience. It is an effective way of grounding a scene and drawing the reader in. We all have associations that are aroused by what we hear, see, smell, touch and taste. A writer pays attention to them and uses them. WRITE ON!

Monday, April 8, 2013


"Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door." Emily Dickinson

Sometimes I feel the the pitcher is empty, the well has run dry. The pump is primed but nothing is flowing. I sit in front of my computer and retype my last two pages but nothing new flows. I try my previous methods of jump-starting my creative process but nothing seems to be working. This is the time I turn to hints and tips I've learned from the experts:

Here are some of of my favorites:

From Outwitting Writer's Block by Jenna Glatzer:

1. Allow yourself to write poorly--in fact say "I'm going to write the worst stuff I've ever written."
2. Ignore all the rules you've learned: Skip your usual schedule; Write in a new genre; Change the point of view; Ignore your outline, Write in a new location, Take a bubble bath or shower
3. Be your own advocate: Talk to yourself like a friend, offer yourself encouragement, recall your successes
4. Turn your internal critic into a character in your story and make him/her as ugly as possible

From the Artists' Way, Creativity as a Spiritual Practice by Julia Cameron:

1. Give up your sense of control--turn your work over to a higher power
2. Find a space that feels sacred (church, synagogue, grove of trees, etc.) and sit quietly to receive any thoughts that come to you
3.Take yourself on an "Artist's Date" and do something you enjoy to relax and lessen tension
4. List ten things that you cherish in your life

From Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain

Keep a Creative Visualization notebook in which you write:
1. Affirmations--statements of encouragement and acknowledgement for yourself
2. Outflow list--list all of the positive ways you can outflow your energy to the world and the people around you. Include time, money, love, friendship as well as your special talents and abilities
3. Success list--write down any success you've had in any field or relationship or situation
4. Appreciation list--write down everything you are thankful for in order to open up your heart
5. Fantasies and Creative Ideas--Jot down any ideas, plans, or dream for the future, or any creative ideas that come to you, even if they feel far-fetched. This will help you loosen up and stimulate your imagination and natural creative ability.

Sometimes the best way to encourage creativity is to take a break from the effort. Give yourself permission to walk away. You might return refreshed and ready to WRITE ON!

Saturday, April 6, 2013


"Oh beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on." William Shakespeare

One of the pitfalls of submitting my writing for publication is the temptation to compare my work with that of others. When I haven't had an acceptance for a while I fall into this pit--torturing myself with comparisons to those who are better writers, or poorer writers who have had great success, lucky writers who hit the best seller list with a first attempt, writers who happened to tap into to a current obsession at the right time. I find it especially irritating when an author who writes in the same style or the same type of novel as I do, has their work published to some success while mine still languishes somewhere in my agent's files.

How does a writer avoid or overcome the comparison game? I begin by reminding myself that publication (like life) is not a competition. The fact that a book similar to mine is doing well is a good sign--there is reader interest in this type of work.

I remind myself that each writer has her own unique voice and as a reader I enjoy both the plays of William Shakespeare and the novels of Mona Simpson.

The most important reminder though, is that I write because it makes me happy. I write because I love to write. I write for myself first of all. WRITE ON

Friday, April 5, 2013


“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” 
 Maya Angelou

Why do I want to write? Do I want to write or do I want to have written? What do I have to say that someone else hasn't already said? What do I have to offer that's new or different or special?

When I find myself beset by these questions, I refuse to entertain them.  I sweep them away.  I write for my life. Deep in my heart, soul, and guts I know that writing isn't something I choose so much as something that chooses me. I know I would write even if no one else ever reads what I've written.

I started writing "poems" when I was seven, because I was moved by the poetry my mother recited to teach and entertain us children as she rocked the youngest baby to sleep. I was swept away by the words, the rhythms, the stories. I wanted to create my own stories.

Once started, writing became my obsession. I kept little notebooks filled with poems, stories, drawing, descriptions of people I loved or hated. I wrote down what made me happy and what made me angry or sad. I wrecked vengeance on people who thwarted me and rewarded those I loved. I wrote plays for every holiday and cast myself and my classmates as the actors.

I didn't begin to write because I had something to say so much as to find out what I wanted to say. I didn't know what mattered to me, what I truly believed, what I wanted from life until I began writing about it. I didn't know exactly why I was writing except that it was something I had to do.

In addition to writing my own life I wrote down the stories my mother told me about the past. Her stories were filled with tragedy and hope, with characters who seemed to live before my eyes and make the people I knew only as ancient crones or patriarchs live again as children and young adults. Her stories were about her ancestors. Her stories were about growing up one of eleven children, the daughter of a coal miner/ farmer and the meanest mother who ever lived. Her stories were about meeting my father and his family and his stories. I listened and then wrote my own versions as I imagined them.

I didn't think about publishing until much later. It occurred to me that all these lives, all these people who lived, struggled, had plans and hopes, and who died without leaving a mark on history should not simply fade into oblivion without having been acknowledged and in some small way celebrated. I felt this was what I did by transmuting them and their stories into my fiction.

I write for my life. I write for myself. I write to share my writing with anyone it happens to touch. Why do you write? WRITE ON!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

 I’ve been meeting weekly with the same writers’ group for over five years. People who share my passion invigorate me and spark my creativity. I’ve learned to be open to other’s ideas and leave my defenses behind. I know my writing doesn’t have to be polished, finished, or perfect. A good writers' group creates a circle in which it is possible to safely share your works-in-progress without the fear of attack or cynicism.

Each participant offers comments, insights, critiques, and suggestions and I can take them in or reject them.  My comments are received in the same spirit. No one is the expert. All input is valued and respected, to be incorporated or discarded.  An evening of sharing with others who are also dedicated to writing, feeds my spirit and leaves me exhilarated and inspired. Do you have a circle of writing friends? If not, find one. WRITE ON!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


"If you're trying to write and you have unlimited time, you can procrastinate an unlimited account, but if you have limited time, you rush to the page trying to get something down in the little bit of fragment of time that you have, and you may write a great deal that way."
Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

If you want to write but you keep putting it off you may never get to it at all. I spent years "getting ready to write," organizing my files,  arranging my writing space, rereading my notes for the stories I wanted to write. I'd written plays and had them produced but I had other stories I wanted to tell. Somehow I kept procrastinating the task of actually writing them.

Then I got involved in a writers' group with writers who had published books, essays, memoirs, and short stories. As I worked to produce something for each meeting, I realized it was starting that was hardest,, like diving into cold water.

In the next three years I had not only written but actually published one novel, a mystery CRIMSON ICE, A Pocono Mountain Mystery, (Amazon paperback or ebook) a group of short stories, (various journals and websites) won four short story contests,  and was signed on by the David Black Literary agency. I have three more novels in various stages of completion, needing some editing and a cache of short stories I'm sending out.
Don't procrastinate.

Find the encouragement, a group, an online website, a fellow writer-- whatever you need to get started and just write it! WRITE ON!

Monday, April 1, 2013


“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
― Oscar Wilde

How many of your favorite books have been banned--from Catcher in the Rye to Lolita to Harry Potter? Would you be the writer you want to be if you had been unable to read Animal Farm, Alice in Wonderland, and the Satanic Verses?

Who has the right to tell your what to read, watch, think or write? Do you believe in the thought police? Not I! I believe a writer must be brave enough to think and claim her own thoughts, to have the courage of her convictions.

I remember as a young teen every year a list of banned movies was published in church and we, as a congregation, were expected to take the oath not to see any of these "dangerous" films. I crossed my fingers during the oath and held onto the list for future reference. I make it a point to reread a banned book once a month for inspiration as a writer. Keep reading. Stay inspired by writers who broke the rules and showed the world another side of its face. WRITE ON!