Sunday, October 28, 2012

How Happy is a Dead Pig?

My guest this week, Hope Clark, is the author of the fabulous Carolina Slade Mystery Series. The first in the series is the award-winning Lowcountry Bribe. The second book, Tidewater Murder, comes out in early 2013. In addition to penning her mystery series, Hope is the founder of, a career resource for freelance writers. This online publication reaches over 35,000 readers each week and has been included in the Writers’ Digest Magazine annual101 Best Websites for Writers, 2001-2012. Hope graduated from Clemson University, in the field of agriculture, enabling her to walk the walk of her protagonist, the illustrious Carolina Slade. Welcome to Book Blather, Hope.

I belong to a glorious critique group that’s international in flavor. Members range from Australia to Sussex, England, from Paris to Tucson, and Galveston to Canada. Several have been in the business long enough to be almost brutal in their reviews of my work, which I adore since it’s that brutality that’s enabled my fiction.

         Dialogue is one of my strong suits, and since my Carolina Slade Mystery Series is South Carolina-based, and rural in setting, I have to clarify the occasional Southern witticism just like my UK friend has to explain some of his country’s terminologies. In doing so, however, I’ve learned that dialect and regional lingo must be carefully scrutinized if you intend your book to sell outside of your home town.
         “I awoke late on Saturday morning and stretched, basking in the rays filtering through my yellow curtains, happier than a dead pig in the sunshine.” The sentence was something along that line. I say WAS, because it’s no longer in existence.
         “Um, how can a dead pig be happy?”
         “Ew, dead hogs. What’s that got to do with feeling good?”
         “Wouldn’t a dead pig stink?”

         I kid you not. Those were actual remarks from my reviewers, and I couldn’t get them to stop making cracks about pigs! Now, to some of you, the remarks from my critiquers are off-the-wall ridiculous. Everyone knows that a pig lying in the sun, fat and satisfied, is at his happiest. Also, feeling extremely lazy and relaxed is equated to being almost dead. At least it is in most of the Southeastern US. However, my Western and Northern peers, not to mention my international friends, thought I’d lost my mind. The debate on how, or whether, to use the phrase went on in jest for days, totally removing the discussion away from the chapter at hand.

         Most of us already know that when using dialect, less is more. You do not write verbatim how dialect sounds or you risk losing the reader’s interest as he bogs down in the commas, apostrophes, and abbreviated words. Apply that same logic to witticisms. Temper them so they are part of the storytelling, not the noise in the midst of it.
         Admittedly, I’m a fan of metaphors and catch phrases. They’re colorful, and when used strategically, they paint a character prettier than a basket full of Easter eggs. “He couldn’t pour water out of a bucket with the instructions on the bottom” tells you as much about the speaker as it does the character being referenced. So much accomplished in so few words . . . words that are memorable to the reader.

Displaying characters in such a verbal snap is so much more fun than two paragraphs of clothing description and hair color. The sweethearts and good old boys, the intellects and the dunces, the wicked and the kind become all too clear when we use distinctive wording like “You’re gooder than grits” or “Bless your heart” or “I’m gonna smear you like peanut butter.”

However, falling in love with your phrasing can lead to a bit of overdoing and a sense of the overdramatic. Splash that with regional naiveté, and you might lose some readers who just don’t get it.

Enjoy a spicy vocabulary and flex that dialogue, but make sure that when your reader reaches the chapter about dead pigs that it’s about barbecue, so nobody gets confused.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Portuguese Wines

As followers of Book Blather are aware, I sometimes stray from the path of author interviews, book reviews, etc. and wander over to wine country. I don’t have far to go since I live in an area noted for producing massive amounts of wine grapes. I justify this occasional walkabout by asking, “What’s better than reading a good book while sipping a glass of fine wine?” However, this week’s post has nothing to do with Washington wines. My author friend Sue Roebuck, a frequent contributor to this blog, lives in Portugal. The following post offers a glimpse of Portuguese wines. One teensy problem: they’re only available in Portugal so start planning your trip now. Welcome back, Sue.

They call it Nectar of the Gods. Wine. Or – dare I say it – Portuguese wine.
I would take a bet that if you’ve never been to Portugal then I’ve had wines you’ve never heard of. You see, many vineyards here are so small that they only produce for the domestic market. But these are some of the best.
Picture this: you’re sitting by the ocean in the sun having a lunch of amêijoas a bulhão pato – or clams cooked in garlic, coriander and lemon juice – or a dish of fresh king prawns and you’re washing it all down with a refreshing vinho verde. Yes that is green wine which is a young, lightly sparkling and slightly dry wine that is stronger than you think! Try the Alvarinho green wine which is white. That last sentence isn’t as daft as it sounds because there’s red vinho verde and also rosé which are very fruity.

The sun’s getting lower, because you have to take time over your food, and you’ve just enjoyed a freshly caught roubalo (seabass) baked in a hard casing of salt – and, no, the fish isn’t at all salty once the case is broken. The white flesh will melt on your tongue, accompanied by a cold white Planalto from the Douro. Finally, why not enjoy your creamy Portuguese cheese for dessert with a rich Ervideira wine which is described on its website ( as a dark red wine, with notes of plum, wild fruit and spices. Soft in the mouth, with a notorious, elegant structure and a persistent finish.

After watching the sunset you’ll wind your way home in a very happy frame of mind. Guaranteed.

Sue is the author of Perfect Score and Hewhay Hall. Visit her website at

Monday, October 15, 2012

All the way from Wales . . . Gill Shutt

Author Gill Shutt is a Londoner now living in Wales. She met her husband while working at The Naval College in Dartmouth. Legends of Light, her high fantasy tale written in verse, has been favorably compared to Tolkien. The mother of three, Gill struggles daily with fibromyalgia. In her own words, “Reading and writing take me away from the pain, from the here and now and I can become someone else for a while.” One day, she hopes to retire to the seaside and live in a house where she can hear the sea from her window. Check out her blog, Fog on the Brain.
Welcome to Book Blather, Gill.

Do you miss London? How did the move to Wales come about?

I left London when I was 11 and moved to the West Country, I missed London then but now I’m not a city person. My husband and I moved here when we took over a local pub for a while, we just never seemed to make it back over the border.

Describe your journey to publication.

 How long have you got? I started with poems in magazines many years ago when my daughter was young then it fizzled out and I wrote for pleasure. I wrote Legends of Light for my niece and tried a few publishers but it’s poetry and fantasy which don’t mix according to most people. Then I decided to send Legends to some Indie publishers and Greyhart Press was my first try… bingo! Tim accepted it straight away and I’ll be getting my third book published by him in the near future.

I can hardly imagine writing an entire book in verse. What an accomplishment! How long did it take you?

 It was surprisingly quick, I don’t know why but my brain, once I click it into verse gear, just seems to take off. Each part was written separately but the first one was written in the car coming back from Essex.

What are you working on now?

 Alien Legends is coming out soon. It’s short stories for younger readers and up, there’s no upper age limit. We may start up a website for children to send in their own legends to go with the book. I’m currently writing an adult fantasy book which also involves a bit of an unsolved mystery from the early 1800’s. I don’t want to give too much away at the moment.
Any advice for aspiring writers?

 Write, write some more and then put it in a drawer and leave it for a while. Then get it out and look at it again. But whatever you do don’t give up, if writing makes you happy do it even if you can’t get published.