Monday, March 30, 2015

Here's why our writing contest is important for young people today

When friends hear that our writer's group is launching the Celebration of Young Writers Creative Writing contest again, they invariably ask this basic question: "Why? It's so much work, and what do you get out of it?"

It's a fair question, because the contest is a ton of work. Members of the Huron Area Writers Group and our friends end up reading hundreds of entries. We take the time to judge the work based on an evaluation sheet. Each entry gets at least five reads. It takes weeks to complete the task and tabulate the results. Every entry gets recognized and the winners get small cash prizes.

But we know it's worth all the work when we see the faces of our contestants and their parents on Author's Day, which happens to be Saturday, May 16, this year. They are usually so excited they can hardly contain themselves while waiting for the announcement of the awards.

That's reward enough for our members. But we also have other motives for running the contest, which is now in it's fourth year.

Our goal is to promote the art of communicating through the written word. We want to encourage young people to develop skills that very often get lost or beaten into the ground in today's fast-paced, abbreviated world of social media. I feel sad when I hear young people say they write all the time these days - texting, Tweeting, posting on FaceBook, and e-mailing. Sorry, but that's not enough.

Writing and communicating effectively requires much more than that. We know that English and literature teachers in our schools are fully aware of this. And we are happy to work with them to advance the skills of their students. That's why our contest is run through the schools across the Upper Thumb of Huron County. We want students to work with their teachers and put together great essays, short stories, plays, or journalistic and narrative writing. Students have the freedom to select the topic and genre for their writing projects.

We also want students to understand that learning how to communicate effectively will help them in the business world when they have completed their studies. Companies today want employees who can organize their thoughts and spell them out in logical, coherent forms. Great ideas rarely get implemented if they cannot be expressed in terms that are easily understandable.

Finally, writing is just plain good for the soul. It's a great way to pour out your deepest feelings and thoughts. Expressing yourself in creative ways can be excellent therapy. If you feel like you're being misunderstood, then sit down and write about it - all about it.

We are running the contest again this year with our partners at the Thumb Area Arts Guild. No one gets paid to do this work. We are happy to do it. But we could use some help in gathering the funds to cover the cash prizes to our students and our basic expenses.

All HAWG and TAAG members can accept donations. No amount is too small. Remember, all donations can be a tax write-off, so don't be shy with your checkbooks. For more information and submission guidelines, email or call Diana at (989) 874-4016.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A tad too predictable

Gray Mountain,
            John Grisham
            368 pages in hardcover

            Review by Dave Vizard

            Most of the time, readers of John Grisham can count on him to deliver a legal thriller that’s a thoroughly enjoyable, fast-paced, page burner with plenty of colorful characters and local scenery.
            “Gray Mountain,” the Southern author’s most recent work, does all of that, but it’s just a tad too predictable for my taste. Early on, I had the feeling that he was writing by formula.
            Consider the basic plot. Sweet and lovely Big City lawyer gets bounced out of her job during the economic crash of 2007-2008. She gets to keep some benefits and possibly come back in a year when the economy rebounds if she takes an unpaid internship at one of a dozen or so non-profits where lawyers are in great need. Our heroine, Samantha, ends up in Appalachia working for a legal aide outfit trying to save coal miners from everything evil: coal companies, black lung, devastation of the environment, bankruptcy, domestic violence – you name it, they got it.
            Of course, she meets Mr. Wonderful, a man named Gray, who is not wielding a whip, a chair, a gagging ball, and is totally shade-less. No, this Mr. Gray is a brilliant lawyer who has dedicated his life to fighting coal companies, the very villains who have leveled his family and Gray Mountain. Problem is, Mr. Hotstuff is killed in a mysterious plane crash by … guess who? See what I mean? That leaves poor Samantha to take up with his brother, equally dashing but a terd in college and not lawyer material.
            As time passes, Samantha becomes more and more enthralled with the people of Appalachia who need her and less eager to return to New York where no one needs anybody. You can see where this is going. I don’t have to tell you the ending. And that’s the problem with this book – predictable. I wanted exciting plot twists and daring turns in the story, but there were few.
            “Gray Mountain” is very timely and topical, also Grisham trademarks. Readers will learn a lot about Appalachia, local customs and culture, as well as the business and history of coal mining. But that’s also part of the Grisham formula.
            It is, however, still a pretty good read. I did not feel cheated. I give it 3 stars out of a possible 5.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dipping my brush in paint

I've never taken any art or drawing classes, but I've always been curious about the creative process for it. Finally decided to stick my toe in the water, or perhaps I should say stick my brush in the paint,  and give it a try.

I just signed up for the Art Party on Feb. 5 at the Boathouse Bar & Grill in Caseville. After the last Art Party at the Boathouse, I heard rave reviews from several of the participants. They said it was a great evening. Good food and wine, great group of people, an excellent (caring and patient) teacher, and, best of all, your very own painting to take home with you.

Looking forward to the evening and the experience.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Creating a hit lady for my novel

I created a professional hit lady by the name of Charlene "Charlie" Marx in my new novel, which is still under construction and still unnamed.

Before I gave Charlie life, I tried to do some research on hit ladies and serial killers. But there is not much information out there on hit ladies because they are relatively rare. Not many studies or research compiled on hit ladies or serial killers.

Most of what I could find on cold-blooded, ruthless killers reveals that they are almost always men. That makes it tough to develop my female character. She has a military background and combat training, but never actually experienced real warfare (the story is set in 1999 and women were serving in war zones, but not actually on the front lines).

But what actually makes Charlie tick, or more precisely, what in her background shaped her mentality so that she could kill for money without feeling or remorse?

Need is not enough. I'm going with a tortured childhood as the driving force that made her who she is. Charlie doesn't want to have children because of what she experienced. She was a foster child who was passed around from one set of abusive and uncaring parents to another. Adults who only took her to get  a check from the state. Time after time, she was used and abused.

It made Charlie hard. It made Charlie tough. And, when her youthful experiences were combined with what she learned in the military, it made her lethal.

Charlene's first kill was accidental. It amazed her that the death did not bother her in the least. In fact, seeing the body on the ground and lifeless at her hand actually gave her a thrill. That's when Charlene became Charlie and started a life of contract killing for a living.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cheeseburger Fest great for local authors, too

The annual Cheeseburger in Caseville Festival is great for those chasing good music, food and fun in the sun. But it's also turning out to be pretty burger-flippin' good for writers, too.

Somewhere, every day during the festival in this Lake Huron coastal town, writers of various stature could be found signing and selling books.

The biggest name in this group is childrens' book author Jonathan Rand, who has written a series of chiller stories from around Michigan that young folks seem to love. Rand brought his act to town to sign and sell books at the Lemon Tree Marketplace in downtown Caseville. Hundreds of people lined up to meet the author, buy his book, get it signed or get a photo with the legendary writer.

Rand's latest offering is "Catastrophe in Caseville," a story about a mad scientist who creates a giant mechanical cheeseburger and threatens to destroy the town with it. Sounds a little far-fetched, but the cheeseburgers of this town have been known to cause a belly blast or two, so why not?

Another story that spins out of our tiny city and out of the festival is the latest book by author Dennis Collins. "Nightmare" is Collins' piece of fiction that puts bull sharks, which can survive and thrive in warm fresh water, in the swimming area of a local park where 10,000 people are in the water seeking relief from a hot August day during the height of the festival. Yikes!

Collins was all over town, every day somewhere different, signing and selling his book. Because of its automatic and natural connection to the town and the festival, you could say that the Thumb-area author was trying to make some cheese while the sun was shining.

Bill Diller, a noted Thumb nature photographer and author, finished his latest book just in time for the Cheeseburger Festival. "Every Photo Has a Story" is Diller's beautiful coffee-table style book. It's chock full of jaw-dropping photos and interesting narrative about how the images were captured.

In addition to the book, Diller also displayed and sold a number of his photos under a tent at the Brew Moon Cafe, where the owners hosted a small craft show, flipped cheeseburgers on a grill, and offered the sounds of live musicians to festival shoppers.

I took advantage of the fabulous location our real estate office has in downtown Caseville. David L. Kraft Realty LLC is right in the middle of the festival party. Every free moment I had turned into an opportunity to sell books. Since I always travel with a card table, chair, box of books and ink pen in hand, putting up a display for visitors was a snap. I sold books, met a ton of nice folks and made connections with book clubs and public libraries each day of the 10-day event.

This year's Cheeseburger in Caseville Festival was another overwhelming success for the community, but it's also giving local writers a boost. This area of Michigan is becoming a haven for authors.  And I'm delighted to report that it's also gaining a reputation as a good place for fun as well as good reads.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A murder mystery on Mackinac Island? Here are three reasons

Most people go to Mackinac Island because it's a beautiful, relaxing get-away from their hectic, crazy lives.

I just spent the weekend at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island with my oldest son, Michael, because we were working - hustling around in a fantasy playground working on my next novel.

Why base a murder mystery on Mackinac Island, one of Michigan's true gems and the kind of idyllic place where bad things seemingly never happen? Well, that's a good question. It's one that almost everyone asks when they find out that I'm developing a story line for another work of fiction.

I've got three reasons.

The top one is that the act of murder on Mackinac Island does not fit its image in any way. The island is like Disney World without the rides. It's Never-Never Land. It's pixie dust over and over again wherever you go on the island. In my mind, that makes it a perfect setting for a horrible crime.

Another reason is that so many people can relate to Mackinac Island. Most folks in Michigan have visited the island, or they've seen photos of the island, or they've read about the place, or they know people who have been there.

My evidence of that? On Sunday, the Detroit Free Press printed a front page story about a zoning dispute on the island that pits developers against historians. A ZONING DISPUTE?!?!? Yup, and it was the most viewed story of the day on the Freep's web page.

Lots of people care about Mackinac Island and what it represents. I discovered that when I was editor of True North Magazine. And that's the third reason I've selected the island as one of the settings in my next book. I've visited it so many times and know so much about it that I am eager to write about it.

I hope my love for the island comes through in the next book like it did for Bay City in my first novel, "A Formula for Murder."

I don't have a title for the new book yet, but I have worked out enough of the overall plot to declare that it will involve a revenge killing and the Grand Hotel will be involved in some way. The story will be filled with intrigue and suspense, as well as healthy doses of humor and romance.

Stay tuned. I'm hoping to have it finished and ready to publish by fall.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review - "Truly enjoyed reading 'Formula' "

Hello Dave,We met at your book signing in Birch Run.Just letting you know that I truly enjoyed readingA Formula for Murder.Wishing you all the best in your future writings..Thanks again.- Tina Foster.