Wednesday, August 16, 2023

How to Write Talking Animals

by Ellen Jacobson

When I set out to write my new cozy mystery series – the North Dakota Library Mysteries – my muse insisted that there be a talking animal in it. At first, I thought she meant a cute dog or cat. I could get on board with that. But while I was trying to decide if it should be a regal Siamese cat or a playful golden retriever puppy, my muse rudely interrupted me.

“It’s a chameleon,” my muse said firmly.

“You mean like from those insurance commercials?” I asked.

“That’s a gecko, not a chameleon.” My muse sighed. “You really need to bone up on reptiles.”

“Yeah, I’m not really a fan of things with scales,” I said.

“Tough. The decision has already been made. You either write about a chameleon or you quit this whole author gig and go get a real job.”

Eventually, I gave in. And now I’ve written a book starring a talking chameleon. Well, at least he thinks he’s the star of the show. He really isn’t. But it’s easier to let him believe that.

Anyway, if you’re thinking about writing about a talking animal, here are a few tips that might be helpful.

1 – Do Your Research
Learn about the animal you’re going to write about, especially if it’s one you’re not as familiar with. The last thing you want is for your readers to point out how you got it wrong. In my case, I needed to do some research on chameleons. I’ve been having fun weaving in chameleon facts into my story, like how they catch flies with their tongues.

2 – Interaction with Humans
Decide how your animal interacts with the human characters in the story. For example, can humans understand the animal when it talks or does it just sound like regular animal noises to them? If so, is it all humans or just one special human that understands the animal? For example, in my series, only the main character, Thea Olson, can hear the chameleon talking. In fact, no one else can even see the chameleon.


3 – How They Talk
Does your animal sound like a human when they talk, or does their speech reflect their species? For example, if you’re writing about a sloth, you might have them speak very, very slowly. Alternatively, you might not want to make them sound any different from a member of the human race. In my case, my chameleon sounds like an old chain-smoking guy from New York City. If you closed your eyes, you might not even realize he’s a reptile.

4 – How They See the Human World
Although your animal character will probably have some human traits, ultimately they aren’t human. The unique perspective they have on the human world is a great creative jumping off point. Have fun using animals to provide commentary on the human condition—both the good and the bad.

A cozy mystery by Ellen Jacobson

Libraries are full of books . . . and deadly secrets.

When Thea Olson agreed to volunteer at her local library, she anticipated shelving books, not stumbling across a dead body.

Concerned her brother, the acting chief of police, is in over his head, Thea is determined to find out whodunit. She investigates the murder with the assistance of her grandmother and the handsome new library director.

Just when the trio of amateur sleuths hit a dead-end, a snarky chameleon appears in the library with cryptic clues for Thea. At first, she thinks she’s hallucinating. But once Thea accepts the fact that the obnoxious reptile is real, she realizes he might just help her crack the case.

Can Thea discover who the murderer is before someone else is taken out of circulation?

This is the first in a new library series set in the fictional town of Why, North Dakota. If you like quirky characters, chameleons, way too much coffee, and all things bookish, you’ll love Murder at the Library.

IWSG Anthology author: Hero Lost - The Silvering

Ellen Jacobson is a chocolate obsessed cat lover who writes cozy mysteries and romantic comedies. After working in Scotland and New Zealand for several years, she returned to the States, lived aboard a sailboat, traveled around in a tiny camper, and is now settled in a small town in northern Oregon with her husband and an imaginary cat named Simon.

Find out more at

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Patience Through Metaphors

Waiting: Acquiring Patience Through Metaphors
by Bish Denham

The old saying, “patience is a virtue”, is wrong. When it comes to writing and publishing, it’s a necessity. To help on your journey here are a few metaphors that may help to keep you centered and patient.

Jigsaw Puzzles
Each piece put in place is one less that has to be found; is one more that brings the whole picture into clearer focus.

When it comes to writing, instead of looking at everything that has to be done, start by sorting the edge pieces which might include: a to do list, getting your basic materials together, reading one bit of research instead of five, cleaning up your desk, organizing notes or taking notes. In other words, begin small. As each task is finished it will be easier to see what the final picture will look like.

The Gordian Knot
Legend says that whoever unraveled the Gordian Knot would rule the world. Alexander the Great approached the problem by thinking outside the box. He simply whipped out his trusty sword and hacked the knot to pieces.

I have always loved this image. All of us have moments when we feel tangled up inside. When we’ve got so much to do, we don’t know where to begin. This is when a little mental imaging can help. Picture Alexander’s sword in your hands. Picture your problems as a tangled mess. Picture yourself hacking that tangle into small manageable pieces.

At the very least, there should be a relaxation of tension. The problem(s) may not have been solved, but it is a way to begin the process of opening yourself up to thinking outside the box.

Fishing is the best metaphor I know for the process of waiting. First you get your gear together which is equal to your notes, books, pen and paper, or your computer files.

Next, you have to find a good fishing hole. This equals researching agents or publishers. Then you have to bait your hook and throw out the line. In other words, write your cover/query letter and send it off.

Now comes the hard part, waiting for the bite. Time to enjoy lounging on the riverbank or trolling in the boat. Fishing isn’t about the bait, just as writing isn’t about the story. It’s about the whole process which includes getting ready for the next project.

Then…there’s the nibble. But wait! Be prepared. The hook may not be well set and you could still lose your fish.

Finally, there’s no need to tell anyone how exhilarating it is to land a fish. Big or small, our patience has been rewarded.

So, bait your hooks and throw out your lines. If they get tangled, whip out your sword and chop them to bits. While waiting notice that you’ve moved forward, that you have another story out there, another one taking shape on the page. Notice you have another piece added to the puzzle.

Keep yourself busy with the process of writing. Enjoy all its aspects. If you do, you won’t need to be patient because time will fly and when the acceptance comes it will take you by surprise.

Have fun and break a lead.

With over a hundred years of family history in the Caribbean, Bish Denham still has plenty of family and friends who live in the islands. She has written and published three children’s books and has had numerous stories and articles published in magazines, including the story, “The Blind Ship”, which is in the IWSG anthology, Voyagers: The Third Ghost.

She says, “Growing up in the islands was like living inside a history book. Columbus named them, pirates plied the waters, Sir Francis Drake sailed through the area, and Alexander Hamilton was raised on St. Croix, while hundreds of years of slavery have left their indelible mark. It was within this atmosphere of magic, mystery, and wonder that I grew up.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Getting Middle Schoolers Excited About Reading

Sherry Ellis

When kids are young, they are excited about books. Many even want to be authors when they grow up. I always chuckle during school visits when I ask the question, “Who wants to be an author when you grow up?” Inevitably, every hand goes up in the kindergarten and first grade groups. As the grade number goes up, the hand numbers go down. Middle-schoolers rarely have ambitions to become an author. Sometimes that also means they don’t enjoy reading. How can we get these kids excited about reading? Here are some tips teachers can use in their classrooms to get them motivated. 
  1. Plan lessons around your favorite books and topics. If you’re excited about the book, that enthusiasm will show and may infect your students – in a good way!
  2. Show students you’re reading, too. Post a picture of your current read on a board each week and encourage kids to ask about it. 
  3. Maintain a classroom library. I see this in classrooms for the little kids all the time, but not so much in classrooms for older kids. Fill it with a wide variety of popular novels – books that would appeal to both boys and girls. Consider including shorter stories and some with illustrations that may appeal to reluctant readers.
  4. Encourage independent reading by providing time to read. Have students set individual goals and reward students for reaching them. Don’t attach a grade to it though. Students may get turned off by that.
  5. Watch movies of the books after reading them and compare the differences. 
  6. Use audio books. Okay, so that’s not exactly reading, but it could get reluctant readers interested in books.
  7. Implement classroom book clubs in which students get to choose what they want to read from a list of books and then get grouped with others who want to read the same thing. Give them some ideas for topics they can discuss that are related to the books. Encourage them to come up with their own.
  8. After reading a book, have students participate in activities that help them flex their own creative muscles: imagine a different ending, write a letter to the main character referencing a specific scene, interview the villain, draw a map of the story’s setting, etc.
  9. Introduce students to a popular new series. The cliff hangers might entice reluctant readers to keep reading.
  10. Adopt an author. If students are excited about an author’s book, visit that author’s website and find out if that author can do a school visit or Skype visit. You can also see if that author has done any videos or webcasts that can be shown in the classroom.
With a little ingenuity, teachers can make reading fun, interesting, and engaging. And who knows? Maybe if a lot of teachers do this, the number of hands of middle-schoolers who want to be authors will go up!

Sherry Ellis - The Ghosts of Pompeii (in VOYAGERS)

Sherry Ellis is an award-winning author and professional musician who plays and teaches the violin, viola, and piano. when she is not writing or engaged in musical activities, she can be found doing household chores, hiking, or exploring the world.

Ellis' books include  Don't Feed the ElephantTen Zany BirdsThat Mama is a GrouchThat Baby Woke Me Up, AGAINBubba and Squirt's Big Dig to China; and Bubba and Squirt's Mayan Adventure.

She lives in Atlanta, Georgia. For more information about her work, she invites you to visit her website at