A Question of Style

SCHS Talk 2.jpgRecently, I was invited to speak at an International Baccalaureate Lyceum Speaker Series at my son’s high school. The proposed topic of his English teacher, Mr. Ed Booten: “How To Craft a Novel.” Both the English and History senior and junior classes were combined for the event.

For those of you haven’t heard of it, the IB Diploma (and I borrow) is an English-medium university preparation course based on an approach to learning involving critical inquiry and is aimed at the education of the whole person. Every year more than 130,000 young people at schools all over the world take the IB Diploma examinations.

In other words, these are sharp kids – on the ball.

Mr. Booten had read my second novel, The Lost Lantern, and enjoyed it enough to request my insights, which I very much appreciated. I will say, as an independent writer with my last book in its second year of release (available on Amazon.com along with my first, The Long Shadow of Hope), speaking opportunities are few and far between.

I prepared my remarks to include my background (and knowing how a high schooler will cringe at a 500-word assignment): as a former sportswriter required a minimum of 500 bylines a year (my totals were more like 700) I was cranking out at least 400,000 words a year. An average novel is 70,000 to 120,000 words. Thus, a work of such length was attainable in my mind. The Lost Lantern has 143,000, or 505 pages.

I hit the usual topics: Write What you know; Point of View/pros and cons of First Person versus Third Person omniscient; Genre; Plot; Character Development; Tone; Choosing a Title.

I did have to contradict myself – and this is the beauty of the imagination and the fun of writing – because my next novel is about a sexual-serial killer within a gated community on a southern coastal island, and the female police detective who goes undercover to try and catch him. I promise, what I know most of these three topics is the island.

And it is from this contradiction that many of their insightful questions emerged. We laughed as I paced back and forth coming up with answers about creating literary monsters, men willing to go a little further in their crimes and deception then they had previously, the aftermath causing mayhem.

I will say now, one young lady got me. These students in addition to spirited novels are assigned interpretive books such as How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Her question was on my style of writing. I had (at least in that moment) completely forgotten about the four types of writing so often brought up in college courses: Expository, Descriptive, Persuasive, and Narrative, and went on to her about how my style was dialogue-driven, conversational, and that I used my dialogue to create tension. That’s all true, but I completely whiffed on her question. While some authors’ novels might be considered Descriptive in style, most novels – my novels – are written in the Narrative style.

But style goes much deeper than the above literary categories. Writing to your audience is always the key. J.K. Rowling doesn’t write like Ernest Hemingway, nor should she. Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory (or theory of omission) strips stories to their bare bones, leaving the reader to interpret his meaning. The voice of Hunter S. Thompson will never be found in a John Grisham tale. Pat Conroy and Cormac McCarthy are in another stratosphere, but hardly similar, nor did they ever mass-produce in a Pattersonesque fury. My goal is for my murder-suspense novels to become page-turners with a surprising twist or two. I don’t use my thesaurus to find big words to enhance my meaning or bog down the reader, nor do I enjoy reading with a dictionary by my side. That’s my style, and for now I’m sticking to it. Thanks for reading, A.S. (Photo courtesy of Ed Booten) 

© – 2019  



Dig Deep


There’s no such place, there’s no such way,

Time duly invested, means nothing they say.


A meadow, a brook, a tree with a view,

A life spent in limbo, a box just won’t do.


If ever a song could reach out to a crowd.

If ever a storm sent the sun tumbling down.


The garden will grow and so will the thoughts.

But the weeds must be cleared for the seeds to make crops.


There’s beauty in growth, be it peppers or boys,

Or tiny girl toddlers with dolls as their toys.


To see they grow right is backbreaking toil,

But for the sake of the world, put the trowel in the soil.


© 2016


THE LAST few minutes are a thing to behold,

The morning was great, but even harmony gets old.

Per her request, the elves split and they hid,

And she was dressed like a model, before we second kid rid.


As we brought it back home, we couldn’t resist,

“The Twelve Days of Christmas,” she sings it best.

Her biscuits were baked as we walked in the door,

And they went down smoothly, with butter – no more.


But it happens each day, as the last minutes tick,

The head band wrong color, the shoes played a trick.

The search it begins, as the pressure gets high,

I plead, “It’s not worth having a tear in your eye.”


But they come anyway, as she brushes her hair,

The pain in my heart, more load to bear.

I try hard to keep it, from erupting in shout,

We gather and rush, to the car and out.


Her friend, he knows, she’s under duress,

Her silence is telling, she stares down the abyss.

She shoots me a look, says “My day won’t be good,”

After sharing words of love, each day like we should.


I want to scoop her up, and hold her so tight,

The announcements are blaring, so it wouldn’t be right.   

As I get back home, with a long list to do,

I’d smoke if I had’em, my nerves it would soothe.


There’s death and mayhem, in this country each day,

Problems worldwide, and pointing this way.

Momma’s road trip is ending, her safety we need,

I say it quite often, it’s my constant plea.


But our little girl’s busy, her days are consumed,

She’s far far from loafing, as some might assume.

So my wish and my prayer, would selfishly be,

Let our baby be wise, happy, care free.


© 2015


piggyback bw

OURS ARE fifteen, thirteen, and nearly ten

Thus you forget

The constant chatter

The wonder

The inquisitiveness

The trust

The tiny steps

The uncertainty of speed

The forming of new words

The overuse of familiar ones

The inflections

The playfulness

The need for naps

The crawling over

The bravery in climbing

The heavy diapers

The tiny laughter

The nonsensical

The infatuation with animals

The love of dolls

The sleepy eyes

The softness

The bed head

The babbling in the morning

The humming and singing

The hugs and snuggles … of the two-year-old

The knowledge that each new day is a blank canvas

The hope that love is in the paint

© 2015