Thursday, May 28, 2015

The State vs. Debi O’Neille, Case 55-cr-13-6514

Debi sat in the witness stand, her long hair in a neat fold on the back of her head. She wondered if she could avoid perjury by creatively answering the gray-haired, arrogant, no-necked prosecuting attorney’s questions.

“Didn’t you, in fact, use the word “looked” in your first chapter a total of three times, and similarly, the word “glanced” twice?”

Jerk. Of course he’d ask questions designed specifically for yes or no answers—only an idiot would misunderstand.

Idiot speaking here –“I always restrict those verbs to situations where absolutely necessary, but I didn’t count how many instances were necessary in this particular chapter.”

“Yes or no?” the attorney asked.

Geez, could they cut down on the furniture oil in this place? The lemon smell was nauseating. Debi clasped her hands tighter together in her lap, as if that would help her nerves. At least she wasn’t shaking. Not on the outside, anyway.

“I don’t recall the exact number of times,” she said. “Overused verbs can usually be avoided, because—”

In a half-turn toward the jury, the prosecutor said, “Ms O’Neille, a yes or no, please.”

“You don’t need to tell readers that a character is looking at something—”

“Your Honor, ple-e-ease,” the prosecutor said to the judge, who expelled a long sigh.

“Not when you're in that character’s point of view,” Debi continued, “and you describe the something being looked at.”

She had him there. He seemed a bit confused. He rubbed a finger over his brow. Oh how she wanted to smile.

“So by your own admission, it’s likely you didn’t need to use either looked or glanced in your writing, and yet you did; isn’t that true?”

Well holy cookies and ice cream—of course I did. Who doesn’t? “Again, sir, I don’t recall.” Oops. That might be a little white one. She didn’t remember how many times she’d used either word, but she did believe she’d used them. At least once. Or more.

“Ms O’Neille, would you like me to repeat the question?”

Which was …? “I’m sure I would have used them a time or two, but there are situations where it isn’t ridiculous for them to be included in a great sentence. For instance—”

“That will be all,” the attorney said, his shark gaze right on her. “No further questions.”

The heat of seven hells washed through Debi, a mixture of anger, frustration, and humiliation. Anger because she hated being cut off, as if what she had to say didn’t matter. Probably a lot of ex-husbands in the world had become exes for that very tactic. The frustration stemmed because she had a good answer, right on the tip of her tongue, and though no one was waiting for it, she wanted to let it out. The humiliation sprang from the collision of anger and frustration, which no doubt showed in bright flaming color on her face. She worked her hands in her lap. Would it be legal to ask to be excused?

She was saved from further worry when her own attorney addressed her. “Ms O’Neille, you looked like you had something to say at the end of that … battering interrogation.”

“Objection,” the prosecutor shouted.

The long-faced judge looked at the defense attorney. “Mr. Diehl, please rephrase your statement, and perhaps you could ask a question.”

“Yes, Your Honor.” He smiled then trained his dark eyes on her. “Would you please share what you had been about to say?”

“I was simply going to explain that there are times when looked and glanced aren’t errors in understanding how point of view works, so it’s only natural they’d show up in anyone’s writing, including mine. For instance, when the narration directs the reader to watch a character who is not the point-of-view character, but a secondary character who is glancing or looking about, then we can use those words. We wouldn’t be in that character’s point of view, and the point-of-view character would certainly notice and report if the other person looked in a certain direction or gazed at anything specific. The point-of-view character would describe that little action of the other character turning his attention to this or that, whatever the case may be.”

“So, to simplify, you’re saying that using looked and glanced in your work might have been a deliberate decision?”

“Exactly. You just can’t use them too close together in a paragraph or per page, or they’ll echo. You’ll see that when you read this transcript.” She nodded toward the court reporter.

The defense attorney smiled at the judge. “I have no more questions, Your Honor.”

When Debi stepped down from the witness stand, with all the smug arrogance of a true writer, she walked with an air of royalty, chin up and eyes welcoming to the many smiles she expected to see. “Case closed,” she said to no one in particular. “And so, I rest my case on the case of looked and glanced.”

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My A to Z non-theme reveal

Last year I truly enjoyed participating in the A-Z Blog Hop. It was my first year, and though I did get a tad overwhelmed toward the end of April, I was amazed at the massive number of connections made through this blog-a-thon. I met a lot of friends, and I’ve enjoyed chatting with them since.

This year I will be attending a writers’ conference in April, and I’ve also taken on a couple of big projects, so I won’t be joining the hop. It just wouldn’t work out with me being gone for an entire week through the month. I considered writing my posts in advance and scheduling them automatically, but I know I wouldn’t be able to check my blog and respond to comments and return visits to others. I suspect you all would forgive me, but I still can’t get myself to do that. The week of the conference is going to be busy, busy, busy, and I don’t want to complicate it with guilt.

Regardless, I will still be posting and visiting many of your blogs during the weeks that I’m not separated from my computer. I’m looking forward to reading as many A-Z posts as I can, and I wish you all luck in getting through the coming month with success.

Happy writing!


Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Silvia Villalobos, a native of Romania who lives immersed in the laid-back vibe of Southern California, is a writer of mystery novels and short fiction. Her stories have appeared in The Riding Light Review, Pure Slush, and Red Fez, among other publications. Her debut novel, STRANGER OR FRIEND, will be released by Solstice Publishing and is now available for pre-order on Amazon. 

The Inspiration Behind the Novel

STRANGER OR FRIEND is the culmination of two lives at a confluence of cultures: an Eastern European immigrant—yours truly—married to a California native of Hispanic descent. The result is a fictionalized story, an observation, of intersecting cultures, newcomers, rejection, and acceptance. With the legal field as my background, it came to pass that Zoe, the main character, should be a lawyer, and after much deliberation, would travel from Los Angeles to Wyoming. This is the story of a woman going back home, only to find that home is no longer the place she remembers, or maybe a place she never really knew.

The Road to Publication

The road to publication is full of bends, climbs, and descents, a sinuous path of joy and heartbreak. Mine was no different. As I await release of my mystery novel, STRANGER OR FRIEND, available on amazon, I would like to offer a glimpse at this winding path.

How it All Began

Writing has always been a part of my life. As a child, I idolized Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu, and folk-tale writer Ion Creanga. They set my imagination loose and made it imperative that I put my thoughts on paper. 

In high school, an essay I wrote on Eminescu’s Evening Star, prompted a teacher to offer dreams-propelling praise, and that was when serious writing—mostly blurred thoughts and unfinished stories—began for me.

When family and work demanded my time, I took a break, but the writing bug kept biting. After a long pause, I joined The InternetWriting Workshop—an online critique group, staffed with volunteers and free of charge—the best decision of my writing life. It didn’t take long for the first critique to arrive, one of praise but also criticism and suggestions for improvement. Line by line I worked through my story, analyzing comments, editing, re-writing, learning.

The following year, when I began querying agents, there were requests for a partial manuscript, but never an offer. So, back to my critique group I went, with another novel, submitting chapters over the course of a year, writing short stories at the same time, submitting, editing, and reading. Always reading. Every rejection became another lesson, and to keep it from burning a hole through my heart, another submission went out the day the rejection came in.

It is no secret that agents prefer authors with a built-in following—not always, but most times—so, I decided to turn to independent publications for my short stories, and many were accepted.

After this small but important victory, I began shopping my novel to independent houses, and following months of querying I received an offer from Solstice Publishing. If ever excitement were uncontainable for the writer who began with a high school essay, that acceptance sure was.

Why Not Self Publish

It’s reassuring to know self-publishing is always an option. However, I wanted to step into the publishing business with a team by my side, people who know much more about the business side of things than I ever would, no matter the amounts of material I read on the subject. There are no guarantees for success, but if I were to take this step, I wanted it to be under the auspices of a publishing house. Personal preference.

What I Learned in the Process 

The road to publication is rarely short. Learning from rejections is part of the process. Working on one’s art and craft every day is not only rewarding but crucial. Reading, in and out of a preferred genre, and joining a critique group are essential, because writing is one thing and writing, well, is something else entirely. And please, arm yourself with patience. No editor likes impatient writers who just react to rejections.


This part will make your head spin, but with organization, it can be done. Sure, there are publicists who do this, and the big houses hire them, but not independent publishers. They help with marketing, but there is no publicist. My understanding is that big houses also expect writers to work on marketing, publicist or not, so it would serve a writer well to learn and thoroughly practice this part of the business.

Build your name brand (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Put together a Media Kit or Press Kit. This includes your bio, bibliography, cover art, photo(s) and links, all in one document. More on this below.

Do you have a blog? If you’re reading this, the answer is probably yes. A writer without a blog cuts herself way short. Post interesting articles, stay active within the blogging community. This will come in handy for blog tours. Look into organizing signing events in your area. What about the local radio and newspapers? Many outlets love to support local authors. I have a radio interview scheduled with my local station. This is when you will need a Press Kit. Editorial sites and radio stations expect a Press Kit. Get creative. Marketing is not only a way of doing, but a way of thinking in our service-driven society, as marketing books will tell you. 

Many thanks to Deb for hosting me, and the readers of this blog for reading my story. I’d be happy to answer any questions and elaborate on any points left unaddressed either here, at my blog, SilviaWrites, or website strangerorfriend.



Monday, March 9, 2015

A Top-Notch Conference for Young Writers!

As a former editor of My Little Magazine, a publication (years back) for young writers, I still hear from students and teachers wondering what magazines or e-zines are out there to help them, and what conferences or other events are available to young writers. My top answer for this year is the summer 2015 Young Writers’ Program through the Loft Literary Center (

Why this one? For a lot of reasons. One, the very affordable program hosts classes for students ages six to seventeen, so there’s something for every young writer no matter where their talents and skills lie. Having given a few classes for young writers through a different program, which I believe was quite good, I can say without hesitation that I haven’t seen too many programs for young writers with such a diverse list of available classes as the one hosted by The Loft.

They offer classes on writing genre fiction, writing the epic fantasy, novel writing, writing fan-fiction, personal essays, poetry, historical fiction, college application essays – and who won’t need those someday – and also advanced fiction workshops for students already working on a short story or novel.

For students who can’t travel to Minneapolis, they have a broad list of online classes, each with a suggested age bracket. Some are geared toward students ages thirteen to seventeen, while others are for students ages twelve to fourteen, and still others for ages nine to eleven. There are even classes for students as young as six to eight years old, nurturing that first interest in writing and helping it blossom into a garden of possibilities and stories.

This program gives a hands-on approach to writing, as well as a better look at how to read to improve your craft. Many classes offer critiques not only from other students, but also from the instructor. The unique organization of the program boasts everything writing conferences for adults offer, and there’s no holding back on brainstorming ideas and writing prompts to kick-start creativity.

Students will be learning from such creative writing instructors as Holly Vanderhair, Samantha Ten Eyck, Nicole Kronzer, Rhea Davison-Edwards; and editors including Andrew Karre and Edward J. Rathke; and authors —Kate St. Vincent Vogl, Emily Strasser, Janet Graber, Lyda Morehouse, Rachel Gold, and many more (not a complete list in any category).

I’m inspired just hearing about the program. If you or a young writer you know is looking for an intense but fun learning experience, I doubt you’ll find any better. Check the website out, and consider this—I’m excited about the program, and I don’t even work there.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Discipline Versus Creative Flow

I’ve always gone with creative flow. If I’m working on a long project, and another idea does more than softly whisper through my brain, but starts doing little cartwheels to demand attention, I have to give it at least some.

I’m close to finishing revisions on my novel, and I had previously promised myself to turn away new ideas and keep my brain focused on this project until completion. I’ve made these little promises before, but I’ve never lived up to them. But this time my promise was so sincere, and I’ve done really well for a few months, not even tiptoeing into another story, so I kind of wanted to see the promise through. For one thing, I wanted to know if I could.

I think I could. If I wanted to. But do I really want to right now when there’s someone so vivid in my brain that she’s got me really curious as to what’s going on with her? Ah, decisions, decisions. My friends say No, don’t stop. You’re so close ... Keep going… You’re almost there.

I already take little breaks (besides blogging time) to edit the work of others, a job I love nearly as much as writing, and I also write an occasional feature story for a wonderful magazine. These I do in honor of my electric bill, which likes to be paid whether I want to pay it or not. Besides, I have overhead lights by my computer and they don’t work without electricity.

I can’t tell you how many little stories made an appearance in my brain during the last few months, and I’ve turned them all away—but this one is standing strong. So how do I keep diligent in my efforts on the big project while sneaking a little time to another one?

I’ve decided to use the same advice I give writers when they find themselves in a slump. Write a paragraph a day. If that’s all you demand of yourself when you're having a hard time writing, it isn’t an overwhelming task. Believe it or not, a paragraph a day puts out a well focused story when you eventually have enough paragraphs. The last short story of mine accepted for publishing (comes out in May) came together in this manner.

So here’s my plan. I will write one paragraph per day on the new story, or at least a few each week, while devoting the bulk of my time to finishing my novel. I really think this is the best idea, even though it’s breaking a promise to myself. The thing is, I feel strongly that if I don’t give a few minutes to this little story, it’s going to suck my focus from the novel anyway and make me careless, because I’ll be trying to hone in on an aspect of the novel, but not with my whole heart. That isn’t going to work.

So here’s to me and yet another broken promise. But don’t feel sorrow for me on this. I am going to finish the novel. And I am going to present myself with a new short story… At least I hope it’s a short one. :-)

How do you handle these creative interruptions? Am I making a mistake?

Happy writing!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Got Any Advice for Writing a Sequel?

Though I’m still tackling revisions in the last few chapters of my current novel, ideas for a sequel are pushing and shoving in my head. So I’ll be facing the dilemma of deciding how much background might need carried over from Book I, and briefly mentioned in Book II. And just so you know, the ideas bouncing in my head will be picking up the story right from where it left off (one day later), even though the first book did come to a nice conclusion in the end. I’ve read a few that didn’t, and I hated them. (Never read the author’s work again, either.)

I can’t have an info dump, but some details will need repeated for clarity.

I want the second book to stand as a story on its own, as well as a continuation of the first story. I surely don’t want a summary of everything that happened in the first book dumped into an “I remember” scene in the second book. So it’s off to the drawing board for me. My drawing board? Good examples written by great writers. I’m wondering if any of you have some pointers or suggestions of first and second books (no vampires or undead murderers) by super good authors that I could read, ones where the story in the first book continue in the second. Even a how-to book on writing a sequel or trilogy would come in handy, if it’s actually a good one.

I don’t outline. I’m more of a panster. Sometimes I get an idea and run with it, but I do toss it over in my mind again and again when I’m not at the computer. I think ahead to possible problems, ponder solutions, and put a lot of faith in the characters leading the way for me, but I still don’t think I can get there without good examples.  

So, what do you suggest?


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Children Learn What They Live

Three-year-old Janessa already knows that reading to her child is the secret ingredient for enhancing imagination, education, and inspiration. Who's reading at your house today?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A New Panic for the New Year

I’ve never considered myself a wimp. I’m not afraid of hard work or telling off people who deserve it, no matter their size. But creepy things do get to me. At the top of the list would be mice. Slimy things would be right up there too, along with big bugs. But recently I discovered a new phobia. Somewhere in the last couple of weeks I read a book that exposed the fact that dust is actually bug poop. Seriously?

I could’ve enjoyed living a long time without knowing that tidbit.

I’m okay dusting the furniture, because I got myself one of those mitts that you spray with polish, so my fingers aren’t actually touching the bug poop. But now I can’t enjoy reading a book with a cup of coffee at my side without placing a saucer on top of the cup. Who’s to say how long it takes for dust to fall? The idea of even one miniscule turd dropping into my coffee between sips is just too disgusting.

I don’t remember which book I read this information in, because I read a half dozen over the last weeks. But I can tell you, if I knew for sure, I might do the horrible deed of crossing that bug-poop line out with a thick marker, making it unreadable, in case I ever want to read the book again. My sleep might depend on it.

I say that because now I can’t help but assume there’s bug poop floating in my bedroom during the night, landing on me, dirtying my face and sticking to my eyelashes. I am so glad we got a new furnace this year, one with a super thick filter. Maybe it’s keeping a little poop out of the air (and away from me and my coffee!).

I don’t have obsessive compulsive orders, except for in my husband’s opinion. He thinks that because little things bother me—having an afghan spread over the back of a sofa, and accidentally arranging one corner lower than the other (I think he does this on purpose); a picture off-kilter a quarter inch on a wall; toast not buttered all the way into the corners; bread more than a half-a-day old; socks not snug over toes—that I’m like TV’s Mr. Monk.

No way. The things that bother me would bother anyone. After all, I can’t believe there’s someone willing to sip a beverage that’s been sitting on the table a few minutes, if he or she really thinks about what might have dropped into it.

How about you? Do you place a saucer over your cup between sips?