Are You Loopy?

October 31, 2009

Back in 2004, I attended a writer’s conference and attended a presentation about handwriting analysis, formally termed “graphology.”  The target audience was mystery writers, which is a genre I have not tackled, but none of the other sessions held appeal. 

The presenter was a former FBI agent and a leading expert in the field.  After a few opening remarks, the man got into the meat of his talk. He flashed up a few handwriting samples from signed confessions.  He suggested that people that wrote in the page margins often had no respect for rules.  He showed samples of Richard Nixon’s signature before and after Watergate.  Before he left office, the former President’s handwriting resembled a series of rickety lines.   He went on to state that people who tended to write vertically, without slants, tended to be very objective and able to consider all sides of an issue.  Many CEOs had that handwriting trait.

The man then shifted focus to show how gaps in simple sentences could reveal guilt.   One poor soul had left enough space that an entire word could have fit in the blank area.  It looked something like this.

“I did      not commit the robbery.”

I was intrigued.  What did my chicken-scratch reveal about me?  Mr. FBI man then indicated he would reveal a sample of someone he would consider likely to be an unreliable witness.  Before he expanded on this statement, he added that many of the people he addressed in this very room might recognize similar patterns in their own handwriting.  He also said that graphology was not a precise science and that handwriting analysis was only a guideline, one step in understanding the psychology of criminals.  I was starting to get nervous.

The example he posted up on the big screen was a letter from a young woman who claimed to have knowledge about a crime that had occurred.  Her flowing handwriting was riddled with loops and curves.  Her “i’s” were dotted with flowers.  Her letters were enormous. 

The presenter went on to state that people with loopy handwriting tended to be very creative and imaginative.  They tended to enclose spaces in large loopy.  I looked down at my notes.  I had scrawled my name at the top of the page, an ingrained habit from my middle school years.  The cursive “J” had three enclosed loops.  My “l’s” were elongated and loopy.  Even the top of my “d’s” and “k’s” which could easily have been a straight line, were accentuated with a loop.  Guess he nailed my inner psyche.  Good thing I’ve never been called to the witness stand.

Why Do We Write?

October 28, 2009

I opened our last California Writers Club centennial celebration meeting with a few comments. They are summarized here:

Why do we write? We have about a hundred answers to that question represented in our audience today. Most of all, the world needs content. And your writing provides that content. Whether it encourages young children to read, reveals unexplored hiking trails in the Sierras, examines our innermost urges, or helps to explain why we feel so desperate at times the rest of world waits for your next passage.

Jack London, along with a few of his writing buddies, established this Club 100 years ago this month. They had escaped the ravages of the 1906 earthquake by fleeing to the East Bay. They called it the Alameda Press Club. A few years later, they invited all Bay Area writers to join them for a picnic in the hills that would for many years hence be called Joaquin Miller Park. In fact, Joaquin Miller, a celebrated poet and long time CWC member, did not attend.

Jack London and his pals were not happy that so many folks who called themselves writers attended their picnic. They had imagined the Club a small, erudite group of accomplished authors and journalists. These founding fathers, when faced with this burgeoning collection of aspiring writers abandoned us and fled to their erudite halls. In 1913, the Alameda Press Club became the California Writers Club. The Club’s intent from then on was to embrace inclusiveness and diversity, for established authors to mentor aspiring writers, to expand the Club to all points within California and all points of view.

We are now a Club of over 1,200 published and aspiring writers, including fiction and non-fiction authors, poets and screenwriters. Sharing our perspectives on the past, present, and future. We network, blog, tweet, and write our names and thoughts onto the fabric of time. Let’s celebrate our distinguished authors that have come before us and the contributions our current members will lend to our future history.

“Enchanted Snakes of Quiriquire” – How’d I Get the Ideas

October 22, 2009

Someone asked me how in the world I get ideas for what I write. “Maracaibo Oil Brat” was easy. I lived in Maracaibo during my teen years. “The Enchanted Snakes of Quiriquire” was a different story.

I’ve always had a vivid imagination. Part of that was because I was puny kid. I was either getting sick, was sick, or was getting over being sick and therefore condemned to stay indoors. So, I learned to amuse myself by giving each of my dolls a make believe life.

This same imagination has winnowed its way into my sleep and has provided me with a lifetime of vivid dreams. Not plain dreams. Oh, no. Mine are in color, Three D, High Definition, and surround sound.  Further I host as many cast members as any Cecil B. DeMille epic, and have such involved, convoluted plots as to stupify Alfred Hitchcock. My dream extravaganzas are not once in a while but every night. I entertain Bruce with “what I dreamed last night” over toothpaste. I kept a dream journal for several of years but I spent too much time writing what I dreamed instead of writing what I wanted.

Yes, I confess.   “The Enchanted Snakes of Quiriquire” was a dream – at least in part. I took the core of the dream and stretched into a plot, along with some rearranged Venezuelan geography thrown in. Doug Becker, a long time friend, was shocked to learn that I wrote about Quiriquire, a real place in Venezuela. “But,you’ve never even been to Quiriquire,” Doug sputtered in protest. “That’s why, Dougie-Doodle, it’s called ‘creative writing.'” (Note: Doug is an engineer, poor darling. If it cannot be measured or quantified, for him, it doesn’t exist.)

“Houston Women” grew from a telephone conversation between my sister Pat and me before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. “Burial at Sea” and “Escape From Vietnam” were both stories told to me a friend and co-worker. Naturally, I embellished them.  Yet to be written, but certainly in the “I know what I’m going to write” phase, are “The Moraga Heist” and “Confessions of a Middle Class Belly Dancer,” both painfully autobiographical.

I have no lack of things to write.  What I need is more time and discipline to get my stories on to a thumb drive.  Sounds like a good New Years Resolution for 2010.  If you need a good idea for a story, let me know.  I’ll lend you a dream.

Susan McClurg Berman

VIVA! – Tips for Good Writing

October 19, 2009


The catchphrase “vivid, vibrant and immediate” is often used to describe the attributes of well -written prose.  But what does that mean exactly?  I decided to flush out this aspect of writing and in the process, added my own twist.

 Vivid – According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, vivid means lively, sharp, and intense and a synonym for “vivid” is graphic.  The word graphic is defined as clear and lifelike.  These are all descriptors I aspire to achieve.  One technique I use to guide vivid writing is to use the “less is more” rule of thumb.  I ask myself:  How can I say this in fewer words?   

 Vibrant – According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to be vibrant is to pulsate with life, to be bright, responsive, and sensitive.  For me, vibrant writing means smart word choices, prose that color the words on the page, not with adjectives, but with strong verb choices.

 Immediate actually has two components:  time and space.  The phrase “stay in the moment” is meant to explain the importance of capturing the idea of immediacy and the need to establish the reader’s experience of the here and now.     Yet, the term immediate doesn’t intuitively prompt the second element of “proximity.”  For this reason, I believe capturing spatial relationship in the written word is worthy of its own descriptor and should not be buried under the umbrella of this two-pronged term.   Even back in the era of Plato, the Greek philosopher, he explored this same issue of how humans explore our surroundings in his “The Metaphor of the Cave.”   In some ways, nothing has changed.  To situate our characters in their environment requires the use of ALL five senses.  This is such a fundamental aspect of the human experience that I reorganized the letters and created my own variation of VVI to form my own acronym:  VIVA (vivid, immediate, vibrant, all senses).  To Italians, viva means to live, while viva in Spanish means applause, so what could be a better moniker to describe the foundation for good prose? 

 All Senses – Unless disabled, the senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch are the means by which we interpret the world around us.  To me, this is the catchall for all the other components.  To be clear and lifelike (vivid), to be oriented in time (immediate), to be responsive (vibrant), prose should encompass all five of these senses within our characters life experience.   Ultimately, all four of these elements (VIVA!)  are necessary to create the fantasy world that a writer envisions and to further capture the essence of humanity on the page so that the reader is transported into another dimension. 

When executed well, writing allows a reader to step into a world of people, places and things that only exist inside typed words on a flat page.   What a daunting task, what a marvelous undertaking.   Viva – to live, VIVA! – to write.  Live to write.  Isn’t that what writers do?

Researching agents

October 11, 2009

I spent much of this past week researching literary agents for my newest novel, a contemporary fantasy.  I learned quite a lot.  Since I know that others of you out there and in WotJ are also querying, I thought I’d share a couple of websites that I found useful.

AgentQuery ( – This website for researching agents was recommended by several fellow writers.  It has a good search engine that allows you to select multiple genres in a single search (a really nice feature that few other sites support).  There’s even a box for “agents actively seeking new clients.”  SWEET!  The agent profiles appear up-to-date and detailed, including the agent’s interests, submission instructions, and recent sales data.

Publishers Marketplace ( – This site was recommended by literary agent Noah Lukeman on his blog.  The site maintains a professional database of agent deals and publishing data.  It charges a $20 monthly fee.  I sprang for the fee and am glad that I did.  A simple search yielded a list of the top 100 agents in my genre, sorted by the number of deals they brokered in the last twelve months.  You can also see some of the details on those deals: book title, a back-cover summary of the book, the editor and house, agent, and a $ category.  Not all of these agents will be looking for new clients, so I’ll have to double-check their profiles.

Using these resources and a few others, I’ve compiled a sizable list of potential agents. So what’s next?  I’ll check the agents’ websites (and possibly their blogs) and rank my top picks.  Once I have my ordered list, I can begin the query process.  Oh, joy!  And you thought writing was a lot of work.


David’s CC Times Article.

October 4, 2009

The Contra Costa Times posted an online version of my essay that they published yesterday as their “Real Life”  article.  Follow this link to read it:

Post your thoughts as comments when you have a moment.  Do you relate?