Monday, June 17, 2024

One man's anachronism... What We're Writing


Anachronism: a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned. Often an anachronism is an object misplaced in time.
HALLIE EPHRON here, kicking off WHAT WE’RE WRITING WEEK. My work in progress has three generations of women in it, so I try to keep in mind their three different frames of reference.

Their past shapes everything about them--how they dress, their memories, dreams, their word choice, frustrations and passions, and on and on.

For instance, the grandmother, a baby boomer, came of age in the 60s. She was a hippie who hung out in the Haight. Her granddaughter has no clue who Janis Joplin was. Her grandmother, in turn, has no idea who Megan Thee Stallion is. The granddaughter cringes when her grandmother talks about "dialing" the phone or "taping" a TV show.

 As I try to keep each of their frames of references sorted, I'm reminded of an article in the New Yorker entitled “Frame of Reference” written by John McPhee. He talks about going into a high school class of nineteen students and asking them to raise their hands if they recognize each name or place as he read it from a list of more than 50 items.

Here's his list - read it and mentally tick off the ones your recognize:
Woody Allen
Muhammad Ali
Joan Baez
James Boswell
David Brower
Richard Burton
Winston Churchill
Truman Capote
Jack Dempsey
Jackie Gleason
Hallmark cards
Samuel Johnson
Rupert Murdoch
Paul Newman
Vivien Leigh
Sophia Loren
Barack Obama
Laurence Olivier
Sarah Palin
George Plimpton
Princeton University
Norman Rockwell
Mickey Rooney
Mort Sahl
Barbra Streisand
David Susskind
Elizabeth Taylor
Time Magazine

If you're like me, you know them all. Well, almost all. (I had to look up David Brower. Shame on me for not knowing who he was.)

What about those high school students?

All nineteen of McPhee's ninth graders had heard of Woody Allen, Muhammad Ali, Time Magazine, Hallmark cards, Denver, Mexico, Princeton University, Winston Churchill, “Hamlet,” and Toronto.

Eighteen had heard of Sarah Palin, Obama, Barbra Streisand, and Rolls-Royce. Seventeen Paul Newman. Eleven Elizabeth Taylor.

Only five had heard of Norman Rockwell, Truman Capote, or Joan Baez.

Three had heard of Rupert Murdoch, or Mickey Rooney.

Two had heard of Richard Burton and Laurence Olivier.

Just one for Vivien Leigh.

Not even a single one had heard of Jackie Gleason, David Brower, David Susskind, Jack Dempsey, George Plimpton, Sophia Loren, Mort Sahl, James Boswell, or Samuel Johnson.

I wondered how they’d do with Howdy Doody or Mark Rudd or Sandra Dee? Probably about as well as I do with today's musicians and actors who show up regularly in the New York Times crossword puzzle and in questions on Jeopardy.

Do you notice the characters' frames of reference in the books you're reading? Does it bother you when a character hums a rock 'n' roll tune in the 1950s or channels Abbott and Costello in the current day?

Sunday, June 16, 2024


Jenn McKinlay: Today I'm delighted to have a guest author who was recommended by my dear friend Hannah Dennison. When Hannah told me she had a guest for us, I knew it would be a good one as she's never steered me wrong. Please welcome the prize winning author and journalist, Jane Corry.


JANE: Nearly fifteen years ago, when running a writing group, I met someone who couldn’t talk after a stroke – but could sing her story instead. She stayed in my mind and emerged out of the blue when I wrote the first line of I DIED ON A TUESDAY. And so Janie was born: a young girl who was knocked off her bike and left for dead, just before she was leaving her seaside town to start a publishing job in London.

My ideas come like a floating feather. I don’t sit down and think ‘What can I write about?’  After the first feather, another follows and another  - rather like layers of millefeuille pastry. I try not to think too hard about them because if I don’t, another idea will come along – often when I’m not in a position to write it down, such as swimming in the sea.

I knew I wanted to write about an historic crime. I’m fascinated by the way in which a crime can be discovered, years after someone thinks they’ve buried it. Perhaps I should say here that I started my working life as a magazine journalist but then became a writer in residence of a high security male prison for three years after my divorce, when I needed money a regular income to bring up my three children. It changed my life. Until then, I’d had some romantic novels published but prison opened my eyes to a world I didn’t know about. 

Stories are often inspired by people you meet and through another area of my life, I was very moved by a woman who’d been a witness supporter – a voluntary role which involves looking after witnesses in court and showing them where to sit; explaining how court procedure works and metaphorically holding their hands. So Vanessa was born: my character whose dead husband had been the policeman in charge of Janie’s accident when the culprit was never found. 

Then along came Robbie. Robbie had been one of the 18-year-olds in the van which had knocked down Janie but didn’t stop. Twenty years later, those boys are famous musicians. ( I know a bit about this because my youngest is a music journalist: his podcast is called ‘101 Part-Time Jobs with Giles Bidder’ about jobs that musicians had before they were famous).  But suddenly new evidence comes up about the accident. Janie, Robbie and Vanessa each have different stories about the day of the accident. Which one is right?

I like to keep my readers guessing because I adore twists. But I am also in love with three-sided characters because no one is a stereotype: not the men I met in prison or the celebrities I’ve interviewed or you or me.  Of course, there’s another character who I’ve mentioned briefly. The sea. I was landlocked in outer London for the first fifty years of my life until I married the best man from my first wedding (long story) and escaped to the sea. It’s where I belong. I hope you enjoy the waves I’ve tried to create in my plot and scenery. I

‘I DIED ON A TUESDAY’ is being published by Penguin Viking on June 6 on Kindle and in audio and on June 20th (paperback). You can also order ‘I DIED ON A TUESDAY’ by clicking Thank you.


You can also buy ‘COMING TO FIND YOU’, my 2024 novel about Nancy whose step-brother is sent to prison for murder.  The press believe Nancy was involved so they follow her to the family holiday home in Devon. But what no one knows is that during the Second World War, the owner Elizabeth was a secret spy for Churchill – and committed a terrible crime herself.  Can Nancy learn from a dead woman’s mistakes? You can order now on Amazon.

If you’d like to read more about my books, you can find details on  Thank you.

JENN: Thank you, Jane. These novels sound fabulous! Readers, what are some of your favorite plot twists?  

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Reframing the Negative by Jenn McKinlay


JENN MCKINLAY: At the end of last year, I found that I was in a bit of a funk. If you know me, this is not normal. My family, bless them, noticed and mentioned that I was not as obnoxiously cheerful or enthusiastic as I usually am. They did not seem so much alarmed as relieved but I'll let that slide for now.

I did some thinking about it and realized that I was spiraling into a negative head space and I wasn't enjoying the ride. Usually, I try to be like a duck and let things roll off my back but for some reason I was more like a porcupine and everything was sticking to my quills.

Frankly, being a woman of a certain age, I thought I was just metamorphosing into the classic crabby old lady like my idol Maxine.

But I think it's more that life has felt heavy on the negative and light on the positive for a reaaaaaaally long time and negativity is highly  contagious. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a great mood and then listened to the news, opened social media, or found myself in conversation with a person who was angry, depressed, etc and walked away unable to find my former great mood. Major bummer.

In an effort to reframe these experiences and not get sucked into the negative, I started trying different techniques to stop the negative vibe  before it started or divert it in a different direction. Obviously, it's impossible to be happy all the time but that doesn't mean it can't be contained. So here are some of the things I did to break the bummer pattern.

Cognitive Restructuring: Identify and challenge the negative thought. Replace it with a more balanced or positive thought.

Thought Stopping: Consciously say "stop" when a negative thought arises, then shift your focus to something positive.

Mindfulness Meditation: Practice staying present and observing your thoughts without judgment.

Deep Breathing: Use deep, slow breaths to calm your mind and body, reducing the impact of negative thoughts.

Gratitude Journaling: Write down things you're grateful for each day to shift your focus to positive aspects of your life.

Affirmations: Repeat positive affirmations to counter negative self-talk.

Exercise: Engage in physical activities like walking, running, or yoga to boost mood and reduce stress.

Art and Music: Use creative activities to express and transform negative emotions.

Writing: Journal about your thoughts and feelings to gain perspective and clarity.

Limit Negative Media: Reduce exposure to negative news and social media that can contribute to negative thinking.

Did they all work? No. But I found that a combination of the above for any given situation really did help me retain my normally optimistic outlook. 

Your turn, Reds and Readers, what do you do to turn off the negative and protect your peace?