Category Archives: Pari Noskin Taichert


 by Pari

“Can I pick your brain for a moment?” said my friend.

“Sure.” Here it comes.

“I’m taking this dialog-writing class . . .” He looked down at his feet, cleared his throat, scratched his nose. “And the instructor said that if we don’t have a lot of dialog on every page, no one will want to read our work.”

Oh, for Heaven’s sake. Tell your instructor to go to —

“What do you think, Pari? Is that right?” he said. “Do we really need to have so much dialog? Because when I open the books I like, they all have a lot of description.”

Oh, man. His fundamental question gave me hives. I’ve met so many new writers who try to adhere to all the how-tos and must-dos, they end up with can’t-reads.

So what’s the deal with rules? Which ones are useful? Which ones have lost their meaning? And how is a writer to know the difference?

In order to talk about this, I divided rules into three categories. They include a few examples. Use them as a launchpad for thinking about this topic and for our discussion.

No repetition.
Never start a sentence with “And” or “But” or “Because.”
And watch those commas; don’t ever ever ever split an infinitive!
Or what was I thinking of? Ah, yes. No prepositions at the end of a sentence.
Or sentence fragments.

Every writer I know has had an encounter with Ms. Corrector Lady (always a woman, in my experience) whose raison d’etre is to send us emails every time we err grammatically. While it may be a civic duty to give her life meaning, I can’t help wonder if she’s living in the past?

Genre Specific
In writing traditional mysteries, I’ve met:
You have to introduce the killer somewhere in the first two chapters.
You have to introduce the killer within the first 50 pages.
You can’t have a series that switches location from book to book. (Pshaw. I did that with Sasha and no one seemed to complain.)
You have to start with a dead body.
No multiple POVs; those are for thrillers.
Not more than 80,000 words.

You get the idea.

What are the rules for thrillers, romantic suspense, science ficiton, fantasy, YA, romance etc.?

No prologs.
Use a lot of dialog.
Don’t use a lot of dialog.
Don’t pitch a series.
Pitch a series.
Edit and polish and edit and polish again.
Don’t overedit your work because it’ll lose its heart.

“Know the rules so you can break them.” Oh, come on.
“Cut the stuff that bores people.” Yeah. Sure. Right. Clever sentiment. Totally useless to a beginning writer.

  Grammar is changing. It’s always changing. Yes, a person needs to know how to form sentences and paragraphs. However, there’s a lot more freedom in this area than there used to be. Is this a good thing? A bad one? Hell, I don’t know. What do you think?

#2  “Genre” is becoming a useless concept. While purists might be upset with all the blending between various literary traditions, I’m dancing a jig. Someday, I hope the only hard genre distinction is between Fiction and Nonfiction.

#3   Many general rules stem from pet peeves. Like the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post, they’re literary soundbites that have become codified because people want a magic bullet.

What do you think?

Which rules still rock?
Which ones have outlived their usefulness?
Are there new ones that you like, find helpful?

I’m looking forward to this discussion.


10 things I learned last week

by Pari

1.  I’m not a big city girl anymore.
Last week our family stayed with friends on an island near Seattle. We thought we’d go into the city several times to sightsee (or visit my fav bookstore in the area). We did make the ferry crossing – once – and found that all we really wanted to do was get back to the island. I guess at this point in my life, I’m simply more impressed with natural wonders such as Dungeness Spit than any man-made structure.

2.  Don’t go to the Seattle Aquarium.
Frankly, I was stunned; it was very expensive and totally depressing. From the joylessness of every person working or volunteering there to the message that humankind is destroying ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING to the gulag-like mammal/bird exhibits, the experience was a bummer.

3.  Deer are beautiful except  . . .
I spotted three bald eagles and two raccoons, a tiny squirrel, scores of jelly fish – deep red and some that looked like raw eggs – and sea stars that were purple, pink, orange, tan and yellow (my kids saw otters) all in the wild. To observe deer walking around without a care was a thrill.

However, my friends don’t feel the same way. Their new aspen tree has been denuded. Their garden has to be protected with fencing. So, yeah, I get it. Deer are beautiful except when they’re eating your yard.

4.  I’ll never tire of taking pictures of flowers.

5.  Yakima cherries really ARE that good.
Firm and sweet, deep red-purple and juicy. Yakima cherries are all that with a hint of tartness that surprises in every mouthful.

6.  Three people can polish off 42 oysters and still have room for a full Thai meal.

7.  Seven days without television is bliss.
No news blaring. No stupid, insulting shows. No commercials exhorting us to buy more of what we don’t need.

8.  Seven days without computer contact is heaven.
I read four books in six days, took daily long walks, ate wonderfully, and experienced so much gratitude about being alive that it altered my whole perspective on life. While I don’t think computers OR televisions are bad, I do know that I can quiet myself more easily when I’m not spending time with either.

And quiet heals my soul.

9.  Slowing down isn’t the same thing as stopping.
I wrote little but felt as if my creative center was working hard, rewiring for new projects and approaches. While I simply let myself be, connected with my natural rhythm, my being experienced a molecular peace.

10. Change is easy when you’re away from the familiar; it’s a challenge once you’re home again.
Within minutes of arriving at our house, the kids had turned on the television. Today, my first day back, I’ve spent at least three hours on the computer – sorting through emails, writing this blog, catching up – and I wonder if I’ll be able to remember, to evoke somehow, the calm I felt so strongly less than 24 hours ago.


Wish me luck.


1. When was the last time you took a healing vacation – a calm one? Where did you go?

2. Are you a vacationer that prefers action? Visiting and sightseeing? Tell us about a vacation like that that you enjoyed.



by Pari

You put your feet up after a long day and zap on the television to enjoy your favorite program. Then those commercials come on.

You know the ones I’m talking about: The mother hugging her child, the man with a skip in his step, the gray-haired woman doing the cha-cha. But wait! That drug will prevent depression or drive you to suicide. This one will transform your sex life or cause 24-hour erections. And ladies, your bones will get stronger or you’ll go into renal failure.  

I’m fascinated with the skillful juxtaposition of cheerful visuals with droning voiceovers, mile-a-second disclaimers that are every corporate legal department’s wet dream. I’m in awe of how abundant and terrifying details wash over us so effectively we hardly hear or digest their meaning.

While this is undeniably intentional in the marketing world, there are unintentional parallels in our own literary craft.

No we’re not all striving for cognitive dissonance. Yes we do overwhelm our stories with irrelevant information. The result? We force our readers to ask unrelated questions, to get distracted, to lose track emotionally or to fall out of our stories completely.

Be honest, is the entire history of a grandfather clock – from the sprouting acorn through the clockmaker’s apprenticeship — really driving the story forward? Or is it merely showing off your knowledge? Hmmm?

Sure, there are writers who include chapters of details that read like fresh lemonade – cool and refreshing. Far more writers drown their salads with gloppy dressings, float their matzoh balls on seas of schmaltz, cover their steaks with gallons of Hollandaise . . .

What’s a poor wordsmith to do?

Here are a few techniques that might help counter TMI:

  1. Cultivate the mindset of a reader:  Look for the yawn trigger. Find the places in stories you read where you skip or skim. Study these sections. Chances are the writer got carried away with unnecessary information. Got it? Now search for the same flaws in your own work.
  2. Read your work aloud #1:  If you run out of breath, something is probably wrong. I’m not joking. Well, unless you aspire to be Proust.
  3. Read your work aloud #2:  If you find yourself wanting to skip over sections you’ve written, get rid of them!
  4. Play the cutting game:  See how much detail you can cut from your descriptions/explanations and maintain the essence of your message. This game is good for two reasons: it cleans up your prose and shows you that no matter what you write, it can be deleted without killing you.
  5. Find sections that contradict everything I’ve just written:  Study them. Find out why they work and tell me in the comments.

Writers: Do you struggle with TMI? How do you deal with it?

Everyone: Do you have examples of TMI in favorite or crummy books/short stories? How about apparent TMI passages that actually do work?

* TMI: Too much information

Somewhere today . . .

Dear ‘Rati, 

I wrote this poem last year. It still expresses what Memorial Day means to me better than anything I’ve written before or since.
So please pardon the repetition. And if you know a soldier, or someone who awaits a loved one’s return, or someone who knows that will never happen again . . . please give that person a little extra love today.

by Pari


Somewhere today a young woman sits in a muddy blind, her uniform wet through.
She knows she needs to pay attention to what’s happening, that she has to distinguish between a clap of thunder and the burst of a gun.
But all she can do is think of her baby graduating from kindergarten back home . . . without her. 

Somewhere today a boy reaches for an automatic with only one hand.
The wind blows dust into his teeth and eyes.
He manages to prop his weapon against a sand-filled sack, using the stump of his other arm—the one where the rebels sliced it off at the elbow—to keep the rifle steady.

Somewhere today a mother waits on the tarmac, watching the military plane land.
It bounces two times on the runway.
Her son would’ve laughed at that.
Through the blur of tired and salty tears, she sees them lift the unadorned casket. 

Somewhere today a father stares at the last letter his daughter sent him.
He has memorized every word, read between every line so often it has merged with the next in a confused gray.
Three weeks and nothing.
Not a note, not an email, no text.
He looks to the blue sky and wonders where she is, if she’s all right.

Somewhere today a young woman is shot in a border town
– wrong place, wrong time –
the “collateral damage” of a drug war she’s never played a part in.

Somewhere today a group of young men claim a village for their tribe
kicking children’s toys aside in the abandoned huts of former friends.

Somewhere today war will blast dreams away
cut lives short
and make sorrows long.

I pray
we’ll have no need for this holiday.


Tinkertown: A faith in the small


by Pari

Last weekend, my family piled in the car on one of those gorgeous clear blue-sky days when New Mexico is the only place in the world I could ever want to be. Within ten minutes, we were out of town. Deep green pines and cracked rose-brown boulders flanked us on the winding mountain highway. Our destination was Tinkertown, a place I’d heard of for years but had never visited. Actually, let me be honest. With a name like “Tinkertown,” I thought it would be a dud. After all, “tinker” doesn’t exactly conjure grand images of fascinating locales. It’s a cozy word. Quaint. Cute.

And I’m rarely in the mood for cute.

 Prepared, in a condescending way, to be amused, I ended up being floored. Crammed with scenes of miniatures Ross Ward crafted during the too-short five decades of his life, the multi-room and meandering building is an overwhelming visual experience. A cacophony of sights. Crusty musicians greet you. Stick a quarter in the slot and they sing, strum the guitar. Here is a model of a town in the Old West complete with the Chinese laundry, brothel, saloon and so much more. Push this button and a miniature chef with raised cleaver chases an unfortunate chicken, bar doors open and close, the blacksmith bangs on a horseshoe. Go to the circus scene with its hundreds upon hundreds of characters. Push this button and a dog jumps endlessly through a hoop, tigers rear and raise their paws, a trapeze performer swings.

Oh, there is so much to see! The walls made of glass bottles – more than 55,000 – and spotted with inspiring sayings that can’t help but uplift. There’s the yacht (yes, you read that correctly) that circled the world and ended at its final port in the New Mexico mountains . . .

What does any of this have to do with writing?

More than you’d think.

Tinkertown’s emotional and visual richness moved and inspired me incredibly. The small “museum” stands as a testament to one man’s fierce independence, creativity and mad – wonderful – vision. Ross Ward’s compulsion to create, and the cumulative effect of his work, just blew me away. He and his family made this insanely marvelous gem simply to make it.

Tinkertown is unexpected, untraditional, unlike anything I’ve seen before. Every step I took there revealed the museum creator’s spirit though he died in 2002. By the time I wound my way back to the gift shop, I felt I knew him and that he was a friend.

In my own life, I’ve been told that I don’t write “big books,” that my works tend to be too quirky, too out of the norm, not the stuff of blockbusters. But seeing Tinkertown gave me hope that even if my books or stories don’t end up on national bestseller lists, there’s a place for the small – the different – in this life. After all, someone will always be there to enjoy seeing the world’s smallest fleas dressed in wedding attire . . .

For all of his life, Ross Ward marched to his own drummer. He made something fantastic in the process, something we can all enjoy and appreciate. What a wonderful legacy.

If I’m able to do the same with my writing, what a success I will be.


Do you know – or have you known – anyone who was a true original?
Please tell us about that person today and share his/her link if there is one.

(Also, for those attending LCC 2011, Ross Ward’s wife Carla said she’d be glad to open up the museum a few days early — by Sunday, March 27 — if we have a group that would like to go there.)



You are what you read

by Pari

Have you ever heard the expression: “You are what you eat?”

Well, I’m beginning to believe that I am what I read.

I came to this conclusion last week when I decided to stop reading Charles Ives: A Life with Music by Jan Swafford. It’s a gorgeous book, magnificent prose, but it depressed the hell out of me. To say Ives was ahead of his time is about as obvious as saying the sun sets in the east. In spite of almost constant rejection, this American composer kept trying, kept beating his head against the wall, kept putting up with musicians and audiences that reviled his creative viewpoint.

Perhaps some of you would find inspiration in his story.

I didn’t.

Each night I read and felt bleaker and bleaker about creativity, the creative urge. In the mornings, I’d carry that despair around without even realizing its source. Then it hit me: the book, no matter how wonderful, was making me bluer than blue. 

So I returned it to my cello teacher and began reading The Soul of Money.

Ah . . . much better.

Up until that point, I’d never thought about how much books influence me while I’m reading them. And it’s not always the message; it can be the feel of the work or what I know about the author.

My first year in college, I was almost incapacitated when I had to read four Russian classics in a week. I remember sitting at a table in the student union and staring at my hand, curled around a glass of water, and getting caught up in this extraordinarily deep contemplation about the meaning of hands, of water, of life . . .

In grad school, it was St. Francis of Assisi by Nikos Kazantzakis. . .  and I couldn’t get enough feta cheese, Kalamata olives, pita bread and Retsina. Obviously I was responding to the author here and the gusto of his storytelling.

Alice Hoffman’s writing makes me see magic in the world. Jenny Crusie helps me find the humor. Thomas Eisner makes me look closely at the smallest creatures on the planet with awe and fascination. (Click on Eisner’s photos of butterfly wings; you can look at his bio later. I’ll wait.)

So  . . . am I a murderer because I read so many mysteries? Am I hero? Not exactly. But when I’ve connected with a book, it absolutely affects my day-to-day experience while I’m reading it.

Right now, I’m in a very interesting place; here are the books on my bedside table:

The Soul of Money – Lynne Twist

Rainbow’s End and Other StoriesJohn M. Floyd

Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical AtrocitiesAmy Stewart

The Turquoise ShopFrances Crane  (She happens to be one of our ghosts of honor for LCC Santa Fe)

Dying in StyleElaine Viets

Occupation WriterRobert Graves

A Gathering of DoorwaysMichael Jasper

Writing Mysteries – edited by Sue Grafton

A little bit of this, a little bit of that . . . and I’m in a pretty good mood.

How about you?
Do the books you read influence your daily experience of life while you’re reading them?
Can you track similar responses?

Or am I utterly mad?

Going in the opposite direction

by Pari

Last Thursday, I began a two-month contract to help the Albuquerque Youth Symphony with a three-day alumni reunion. The work involved sits squarely with much of my former professional skill set in PR. Ladies and gentleman, I know how to put on an event. (That’s probably why I didn’t get hives or balk at chairing LCC Santa Fe.)

But starting a job out of the house – even though it’s short-term – is playing emotional havoc with my image of myself as a writer, as a professional writer. The fact that I don’t have a book in the publishing pipeline, and might not for who knows how long, isn’t helping.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still writing. I’m actually more productive now than I’ve been in many years past. I’m sending out short stories, writing freelance articles. But do I have the right to call myself a “professional writer” when that production isn’t supporting me, isn’t paying for my kids’ tuition at a pricey private school, isn’t resulting in new books with covers you can see on the side of this blog?

I don’t know . . .  

Many of the authors I know work full-time at other jobs. They carve time out at night and in the early morning hours to keep their fiction going. I’m going to have to learn how to do that again, to balance it all in a way that I haven’t done for fourteen years. (How did Allison and so many others do it for all those years?)

I’m not whining here. My priority – my children’s education – is right where it should be. I’m also incredibly grateful to have this consultant job. It’s fun; I enjoy most of the tasks. It’s nice to be out of my home, having contact with all kinds of people, doing something I’m very good at. Feeling confident and making money at the same time.

But creatively it feels like I’m going backward, like everyone around me is jumping to full-time writing. And here I am, going in the opposite direction.

Somehow that feels like a defeat . . . like I’ve failed.

So today I’d love some perspective, a way to frame it so that I stop beating myself up. I’m sure many of you, dear ‘Rati, have had similar times in your life when you have had to readjust your self-image after years of going in one particular direction.

Please, share your experiences with me. Your comments always illuminate in such positive and thoughtful ways.

Thank you.


by Pari

Cornelia hates February. Most people on the East Coast probably do at this point. But down here in New Mexico, I’ve seen yellow crocuses and white narcissus blooming. How can animosity find purchase in anyone’s heart when the sun shines so unfettered in this crayon blue sky?

For me, February is a time of reflection.  When my life is as roller coaster-y as it’s been during the last few months — introspection can become paralyzing.

This month is colored with memories of my mother — her life and death — and our troubled relationship.

It’s also my birthday month. A time of celebration. A time of looking to the future. I love it for that, for its uniqueness and brevity.

Last weekend, I saw a poor confused butterfly. It fluttered across my path and, because it’s February, I was struck with both the beauty of the moment and the incredible sadness of that creature’s prospects for survival . . . because any New Mexican can tell you that this light hint of winter’s release is only a tease. We’ll have a big snow storm or two, at least one more hard freeze, before spring conquers the day.

When thinking about topics for today’s blog, I had several ideas. All of them put me squarely back into the danger zone of deep introspection and I just don’t want to go there right now. I’ve got enough on my emotional plate to feed a couple of hungry villages.

So I decided to post a few videos that make me happy. Why not give you, our ‘Rati readers, a little fun on a Monday morn?

If you’re not smiling by the end of this duet with Toots Thielemans and Stevie Wonder, you need a therapist:

I’d never heard of Andy McKee until crusing the internet last week. Though many other of his other videos have more pyrotechnics, I adore this one for the love it shows. In thinking about my mother, I wish I’d been able to write something like this in words.


Tom Leher is someone many people today have never heard of. Back when I was a kid, he was something of a guilty pleasure, one shared among friends — but only the right kind of friends. Most of Leher’s songs have a truly wicked center and it was difficult for me to pick the one I wanted most to post. But the song below seems particularly appropriate for mystery readers and writers . . .

So have a good remainder of February and think of me at the end of the week . . .

And, maybe, share a link to a music video that brightens your day every time you see/hear it.

Once upon a time: Clichés in writing

by Pari

Last week I wrote a short story featuring a fiction writer in the future. Each morning she goes to work and her thoughts are harvested for stories. People known as “The Watchers” decide which of her ideas are the most marketable. In the afternoon, my poor protag must flesh out and complete those tales.

Problem is, my character is bored with their choices. The Watchers always pick the same general ideas. Originality, it seems, is frowned upon.

When I wrote the story, I wasn’t actively thinking about clichés.

I am now.

You know what? I think most of us treat clichés in a very cliché’d manner.
Editors, critics, reviewers, readers — we all condemn them.
Oh, no! They’re hackneyed, formulaic, unoriginal, tired


Deep down we crave clichés for the comfort they give us, for their efficiency and predictability.

This week I developed a taxonomy of clichés that centers on four main categories:

1.  Phrases
►  So hungry I could eat a cow
►  Eyes like limpid pools
►  High as a kite 

2.  Literary Devices
► Ticking clock
► Cliffhangers at ends of chapters
► Multiple POVs to give a sense of urgency

3.  Characters
► Protag with crippling problems – alcoholism, traumatic past
► Brilliant scientist who is also really, really hot
► Bumbling policeman who never sees the most obvious clues

4.  Themes
► Mysterious stranger arrives in town. All hell breaks loose either for the character . . . or the town.
► Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl hate each other. Boy and Girl fall in love.
► A world is in peril. Hapless man/woman meets sexy scientist (see category #3). They save it in the nick of time.

So why do some of these “overworked” concepts sometimes work while others don’t?

I’m reading Jeffrey Deaver’s The Bone Collector right now. It’s got the ticking clock for sure. Both of the main protags – Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs – have enough emotional baggage to sink the QEII. And don’t tell me that SERIAL KILLER isn’t a cliché theme all its own.

Yet the book is a riveting read.

Is it really possible that there’s “no new idea under the sun?”
That plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — which, of course, is a cliché — is the reality?

That still doesn’t explain the difference between successful clichés and those that make us want to throw a book across the room.

Is it merely a question of how they’re employed, the way a story is told?

I honestly don’t know.

Do you?

Let’s discuss it . . .

Give me your theories.
► Create new categories of clichés.

► Correct mine.

► Tell me of a cliché that drives you bonkers.

► Find a cliché that works and tell me why.



by Pari

“Piracy.” It sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? The high seas. Adventure . . .

But there’s nothing romantic about the case in Minnesota where a woman was fined $2 million for illegally downloading 24 songs and sharing them with others. Last Friday, the judge slashed her fine dramatically – by more than $1.8 million — saying the initial punishment was too much.

However, he still fined her.

And guess what? She’s fighting against paying even the much reduced amount.

Piracy has been on my mind lately because of the Google Settlement deadline. (It’s Jan. 28, Kids, in case you still haven’t decided what to do.) And the fact that I think the terms are so iffy and squirrely that it verges on a landgrab.

And then I read about the Minnesota case in Huffington Post. Last Friday’s decision stimulated an interesting conversation in the comments. Many readers implied that the woman was a victim of corporate greed. Indeed, they asserted, she was the one wronged.

Wait a minute . . .

Am I missing a crucial piece of information here?

Was she forced to download these songs?

Did someone hold a gun to her head? Threaten to kill her children?


The woman willfully took items that didn’t belong to her. She took them because she didn’t want to pay for them.

Um  . . . correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time I looked that was called “stealing.”

If someone walked into her house and took 24 things she’d spent months or years making, do you think she would’ve stood for it?  Or would she have called the police to report a robbery?

My bet is on door #2.

So why is piracy tacitly condoned in many circles? Why do normally intelligent and considerate people think that it’s perfectly okay to pilfer someone else’s work? (I’m talking about taking it. Owning it. Often sharing or selling it . . .)

Some of you might be thinking, “Pari, chill out. Each song would’ve only cost her a few cents, maybe a dollar or two.” I can see you shaking your head at me in pity. “Don’t we have bigger problems in the world than a couple of bucks?”

Not if you’re a novelist.

And if you are a novelist and you’re not paying attention to piracy, you’re worse than the proverbial ostrich. By not standing up against it – and by pirating other’s works yourself – you’re helping destroy your own career.

Simple as that.

Every day I hear of – and see — more and more sites that are distributing full copies of our works for free. Without our permission. Without our publishers’ permission.

In my case, I own electronic rights to my works. That means these people are stealing directly from me. And my children.


Punishable by law.

Yes. It may be only a few cents per work, but it’s my effort on the line. Here’s a little secret: I didn’t expend so much time and energy to get published so that someone else could feel entitled to rip me off.

I might not have this reaction if novelists and other writers were paid one-time high fees for their work. But most of us aren’t. Our money comes from advances and then royalties tallied against actual sales. Wholesale, mind you. Not net. As far as I’m concerned, every time someone downloads one of my books without paying – it’s an active slap in the face. It’s wrong and needs to be stopped.

I’ve had discussions with my creative friends – writers, photographers, painters, songwriters – and we constantly come to the conclusion that creativity in our society is horribly undervalued. It’s as if people seem to think that anyone could write Jane Eyre or The Raven. That once a book – or other creative endeavor – is produced, it should enter the public domain.

But how are creatives supposed to live in a society that doesn’t want to pay for their work?

I don’t know. Can you tell me?

And why would anyone think that we should work hard  . . . for free?

What’s going to happen to our culture, our society, if the most original and creative people decide it’s not worth the trouble? I wonder.

This takes me back to piracy.
It’s not innocent.
It’s not okay.
It’s not cute.

It’s stealing.
It’s theft.

It’s fucking wrong. 

And I’m sick of it.


What about you?
Do you think it’s all right? A act against “the MAN?”
Do you think I’m being unreasonable, that it’s a brave new world and I’d just better get with the program?

I look forward to this conversation.