Monday, April 30, 2007

Always Treasure Her!

Excerpted from Inspiration from a Blind, brought to you monthly by! (that's me!)

How much does your mother mean to you? My beloved mom Juliet Cheng means the world to me, and I thank God each and every day for giving me such a wonderful mom. She's the cornerstone and light of my life; the foundation of my happiness, strength, and success.

And since Mother's Day is coming up, I'd like to devote this issue to our mothers, who are our treasures. They are the people who love you the most and who know you the best. I know not all mothers fit this description, unfortunately, but for the sake of my usual cheerful issues, I will focus on the women that do make the biggest difference in our lives.

But before I do so, I'd like to share some happy news with you! I've been announced as an award-winning finalist in the National Indie Excellence 2007 Book Awards for my book, Waking Spirit: Prose & Poems the Spirit Sings, which I'll be releasing later this month! I'm thrilled beyond words! To learn more about my book, go to

Mothers are the women who always have a comforting smile to give, a warm touch to heal the wound, and a dogged spirit to make sure all is well with their children. They are the ones who fear not of sacrificing for what they love the most: their children. They find joy and pleasure in working hard in raising respectable human beings.

I describe my mom with one sentence: "She's a fighter, a victor, but above all, she's a lover." She embraces all that surrounds her despite the harshness of the world. Not only has she stood up for me countless times, she has also saved my life numerous times from the grasp of death. I am very serious when I say that if it hadn't been for her, I would not be here today.

I'd like to share with you the moment when my mother and I first met. The following is excerpted from my autobiography The Revelation of a Star's Endless Shine in Chapter One:

"Push, push." The voices came forth through an ajar door on the hallway. A nurse opened the door wide and walked in, closing it behind her. An oriental lady with short black hair lay on a bed, covered in sweat. Apparently, she was giving birth. Ah, surely, this was a day of wondrous excitement! A new life would add to Earth's circle of life. The woman with dark eyes pushed with all her might. It was so painful, but not a single cry escaped her lips, nor her eyes shed any tears. Each contraction felt like a sharp knife was plunging deep into her soul. She tenaciously pushed on. Despite the pain zigzagging throughout her entire being, her heart was filled with an immeasurable sense of exquisite joy. This was the most important day of her life, a day that would bring happiness into her life forever, so she gratefully took the bitterness to welcome the everlasting sweetness that was to follow. She and her child would spend the brightest and darkest days together, sharing all the surprises, both good and bad, that life would bestow upon them.

It was her first child, a gift given by the Heavenly Father, and she would use her whole heart and soul to treasure the jewel. Awe invaded every crevice of her soul. She wondered what the baby would be like. Would it have big brown eyes? She did not know whether it was a girl or boy. She had gone to do the ultrasound, but it had been too early to detect the sex of the baby. It would simply have to be a surprise. She knew she would love this little life with all her might. But she had started to love the baby from the very first day of her pregnancy.

So, on she pushed. Sweat poured out, soaking the sheets underneath her. At long last, her hard effort was rewarded.

"A beautiful girl, Mrs. Cheng!" the doctor announced with a big smile. But that smile was not even close in matching the one on Mrs. Cheng's face. A girl! How happy she was. She had thought it would be a boy, and had the name "Jordan" ready. The baby was twelve days late, so a boy was thought to be the reason. Well, she was pleasantly wrong. She knew she could dress her little girl up in the prettiest of dresses, with ribbons and laces... Her eyes alighted on the clock; it read 5:52. The doctor, with the name tag Dr. Carter pinned on his white uniform, brought the baby over to the new mother. The sight that met her eyes almost made her swoon with sheer delight. She was the most beautiful baby she had ever seen. She could not take her eyes off the child, from her head full of black hair down to her tiny feet. Her skin was as white and soft as the loveliest lily petals; not a single wrinkle was present, or any places of pinkness visible. In turn, the baby was returning the gaze with her big, brown, penetrating eyes that were wide open as if searching within her mother's soul. They, at last, had found each other.

So now, back to my usual update on what's been happening at my little corner of the world. My speaking engagement at Pine Plains Lions Club dinner was a success, to say the least. My inspirational talk was very well-received. I spent a wonderful time with some fabulous people. I am very grateful of the president of the club for inviting me to be a part of their event. During my speech, the audience laughed, and some even cried, for which I'm delighted (am I mean?!). Seriously, as with my writing, it feels great that my words can bring laughter and tears to people at the same time; it is exactly what you want to achieve. When raw emotions come out, then it's a great sign that you're accomplishing what you've set out to accomplish.

After I ended my talk with "Thank you," the whole audience stood up as they thunderously applauded. Needless to say, I was--and still am--thrilled beyond words. It delights me so to see how my words have inspired people; and this is precisely the reason why I enjoy touching people's lives, if only in a small way.

And again, I must thank God for the divine intervention; for only after I lost my eyesight have I started to really reach out to people. Otherwise, I would have been doing something totally different, and I would not have become a speaker--at least, not so soon.

Until next time, remember to treasure your mother always and forever as she treasures you!

Shirley Cheng, Award-Winning Finalist,

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Review: Mothering Mother by Carol O'Dell

5/5 Stars
New – Non-Fiction

A Wonderful, Heartfelt Memoir

Carol O’Dell, author of her debut memoir Mothering Mother, will make you laugh and cry. Her heartfelt chronicle about caring for her dying mother is an emotional tribute to self-sacrifice and a daughter’s unfailing love―an adopted daughter’s love, to be more precise.

Carol’s mother adopted her late in life and raised her in a strict, religious environment. But it perhaps is their faith that kept them all together until the end. Although she has her faults and may seem somewhat cool at times, Mama did the best she could, and I think that is the realization that the author has come to. And certainly, it is what we all should hope to conclude at the end of our parents’ lives.

The author shows us her own strength and her weaknesses, baring her thoughts, her emotions, her decisions and her very soul in a way that takes more courage than many of us would have. A loving daughter with a mother who suffers from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, she takes her mother into her home, working around a husband and kids, and fighting the inevitable. Faced with the deteriorating health of a stubborn mother, Carol is faced with countless tasks in any given day or night, tasks that threaten to destroy her physically, mentally and spiritually. Many of the anecdotes are charming and hilarious, while others are heartbreakingly sad.

I recently bought a copy for my own mother―for Mother’s Day―even though my mom is healthy, still working and independent. And while this may seem a strange gift, I felt that Carol O’Dell’s book shows a glimmer of light at the end of what most people view as a dark tunnel. She shows that sometimes being prepared is half the battle. Perhaps then, many of us would not feel as though too many things were left undone, unsaid…unforgiven.

Mothering Mother is a beautiful story, a true story, of how love can conquer even death. I’ve never laughed and cried at the same time so much. It made me want to call my mom and tell her how much I love her. It made me talk to my daughter and tell her that if she ever had to care for me and felt that I was too much of a burden, that it was okay to look for alternate care.

I’ll be honest; I normally don’t read a lot of memoirs. I often find them hard to relate to. But I LOVED Mothering Mother! It is the type of book that everyone should read. It will stay with you long after you have put it down. And for those caring for aging or dying parents, it will give you hope and remind you that you are not alone―someone else has traveled this path…and she survived. So can you.

Reviewed by bestselling author Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Blind, Disabled Motivational Speaker, Author Announced as Award-Winning Finalist in National 2007 Book Awards

Shirley Cheng, a blind and physically disabled 24-year-old motivational speaker and author, has been announced as an award-winning finalist in the New Age Nonfiction category of the National Indie Excellence 2007 Book Awards for her forthcoming release, Waking Spirit: Prose & Poems the Spirit Sings, a heartfelt collection that explores a world of dancing hearts, singing spirits, with infinite love from life.

"I am absolutely honored and delighted beyond words," says Cheng, who is also known as the modern day Helen Keller. "I've made it one of my life's missions to touch as many people as I possibly can to bring humor, hope, and healing; and being a finalist in this contest will definitely help fulfill my goal."

"Waking Spirit celebrates life while encouraging us all to appreciate what we already have. It's a book of survival, a tome of devotion, a bible of being," wrote New York Times bestselling author, Cynthia Brian, in the foreword. "Serve yourself a big helping of Shirley Cheng's inspiration and you'll be motivated to shoot for the stars."

ISBN: 9780615136806 paperback; 9780615138930 hardback

140 pages

To be released in May 2007; autographed copies are available for pre-ordering from

"An inspirational miscellany from one of the braver souls on the planet...a menagerie of lyrics, haiku, short personal essays and even briefer aphoristic words to live by---all on the theme of leaping over seemingly insurmountable hurdles…" --Kirkus Discoveries

"This book is an amazing read by an amazing person. Her writing is very accessible and enjoyable as she 'shows without telling,' without arrogance or expression of joy…wonder…passion…teaches simple truths..." --ForeWord CLARION Reviews

"Her wisdom and captivating writing style reveals a rare beauty of the heart. Humorous haiku blends effortlessly with devotional selections as quotes sing a wisdom we want to hear and live." --The Rebecca Review, Top Ten Reviewer

"…a masterpiece… The Positive Thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible. That is what Shirley is all about!" --Ken Bossone, President of World Positive Thinkers Club

"Shirley is an excellent thought-provoking writer…with a charm and intelligence that would make anyone envious. Her inspiration and never ending strive to see all good in life is rare and commendable..." --Dorothy Lafrinere,

Shirley Cheng (b. 1983), a blind and physically disabled motivational speaker, self-empowerment expert, poet, award-winning finalist in Indie Excellence 2007, author of five books, and contributing author of eight books, has had severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis since infancy. Owing to years of hospitalization, she received no education until age eleven. However, after only about 180 days of special education in elementary school, she mastered grade level in all areas and entered a regular sixth grade class in middle school. Unfortunately, Cheng lost her eyesight at the age of seventeen. After a successful eye surgery, she hopes to earn multiple science doctorates from Harvard University.

"Although I'm blind, I can see far and wide; even though I'm disabled, I can climb high mountains," says Cheng. "Let the ropes of hope haul you high!"

Cheng is also the author of Daring Quests of Mystics, a soothing read to relax the mind, body, and spirit (ISBN: 9781411656642); an empowering 700-page autobiography, The Revelation of a Star's Endless Shine: A Young Woman's Autobiography of a 20-Year Tale of Trials and Tribulations (ISBN: 9781411618602); and Dance with Your Heart: Tales and Poems That the Heart Tells, an anthology of inspirational and fantasy short stories (fairy tales, fables, and myths) and poems for the heart from the heart (ISBN: 9781411618589).

With highly acclaimed experts like Dr. Wayne Dyer, Tony Robbins, and Brian Tracy, Cheng co-authored Wake Up...Live the Life You Love: Finding Life's Passion, the latest installment in the bestselling Wake Up...Live the Life You Love series; she is also the co-author of 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life, Volume 2, along with leading experts Jack Canfield, John Gray, Richard Carlson, Alan Cohen, Bob Proctor, et al.

Cheng is also an advocate of parental rights in children's medical care, and aide/caregiver monitoring and screening for students with special needs and disabled people. As a parental rights advocate, she wants to help today's loving parents protect and keep custody of their children. "When doctors ask yes or no, parents should have the right to say no," says Cheng, who is the survivor of the 1990 five-month internationally broadcast news of mother Juliet Cheng's custody battle with a doctor. Juliet was on CBS This Morning with Paula Zahn.

Cheng promotes aide advocacy for the disabled because she was mistreated and abused by one-to-one aides when she attended school. "The trouble with the uncaring aides actually lies with the authorities," she says. "If they listened to my complaints and kept a close watch on the aides, I wouldn't have gone through all the suffering."

She had been published twice before her writing career. One of her short stories, Mary Miller, the Elusive Lady, received Honorable Mention and was published by the Poughkeepsie Journal in 1997, and a poem, The Colors of the Rainbow, earned merit status and was published in Celebrate! New York Young Poets Speak Out in 1999.

In 2006, Cheng tied for 1st place in the national writing contest for Be the Star You Are! founded by New York Times bestselling author, TV/radio personality Cynthia Brian, garnering her a third appearance on Cynthia's live radio show. Cheng's winning entry, titled The Jewel from Heavenly Father, is dedicated to her beloved mother Juliet Cheng. In 2007, Cheng received Honorable Mention in the same contest for her essay, I Hold the Power, her personal story of overcoming blindness at the age of seventeen.

Cheng is available for interviews, speaking engagements, book signings, and inspirational events. She has been on over twenty radio shows, including Be the Star You Are! for three times, The Donna Seebo Show, and Stu Taylor on Business. She was featured in World Journal, the largest Chinese national newspaper in North America, in July of 2004.

Notes from the 'Book Signing' underground' or Harvard Sq. Redux

Probably one of the most interesting things connected with the launch of a new book is all of the unique people that you get to meet in the course of doing book signings and related events.

This week I had a signing at the 'famous' Harvard Sq. Coop - site of many a setting for Mick and Bridget the two main characters in my new novel, Shadow of Innocence, and just one block from the fictitious cramped 3d floor walk-up office of the family business, McCarthy & Son Private Investigations.

It was interesting and certainly stimulating but I gotta say, I had forgotten just how 'different' Harvard Sq really is. For one thing, even the bag ladies and homeless people panhandling outside the entrance to the T Station are intellectual. Give them a quarter and they'll recite a Shakespearean couplet. Drop a bill in the cup and you can hear a dissertation on Socrates.
So you can imagine the crowd I drew for the Shadow signing at the Coop. There was an espresso bar on the 3'd floor where the visiting authors speak and I'm quite frankly not sure if it was me or the free espresso that drew them in, but it fueled a three hour discussion of Shadow in ways I'd never thought of in my wildest dreams ( and I've got to tell you that some of my dreams are pretty freakin' wild)

There was a lady from Yugoslavia, educated in Russia and on a research grant at Harvard Med. who told me that my story reminded
her of Anna Karenina ... Really ?!!

And that started a long group discussion as to why the McCarthy father, ' Big Mike' would attempt to marry above his class and betray his roots as a proletariat. I had to tell them that this would never even have occurred to Mike and that he was less concerned with class struggles and more with bopping bad guys over the head and bailing his kid Mickey out of trouble. They all nodded and then another free-for-all started between a guy from Jamaica and a girl from Macedonia over post-modern Marxism as an underlying theme of my book. Fascinating.
I never dreamed that my little novel about good guys, bad guys, a feisty pair of lovers and a deranged but highly intelligent psychopath, could provide the tinder for such a bonfire of intellect. Almost makes you feel worthwhile doesn't it?

I'd like to be able to tell you that they bought dozens of copies of Shadow to grace the walls of Harvard's Winthrop House or Elliot Hall, but in the end, I think it worked out to about a half dozen copies. Outside of the Yugoslavian Med School researcher on a grant and a couple of undergrad's with accounts at the Coop, I got the impression that although the brain power was illuminating, the ready access to capital was in shorter supply.
Well you can't have everything. I did another signing this week where a guy bought two copies and had them signed to his wife and daughter. "I don't like to read, "he told me. "But my wife and daughter do, and when you were talking you sounded kinda smart and sort of funny. Who knows," he added as he walked away, "maybe some day you'll be famous."

Hummm, I thought. Will I be? And if so, will it last for more than the 15 minutes that everyone is supposed to get?
Sounds like a good question for my next trip back to Harvard Square.


Ric Wasley
Shadow of Innocence
Kunati - April 2007

New from Kunati Publishing: SHADOW OF INNOCENCE - The Newport Folk Festival provides a groovy backdrop for this fun and exciting mystery set in the music and drug soaked sixties. The Baby Boomers and everyone else are sure to enjoy this appealing mystery featuring a pair of musician partners in love and danger. Don't miss Shadow of Innocence! From Kunati Publishing. Available now on; Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Reading Between The Lines...?

So, does the release of every book make you feel like this or is it just the first?

My debut novel, Recycling Jimmy is all but finished now and soon it will be packaged up and shipped from Kunati’s safe hands to be delivered into the probing clutches of the reviewers. Only now, having finally reached this milestone (intangible less than twelve months ago), have I been forced to consider what lies beyond. You see, whilst I was writing I always believed that I was pretty much well prepared for the day when my work would be thumbed and judged by strangers. How wrong was I! I tell you, it’s no exaggeration to say that the buzz in my gut is as real and nagging as it was the day that I handed my four year old son over in to the care of the local headmaster for his first day at school (my son's first day that is, not the headmaster.)

‘Be good, be polite and do as you’re told and everything’ll be fine, son.’ was just about the only advice I could muster as I led him across the playground. Thinking back, I suppose what I really meant to warn him was ‘Listen boy, me and your mum live round here so if you dare show me up, they’ll be bloody trouble.’

And that’s the truth of it isn’t it? Okay, I’m not putting this desire that I have for Recycling Jimmy to succeed on the same level as the paternal instincts I have for my kids (not a chance) but there is a similarity here and for me at least, this is it; both my son and my book, having been created by me, are representative of me to people who I will never meet. Realising this leads me to the conclusion that perhaps it isn’t so much the fact of my work being critiqued that I find unnerving but more that people may find reason in my words to judge me as person. Is it possible that some violent street thug would read about Jimmy as he films Darren Howard falling to his death (disguised as a giant rabbit) and then shout to his mate across the pub, ‘Hey Jonesy! I tell ya, who ever thought this up is one sick mutha. Our kind of people mate.’ Or will the doctor’s receptionist, sit quietly reading on her break, look at my photo on the dust jacket from time to time and imagine me as the kind of bloke that gets a kick from engineering comedy suicides?

Who cares if someone doesn’t like the prose or finds the dialogue cumbersome (part of the territory when we launch ourselves as writers), but if that same someone read my words and labelled me as a darkly twisted individual….ouch.

Then again, they could be bang on the money….I did write it after all. ))))

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Writing Workshop: Writing Dialogue That Speaks Volumes

Writing Dialogue That Speaks Volumes

©2007 Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Fiction is made up of two main structural elements: narrative (also called ‘prose’) and dialogue. Narrative is the description of what’s happening―the describing of characters, settings, moods and actions. Dialogue is either spoken or thought.

Spoken dialogue, often referred to as external dialogue (or verbal, active or impassive dialogue), is always easy to spot. Just look for quotation marks. “Like this,” she suggested. Everything within those quotation marks is something someone is saying out loud.

Thought dialogue, usually referred to as internal dialogue (or passive speech or passive dialogue), is a direct thought sometimes indicated by a tag like he thought or he realized. A thought can also be injected into a passage of narrative, and is often indicated by the use of italics. Or the thought can stand alone like a line of dialogue. Sometimes single quotation marks are used: ‘What is he doing?’ she wondered.

Dialogue is a key element of fiction, and it is often formatted incorrectly. Some writers overuse dialogue to the point that it is difficult to visualize the setting or the actions. It might feel like everyone is just standing around gabbing, instead of doing something to save the world. Other writers create so much narrative that their story is merely being told and described versus experienced. The reader misses out on the connection to the character. Dialogue must have a sense of balance and natural flow within the work.

Spoken Dialogue:

The purpose of dialogue in a story is to move your characters through not only their actions but their speech. Some short stories can be effective as pure narrative, but in general, you want to incorporate dialogue so you can engage or capture the reader’s attention and draw them into your characters’ lives. Imagine rewriting the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Let’s say you wrote: Then Papa Bear asked everyone if they knew who was sleeping in his bed. (This is very dry.) It is not nearly as exciting as writing: “Who’s been sleeping in my bed?” Papa Bear bellowed. (Can you hear him, imagine his voice?)

When people read a story with dialogue, they usually imagine a voice and sometimes a dialect (like a French or Scottish accent). Dialogue engages a reader into believing that the imaginary world the writer has created is real. And as a writer, that is exactly what you want. This means that your dialogue must look and feel authentic.
Engaging dialogue can be constructed using 3 main parts:
a verbal message/ dialogue that sounds real – “I should’ve gone into computers.”
a ‘tag’ or speaker attribution – he muttered.
a ‘beat’ – She paused, stroking her chin. “…”

Verbal messages: Dialogue should always sound natural. Listen to how people talk, the words they use, the slang, the abbreviated sentence structure. If you write everything primly and correctly, without using these factors, your dialogue will not sound real and everyone will come across as extremely educated, pompous people.

Authentic dialogue comes from knowing your character. Who is he or she? If your character is five, his vocabulary is five. If the character is uneducated, his vocabulary is uneducated (use slang). If your character is a lawyer, he’ll use legalese (lawyer speak) and legal terms. If your character is from Scotland, lad, he’ll use that language, now won’t he?

Use contractions (I’m, don’t, shouldn’t, we’ve, she’d, they’re, they’d etc.). Use slang (yeah, naw, gonna, shoulda, yo, ain’t) if it fits the character. Have your characters swear if it fits them, but watch that you don’t overuse expletives. Most readers find it distracting if characters are cursing on every page or every time they speak.

Tags: Tags are character identifiers. They tell you who is speaking. Tags like he said or she whispered are common. Use said more than any other tag. Tags with mumbled, muttered, whispered, grumbled, replied, quipped, responded, demanded, retorted, commanded, shouted, hollered, cried, etc. should be used sparingly and be varied.

Exercise: Make a list of single words that can replace the word ‘said’.

The tag ‘hissed’ should only be used with dialogue containing soft ‘c’ or ‘s’ sounds.
RIGHT: “Sally!” she hissed.
WRONG: “George!” she hissed.

Words like ‘laughed’, ‘chuckled’, ‘scowled’, ‘sighed’ and ‘grimaced’ are physical actions and should not be used as a tag. Use them as beats or after ‘he said’.
“That’s gross,” he said with a grimace.
“I know,” she said, laughing.
He scowled. “Then why are you still doing it?”

Tags can be placed before, in the middle or after a section of dialogue.
Irma said, “I’ll take that cup of coffee now. I need something to wake me up.”
“I’ll take that cup of coffee now,” Irma said. “I need something to wake me up.”
“I’ll take that cup of coffee now because I need something to wake me up,” Irma said.

The general rule of placement is that it is always best AFTER a sentence of dialogue. If you use tags before, use them very sparingly. It is the dialogue that you want to stand out.

If you insert a tag between two or more sentences, the tag always goes AFTER THE FIRST SENTENCE!
RIGHT: “I didn’t know it was so late,” he said. “I need to get to work.”
WRONG: “I didn’t know it was so late. I need to get to work,” he said.
Also RIGHT: He said, “I didn’t know it was so late. I need to get to work.”

Exercise: Insert a tag.
“That’s what you said last week about banking. Why can’t you just be happy with being a plumber? Some of your friends make more than enough.”

“Camping? When will he be back?”

“Wash it yourself!”

“Of course, he probably won’t see any money for a few more years. My doctor says I’m in tiptop shape.”

“Of course I’d like to sit. Do you think I’d drive all this way just to stand here?”

Adverbs/’ly’ words (he said loudly) should be used very sparingly. Whenever possible, use a stronger verb (he shouted). Never use he shouted loudly. Use adverbs only when the dialogue or tag does not give enough information to the reader.
“Back away from the door.”
“Back away from the door,” she said quickly. Here we get a sense of urgency.

Using adverbs correctly in a tag takes special care. When you are ready to edit your work, do a ‘ly’ check. Look for every adverb, in narrative and dialogue, and ask yourself: If I delete it, will the sentence still have the same impact? Delete the ones you don’t need. If your dialogue is written correctly, it will usually tell the reader what the tone is.
“What the hell is going on?”

We don’t need a tag or beat as long as it’s obvious which character is speaking. If it’s not obvious, use a single verb like said, asked, demanded, muttered, etc.
“What the hell is going on?” she demanded.
But don’t write it as: “What the hell is going on?” she asked harshly.

“Where’s your mother?”
This one line of dialogue can be said in various tones. Is the person angry, confused, terrified? Is she yelling or whispering?
RIGHT: “Where’s your mother?” she asked gently.

The above example portrays caring because of the word gently. Perhaps she’s speaking to a terrified child. Or someone who is dying.
RIGHT: “Where’s your mother?” she demanded. She sounds angry.
RIGHT: “Where’s your mother?” she screamed. She sounds frustrated, terrified maybe.

Exercise: Cross out the ‘ly’ adverbs that are not needed.
“Hurry up!” she demanded loudly.
He crossed the room. “This piece of art is spectacularly beautiful.”
The painting on the wall showed a cherry blossom tree in full bloom in the center of an oriental garden. Kneeling beneath it was a lone Japanese woman, dressed in a floral yukata, a fan hiding her lower face.
“I painted it,” she said quietly.
“Well, I love it,” he said cheerfully.
She glanced over his shoulder, then frowned. “So, where’s Rachel?” she whispered softly.
He lovingly gazed at her. “Camping.”
“Camping?” she asked curiously. “When will she be back?”
“Sometime tomorrow afternoon,” he said wryly. “She’s on a school field trip.”

Beats: Beats are also character identifiers, but they are complete sentences, almost always containing some kind of action. Beats can be used at the beginning, middle or end of a piece of dialogue.
She knocked on the door. “Please let someone be home. I really need help here.”
“Please let someone be home.” She knocked on the door. “I really need help here.”
“Please let someone be home. I really need help here.” She knocked on the door.

All of these are RIGHT. In general, don’t put a beat last if there is any chance the reader won’t know first who is speaking. Beats tend to lose their effectiveness when placed last.
VERY EFFECTIVE: She eyed him suspiciously. “What are you doing here?”
LESS EFFECTIVE: “What are you doing here?” She eyed him suspiciously.

Exercise: Insert a beat in every example (no tags).
“That’s what you said last week about banking. Why can’t you just be happy with being a plumber? Some of your friends make more than enough.”

“Camping? When will he be back?”

“Wash it yourself!”

“Of course, he probably won’t see any money for a few more years. My doctor says I’m in tiptop shape.”

“Of course I’d like to sit. Do you think I’d drive all this way just to stand here?”

Choices, choices!
Using a tag: “Where’s your mother?” she demanded.
Using a beat: She let out a gasp. “Where’s your mother?”
Using a beat with an adverb: Her eyes flashed dangerously. “Where’s your mother?”

When bouncing a conversation between 2 people―once you have set up who they are with their first beat or tag―you can then eliminate tags and beats. As long as the reader can follow who is speaking next, keep the dialogue clean.

When bouncing a conversation between 3+ people, you must have tags and beats.

Thought dialogue/internal dialogue:

The purpose of internal dialogue is to reveal a character’s thoughts, showing us something that wouldn’t normally be revealed by narrative or dialogue. But remember, you must know whose POV (point of view) is being featured in that scene or chapter. Stories told in first person POV or ‘I walked into the room” can only use the thoughts of the narrator, the ‘I’ character. If a scene is told from Bob the plumber’s POV, then you can’t show his wife Martha’s thoughts. [More on POV in a later lesson.]

I knew that I had to act fast. “Hurry! In here!”
Shari looked at me, and I could tell she thought I was crazy, but she jumped into the pit.

I knew that I had to act fast. “Hurry! In here!”
Shari looked at me. He’s crazy, she thought before she jumped into the pit.

Every scene or chapter should be one person’s POV. They are the only ones allowed to have internal dialogue. Tags and beats apply to thoughts too. Always ask yourself, would it be natural for the character to say this out loud instead of think it? External dialogue is always better than internal.

Single person scenes: Even if your scene is a woman trapped in a cabin all alone, with a raving lunatic hunting her down. She can talk to herself…out loud. Don’t have her think everything. If she looks in the mirror, she can mutter something about her appearance. If she drops something, she can call herself clumsy. Keep ‘thinking’ to a minimum.

Last words on dialogue: Other elements of great dialogue are the use of ellipses (…) and em-dashes (―), providing they are used properly. Many novice writers confuse the two. Use ellipses when your character says something that fades away or trails off. Use em-dashes when someone is interrupted by another character’s dialogue or a sudden action or they interrupt themselves.

“Look over there, Ralph. I think I see a…”
He stared into the woods. The light flickered again and he was sure it was the cabin.

Ralph shook his head. “I don’t see―”
“Over there,” George interrupted. “By the oak tree.”
“Ah…now I see it.”

There are no spaces before or after ellipses or em-dashes. Some people use the horizontal bar on MS Word as an alternate and acceptable em-dash.

Exclamation marks must also be used very carefully. In narrative, they are rarely used. In external and internal dialogue, use an ! only with speech or thoughts that are sudden bursts, especially commands or short sentences that are yelled or screamed. If someone is screaming and you’ve written long sentences, don’t use exclamations marks.

RIGHT: “Quick! Over here!”
WRONG: “Come over here real quick so we can hide in the shed!”
RIGHT: Oh my God!
RIGHT: “I don’t know what you see in that girl,” his mother said.
WRONG: “I don’t know what you see in that girl!” his mother said.
Also RIGHT: “I don’t know what you see in that girl,” his mother shouted.

Again, don’t use a tag like she shouted after dialogue with an ! unless it’s not obvious who is speaking.

Writing a novel is not just crafting the story, it is also creating an artistic design on paper. It is the fine balance of narrative and dialogue that produces an inviting canvas for readers. Many studies have suggested that avid readers prefer ‘white space’―space around text, which can easily be created by adding dialogue. White space makes a page easier to read by allowing the eyes to focus, then have a break.

Do all exercises above. Complete ‘said’ replacement list.
Print out the short story ‘A Grave Error’, draw a BOX in pencil around all BEATS.
Using ‘A Grave Error’, UNDERLINE in pencil all TAGS.
Using ‘A Grave Error’, CIRCLE in pencil all THOUGHTS.
Look at something you’ve written. Identify the tags and beats.
Choose one of the ideas below and write half a page of dialogue between the characters. Make sure you include tags, beats, thoughts, slang, ellipses, em-dashes and exclamation marks, where appropriate. Have at least one of each. Make sure the dialogue is varied. Include narrative too.
· A homeowner arguing with a plumber.
· A woman filing a police report at the downtown station.
· A man trying to get a refund from a sales clerk at Zellers.

Work on crafting your dialogue until it rings clear and true, until we can hear and visualize your characters through what they say. When you write dialogue, make sure you read it OUT LOUD. Listen to your voice as you read each line from your character’s perspective. It’s like acting. Think of how you’re delivering the lines. What is your character’s mood? How does your character sound? How do they speak?

“Show! Don’t tell!” Cheryl said with a grin. “And enjoy!”

~Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of the bestselling novel Whale Song recently organized and taught the Hope Mission Men's Writing Workshop, a workshop for recovering addicts. Her partner is this venture was Molly Ann Warring, a talented novelist.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


During this time of miracles. I would like to tell a story of a miracle that took place in Toronto.

Alvin Abram

LILLIAN SAX, a volunteer at a Toronto seniors’ centre, first noticed Sarah Perlstein the week she came in wearing an old, torn cloth coat. The left pocket seam was torn, the sleeves worn, and two ragged strips of the lining hung below the hem. The garment had obviously seen better days and, by its style, couldn’t have been very expensive when it was new. No amount of cajoling from people who knew her could persuade her either to fix it or replace it.
Sarah, a widow, was no more than five feet tall, and had a slight hunch to her back and a shuffling walk. No one knew exactly how old she was, but Lillian guessed at about seventy-five. After some inquiries, Lillian learned she was originally from Poland and had been in a concentration camp during those terrible years of the war, but she never talked about her experiences. In fact, Sarah wasn’t much of a talker
As the weeks passed and the weather became colder, her concern for Sarah Perlstein and her torn coat grew. Finally Lillian approached the old woman.
“Hello, Mrs. Perlstein,” she said when Sarah came into the cafeteria. “My name is Lillian Sax. I’m a volunteer.”
Sarah smiled. “I’ve seen you several times.”
“I was wondering if I could help you. Maybe I could have your coat repaired for you.”
Self-consciously Sarah pressed the torn pocket flap against the fabric so that it didn’t look for the moment as if it was torn, smiled and said, “It’ll be all right. It’s fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“I understand you’re a Holocaust survivor from Poland?” Lillian said.
Sarah stopped smiling. “Yes.”
“Do you find it difficult to talk about what happened?”
Sarah’s lips trembled. “Sometimes,” she said.
“How old were you when the war started?”
Sarah stared at the ceiling before replying. “Fourteen.”
“Your coat, did you bring it to Canada
Sarah nodded.
“There must be a story behind why you’ve kept it so long. Would you like to tell me about it?”
There was a pause before she answered, “I’m sorry. I’d rather not.”
“Maybe another time?”
A few weeks later Lillian knocked on Sarah’s apartment door. “Would you like some company?”
“Why thank you,” Sarah said as she opened the door. “That would be nice. This is unexpected. Are you just coming from the centre?” she asked.
“Yes, I haven’t seen you there this week and was concerned.
“Oh, I’m fine. Sometimes I just like to be alone.”
“I understand your husband died a few years ago. Do you have any children?”
“No. It wasn’t possible.”
The old woman had to stretch to reach the coat bar in the closet and Lillian helped, placing her coat on a hanger. Lillian pointed to the coat with the torn pocket hanging beside hers and shook her head.
“Do you know there was a time when I could have fixed it good as new myself?” Sarah said.
“You were a seamstress?”
“Yes. It was what saved my life. It was another time.”
“I’m sure you realize it might be more practical to buy a new one.”
Sarah became solemn. “I know,” she said. “I’ve had it since 1954. It was the first coat I owned since before the war.”
“Why won’t you fix it?”
Sarah suddenly gripped her left hand, which shook uncontrollably. She gave a low moan.
Lillian was frightened. “Are you all right, Sarah?”
“Yes. It will go away. Sometimes my hand takes on a life of its own. Anyway, at my age, I don’t need a new coat. If I buy a new coat, it will outlive me.” She laughed, but there was no joy in the sound.
“No, Sarah, it will keep you warm and extend your life.”
“To tell you the truth, I’ve lived long enough and seen too much. I have much to forget.”
“But Sarah, talking helps. I’m a good listener. Won’t you talk to me? I would like to know you better.”
“Why would you want to know me?”
Lillian smiled. “Why wouldn’t I?”
Sarah grinned. “My story is no different from others. I am from Lodz. When the bombs came, my younger brother was already at work. He never returned. Our house was near the factories and was destroyed. Somehow I lived. My parents did not.”
“You never heard from your brother again?”
“Nothing. I can’t even remember what he looks like. Too many years and too many bad memories have removed his face from my eyes. But I remember the last time I saw him. As he left for work, he was excited. The owner promised to show him how to use a sewing machine that day. He was only thirteen. I boiled him an egg and gave him a slice of black bread with homemade jam I made. I remember asking him what he thought of the jam.” Sarah paused and closed her eyes for a moment. “He said it was as sweet as his favourite sister. I laughed because I was his only sister. He put on his cap and went out the door – forever.”
“What happened to you?” Lillian asked.
“A ghetto was formed. I was put to work making uniforms. When they liquidated the ghetto, I was sent to a labour camp to make German winter coats, and later was sent to Buchenwald. I survived. I saw too much. My left hand didn’t start to shake until after the war. It was my left hand that guided the cloth through the machine. Maybe I’m being punished for surviving.” Sarah had tears in her eyes and her hand shook.
Lillian reached out and gently took her hand, then held it until it stopped shaking. “I don’t think you’re being punished. It’s your body reminding you of what it endured.”
Sarah gave a tired smile. “Thank you for caring.”
“Let me care some more. Let me buy you a new coat.”
“Buy me a coat? Does it mean that much to you?”
“Yes. A new coat from a new friend. Let me do this for you.”
Sarah laughed. “All right. I’ll get a new coat. But I’ll pay for it. I have the money. It was never the money.”
“I know,” Lillian said.
A few days later Lillian drove to a street off Spadina Avenue and parked. Then she and Sarah entered a building and climbed the narrow steps to the second floor where there were racks and racks of men’s suits and jackets and all types of cloth coats. The owner appeared and was told of their need.
“Come with me,” he said, and took them to a rack.
Sarah was very cooperative and smiled often when she tried on the different coats. Finally they came to a decision and she admired herself in the full-length mirror. The owner nodded his approval at their selection and left to get the tailor. He returned with an elderly man who had a thin tape measure hung around his neck, and lapels filled with pins. The tailor eyed the coat hanging on Sarah’s stooped body. His head bobbed a few times. He stuck a pin into the coat, pulled on the shoulders, then pinched the back where it hung loosely, tightened his grip on the cloth and stuck in another pin. A pin here, a pin there, his hands constantly gliding gently over Sarah’s back and slight frame.
The smile had left the old woman’s face. She seemed uncomfortable. Her eyes moved in the direction of the tailor’s hands as they passed over her shoulders. Lillian and the owner were in conversation and didn’t appear to be aware of Sarah’s discomfort. Sarah’s hand began to shake uncontrollably. She gave a moan and gripped her arm. The tailor stopped what he was doing and stepped back. Lillian and the owner stopped talking and stared at her.
“Lillian, I would like to leave,” she pleaded.
“He’s not finished.”
“I’m sorry,” she answered. “I can’t stay.” She removed the new coat, retrieved her own and before it was on her, was hurrying down the steps to the street.
Lillian apologized to the owner and hurried after her. On the street, she saw Sarah standing by the curb, tears in her eyes. “Are you all right, Sarah?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “That was foolish of me.”
“Are you all right?”
“Yes. Yes. I’m sorry. We’ll go back another time.”
“What was the matter?”
“It was his hands. I had the strangest feeling when the tailor’s hands touched me. I don’t know how to explain it, but as his hands moved along my back and shoulders, I had this feeling that it was my brother’s hands on me. My brother was learning to be a tailor. He would practice on me as if I had a coat, and his hands were gentle, just like that man’s.”
“Are you all right now?” Lillian asked.
They walked to the car and Lillian opened the passenger door. Sarah didn’t get in. “I’ve kept this coat all these years because it reminded me of my brother. I would remember how he fussed at me as if I had on a coat and he was altering it. The coat became my only link to a good memory from my past.” She turned to look at the building.
“I’m sorry, Sarah. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Sarah continued to stare at the building. “I would like to go back,” she said. “I want to ask his name.”
“Maybe you should wait and sleep on it.”
Sarah placed her hand gently on Lillian’s arm and shook her head. Without waiting for an answer, Sarah returned to the building.
Sarah was out of breath when she reached the floor. Lillian stood behind her, a look of concern on her face. The owner and the tailor had been talking as Sarah approached. The owner stepped away from the tailor. Sarah stood before the tailor and stared at him for long moments not saying a word.
He looked back at her, smiling.
“What do you think of the jam I made?” Sarah hesitantly asked.
The tailor’s brow knitted in a frown, and a momentary look of confusion appeared on his face. He stared hard at Sarah Perlstein for what seemed an eternity, then the lines on his face softened and in a low whisper, he answered, “It’s as sweet as my favourite sister."

Monday, April 09, 2007

Whale Song Book Launch Sells Out!

Well, I am still tired from an exciting and busy weekend, but I have to let everyone know that the launch for my latest novel Whale Song was a complete success. In fact South Point Chapters in Edmonton SOLD OUT of their stock. It's a good thing I had a few copies on me!! :)

The food was fantastic, thanks to Victor Guan Catering.

Jessy Tardif (my daughter) and singer-songwriter Alexia Melnychuk had fabulous performances and the audience just loved them. This was my daughter's first singing performance. She did an acoustic performance at my launch in 2005 for The River. Thank you everyone for being so supportive and complimentary. She was very nervous. As for Alexia, she's a seasoned pro on her way to the top. I was happy to see she sold some of her CD's and I recommend Flying Machine to everyone! I enjoy writing to it.

Check out Alexia at

Rachel, the manager of South Point Chapters in Edmonton, AB, gave me such a glowing introduction I was stunned. (And that doesn't happen a lot. :) I hope I made her proud. Her store is one of my favorite places to do signings because I am always treated like gold. She always has a smile and her staff is wonderful.

Although we sold out, more copies of Whale Song will be coming in soon...and I did leave her 6 copies.

The door prizes were a huge hit...I had so many that almost everyone went home with something.

But best of all for me was seeing my fans--some old, some new...and seeing people who have supported my work since the beginning. To all of you, I thank you for taking time out of your Easter holiday to come down and support me. I so appreciate it and I really hope you all enjoy Whale Song...and the mystery gift that many of you received for buying 2+ copies. I had lovely mugs made with the cover of Whale Song on the side and my websites listed on the other side.

Enjoy and THANK YOU ALL for making the Whale Song Book Launch Edmonton's BIGGEST and BEST BOOK LAUNCH EVER! :)

~ Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention

Thursday, April 05, 2007

How Whale Song has inspired me...

Usually people ask me what inspired me to write each novel. Where did I get the idea, the characters, the plot, the setting? How did it all come together? Well, with Whale Song, I can easily answer those questions. And I will. But I must also confess that Whale Song has also inspired ME.

The idea for Whale Song came to me years ago now, from flashes of childhood memories--some good, some bad. Having lived on the Queen Charlotte Islands, north of Vancouver Island, BC, as a child for a number of years, I was surrounded by nature, animals, sea creatures and native folklore that set a young writer's mind spinning. Even now, the sound of native drums haunts me and ties me to the land beneath my feet far more than gravity ever will. The Charlottes have a mystery about them.

I heard as a child that if a killer whale came close to shore that it was a reincarnated soul coming to say hello (or goodbye) to his/her family. That legend stayed with me. I used to go to the Vancouver Aquarium and watch Skana, probably Canada's most famous killer whale, and wait anxiously for the magnificent mammal to splash me. A part of me wanted to dive right in with her, swim with her, ride her...and that was way before I'd heard of Whale Rider, the book and movie. Years later, the Free Willy movies caught my eye and engaged my attention.

Years later, I had glimmers of a story, flashes of light that began to develop, flowing from one thought to the next. Scenes of killer whales cresting the ocean, swimming close to shore...and a young girl emerged as the protagonist Sarah. So many people have asked if Sarah is me. I have to say 'No'; I write fiction. But then, in all honesty, there IS a lot of me in Sarah.

Whale Song opens with an adult Sarah reflecting on her life. Then she flashes back to a time where everything changed. She had to move because of her father's job. I had to move because my father was in the Canadian Armed Forces. Sarah moved to an isolated island where racism was ripe. I lived in Masset on the Charlottes, where being white was bad enough; being military was even worse. Sarah was bullied, yet had a best friend. I too was bullied, yet still maintained friendships with the locals and the other 'army brats'. But that is pretty much where the similarities end.

Sarah faces a terrible tragedy in her young life, one that affects her many years later. Her mother, who is suffering from primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH), is nearing death and assisted suicide is the one thing she wants. Sarah's father must make an agonizing decision.
It is this decision to end a life that haunted me and had me thinking. And I pose the question I asked myself many times to you: If someone you loved was nearing death and begged you to release them, to assist in their death, could you do it? Would you do it? It is a question that no one wants to ask...and no one wants to answer.

And THAT is why I wrote Whale Song.

Since writing this novel, Whale Song has inspired me to dig deep as a writer, to find my characters' emotions and bare them to the world. With a percentage of my royalties now going to help 3 Edmonton charities, Whale Song has become a meaningful and important piece of work.

To me, Whale Song is a beautiful, haunting, lyrical novel that takes you back to innocence and wonder, back to youthful oblivion, until LIFE pulls you back to reality. I invite you to take that journey with Sarah, to cry with her, to swim with the killer whales and to hear the most haunting of all melodies...a Whale Song.

~Cheryl Kaye Tardif


P.S. Don't forget to check out my fellow Kunati author Ric Wasley's fast paced new novel, Shadow of Innocence. The Newport Folk Festival provides a groovy backdrop for this fun and exciting mystery set in the music and drug soaked sixties. The Baby Boomers and everyone else are sure to enjoy this appealing mystery featuring a pair of musician partners in love and danger.

Don't miss Shadow of Innocence from Kunati Publishing.
Available now for pre-order at