Category Archives: Norman in the Painting

Setting in a Novel

Viv's best houseThis week I finished chapters 18 and 19 in my romantic alternative reality novel, Norman in the Painting. Jill Steele, the protagonist, doesn’t like to visit Viv, her older sister in their family home. When their parents died, Viv inherited the house, which Jill didn’t want anyway. Living there in her childhood  was not a happy time and the house, although the biggest and nicest one in town, gives her the creeps because her parents were judgmental and cold. The large framed picture of her deceased parents hangs in what used to be their bedroom but is now Viv’s. Jill feels their eyes staring at her with criticism as if they were real.

In three chapters so far, Jill has to go back to the house, once when Viv is intoxicated during a thunder storm and two times when Viv is not home.

I don’t want the house to be like a haunted house or old and rundown. Jill’s family was the richest and most politically well-known in their small town so it needs to be attractive but with some uncomfortable energy.

Does this photo fit my description? If not, why?

I appreciate any feedback since I will be using photos in my promotions.


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Jessica Barksdale Writing Retreat 2015

Jessica's my beta readersLast day of Jessica Barksdale’s writing retreat. I’m happy I found two Beta readers for Norman in the Painting. Kari Ann Flickinger and Gretchen Nordstrom. Now all I have to do is get the remaining one third of the book written, send it to them, make revisions from what they find is confusing, then send it to Jessica to edit. More revisions after that and then it will be published. I have a sequel in mind.

Jessica and me.

Jessica and me.

how-to-bake-a-man-with-shadowJessica’s newest novel available on Amazon.

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Food in Writing

Greek yogurtWhat does your story’s characters eat? Today at Jessica Barksdale’s retreat, she suggested we write about food for 20 minutes.

In Norman in the Painting, Jill wants to stall before going to her sister’s house. Viv, who has had too much to drink, tells Jill that the body of her colleague was found by the Marina and she wants Jill to come over right away. This is my food addition:

Jill fed Rocky, (the cat,) and when she put the remaining cat food in the refrigerator for Rocky’s breakfast the next day, she grabbed the quart of honey flavored Greek yogurt. The thunder that had roared over head earlier, rumbled a block or two away. The scoop of white yogurt enticed her as any vanilla ice cream could. She rolled a spoonful over her tongue savoring the smooth, cool texture and her tastebuds indentified the hint of honey.

The dead woman at the marina would never enjoy the taste of food again. Even criminals, before their execution could request what they wanted for their last meal. The attorney most likely didn’t have that priviledge.

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Norman in the Painting Art Gallery Excerpt


Norman in the Painting Chapter Four: Jill visits Maggie, her best friend who is confined to a wheelchair and owns the only art gallery in town.

The next morning, Jill ran to the Apollo Gallery planning to arrive by 8:00 a.m. Maggie usually opened early, before Evelyn did. Several clients’ monthly bookkeeping had to be completed, but she wanted to talk with Maggie before customers came into the gallery. If anyone would believe Jill about the man in the painting, Maggie would.
Jill pulled on the door, but it was locked. Five minutes to eight. She’d wait. The morning air mixed with fog cooled her down to a shiver. Viv was right; the pink running jacket wasn’t warm enough when she stopped moving. She hopped in place, facing the  spot where Maggie had been hit as she crossed the street on her way back to the gallery after a quick lunch at the cafe. The newspaper printed photos and police contact numbers asking for witnesses. Numerous people described the speeding car and the absence of license plates. Artists made renderings of the man in the driver’s seat from what by-standers remembered. People around town speculated if the hit was on purpose. Maggie had no enemies, but she confided in Jill that she believed it was no accident.  Two years later, the case remained unsolved.

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Norman in the Painting Quote

desk halfNorman in the Painting, Chapter Three when Norman disappears again:

“A strong waft of air swooped into the space. Jill, with eyes closed as her hair blew into her face, clasped the edge of the desk . She couldn’t hang on any longer and fell to the floor.”

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Sisters meet at Starbucks in Norman in the Painting

StarbucksIn Chapter Two of my novel, Norman in the Painting, Jill meets her sister, Vivian, at Starbucks. She wants to tell Viv about the strange appearance of the man in the antique store, but she’s worried about her response.

Most of the chairs at the tables were full. Since it was a weekday, the patrons were attorneys, jurors, people involved with the court. On the weekends, families, students with laptops, and chatting friends changed the atmosphere to one Jill preferred. She settled into her chair and watched her sister head toward their table. Years of growing up together made it necessary for Jill to know Viv’s current temperament. Vivian’s power walk that caused her full-length black coat to sway and the fringed ends of the long red scarf to flap told Jill something happened to annoy her.
Jill slouched in her chair. She should have put make up on and should have chosen a better outfit. Her running suit had worn thin in some spots and sweat from racing down the hill collected under her sports bra. She had pulled her mousy blonde hair, as Viv described the color, into a quick ponytail without combing it first. Viv’s thick, dark hair with mahogany highlights formed a neat bun with a springy curl on each side of her face. Viv’s sense of style worked well for an attorney so why did Jill feel the need to compete? She usually wasn’t concerned about style when she spent most of her time working at home.


Most of the action in the story happens on the small town’s main street. Do you have a variety of settings or do you tend to use one more often?


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A Motif in Norman in the Painting

bronze foo dogs 2Foo dogs are a motif in my novel Norman in the Painting. Here is an excerpt from Chapter One. Jill meets Norman for the first time when he appears in the antique shop and asks Jill what she is holding. She answers foo dogs and he wants to more about them:

“They are believed to provide protection for you and your home, especially if you place one on each side of your doors.” She couldn’t shake the dizziness she felt since he spoke to her, but she visualized roots from her feet connecting with the center of the earth, which was her way of grounding.
“Those don’t look like dogs. Look more like lions.” The man leaned forward in his chair and then stood as if to see better.
Jill regained her equilibrium enough to move around Evelyn’s open-shelf divider. She stopped at the end of the desk and handed him one.
He turned the statue around in his hands. “Still looks like a lion to me.”
“Another name for them in Chinese is shi. It means lion, but here in the US they’re called foo dogs and have many different styles. Some look like dragons. Some are dog-like. Some even look like large cats with fluffy tails. These do look like lions.” Caution sent a fleeting thought not to be too comfortable talking to this man.
He handed the statue back to Jill and grinned. “Nice to learn something for a change. Are you a teacher?”
His grin sent a flip-flop flutter to her stomach, that same flutter she felt with Reggie when they were dating. What was wrong with her? She didn’t know this guy. “Not a teacher, I’m a CPA.” Jill took a step backwards and clasped the foo dog tighter. “Usually, there’s an older man sitting there. Are you related to him?”


Motifs are repeated through the novel. I like the power of three. The second time I refer to foo dogs is when Jill has a dream about them. She senses the dream predicts future danger. The third time, Jill takes a pair of foo dogs to her sister’s house to protect Vivian.

How do you use motif in your writing?

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Protagonist Takes on Environmental Issues

plastic bottles into fences for JIll ideaIn my novel, Norman in the Painting, Jill, the protagonist, is passionate about environmental issues and about helping the homeless. She researches issues such as landfill problems. The following are today’s statistics she finds:

22 billion plastic bottles ended up in landfills last year. National Geographic, Green Guide.

It takes thousands of years for plastic bottles to decompose. Union of Concerned Scientists.

Bisphenol A (BPA) can leach into the contents of food or drinks from some types of plastic bottles. Chicago Tribune.

Since Norman travels to parallel universes, Jill asks him if environmental problems exist there too. One in particular is worse than where Jill lives.  The people became poverty stricken because of climate change, and they’ve learned to use plastic bottles for houses, furniture, light fixtures, and fences. They banned plastic from their landfills. Jill attempts to tell her government about the future devastation if chages aren’t made now. Do you think they listen to her?

Plastic bottle couchPlastic bottles lampplastic bottle house with grassplastic bottles with line through

Plastic bottles remain for 1000 years


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Activewear in My Protagonist’s Closet

pink active wearMy Protagonist, Jill Steele, in Norman in the Painting, wears what I called a pink jogging suit. In a critique group, I was told the terminology is activewear, not jogging suit. Apparently, people don’t jog now days, they run. Jill’s sister convinces her to buy new clothes. Jill doesn’t like to go clothes shopping but since Norman is on the scene, she wants to look good for him. The pink activewear is a key to Norman’s vortex. Jill’s new activewear looks like the one here in Landsend’s photo. She hopes it will work as well as the old one did to bring Norman through the painting.

Do you think it will or does she have to wear her old worn pink outfit?

Picture credit to


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How Do Other Characters in your Story View the Progagonist?

Looking through a keyholeIf we imagine other characters in our story seeing the protagonist through a keyhole view, what would they say or write? If the story is written with a single point of view, the thoughts of the other characters can’t be used or we’d be head hopping. Their judgements can be revealed in dialog, directly in words or tone of voice, or in a letter/email the protagonist reads, etc.

The other characters have a limited view based on their interactions with the protagonist and their observations of his or her actions and emotions. How accurate is their character judgement? Is the bias partly the protagonist’s fault for not allowing others to get to know her or him and by hiding the true self?

In my multidimensional novel, Norman in the Painting, the protagonist, Jill, has a long time friend named Evelyn who owns an antique store. Jill freaked when Norman appeared out of the painting at the back of her shop. She wanted Evelyn to see the phenomenon, but Norman had disappeared again. Since then, Evelyn’s tone of voice sounds placating as if Jill is mentally fragile regardless of the topic Jill initiates. Ed, the knife sharpener at Evelyn’s, often gives Jill a look of total confusion and annoyance. He has seen her fainting, shouting, arguing, and causing chaos which Evelyn says he doesn’t like. Jill wants to have conversations with him but he ignores her attempts. The antagonist plays on Jill’s fears to control her but as she grows in the character arc, the limited assumption about Jill will prove wrong.

How do your other characters view the protagonist in your story?

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