By H. P. Oliver

It seems fellow wordsmith and Twitter friend E. M. Wynter (@WynterEm) has thrown down the "Blog Hop" gauntlet once again, this time including some exigent questions for the new year. With the clear understanding that my answers may not have a darn thing whatsoever to do with the questions, I have accepted Ms Wynter's challenge. So, in the words of the Great One, "And awaaaay we go!"

Question #1: If you could achieve anything with your writing in 2014, what would it be?

To make the New York Times Best Seller List with at least three books!

Seriously, though, my writing goal for the new year is the same as it has been since I entered the craft some thirty years ago. Simply put, that goal is to become a better writer.

No, that's not a cop-out answer. If I've learned one thing in my writing career, it is that a writer can never stop learning. Or, as Ernest Hemingway so aptly put it, "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." Few truer words have ever been said of our craft.

As one aspect of this learning process, I am always striving to create clearer, more colorful word pictures, whether they be of a novel's setting, action, or a character's feelings. Done right, those word pictures draw readers into our yarns, making them feel a part of the story. That is the essence of my job as a storyteller.

Along the same lines, a fan described me in a recent review as a "reader's writer." While I'm not entirely sure what all that entails, I can think of no greater achievement than becoming the best reader's writer I can be.

Question #2: What are the top three demons you must slay to achieve your goals in 2014?

One concern that's always on my mind is falling prey to the Rut Demon. The Rut Demon and his old pal, the evil Deadline Demon, conspire to make us fall back on old tried and true techniques rather than taking the time to create new, fresh approaches to telling our stories.

A writer attracts fans who enjoy her/his style, but those fans will quickly grow tired of reading essentially the same story with a different title every time they pick up one of our books. I try to fight the Rut Demon by challenging readers with unique, irony-filled plots and creating believable characters who are as unique as the living people we find most interesting in our own lives. Take that, Rut Demon!

Question #3: Name three things that inspire you to write.

Places, history and people. Oh, you want an explanation, too?

An example of a place that inspired one of my mysteries in history is the Avalon Casino on Santa Catalina Island. More specifically, an acoustic anomaly in the Casino's beautiful deco-moderne' ballroom gave me the idea for And The Angels Sing. The anomaly is a small thing, really, but once I knew about it and went to the Casino to experience the phenomenon for myself, I knew I had a key ingredient to a thrilling story.

Historic events have inspired several of my mysteries, including my current project, Winging IT. In this instance, the historic event that inspired the story was the filming of the epic silent film, Wings. Directed by the brilliant and irreverent "Wild Bill" Wellman and staring the controversial It Girl, Clara Bow, the making of Wings became an epic event in itself . . . and the perfect setting for a diabolical murder.

Many of my stories have been inspired in one way or another by well-known people in history, but my recently completed mystery, Goodnight, San Francisco (to be released February, 2014) is particularly unique in this regard. Early in my writing career I had the good fortune to work with a nationally renowned radio newscaster. Goodnight is not his story, but is based on some of the experiences he shared with me--experiences I found fascinating and inspiring. The result is a gripping, human drama set in the San Francisco of 1937.

Question #4: What advice do you have for a new writer considering writing fiction?

I shy away from giving "advice" to writers for the simple reason that we each must find our own unique path through the writing maze. In other words, what worked for me probably won't be of much help to anyone else.

I am willing, however, to offer a few points I learned along the way that have proven to be strong building blocks for anyone interested in pursuing a career in our craft:

LEARN THE CRAFT - As I said earlier, learning is a career-long process, but understanding that there is always much more to be learned is one of the first steps toward becoming an accomplished wordsmith.

HONE YOUR SKILLS - When I look back on my earliest writing efforts, I shake my head in amazement at how unrefined my skills were, especially since I thought I was writing great stuff at the time. Many successful writers tell that same tale of discovery. Time and experience are the sharpening stones that will give your skills the cutting edge you need to carve out memorable stories.

BE PATIENT! - Not many writers create a bestseller with their first manuscript. By way of example, my first major success--a screenplay that received national acclaim--didn't happen until I'd been working in the craft for about eight years. Good things take time!

In conclusion, I offer a suggestion made by a wordsmith who is far more qualified than I to offer sage writing advice. In addition to the quote I included in my answer to the first question, Ernest Hemingway also said, "It's none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way."