Friday, July 3, 2015

Writing Memoir - Anne Kaier Guest Post

Memoir can get a bad rap. It’s been likened to reality shows, panned for TMI, pigeonholed as mere publicity for politicos. My favorite peeve is the ghostwritten celebrity memoir—or, worse, the simpleminded recovery story in which the protagonist falls into drink or illness and, inevitably, regains health by page 300. It’s the "inevitably" that bothers me. These memoirs, written according to formula, often gloss over the real difficulties of people trying to make and keep their lives better.

The “my cat saved my life” story bugs me no end, as you can imagine. So why did I write a memoir about a feral cat who helped ground me emotionally in an uneasy period of my life?

The most important answer is that Henry, the ginger cat I rescued one night after someone’s car had hit him on a busy road, turned out to be one of the sweetest creatures ever. Oh, he hissed and spat at the beginning and hid under my spare room bed for six months. But when he finally began to trust human beings, he showed himself as a loving, friendly companion. So I wrote to celebrate him. However, I was determined that I would write a pet memoir which showed the complexity of my feelings around the time he came to live with me—as well as his initial distrust of me.

When I rescued Henry, I had just moved into my first house, as a single woman, at age fifty. I was afraid of everything: the mortgage, the weird house sounds at night, and the self-image this move drove home. I was a single woman living alone with a cat. Talk about a stereotype. I had to break out of it. Learn to include my friends and neighbors and nephews in my idea of “family,” learn to trust that my home was as enticing as one defined by a married couple, children and a white picket fence. Just as Henry needed to learn to trust me, I needed to trust my own core self.

I aimed for emotional complexity in Home with Henry. I wanted it to echo great pet memoirs such as Peter Trachtenberg’s Another Insane Devotion, in which the philosophical author explores the whys of cat love. Or Mark Doty’s Dog Years with unforgettable scenes about his dogs and his lover and the meaning of life. Books such as these set a high standard. Henry, a contemplative sort of cat, perched in a chair next to me while I wrote, muttering under my breath, trying to get our story down in the most honest memoir I could manage. Henry and I hope you like it.

For a list of classic pet memoirs, check out a free pamphlet: “Tall Tails: how to write about your cat” on the Home with Henry page of my website:

You can buy Home with Henry by clicking here

Visit Marian Allen's blog tomorrow for the next stop on this blog book tour.

Best American Essays notable author Anne Kaier has published in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Kenyon Review, and Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, an ALA Notable Book for 2012. Anne lives in Center City, Philadelphia and teaches at Arcadia University and Rosemont College. She has a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Genres - What’s Your Game?

I’ve been thinking a lot about genres the past few years, and the concept gets more complicated by the day. Now that self-publishing has really gained a foothold, a lot of the old rules simply don’t apply anymore. Crossover fiction is becoming much more accepted, so labeling your book for potential readers is increasingly challenging.

What’s your book genre? Romance? Thriller? Romantic Thriller? Mystery? Romantic Mystery? Noir Romance? Cozy Mystery with Innocent Romance? Ack!

And what about age groups? Young Adult (YA) has a new sub-category called New Adult (NA) for a slightly older reader from 18-25. Why? Because the romance was too steamy, but not yet jaded like for older adults? Could be.

A search at Wikipedia for more information leads to an exhaustive list of possible fiction genres.

Excuse me while my head explodes.

Is it any wonder I keep flip-flopping while writing my current romantic mystery novel that sometimes becomes an erotic thriller? What do you do when your characters don’t behave as they should? Switch genres?

To that end, I’m paying close attention to how other authors bill their books. For light entertainment, I’m a sucker for cowboy or musician bad-boy billionaire romance novels, and I say “romance” rather than “erotica” because the hero has to be a really good guy under that wicked public persona. I also want to see the happily-ever-after (HEA) without too much interference from old and perfect girlfriends or mothers or other control freaks trying to mess things up for the heroine. Is there a specific sub-genre for that kind of story? Upbeat Bad-Boy Romantica with Happy Ending? Yikes.

Join us this month as we discuss book genres in depth. Do you have any questions about the topic? What’s your book genre? Leave us a comment and we’ll chat about it.

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter

Monday, June 29, 2015

Just the Facts, Ma'am

“Who cares if it’s accurate? It’s fiction.”

A writer whose book I was editing said the above when I questioned something in her manuscript. I suggested she research the subject, and she became irate, a bit rude even. Because I was also contractually obligated to publish the book, I did the research myself and corrected the information in the story. Later, the writer mentioned my “absurd” request to another author who informed her that fiction must, indeed, fit the facts, be accurate, and pass the plausibility test. After a contrite apology, my writer never again challenged me when I advised her to confirm her info.

What does this have to do with blatant self-promotion? Think about it. If our stories don’t ring true, we can lose our readers. If we lose our readers, we won’t have an audience. If we don’t have an audience, we won’t sell books. If we don’t sell books because our stories don’t ring true, all the BSP in the world isn’t going to make any difference.

Why is accuracy so important in fiction? Our readers come from all walks of life, are often well-read, and many have extensive knowledge and experience. If our stories contain misinformation, inaccuracies, and impossibilities, our credibility as writers goes down the toilet. Even science fiction and fantasy need to be based on sound scientific principles, no matter if they’re set far in the future. The best writing in the world will not overcome deficiencies in the fact department.

Bottom line: be wise, be savvy, be accurate. And, of course, write well. Make the reader so eager for your next novel that she’s regularly checking your website for a release date. Then BSP can do its job to help sell your book.

So what do you think? Does fiction need to be factual?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at

Friday, June 26, 2015

Beat the Bully… Stand Tall With BSP

Remember that kid in the back of the class who was never talked to? Who was never picked for teams? That nerdy runt who was stuffed in lockers, got food thrown at him, got pushed around in the halls? The boy all the girls laughed at while saying ‘Not if he was the last boy on earth’?

That was me.

I was bullied on a regular basis. I had the freckles, goofy haircut, skinny frame, and I was smart. I was the student who always raised his hand for questions, and always gave the right answer. Until I decided being smart wasn’t cool. It seemed my intelligence played a big factor in getting the crap kicked out of me. So I stopped raising my hand, stopped showing my intelligence. I tried hiding even deeper in the vague identity of ‘that boy”. But it didn’t help.

It was freshman year when I reached my breaking point. I had enough and one unlucky bully got every ounce of frustration and anger I had inside me. He put me in a headlock and laughed. I didn’t find it funny at all. I wormed my way out of the headlock and swung with every bit of fury I had bottled up inside my scrawny little body. And I knocked him out with one punch.

The people who had gathered around went quiet. I knocked out one kid and, by doing so, I silenced an entire school.

From that moment, my life was different. I never lost a fight throughout the rest of my years in high school. I went on to become a competitive fighter, only losing two fights… my first and my last. I became a professional bouncer facing people of all sizes. I never went down. In my lifetime, I have stared down the barrel of three guns, had multiple knives pulled on me, and been in several situations where I’ve had to fight multiple assailants.

I am still standing. I am still in one piece. And now, I must fight once again.

People have the wrong idea about being tough. Being ‘tough’ isn’t about the biggest muscles, the hardest punch, or the worst attitude. The art of ‘being tough’ is being able to make the other person believe that you are. You have to find a way to exude confidence, even during those moments when confidence is lacking. Trust me, I am not invincible. Deep down inside, there’s still a scared kid who thinks he doesn’t have a chance in the world. But I refuse to allow myself to believe it. More importantly, I absolutely will not allow YOU to believe it.

How does all of this apply to Blatant Self Promotion?

As writers, we have one goal: To get our stories out into the world. To do that, we need people to take an interest in our work. We need them to spare some of their hard earned money to purchase our books, our stories. That doesn’t happen without promotion. If we are not willing to talk about ourselves, about our work, no one else will want to either.

Think of that bully I faced in the ninth grade. Had I shown hesitation or fear, he would have gained the upper hand. I would have been back in a headlock, being laughed at and ridiculed. If my moment of conviction had failed, where would I be today?

Be proud of who you are and believe in yourself. Shout from mountain tops, “I am a writer, read my story!” You poured your heart into every word of your manuscript and it deserves to be read. No matter how nervous or terrified you are, talk about your work and yourself every chance you get. Whatever you have faced in your lifetime, you are still here, still standing tall, and you are chasing your dream.

The worst bullies are all the little voices inside our heads that tell us we can’t. Silence them. Allow your voice to be heard. Don’t let self-doubt to push you around or get in the way of your success. Steady your trembling hands and nervous voice. Stand tall and bestow your dreams and ideas upon the world.

That moment when you realize you faced the bully and won… it’s an amazing feeling.

And, if you ever need a champion, someone to stand by you and shout with you, find me. I’ll be directing the 2016 Pikes Peak Writers Conference, April 15th-17th, 2016.

(You see what I did there?)

When he's not working with the dedicated and passionate people of Pikes Peak Writers, Jason P. Henry is lost in a world of serial killers, psychopaths, and other unsavory folks. Ask him what he is thinking, but only at your own risk. More often than not he is plotting a murder, considering the next victim, or twisting seemingly innocent things into dark and demented ideas. A Suspense, Thriller and Horror writer with a dark, twisted sense of humor, Jason strives to make people squirm, cringe, and laugh. He loves to offer a smile, but is quick to leave you wondering what lies behind it. Jason P. Henry is best summed up by the great philosopher Eminem “I'm friends with the monsters beside of my bed, get along with the voices inside of my head.” Learn more about Jason at

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tips For Book Promotion

Promoting books is all about exposure. No, I don't mean running around the neighborhood nekkid, although that might get a lot of attention. What I mean is that people have to know about your book in order to be interested in reading it, and that entails spreading the word far and wide on the Internet and in the real world.

In my earlier post here at The Blood-Red Pencil this month, BSP - It's All About Buzz, I mentioned how much I dislike this promotional part of the writing biz, and most of the comments on that post shared the same sentiment. So it was kind of ironic that in my research for this article I came across this bit of advice from Tony Levelle in a blog post on the Writers Store Ezine.    He suggests that we change that negative to a positive. 
Think of book promotion as storytelling. The story you are telling is why you wrote your book, how it can help others, and how the world will benefit from your book.
If you can develop a positive attitude about book promotion, people will pick up on it, and tune in immediately. 
That makes sense. If we are not excited about our books, who is going to be? The last few times I have had signing events, I've had some nice conversations with potential readers about the story as they checked out my book. Those conversations helped me remember why I wrote the book and rekindled the passion I had for the characters and the story. The more we talked, we generated a mutual enthusiasm for the subject of the story, and that often led to a sale.

Because I've always enjoyed these interactions with interested readers, I appreciated the following tips that I found on Seth Godin's Blog, Advice for Authors,  He has other tips there that are worth a moment of your time.  
If you've got the patience, bookstore signings and talking to book clubs by phone are the two lowest-paid but most guaranteed to work methods you have for promoting a really really good book. If you do it 200 times a year, it will pay.
If you want to reach people who don't normally buy books, show up in places where people who don't usually buy books are. Media places, virtual places and real places too. 
So now I want to share some excitement about Open Season, the first book in the Seasons Mystery Series, which is now available as an audiobook. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to process what still happens too often between police officers and the general public, and that is racism. When I first started developing the story about two homicide detectives in Dallas, there was a huge outcry in the city because of a young black boy being shot by a white cop.

Unfortunately, not a lot has changed between the years when the story idea came to me and the present day, and the flames of hatred and bigotry burn hotter than ever.  I find that such a sad state of affairs.

There are no easy answers to the problem, and racism runs deep on both sides of color lines. That is what I explore in the series as Sarah and Angel face off on opposite sides. I interviewed a lot of police officers and civilians of all colors while developing the characters and the story lines, and that research gave me a much wider view of the problem from both sides. It is that view that I try to illustrate in the books. Consider this excerpt from Open Season as the detectives struggle with their partnership:

Thrusting her hands deep in her pockets to avoid acting on the urge to smack the defiance off Angel’s face, a sudden realization slammed into Sarah like a lead ball. She controlled the force of her words with an effort. “Do you really think I’ll treat Hammel any differently than a white suspect?”

“I suppose that’s a question you need to answer first.”

“Jesus H. Christ!” Sarah whirled and kicked the trash can, sending it clattering across the tile floor. Anger pulled her with the strength of a runaway horse, and Sarah desperately clawed at the reins to bring it under control. Then she turned and faced Angel again. “Why does everything have to come down to color?”

“Because that’s the difference. Black and white.” Angel took a step closer and pulled up her sleeve to hold her arm next to Sarah’s. “There’s a whole history written on this, and you’ll act on that history whether you realize it or not.”

“And what about you, huh? What history are you acting on? Or is it only us white folks who have to answer for what we do?”

The slap caught her off guard and Angel was out the door before Sarah even registered the stinging on her cheek. She reached up and touched the spot, feeling the radiating heat.

Production of the audio book for Open Season  was just completed and the book is available now at If you sign up for an Audible membership you can get the book free. The audio version will be available for purchase at Amazon and iTunes within a few days.

To maintain the same look, my cover artist adapted the art for the e-book for a new cover for the audio version.
Now it's your turn. Please leave a comment and share your experiences with promoting and some excitement for one of your books.
Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was named the 2015 Best Mystery by the Texas Association of Authors. She has a number of other books published, including the critically-acclaimed Season Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Cowgirl Up!

“…Rearing, bucking, fighting, a frenzied bronco tears at the burden on its back. Claimed by a thousand devils, he kicks and plunges with the fury of the damned. The rider, a woman, is buffeted and tossed like dust in a storm…”

While we are not likely to see this scenario at modern rodeos these days, it was not uncommon in the 1920s and ’30s for women to compete in the same rodeo arenas and draw from the same rough stock as the men.

The first cowgirls learned to ride out of necessity to help on their family ranches. At an early age they learned to ride horses, rope cattle, and stay in the saddle atop an untamed bucking bronc.

The 1920s are known as the “heyday” of women’s rodeo, producing more world champion female riders than any time since. These cowgirls were products of working-ranch values, where athleticism, skill, competitiveness, and grit were acceptable traits in women.

Some cowboys were skeptical of women rodeo riders, and society in general branded them “loose women.” It was claimed that women who participated in such a rough sport would not be able to bear children.

World Champion bronc rider Margie Greenough Henson proved that adage wrong when she brought her months-old son along to rodeos, cradled on a pillow in an apple box. When it was her turn to ride, she turned to the nearest cowboy, asking him to hold the baby “for just a few seconds.”

These cowgirls were also criticized for the practical, comfortable clothing they adopted—first, divided skirts and then pants.

Well-known British-born photographer Evelyn Cameron found out what could happen when she wore a split skirt she’d designed and sewed. Going about her shopping in a rural Montana town, she was accosted by a group of angry townswomen, along with the sheriff, who threated to throw her in jail unless she got out of town immediately.

But these cowgirls proved themselves capable of surviving the rough life of rodeo, while still hanging on to their femininity, and they became accomplished athletes well ahead of the athletic and feminist movement of the 1970s.

Rodeo cowgirls pursued their dream nationally and internationally until the 1940s. Madison Square Garden Rodeo in 1941 was the last time a woman (Vivian White) was able to compete on rough stock in a sanctioned rodeo.

It has only been the past 14 years that a women, Kaila Mussel of BC, Canada, has qualified to compete with men, riding saddle broncs, on the PRCA circuit.

Cowgirl is a state of mind, to paraphrase Dale Evans, who goes on to say, “Cowgirl is a pioneer spirit, a special American brand of courage. The cowgirl faces life head on, lives by her own lights, and makes no excuses. Cowgirls take stands. They speak up. They defend the things they hold dear. A cowgirl might be a rancher, or a barrel racer, or a bull rider, or an actress. But she's just as likely to be a checker at the local Winn Dixie, a full-time mother, a banker, an attorney, or an astronaut.”

Heidi M. Thomas is the author of Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, and the “Cowgirl Dreams” novel trilogy, based on her grandmother who was a roughstock rodeo rider in Montana during the 1920s. She is a member of the Professional Writers of Prescott, Women Writing the West, edits, writes and teaches classes in north-central Arizona.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Being Your Own Text Doctor

Image by Oliver Symens, via Flickr
Not long ago, I came across a folder of materials I used while I was teaching at the University of St. Andrews. Among the files was a questionnaire I devised for my Creative Writing students to help them assess their own work from the perspective of an editor (or, as in this case, the members of their academic examining committee).

There are four categories of five questions apiece: Plot,Characterization, Setting and Atmosphere, and The Writer’s Craft. It occurs to me that this self-assessment questionnaire might be helpful to fiction writers in general who are trying to gauge whether their manuscript is ready for submission.

A) Plot
  • Does the work feature a strong/striking central idea around which the action of the plot revolves?
  • Is the central concept sufficiently robust to be conveyed in a single "pitched" paragraph?
  • Is the action well-paced, reflecting a balance between incident and exposition?
  • Does the main plot advance logically in terms of cause and effect?
  • Are all subplots accounted for, or are there loose ends in need of resolution?
B) Characterization
  • Are the principle characters well-rounded in terms of back story?
  • Do characters behave consistently with respect to their age, gender, social and educational background, experience and temperament?
  • Does character dialogue and interaction contribute to the development of plot and theme?
  • Do the characters use language appropriate to the characters themselves and the work’s target readership?
  • Do important characters undergo significant change or growth in response to their experiences in the story?
C) Setting and Atmosphere
  • Is the setting well-established in terms of time and place by means of descriptive imagery and selective detailing?
  • Have relevant back story elements been artfully accounted for in terms of background research and character profiling?
  • Are atmosphere and mood effectively generated by means of figurative language?
  • Do factors relating to setting and atmosphere enhance plot action and character tensions?
  • Does setting and atmosphere contribute to thematic development?
D) The Writer's Craft
  • Is exposition conveyed via a variety of expository techniques?
  • Is character dialogue crisp and to the point, or is it wordy and overblown?
  • Does the writer employ foreshadowing and/or irony to good effect?
  • How effective has the writer been in "staging" scenes, paying due regard for the use of props and choreography of action?
  • Does the work throughout exhibit a polished command of diction, syntax, and the ornaments of language?
If you’re honest with yourself, the answers you provide will help you identify aspects of your story that may need of further polishing.

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.


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