Thursday, May 5, 2016

Writers Write

SHEEP #1: Is that you?

WRITER: Are you talking to me?

SHEEP #1: Yes.

SHEEP #2: Where have you been?

SHEEP #1: You’re rather late.


SHEEP #2: Time to write!


SHEEP #1: But what?

SHEEP #2: You're not a goat. Stop butting.

WRITER: Writing is hard.

SHEEP#2: Are you a writer?


SHEEP #2:  Then write.

WRITER: It’s not that easy.

 SHEEP #3: Yes, it is. Write.

 SHEEP #2: It doesn’t have to be perfect.

 SHEEP #1: Let’s be honest, it won’t be perfect. It will never be perfect.

 SHEEP #2: But it will be words. You can work with words.

 SHEEP # 1: As a wise sheep once said, you can’t edit an empty page. 

SHEEP #2: Who said that?

WRITER: Wasn’t it you?

SHEEP #2: It probably was. I’m very wise.

SHEEP #1: And humble.

SHEEP #2: Yes. Yes, this is true.

WRITER: But I want it to be perfect. So I write the same paragraph over and over. I never get beyond Chapter One.

SHEEP #2: That isn’t writing. That’s going around in circles. You’ll get dizzy.

SHEEP #1: Writing moves forward. As a wise king once said “Start at the beginning, go on until you come to the end, and then stop.”

SHEEP #2: Who said that?

SHEEP #1: I just did.

WRITER: But who was the wise king?

SHEEP #2: It may have been the King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. 

WRITER: I love that book. 

SHEEP #1: Yes. It made us look at white rabbits a whole new way.

SHEEP #2: It also proved our theory that white animals are wise. 

SHEEP #1: And that they can talk.

WRITER: You had a theory that animals could talk?

SHEEP #1: That’s not the point.

WRITER: What’s the point?

SHEEP #2: That writers write.

SHEEP #1: Go and write. Rejoice in the words. They don’t have to be good words. They just have to be words.

SHEEP #3: Spill them onto the page. Be reckless.

WRITER: Really?

SHEEP #2: It’s spring. It’s the time for planting. How can you harvest anything if you don’t plant? 

SHEEP #3: Start at the beginning, continue on to the end, and then stop.

SHEEP #1: Or start at the end.

SHEEP #2: Or start in the middle.

ALL THE SHEEP: But start.

Elspeth Futcher is an author and playwright. Thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by Her A Fatal Fairy Tale, Deadly Ever After and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the Internet.  Elspeth's newest game, Nice But Naughty is now available from her UK publisher, Red Herring Games, as is her Great British Bump Off and Once Upon a Murder. Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

In Case of Emergency

There is no warning bell before your ride on the rollercoaster of life takes a dramatic turn or ends abruptly.

No one likes to ponder their disability or demise, but I believe in being prepared.

As a writer there are certain steps you should take now, just in case.

1. Firstly, you need a "person" or "persons" you can trust to assist. It may be your spouse, relative, child, best friend, or someone else to take care of all the nitty-gritty details, preferably someone organized and efficient. Make sure several people (attorney, accountant, business manager, family friend) know where to find your important documents in case there are multiple casualties.

2. Appoint someone to take charge of the business end of your writing and give them legal power of attorney to do so in case you are disabled temporarily or permanently.

3. Draw up a will. Copyrights are intellectual property and are treated the same as any other personal property. They can be left to an heir via a will. Designate the person you want to receive future royalties and who will own the copyrights. If you self-publish, make it clear whether you want your work taken down or to continue to be for sale and where. Make sure they want to take on the responsibility. Leave thorough instructions on how to do so.

For more information visit, or the US copyright office.

What if your publisher dies or sells his business?

What about rights to electronic publications?

Can you stop film or other adaptations?

4. Create a list of important publishing contacts, their phone numbers, emails, etc., that need to be notified or dealt with. Keep a master list regarding your submissions, contracts, etc., with copies of the works involved and make sure your person knows where to find them.

5. Create a master list of all of your published titles and anthology pieces, the venues, ISBN numbers, and whether they are currently on promotion. Provide contact information and steps that need to be taken.

6. Make a list of business banking account numbers, credit card numbers, and the location of physical checks and bank statements. Give someone access to the bank account where the direct deposits are made. It is important for your trusted person to have account sign-ons and passwords so they can change the bank account direct deposit information if necessary.

7. Make sure your articles of corporation, sales tax data, accounting paperwork, tax returns, etc., are easily available.  Provide a list of accounts, contacts, and instructions about what needs to be done when. Does a corporation need to be dissolved? Leave instructions. Do you need to close out your accounts and pay final taxes, etc.? Leave instructions.

8. Do you have a blog or website? Do you want them to continue to be available? Do you want them taken down? Leave instructions as well as sign-ons and passwords to access them and any other useful information. If you have a hosting service, make sure you leave their contact information, especially if your sites and domains are automatically renewed.

9. Make a list of all of your writing-related online accounts (social media, Goodreads, Amazon, etc.) with sign-ons, passwords, and any fees associated with them.

Consider whether you have any writing accounts or memberships that also charge, especially if they automatically renew. Leave contact information for all of them. They will have to be notified.

Note: This is important for everyone, whether you are a writer or not. Someone needs to clean up your web presence and cancel your memberships after you pass. Someone may need to take over for you if you are temporarily sidelined. Make your wishes known as to the accounts you want shut down if you die. If you want any of them to continue, make sure you have someone willing to take on the responsibility.

10. Consider purchasing a special fire-proof lockbox, file cabinet, safe deposit box, or home safe for your important papers and give someone else access (a key, a combination, location information, etc.).

I prepared useful forms for organizing your information (finances, personal information, health information, insurance, business, etc.) for a rare disease website for Stiff Person Syndrome. You can visit the Tin Man site and download the PDF forms for your use.

Expect the unexpected.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hollywood, Here I Come

From April first to the third, I blew my budget on a trip to California for the Sisters in Crime Hollywood Conference at the Hilton Hotel in Universal City. The SinC organization put on a great conference, and it didn’t cost the Sisters one cent. Well, except for travel and hotel, but the conference was free.

Every morning started with a continental breakfast except for Saturday when the Los Angeles Chapter of SinC put on a magnificent spread. Lunch was provided Friday and Saturday, and I have to say the Hilton food was outstanding.

The conference included panels with Hollywood industry veterans that included writers, producers, editors, screenwriters, cable and network professionals, directors, program and development honchos, literary agents and managers, and even an entertainment attorney. The speakers explained their jobs, told antidotes, gave us ideas how to connect, and graciously offered five minute pitches to the attendees.

Before the pitch session, we had pitch specialists help us compose a one line pitch to grab a producer/director/agent's attention. If you think it’s hard to explain your book in a sentence that would knock a producer’s socks off, you’re right. The person who helped our group was terrific. When the time came to pitch, most of us were nervous. I pitched the first book in my series, Mind Games, to a lovely gal who is director of development at Cartel. When the timekeeper came in to signal the end of my five minutes, I slipped the development director my bookmark containing all my books in living color, and was ushered out the door.

The subjects of the six panels:
1. Who’s Looking for What?
2. What Makes a Good Character?
3. From Page to Screen
4. Getting Past the Gatekeepers
5. The Steps from Development to Green Light
6. Let’s Make a Deal

My take was what a lot of us felt: MIXED MESSAGES. We want your book, we want to find you, BUT, you must have an agent with connections to film and TV in order to get your book in front of the right people. This was something I suspected but it spelled disappointment nevertheless. Not that I thought anyone would walk away with a contract. I'm not that naive. One writer I know wangled an invitation to send her book, so best of luck to her. I gave my bookmark to the woman who said they were always looking for good material. We’ve since connected on Facebook. I hope she’s curious enough to check out my stories. But the best way to gain the attention of Hollywood is to write a bestseller, a la Gone Girl, get lots of reviews, and then maybe, just maybe, someone will find your book. We all know how easy that is. :-)

The highlight for me was an hour speech by bestselling author, Megan Abbot, who’s adapting two of her novels for film. She, like Gillian Flynn, has the star power and writing creds to be able to negotiate that kind of control. Advice for the rest of us, should we be lucky to ever land an option or contract: stay out of it. They will do what they want with your words and your story. Megan was funny, natural, and informative about the ins and outs of writing for film. Everyone thought she was great. I know I did.

The other delight was actress-turned-mystery writer, Harley Jane Kozak, interviewing actress, writer, director, and producer, Alison Sweeney, who stars in Murder She Baked on the Hallmark Channel, based on the books by Joanne Fluke.

Hallmark produces ninety movies a year, and is the best outlet for cozy mysteries, which unfortunately, I don’t write. I’m a Lifetime Channel gal myself. (Hear me, Lifetime? I’m ready. Got eight stories you can adapt to the small screen. Even wrote a screenplay for one of them.)

Best of all was the camaraderie of the Sisters. I met a few Sisters I knew from online, got to know a few more. To top off the weekend, three of us did Rodeo Drive. We sauntered into all the designers' stores, checked prices, and hot-footed out of all the designers' stores. But we had a fun afternoon. Even our actor-to-be Uber driver drove us around and pointed out the high spots. Was the trip worth it? Every penny.

What’s next for me? I wrote a screenplay for my book Hooked in 2014, entered it in a contest—one of the things they suggested we do to get our work into the hands of film professionals—and though it didn’t do well, I plan to learn how to do it better and rewrite it. I also want to finish the two books I’m working on. So full plate for 2016. Wish me luck.

Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

An Ambivert Walks Into A Writing Conference...

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee
Fifteen thousand people at one writing conference are enough to bring out my inner introvert. That’s what I learned at my second springtime leap into the swarms of the annual AWP Conference, this time in Los Angeles. (AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writing Programs, so can anyone tell me why it’s not AWWP?) People often talk about creative writing and introversion as if they’re inseparable, but thanks to writing’s dual requirements of solitude and communication, I believe it attracts a spectrum of introverts and extroverts.

I’m an ambivert: exhibiting qualities of extroversion and introversion in almost equal measure. In Myers-Briggs personality tests, I typically score 51% extrovert/49% introvert. I’ll bet if the tests were not designed for bilateral results, I’d test 50-50.

Non-writers often seem surprised to meet an extroverted writer. Meanwhile, writers who know me seem surprised to learn I’m half-introvert. “But you’re so social!” That’s what an author friend told me when I attended her reading at one of the pop-up events that are my favorite part of any conference.

With that, we both fell into mutual confession, admitting that, although we enjoy such events—typical for extroverts—we feel drained afterward—typical for introverts. She said something like, “I enjoy readings, but I spend most of the time leading up to them dreading it, and most of the time afterward going over every dumb thing I said.”

Without prompting, she volunteered that on Myers-Briggs, she scores 51% introvert/49% extrovert. We laughed over our identical but flipped numbers. I drew an imaginary bubble around us with my hands and said, “We’re both safe here.”

She and I don’t know each other intimately, but I like to believe that for a few minutes after that we both relaxed, eager to get better acquainted with each other, without the pressure of meeting strangers. Then a third author, a stranger, joined us. She was smart, funny, and apparently extroverted. The tension rose, but I enjoyed the conversation. I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable. Still, I missed the one-on-one.

I expected to join a close friend—an introvert—at that event, but she never saw my text confirming our plans. She later texted that she feared being alone so went to another event in hope of finding friends, which is how she ended up alone. It struck me as the classic approach-avoidance conundrum writers face at conferences, the simultaneous desire and fear surrounding social contact.

To write well, we don’t shy from sharing ideas that scare us. How can we ask less of ourselves in a roomful of writers? Yet how will we broach such frank talk with strangers?

I’m convinced that extroverts and introverts are often equally overwhelmed by writing conferences, though perhaps for different reasons. Something like:

Introvert: Why is this person talking to me? Why is she so excitable? Why does she keep talking about herself? Why is she asking me so many questions?

Extrovert: Why won’t this person talk to me? Why is she so disengaged? Why won’t she tell me about herself? Why is she making me do all the talking?

Exhausting. Still, I crave intimate dialogue. That’s one reason I write: the intimate relationship between writer and reader.

In that vein, I prefer events where the halls don’t feel like a pedestrian freeway at rush hour; where presentations are not one-sided, with an invisible boundary between presenter and audience; where I don’t feel lost in a crowd.

At AWP, many fellow-writers and I exchanged the same confession: “This is overwhelming.” A few of us shared ways we deal with that. Here are mine:

1) I only attend two or three classes a day.

2) I spend mornings or afternoons writing in my room.

3) I often choose to eat in solitude.

4) I emphasize offsite events and don’t struggle to meet people. If I do, great. If I don’t, I watch and listen.

5) I don’t feel compelled to go to that thing where “everyone is going,” unless I’m dying to go.

6) I typically attend smaller conferences, seminars, workshops, and retreats, especially where I can spend time with a single group of maybe a dozen.

Those approaches still challenge both my inner introvert and outer extrovert, but I find it worthwhile: reaching within for questions and answers, reaching out to share questions and answers, and synthesizing it all into an improved ability to create and communicate. Introverts or extroverts, we’re writers, and until we share our words we have not completed our purpose.

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Connotation PressRivet Journal, and Pangyrus. She’s a book editor and writing coach. She was a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Ventura, California.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Character Goals

It's spring in the northern hemisphere, and a good time to check in with our goals (especially those we might have made a few months ago at the start of the year).
But what about our characters? To create a life-like character the reader will identify with, like, and root for, we must give that character motivation and goals.

What does your character care about? This element of caring sets the character up in how he/she is going to live life, how he’s going to react to certain things. Giving your character something to care about commits her to a stance to live by.

What next? We know what our character cares about, so now what? We have to challenge him, threaten her and what they care about. You throw them into a situation that challenges the part of them that cares and threatens the thing they feel is important.

A precious collection is stolen. A girl enters a dangerous relationship. Perhaps it’s a parent whose child has been injured/abducted/died. That parent’s goal could be healing, finding the child, revenge, forgiveness—all sorts of motivations that will carry him or her through this story journey.

You create risk. This doesn’t always have to be through a villain—it can be weather, hard times, a moral dilemma, friction between the characters. The twists and turns of your plot will come from these things.

How does the character react to this conflict and risk? Motivation is what causes the character to act. Is it to save his own life? Someone else’s he cares about? To preserve her reputation?

The reasons relate to the character’s inner character. Something drives him to rescue the kidnapped child, slay the dragon, challenge the alien invaders of track down the mass murderer.

Motivation also often comes from a desire for change. Give a character so compulsive a desire to make a given change that he can’t let it be, and you have the basis for a story. And your character MUST change. It doesn’t need to be huge, it can be subtle. It can be a character’s struggle with addiction, mid-life crisis—trying to get out of a rut, a change in attitude toward something or someone.

Readers don't examine stories looking for the motivational aspects. However, they instinctively know when they aren't there. They'll know the story is flawed and will stop reading.

So, we not only need goals as writers, but we need to create goals for our characters. What are some of your characters’ goals or motivations?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series is Dare to Dream, and a non-fiction book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, is also available. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On My Mind...Avoiding Distractions

To write, you need to focus. You can write anywhere - in a coffee shop, at your dining room table, on the train - but you need to concentrate on the words you’re putting on the screen or the page not on the world around you. You need - -

 Question: What colour does a Smurf turn if you choke it?

- - - to shut your mind to distractions. To immerse yourself in the world you are creating on the page. You must listen to your characters. Discover their rhythms. Their flaws. Their - -

 Question: Why is the letter called ‘double u’ when its two ‘v’s joined together?

 - - motivations. Every character is unique because so is every writer. We all crave different surroundings. Some write best while listening to music. Many require silence. Others write while surrounded by people, while a number crave solitude. But all writers - - -

 Question: Why do we press harder on the tv remote when the batteries are dead?

 - - - must develop discipline. You must be able to ignore the distractions of the work-a-day world - -

 Question: Why are homes called ‘apartments’ when they’re all stuck together? 

 - - to close the door to everyday concerns - -

Question: Why does ‘fat chance’ and ‘slim chance’ mean the same thing?

 - - to turn off the internet. Don’t get me wrong. The internet is fantastic. Magical. The conduit for you reading this post. But it is also - -

Question: Why do psychics need to ask for your name?

 - - possible to lose hours popping from one site to another. This is called ‘going down the rabbit hole’. True, it is a wonderland down there, but time does funny things. If you want to get whatever it is you’re working on finished, then don’t follow that rabbit. Be curiouser and curiouser about what’s going to unfold as you write, not on what’s through that little door in the wall. Concentrate on your words even when you start wondering - -

Why is the alphabet in that order?

Elspeth Futcher is an author and playwright. Thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by Her A Fatal Fairy Tale, Deadly Ever After and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the Internet.  Elspeth's newest game, Nice But Naughty is now available from her UK publisher, Red Herring Games, as is her Great British Bump Off and Once Upon a Murder. Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

On My Mind…Senior or Seasoned?

Back in the early nineties, I published a mini-magazine called the Seasoned Citizens Gazette: The Journal for the Not-Quite-Over-the-Hill-Gang. Because I lived in the Pikes Peak area, I invited seniors from Colorado Springs and surrounding towns to submit short stories, articles, poems, columns, etc. I, too, wrote pieces that were aimed at the AARP squad. My magazine was distributed free in senior communities and centers, pharmacies, and other places seniors frequented; it also could be subscribed to and mailed monthly (not for free) to private homes. Ads covered the printing. Beyond that, it was primarily a labor of love, as well as a fun way to keep my mind both occupied and creatively directed and provide an outlet for fellow seasoned citizens who had something to share.
by Verbaska on MorgueFile
It’s hard to believe that was some twenty-five years ago. A large number of my contributors are no longer with us, and I look back nostalgically at the experience of working with so many whose lives—and contributions to my journal—brought love and joy to others. I also reflect on what makes some of us “senior citizens” and others “seasoned citizens.”

What is a “seasoned citizen”? We have seen many seasons come and go; we can be spicy, tart, peppery, or sweet; we have weathered life’s storms and are still in there punching; we are survivors, persons for all seasons. It’s a mindset.

The Seasoned Citizens Gazette focused on ways to help ourselves, do for ourselves, share of ourselves. For the most part, we are still vital, healthy, life-loving folks. We are not a throw-away generation; in fact, we have more to offer in the way of wisdom and experience than any other group of people living today.

by Mockingbird on MorgueFile

What does this have to do with writing? Perhaps a lot. When I was publishing the Seasoned Citizens Gazette, I distributed hard copy by hand—after writing, editing, doing layout, paying printing costs, and buying gasoline to deliver the finished product. Today, it could be circulated worldwide on the Internet with little to no out-of-pocket costs. Advertising could still be an income source, and the yearly price of subscribing to the journal could be affordable for almost any budget. We could distribute nationally or even internationally, reaching an audience far wider than I could ever have done back in the day. We could advertise our books and/or our editing services in addition to publishing our own pearls of wisdom, as well as the gems contributed by others. We could encourage our contemporaries to get out of their rocking chairs, so to speak. We could launch a blog as Dani has done so capably here at Blood Red Pencil. We could build businesses based on our knowledge or learn to build websites to help others expand their businesses. All this requires written communication, aka writing. The pen is still mighty, and we can wield it with the proficiency of many years' experience.

Are you a senior citizen or a seasoned citizen? Or, if you’re still a young thing, which do you plan to be when you qualify for AARP?

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


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