Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Monday, October 31, 2022

Gifts for Readers and Writers

Jane Austen Pride and Peppermints
(affiliate link)

With the festive season almost upon us, we decided to put together a wishlist of some of our favourite gift ideas for writers and readers from the Unemployed Philosophers' Guild. I've never met an author who didn't appreciate a quirky writing-related trinket or two, and here you'll find a range of clever gifts to suit any budget - from small items perfect for stocking fillers or Kris Kringle presents to something a little more substantial. 

These are affiliate links meaning that if you purchase something after clicking we may receive a small commission at no cost to you. Funds raised will go towards supporting our blog and providing our contributors with a treat or two. (Did you know that we've been blogging about writing and editing for 14 years now? Our archives are well worth a poke around, while you're here.)

Alice in Wonderland Disappearing Cheshire Cat mug

'Well, I've often seen a cat without a grin,' thought Alice, 'but a grin without a cat is the most curious thing!' 

Was Lewis Carroll just extraordinarily imaginative or was he 'on something' when he wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland? His characters are all a little on the crazy side, from the anxiously late White Rabbit to the psychopathic Queen of Hearts. The Cheshire Cat is one of the most enigmatic of the Wonderland residents. 

Pour any hot liquid into this mug and the cat disappears, leaving only his famous grin! It's great fun.

Lady Macbeth's Guest Soap
Try it in the MacBath...

'Out, damned spot!' 

The soap guaranteed to eradicate every trace of guilt your author friend might feel over the characters they've had to kill off. Works well on the blood of enemies, too (but you didn't hear that from us ;-) ) 

Jane Austen quotes small zipped bag/purse

This little bag or purse featuring quotes from Jane Austen novels is just the place to keep all the small things you need: a bottle of ink and a pen, a stack of letters tied with a ribbon, a needle and thread. Perfect for anyone who recognises that the small is not inevitably the trivial.

5 x 9 inch fully-lined pouch with an inner card pocket and a 2 inch gusset.


And, because writers can never have too many mugs...

...especially if they feature insults. Shakespearean insults:

Shakespeare Insults Mug

The Shakespearean Insults mug is covered with 30 of the Bard's funniest and most biting insults from his plays. Some of our favourites are: "Oh gull, O dolt, As ignorant as dirt", "Lump of foul deformity", and the chuckle-worthy "Elvish-mark'd abortive, rooting hog." 

Or how about a mug filled with the best first lines of classic (and not so classic) literature? The Great First Lines of Literature Mug features the opening lines of 24 of the greatest works from "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" to "Call me Ishmael".

And you can browse the whole range of UPG literature-related gifts here.

Finally, I'm utterly mesmerised by this one, for the serious science fiction reader or writer:

Einstein Relativity Wrist Watch

If you click through, you'll be able to see a clip of how the numbers rotate around the face of the watch! 

Einstein proved that as an object accelerates and approaches the speed of light, time actually slows down. According to the blurb on the website, this watch is able to keep accurate time up to 0.9973 Planck Units.


Although it's a little early, we wish you a very merry end of the year! May all your festivities be joyous.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

It's Never Too Late to Plan

I keep telling myself that as I frantically prepare for NaNoWriMo, which is suddenly only a week away. I am nowhere close to having a tale to tell, so any bit of help is a blessing. I'm not talking about maid service or a private chef, though both would be nice. I just need something to help me focus and simplify what seems like a huge challenge this year.  

Available on Amazon

To that end, I was enormously pleased to dig into a gorgeous and tightly written eBook called The 30-Day Novel by Merrie Destefano

It's a short book, hitting all the usual highlights of planning a novel, but in a brisk and concise way. Under 100 pages, some of which are clever MidJourney AI steampunk images and pages for notes, the book covers these topics:

Chapter One: Make A Commitment 

Chapter Two: Make A Plan 

Chapter Three: Plotting Versus Discovery 

Chapter Four: Story Building 

Chapter Five: Character Building. 

Chapter Six: World Building 

Chapter Seven: Make A Schedule

A quick, conversational read and focused enough to get me into a planning frame-of-mind, it includes exercises with prompts that will help you ideate your characters and their stories, as well as clever ideas to develop the personalities and their world. 

At $3.49 for the Kindle copy, it's also a steal! 

As well, the author has another writing book that is free to download right now. 

What are you waiting for? You still have a few days to prepare for National Novel Writing Month. If you haven't ever tried it, get ready for some marvelous worldwide group energy. Even if you're halfway through a book already, or are writing non-fiction, sneak into the act anyway. It's good fun, great focus, and any extra words you write just get you that much closer to the winner's circle. Good luck and good writing!

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Merrie Destefano writes lyrical tales of magic, mystery, and hope. Her traditional books have been published by HarperCollins, Entangled Teen, and Walter Foster, while her indie imprint is Ruby Slippers Press. 

Sign up for her newsletter here

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil. She spends her days drinking coffee, writing, and herding trolls. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

From Poetry to Prose: Invaluable Lessons from Verse

Part 1

What were your first ventures into the world of writing? Did you start out with little short stories? One-act plays with parts portrayed by siblings or friends? Or were your first efforts poetic? If so, were your own writings ever inspired by a poem you had read? 

Recently, I was reviewing some of my early attempts at poetry and was struck by one's similarity to a Carl Sandburg classic that I studied in high school.

by Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Obviously, the comparison of the fog to the silent stealth of the cat intrigued me to the extent that I still remember it. Below are a few lines from my poem, which was written in 1957, a year or two after I studied Sandburg's work. Because it is rather long, I will quote only the first few lines here.

Night creeps over meadow and hill,
Stealthy like a cat, 
Minding no one's business but her own,
Yet seeing all…

This similarity may seem like a small thing, but the lesson I learned from Sandburg's short poem has affected my novel writing up through today. Similes (introduced with like or as – "Night") and metaphors (calling one thing something else – "Fog") add color and texture to our writing. Similarities to something familiar also help to keep the reader engaged.

By creating a word picture in the reader's mind, we pull that reader into the scene. Example: It is said that eyes are windows to the soul. His windows are empty. The metaphor here calls the character's eyes empty windows, giving the reader deeper insight into the kind of person he is. 

Another fabulous tool we can acquire from the annals of poetry is alliteration, which refers to words that begin with the same sound. Edgar Allan Poe was a master of this technique, as you will note in this short quote from the opening lines of "The Raven":

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

Did you feel the fluidity of the read? Do you like it? I have been told that some writers don't care for alliteration. If this is true, I am curious about why. It's such a huge tool, one that can, when used subtly, turn an ordinary paragraph into a memorable melody of words.

Words are the music of the writer. Our skillful use of them provides varied tones, cadences, and tempos in our stories. How does this relate to alliteration? Many of us have heard of Songs Without Words, a collection of 36 compositions by German composer Felix Mendelssohn. Alliteration is an opposite but equally effective technique: words without music. 

How does this work? The words become songs because they are melodic, flowing, mood-altering, picturesque. They have a rhythm, a distinctive beat that infuses life and dimension into a paragraph or scene.

Consider the subtle differences in the following two paragraphs depicting the same passage. Which one pulls you more deeply into the scene?

SCENE 1: Could he be wrong? He desperately hoped so, but his gut told him his roommate was responsible for Katherine's house fire. He looked back at the floor. On one side of the bed, it wasn't strewn with clothes. Kneeling down, he lifted up the edge of the spread and pulled out two duffel bags.

SCENE 2: Could he be wrong? He wanted to be wrong, wanted to walk away without finding what he feared most. His gut wouldn’t let him go. Kneeling to the floor on the side of the bed that wasn't cluttered with clothes, he lifted the edge of the spread, looked underneath, and pulled out two duffel bags. Their contents dashed his hope that his roommate hadn’t torched Katherine’s house.

Although some of the wording is different, both paragraphs depict the same scene. Do you think the use of alliteration provides punch, as well as additional insight into the mentality of the POV character?

Over the next several weeks, I plan to further explore the lessons taught by poetry that can lift our prose to the next level. I hope you will share your thoughts about this frequently untapped resource that we often overlook.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love, writing, after retiring from editing. Her character-driven novels, although sometimes a bit literary in nature, remind the reader of genre fiction because of their quick pace. They also contain some elements of romance, mystery, and thrillers. You can contact her through her website: LSLaneBooks.com

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Review of The Last Dreamwalker

I am so excited to announce the release of Rita Wood's new book The Last Dreamwalker. I was privileged to critique the early drafts and Rita's prose makes first drafts a pleasure to read. Her characters are 3D, her settings rich, and her wordcraft elevates everything she does. Not every writer has that gift. The plot of The Last Dreamwalker is tight and kept me turning pages until I read the whole thing in one sitting with a few breaks for sustenance.

The story follows Layla, who learns at her mother's funeral that a mysterious island off the coast of South Carolina now belongs to her. Digging deeper into her mother’s past, she discovers the terrifying nightmares that have plagued her since she was a child are actually something more - the ability to enter the dreams of others, and the power to manipulate them. She is a Dreamwalker. Kept apart from her mother's family, Layla reunites with them and learns more about her heritage, the good and the bad. Her two Aunts are exquisite "characters." I love how she finds out there was more to her mother than she could ever have imagined. I think that is often true. Parents are just "parents" and by the time we are curious to find out about them as people it is often too late.

The story is set in the Gullah Lowcountry region off the coast of  South Carolina in the Sea Islands. The slaves mixed African heritage with aspects of the south to create their own Geechee language and customs that you can still witness today.

When my daughter was young, we watched a show called Gullah Gullah Island which ran from 1994 to 1998 which explored the Gullah culture. So I have long been fascinated with the setting.

I am pretty certain this is a standalone but would love to read a sequel. The setting and mythology and culture are fertile story building ground. Would love to read more stories with this setting if you have recommendations.

If you would like to learn more about the Gullah culture, check out: https://lowcountrygullah.com/

I also recommend her first novel Remembrance which you can read about here: https://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2021/02/the-path-to-publication-with-rita-woods.html You can connect with Rita here: Facebook https://www.facebook.com/rita.woods.14 Twitter https://twitter.com/RitaWoodsAuthor

Posted by Diana Hurwitz, 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 DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Preparing for NaNoWriMo Success

I'm turning my post this month over to my good friend and fellow author, Ellis Vidler. This is the program she recently gave at the Greenville, SC, Public Library on NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don't know what this is, it's simple: write 50,000 words on a new novel during the month of November. I've never done it, but Ellis has an outline on how to accomplish such a daunting feat. Pay attention. ~ Polly Iyer



Decide on the type of story—crime/romance/suspense/coming of age/adventure/etc. What do you like to read? Base your story on a subject you like, know, or are interested in (something you are capable of researching). Idea sources are everywhere.

• News articles
• Trade or subject magazines
• Movies/documentaries
• Other, such as events in your life


Character A and Character B, possibly Character C. Don’t forget the antagonist or the villain. S/h needs a personality, story, and motive too.

The antagonist is the person or even the force that opposes the main character (MC), the protagonist. It doesn’t necessarily mean villain or bad guy. Two good people can have an antagonistic relationship.

• Physical descriptions—hair, eyes, height, weight, race, body type, distinguishing marks, etc.
• Education/job
• Hobbies, special interests, skills, fears
• Background—happy childhood/abusive parent/foster child, siblings, friends, anything that makes them real.
• How do they speak? Educated? Formal? Slang (limited)? Typical expressions.
• What does the MC want? What does the antagonist want? Their goals must conflict.
• The antagonist should be a worthy foe, strong enough to defeat the protagonist so the reader is in doubt about the outcome.

Ask WHY the character is the way h/s is? Why does h/s want ? (MUST want something) Why is this important to the story? This is the motive that drives the character to do the things h/s does, act or react in a certain way, such as make sacrifices or hurt others. Usually these are internal reasons, but they may affected by external factors. Strong motives also set up conflict between the characters, who must have conflicting goals.

To let the reader see the character, show how a character reacts in a situation. Don’t tell the reader what to think.

Plot is the action that moves the story along. Each event has a purpose. One scene causes/results in the next. A story moves forward by cause and effect. The scene must have consequences. What happens as a result of this scene? As Aristotle said, “It makes a great difference whether something happens because of something else or merely after it.”

Don’t worry about an original idea; everything has already been done. HOW it’s done is what makes it unique. Harry Potter, Oliver Twist, and Cinderella have the same basic plot.

Where is the story going? What is the final goal or outcome of the story? Catch the killer? Win the fair maiden? Destroy the evil empire? Whatever, it’s the point of the story.

What kind of setting works for your plot? Big city, small town, farm, wilderness, sea/seacoast, distant planet, multiple/mobile—whatever works with the plot.

Most novels have three basic parts: opening, middle, and end.

OPENING—Something must be happening to interest reader in reading further. Begin in media res, (Latin: “in the midst of things”) “the practice of beginning an epic or other narrative by plunging into a crucial situation that is part of a related chain of events; the situation is an extension of previous events and will be developed in later action.” Deny the MC something h/s wants. Avoid setup; that can come later. No backstory (drop small bits in later in the story as needed).

The opening, or hook, should have three things: 1) where the story happens (place and time such as Saturn/3030 or Atlanta/present), 2) a significant character, and 3) change in the current situation. Keep the beginning short. Leave past history out of the hook and the opening scene. Limit description.

The opening scene should show change in status quo of MC. Fiancé dumps her, husband dies, thugs take over town. Show the change with a single incident that affects the MC—closeup versus wide angle). Closeup evokes emotion; wide angle merely interest.

The tone of the book should be established in the opening (comedy/tragedy—humorous, romantic, tense, scary—whatever). It lets the reader know what kind of story to expect.

MIDDLE—the graveyard of many books! Make something happen that changes everything. Bring in an old lover, kill someone, dry up the only waterhole, blow something up! Wake the reader up. Ask What if . . .?

Major events—imagine things that could happen to move the story along. Jot down ideas that could disrupt the smooth flow of the storyline; you may not use them all, and they can change or develop, but it’s good to have a few possibilities in mind.

Subplots—These can be added later to help flesh out the story. Subplots must affect the main storyline and character. Ask how it would alter the story if left out. If it wouldn’t change anything, it’s merely filler and should probably be left out.

THE ENDING—Make it big, worth reading all those pages to get to. This is what the reader has been waiting for. The ending should be satisfying. It may not be what readers expect, but it must satisfy them (no cliffhangers for main plot) and make them believe characters get what they deserve. MC must be the one or ones that make it happen. NO Deus ex machina (divine intervention).

There must be logical events that point to the conclusion. Truth may be stranger than fiction and not always logical, but fiction must be believable.


Let your subconscious work for you. In the last few minutes before you go to sleep, think about your novel and the situation where you left off. Consider the next scene and what could happen. Your subconscious will likely continue to mull over the story as you sleep. Be prepared to jot down or record any ideas that come to you as soon as you wake up—they tend to fade away as your day takes over. Even if this doesn’t work the first few times, keep trying; it will soon. You’re training your mind.

Never go back during this first rough draft. Don’t edit or revise what you’ve already written. If you think a scene won’t work, mark it (highlight, bold, whatever’s quick) and plan to revisit after you’ve completed the first draft. Don’t delete. You never know what bits may come in handy later.

Don’t set impossible goals. Fifty thousand words is good for a first draft. It will grow as you begin revising and editing the next month. A reasonable goal is about 1700 words a day. If life intervenes—as it will—plan to make up some time on the weekend or a day when there’s less pressure.

Never quit just because you’ve reached your daily goal. If you’ve allowed a specific number of hours a day, write until the time is up, no matter what your word count is. There’ll be days when you just can’t make your goal, so getting ahead will help.

Plan ahead. Plan quick meals, avoid or limit TV and social media, inform family and friends about your writing goal and ask them to refrain from calling or visiting this month, at least between certain hours.
Remember, the only failure is quitting. If you end up with fewer words, say 25,000, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, celebrate! You’ve written a great deal; keep going!

Ellis Vidler writes the stories she likes to read -- action, adventure, and heart. She falls in love with her characters, flawed but striving to do the right thing, and hates leaving them when the book is finished.

Her books include Haunting Refrain, Cold Comfort, Time of Death, and Prime Target. Find her on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

How to use commas correctly

There are three main types of commas that are commonly used, and frequently trip up an unwary writer:

1. In a list
2. Joining with a conjunction
3. Instead of brackets

*Commas are NOT meant to be used “wherever you would pause”. Even if you’ve been told this in the past, it is not correct. There are specific rules for using commas, and they don’t include anything about pausing or taking a breath.

1. Commas in a list

These are the commas we're most familiar with. Every item on the list is separated by a comma.

I bought apples, oranges, grapes, and pears.

2. Commas used with a conjunction

This type of comma joins two sentences together with a connecting word such as and, or, but, while, or yet. The comma is placed before the conjunction.

We will go to the match, but Jack will go home early.

3. Commas used like brackets

If an extra portion of a sentence could be placed in brackets it can be placed between commas instead. A way to test it is to read the sentence without the extra portion (phrase). Use a pair of commas if the sentence is still complete without the phrase.

Sam wanted to buy a hot chocolate, but, after walking all the way to the café, decided on a cold drink.

"after walking all the way to the café" is extra information that can be removed from the sentence and it will still make sense. (And notice another example of the second type of comma before “but” in that sentence as well.)

Yes, it really is correct to have commas either side of a conjunction in a case like this, but it’s also okay to leave out the conjunction comma here because the sentence will still make sense.

Bracketing commas are always used in pairs, unless the phrase falls at the beginning or end of a sentence. It is better to leave a comma off completely than to use only one of a bracketing pair in the middle of a sentence. 

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Convoluted Key (first in the Draconian Rules series), the picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin (first in the Grounded series). She is the editor of the re-release of Angela Brazil's 1910 book The Nicest Girl in the School. Elle is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com.

Photo by Amanda Meryle Photography


* Commas are NOT meant to be used ‘wherever you would pause’ : R. L. Trask, The Penguin Guide to Punctuation, Penguin, 1997. Larry Trask was a Professor of Linguistics, University of Sussex and highly regarded as both a lecturer and the author of a number of books including Mind the Gaffe! and Say What You Mean : The Superior Person's Guide to Precise and Lucid English Usage.