Thursday, September 19, 2019

Laugh or Cry, Your Choice

So, this month is all about humor here at the Blood Red Pencil. For those of us who are struggling with health and other personal issues, finding humor can be difficult on some days. Yet, that is what I spent many years doing while raising my five kids. I used to joke that it was either write the humorous columns for a Dallas Suburban newspaper, or check myself into the mental hospital at Terrill, Texas. Five kids, ranging in age from nine to three; the youngest being a set of twins, could challenge the emotional equilibrium of many a woman. (If not you, just keep it to yourself, thank you very much.)

All through our married life my husband and I used humor as a coping mechanism when things became difficult. Not always, but often, because we realized it was easier, and perhaps better, to laugh than to cry. We enjoyed reading humor columns and books, primarily from Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry. While I enjoyed both, I was drawn more to Erma. Probably because I truly believe that we women, especially mothers, have a special connection that draws us together – some female hormonal magnet maybe. 😊

I loved Erma’s columns in the newspapers, and her books; especially If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits. I read that so often, I swear I wore the ink off the words, so you can imagine how thrilled and humbled I was to be sometimes called “the Erma Bombeck of Plano.” And I had to stop wearing ratty shorts to go to the grocery store in case someone recognized me. My mugshot ran with the weekly column, so I could no longer wander through the cereal aisle incognito.

The one time that humor wasn’t our friend was when our middle son, Michael, was in the hospital, with what we later found out was a mild occurrence of Guillain Barre Syndrome. Before the full diagnosis came through, the doctor wanted a psych evaluation to rule out some kind of dissociative disorder. Michael was a junior in high school, under a lot of stress, so it was possible that his brain had just checked out, so to speak, and that’s why his legs were not working. There was some logic to that, so we agreed to the consult.

The psychiatrist walked into Michael’s room and saw the bunny slippers, that had been a gift from his girlfriend, and all of the posters tacked up around his room from his theater friends. And then Michael handed the psychiatrist a cartoon that I had clipped out of the newspaper. It was a joke about seeing a shrink, and we were hoping it would elicit a chuckle and make the moment less serious for Michael. He was already scared enough and it was primarily the humor that was keeping him afloat.

The psychiatrist didn’t find any of what he saw amusing. He considered it totally inappropriate that Michael was laughing. That Michael was joking around. That our whole family was joking. And definitely not the cartoon. He started a process to have Michael admitted to the psych ward. Luckily, I was able to intervene before that happened, and we were able to bring our son home. Unfortunately, once the humor balloon had been popped, he lost much of his coping skills, and his recovery took a bit of a downward turn. (By the way, we later had a different psych doctor evaluate Michael, and he came out just fine. And we still laugh about the uptight psychiatrist who had no sense of humor.)

Many of us have a humor balloon that buoys us up when we are about to go deep into that ocean of despair and depression, and now I cling desperately to mine as I deal with the severe head pain left to me from my bout with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. It’s been difficult for me and my kids to find the humor in some of the health challenges that I have. When we do joke and laugh about Mister Ramsay Hunt, that humor takes a real dark side, and there are things said that cannot be published on a family-friendly blog. But we do laugh, and laughter is the best medicine.

Like so many other writers I know who are struggling with chronic pain and health issues, it has been difficult for me to work at anything close to my previous productivity these past four years. When I have a bit of reprieve from the severe pain, so I can actually focus, I work on projects that don’t require a lot of brain power, which is why any serious writing has taken such a long time to complete. It took three years to finish my latest novel, Evelyn Evolving, which is the only thing I’ve written in the last four years from beginning to end.

Which is why I decided that I should work on other projects that didn't need that kind of  focus. One of those projects involved taking my humor columns and compiling them into a book, A Dead Tomato Plant & A Paycheck. Since I only had to organize previously written material and write transitions, that could be accomplished in small increments of time, and I had great fun revisiting those crazy days of parenting.

We all face different life challenges and have different coping skills. Do you use humor as a primary coping mechanism? Do you believe that “laughter is the best medicine”?

Posted by Maryann Miller  You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Pageread her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Sense of Humor is a Precious Gift

After a few weeks of patience-testing events, as in "life happens," it was a pleasure last week (here in September) to have a day when I could relax in my lawn chair and watch the neighbor’s half dead tree (a really big tree) get dismantled and dropped by one of those expert tree removal companies. Besides that, I had the arborist from my other favorite tree company stopping by to tell me how to take care of the new trees in our yard to get them ready for winter.

In late April, I had visited a large tree farm and purchased two crabapple trees and a Sensation boxelder. Their guys planted the trees in June, and I had meticulously watered and inspected them according to instructions. They were looking great!

The arborist arrived and I explained about the new trees and what I needed to know for fall and winter care. He looked at the trees and described the trunk wrapping and mulching process. As we were ending the discussion, I pointed to my boxelder and briefly explained our hopes for fast growth and nice spreading for shade at the hottest corner of our house.

The arborist looked around, then back at the tree I’d waved at.

Arborist: “That one? That’s a pear.”

The pear tree



Me: “A pear! Are you kidding me?”

Arborist: “It’s definitely a pear.”

Me: Speechless, standing there with my mouth open, staring at the tree. Yes, I had noticed its shape was a little different than the one I thought I’d selected, but two months had gone by between purchase date and planting date. I blamed my memory. The fact that pear leaves and boxelder leaves do not resemble each other completely sailed over my head without even a second’s pause in my brain.

The arborist gave me advice about calling the tree farm and spoke very highly of their reputation. So as soon as he was gone, I pulled out the copy of my purchase record (to confirm I really had purchased a boxelder) and called the tree farm.

Me: Full explanation of what, where, how, when….and a weak attempt to explain "why" to the tree farm lady on the phone.



Tree farm lady: Could you email us some pictures?

So I went outside with my tablet and took four shots of the tree and emailed them. A little later, the tree farm lady called back and said, “That’s definitely a pear!”

To make a long story a little shorter, the next morning I went back to the tree farm, selected a new boxelder, and the tree farm guys came that afternoon to swap out the trees. I apologized to the pear when I was told its next destination was the chipper, a sad consequence.

I never figured out who was most embarrassed, me or the tree farm folks.

Most of all, having told the story on myself and laughed about the goof several times now, has helped ease my impatience and annoyance at those “life happens” events I mentioned earlier. Getting angry would have made all of it worse instead of better.


That’s why a sense of humor, and being able to laugh at ourselves, is a precious gift. Do you have a favorite story you like to tell on yourself?

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is also now available in a large print edition. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” will appear in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, scheduled to be released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Touches of Humor Relieve Stress in Tense Scenes

Like movie and television dramas, books may make one who is engaged in the story weary. A little bit of humor can provide momentary relief from the tension and perhaps coax a smile from the reader. The excerpt below demonstrates how low-key comic relief can work without digressing from the flow or story line.

     “Why can’t we call the FBI or the police or somebody?”
“And tell them what? We suspect your brother-in-law of being a jerk with a hidden agenda. We believe he sent his former mistress flowers. He spent years beating her, but she won’t own up to that little fact. Do you think they’ll take us seriously when we add we also believe the friend he recommended to us—and who is an excellent employee—is somebody other than who he says he is and has an ulterior motive for being here? Kohler Long and its management, of course, are above reproach. Sounds to me like a bad movie script.”
“We can prove Rance Dillon is not the man’s real name.”
Quin laughed. “I’m not sure that’s a crime unless he’s also not the person whose social security number he gave us.”
“Still, it all adds up to be quite suspicious.” She frowned and sipped her raspberry flavored iced tea.
“Suspicious to us. To somebody else, we could seem to be a collective case of paranoia.”
“Do you think that’s all it is? Paranoia?”
“No, I don’t, but we have few verifiable facts to go on. That fails to make a substantial case.”
Her frustrated sigh said it all. “So, what do we do?”
“The same thing we’ve been doing, only keep a closer eye on Oren. Also, we must find a safe place for Yoshi and Micah.”
“Maybe those teenagers who helped her out would have an idea. I have their phone numbers.”
“The fewer people who know her whereabouts right now, the better. What about her family?”
“Her father may be living. He was in Honolulu the last she knew. He forbade her to marry Oren, and they argued. She hasn’t spoken to him for seven years.”
“Let’s put Markie on the Internet to find him. Yoshi is a kind, well-educated, refined woman. The man who headed up the family she came from must be a gentleman of honor and distinction.”
“You base all that on a casual acquaintance with his daughter?”
“Trust me on this one, Kate…I’m sorry…Katherine.”
“It’s all right, Quin, you can call me Kate. I’m not as touchy about it as I used to be—unless it’s coming out of Oren’s mouth. Besides, you’ve proven yourself to be a faithful and loyal friend.”
“That sounds like you’re describing your dog.”
She tried not to laugh but didn’t totally succeed. “He’s a faithful and loyal friend, too.”
“Thanks a lot…Kate.”
Again, she was serious. “I’ll ask Markie to do a search for Mr. Yamamoto as soon as she gets home from work.” She paused. “He could be dead, you know.”
“Maybe, but maybe not. We need to know.” He paid their bill, and they walked out into the afternoon sun. “If she can find him, I’ll call the man myself. If Yoshi were my daughter, I would want to know what’s going on in her life. I would also want to know my grandson. He’s that kind of a man, too; I can almost guarantee it.”
“She comes from another culture. Their ways may be different.”

Because the above excerpt is only part of the scene, it may not seem to make a lot of sense. However, it is addressing a very dangerous situation. The hint of humor is slight, yet it allows the reader to catch her breath before reading on. Overall, this is a serious story, but some light scenes with humorous touches dot its pages to give the reader a break. Do you use humor in your stories? Can you share an example with us?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thrillers. You can contact her at websites: and

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Humor Isn't Just for Comedies

Source: Bored Panda
I watched a horror movie recently which contained several laugh out loud moments. The movie wasn't satire or parody, but the main character had hilarious lines while navigating traumatic action. Humor released the tension gas pedal just enough without ruining the plot.

If handled properly, humor can be utilized in any genre. Let's explore a few examples.

In a Comedy, the plot thrives on the writer's ability to be funny. They must master plant and pay off. They learn to set up the joke, stretch it, then drive the punch line home or twist it. Rhythm is critical. It can't be one continuous joke or gag. It is important to know how to reign in the humor when needed.

Con, Heist, and Prison Break stories have moments of great tension during attempts to achieve the plot goal. A few funny lines can break up the tension after a near miss or a play gone wrong. The main character or one of the secondary characters can be a smart aleck.

In Fantasy, there is room for funny creatures or snarky magical sidekicks to provide comic relief. Attempts to solve the problem can go hilariously wrong whether they are magical spells that fail or actions that land the characters in a smelly bog.

The Gothic genre is the least suited to humorous intrusions. It is crucial to keep the gloomy, eerie setting intact. However, there is room for a protagonist's muttered comments or interior narration as she navigates her new home and meets the strange inhabitants.

In Horror, as mentioned above, humor can be injected to release built-up tension. Tone matters. If your story is a serious confrontation with evil, humor may not be appropriate. For example, the movie The Exorcist had no room for funny lines. Stephen King is a master of mixing humor with horror.

Historical stories also have room for snarky characters depending on the tone of the story. I recently watched a series called Hell on Wheels about the building of the transcontinental railroad. The main character was a confederate soldier and man of few words. He remained stoic in most situations, but occasionally he'd enter the fray with a refrain of "Well, shit."

In a Literary drama for example, there are people weeping at a funeral, but someone gets the giggles or the orator says something about the deceased that strikes the audience as funny. A character can use humor to deliver a truth no one else wants to acknowledge.

With Mystery it really depends on the subgenre and topic. In an intense police procedural searching for a rapist or serial killer, humor might be out of place. In a cozy murder mystery, the investigator might see the humor in the quirky denizens and vagaries of small town life. The tone in cozies is light and a natural fit for humor.

In Romance, a shared sense of humor can bring the couple closer together. It feels good when someone "gets" you. And a partner who can laugh with you through life's travails is one worth keeping. But the character should never be cruel or make their partner the butt of jokes. That's not funny.

Science Fiction is another genre ripe for a snarky protagonist or side kick, rogue robots, and humorous situations with malfunctioning tech. Again, it comes down to how serious the tone is.

Thriller and Suspense is another iffy category based on tone. One liners to break tension may be appropriate. If the tone is light enough, sarcastic characters or humorous observations may also fit the plot. Characters often banter with their partners and coworkers to lighten the mood while working on intense cases.

Westerns are generally played straight and serious, but not always. In a shootout, the protagonist and antagonist could exchange humorous insults. A gun could misfire or a shooter miss resulting in a funny catastrophe. A pioneer might rely on humor to survive the punishing conditions. The settlers might find moments of humor amid the drudgery.

When critique partners or beta readers run through your manuscript, have them mark places where they laughed. Make sure you wanted them to find that passage funny. If you thought something was funny but it missed the mark, revise it.

Further reading:

What is Tone?

Examples of Tone

Watch That Tone

Injecting Humor

Humor, Satire, and Wit

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, September 5, 2019

Writers Gotta Read, Right? Looking for Laughs

Since we are focusing on the humorous side of things this month at the Blood Red Pencil, it's only right that I provide some light-hearted reading possibilities for your consideration. Let's start with mysteries (because I am all about the mysteries).
Image by Prawny from Pixabay

To building family bonding over belly laughs, you might want to glance through one of the following lists:
Going broader in scope, there's Listopia's every-genre-plus-non-fiction-plus-whatever-else-you-can-think-of list of Best Humorous Books. With 3,805 books listed, there's probably something for everyone.

And finally—because we are writers here, right?—here is a post from The Writing Cooperative: 7 Ways to Become a Master Humor Writer When You Don't Think You Have a Funnybone

So whether you are in the mood for reading or writing,  you now have no excuse! Get laughing!

 Do you have a book you think is a fine example of humorous writing? We'd love to hear about it, just leave your suggestion in a comment below...

Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for "editor/writer"). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit for more information.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Writing Workshops October to November 2019

Whether a one day session, one week conference, or a month-long writing workshop writing related events are a good way to commune with other writers. They are opportunities to network and get your name out there. In some instances, you can meet and mingle with editors and agents. Some offer critiques or pitching sessions. Nowhere will you find a higher concentration of introverts enjoying each other's company.

Local conferences are a good place to meet potential critique groups or recruit members.

Some are free. Some require a fee. Some are more social than others. Many are for new writers, but a few dig deep into craft. You should choose an event that speaks to your needs and desires.

October 1-13, 2019 Women Writing the West Conference, San Antonio TX.

October 4-7, 2019 INd'Scribe Con and Book Festival, Burbank, California
October 17-20, 2019 GayRomLit Retreat, Portsmouth, Virginia,
October 25-27, 2019 Magna Cum Murder, Columbia Club, Indianapolis, Indiana

October 24-27, 2019 Sirens Conference (Fantasy), Beaver Creek, Colorado

October 25-27, 2019 Surrey International Writer's Conference, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
October 31 - November, 2019, Highlights Idea Generator for Novelists, Milanville, PA

November TBA, 2019 Algonkian Monterey Writer Retreat, CA

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.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Futility of Relying Upon AI Grammar Checkers

As American schools have done a poorer and poorer job of educating students about the finer points of speaking, reading and writing the English language properly, correct grammar and spelling have gone the way of the dinosaurs. It’s relatively rare to meet a member of one of the younger generations who feels any assurance in their mastery of basic English.

Of course, texting comes in for its share of the blame as well. If you can convey your meaning by typing the single character, “U,” why waste the time or energy required to tap out “you” on the tiny keys of your cell phone?

However, what is tolerated or even welcomed in the world of texts, live chats, and gaming is still not acceptable in the hallowed halls of advanced academia. If you want to earn a college degree or have a prayer of achieving a Master’s or a Ph.D., you need to get your grammar and spelling on point. But is it practical to believe that students who’ve spent their lives misspelling words, using emojis instead of words to express themselves, can suddenly become proficient in such skills just because they’ve started college? My contention is that is not realistic.

We’re talking about two or three entire generations of people who cannot correctly pair a single subject with a single verb or explain exactly what subject-verb agreement is. They cannot identify a dangling participle or misplaced modifier and furthermore, they don’t care that they can’t. They simply don’t think it’s important.

At least, not until they have to leave school for the real world and go find a job to support themselves. If they thought their professors were tough on bad grammar and spelling, they’re stunned when they discover the white-collar workplace is absolutely unforgiving. Poor language skills are so crippling in the boardroom that they can keep someone from getting a promotion, or even get them fired.

Enter the digital grammar correction tool based upon artificial intelligence or AI. Microsoft Word had an early iteration of a grammar checker that was laughably bad. We all hoped it would improve but it never did. Even the most recent versions are pretty wretched and regularly claim writers have made mistakes when they have not, or suggest changes so ludicrous they’d make great skits on any comedy show.

I installed Grammarly on my computer mainly to catch my typos. I didn’t know the app would send me breathless weekly reports praising me for using more unique words than 99 percent of its users and being more productive than the other 95 percent, but telling me, a professional editor, that about 75 percent of Americans understand grammar better than I do. Really?

This is because when Grammarly tells me I should change my subject-verb agreement so that I have a singular noun paired with a plural verb, I ignore it. In fact, Grammarly’s suggestions for “improvements” in my writing have become the single biggest source of amusement in my daily life. Sorry, Stephen Colbert.

So why is this so? Why are grammar checkers based upon AI so bad? We can go to Bill Gates himself for the answer. Of all the tasks computers can be programmed to do, Mr. Gates says it is still impossible to program them with human judgment. And in many cases, human judgment based upon deep knowledge and extensive experience is exactly what is needed to make language flow correctly and seamlessly. And no AI can do that job for us.

What is the solution? I believe we need to go a bit backward here. Our primary schools should be teaching students how to diagram sentences, and drilling them on the nuances of proper grammar, spelling and language usage. It’s going to take us a few generations to recover from the level of general language ignorance now afflicting our younger generations, but in the meantime, please don’t believe anything any grammar checker tells you. If you’re not sure of a particular construction, just type the entire sentence into the Google search bar and you’ll find dozens of links to truly solid blogs run by professional grammarians who will quickly help you get your words in order.

Here are a few more screenshots showing some typical grammatical "corrections" suggested to me by Grammarly and Microsoft Word.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.