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Showing posts from October, 2009

Craig Lancaster Guests - Part 3

Be sure to leave a comment to qualify for the third book drawing. We'll announce winners and contact information on Sunday! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ THE BOOK GOES TO RIVERBEND By Craig Lancaster I originally contacted Riverbend Publishing, a regional house in Helena, Montana, in the earliest days of the self-published version of 600 Hours of Edward in the hopes that I might be able to strike a distribution deal. Chris Cauble, the president, gave me the skinny on how such an arrangement might work and asked me to send along a review copy. As the weeks dragged on and my book started to gain some traction in my market, I followed up with a note to Chris in which I expressed chagrin at my crude early version of the book and told him of the updates and the response to the book. I suggested that I remained interested in a distribution deal but that an even better arrangement might be Riverbend's picking up the book. Cheeky, no? Weeks later came his initial note of interest, in which he s

Craig Lancaster Guests - Part 2

MISADVENTURES IN SELF-PUBLISHING By Craig Lancaster When I originally published my novel through CreateSpace, I did it in the crudest way possible. I used CreateSpace's pre-made templates to build a cover that, in retrospect, screamed “sloppy self-pub job.” I formatted the inside pages haphazardly in Word, with vast spaces between the lines. (True story: Later, when I reconfigured the interior, the book went from 342 pages to 256 just because I tightened up the leading.) I did a less-than-careful edit, resulting in my missing dropped words and backward quote marks and other such signs of an amateur at work. And I unleashed this book on the public! Oh, the retroactive shame. Slowly, though, I found my footing. A professor at Montana State Billings, Sue Hart, let me talk with her creative-writing class and helped me make some contacts. Local writers were generous with their advice and direction. Eventually, as encouragement and response to my book built, I started trying to place it

Craig Lancaster Guests - Part 1

Now that I'm neck-deep in the world of books -- a fairly successful (but stumble-filled) self-publishing experience behind me and the launch of my novel, 600 Hours of Edward , with a mainstream publisher just days away -- I'm a bit awed to think back to where I was on the brink of November 2008. My friend Jim Thomsen had pitched the idea of trying National Novel Writing Month together, to see if either or both of us could finally break through and write the novels we had always talked about writing. I spent a couple of days before the event conceiving a story and writing a very loose outline of where I wanted it to go. In hindsight, I trace my success in finishing to that outline, crude as it was. I've been a journalist for more than 20 years, and thus most of my writing had never ventured far beyond 1,500 words. The idea of setting down 80,000 or so seemed preposterous. The outline, which I'd never attempted before, served as my trail of breadcrumbs through the woods

Can You Define Good Writing?

There’s been quite a discussion lately on a readers listserv about good and bad writing — sparked by a discussion about Dan Brown, the mega-selling author who no one has ever called a good writer and some have said a lot worse about. Everyone seems to agree that bad writing is easy to define: awkward phrasing repetitiveness wordiness blandness vagueness and confusion clichés flat, one-dimensional characters self-indulgent description and/or philosophizing hard-to-swallow events The debate is about what exactly constitutes good writing and the subset discussion: Can you actually define good writing or is it entirely a subjective judgment? Some say good writing has a list of known qualities, yet when pressed, they failed to offer a list of those qualities. Others say good writing is simply the absence of all the attributes that define bad writing. Still others insist it is more than that, yet they can’t agree on the qualities. (This reminds me of the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart

Creating Fictional Villians

Great villains often make great novels. Your protagonist will be measured by the strength and cunning of her antagonist. Indeed, since the villain is often the prime mover of the plot, his motivations become crucial. In The Silence of the Lambs , Agent Clarice Starling must figure out the motivations and thought processes of two different serial killers, Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill. Sherlock Holmes requires a Moriarty; Superman, his Lex Luthor; Batman, his Joker; Bond, his Blofeld; and Luke Skywalker, his Darth Vader. Without the villains, there would be nothing for the hero to do. Some authors, realizing that their most creative efforts are going into devising a fascinating, complex villain, simply make their villain the protagonist, alá Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment . I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the heyday of the anti-hero and the villain-hero. The Man with No Name from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, the Submariner, and Dr.

To Thine Own Characters Be True

Character development seems simple enough. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a to-die-for figure or tall, dark, handsome, but a scoundrel. Good guys, bad guys. If only it were that easy. Come on, we’re talking fiction, make-believe, right? Yes . . . and no. Our “storybook” characters may be much more real than we imagine—in fact, they may not be products of our imaginations at all. If we analyze their personalities, physical appearance, good and not-so-good traits, we may find them to be much like someone we know or knew in the past, or even more likely a composite of two or more friends, acquaintances, or family members. How well acquainted are we with our characters? We’d better know them as well as (perhaps even better than) we know ourselves. For example, we should know their Height, weight, dress/suit size, shoe size, Likes and dislikes, Pet peeves, Hobbies, Favorite music, The list goes on and on. Do our readers need to know all these things? Not necessarily, but we do. Why? Knowing even t

Dreaming Frankenstein

Many people say they read fiction for pleasure and escapism, as well as the thrill of facing their fears from the safety of a comfortable armchair. The horror, thriller, and suspense genres have always been immensely popular with readers. But what about the authors who delve into the world of their nightmares in order to bring their readers tales that will prickle the hairs on the backs of their necks? What type of person confronts their personal darkness and then invents a story around it? Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley had dealt with death intensely, and often, during her young life. Her own mother died when she was only a few days old, her half-sister and her lover's wife both committed suicide, and she’d already lost three babies by the time she came to write Frankenstein . It seems death was a theme that Mary mulled over, even though she may have been a normal, and happy, young woman in many other ways. During a holiday, Mary, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their friend L

Ghostwriting -- the Ultimate Edit

Ghostwriting, as the name suggests, implies that the actual writer is unknown or not acknowledged. In other words, a ghostwriter pens a book for someone else, and that “someone else” gets credit for it. What do ghostwriting and editing have in common? Ghostwriting turns a writer’s raw manuscript (notes, research, etc.) into a polished book. Working from whatever material the “author” provides, the ghostwriter develops the topic (or story) and creates a smooth, cohesive, interesting—perhaps even compelling—book that could become a bestseller, for which the “author” (a.k.a. employer) takes credit. Substantive editing addresses a number of the same areas: flow, continuity, holes, gluts of unnecessary information and information dumps, reordering (or even removing) text, rewriting, and so forth. This work parallels much of what the ghostwriter does when sorting through, researching, ordering, and presenting the “writer’s” information. Despite the absense of real-writer credit, ghostwriting

Crafting the Bones, Part II

Dr. Rudolph Flesch, a staunch advocate of writing with purpose, advised in his best-selling How to Write Better that “the main thing to consider is your purpose in writing: Why are you sitting down to write?” To which E.B. White tartly answered, “Because, sir, it is more comfortable than standing up.” ~Mitchell Ivers, The Random House Guide to Good Writing Yesterday I suggested you move forward through your paragraph, scene, and story structure in a purposeful way. Yet we all know that writing is also an act of discovery. What if you’ve completed your first draft and you still aren’t sure what you’re trying to say? I believe in the power of first draft writing, so here’s a technique to let it speak to you. (You’ll want to apply this to a short work or the opening to a longer one.) This may seem laborious, but with your word processor’s cut and paste feature, it doesn’t take as long as you might think. First, remove your sentences from their paragraphs and list them—out of context, you

Crafting the Bones, Part I

This is the magic of a well-written piece: for a few precious moments, you, as writer, hold the reader in the palm of your hand. Word choice, syntax, structure—all the elements of craft you spent so much time applying—fall away and your reader enters the world of story. Your story. Now come close, so I can whisper the secret behind the magic: the structure can only fall away if it existed in the first place. Yes, you need a great story idea and enough imagination to bring it to fruition—that’s its muscle. But to hold the reader in the palm of your hand, you also need some bones. Bones give structure to a living thing the way lumber defines a house. Imagine the first draft writer allowing his inner seven-year-old to build his first tree fort with wood, hammer, and nails. Now that he’s done, step back and let your adult self take a look at it. You decide it is…inventive. It flows nicely. Boards angle every which way, mimicking the branches on the tree. You climb the tree, eager to explor

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Analyzing Sentences for Redundancy and Wordiness

You know when redundancy is good, right? It falls under the third meaning of "redundant" in my Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary : “serving as a duplicate for preventing failure of an entire system (as a spacecraft) upon failure of a single component.” If you were an astronaut, you’d want as much redundancy as the shuttle designers could provide. As a writer, however, you want to avoid redundancy unless there’s a solid reason to repeat yourself for emphasis, or to make certain an important story point is not overlooked by the reader. It’s rare this is needed. Readers are smart people. Back to my trusty Merriam-Webster’s for the relevant definitions for writers: “exceeding what is necessary or normal” and “characterized by similarity or repetition.” How do you find this stuff in your manuscript? I find mine sentence by sentence during revisions, and my critique group pals point them out when I submit chapters for their review. Here are the basic rules: 1. Don’t

How Do You Show Feelings?

“Feelings…Nothing more than…feelings…” The words of that old song haunt me as I struggle to polish my manuscript. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through study, reading, and feedback from critique groups is that emotions are critical in creating three-dimensional characters. Have you heard the description, “The characters are flat?” That’s because the author is telling the reader what the character is doing and feeling, but the reader is not identifying with that character. Reading a novel is like donning the skin of the main character, jumping into his head, and living the adventures vicariously right along with him. As a reader, I want to see, smell, hear, touch and taste exactly what the character is smelling, hearing, touching an tasting. For just a short time, I want to “be” that character. Easier said than done. Suppose Gertrude is mad at her boyfriend. “I hate you!” she cried angrily. Doesn’t this let us know her feelings? Not necessarily. I don’t feel anything. I’m bei

Got rhythm?

My dance training won’t be denied: I am keenly aware of the rhythms that accumulating words create. Whether using sentences on a page or dancers on a stage, an artist’s goal is to fill blank space with movement. Tension. Subtle clues that direct the viewer’s eye and thoughts to an intended destination. So think for a moment like a dancer and consider the way your paragraphs are choreographed. Does this one feature a rat-tat-tap dance, a gentle waltz, or a ballet complete with high lifts, low dips, and bravura technical feats? I’m not talking the Rockettes here. Unless your goal is military rigidity, you don't want identical sentences hiking knees and flicking feet at predictable intervals. You want to create a purposeful mix of shapes, sizes and textures that will grab the reader’s interest and underscore your message. Certain sentences spin and swirl, impressive in their sweeping beauty. Others stand stilted. Some stride forth with confidence, then back off. One might gain momentu

Copyright Notice

All posts at the Blood-Red Pencil are copyright of the author listed at the end of the post. If you are interested in copying portions of the text, please leave a comment for the author to contact you. Be professional and respectful and do not simply scrape an entire good essay for your own blog. This is stealing and it's a copyright infringement, which is illegal. Some of our blogging team is retired and rich and just might turn it over to their attorneys. We've just discovered a blogger who has scraped post after post from our site. Not at all cool. Here's a link to the Copyright Office if you need more information about what and how much you can quote.

Book Pirates Afoot

We seem to talk about ebooks more than just about anything else. They just keep making news. It’s either a new e-reader, or low priced or free books being used as marketing enticements, or platforms not being compatible with different readers. Now there’s something we knew was coming, but, especially here in the US, we’d been so oblivious that we didn’t realize it was already here. Not here in the States, but with the Internet, any place is “here.” Ebooks are being napsterized big time (remember Napster and music sharing?). File-storage sites are popping up, sites like RapidShare, Megaupload, Hotfile and others. The New York Times asks: With the new devices in hand, will book buyers avert their eyes from the free copies only a few clicks away that have been uploaded without the copyright holder’s permission? Ed McCoyd, an executive director at The Association of American Publishers, says: “We are seeing lots of online piracy activities across all kinds of books — pretty much every cat

Self-Editing One Step at a Time: Cleaning Up Those Dialogue Tags

This step may be combined with others during the sentence-by-sentence editing read as it addresses only these three mechanics of labeling dialogue. When dialogue is carried on between two people , use the dialogue tag only as often as needed to let the reader know who is speaking. “You know what I mean?” said Marjorie. She waited for her brother to answer. “No.” “Don’t be silly. Of course, you do.” When the dialogue involves more than two people , add a dialogue tag each time the speaker changes, or use a leading sentence before the dialogue to identify the speaker. “I don’t understand what you mean,” Marjorie said. Or, Marjorie raised her eyebrows and tilted her head. “I don’t understand what you mean.” Use "said" in your dialogue tags , with perhaps an occasional "asked" or "repeated." Other words that describe speech such as hollered, yelled, whispered, mumbled, yelled, and shrieked might be used once in a great while, but it is best if

Can a Comma Change a Life? The World?

“That’s ridiculous!” you may say. “It’s just a little punctuation mark.” Yes, but this little punctuation mark has big implications—and its placement can change the meaning of a sentence in surprising ways. It can also change (or save—or cost) a life. For a novelist whose protagonist finds himself in a life-threatening situation, its use couldn’t be more crucial. Let’s create a hypothetical scene. We’re writing a Wild West story. Our main character, Jeb Holcomb, has just ridden into Cripple Creek, Colorado, at the end of a long day on the trail. He stops at a saloon for a drink. Sitting alone at a table in the back, he nods a couple of times, downs the last of his second beer, and pushes himself out of his chair. If he doesn’t head over to the hotel right now, he’s going to fall asleep here. The saloon doors burst open. Two town bums charge into the room on the heels of the sheriff. One of the derelicts points to Jeb. “Tha’s ’im!” “Yeah, tha’s ’im!” the other agrees. “You men sure ’bou

Creative. Period.

Please welcome our newest editor and blogger, Kathryn Craft. *** It’s just a tiny dot, but it contains great power. Even as words add up to thoughts and thoughts layer with images that eventually result in complex notions capable of changing the world, one adding to the next and to the next within an extended sentence whose natural rhythms flow, then ebb, then surge in a manner seemingly dictated by the moon, it can dam. It can introduce staccato beats. Ramp up tension. Create edginess. Excite. It can introduce a contemplative space where ideas can be absorbed. It can cast a spotlight on the word just before it when the weapon of word order is carefully wielded. Calling it the “stop sign of the punctuation world,” literary agent and author Noah Lukeman devotes his entire opening chapter—22 pages!--to the period in his book A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation. Lukeman underscores the period’s importance by listing the dangers of overuse (insufficient communication; chop

Another Sample Press Release

As promised, here is the press release that several local newspapers used as is for a little story about my book launch last year. With the release, I included a head shot, picture of my book cover, and a one-page sheet with more details about the book, a few review snippets, and a longer bio. At the top of the release I had the contact information as well as: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. That was flush left on the page under the letterhead. For this release I used the art center letterhead, but for other releases I use my own. It is important to give your release a title that the newspaper can use as a headline: BENEFIT FOR WINNSBORO ART CENTER Winnsboro, TX – (July - 2008) On Saturday, July 26th at 2:00pm, the Trails Country Centre For the Arts (TCCA) in Winnsboro will host the official book launch of Maryann Miller’s latest book, and 20% of sales that day will be donated to the Centre. Miller, who lives just north of town, has been a long-time supporter of TCCA and is pleased that the eve

Sample Press Release -- third in series

As promised yesterday, here is the sample press release from Sunny, along with a few more tips to help your event get noticed in your local newspaper. TO: (insert editor's name) COMMUNITY NEWS FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Friends of the Library Host Local Author Local author Victoria Pitts-Caine will speak on January 15 at the Kings County Library, 401 N. Douty, Hanford. The event begins at 6:30 pm until 8 pm. Caine is the author of a Christian romance, Alvarado Gold. This is a free event. Refreshments will be provided by Friends of the Library. Books will be available for purchase and a book signing with the author will follow. This event kicks off the 2009 Local Authors Program conducted by the Kings County Library. The public is invited to enjoy an evening with authors who reflect the rich literary tradition of the San Joaquin Valley. For more information, contact Gail Lucas at 582-0261 ext. 104, or Keep in mind that this release is typical f