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Showing posts from April, 2010


The explanation and discussion of the Haiku can be complicated or simple. I will try to make it simple. A Japanese form that has taken root in English, it consists of 17 syllables divided into three lines. The first line has five syllables, the second has seven, and the third has five. The allure of the Haiku is its brevity. In only a few syllables, it delivers deep and surprising meaning. The Japanese use various forms for their Haiku, and some English poets, though they have not stuck to the 5/7/5 format, have found success with the three line form. The first line may be a reference to nature—a season, a flower, a bird, an insect. The second may have a contrast to the image chosen in the first line. By comparing the first and second lines, the third line may draw an insight or deliver a startling, unexpected image. One does not have to know the Japanese formats in order to be successful in writing the haiku, but it helps. Here are three written by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) translated

We've Got Style

As a fiction editor, I encounter confusion from writers about how to treat numbers, the time of day, and references to printed materials. I base my edits/suggestions on a combination of Chicago Manual of Style and what I see and experience from traditional publishers. As a submitting novelist, you might as well get your manuscript into the best shape you can before sending it to anyone. Here are some general guidelines: Numbers one through one hundred are spelled out as words. Larger numbers, especially dollar amounts, can be written as numerals, but it’s not a mandate. Be consistent within a paragraph. Lucy had seen the movie twelve times and spent exactly $132.45 in the process. At age ninety-nine, Stella always let out her cats when she left the house. Still, she hoped to make it to a hundred and two, just to show up her sister. If you give an exact time of day, use numerals and lowercase for a.m. and p.m. Few publishers use small caps anymore. For general hour references (wh

The Limerick

The limerick is a fixed form of poetry. It is usually humorous, often nonsensical. The lines are short, swift, and catchy. The limerick is made up of five lines, all basically anapestic in meter (short, short, long). The first, second, and fifth lines usually have three beats (or feet), while the third and fourth line have two. The first, second, and fifth lines have the same end rhyme, while the third and fourth lines rhyme, thus forming a couplet. There are variations to this pattern. Here is an example from my own pen: A Limerick for October I can hardly wait for October For then the German beer flows over And I sit and I sip Holding mug to my lips At the inn called Aye Bee Sober. The form is simple; thus, it is easy to make up limericks on the spot, and it often turns into a reciting sport, some made up and some remembered. They are fun to play with, but they lend themselves to bawdiness. For anyone who wishes to get the full feel of the limerick (including much bawdines

Building the Author’s Ethos: Writing Philosophy

It is important to write a great book. It is important to study the craft of writing in order to edit, revise, and rewrite that great book. But the work of a writer doesn’t stop with crafting a great book. The writer must think about his or her career as an author – in regards to what he or she writes and, just as important (if not more), what his or her audience wants. Ethos, in general, is a distinguishing character of a person—what he or she stands for. In rhetoric, ethos is something a speaker must develop in his or her repertoire in order to affect his or her audience. In addition to the distinguishing character, the person needs to also establish expertise and knowledge. What does this mean for a writer looking to develop his or her ethos? For one thing, it means a writer needs to know what his or her writing philosophy is. Why do you write (aside from the love of it)? What do you hope to illustrate in your writing? What themes, narratives do you find yourself drawn to in yo

One Method of Creating Characters in Fiction

I once heard mystery author Diane Mott Davidson speak at a convention. She said her fictional victims were often based on annoying people she met in real life. Until I wrote The Desert Hedge Murders , my characters were completely imaginary, most likely influenced by memories of everyone I've ever known, even if they were only actors in a movie. With this second Sylvia and Willie mystery, I tried something new. In creating The Florida Flippers, a travel club of elderly ladies, I borrowed the names of four of my female relatives, aged them, and kept that imagined appearance in my mind as I wrote their story. One of the characters, Kristina Grisseljon, is the mother of my protagonists, Sylvia Thorn and Willie Grisseljon. She was briefly in the first novel of the series and is not modeled after a real person. Linda Swayble, one of the Flippers, is named after my sister-in-law Linda, who sadly passed away just before the book was released. I added about fifteen years to her age,

Pitfalls and Pratfalls of Editing

We recently had an interesting discussion at the Blood Red Pencil office -- yes, we do have an office, which is actually a list where we meet virtually (or is that virtually meet?) to discuss topics, scheduling, etc. And here you thought we just flew by the seat of our pants, didn't you? Anyway, in this thread, we talked about the fact that some of the basic standards of editing that used to be the norm across the board of publishing - The Chicago Manual of Style - The AP Stylebook - the UPI Stylebook - and The Elements of Style by Strunk & White are no longer adhered to as strictly as they used to be. The issue was raised about what happens when an independent editor makes manuscript changes and the author submits to a publishing house and the house editor comes back and makes conflicting editorial changes. Good question. I noticed in the recent line-editing of my mystery, Open Season , which will be released by Five Star Cengage /Gale in December, that they are foll

Dialogue is Not Necessarily How We Talk

Last month I talked about what dialogue is . This time I’ll share what dialogue should not be. Common mistakes : Unnatural dialogue . Using characters’ names repeatedly. Laughing words. “You’re crazy,” laughed Justin. (Correct: said Justin with a laugh or Justin laughed. “You’re crazy.”) Over-descriptive dialogue . Too many adjectives and adverbs. We don’t speak like this: “When I looked at the blood red velvet petals of the roses, I knew this wasn’t just a Valentine’s gift.” Lecture dialogue . Long speeches. Too much information. A “teaching” moment or a device to show off all the research you did for this story. Exposition . “As you know, Ted, my daughter was an A student in college and a sprinter, but she lost a leg in a car accident, and is staying home now.” Do the characters’ have the information already? Are you just trying to provide info for the reader? Talking heads . No action or setting in between to remind us where they are, what they’re doing, besides tal

Which Is Better: Single POV or Multiple POVs?

Recently, I read a mystery that was written from a single point of view. The simple story followed one path from beginning to end with only occasional side trips. Of course, the POV character had to be in every scene. It worked. When I write, however, I tend to intertwine the lives of several characters, all of whom have a story to tell. The complexities mimic life as I have seen it, and I portray each character as an individual and allow him or her the freedom of expression and perspective. I do, however, limit point of view to one per scene, or I use a double space to indicate a POV change if that becomes necessary for the logical progression of the story. I’ve found that a few readers tend to get lost because they can’t keep the characters straight—particularly in the beginning. Yet, for most people, my stories work, too. So please share with us your preference as a writer and/or as a reader. Why is that your preference? What makes a story come to life for you? Do you find it’

Will the Real Ghost Please Rise Up

Lately I have been reading about a literary flap going on in France, about a new film starring Gerard Depardieu as – guess! – a ghostwriter! It’s called L’Autre Dumas (The Other Dumas), and explores the 150-year old theory that Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, used a ghostwriter named Auguste Maquet to write his famous stories for him. Despite my degree in Literature, I had never heard about this controversy that has not yet been resolved. I still don’t know what the truth is, although I’m pretty sure it’s less dramatic than the movie portrays. Some scholars claim Maquet was simply a researcher, nothing more. Others claim Maquet was the unsung genius behind a flamboyant bon vivant who was too busy spending money to actually work. The facts that no one seems to dispute are: Dumas was a writer who loved high drama in fiction – and also in life. He had a hedonistic lifestyle and enormous flair for living large – and little or no m

More Detectives Around the World

 Today is the final day for the 2010 Detectives Around the World event and I have the honor of interviewing a mystery fan – our very own Dani Greer. For those of you who don’t know, Dani is the force behind The Blood-Red Pencil blog, an accomplished editor, artist, mentor of writers, friend of the Earth, and voracious reader. Her favorite books to read and edit? You guessed it – mysteries! You’ve made no secret of your love of cozies. What attracts you to this form? To put it simply, no blood and guts. I have a really weak stomach. That goes for sex, too. In a cozy, I get a protagonist I can relate to - they're weak, too. I don't have to face all the violence and gore, and when there's a romance built-in, as there often is, I get the sweet old-fashioned hearts-and-flowers relationship, with not too much gore there either. It's the perfect world. Is editing mysteries different from editing other fiction? I actually chart the storylines to keep track of the clues,

Push Your Characters Hard—Please!

Photo by Reba Bear , via Flickr Whether intuitively or formally, creative writers learn early on that conflict drives story. Ignore this at your peril. I once edited a political thriller whose central character was homosexual and autistic (I’ve changed a few details here). While our country has made strides as concerns tolerance, even today the notion of living openly gay is rife with conflict. But the author chose not to explore it; to him the topic felt clichéd. And I’m thinking, huh. But he still has that autism angle, right? Again, societal acceptance has grown as we learn more about this condition, but still—to actively participate in the plot, this character will be fighting an uphill battle that most would consider heroic. The stuff of great story! But this author swung wide—he decided he wants the autism to be completely accepted in the world of his story. And I’m thinking, huh. And I'm concluding: Where’s the story? Authors love their characters, I

Author Platforms: Author Website

Last month, we talked about what an Author Platform is . Our project plan is to build the platform, bit by bit, each month. I could start this project by telling you to draw out your blueprint for the platform, but I won’t. I could, but I’m afraid we’d all end up huddled in a dark closet. Let’s just take it step-by-step. If you haven’t already done it, create a web page for yourself. The URL should include your name. Mine is: . You could also call it something like , but I think it’s easiest to just use your name. If you call it something like, , you won’t pop up on an Internet search as easily when someone Googles your name to try to find you. If you call it the name of your book, how many websites will you have to maintain by the time your fifth or fifteenth book comes out? Create the site yourself or pay someone to do it. Which you do depends on your skill and/or finances. If you’re going to build you

Exploring: Web Resources for Crime Writers

Do you need to pick a gun for your protagonist to hide in her bedside table? Would it be helpful to learn more about the way police officers talk, the codes they use? Do you know what happens to a body as it decomposes? How quickly does a victim die after ingesting rat poison or an overdose of aspirin? No matter what you need to know to make your mystery or thriller realistic and accurate, you can probably find the answer on the Internet. Knowing where to look is half the battle. If you understand how to use your search engine effectively, you’ll save yourself many trips to the library, and you won’t have to ask your policeman neighbor down the street to read one more chapter of your manuscript (thereby tempting him to arrest you for stalking). Government agency websites, police forums, experts who have websites or blogs, online classes from private investigators—all of this information is a keystroke away. These are the best sites and link lists I’ve found so far. Government Ag

Word Play

New Monthly Feature – Word Play by Morgan Mandel How to Play Today, and every second Tuesday of the month , we’ll play with a chosen word or string of words. I’ll make a choice, offer some uses, then invite you to comment below with a sentence using the word(s) we’re playing with. If you wish, you can use one of the phrases in my illustrations and expand on it, or you can make up an entire sentence from scratch, as long as you use the monthly word(s). Hopefully, this exercise will inspire us to take a new look at words and use them in fresh and exciting ways. To start with, I've chosen an easy word, but you never know what I might pick next. Be sure to add your name and website or blogspot with your comment, in case someone really likes what you've written and wants to visit you. Also, if you happen to know of an instance in your own novel or someone else’s that illustrates the meaning of the monthly word(s), be sure to mention that as well. April's Word - Overp

Components of a Good Writing Workshop

Recently, a friend of mine asked for advice on starting a workshop for writers. I quickly went back to my days in the MFA program, where the major part of the program was the weekly fiction workshop. The advice I gave my friend closely adhered to those things learned from the MFA program as I learned a great deal about myself as a writer and as a critic within our fiction workshops. For anyone that's interested in starting a writer's workshop, I hope this information proves useful. In my experience, there are three components that are necessary for a good writing workshop, and they are: 1- A great moderator 2- Appropriate size for the workshop 3- Rules for the workshop MODERATOR. A moderator has to be kind yet firm and have a great knowledge of storytelling. This is the person that the workshop participants are relying on to guide them as writers. It also doesn't hurt that the moderator has some publishing credits. Participants want to feel that they are learning from so

Book Review: Secrets to Die For

Have you heard of the Detectives Around the World blog event? If not, and you love mysteries, you’ve been missing out. The event, which began in March with readers around the world nominating their favorite fictional detectives, culminates this week with bloggers around the world blogging about their favorites. I was fortunate enough to draw my first choice – Detective Wade Jackson of Eugene, Oregon. My blogs this week include two here at The Blood-Red Pencil: today I review Secrets to Die For and on the 17th, I interview one of the Detective Jackson series beta readers, editor Dani Greer. (Dani jumps in to mention that she and L.J. are both founding members of the Blood-Red Pencil. We're engaging in a little blatant self-promotion!) Secrets to Die For By L.J. Sellers Echelon Press Publishing Copyright 2009 ISBN: 1-59080-654-9 Trade Paperback Mystery/Suspense Second in the Detective Wade Jackson mystery series 286 pages In your favorite mystery of all time, how many

Writing as an Art -- Painting the Plot

Our detailed character sketches shape and define the people who will populate our story. The completed outline places them in the action and draws them, via our plot, down the roads that converge at the climax and flow into the conclusion. However, the plot’s following the exact route we’ve mapped out can almost be guaranteed not to happen. Let’s consider why the plot may not take the route we had envisioned by comparing it to the work of an artist who’s recreating a spectacular mountain scene on canvas. In her mind, she knows exactly what she wants to paint; so early one October morning, she heads out to find just the right angle from which to capture the majesty of the landscape. While she’s unloading her gear, the sun climbs over the horizon and dances down the dark peaks in a progressive unfolding of the new day. She positions the easel to allow a panoramic view, then sketches the scene on the canvas as a guideline before squeezing dollops of paint onto her pallet. Meanwhile, t

Fun With Words at the Mule Barn Truck Stop

For a change of pace from all the serious posts on writing, I am pleased to offer this bit of nonsense from my friend, Slim Randles. While this one might not be laugh-out-loud funny, it is a bit of a groaner. Enjoy... “I can’t stand winter,” said Herb Collins, who had dropped in at the Mule Barn’s philosophy counter for a quick cup. “There’s nothing to do.” “Get out and enjoy it,” suggested Doc. “Go skiing. Go ice fishing. Build a snowman. Do something. Then you’ll feel better.” “I don’t think your advice will take,” said Dud. “Herb seems to be intransigent on this one.” We all looked at Dud. "You see, he said he couldn’t stand winter,” Dud continued, “which shows he has a proclivity for intransigence on that particular subject.” We looked at him some more. “If he were to take up a winter hobby,” he continued, “he could stop being intransigent and enjoy things more.” Even Herb was staring at him now. "I usually,” said Herb, “enjoy a proclivity in that direct

Ask The Editor Free-For-All Today!

It's back - The Ask the Editor Free-For-All Last month's Ask the Editor Free-For-All drew a terrific response from our readers, with corresponding great answers from our editors. I counted 68 comments in all. Hopefully, the tradition will carry forth, bringing us even more wonderful questions and answers. In case you're new to what's going on, this is where you get to ask those embarrassing questions you're dying to know the answers to, but don't want to sound silly asking them of an acquisitions editor or agent. Here's how it works: Today, and Every First Tuesday of the Month, The Blood-Red Pencil holds what we call the Ask the Editor Free-For-All. I scour e-groups beforehand, putting out a cry for likely guinea pigs; no, seriously, I mean candidates. Even if you don't see the call in one of my e-groups, you’re more than welcome to join in. I’m sure many of you have questions you’d like to ask editors. Maybe you’re submitting a manuscript or