Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Time for Ask the Editor Free-For-All

If Halloween didn't scare you, maybe the thought of Christmas coming at the end of next month will. Where did all the time go? Had you meant to finish a short story for Christmas, or maybe even a book? Or, maybe you have a special manuscript you'd hoped to get done, but you've been stumped about how to do it. For some reason, certain parts of the publishing process elude you. If only you knew the answers.

Here's your chance to find out. Not only that, we have a special offer. That's right, we give free answers to a great many questions from people like you right here in our Ask the Editor Free-For-All. Ask a writing question and our Editors will be happy to answer you.

Here's how it works:

Today, and every first Tuesday of the month, The Blood-Red Pencil hosts an Ask the Editor Free-For-All. We make a call out to e-groups, Facebook, social network friends, and blog followers to come on over and ask questions. Our editors are more than happy to share their knowledge in such areas as submitting a manuscript to an editor or agent, publishing on Kindle, e-books, self-publishing in various formats, as well as the basics of writing. No question is too silly or dumb to ask. We all have to start somewhere.

And, if for some unlikely reason we don't know the answer, we'll steer you to someone who does.

To Submit A Question, Follow These Easy Steps:

Leave a comment below in the comment section. When you do, include your name and blog url or website not only for promo, but so we know you’re not a gremlin. (One link only per person, please!)

One or more of our editors will drop by today and answer your question in the comment section. If an editor feels your question requires a longer explanation, the Editor may indicate more details will follow in a later blog post devoted to your subject. If that happens, you'll be lucky enough to get some extra promotion, along with the possible chance of sending in your profile and book cover jpegs and buy link.

It's not a requirement, but it's a good idea to leave an e-mail address with your comment. It also wouldn't hurt to mention where you've heard about our Ask the Editor Free-For-All.

Others will be asking questions, so be sure to stop by later to see what answers they get. Since some of you are on e-group Digests, questions and answers might carry over through Wednesday or Thursday.

Now that you've got the idea of how it works, you may now begin.

Morgan Mandel


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  1. I'm in a running "debate" in my various critique groups about the use of flashbacks and chronology. I claim that a compelling scene stays within one time frame, with no flashbacks. I already "know I'm right" (LOL) but here's where it gets complicated. When you are in a scene, it is perfectly normal to have a thought about a previous time. Since memoirs are in first person POV, it's not really a flashback but a thought in-the-present-time. I know there is no easy answer, but I would love to hear your advice. And if you write a fabulous comment or post about it, I can direct my peers and student to your site! :)

    Jerry Waxler
    Memory Writers Network

  2. Hi, Morgan:

    My previous published works were all in hardcopy and I had a detailed plan for promoting them which added thousands of sales to the publishers' totals. I sold it to more bookstores than the publishers did and got many of my colleagues to recommend it to their clients.

    However, my present work, "How to get off the Merry-Go-Round," a self-help book for abused women, is primarily an e-publication and I am not savvy with what I can do that would be effective to develop a marketing strategy.

    My quest has been multiplied by the fact that it has become a finalist for the EPIC Awards, nonfiction division.

    My pubisher, e-Press, lists it first on their site and this morning, my editor has placed a wonderful blurb about it on the publisher's blog.


    If there are any ideas you could offer that would help me with marketing, I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thanks in advance for anything you can add to my very small armamentarium of skills in this realm.

  3. Great question, Jerry, and I'm sure you'll get several answers here. One way to look at this dilemma is to analyze why you need the background material at all.

    One reason is to provide context for future choices. In this case, I think it's the author's job to imbed the material in the story's chronology in some way. Otherwise, you must stop the current scene to say, "Before I go any further, this is what you need to know about my Uncle Bob." If Uncle Bob is going to be critical to something happening later, we should meet him earlier. I'm pretty sure that's what you felt "right" about.

    That said, there are a lot of characters who enter a real life, and the cast can be hard to manage. Uncle Bob may have an important role in an "Aha!" moment, for instance, yet not be a major character in the rest of the narrative, so if introduced in Chapter Two we may have forgotten him by Chapter Twenty-eight when he utters the wisdom that changes the course of your life.

    One way to handle that is at a chapter beginning. Chapter Twenty-eight might begin:

    "Every day when I was a little girl my Uncle Bob would stop by on his way home from teaching high school to say hello to my sisters and me. We'd line up, jiggling, knowing what was to come when we ran into his arms.

    "Kitten Caboodle," he'd say, tossing me high in the air and using a name only he used. "You've gotten so big. Why, you must be in eighth grade now. Soon you'll be off and married."

    I'd squeal with laughter. I was five. My Dad wouldn't be home for several more hours, and when he did get home he'd take a nap, eat, then go to his office to paint for the evening. So my sisters and I craved this male attention.

    Now I was thirty-five, on the brink of divorce from a man who controlled me but beguiled my uncle, and Uncle Bob was heading up the driveway for his first visit in five years. I ran out to greet him and oh how I wished he would toss me into the air and call me Kitten Caboodle and make me believe again in happy ever after. But it took him a long time to get out of the car, and when he did, he reached back for a cane. To engage my eyes he had to look up.

    When I wrapped him in my arms I felt his bones through his shirt. If I cried on this man's shoulder it would break. That's when I realized that even now, when everything was falling apart, there were others who needed me.

    I pulled away and Uncle Bob winked at me and said... [life-changing quote that impacts present events].
    And that's what I decided to do. [continue on with present-day narrative]
    But there are times when you can weave in backstory on the fly to refresh motivation and summarize history without breaking apart the forward thrust of the scene. That can work well in a moment of high emotion, where you've already built considerable momentum. That might look like:

    "I want a divorce," he said.

    I slapped him.

    I looked at my hand, tingling now, as my brain caught up to what it had just done. I had never hit anyone in my life.

    Then, brain on board, I hit him again. For making me believe in our vows. For the past six years of lies. For entering into therapy while he had a girl on the side. For the cruise we took to rekindle our unsalvageable romance and the horrid, utter, complete waste of it all.

    Then turned around and left the house, never to return again.

  4. Stunned by technology, Kathryn! Why I remember when...

    Okay, going back to my corner now. LOL.

  5. This is a great forum, Morgan. I really enjoy hearing all the editors' responses.

    I have a question that's mostly about publishing. I'm represented by an agent and several editors have been interested in acquiring my novel. Once the ms was being reviewed at editorial, the boards seemed to have wildly varying reasons for passing--slow down the pace/speed it up--quite literally.

    My question is what to do in the face of that kind of process. Would a smaller press that has fewer opinions all weighing in be more likely to produce success? Is it a matter of continuing on until the right succession of clicks happen?

    If anyone has thoughts about this process, I would certainly welcome hearing them.

  6. My question is a also regarding flashbacks. Is it acceptable to move back and forth chronologically with flashbacks? What I mean is rather than keep the flashbacks in the chronological sequence throughout the story, move them out of their time sequence and change up the order of where they are inserted in the main storyline. Make sense?

  7. Patti: Structure is one of the many ways where we can insert creativity into our projects. So the question isn't whether your idea makes sense to us, in theory. It's whether you can make sense to your reader, in practice. Try it, and see. If it works for you hand it out to detached readers and see if they "get" it.

    Flipping through time takes considerable skill to pull off. Your segues need to be clear and you need a confident grasp on why you're putting your reader through it so s/he doesn't feel toyed with. If we told you it can't be done someone would write in and show us an example--anything can be done if done well! Warning: Watch how your chronology adds up nonetheless, since what's happening in the present day, once placed out of order, might end up seeming like backstory/motivation.

  8. Jenny: First, congratulations on getting so far with your project! To gain representation and serious consideration is QUITE a feat right now, so bask in the glory of it. I have well published friends who can't get their projects read.

    You are going to have to make peace with the fact that the editors are speaking in code. They are feeling twitchy in this economy. The book is before them. If they lose more money their jobs might be on the line. Something just isn't adding up with this project and they have a gut feeling another might be a better fit so they come up, quite quickly, with justifications for their decisions.

    It isn't advice. If they were interested in giving you advice they would have given you a contract.

    Everyone's feeling the pinch, large and small alike. Wait for those clicks--well put. And best of luck to you!

  9. Thanks Kathryn! I think I got it!

  10. Jerry and Patti, flashbacks, used correctly, add depth and meaning to a story. They explain reaction and motivation. Backstory, on the other hand, provides history that is relevant to the story and fills in the blanks, so to speak.

    Several years ago, I read an early draft of a manuscript written by a man who took a single topic (midwifery) and told two totally different stories on that topic. One was modern day, and the other took place hundreds of years earlier. They were told simultaneously, and the result was a stunning, compelling book that I've never read an equal to. While this is not a typical flashback, it does bear some similarities.

    Bottom line: used effectively and well, a great flashback grips the reader and flows seamlessly into the storyline without a single dropped stitch.

  11. Patti: What you mention is done all the time. If my answer sounded a little weird it's because when I first read your question I perceived it through the lens of the novel I just completed. It is two forward moving stories intertwined: one leading up to an event and one moving forward from that event. The event is the inciting incident, and it all comes full circle at the end. So my "backstory" was a long sequence of scenes, told largely in chronological order. But I did insert a few flashbacks to earlier in the protag's life that were out of order. If you can be clear, it works. Hope that clarifies.

  12. Kathryn, thank you for your encouraging reply. I would love to share your words with other writers caught up in this process--would that be all right, or does advice in the Editors' forum stay here?

  13. Jenny: You are welcome, and thanks for asking for permission. You may use the quotes as long as you attribute them to me, display the phrase "used with permission," and provide links to both its original source here at The BloodRed Pencil and to my webpage, http://www.writing-partner.com.

  14. I think people must be busy with NaNoWriMo today.

    I have a question about research. My current WIP is a MG historical set in a fictitious New England town. My MC is being sent to seminary in MA. I had contacted the school and they were initially very helpful, but I've had a hard time pining them down for answers to my questions lately. Despite repeated requests, I also haven't been granted a visit to the campus either.

    They have a great website with tons of historical data, but I am looking to get a good feel for what it would be like for my character to be attending school there and additional activites she might participate in outside of school.

    Any ideas on how I might obtain this information? Do you feel I am being a too picky?

    Thanks. I appreciate your time.


  15. Thanks for the responses, Kathryn and Linda. By the way, Kathryn, I love this passage.

    "I looked at my hand, tingling now, as my brain caught up to what it had just done. I had never hit anyone in my life. etc."

    It's a brilliant example of embedded backstory on the fly.

    Memory Writers Network

  16. Cheryl: Do they have a creative writing program, or at least an English major? If they did you might try contacting a professor in that program and giving them your contact info. Maybe they could find a student who wouldn't mind being interviewed. They might want the questions in advance. Since some of the college experience can be intuited, make sure to ask for lots of specifics so they don't feel you're wasting their time.

  17. We've previously decided not to have email subscriptions as we are not really a newsletter format blog. We post six days a week and it's too much mail for many people - also it skews our search engine presence and reader traffic at the blog. Hope that's not too inconvenient. We do have RSS feed links and the Follow Me widget which also acts as a feed.

    Chief Red Pencil

  18. One of my Facebook Friends, Mary M. Ricksen, posed this question:

    Do you feel that a romance novel should only be in the H/H POV. Or is more then that acceptable?

    Can someone provide an answer I can give her?

    Morgan Mandel

  19. About the point of view of a romance novel, I feel that, given that most readers of romances are women, who'd like to identify with and bond with the heroine, the story should be more from her POV than anyone else's.

    But the women readers also, in putting themselves in the heroine's place and situation, want to know how the hero is feeling about her, and what he's thinking about her, especially that complimentary, juicy stuff, like admiring her...whatever!

    If you have a subplot with the heroine's sister or best friend or whatever, and she has a thing going with some guy, you've got two more POVs coming in - but don't give them too much air time! Remember, the story is mainly about our heroine and hero, and the developing relationship between them.

    And, of course, avoid writing scenes from the POV of a minor character, like the waiter or cab driver. Getting into too many heads is disjointing and distracting.

    Remember, the goal is to hook the reader in and get her to identify and bond with the heroine, so the more of the story that is in the heroine's viewpoint, the better!

  20. Thanks for the tip Kathyrn. I appreciate it.


  21. Thank for the answer. I do appreciate it!

  22. Cheryl, you are not being too picky about wanting to get a feel for the school your MC would be attending. I like to scout locations for my settings as it makes it so much easier to write a scene that I have seen.

    The school might be backing off their willingness to help with your research due to privacy issues and legal issues. They may be concerned that you will cast them in a bad light. What you could do is create a fictitious seminary and pattern it somewhat on what you have learned about that school via their Web site.

  23. In the critique group I co-chair quite a discussion came up about single quotes. Can you tell me when, where and how single quotes can or should be used?
    Irene Kessler

  24. Irene, here in North America (as opposed to Britain and Australia, where it's the opposite), single quotes are only used within double quotes, like "She called my decor 'quaint'!" Susan said.

    In Britain, as I said, it's the opposite - single quotes for dialogue, then double quotes for words or phrases set off inside single quotes.
    For North American usage, see the Chicago Manual of Style, 11.33, page 453.

  25. Thanks again, Kathryn. I will also send you a link to whatever I write up so you can see! Again, thanks for your thoughtful, encouraging words, and Morgan, thanks for this terrific site.

  26. Re backstory, Kathryn said it so well, I think there's nothing more to add! Detailed backstory is something the author needs to know, but not always impart to the reader. It's a useful tool for the writer to know what the character's motivation is and why he/she reacts the way he does.

  27. I have been here for a few and never contribute anything but the opportunity for some to listen to my music, but I have a real life Danielle Steel love story. 44 years ago I was engaged to a gal whom being young and me in the service drifted apart. After searching with no luck for her and not knowing her married name, she called me. We connected like we were never apart. All of a sudden it was, "there is no future" Not being a woman I don't understand the sudden change of heart and feeling. For somebody known best for singing my Country Love songs I am afraid that I need and respect female input, I know this isn't a dear Abby page, but the majority here are female some of which I have chatted with over the years including Morgan. How do I handle and work the sudden turn around of her emotions. I have remained the gentleman she loved then and seemed to have loved now. She's in Texas Me Minnesota I have visited her twice and we have shared love making (Heaven) I have song writers writing a song for me about the finding and coming together again. Would her having had two bad marriages have developed a fear of a possible third. I am 65 and her 61 Ladies how does a man bridge that wall with all the respect it deserves, I never miss a day telling her she is pretty, Valentines day is near and we all know what it means and I intend to honor the tradition.Thank you now for your forthcoming input


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.