Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2011

Smashwords vs. Amazon: Is it an either/or?

At a writers' group the other evening, the question came up of Smashwords versus Amazon's Kindle store as places to post one's writing. As a Libra, I was happy to tell them it isn't an either/or question. I've self-published three collections of short stories, and I put them up at Smashwords AND Amazon. Here's why: A lot of people look no further than Amazon for their e-reading material, so it's a good idea to place your work there. Amazon has applications (apps) for most, if not all, reading devices including Kindle for PC, which emulates a Kindle reader on a regular computer screen. The downside is, self-published authors cannot, at this time, issue discount coupons or offer their books for free at Amazon. Smashwords will format what you upload to them and offer it for a multitude of reading devices, including the Kindle. If you're very careful with formatting your master document, you can choose to send your book through a variety of sales c

Writer's Block

I suppose all writers deal with writer's block from time to time, but I admit it's been decades since I've had the problem. Perhaps writing a boring paper during college was my last experience? I really don't remember. I've had systems in place forever to get me beyond the blank page. Here are a few of them: Journal Blog Draw Knit Bake Clean Any of these less "important" activities tended to divert my stressed attention enough to return to writing and suddenly have the words flow. That is until the past few months when my wrists started aching so badly, I could barely type. The pain was constant, nights were the worst, and resulted in a total lack of words, ideas, or enthusiasm for the act of putting words to paper or screen. You can easily see that my usual methods of getting rid of blockage only added to the physical problems. It I couldn't comfortably type, it wasn't likely I'd be doing much knitting. So now what? Obviously I have t

The Worst Experience at a Book Signing

One of the tried and true methods of marketing our books is the book signing, and some years ago a writer friend shared her successes with venues other than the bookstores. She did lots of small-town festivals, coffee-shops, and even senior centers.  I thought that was a good idea and had a mini-tour planned for the upper Midwest that year. I made arrangements to speak at the senior center where my mother lived, as well as the nursing home where my mother-in-law lived. The talk at the senior center went well. About 20 folks who had gathered in the community room for lunch all stayed to meet Evelyn's daughter who had written a book. Two days later I was scheduled to talk at the nursing home. When I had called to see if this was something the residents would enjoy, the activities director had assured me that there were lots of avid readers among the residents and they would love to meet an author. I was scheduled to follow the late-afternoon Bingo game when folks would already

Do You Have What it Takes to be a Resident Writer?

Last year author Lauri Kubuitsile spent a month in Egypt on a writers’ residency. I asked her to tell Blood-Red Pencil readers about her decision to apply for the residency and her experiences in Egypt. Lauri says, "I'd never thought of going on a residency before, I thought they were more for academic type writers, not an in-the-trenches, working writer like me. A friend of mine posted the El Gouna Residence on Facebook. I took a look and thought I’d try my luck, I mean who doesn’t want to go to Egypt, right? It was a huge surprise when I was chosen." Lauri made certain she was well-prepared beforehand in order to get the most she could out of her residency: "I had a project I wanted to work on while I was there, a new novel. Before I went I made sure all of my pre-work was done: character bibles, a plot map, chapter outlines. I also got about halfway through the rough draft before leaving. My plan was to complete the rough draft of the novel while in Egypt a

Writing Snobbery

Snobbery is unattractive.  I think most would agree. Yet I must admit to a little bit of this quality.  I am snobby about pens.  As a writer, I have feelings about writing implements.  I’m not one of those conservatives who claim that only the old-fashioned tools have beauty and merit – I’d be lost without my computer.  In fact, I think I actually love my computer. But when I am in the first throes of a new idea or project, when I am just noodling and musing on paper, I like to noodle and muse with a pen.  And the kind of pen I use affects the quality of my noodling. I own three kinds of pen.  My favorite pen is the fountain pen. I love how the ink flows and is still wet when it hits the paper. That glossiness, that smooth easy feeling, all make my Muse feel as if she is riding on a moving sidewalk. Ideas glide and swirl from the pen with easy grace. The fountain pen is alive . Now, the fountain pen does have some drawbacks – you have to change the cartridges, and sometimes those ca

Extraneous Words

I learned a new term last week, during our “ share a tip ” day here when Carlene Rae Dater shared her tip on “Pesky Pleonasms.” She explained, “A pleonasm is a word or phrase which can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, ‘John walked to the chair and sat down.’ ‘Down’ is a pleonasm and can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.” Although I was not familiar with the term, I did know them when I saw them. In fact, part of my editing advice revolves around deleting extraneous words. Words such as “that,” “very,” “both,” and “there was.” Others might include “began,” “started,” or “continued.” Another pet peeve of mine is "in order to." Drop the "in order" just do it! I also caution to watch use of “ly” words. These words are often used to prop up weak verbs. For example: “She walked quickly” can be stronger if written “She strode” (or bounded or rushed). Likewise with the “to be” verbs (was, were, had been, etc.

Success Story

 Don't Ever Throw an Old Manuscript Away.... … or delete one from your computer. Both of my most recent books were ones that I originally started a long time ago and put aside for a variety of reasons. My agent couldn't sell them, and I was finding that nonfiction was paying a lot more bills than my fiction. However, One Small Victory and more recently Open Season, were stories that I loved, and every time I'd pull out the manuscripts and tinker with them, I would connect with the characters and think, this is still pretty good stuff. When we no longer make an emotional connection to our work, that's when we know it really does need to stay in a drawer forever. Both stories are firmly rooted in real life. One Small Victory was inspired by a true story of a woman who infiltrated a drug ring to bring down the major distributor in her small town. (And is now available as an e-book for Kindle, Nook and other e-readers.) Open Season evolved from wondering what it w

Writing in 140: Saving Your Precious Stories

If writers worry like I do, then they are always looking for new places to save their literary babies. I have jump keys, I have an e-mail account where I send work. I also use Carbonite , where for about $50 a year, everything on my laptop has a home in cyberspace. Recently, friends introduced me to Dropbox , and I love it because I can download it on all my systems and no matter where I go, if I drop something into my dropbox, I can open it on all my systems and can retrieve it from any computer by going to the website. I feel a lot better knowing that my work is secure somewhere -- now I need to remember to update my work in all these places. Where do you save your precious writing? ----- Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less. ~~~~~~~~~~ Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is now available for p

Orchestrating characters

In a recent post about combining characters I suggested that one's characters should be well orchestrated. I thought that term was worthy of further exploration because so many of my clients have trouble figuring out what conflict is relevant to their stories. It all starts with your cast of characters: if you've orchestrated them well, their intersecting character arcs will have an inherent relevance to the protagonist’s arc. In the novel I’m now shopping around, Dance of the Fallen Sparrow, my protagonist, Penelope Sparrow, is a dancer who is saved from the deadly consequences of a 14-story fall by the same "sturdy thighs" and "mambo hips" that have derailed her dance career. She must now transcend her body image issues and fully embrace her individuality if she is to make the most of this extraordinary second chance to make her mark in the dance world. The dancer is cued; let the orchestration begin. Penelope lands on the car of ground-floor baker

Combining Characters

Fiction writers must sometimes combine two characters into one, said BRP editor Helen Ginger in a recent post . That was such a juicy little aside to her main point that I couldn’t let it rest. Why might an editor suggest you combine characters? Here’s my take on it: Characters aren’t really people. Characters represent different ways of looking at things, and we choose them for this reason. Adopting this perception will take you far towards internalizing the most basic premise of storytelling: Story is conflict. Events worthy of story inclusion are driven by a protagonist’s motivation to overcome obstacles that stand between him and a deeply desired outcome. Just as the journey from motivation to goal creates your protagonist’s story arc, each of your other main characters must also establish a character arc, by acting from his own motivation toward his own goal. If your cast of characters is well orchestrated, their desires will intersect with the protagonist’s arc often,

The Diviner's Tale: Divine!

The Diviner’s Tale Bradford Morrow ISBN 978-0-547-38263-0 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010 The Diviner’s Tale , by Bradford Morrow, is not what it appears to be. I knew this before I even started the book. “It’s by a man, writing from a first-person female point of view,” said Dani, one of the web mistresses here. “I’ll be interested in your opinion.” I’ll be honest: throughout much of the book I thought Morrow didn’t quite pull it off. The story was engaging. Cassie's parents, Nep and Rosalie, are well-drawn and engaging. Jonah and Morgan, the narrator Cassie’s two sons, are interesting and funny. The settings in which the story takes place are vividly drawn. But as I read I found it difficult to visualize Cassie. There are hints—she’s tall, thin, and has curly red hair—but even those details have a curious unreality to them. What is heart-wrenchingly clear about her is that she is very much her parents’ child—she is both a water diviner, like her father, and a schoolteac

Artist Meets Your Fantastic Elastic Brain

As many of you know by now, I have a special interest in children’s literature. As an artist and writer, the story of how a picture book comes alive with the addition of complementary illustration never ceases to fascinate. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words! Today Sarah Ackerley joins us to share how the newest book from Little Pickle Press came to her drawing board, and how she developed a seemingly dry subject matter – how your brain works – into a fantastically humorous and delightful book for children ages 4 and up. Dani: Sarah, first tell us a little about how you prepared for a career in picture book illustration. Sarah: I studied fine art at the University of Texas at Austin where I focused mainly on drawing and painting. UT doesn’t have an illustration department, but I always had it in my mind that I would like to some day pursue picture book illustration. After graduation I began to build an illustration portfolio, attend SCBWI meetings, and read everythin

What Are Editors For?

You may have an editor at a publishing house, large or independent. You may have dedicated readers who edit for you. You may have a critique group who gives you advice. You may be a loner on a mountain top with no one to turn to for help. No matter what your situation, you have to edit what you write. We all do. Even editors must edit their own work. Sure, you’re still going to turn to those trusted readers or a professional editor, but before (and after) you do, you need to do some self-editing. Find the mistakes that you can – the left out words, the plot strings that you totally forgot to tie up, the words that on second look don’t make sense, the additions that you put in then forgot to change in already written material and thus the best friend is killed off only to reappear alive in a later chapter, and other things. Find all the errors you can before you send it to me or some other editor. It’ll save you money, for one thing. Here are some suggestions: 1. When you’re ready

Let's Share - Leave A Tip On the Blood Red Pencil

One thing I've noticed about most writers is we don't mind sharing, in fact, we enjoy doing so. I've been writing a number of years now, and have picked up some handy information along the way. One basic tip I'd like to share is: Don't Backstory Dump. In other words, don't say too much about what happened before the story begins. Instead, sprinkle it in bits and pieces, so the pace doesn't slow to a crawl. I bet you've learned a tip or two also, even if you're a beginner. I'm inviting you to leave a tip on the Blood Red Pencil in the comment section below. It's not required, but if you happen to remember, by all means mention where you got it. Or, if you particularly like or agree with a tip already mentioned, don't be afraid to comment. Then, be sure to leave your name, plus one website or blogspot link. If you wish to divulge where you heard about this post, you're welcome to do so. Happy Sharing! -----------------

Writing in 140: New Year, New Writing

Come a new year, most writers begin to think of new projects and start to plot out their writing agenda for the new year. While you're figuring out what new projects you want to write, how about figuring out what new style or genre you want to write in? Writers should always be about stretching their literary wings and fine-tuning their writing craft, and they can do that by switching up what they've been doing and trying something new. If you've always written romance, why not add a mystery element to a story? If you spend your time writing dramatic stories, why not try your hand at a comedic piece? If novels are your thing, why not attempt a screenplay? By doing something new, we can learn our strengths and weakness as writers—make it a learning experience. ----- Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less. ~~~~~~~~~~ Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academi

Style Blunders in Fiction

No, I’m not talking about the fashion police coming after you. I’m talking about those little errors and bad habits that creep into your manuscript, weaken your message, and add up to an overall feeling of amateurish writing. The good news is that, unlike the more critical creative flow of ideas for plot and characters, these little bad habits are easy to correct, resulting in a more polished, compelling manuscript. 1. Take out wishy-washy qualifiers such as quite, sort of, almost, kind of, a bit, pretty, somewhat, rather, usually, basically, generally, probably, mostly, really. Forget “He was quite brave,” or “She was pretty intelligent” or “It was almost scary.” These qualifiers dilute your message, reduce the impact, and make the imagery weaker. Take them out. Even very is to be avoided. It’s like you’re saying the word after it needs reinforcing. “She was beautiful” packs more punch than “She was very beautiful.” 2. Show us, don’t tell us how your characters are feeling. Avoid st

Busted!--Roland Merullo caught foreshadowing with metaphor

Novelist and memoirist Roland Merullo confesses, in print and online interviews, to being a “pantser.” “I write by the seat of my pants, almost always without an outline,” he says. “I just start, and that seems like opening the floodgates, or drilling a well. All kinds of stuff comes out, and usually very quickly.” What’s that I hear? Ah yes, the collective sigh of all you pantsers out there, underscored by the shredding of those confounded outlines that were the result of last year’s resolutions. But Merullo does not surrender the structure of his books to whimsy. He builds from what he calls “a very clear sense of an opening moment.” And in more than one case, he has had the smarts to include an early metaphor that suggests the scope of the book’s conflicts. Meaning that he either a) wrote the metaphor, listened carefully for what his subconscious was saying, then wrote the book without ever deviating from that vision, or—and much more likely for a pantser—b) he went back and

Have You Backed Up Recently?

It’s a new year and an excellent time to put new routines in place. One habit that sometimes gets overlooked is regularly backing up your manuscript in progress. At least some of your back-ups of your documents should be done “off site”; i.e., off your main computer and away from the building that houses your main computer. You need to cover yourself for any possibility from viruses to fire to theft. There are many options for backing up, and the more variations you use the safer you are likely to be. Some quick and easy options are to: Save copies onto an external hard drive that you or someone else keeps at their home or office. You may want to rotate two or more hard drives this way so that one is always off site and you have a drive available for backing up when you need to. Save your current most important files onto a flash drive and take it with you if you leave the house. Pay an Online Data Backup Company for storage for your most important files. (Please do plenty

Time Out For a Little Humor

 Once again, Tracy Farr, (who considers himself somewhat of a writing coach) steps in with some advice for writers: Taking a look back at my Old Year’s resolutions You wouldn’t believe the number of people who have asked me where I get my story ideas. I can count them on one hand. One finger, to be more precise. It was my mom. I think she was bored. Anyways, story ideas come from everywhere – your pets, your car, your spouse (with prior permission), and other writers who live far, far away, because you’d be just plain stupid to “borrow” an idea from someone who might actually read what you’ve pinched. But sometimes an idea plops itself right down in your lap (usually when you’ve forgotten to cover it with a napkin), and you’d be foolish not to make something useful from it. Here’s my latest thought: The way I figure it, New Year’s resolutions are a dime a dozen. Everybody makes them. Everybody breaks them. Some of those people are writers who think their readership would real

Ask the Editor Free-For-All Is Back Today!

The Holidays are over. You know what that means. It's time to get down to business. Time to follow your New Year's resolutions. If you're like me, one of your goals is to get your manuscript in shape. To do that, you may need some help.The good news is you don't have to go it alone. Our Editors are ready and willing to assist. We invite you to ask our Editors a writing question. Here's how it works: Today, and every first Tuesday of the month, The Blood-Red Pencil hosts our Ask the Editor Free-For-All. I send an e-mail blast to various e-groups, Facebook, my social networking friends, blog followers, and anyone else I can think of, to come over and let our Editors share their expertise. You can get info here on submitting your manuscript to an editor or agent, publishing on Kindle, e-books, self-publishing in various formats, as well as the basics of writing. Don't be afraid to make youself heard. No question is too dumb. Everyone starts somewhere. And