Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Who Is Your Editor?

There are many kinds of editors, and all of them are part of your writing team. One of the most important is an author's editor at the publishing house. Some authors and editors, like Mary Higgins Clark and Michael Korda, have been a team for decades. Those relationships are almost like family.

Do you have an editor you've worked with for a long time? Share your story with us. What makes them special? How did you meet? How does this editor help you craft the best book you can write? If we get enough responses, we may have a special month that's all about special editors. Please leave us a comment.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Misery Loves Company

I don't really love to write. Some people swear they would curl up and die if they didn't write every day. I'm not one of them. I have to find ways to get it done, whether it's a blog post, an article for the newspaper, or a chapter in a book. I do it because I have something to say that I think needs to be shared, and sometimes the written word is the fastest way to get from my brain to yours.

One of the teams that helps me put fingers to keyboard is an online group called Book-in-a-Week. This group has existed for over ten years, and I've been a member for nearly seven. The site has been listed on Writers Digest's 101 Best Websites for Writers more than once. Here's how it works:

At the end of every month, Maureen Wood (fondly known as Moe) sends us an email to let us know sign-up can begin for that month's session which usually occurs the first week of every month. We then submit our page goal for that round. After all the goals are submitted, we are assigned a number, and then must report our daily writing online. Moe keeps track of our results on a chart that we all can access. Three check-ins are required and throughout the week, prompts and encouragements are offered to keep us writing.

By the end of the seven days, the page count for the entire group of around 100 writers is quite impressive. Some members can easily write 100 or more pages in that one week. Nothing fancy, you understand, because this is all about spurting out new words, not finishing the final product. I've written thousands of pages over the years, and some of them have even been polished into submittable works. Not many, but some. Most are simply rejected, because they aren't good for much more than an exercise in writing. The point is, regular writing for one solid week, month after month, results in a lot of words on paper, a lot of practice. Without an online team like this to suffer along with me, I would never have written nearly as much. Therein lies the power of a good team.

I've also made some good friends through Book-in-a-Week. Ann Parker, author of the Silver Rush Mysteries set in 1880 Leadville, is a long-time member of BIW. A young neighbor where I live just visited BIW member, Carolyn Ann Aish in New Zealand, where this prolific writer has her own publishing company. Elle Neal who is one of the bloggers here at the BRP.  Moe, of course, who month-after-month keeps score for us as we mix our metaphors, pour on the adjectives to reach our daily word count, and pile on the crap with reckless abandon. Thank you, Moe. It's a blessing none of us has to read the weekly output. Our job and motto is BIK HOK TAM: Butt in chair. Hands on keyboard. Typing away madly.

And that's what we do. Nobody said it had to be good or make sense. This is just round one, after all. Join Book-in-a-Week if you need a little group support to get you motivated. Go here for more information about how it works.

What about you? Do you belong to any online writing groups? Do you feel it helps your output? How many pages do you write each month, and how do you accomplish it?
Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, teaches blog book tours classes for authors, and is special projects coordinator for Little Pickle Press. She also critiques and edits cozy mysteries for other authors. Her goal is to spend a wee bit less time helping other people and more hours writing and promoting her own books.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Hearing Voices - Vernacular

A few years ago, I edited a manuscript that had characters from all over the world – different worlds, in fact. Each spoke in his own particular slang and it didn’t take long for my eyes to cross. The plot held a grandmother from the Deep South, teenagers, foreigners, biblical characters, fantasy characters, and even talking animals. None had distinct, strong voices, even though the author had tried to convey speech patterns in the dialogue. Perhaps from trying too hard, the writing was terribly difficult to read, even for an adult. A youngster wouldn’t have gotten through ten pages without giving up.

What went wrong in this scenario? Most importantly, the writer had not created a strong and simple vocabulary for each character. Most of the time, less is more when it comes to writing vernacular.

For example, if one character uses the regional “y’all” for “you all”, stick to that. Don’t throw in y’ar and ye and youse. It’s especially important if your biblical characters are using “ye” and your city slicker says “youse” a lot. Give each character a specific word that only they use. You can keep your characters very distinct by assigning key slang, regional phrases, and even grammatical errors to their individual vocabularies.

Also be sure you’re using slang that is appropriate for age groups of the time. Urban Dictionary is a great way to check modern expressions, especially to make sure you’re not saying something age inappropriate. Create this speech dictionary before your characters open their mouths and you’ll have clearer writing and fewer changes during revision.

In a future post, I’ll introduce an author who has character voice down to a fine art. Exquisitely spare, Donis Casey’s main character, Alafair Tucker leaves no doubt you’ve just met a strong, kind, curious, intelligent farm woman from Oklahoma. The Alafair Tucker mystery series, set in the early 1900s, creates a distinct and strong sense of place and is firmly rooted in its regional history. Stay tuned for a review of the latest novel, Crying Blood, and an interview with Donis about developing strong voices that flow easily into the modern day. 

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, teaches authors how to build their own blog book tours with occasional online classes, offers developmental editing services (with a special interest in historic voice and accuracy), and is special projects coordinator for Little PicklePress, the coolest kidlit publisher ever!

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Selling a book as a team

My suspense novel, One Small Victory, has recently been released in Turkey - my first foreign sale.  Dani, our fearless leader here on The Blood Red Pencil, asked how the sale came about, and since that involved some teamwork,  the story of how it happened fits our June theme of teamwork.

The book was originally published in 2008 hardback by Five Star Cengage/Gale and had moderate success there. Then I published it as an e-book myself via Smashwords in 2010, where it is available for a number of electronic devices. Later I published it directly to Kindle, and in February of this year a small publisher, Books We Love Publishing Partners, brought out a paperback version via CreateSpace

Once the book was available in all those formats and venues, the challenge was how to let readers find it in the midst of all the millions of books available for the e-readers.  I joined several online groups that focus primarily on e-books and how to market them. Members there support each other in a number of ways.

One of the things we did was participate in a special sale in March that was sponsored by Smashwords, but supported by Amazon as well. We could offer our books for a deep discount, or even offer them free for a short period of time. I had read blogs and articles by successful authors such as Joe Konrath  and L. J. Sellers, about how offering a book for free could really boost sales, so I took the plunge. I set One Small Victory to be free for the second and third week of March.

All of the authors promoted the sale via our blogs, Web sites, Facebook, Twitter, etc, and the sale got a lot of attention.

I didn't realize that anything significant was happening with my book until a friend e-mailed me to say that it was number 2 on the best-seller list on Amazon. There are two lists there, one for best-selling paid and one for best-selling free. One Small Victory was in the top ten on the free list for suspense, mystery, thriller, and women sleuths for several weeks, and has stayed in the top 50 ever since, even though it is now no longer free.

The book eventually sold over 30,000 copies in March, 11,530 of those paid and the others the free download.  It continues to sell anywhere from three hundred to a thousand copies a month, and that has kept it on those best-selling lists. When I was contacted by the publisher in Turkey, she said she was interested in the book because of those rankings at Amazon.

That would not have happened without the help and support of  my online team. I love the community of writers and editors I have found on the Web that is so willing to offer advice and support.   

And of course everyone here at The Blood Red Pencil.
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest book is Open Season, which has gotten nice reviews from Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly. One Small Victory, is a top seller in the mystery bestseller list at the Amazon Kindle store. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. She will stop playing with her horse and work, honest.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Case History: The Treasures of Carmelidrium

When author N.R. Williams asked me to design the cover of her fantasy novel, The Treasures of Carmelidrium, the first thing we talked about was the cover image. This is normal; it's what most people think of when they think of book cover design. We talked about Williams' book, about other books that she thought might be attracting the readers she wanted to reach, and about the challenge of adapting one of the fantasy "uniforms"--rich colors, an essentially medieval environment, and a magical feel--to her book. Adding to the challenge was the fact that Williams plans for this to be the first in a series, which meant the cover needed to be something that could be used to create a series identity by modifying key elements without losing the overall look.

Ultimately, we decided to avoid the rich, elaborate, and highly-figured covers common to many fantasy books for the very good reason that by following that formula too closely we ran the risk of disappearing into the crowd. Instead, we opted to use a different "uniform"-- the simple, elegant, "stripped-down" cover design that the "Twilight" series used so successfully, but to incorporate some of the textures from Williams' world as well as a modern flute.

Why the flute? Because her protagonist, Missy, is a concert flautist, a fact which becomes crucial in the development of Williams' story. I don't want to give everything away, but trust me on this--the flute on the cover conveys something central about the book.

Likewise, font choices were driven by the twin needs to reflect something about the book style and content, and to keep the title clearly visible and easily identifiable from browsing distance of 6-8 feet. We went with a font that's been around since the days of woodcuts for the headline, and chose a "signature" font for Williams' author line. By setting the title in a large, traditional, easy-to-read font near the top of the book we kept the ranking clear--title first, then name.

This resulted in an elegant cover that will stand out nicely on the fantasy shelves without looking out of place, and will serve as a basis for future books in the series.
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Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design, ask her about designing your book cover, or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What Your Cover Should Not Do

Like many of us, your book cover works best if it has one job to do—and only one job. Book covers do not multi-task well. A successful book cover delegates everything that will not significantly contribute to book sales to another part of the book. Here are a few things you should not ask your book cover to do:

1. Promote someone else’s business.
Your book cover is not the place to reference your designer, illustrator, editor, or publisher unless doing so will directly contribute to sales. A successful book cover is something like a spoiled child shouting, “Me! Me! Me!” It needs to be. Credit where credit is due is wonderful—on the Book Information page (where Library of Congress information appears, if that’s relevant to your book), on a separate thank-you page in the front or back, as a footnote somewhere—there are all kinds of tasteful ways to provide a business “bump” to those who have contributed to your book’s visual and verbal excellence. But the cover isn’t the place for it unless that information will increase your book sales.

2. Tell the whole story.

A one- or two-line “teaser” on the cover is fine, provided you have room for it. A plot summary is not. Likewise, your book cover is not the place to cite whole reviews, no matter how glowing. Summarize. Less is more. “Ranked #1 by Publisher’s Weekly” is better than recounting the entire review. If you’ve gotten a review like that, of course, definitely include it inside, or in an excerpted form on the back cover. Reviews are great—just not on the cover.

3. Act as a “thank you” note.
Those go inside, along with dedications and “credit where credit is due” information—in the front matter or the back matter. Thank yous will sell maybe one or two books. Use that all-important cover real estate to catch readers’ eyes and convey information that will encourage them to buy your book.

4. Stroke your ego.
Unless your photo is directly relevant to your book’s subject matter or will help sell your book, put your photo on the back cover, or inside on an “about the author” page in the back matter. Likewise your bio. Unless it directly contributes to your book’s credibility—and sales appeal—don’t provide biographical information on the front. For instance, a small tagline noting that James Herriot , author of All Creatures Great and Small, was a practicing veterinarian belonged on the cover. Had his book been about Renaissance music his career as a vet would be not only irrelevant, but counter-productive. Your book cover needs to be about your book, not you.

In short, every single thing on your book cover needs to pass a simple test. Ask, "How will this image, text, or information help sell my book?" If you can't come up with a clear, convincing answer, leave it off. Tomorrow we'll take a look at how all of this plays out in a real-world design project--we'll take a look behind the scenes at the designing of the cover for N.R. Williams' fantasy novel, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design, ask her about designing your book cover, or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Organizing Your Writing Project

Character profiles. Character pictures. Snippets of dialogue. Outlines. Images of houses, cars, etc. of book characters. Sketches of scenes. At some point, a writer has to take all of the “things” s/he has collected for a story and start organizing them in order to tell the story. As an organizer, I’m always looking for strategies, programs that help me visualize story components while I’m writing.

For years, I’ve used One Note; its notebook style helps me to see the project as a whole and to see it in chunks by chapters or by scenes while also allowing me to embed notes, images, videos, and web links. One Notes has helped me organize several of my novels and also academic papers, to include my dissertation that I’m currently researching and drafting notes for.

One Note

There may be, however, another program that will fight for my attention: Scrivener. It’s been around for a while for Mac users, but recently, I downloaded the Windows beta version of Scrivener; the official version is to be released next month.


So far, I have nothing but raves for the program. It heightens the visual experience for me, something that I desperately need in my writing. I typically do a lot visual storytelling (mind writing) before I ever put a word on the page, so when I finally come to the page, I like to still have those visual components available to me. Like One Note, Scrivener allows you to incorporate other media into projects and organize work into chunks. You can also save the work in multiple formats, too, just like One Note. Being able to view a draft on the corkboard screen allows me to visually see chucks on individual notecards (complete with title and synopsis) where I can move parts and reorder the structure of material. This aspect alone pulls it ahead of One Note as a good choice in organizing (and writing) a project.

But I’m always on the lookout for other solutions.

What strategies, programs do you use to organize a writing project?

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically; her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ask Yourself Why

Once again, Terry Odell is here to share some tips on writing. We like her so much we are going to let her keep coming back. Thanks, Terry.

Even though we write fiction, it has to come across as reality. One technique I use to make sure things seem “real” is to ask myself WHY a character would do or say something.

If the answer is "Because I need it for tension/conflict/humor/plot advancement," it's probably wrong. When I was writing DANGER IN DEER RIDGE, the first major error I spotted in my opening draft was having the hero appear while the heroine was looking in her car's trunk for her tool kit. WHY didn't she hear him drive up? Well, he left his truck at the top of the drive, and she was busy looking for the toolkit. But WHY did he park the truck there? WHY did he come down without a toolkit of his own? So she could be surprised and scared is contrived and cheating.

All these WHY questions require answers. Answering all the WHY questions drives the story forward for me. My thought processes might not end up on the page, but (and this is most prevalent in the early chapters, while things are taking shape) the results do.

So, where it ended up: The hero’s son is asleep in the truck. It's a quiet rural area, one he knows well, and he's not concerned that someone will come by and Do a Bad Thing. But that's a bit weak, so I added a dog who would take the head off of anyone who tried anything. (Note to self: don't forget you've now saddled yourself with yet another 'character' to keep track of).

More WHY questions. WHY not go all the way down the drive? It's steep, curves, and riddled with potholes, and he doesn't want to wake the kid. Weak. What if he's not an experienced father? WHY not? Because his wife left him, took the kid and remarried, and he hasn’t seen the kid since he was an infant. WHY does he have the kid now? Because the ex-wife and the boy's stepfather were killed in a Tragic Accident? Works for now. (Note to self: revisit this before Grinch has to tell anyone about it.) Also, having him a new and inexperienced father allows for more conflict between hero and the Very Caring Mother who is our heroine.

More notes: WHY doesn't the hero work for Blackthorne, Inc. when the book opens, since the other books in the series open with a scene of a Blackthorne op. WHY does he live conveniently near the heroine's new digs?

By the time I'd written the scene, answers to my why questions gave me more insight into my characters. I realized that the hero’s friendly demeanor and magnetic grin weren't consistent with a man who's worried about leaving a young child asleep in his truck. I ended up tweaking that scene, which in the end added to the tension, because the heroine sees someone who's in a rush, who keeps looking over his shoulder. She extrapolates from her own secret-keeping life, and it seems logical for her to worry that this guy might be out to get her after all.

If you don’t want your story to seem contrived, try asking yourself “why.”

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists. To see all her books, visit her Web site. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Posted by Maryann Miller who is asking herself why she got into this wacky business in the first place.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

You Had to Be There

By Bob Sanchez

My first foray into fiction began out of my experiences with the Cambodian community in Lowell, Massachusetts. The idea was to tell the tale of a young Cambodian woman’s odyssey, with emphasis on the Khmer Rouge atrocities and the Thai refugee camps. I read almost a dozen gripping memoirs and talked to a few of the refugees, although the language barrier created a serious problem. Overall, I’d accumulated enough detail to flesh out a decent mainstream novel.

Or so it seemed. What were the sights and smells like? The bugs, the plants, the animals? What was it like to have your feet in the rice paddy or to pedal a bicycle barefoot on a bumpy road? What did the inside of a home look like? I could pick up some of these details from books, but my novel may have suffered most of all because I’d never been to Cambodia or Thailand and could never convey the rich detail the story deserved.

So what to do with my ton of research? Write a mystery about the Cambodian community in Lowell, where I’d been a thousand times. Then I could get away without the same level of detail about Southeast Asia, because that’s not where the story’s action is. One of my readers of Little Mountain told me she’d lived in Thailand and said my details were accurate.

In writing my noir detective novel, Getting Lucky, I spent many hours haunting Lowell’s mills and canals. My novel doesn’t have porn in it, but a tacky little smut shop is part of the story. My writers’ group, especially the ladies, goaded me to do research and teased me without mercy when I took their advice. It helped the story, though.

How important is it to know the location in your story? That depends. Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct procedurals were set in the city of Isola, which everyone took to be New York City. But he could describe the burg any way he wanted. My good friend and mystery writer, David Daniel, received a fan letter from a Lowell cop saying that his story was good, but his character couldn’t have taken a left from Merrimack Street onto Dutton Street because Dutton is one way in the other direction. That one detail wasn’t such a big deal, but if you’re writing about a real place, you might want to be careful about the liberties you take.

Thanks for hosting me, Blood-Red Pencil!

Learn more background on Little Mountain.

Please post a comment for a chance to win a Kindle version of Little Mountain. And thanks for visiting!

Buy a copy of the book by clicking
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Team Players Needed

WANTED: Self-motivated person willing to work long hours alone. Required skills include experience in relevant research, good vocabulary, above average knowledge of proper grammar, powerful ability to express ideas and convince others, and willingness to rework projects as many times as needed. Pays at end of project based on marketing ability of worker, but may not be commensurate with hours expended. Dream also required. Send résumé. Only team players need apply.

Would you apply for this job? If you’re a serious writer intent on publication, you already have. Now you just need to get your résumé in order, attach the necessary document, and send it to the right people to put the realization of your dream in motion.

How do team players fit in here? Let’s check out that résumé.

Self-motivated: All freelance writers must set aside time to write and follow up with appropriate action. Enter family, friends, and critique group, all of whom make up the cheering section.

Willing to work alone: Writing is a solitary profession—unless, of course, you’re involved in a collaborative effort such as a newspaper or journal or a book with multiple contributing authors. Enter family members and friends who bring coffee, hot chocolate, iced tea, a carry-out meal, or a pot of homemade soup. And don’t forget your dedicated readers and critique group.

Research experience: Research can be as basic as finding the right word/spelling in a dictionary or as complex as the intricate workings of the human brain, as simple as the wonder of the first-time mother and her newborn or as detailed as accurate background information for a historical novel. Enter librarians and copy editor.

Good vocabulary: Not only are a variety of words needed to present a story or topic, but they must be appropriate to both content and audience. Enter substantive and line editors.

Proper grammar: More than a nodding acquaintance with grammar, sentence structure, strong verbs, and spelling are a prerequisite for this job. Enter copy editor and proofreader.

Expressing ideas and convincing others: Non-fiction writers need credentials or other validation. Novelists want readers to suspend disbelief. Whether in a how-to book or a gripping thriller, the ideas expressed and/or the arguments presented must strike a chord with the reading audience. Enter developmental and content editors, manuscript readers, and critique group.

Reworking projects: The term “rewrite” takes on a whole new meaning. Enter critique group and editors.

Team Players: Teams include friends, family, librarians, dedicated manuscript readers, critique groups, fellow writers, editors, proofreaders, publishers, printers, distributors, retail outlets, and more, all of whom play a vital role in nurturing writer and book from conception through creation to completion. A writer without a team is—almost without exception—a writer without a dream.

So what document must be attached to your résumé? Your manuscript, of course—well written, edited, proofed, and virtually error free—the product of a writer who tapped into the synergy offered by a powerful team to shape, hone, and polish that manuscript to a magnificent shine, a writer with a dream.

What kind of team do you use to realize your dream?

Linda Lane and her editing team can be found at Their goal is to raise the bar on the quality of independently and self-published books through writing and editing workshops.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Who would you thank?

I know you’ve done it: watched the Oscars, then fantasized that you were being honored in a similar fashion for your writing. Your sequined gown (or cummerbund) glistens in the spotlight as climb to the lectern and unfold your acceptance speech, written in 20-pt type so you can see it without your glasses.

Who will you thank?

We’re talking about teamwork at the BRP this month, and I’m sure a few obvious team members come to mind: your agent, your publisher, the husband who put up with you, the best friend who always believed in you, the English teacher who opened your eyes to literature, the group editing blog where all your questions were answered (woot!—thanks back at ya).

That should cover it, right? Because writing is for introverts. We mostly work alone.

I’d like to dispel that myth. Yes, we writers must tolerate stretches of time spent by ourselves—that's what it takes to apply our craft. But whether we write fiction or nonfiction, we pull our material from dramas played out on life's stage. Everyone we’ve ever met is material.

Thank that bully that knocked you down during your first school recess, and stole your lunch money while pretending to help you up. So cliché, you thought, as you dabbed at your knee with a tissue. But you learned to carry what little money you had in an inside pocket (useful tip for the working writer) and learned about subterfuge as a plot twist. And conflict! What a story you told when you got home.

Thank your sister for telling that boy you liked in junior high that you had bought a dress just in case he asked you to go to the dance with him. You learned the heart-breaking consequences of betrayal.

Thank your uncle for keeping his novel writing habit a secret. Now that you’ve discovered he hung up his ambitions after only a dozen rejections, you feel less alone (and much more successful).

Thank your aunt for letting you keep a seashell collection at her beach house. She didn’t have room for it any more than your mother did, but she understood the importance of encouraging your passions.

Thank the city planners for their faulty lighting schemes and the people who rummage around in the shadows for teaching you twenty different ways of saying “the hair on the back of her neck prickled.”

Thank the perpetrator for the one time the previous situation didn’t end well, for you have learned what it is like to face your demons and fight your way back in a character arc that will never lose its tension.

Thank all the people to whom you are so obliged that you can only find forty minutes per day to write. It’s better than having no people, endless time, and nothing to write about.

Thank your mother or your first husband—whoever it was—for laughing at you when you said you wanted to become a writer. You’ve forged in your own bones the kind of steely resolve that motivates both characters and entire writing careers.

You get the picture: because we write about life, our writing team is as big as the world of people we’ve ever met and those we can ever imagine.

Today I ask you to think outside the box. As you unfold your acceptance speech, what oddball source of inspiration would you like to thank here today?


Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Formerly a dance critic and arts journalist, she now writes women's fiction and memoir. The first chapter of her memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place, modified as a stand-alone essay, has been published online by Mason's Road, the online journal of Fairfield University's MFA program. She blogs about Healing through Writing.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011


This is another fun term for writers, and something we can keep in mind if we need a bit of humor in dialogue or our character's thoughts.

Here is the definition:

"Figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently used in a humorous situation."

"Where there's a will, I want to be in it," is a type of paraprosdokian.

1. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.

3. Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

4. If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

6. War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

8. Evening news is where they begin with 'Good Evening,' and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

9. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

10. A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

11. I thought I wanted a career. Turns out I just wanted paychecks.

12. Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says, 'In case of emergency, notify:' I put 'DOCTOR.'

13. I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

14. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

15. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

16. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.

17. I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

18. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

19. Money can't buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

20. There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away.

21. I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not so sure.

22. You're never too old to learn something stupid.

23. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

24. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

25. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

26. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

27. A diplomat is someone who tells you to go to hell in such a way that you look forward to the trip.

28. Hospitality is making your guests feel at home even when you wish they were.

29. When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

Words of Wisdom:

"The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese."

What do you think -- does anyone use paraprosdokians in your writing?


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Don't Rush to Judgment

One of the hardest things to do, in writing as in life, is to not judge. In writing, every time you express your opinion or judgment, you are robbing your reader of theirs. Think about it. If you are describing climbing Mount Everest, you could accurately describe it as difficult, challenging, painful, or exciting. But these are all your judgments. If you want your reader to truly understand how it is to climb Mount Everest, he or she must have an experience. They must feel the ice forming on their eyelashes and hear the crunch of frozen snow under their boots. Then they can form their own opinion that it is difficult, challenging, painful, or exciting.

Here’s a simple exercise in “Show Not Tell” that practices getting rid of judgment words and replacing them with experiential details. Describe a room in your house, perhaps the room you are sitting in now. Describe everything and anything in it – without using any adjectives or adverbs that imply opinion (such as pretty, or dirty, or jarring, or too anything). Use only words that cannot be disputed.

Here’s a room I wrote about: The sofa arms have been used as the cat’s scratching post. The once-white ceiling drops crumbly bits on the floor. A starling makes a blawk blawk sound from her nest in the eaves just outside the window. There is a smell of leftovers in the air.

Do I really have to say that the person describing this room thinks the room is unkempt and lonely?

I love exercises that make me go back to basics. It reminds me to keep my beginner’s mind, so I will see things as though it is the first time.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Leave a Tip on the Blood-Red Pencil - It's Okay to Show Off

Last Tuesday The Blood-Red Pencil encouraged writers to be humble, ask questions, and admit they didn't know everything.

Today, as on every second Tuesday of the month, The Blood-Red Pencil invites you to be a show off. Let everyone know you've learned something. It's so wonderful that you'd like to tell the world about it.

Or, maybe you're a beginner, and you think your tip is so simple, everyone else knows it already. Share it anyway, because writers from every level come here to get tips.

It can be anything about writing, publishing, or editing, in whichever format or venue, traditional, indie, self-publishing. Once you figure out what you want to share, leave it here in our comment section, along with your website or blog URL. If you'd like to share where you've heard of this blog, that would also be great.

Since I've been in the midst of editing my thriller, Forever Young - Blessing or Curse, my tip is:

After you've edited your manuscript on the computer, print it out and go through it again, with a pen handy. You'd be amazed at how many more errors you'll find. At least I was!

Now it's your turn to leave a tip.

Morgan Mandel writes mysteries,

romances, and thrillers. She's a
past president of Chicago-North
RWA, was the Library Liaison
for Midwest MWA, and is an
active blogger and networker.

Her personal blog is at:
and website is http://www/

Her romantic suspense, Killer Career, is 99 cents on Kindle and Smashwords.

Her paranormal thriller, Forever Young - Blessing or Curse is targeted for release this summer in Kindle and at Smashwords.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Writing in 140: What Makes Your Story So Special?

Great concept, strong beginning, well-developed characters, excellent pacing that builds in conflict and tension, dialogue that reveals, scene development (and I could go on) are important to any story, but you know what’s also important? Doing your homework and seeing where your story fits amongst all the other stories out there. Whether you plan to submit to an agent or publisher or to go the self-publishing route, it is important to know where you fit in the market. What books are out there like yours? Who’s representing them? Who’s publishing them? How are they being presented in cover design and promotion? Answering these questions will help you answer the most important question: How does your book stand out in the crowd? Be ready to answer it because someone will ask it.

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; her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Cues from the Coach: Avoid Writer Intrusion

“Writer intrusion? That’s ridiculous! It’s my work – I can’t intrude on it.”

Really? If you’re an author of first-person fiction, or if you’re an expert penning a nonfiction book in your field, you may be right. But if you’re a third-person fiction writer, you can literally sabotage your chances for success with writer intrusion.

What is writer (author) intrusion? When you inject into your story an opinion that doesn’t quite fit the scene or the character(s), you have intruded on your story. Now if the thought or idea is a natural and likely expression of one of your characters as you have developed him or her, it might work. But if that’s not the case, you would do yourself (and your readers) a favor by leaving it out. Also, writer comments and blatant hints of what’s to come pull the reader out of your story and undermine the elements of suspense and surprise. Another example of intrusion is the writer as narrator; the reader “listens” to the story from a distance rather than stepping into a scene and walking beside the character of choice. (This often occurs in omniscient point of view.) Common in Victorian and gothic literature of yesteryear, writer intrusion does not appeal to many of today’s readers, even in its more subtle forms. Let’s look at some examples:

Mary inserted the key in the lock and turned it. The tumblers clicked. She twisted the handle. Little did she know what awaited her behind the large white door. Bye-bye surprise.

Jason stepped out of the bedroom. Pausing, he adjusted his tie and then walked out of the apartment. He looked more handsome than ever in his new black suit. In whose opinion? The author’s?
“I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your father, Laura. You must be devastated. By the way, did you know the debate between the gubernatorial candidates has been postponed until Friday? I’m so disappointed. I wanted to hear verbatim where they stand on the nuclear power project, but I have another meeting on Friday evening. I know your dad would have had a lot to say about this.”
“My dad didn’t have anything to say about anything. He died of Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Yes, but . . .” Where did this come from? Sounds like we’re being set up to hear the author’s view on nuclear power and the environment—or something of that nature—which has absolutely nothing to do with the story. And the thoughtlessness of the character in imposing his/her (the author’s) views on the grieving woman will not go over well with most readers.

Staying true to your story means staying out of it . . . unless your opinions coincide with those of a given character, and expressing them through that character moves the story forward and flows seamlessly into its natural progression. Editorializing, making side comments, inserting inappropriate opinion/dialogue via a character, adding information dumps, and moralizing outside the confines a character’s personality will annoy your readers, perhaps even to the point of causing them to walk away from your book.

A lot of information can become a natural part of a story with some forethought and careful planning on the part of the author. How do you include material that you feel is vital to your story without resorting to writer intrusion?
Linda Lane and her team edit books of several genres — both fiction and nonfiction — as well as other written marketing and scholastic material. She is currently updating her writing workshops to make them even more effective, and she's developing editing workshops for those who want to hone their skills in this area to better serve the myriad writers who now self- and independently publish their works. You can reach her through

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Working Within a Critique Group

Critique groups are a good way to get feedback and ideas on how to improve your work. Plus, you get to read other works in progress, as well as offer advice. You not only improve your own writing, you learn by critiquing others.

Sometimes, the group’s rule will be that the person being critiqued should remain quiet and listen, not argue with someone’s suggestion or critique. At some point, though, you can ask questions, get clarification, explain something, or even argue a point. That back and forth is part of the critique.
Absorb what your critique partners are saying. Ask questions or get clarification.

You don’t have to take every piece of advice you get. But do listen to every comment or suggestion. Listen with your mind open, not closed to new ideas. If someone says or suggests something and it makes you grind your teeth, keep in mind that they’re giving you their honest opinion and advice. You may not always agree with them. That’s okay. Listen. Make notes. Go home and review your notes and think about what was said before dismissing any of the suggestions.

No matter how urgent it is to get your manuscript written and critiqued, you must spend time reading and evaluating the work of your critique partners. They need your help as much as you need theirs. If you glide over their work, don’t be surprised when they do it to yours. And if you continue to act as though you are the best writer in the group and your writing should take top priority, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to leave the group. You’re part of a team. The newest writer is just as important as the most seasoned.

A critique group where every member values the writing and advice of the others is a treasure. It may take a while to establish such a cohesive group. It may take discussion and a hammering out of what each person is looking for in the group. Each group is different, but one way they are all alike is that there must be trust. Each person must trust that everyone in the group is working in his/her best interest.
Critique partners want the other partners to succeed. They root for each other. They support each other. Each person’s success is a reason to celebrate.

What about your experiences with critique groups? What would you add?
 Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its twelfth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series:
Automotive Technicians
Computer Gaming

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Beware These Writing Pests!

There are household pests and then...there are writing pests. Here are a few I know very well.

Scenus Repeatus: This animal is known for his excellent camouflage abilities.

Plotus Circulus: Often disguised with whimsey and wit, this creature can trick the writer into believing the plot is moving forward when in reality it's moving in a gigantic circle.

Backstory Dumpus: Although usually inhabiting the beginning of a manuscript, this rouge can also make his home anywhere the plot is lacking in forward motion.

Character Quirkus: A useful animal, although they can tend to overbreed. Control your population.

Namus Familiarus: The writer will know this pest has invaded their manuscript when they discover several characters named with similar-sounding names, or names beginning with the same letter.

Verbus Repeatus: A relation of Scenus Repeatus, this creature forces characters to give the same reactions to situations. A sign of their presence may be many characters smiling, shrugging or opening their eyes widely.

Endus Ubruptus: This trickster burrows into manuscripts of writers eager to wrap up plots using as few words as possible.

Coincidenceus Multiplus: Most often found in the last one third of manuscripts, the presence of this creature can destroy the reality of the manuscript. A close relation to Endus Ubruptus.

Scenus Nonpurposeus: A warm, purring personality; this animal is familiar to many writers who focus more on word counts and less on plot or character development.

Character Perfectus: This preening egomaniac tends to curl around the neck of a protagonist (especially in mysteries). It can be avoided by adding flaws or wrong decisions.

Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her twelve murder mystery games and two plays are available through She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine "Elias". Her blog, "It's A Mystery," explores the writing process with a touch of humor. She is on Twitter as @elspethwrites.
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ask the Editor Free-For-All Can Grow Your Manuscript

Once again, it's the first Tuesday of the month, meaning it's Ask the Editor Free-For-All Time!

Winter is over. Spring has sprung, and it's almost summer. Wise gardeners have cultivated their soil. Their reward is previously dormant grass and flowers have sprung to life.

What about your manuscript? Has it grown or does it remain dormant, tucked away until you can get to it, or maybe until you can figure out how to pull a few weeds or add fertilizer to get your story moving?

Our gardeners a/k/a editors will assist you by offering manuscript growing tips. Ask us and you may receive just the right formula to produce a prize winning masterpiece. 

We're here to answer your questions, be they from novices or seasoned writers. No question is too dumb to ask. If we can't provide an answer, we'll offer a suggestion about where to find it. It's our goal to help you grow your manuscript to its potential.

How Ask the Editor Free-For-All Works:

Today, and every first Tuesday of the month, The Blood-Red Pencil sponsors our Ask the Editor Free-For-All. I send e-mail blasts to e-groups, Facebook, other social networks, blogs, everywhere I can think of, inviting writers to ask questions.Our editors will answer, providing valuable tips on writing basics, manuscript submission to publishers or agents, self-publishing, and more.

To Submit A Question, Follow These Easy Steps:

Leave a comment below in the comment section. Include your name and blog URL or website, not only for promo, but also so we know you're a person and not a robot. (One link only, please!)  Double check to make sure your comment actually got added before you leave, since sometimes Blogger tests people to make sure they're real. You may be required to repeat a step to make your comment stick.

Our editors will stop by off and on today to answer questions in the comment section. If the answer to a question could be expanded, one of our Editors might choose to do a blog post on that topic. In that case,  you could get extra promotion, along with the possibility of forwarding jpegs of your profile photo and cover, as well as a buy link.

It's not required, but it's helpful if you leave an e-mail address with your comment. Also, it would be a nice gesture, but it's not mandatory, if you'd let us know where you've heard about our Ask the Editor Free-For-All.

Others will be asking questions, so it's a good idea to check back later to see what might show up. Some of our participants use e-group Digests, which delays their email notifications, so their questions and the answers might carry over through Wednesday or Thursday.

The comment section is open for questions. Come on over and get your manuscript growing!
Morgan Mandel writes mysteries,
romances, and thrillers. She's a
past president of Chicago-North
RWA, was the Library Liaison
for Midwest MWA, and is an
active blogger and networker.
Her personal blog is at:

Her romantic suspense, Killer Career, on Kindle and Smashwords, is 99 cents.

Her paranormal thriller, Forever Young - Blessing or Curse is targeted for release this summer in Kindle and at Smashwords.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, June 6, 2011

B is for (To) Be Verbs

Forms of be: am, is, are, was, were, been, being.

Some “be” verbs combine with “helping” verbs to indicate time, possibility, obligation, or necessity: can run, was sleeping, had been working.

Some common helping verbs are: be able to, could, have to, may, might, must, ought to, shall, should, will, would.

Leaving out a helping verb often leaves a sentence fragment and doesn’t make sense. For example: Many have been fortunate (not Many been fortunate…) or Some could be real-life Superman (not Some be…).

Sometimes “to be” verbs are used as linking verbs (linking the noun with the adjective or adverb: He was happy, They were careful, Our trip to Glacier Park was fabulous.

They can be used to describe actions already in progress at the moment "in focus" within the sentence, as in “I was doing my homework when my brother broke into my room, crying.” or “I will be graduating from college about the same time you enter high school.”

However: Most often “to be” verbs are often called weak or passive construction, and authors are encouraged to find stronger action verbs to take their place. For example, “He was walking” can be written simpler and more to the point as “He walked.” Even stronger is “He strode,” “He stomped” “He ambled,” etc. These strong verbs show his mood and attitude.

In the above linking verb examples, we could write stronger by describing actions and emotions. He was happy. How does happy look or feel? Our trip was fabulous—how?

“To be” verbs are often necessary, but be careful how you use them.

Can you think of other examples when we should or should not use “to be” verbs?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Busted!—Storytellers caught giving authors a leg up

As a developmental editor, I do the same stuff all editors do. I challenge word choice and track continuity and check for consistency in voice and clarity of meaning and errant punctuation. But my main task—and my true love—is to help you tell a good story.

Since this is where any thorough edit should start, one might think it is also where a writer’s education begins. This is not necessarily so. I learned an awful lot about stringing words and paragraphs together for maximum punch before I learned anything about storytelling. In fact, I had to seek out my teachers in this regard, and I am humbled to now step up to the plate and pass along what I've learned to other storytellers.

While the projects I assess vary greatly, I find myself recommending certain storytelling resources again and again. Since some of my favorite authors write about this topic, I thought I’d bust them here today. A summer spent studying these techniques would boost your storytelling skills. And if you happen to have a work in progress, your characters' problems will help you absorb the lessons all the more quickly.

Kathryn’s favorite books on storytelling craft:

1. Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon

I don’t think it gets any simpler and clearer than this. Romance writer Deb Dixon (who also gives an awesome one-day seminar by the same name) breaks down the basics of storytelling in a way that applies to any genre.

2. Story by Robert McKee

This one has a more academic feel, and at $35 (new hardback; amazon has it cheaper and you can get it used) it’s an investment, but if you make your way through it you will have provided yourself a top-rate education. Aimed at screenwriters, there is much here for the novelist to absorb. I’ve heard you can skip the expensive seminar—it’s all in the book.

3. A Story is Promise by Bill Johnson

Another book for screenwriters from which novelists will benefit. I highly recommend this book for writers willing to mine for story gold by learning the essential craft of writing a synopsis. By this book’s end, you’ll be able to go back and re-craft your opening line. Apparently once again out of print, snap it up used before it’s gone.

4. How to Tell a Story: The Secrets of Writing Captivating Tales by Peter Rubie and Gary Provost

Literary agent Rubie built this revealing look at good storytelling upon the notes of his deceased colleague, creative writing guru Gary Provost. Again, sadly out of print (I was not consulted on this unfortunately), but snap it up used like I did. This description of story, translated onto your characters, will already help you:
Once upon a time, something happened to someone, and he decided he would pursue a goal. So he devised a plan of action, and even though there were forces trying to stop him, he moved forward because there was a lot at stake. And just as things seemed as bad as they could get, he learned an important lesson, and when offered the prize he so strenuously sought, he had to decide whether or not to take it, and in making that decision he satisfied a need that had been created by something in the past.

A few others come to mind: To learn about archetypal structure you can’t beat The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler and The Key: How to Write Damn Good Myth-Based Fiction by James N. Frey (I outlined my first novel while reading this and Frey also gives a great plotting workshop); anything by literary agent Donald Maass will help you write and also sell (he also gives great workshops); and The Anatomy of Story by John Truby is another workhorse.

But if you read the first four—and are compelled to re-read them, as I have been—you will gain the tools you need to write compelling stories.

What are your favorite storytelling resources?

Kathryn Craft specializes in developmental editing at, an independent manuscript evaluation and editing service. What she believes: 1. Editing forever changed the way she reads. 2. Well-crafted moments of brilliance help her forgive many other problems in a manuscript. 3. All writers have strengths and weaknesses—but why settle for weaknesses? 4. We can learn as much from what other authors do right as we can from what we do wrong. This is her series, "Busted!—An author caught doing something right."

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Constructing Your First Chapter

No matter how you think you want to begin the first few pages of your book, there are other people with a vested interest in your first chapter. It may seem unfair but you first need to sell your story before it will ever be read. Your first chapter, and, even more importantly your first page, is your demonstration product for your sales pitch.

Your first sales pitch will be to an agent or publisher, or both. The second sales pitch is to the buyer in the bookstore, who may read the first few pages, a whole chapter, or simply judge your book by its cover and/or blurb. You don’t want to lose a sale with a weak opening page.

Agents and publishers have specific expectations of a first chapter. Although there are always exceptions, following the generally agreed guidelines as to what makes a good first chapter could improve your chances of having the rest of your manuscript requested, and eventually being offered a contract.

The first chapter should begin just before a pivotal event in your protagonist’s life. This is something that forces a change or a decision. The rest of the chapter sets up the action towards this change and the chapter ends with, or shortly after, the event.

With this sequence, you’ve set up a hook to encourage your readers to turn to chapter two, wanting to know how this change is going to affect the protagonist and what s/he’s going to do to resolve it.

A good outline of your story can really help when it comes to identifying where to begin your story. Sometimes the beginning point is not where you initially thought it was. It can even take several drafts and a thorough retrospective analysis of the plot before a better beginning point becomes clear. But it’s worth it.

Elsa Neal
Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Browse through the resources for writers available at her website or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Writer's tips from the comics

Help for writers can come from anyplace. I noticed these while reading the Sunday comics.


RUTHIE:  This is my story about a beautiful princess who doesn't want to be a princess anymore. So she goes to a dancing school.

JOE: Ha! Hee, Hee. That's so dumb, Ruthie. Everybody knows they can't dance.

RUTHIE: Princesses?

JOE: No. Schools.


SNOOPY writes: "I will always wait for you," she said. "I'm not going anyplace," he said." "If you don't go anyplace, I can't wait for you," she said.

LUCY: That's the dumbest thing I ever read.

SNOOPY: I'll add some footnotes.


BUCKY KAT: Can I read you my new ghost story?

SATCHEL: What's it about?

BUCKY KAT: A guy goes into a haunted house and ends up becoming a ghost himself.

Satchel acts all scared in that way he has of driving Kat nuts.

BUCKY KAT: Ahem.  Dave went into the scary house. Before he knew what was happening, he became a ghost himself.

SATCHEL: Is that it?

BUCKY KAT: What more do you want? Satchel, the guy turns into a ghost.

SATCHEL: You just might want to make it a bit… longer.

Bucky Kat writes for a moment then reads: He became a greenish ghost.

SATCHEL: That is… longer.

Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest book is Open Season, which has gotten nice reviews from Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly. One Small Victory, is a top seller in the mystery bestseller list at the Amazon Kindle store. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. She will stop playing with her horse and work, honest.

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