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Showing posts from October, 2011

Halloween Hint: Let the Door Swing Shut

Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak , visited our local writers’ group via Skype this month. She’s one of the nation’s most successful and respected YA and children’s authors, so we were grateful for the opportunity to chat with her. One of her many great responses to our questions included: “It’s okay to pull back... You can just let the door swing shut.” She referred specifically to sexual abuse in YA books, but I think we can apply this to horror, mysteries and thrillers as well: You can just let the door swing shut . Essentially, this lets us put the gore on the back burner and concentrate on story and character. It sounds elementary, but I’ve tried to read a lot of work recently by writers who clearly don’t get it. Couldn’t finish the stuff. I’ve been spoiled by good horror, and I can’t go back. Anyway, it’s not a reactionary idea. I’m not suggesting that we can or should return to simpler, less gory work. I’m saying it’s okay to sweep the gory details off your workbench so you

Fear of Censorship

Publishing a novel can put the fear of God into a writer, particularly when the book addresses religious subject matter. When I conceived my novel, Glass Halo , I wanted to write about a priest because ordained men seem inherently interesting characters vested in mystery. My great-uncle was a monsignor; and as a cradle Catholic, all my life I’d known priests—not, of course, in the Biblical sense. But in Glass Halo , my protagonist—Nora Kelley, a stained glass artisan—does come to know Father Vincent DiMarco in the Biblical sense. I never intended to debut with a bodice-ripper. I endeavored to write a book about vocation, conversion, and higher love. In my original manuscript, lust between Nora and Vin went unconsummated. My literary agent had high hopes for my manuscript. Many editors expressed admiration for my style, but disliked my story, consistently complaining that my book lacked a pay-off. They wanted my characters to fall into the hotbed of fornication. I held out. So did my

The Only Thing We Have to Fear…

…is fear itself. Franklin Delano Roosevelt uttered those immortal words in his 1933 Inaugural Address. While they then applied to his country in the throes of the Great Depression, they can have numerous other applications, among them to writers who have been intimidated by the iron hand of traditional publishing. Under the wings of that old and revered industry, unknown authors were transformed into household names, and best sellers sprang forth from mediocre works—with the help of competent editors. Then as now, however, these were the exceptions; most hopeful writers who submitted manuscripts received form letters rejecting their work. A privileged few got personalized responses, and a tiny minority went on to be published. Writers pour heart and soul into their work, only to have their hopes crushed by rejection after rejection. The keynote speaker at a seminar I attended a few years ago suggested that we toughen up; he said, "Our books are not our babies." Really?

Twitter - Do not be Afraid of the Little Blue Bird

In keeping with our theme of "fear" leading up to Halloween, I decided to write about my fear of Twitter . Well, maybe not exactly my fear. More of my "oh, my gosh, what am I supposed to do" reaction to the social site when I first joined. I was reminded of that at a writers' workshop I attended this past weekend in Pittsburg, Texas. Yes, Pennsylvania, there is another Pittsburgh and we do spell it differently. Pittsburg is the home of the Northeast Texas Writer's Organization (NETWO) and they do a terrific conference every spring, as well as these periodic day-long workshops. There are a lot of writers in the area, and many others make the 100-mile trek from the Dallas Metroplex to attend the workshops, so there can be up to 50 attendees. Which is pretty good for a rural area with towns of less than 4,000 people in a 50-mile radius. At this last workshop, of those nearly 50 folks, there were only three of us who used Twitter. One of the presenters, Rus

The Memoirist's Great Fear, Part 2

My inability to ask my friend for permission to write about him in my memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place , (read part one of this post here ) made me realize something: I was willingly participating in yet another standoff. My memoir puts forth two: the ten-hour police action born of my husband’s stubborn determination to die on the farm of his dreams with his family intact, despite my divorce proceedings against him; and the twelve-year standoff born of my own stubbornness to face down his act by adhering to our decision to raise our sons there. My summer home friend had also been ending a long relationship at the time Ron died, and our deepening friendship was both life-affirming and misunderstood by everyone involved—perhaps most importantly, by him and me. The pain Ron’s suicide caused him eventually eroded our friendship in a way that kept him from talking to me for 12 years. A whole new standoff began. I could no longer perpetuate the problem. We'd once had a strong base

The Memoirist's Great Fear, Part 1

I was scared to call him. I had told myself I was free and clear to write my memoir, Standoff at Ronnie’s Place , about my first husband’s suicide. My sons, now 22 and 24, had generously given me the green light. Ron’s parents had died, the executor to his mother’s estate had died, my father had died, and my mother suffered from a dementia that would keep her from reading it even if she wanted to. My siblings had provided input and would not stand in the way. The first chapter had even been published . The stakes for completing the project were on the rise. Last summer I found out that Ron’s first wife, who’d been a staunch cheerleader for the project, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). She also happens to be my target reader. I’d overcome that first nasty fear of the memoirist—“Who would want to read about me?”—by answering, Deirdre does. She’d always said, “But you and Ron had children together. How on earth did you raise those boys after Ron killed himself?” I aimed

Be My Guest: Tracee Jackson

Please help us welcome Tracee Jackson to The Blood Red Pencil. Editors are to writers what paint is to walls, polish is to furniture, vinegar is to glass: they make words shine. But I write non-fiction, you say. Marketing collateral, websites, speeches—all the stuff that tells and sells. Why do I need an editor? As a nonfiction writer for almost 15 years, I’m here to tell you an editor should be viewed as your clean team, your partner in perfection, your “got your back” friend. If you’ve neglected to form a ménage a trios between you, your words, and an editor, you don’t know what you’re missing. Spread the love. #1. Get one. Some of the most successful nonfiction writers would never think of “going to print” without an editor checking, reviewing, red-lining, or urging a rewrite. Take Malcolm Gladwell, for example, the New Yorker column writer-turned-best-selling nonfiction author whose second book, Blink , hit the New York Times best-seller’s list and stayed for an unprecedent

Be My Guest - Susan Malone

Thanks so much, Susan, for giving us something to consider with our writing. PLOT VS STORYLINE What makes for an effective plot?  How do you keep a tale moving? Plots are really the simple part. The difficulty comes in the telling—creating the story effectively and believably, with the right cadence pulling all of the elements together.  You can outline any book out there (including your own) by simply jotting down what happens in each chapter.  But is that the plot?  Or the storyline? The plot is the gist, the point, and part of the theme of the book.  And the storyline is how you get from point A to point Z.  I.e., the plot is the entire forest, and the storyline, the trees.  Both organization and structure come into play here as well, the organization being the road map that the structure bolsters up. So, once you have your plot clear in your own head—boy finds girl; boy falls in love with girl; girl dumps boy; boy spends rest of the novel trying to win girl back—the real

Be My Guest - Terry Odell

 Thanks again to Terry for stopping by with another helpful post. Watch Those INGs Feedback from a critique partner pointing out every time I'd used an "ing" word made me stop and think about this verb construction. At the very first writer's conference I attended, an agent said she would reject a query with more than 1 sentence beginning with the "ing" construction. Her explanation—it's too easy to make mistakes with that sentence structure. But is it wrong? No. You have to be careful, and you have to pay attention. There are different reasons to avoid, or minimize use of those pesky "ing" words. First, the dangling modifier. In my first critique group, I held the prize for creating an answering machine that gave neck massages. I'd written, "Rubbing her neck, the blinking red light on the answering machine caught Sarah's eye." Ooops. (But I would like a machine with that function!) Make sure the noun or pronoun c


False Evidence Appearing Real I’ve been suffering from extreme insomnia recently and I know fear can raise its ugly head during the wee hours when you are between awake and doze. You are most vulnerable then and negative things keep running through your mind in a continuous loop. As writers, we all experience this to some degree at various stages of our work. First it might be “I can’t come up with an idea.” Then, after a great start where the story flows effortlessly, there is that sudden stop and “Oh no! Where do I go next? What if I can’t finish the story?” The fear seems real. After you finish the story and polish it to a high sheen, then fear sets in again: “What if I can’t get it published? What if nobody likes it?” Any small word of critique becomes that F.E.A.R. OK, say your book gets published and after the happy dancing and celebrating calms down, then next phase of fear sets in. “What if I’m a one-shot wonder? That was just a fluke. I’ll never be able to do that a

Cues from the Coach: Writing in 3D

I remember 3D movies from decades past and the 3D comic books my brothers and I used to read. Both required us to wear special “glasses” that allowed the images to appear to rise from the page or leap off the silver screen. While the pictures fascinated me, the glasses proved to be more of a nuisance than I wanted to deal with. Some new 3D movies have reached the theaters, but I know nothing of the technology or whether they also require special glasses to get the desired visual effect. But because we live in a 3D world, the concept makes sense and has a certain appeal. Written words on the pages of a book, however, are not 3D, so how can this apply to writing? Let’s consider two examples. Example #1: Lisa looked up at the azure summer sky, and the bright noonday sun made her squint. Cotton candy clouds dotted the horizon. Birds sang on the power lines at the back of the property, and squirrels chased one another up and down the tree trunks. She let her chilly body soak up the wa

Be Afraid

My name is Helen Ginger and I’m addicted to my computer. I had never thought of myself this way until a month ago when my computer crashed, black-screened, nada, nothing, dead as a doornail. My worst fear. If you’ve ever experienced that, it probably became your nightmare as well. Fast forward a month and I’m still without my computer. I’m waiting. Patiently. Okay, not so patiently. My iPhone is not suited to checking and writing email. I can get some things done on my iPad and, when my husband’s out of town, I can use his computer. There are things even his computer can’t do. Only my computer has Dreamweaver on it, the software I use to update my site weekly. Or…used to update weekly. Not only am I an editor, I’m a writer. Part of that “worst fear” of losing my computer is that the tech guy may not be able to retrieve all my data, including the manuscript I was working on. The good news is that I immediately emailed my friend and fellow editor to see if she still had the copy I ha

Do You Need a Dragon?

There are many pieces of writerly advice. One I read warned Don't Fill Your Plot Holes with Dragons  and made excellent points about realistic and unrealistic ways to deal with plot holes. Just for fun, though, think of the advantages of using dragons. Your character needs to be in a different location.  Don't worry about climbing into a car or taking a train. Call a dragon. Your main character is in danger with no way out.  After cursing at yourself for writing yourself into a corner, remember your friendly dragon. Let him appear and scare the skin off of whatever is imperiling your character. It's a cold night and your character is freezing.  Hello, dragon! A bit of fire, if you please. Problem solved. Your character has a deep secret, which you alluded to many times, but never actually figured out what it is.  Solution? He has a pet dragon. The dialogue drags . Talk about the dragon. You discover your main character is, in fact, rather hum-drum . No one with a dr

Leave a Tip on the Blood-Red Pencil - What Do You Know?

Well, what do you know? Really. I bet you know more than you think you do. You don't have to be a bestselling author to have picked up some tricks of the trade. Today, as on most second Tuesdays of the month, we're inviting you to share your writing tip on our Leave a Tip Day at The Blood-Red Pencil. Make it simple, or complex. Maybe you've heard an addage many times and have followed it by rote. That doesn't mean everyone else here has heard of it. Or, maybe you've thought up a helpful hint all by yourself and it's worked for you. Your tip can be about any aspect of writing, publishing, or editing, and can be about any format or venue, traditional, indie, self-publishing. Whatever the case, our readers are eager to soak in your knowledge. You can make them happy by leaving your tip in our comment section. You may also wish to include your website or blogspot URL, in the event someone reading your idea wants to learn more about you. Also, we'd appr

Writing in 140: Writers Read

If one more writer tells me they hate reading… It’s hard for me to fathom how someone who wants to write would hate to read…or would have so many lame excuses for why they don’t read: I don’t want to mistakenly borrow from someone else’s work. I want to write MY story, not read someone else’s story. Reading is boring. Among other things, reading helps us to form critical opinions on what works and doesn’t work—for us—in writing. It helps us to see structure and format. It allows us to develop and cultivate that visual playground where stories form and grow—those stories of others and ultimately our stories. If not for the stories I enjoyed as a child, I would’ve never made the decision to become a writer. Reading kind of begets writing, don’t you think? ----- Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less. ~~~~~~~~~~ Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and acade

It's a Contest

The Blood Red Pencil is one of the finalists in the Contest for the Best Grammar Blog of 2011. Vote for the blog you like and help us win great prizes from All votes must be entered between September 26th and October 17th, 2011. The grand-prize winners and two runners-up will be announced on or before October 27th, 2011. We have decided that should we win, if we win, when we win, we will use the gift card to order some books on writing that we will then offer to our readers. So please take a moment to go vote for us, assuming that you really do like the blog enough to do that, and help spread the word via your blogs, Facebook Twitter, etc. You can copy the line below to use in your efforts to help us. Vote for the Best Grammar Blog of 2011- Blood Red Pencil is one of the finalists - English Grammar Newsletter  Thanks, and now back to our regularly scheduled program.   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Maryann Miller is an author and freelance ed

Busted!—Roland Merullo Caught Using Language in a New Way

Language lovers, grammar geeks, and students of story structure will glean added satisfaction from the tale Roland Merullo spins in his most recent novel, The Talk-Funny Girl , in which Merullo uses language itself as a barometer of character change. His protagonist may bring to mind flower girl Eliza Doolittle, whose stumbling block in George Bernard Shaw ’s play Pygmalion was the way her Cockney accent revealed her working class roots. But Merullo’s Marjorie has even worse problems: she knowingly mangles syntax. It’s page seven before this seventeen-year-old girl, raised in rural New Hampshire, speaks a sentence at all: “I come for a try for paying work,” she says, keeping it short and simple so as not to expose her quirks of speech. But we have already picked up the problem. By the time we hear her speak to her parents at home, an excerpted exchange includes sentences like: “Mister Warner told he might have a work to give.” “Look on me in my eyes, you Majie you….Might?” “Probly wi

Is Your Writing Keeping You Awake?

Unless you have the perfect writing schedule that allows you to spend only daylight hours in front of your computer screen, or you write longhand at night, the chances are your evening writing, research, or social networking sessions are affecting your sleeping patterns and therefore your health. Research suggests that limiting your exposure to blue-toned (daylight-like) lighting after sunset will reduce your risk of insomnia and other health issues caused by the disruption to your circadian rhythms . Luckily there is a solution in the form of software that can alter your computer’s range of lighting tones from short wavelength (blue-ish) to longer wavelength (red-ish) so that your screen is more in line with the lighting after sunset. I’ve been trying free software called F.lux , which I’m very happy with. It’s a small program that downloads quickly and, when run, calculates your location and time since sunset, and alters the tones of the screen accordingly (although it hasn’t p

Time Out for a Little Fun

Some writing tips from the funny papers.... From Sherman's Lagoon : Turtle: And what's young Ernest up to this fine day? Ernest: Writing. Turtle: Isn't that refreshing? A youngster using his brain for creative purposes. These days we see way too many kids just playing video games. What are you writing? A short story? A poem? A song? Ernest: Computer virus. And a whole series from Pearls Before Swine: Goat: What are you writing, Pig? Pig: A romance novel. But I'm struggling with the main characters' names. So far all I have is the woman's name... Juliet. Goat: Well, Juliet's a great name. Harkens back to the most beautiful romance of all time. "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare. What's the man's name? Pig: Bean Dip. Goat closes his eyes in disbelief and Pig says, "Really kills some of the intimate scenes." The next day, Rat is trying to get his share of the millions earned by authors: Goat: Hey, w