Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Coming in February

By Dani Greer, Founding Member

We haven't begun to touch on the many awards for writers, and how one can use them to promote books. There are the big awards, like the Pulitzer and Man Booker prizes, genre awards like the Cybils and the Hugo award, and hundreds of awards for children's books. But the month is over, and hopefully we've given you some ideas and incentives. Check out the awards you might qualify for at this Wikipedia list, and do some research. Think about submitting your newest title for at least one book award this year!

In February, we'll talk about things we love in the writing world. We had fun with this theme last year. I love what's happening in e-books with all the opportunities for authors to self-publish, getting old rights back and issuing titles to download for nominal fees, and even offering freebies so readers can try an author's writing style without a huge investment. As far as I'm concerned, it's a win/win situation for everyone.

What about you? Have you added an e-reader to your life? What kind? What's the best e-book you've read this year? Are your own books available as e-books? Offered any great deals lately? My Nook is ready and waiting for its next acquisition! Do leave us suggestions in the comments.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review - A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

Last week I introduced Louise Penny and all the awards she has won for her books, most notably, The Agatha. When I first started reading her latest, A Trick of the Light, it reminded me a bit of the great Agatha Christie. I loved the quaint little village of Three Pines and the assortment of people who live there; unique characters, made very real, much like Christie made her characters real.

While that similarity is there, Penny takes her stories and her people to deeper places than Agatha Christie ever did. Consider this brief description of the story:

“Hearts are broken,” Lillian Dyson carefully underlined in a book. “Sweet relationships are dead.”

But now Lillian herself is dead. Found among the bleeding hearts and lilacs of Clara Morrow's garden in Three Pines, shattering the celebrations of Clara's solo show at the famed Musée in Montreal. Chief Inspector Gamache, the head of homicide at the Sûreté du Québec, is called to the tiny Quebec village and there he finds the art world gathered, and with it a world of shading and nuance, a world of shadow and light.  Where nothing is as it seems.  Behind every smile there lurks a sneer. Inside every sweet relationship there hides a broken heart.  And even when facts are slowly exposed, it is no longer clear to Gamache and his team if what they've found is the truth, or simply a trick of the light.

The suspects are many in this wonderful story, penned with such exquisite language that I would stop now and then to just savor a word or a phrase or a description.

"This was the village that had lived behind the thin wooden door to her bedroom, where outside her parents argued. Her brothers ignored her. The phone rang, but not for her. Where eyes slid over and past her and through her. To someone else. Someone prettier. More interesting. Where people butted in as though she was invisible and interrupted her as though she hadn't just spoken."

In that brief paragraph, we learn so much about this woman, Clara, who is suspect because once she was friends with Lillian, until Lillian cruelly betrayed her while they were in art college. Then there are the gallery owners. They have all gathered at the party in Three Pines to try to sign Clara, who has just had the most successful solo-show opening in a long time. Did one of them allow the competition and jealousy so common in the art world drive him to murder?

Like a great artist working on a painting, Louise Penny took the time to add layer upon layer to the story and the characters. We find out about the problems between Clara and her husband, Peter, also an artist, but not on the same plane as Clara. We discover secrets about Gamache's second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, as well as the complex connections so many people had with the dead woman.

In discovering those secrets we encounter characters that become so real that one reviewer on Amazon wrote,   "…you want to go and, if not live with them, at least spend a few weeks of quality time."

I agree. I would love to visit these people again.

Louise Penny worked as an award-winning journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation before leaving to write crime fiction. Her first mystery, Still Life, was the winner of the New Blood Dagger and the Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys Awards. Louise went on to become the first writer ever to win the Agatha Award for Best Novel four times, as well as an Anthony Award for The Brutal Telling and the Dilys, Arthur Ellis, Macavity, and Anthony Awards for Bury Your Dead. Her novels are bestsellers in the United States and Great Britain and have been translated into twenty-three languages. She lives with her husband, Michael, in a small village south of Montréal.

Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Information about her books, her editing services, and her blogs can be found on her Web site at www.maryannwrites.com Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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Friday, January 27, 2012

A Personal Check List for Fiction Writers

Today we welcome a new third-Friday regular to the blog - Debby Harris who last visited us here. Welcome aboard, Debby!  
I’m an Honorary Lecturer for the School of English at the Scottish University of St. Andrews (a town probably better known outside of Scotland as the historic Home of Golf).  Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of providing editorial support for two Ph.D. candidates in Creative Writing.   To help them evaluate their own work during the writing process, I prepared a check-list of practical questions for fiction writers to ask themselves.  This check list has since proven so useful to me as a tool for  editorial assessment/self-assessment that it seems churlish to keep it to myself.

So here it is:

A)  Plot
1)  Does the work feature a strong/striking central idea around which the action of the plot revolves?

2) Is the central concept sufficiently robust  to be conveyed in 25 words or fewer?

3)  Does the action reflect an artful balance between incident and exposition?

4)  Do plots and sub-plots advance logically, evincing a chain of cause and effect underlying the course of events?

5)  Are individual incidents and episodes well-conceived and well-orchestrated?

B)  Characterisation 
1)  Do the principal characters evince personal and emotional depth, eliciting sympathy or antipathy according to their roles?

2)  Is character interaction dramatic and dynamic, contributing to the development of exposition,  plot and theme?

3)  Is the dialogue lively and natural?

4)  Do characters behave self-consistently with respect to their age, social and educational background, experience and temperament?

5)  Within the framework of dialogue, is the register of diction appropriate to the respective characters and the work’s intended audience?

C)  Setting and Atmosphere
1)  Is the setting well-established in terms of time and place by means of descriptive imagery and selective detailing?

2)  Have the back-story elements been artfully accounted for in terms of background research and character profiling?

3)  Are atmosphere and mood effectively generated by means of evocative language?

4)  Do setting and atmosphere enhance plot action and character tensions?

5)  Do setting and atmosphere contribute meaningfully to thematic development?

D) The Writer’s Craft
1)  Is exposition handled adroitly, via a variety of techniques?

2)  Does point of view function artfully for the conveyance of story?

3)  Is the angle of vision manipulated effectively to influence the reader’s perceptions, emotional affinities, and thematic evaluations?

4)  Are scenes artfully “staged” with the aid of props and choreography of action?

5)  Does the work throughout exhibit a polished command of diction, syntax, and the ornaments of language?

In my experience, these questions, answered honestly, can help you locate any areas of potential weakness in your work.  (Incidentally, it’s also a useful tool whenever you’re out to critique any work of fiction that comes your way.)

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

A New Writing Award for Women

Awards come and go, and it pays to be cautious especially in these days of increased book publishing opportunities. Here is a new award I can personally vouch for having been a member of the Story Circle Network for years. ~ Dani Greer
May Sarton under her portrait

The winner of Story Circle Network's first annual Sarton Memoir Award will be announced at Stories from the Heart, the biannual SCN National Memoir Conference, at the Wyndham Hotel in Austin, Texas, April 13-15, 2012. 

The award is named in honor of May Sarton (1912-1995), the distinguished American poet, novelist, and author of twelve memoirs and journals. Readers have found Sarton's work to be inspiring, moving, and thought-provoking. While widely acclaimed for her fiction and poetry, Sarton’s best and most enduring work may lie in her journals. In these honest, probing accounts of her solitary life, she deals with such issues as aging, isolation, solitude, friendship, sexuality, self-doubt, success and failure, envy, love of nature, gratitude for life's simple pleasures, and the daily challenge of leading of a creative life.  

Much time and effort has been invested by many to establish this award project. Numerous entries were received in 2011 and submitted to two rounds of judging, first by volunteer SCN jurors and next by professional librarians not affiliated with SCN. We are looking forward with great anticipation to honoring the author of the best woman's memoir published in the United States and Canada, chosen from works submitted.

For more information about the award and the SCN Conference, please visit StoryCircle.org/Conference/ and  StoryCircle.org/SartonMemoirAward/.

Consider joining this debut literary award presentation while attending a great conference, where women from around the country gather to celebrate their stories and their lives. Through writing, reading, listening, and sharing, they will discover how personal narrative is a healing art, how they can gather their memories and tell their stories. Readers, writers, storytellers, and any woman with a past, present, and future are welcome. There will be opportunities to explore difficult or hidden issues, expand relationships with other women, and discover different modes and media—such as art, dance, and drama—for sharing our stories.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Awards for Mystery Novels - Agatha, Anthony, and More

For the theme of awards this month, Dani Greer asked me to write about awards for mysteries. She thought that would be a good topic for me since I write mysteries and read a lot of books in that genre. She also introduced me to the work of Louise Penny, who writes a mystery series set in Quebec featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

Louise Penny has won most of the major awards for mystery novels and has been compared to Agatha Christie. In fact, that is who I was reminded of when I first started reading her latest novel, A Trick of the Light, and it is no surprise that Penny has won the Agatha Award four times for her series.

The Agatha Award honors the "traditional mystery." That is to say, books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie as well as others who write mysteries that contain no explicit sex or gratuitous violence. In these books, the murders happen off screen and couples do what couples do behind closed doors. The award is given out at the Malice Domestic Conference near Washington D.C. every spring.

In addition to awards for novels and short stories, there is the Malice Domestic Award for Lifetime Achievement, which is given in recognition of a significant body of distinguished work in the Malice Domestic genre. The award is bestowed by the Malice Domestic Board of Directors.

The Poirot Award is presented to honor individuals other than writers who have made outstanding contributions to the Malice Domestic genre. The award is bestowed by the Malice Domestic Board of Directors and presented at the Malice Domestic conference. The Poirot Award is not an annual award.

For more information about the conference and Agatha Award, visit the Malice Domestic website.

Another award that Penny has won is the Anthony, which is given in the fall at Bouchercon, an annual convention for fans of mysteries, as well as authors. All attendees can nominate books and authors for the award prior to the date of the convention. The top nominees in each category are then put on a ballot used during the convention to vote.

The Barry Award, presented by Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, has been given to Penny twice, and her first book, Still Life, was also named one of the five Mystery/Crime Novels of the Decade by Deadly Pleasures magazine. While newer than the Agatha or the Anthony, it has quickly become a coveted award for mystery fiction and nonfiction. Books can be submitted for consideration and a panel of judges comprised of reviewers and magazine staff select the winners.

The Dilys Award has been given annually since 1992 by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA) to the mystery titles of the year which the member booksellers have most enjoyed selling. The award is named in honor of Dilys Winn, the founder of Murder Ink (now sadly closed), the first specialty bookseller of mystery books in the United States. Penny won this award for her first book and for a later book, Bury Your Dead.

The one major mystery award that Louise Penny has not won is the Edgar. Her books don't qualify, as this award is given to books considered more hard-boiled. The awards are presented by the Mystery Writers of America, honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction, and television published or produced in the previous year. Named for the famed, Edgar Allan Poe, the contest accepts all sub-genres for nomination, including hard boiled. Visit The Edgars website for a list of this year's nominees.

In researching this topic I found more awards for mystery writers that I was aware of, or that I can include here. I did find this site Mystery Book Awards that lists them all with brief descriptions. Very helpful resource for readers and writers. I like to read books that have been nominated or have won awards, mainly to see what was so special about them. Rarely have I been disappointed. 

Come back next Monday for a review of A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny and see why I think it deserved the awards it has received.
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Information about her books, her editing services, and her blogs can be found on her Web site at www.maryannwrites.com Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Michael L. Printz Adds to ALA Awards Legacy

1/25/2012 Update: At the recent ALA Conference, the award winners were announced and the 2012 Printz winner was Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley.  Click here for more information. 

For many years, beloved Kansas librarian Michael L. Printz was considered by many to be the backbone of the American Library Association (ALA). After Printz died in 1996 at the age of 59, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA, a branch of the ALA) memorialized him by bestowing the Michael L. Printz Award to the best young adult book published the previous year. While fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and anthologies are considered, so far the prize has been awarded to eleven novels and one graphic novel.

While the Printz Award program is relatively new, other ALA prizes are not. Generations of parents, students, librarians, and teachers have trusted the reputation of books that have won the John Newbery and Randolf Caldecott medals, the first of ALA’s annual awards for exemplary literature for children and young adults. Since 1922, ninety books have won a Newbery, and since 1938, seventy-three a Caldecott; and the metallic seals on their covers automatically speak of their quality.

Whereas many John Newbery Award recipients focused on motherless children, the ALA aimed to use the Printz Award to recognize a different type of book: one with an edgy, ultra-current focus on situations relevant to the lives of modern adolescents. These books explore conflicts sparked by crime, teen pregnancy, separation and divorce, parental death, physical abuse, drug abuse, social ostracism, and sexual promiscuity.

The repercussions of having received such an honor are far-reaching. If you are a parent, you already know that when choosing books for child readers, the very sight of the raised gold seals on these books evokes feelings of trust and artistic competence that helps drive sales.

Such exposure, extended through the word-of-mouth influence of school librarians, has to have a significant impact on an author’s career. Walter Dean Myers, who won the first Printz Award in 2000 for Monster, has continued as a trailblazer with his recent appointment as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

As in the Newbery and Caldecott tradition, runners up for the Printz Award also receive a prestigious designation. A silver seal is affixed to their covers that contains a large “P” and the words, “Honor Book.”

Author A.S. King (The Dust of 100 Dogs, Everybody Sees the Ants) earned this honor for her novel, Please Ignore Vera Dietz (see here for a previous BRP post highlighting a clever craft technique she used). I asked King if she’d share how being chosen as a Printz Honor Book has impacted her career in general, and specifically boosted sales of Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Since books sales are reported infrequently, and she received this honor just one year ago, she can only guess that it has boosted sales. She noted that sales of the paperback, due out in 2012, will eventually paint a more accurate picture. But translating a prize into sales isn't always a direct process, King says.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz being picked as a Printz Honor book certainly impacted my life and career in many ways,” says King. “I have had more school and university visit requests, for sure. I believe it raised my profile and built bridges that I hadn't had before—bridges that can impact every part of a writer's life.”

Additional Resources
Complete list of ALA and YALSA Awards
2011 Printz winner Paolo Bacigalupi's (Ship Breaker) interview with A.S. King

Thanks to Drew University PhD candidate Stephanie Cecchini for providing helpful information for this post!

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. The first chapter of her memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place, modified as a stand-alone essay, was 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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Monday, January 23, 2012

The WILLA Literary Award

When I received an e-mail last August that I had won the WILLA Literary Award for Follow the Dream, I didn’t believe it. At first I thought it was telling me I was a finalist (which would have been wonderful in itself) and that I’d find out later. So I had to reread the letter several times before it finally sank in. I had WON! It took several weeks to come down from Cloud Nineteen.

This prestigious national award is given by the Women Writing the West organization in seven categories: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Original Softcover, Creative Nonfiction, Scholarly Fiction, Poetry, and Children’s/Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction. Each category has a winner and up to two finalists, who also receive award recognition at the organization’s annual fall conference. The WILLA recognizes outstanding literature featuring women’s stories set in the west.

Books published in the previous calendar year can be submitted by publishers or authors, and are read by groups of volunteers according to a set of rubrics set up by the WWW organization. The top five in each category are then judged by an independent panel of judges—librarians from around the U.S.

The WILLA is named in honor of Pulitzer Prize winner Willa Cather, who is known for her novels of the immigrant experience on the American frontier, including O Pioneers! (1913) and My Ántonia (1918). She received the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for One of Ours.

Winning this award is a huge honor for me and serves to validate my writing, that my hard work has been for a purpose. It also honors my rodeo-riding grandmother, on whom I have based my first two novels, Cowgirl Dreams (an EPIC Award Winner) and Follow the Dream. An award-winning book also helps with your marketing: it revives the book’s newsworthiness and it adds prestige. Readers and reviewers who perhaps were not interested in the subject matter before may express new interest in an award-winning book.

I encourage all authors to enter literary contests. You never know what may happen!

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 won the national WILLA Award. 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, January 20, 2012

Cues from the Coach: Why a Coach?

You’re sitting at your computer, hands poised on the keyboard. You’ve planned your story, done your character sketches and outline, and know exactly what will happen and how it will end. But where does it start? You look at the row of question marks on the first line of your outline. You didn’t know where to begin when you created it, and you don’t know now.

Or, for the fifth time, you’ve rewritten a tense scene that’s pivotal to the story, but it still lies flat on the page. All the elements are there, but it doesn’t sing. And it won’t hook a reader. Now what?

The ability to write is a talent. The ability to write well is an acquired skill. How do you move from one to the other?

Taking a writing class offers possibilities, particularly when it comes to grammar skills. The downside, however, might be a one-size-fits-all approach that can inhibit rather than foster creativity.

A writing group offers a forum for brainstorming and inspiration. The critiquing process, if handled with objectivity and diplomacy, can define areas that need development or other intervention. The efficacy of any group, however, depends on the ability/experience/expertise of its members, the manner in which the critique is delivered, and the validity and thoroughness of the suggestions.

Family and friends can be enthusiastic and encouraging—or the opposite. What they won’t be is objective. Those who know us and love us are not the best stepping stones on the path from writing talent to writing well. (Yes, exceptions exist, but emotional ties often taint “constructive criticism.”)

A competent editor should always be part of the team that takes a book from concept to completion. Editors, however, can be expensive, and they generally come into the picture after a book is written unless their specialty is developmental editing. Taking another step prior to the editing process will help assure that your manuscript is well written, grammatically correct, and ready to grip your audience—and it will likely save you big bucks over the course of your writing career.

Working one-on-one with a writing coach, book shepherd, or mentor can make the difference between an expensive content edit and a quick copy edit/proofread. The tricks of the trade and lessons learned will apply to future works, hence the money-saving factor. Remember, though, that a writing coach does not replace an editor. Here’s what she/he does do:

• Teaches you to use words more effectively
• Shows you how to develop characters
• Helps you to grab and hold your audience
• Teaches you the effectiveness of show vs. tell
• Helps you to avoid writer intrusion
• Highlights the value of active verbs
• Makes your work memorable
• Makes your readers eager for your next book
• Shows you where to begin and end
• Teaches you to maintain rhythm and flow
• Helps you eliminate unnecessary material

Have you ever worked with a writing coach? What qualities in a coach are most important to you? Do you believe a coach could improve your work?
After working as an editor for more than two decades, Linda Lane now mentors writers who want to take their work to the next level. To learn more about her mentoring, visit her at http://www.denvereditor.com/

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Be My Guest - Jodie Renner

Check Your Facts, Ma’am!

You’re busy creating your story world with your right brain, rolling along with the great plot and developing your characters while your muse is buzzing. Great! But later, when you’ve got that first draft done, it’s important to switch to your left brain and go back and check for continuity, logic, and accurate information – or get someone else to do it for you.

As you’re writing,  you may assume everything makes sense and all your info is correct, but at some point, step back and reread for logistics. While you’re at it, verify your facts, to avoid annoying or even alienating your readers – and eroding your credibility. “But,” you say, “I’m writing fiction, so who cares about facts?” You should, because you want to create a credible world for your readers to be drawn into, and if an erroneous fact jars them out of it, they’re going to be annoyed. Think about watching a movie about Ancient Rome and suddenly you notice a watch on one of the gladiators.

The illusion of being caught up in their world is suddenly shattered.

If you’re writing a western, make sure the gun makes and models characters use were invented by that period.

In a contemporary novel, don’t have a character in the 70s or even 80s researching a topic on her home computer! A quick Google search with the question “When did home computers become popular?” revealed that Microsoft pioneered the home computer in 1992, and 1995 was the year computers really became mainstream. Yet, I recently read a novel in which the (missing and assumed dead) mother of the protagonist had sent emails 20-25 years earlier! I personally started emailing around 1996 or ’97. How about you?

Similarly, don’t have your everyday characters using cell phones in the ‘90s.

In a historical fiction I edited a few years ago, a ne’er-do-well was running from the police in England, around 1855. He happened on a poker game near the harbor and found out one of the poker players was boarding a ship for America within hours. Thinking that escaping to America would solve his problems, the fugitive followed the guy after the late-night game, stabbed him, and stole his ticket for the ship. Arriving in America three or four weeks later, he was greeted by his uncle, whom he’d arranged to meet him at the pier. I asked the author how the fellow, who’d boarded the ship within hours of his poker game, could have arranged for his uncle to meet him at the harbor. By cell phone? The author admitted he hadn’t thought of that, and was grateful that I’d pointed it out.

Also, be aware of whether expressions were in use in the time frame or geographical region of your story. If you use a modern expression in a historical fiction, it jolts the reader out of that time period, and they’ll probably feel you did a shoddy job of recreating that world for them. For example, in a historical fiction I edited that took place about 150 years ago, the term “upscale” was used. This struck me as out of place for that time, so I looked it up. Merriam-Webster lists the year of the first appearance of many words, and “upscale” is listed as first being used in 1966, so to even use it in narration in a historical fiction takes the reader out of that world. Same with the even more recent “high-end” (coined around1977). For historical fiction, better to use “upper-class” or “elegant” or “sophisticated” or “affluent” or “wealthy.”

As a freelance editor, I constantly notice little errors like a vehicle make or model changing, problems with time sequence, sudden changes in a character’s name or appearance, inconsistencies with the season, climate or geography, and so on. If errors like these aren’t picked up before your story is published, you can be sure that a number of readers will notice them and may lose confidence in you as a writer – and put down your story.

So, if in doubt about facts in your story, take the time to look them up, or run your story past trusted readers before publication. Better yet, employ the services of a freelance editor, who will be on the lookout for incorrect information, discrepancies, and logic problems, and may query you with a comment like “Was this invented back then?” or “Did she just buy a new car? The one she had yesterday was a blue Toyota. Now she’s driving a Ford,” or “Who’s Ralph?” (That character whose name you changed.) The last thing you want is for your readers to say, “Oh, come on! This doesn’t make sense!”

How about you? As a reader, have you ever been jolted out of a story by something that didn’t make sense? As a writer or editor, have you noticed incongruities that needed to be fixed? Do you have any interesting or funny or absurd examples to share?
Guest blogger Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction manuscript editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, romance, YA, and historical fiction. Jodie’s services range from developmental and substantive editing to light final copy editing and proofreading, as well as manuscript critiques. Check out Jodie’s website at http://www.jodierennerediting.com/ and her blog, dedicated to advice and resources for fiction writers, at http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/.

Posted by Maryann Miller who is struggling to make sure the wordage used in her historical mystery fits the 1960s.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Be My Guest - Susan Malone

Why We Write

I’ve just been doing the final edit of a provocative book about how the pursuit of happiness is folly, the book’s premise being that we are “sold” to be always pursuing  happiness, when being happy is within our inherent natures, providing we have sustenance and shelter. It got me thinking how this corresponds to writing. The writing itself is one beast, and the desire to “be published” quite another.

Almost all the writers who come to me want to be published, of course. It’s almost as if the words and people and places don’t exist until they garner some sort of audience—readers to fall in love with their characters and be transported by the story. And such is of course the case, to a large extent. We humans are pretty danged ego-driven, and artists of all sorts ask if another human isn’t there to appreciate their art does it actually exist?

But is this actually why we write? It helps when reevaluating one’s writing career to hone in on the truth of the matter. That truth is different for each one of us. Do you write because you want to be a rich and famous author? Or do you write because you have to, i.e., you go pretty wonkers when not writing?

Either is actually fine, and no right or wrong answer exists here. But you can save yourself a ton of heartache by getting to your own reason for doing this, while buffering yourself against Hamlet’s whips and scorns of time.

If your goal is to be published and become a bestseller, Lord knows that’s great motivation.  It’ll keep you studying and learning and your butt in front of the keyboard (which is a huge part of this battle!). But it will also lead you down a path of rejection and hurt and, often, writers completely stop after a time when their dreams don’t come true. Because for every million writers with that dream, one is published. (I’m talking traditionally published here; self-publishing brings with it the challenge of the flip side—actually selling your book to readers.)

In fact, the vast number of folks I’ve seen go in with fame as the only goal quit at some point. Publishing is an unforgiving business. It takes a backbone of steel to pursue, after a certain amount of time. “Becoming Rich and Famous” doesn’t usually hold up to the heartaches and sorrows that come. And trust me, they will come. So you have to dig deeper and find another core of motivation to keep plugging along.

If you write, on the other hand, because you must, because of a deep driving desire to let  your characters run free, your story be told, no matter the costs or the outcome, you’ll still face those same sorrows and heartaches. Sometimes the hurt is deeper, stronger, more aching as these are people and places in your stories that you, as the writer, have grown to love (and indeed, those are the best kinds!). Then you have to dig down deeper again, and find the fortitude to carry on in the face of said rejection and sadness.

Again, many people stop at this point, as their personal pain is too much to bear. As I’m fond  of saying, we’re not working with bread dough here, but, rather, the very heart and soul of you. The thing to remember at this juncture is truly that it’s not about becoming rich and famous; it’s simply about writing as beautifully as you can. At the end of the day, that is enough. Publishing will humble you to your knees. But that’s okay. Really. Because from your knees is a great place to look up and see clearly. As Rilke said, “Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?”

The answer to that will help you design a much clearer road ahead!

Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has four traditionally published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to Traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at: www.maloneeditorial.com

Posted by Maryann Miller, who found this blog topic to be quite inspiring.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Be My Guest - Terry Odell

Don't Stumble over the Humble Apostrophe

This month's post is about something very basic—but when we're busy writing, sometimes even the basics become stumbling blocks.

We were driving onto the highway the other day, and our local BBQ joint (note, in our town there are only 3 choices for food: the Irish pub, the BBQ joint, or the sandwich shop) had just put out a new sign: "Breakfast Burrito's Served All Day."

I cringe at how common that mistake is. I know I'm guilty of the occasional typo because my fingers don't always listen to my brain, but I do know the rule. Mr. Holtby in high school English drilled it in. Deep. And although I hope most people here know the rules, too, I figured it might be worth a reminder, in case anyone wants to sell burritos all day.

An Apostrophe Has Two Uses

1. It shows possession. Something belongs to someone or something.
The man's hat. The dog's leash. My biggest trouble-spot with this is dealing with plurals. There's a difference (as my crit partner loves to point out) between the Detective's office and the Detectives' office. But then, I can never remember if I've given each of my detectives his own office.

I also have to stop and think about housing. You know, like when you go to the house that belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Since it belongs to both of them, it's the Smiths' house, not the Smith's house.

And words that already end in "s" can be a problem. I go out of my way to avoid naming characters with names ending in "s" to bypass the head-scratching. And here, I've seen it both ways. In my first book, my editor, whom I fear was overworked, didn't catch that I'd written both Doris' and Doris's throughout the manuscript. Luckily, I noticed it in edits. She really didn't care which one I used as long as they were all the same. My inclination is to leave off the final 's' after the apostrophe simply because it looks cumbersome and when I read it "aloud in my head" I keep added "s" sounds.
(I'm sure there are official editors here at BRP who will explain this one in the comments, and I welcome them. I have a kind of dislike-hate relationship with the Chicago Manual of Style, so I'm not even going to try to look up a rule.)

Okay, that's one use of the apostrophe. The other:

2. Replaces extra stuff. Yes, those were Mr. Holtby's words. (note the possessive apostrophe there! The words belonged to him.)

Apostrophes are used in contractions to show you've combined two words and taken away some of the letters.

Examples: Don't. I've. Shouldn't. He'd. We'll.

I don't think I need to ask you what each of the above stands for. This was a lesson I taught when I was tutoring in adult literacy. It was very common for students to see the word don't and read it aloud as do not. They knew what the apostrophe meant even if they couldn't use one when writing.

There IS NO RULE THREE saying you can use an apostrophe for a plural.

One last point:

A major hangup for people seems to be with its and it's. But if you remember rules 1 and 2, there should be no problem knowing which to use. (As long as your fingers cooperate.)

It's = it is. The apostrophe stands for a missing letter.
Its is possessive. The tree lost its leaves. The leaves belonged to the tree.


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. Look for Terry's newest release. DEADLY SECRETS, A Mapleton Mystery, is her first non-romantic suspense novel. 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 also avoids character names ending in s.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Here’s to the Cliché

Photo credit: AussieGall (CC)
As writers we are warned to beware of clichés, and we try hard to keep them out of our writing. Often the only time to use them, and then sparingly, is to give an idea of a person’s style through dialogue. However as a ghostwriter, I’ve found clichés to be a useful avenue into my clients’ psyches.

Many people use clichés unconsciously when they speak. For instance, I ghostwrote a book about business success for a businesswoman who used a lot of clichés. One of her favorites was “we were just like peas in a pod.” For anyone she liked, she’d describe their relationship as being two peas in a pod. It started with her grandmother, who she credited for establishing her values that she used in business. I therefore asked many questions about Grandma – what she looked like, how she talked, and so on. Turns out Grandma liked jewelry, and so did my client. Grandma liked to entertain people, and so did my client. Grandma was basically a wild old rip, lots of fun, and an adventurer. My client admired and loved her grandmother, and deliberately copied her style. So her “peas in a pod” cliché was actually true, and exploring it added depth to her book about business.

Another benefit of the peas in a pod cliché and one of my client’s keys to success was that whenever she would try something new – a new product, new system, new advertising – she’d go out and find people who were already doing something similar and doing it well – and then she’d find out how they did it so she could recreate it for her own situation. In other words she looked to people she admired and copied them, so they could be like peas in a pod. This turned out to be a whole chapter of her book.

Now I always try to find out what my clients’ – or my fictional characters’ – favorite clichés are, and probe for their deeper meaning. Sometimes I find gold. Or at least peas.

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 http://www.primary-sources.com/.
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Friday, January 13, 2012

CreateSpace Ins and Outs Explained by Bob Sanchez

Bob Sanchez
 Bob Sanchez is here today to inform us about a hot new trend.

Self-Publishing with CreateSpace by Bob Sanchez

Several people have asked about self-publishing using Amazon’s CreateSpace, so I’d like to share my experiences. At first I’d thought to walk through the entire process, but there’s little point. You can follow their instructions as easily as mine. So this post will provide essential highlights. I’ve used it five times—for one novel, three writers’ group chapbooks, and a friend’s memoir. The process is straightforward, and the physical book is fine. The quality of the formatting and content is up to you, although you can hire CreateSpace (or me) to do anything you prefer not to try.

The website is createspace.com. You’ll need to sign up (it’s free) or sign in. Once you sign in, click on the Books tab and read about Publishing a Trade Paperback. There is plenty of good, clear information. In the Overview, notice in particular the calculators that give you an idea of production and shipping costs. They offer a $39 Pro plan, which reduces the price of the copies you purchase. By all means spend the money if you plan to buy copies for resale, because you’ll quickly recoup the small cost. Then when you’re ready, click on the Create a book tab and follow the instructions. Give your project a name, select Paperback (they don’t do hardcover), and choose the Guided Setup process. You’ll answer a bunch of questions including your book’s description. When you get to the page about ISBNs, you’ll have several options. If all you want to do is publish your book and get on with your life, just take the free one. Free is good.

Your next choice is trim size. The 6 x 9 is very common and is what I’ve used. Notice the link to download a template in Word format, and download the file. It will contain sample content with all the correct margins and other formatting for that size. Chances are, you’ll want a black-and-white interior with white paper, which is an economical option. Cream paper adds to your per-copy cost.

At this point (your editing and proofreading should be complete by now), insert your novel into the template, which is a Microsoft Word document. The margins and other details will be set for you, but you can change any of it. Make sure your fonts and font sizes are consistent, and modify the headers and front matter to suit your needs. CreateSpace has plenty of helpful tips, including a step-by-step formatting guide. Look everything over carefully, but don’t fret too much, because it’s not hard to get back to this point later.

When you’re ready, you can upload the interior file to CreateSpace in Word or PDF format.

Now for the exterior file (cover and spine). You can use one of their preformatted covers, or you can build your own in Photoshop or another graphics application and upload the file in pdf format. This is trickier—not terribly difficult, just fussy. If you don’t want to do it, perhaps you have a friend with graphics skills who can give you a hand. Or ask me (desertwriter1@gmail.com) for help in putting it together after your artwork is ready.

Skipping ahead a bit, CreateSpace sets a base price—your cost—depending on trim size, paper type, interior ink color, and page count. You may set any sales price you want as long as it’s at least that minimum.

Finally, you’ll be asked to purchase a proof copy of your book. Order it and look it over carefully, because this is your last chance to get it right before you buy a bunch of copies.

This post doesn’t cover every detail, but my point is that you can publish through CreateSpace with reasonable effort and patience. The hardest part for many people will be using Microsoft Word and Photoshop, or whatever graphics program you have. So please ask questions, and I will do my best to answer them.

Bob Sanchez

Bob is a retired technical writer who worked in Massachusetts and now lives with his wife in New Mexico. He is the 2012 president of the El Paso Writers' League. His three published novels include When Pigs Fly, Getting Lucky, and Little Mountain, all available through Amazon at tinyurl.com/bobsanchezauthor.

During a recent promotion, his P.I. novel,  Getting Lucky, was downloaded over 1500 times in one day.

Visit Bob Sanchez's blog

Please welcome Bob to The Blood-Red Pencil and throw him some questions here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Little Known Award

There are a lot of well-known awards for writing, like the Agatha or The Pulitzer Prize. Any writer would love to win those awards, but there are quite a few that are less well-known, but also prestigious. Later this month, The Blood-Red Pencil will have a week about writing awards. Since I don’t usually post during that week, I thought I’d tell you about a friend and great writer, Sylvia Dickey Smith, and the award she won. Or to be more accurate, I’ll let her tell you.

Sylvia, in 2011, your book, A War of Her Own, won the Texas Press Women Award, then you went on to Nationals. What was that like?

Helen, so glad you asked! And to clarify—I not only went on to nationals but I placed 2nd there—to a Fulbright Scholar and head of the Fulbright Scholar program at her university, and who wrote her book while on a Fulbright-Scholarship-funded sabbatical—that made second place a little sweeter.

These were my first state and national awards so I wear them proudly! When I received word that I’d won the Texas Press Women Award, I thought, oh well, not a big pool for them to draw from. But national certainly eradicated that notion. Bells, whistles, firecrackers, bottle rockets, grenades, air to ground missiles? Nothing holds a candle to what I felt.

Did you submit your book for consideration by TPW? Did someone else? What was it about your book that caught the eye of TPW?

Interesting story to that process. I had been advised by a fan to seek out a journalist who might be interested in writing a feature article about WW2 and the homefront, and in the process, mention A War of Her Own in the article as a historically accurate recounting of what life was like. It took me a while, but one person led to another and I met Ginger Mynatt, a journalist from Sherman, Texas. She and I traveled to Orange where she conducted research on Orange and the shipyards during the war, wrote her article, and sold it to Texas Co-Op Magazine, a publication of Pedernales Electric. Indeed they published her article, but cut any reference to me or A War of Her Own, supposedly due to word count. Talk about disappointed! I always enjoyed that magazine, but now, when it comes in the mail, I smile and dump it in the trash unread! (only half-joking!)

Anyway, Ginger suggested I submit the novel to the annual Communications Contest for Press Women of Texas, and the rest is history. (A first place state win leads to the state submitting it to the national contest.)

Do you know if every state in the U.S. has a Press Women’s Association? How could other writers get recognized by their state’s PWA?

NFPW was founded on May 6, 1937. The national organization is the hub for the state affiliates. Join the national and you automatically become a member of the state organization. If there is a state that does not have a branch, then you join as a member-at-large and may still compete in the national competition. The National Federation of Press Women at http://www.nfpw.org is the place to start. (And if you join, tell them Sylvia sent you.)

Nothing could keep me from attending the national conference in Council Bluffs, Iowa last year. Although I was a stranger amidst hundreds of women, some who have known each other through the organization for fifty/sixty plus years, I have never felt more among friends. They INTENTIONALLY create an attitude of inclusiveness. Next year the conference is in Arizona, and I plan to be there—with a win, hopefully. They have over 80 something categories all available on the web site under Competitions. I hope to win in 2012 with my upcoming book, The Swamp Whisperer!

Here’s a brief synopsis of Sylvia’s award-winning book:
A War of Her Own: In the summer of 1943, Orange, Texas, is a sleepy little town overrun with tens of thousands of new workers. With jobs galore at the wartime shipyards, the workers are rich with cash and looking for a good time. Bea Meade, mother of an infant son, finds her life shattered when her philandering husband announces he is leaving her for another woman. To make ends meet, Bea takes a job at a shipyard as a riveter. Bea has to fight her own battles against a no-good husband, the prejudice facing women in the workplace, and the mysteries of her own past. Bea's journey to discover who she really is, a vibrant woman of her times, serves up an entertaining story of the World War II homefront you'll remember long after the final pages.

Note from Helen: There are awards out there that you may never have heard of. You’ve heard about this one now and later this month you’ll learn about more awards. Leave a comment if you know of an award you or other writers have won or could win.
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.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

10 Self-Motivators for Writers

January is often a time when we wrap ourselves in the Cloak of Determination. If, like me, your cloak has a tendency to slip from your shoulders, I offer you the following motivators to keep on writing:

10. You can have a cookie(s) when you finish for the day.

9. In the midst of the shambles you've already written, which is mocking you from the page, there is one sentence you really like. Focus on it.

8. What would you be doing if you weren't writing? Do you really want to be doing that?

7. Think about how far you've come; not how far you still need to go.

6. Fantasize about what you'd treat yourself to with some of that royalty cheque. Perhaps it's a personal chef to make you cookies.

5. You love your characters. If you can't keep on writing for yourself, keep on writing for them.

4. Having the discipline to keep on writing even when it's tough is what separates the real writers from the wannabees. Do you really want to be a wannabe?

3. Remember why you started writing this story in the first place.

2. Accomplishment makes anyone glow. Go for the glow!

1. This story deserves to be written and only you can write it.

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Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her twelve murder mystery games and two plays are available through host-party.comShe 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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why Would Anyone Do Such a Thing?

Forever Young: Blessing or Curse - Blog Book Tour Stop

Forever Young: Blessing or Curse,
a thriller by Morgan Mandel

Quite a while ago, when I first read a chapter of my now released thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, to my critique group at Chicago-North RWA, I received such comments as, "Why would anyone do such a thing?"

After hearing that, I had to step back and think. It wasn't enough for my 55 year old character to take an experimental pill to revert her to 24, but I also had to give her a good motive for doing so. Piling more reasons on would be even better. After all, the more a character suffers, the more readers are happy.

To make her desperate, I virtually killed her husband, gave her a bad thyroid, and bequeathed her with the beginnings of osteoporosis, a disease which caused her mother's decline and death. Then, if that wasn't enough, I let her lose her job.

Satisfied I'd made my character absolutely abject, I presented her with the option of taking an experimental pill to turn her young again, free from age-related diseases, yet able to retain her memories.

There are other methods I could have used to show why my heroine took such a drastic measure. Here are some I might have tried, but decided not to:
  • Establish early on through hints, words, and actions that she was a devil-may-care person, who'd do anything on a whim
  • Make her the pill's inventor who'd like to test the pill on herself
  • Let her be a doer of good deeds, who wants to benefit mankind by being the first to try the pill.
From my examples, you get some idea of how to go about establishing motive. Remember to include your own character motivation in accordance with the type of character you wish to portray to your readers.

Now, about what happens after my heroine took that pill -- well, let's just say, it's not all rosy. Otherwise, the book would have ended right there. To find out what other tortures I devised for her, you'll need to read Forever Young: Blessing or Curse on kindle.

What reasons can you think of for taking a pill to be 24 forever? Would you do it? Or, maybe you know someone, real or imaginary, who would?

Try Morgan Mandel
for Diversity and Versatilty
Morgan's next Tour Stop for Forever Young: Blessing or Curse is on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012, at L. Diane Wolfe's Blog,

Morgan Mandel is a past president of Chicago-North RWA, past library liaison for Midwest MWA, belongs to Sisters in Crime and EPIC. All of her books can be found at Amazon and Smashwords.

Morgan is an active blogger and networker. Her personal blogspot is:

Monday, January 9, 2012

Writing in 140: Seeing Down Writing Journey's Road

In January 2011, I wrote about stretching yourself as a writer. This New Year, how about we think about our future writing self? In your writing career, where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? What projects are you writing? How many? Are you self-publishing or going the traditional route? Have you moved into writing articles and non-fiction to promote your fictional works? Are you now writing screenplays? Coaching and editing? It's great to think yearly and organize what projects you plan to write within a year's time, but it's equally great (and important) to stop and widen, deepen the view of your writing career…and take notes. Knowing where you want to be will help you situate what you have to do now and in the immediate future in order to get there.

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 academically. 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, writing, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Busted!—Cracked.com caught packing a loaded sentence

It was Christmas afternoon, my older son was curled up on the couch with a book I’d given him, and he wouldn’t stop giggling.

The book was You Might be a Zombie and Other Bad News, from the editors of Cracked.com, and I'd known as soon as I saw the title that the book would be a perfect gift for my son. I hadn't necessarily planned to purchase anything the fall day I'd been browsing through my local bookstore, but a quick flip through confirmed the notion, and soon thereafter my Christmas shopping season had officially begun.

This son is 24 and I’ve read aloud to him his whole life long. A fringe benefit is that he also likes to read aloud to me. So when I asked him what was so funny, he started reading from a chapter called “Four Things Your Mom Said Were Healthy That Can Kill You.” The countdown was in reverse order and began with #4: Exercising.

He read:
Exercise is good for you. Exercise is hard. Therefore the more you exercise, the better off your body will be, right? There’s no better example of this line of reasoning than the marathon, which is named for the legendary Greek messenger who ran 26.2 miles from a battle in Marathon to Athens, announced to the general assembly, “We won,” and promptly dropped dead.

Maybe it's my love of the thought of exercising, or the number of cookies attempting digestion in my belly—or who knows, maybe it's just an editor thing. But I already found this set-up funny, with its short sentences, simple logic, triumphant backstory, and swift, understated climax. But in this post I want to focus on the next sentence:

Ignoring the cautionary-tale shape to that story arc, the modern fitness movement made the recreation of the mythical death sprint their de facto symbol of peak physical condition (the ancient Greco-Roman sports of nude wrestling and lion fighting were presumably dismissed as too gay and too cruel to animals, respectively).

I loved hearing this sentence so much I asked my son to read it again. It won’t be funny once I’m done dissecting it—analysis is such a buzz kill—but hopefully I can point out a few things about great writing.

1. It is concise. Even the word “that,” which can be removed to the betterment of most sentences, is a simple yet vital means of identifying the focus of the commentary to come.

2. It makes you feel smart. The unidentified author uses language just esoteric enough that you feel like an insider for grasping the concepts: “story arc,” “modern fitness movement,” “de facto symbol.” By engaging your mind to create relationships rather than spoon-feeding, the prose draws you in.

3. The words chosen convey both concrete and applied meaning. “Ignoring the cautionary-tale shape,” “mythical death sprint.” Further, equating the three-word “mythical death sprint” with the symmetrical “peak physical condition” is quite funny.

4. Modern socio-political movements (gay rights, cruelty to animals) are retroactively applied to ancient practices in a way that suggests a timeless truth—people were always a little “cracked.”

5. It has a great sound. Say the sentence out loud. Enjoy the hard c’s, the “sh” sounds and the s’s, the “p” versus the “ph,” the repetition of “too.”

Have trouble writing like that? Don't worry. This kind of charged, taut prose rarely rolls from mind to keyboard in a first attempt, but it is well worth striving for in further drafts. Reading aloud is a great way to check your progress.

How about you—enjoyed any good sentences lately?

Kathryn Craft specializes in developmental editing at Writing-Partner.com, 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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