Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ah, First Love

It wasn’t the first book I read, or the first character I loved. Although it’s stayed in print since 1911, it wasn’t discussed among my friends, nor was it this author’s most famous work.

That made first love all the sweeter for me, for it was an act of discovery. Jennie Gerhardt was all mine.

Ours was an introduction of convenience; my parents had a copy on their bookshelves. Until I re-read it this month in preparation for this post, I couldn’t have told you the particulars of plot or character. I still can’t remember what the cover looked like—neither can Google, as there’ve been many over the past century.

If my blur of memory sounds odd, forgive me. It’s been forty years since I spent time with Theodore Dreiser’s prose.

What's important about first love is the way it makes you feel, and that I recall vividly. Jennie Gerhardt was the first book I’d ever read without racing to The End. Then, as now, I saw my life limited only by the number of novels I could read. But the year I read Jennie Gerhardt, I did so in a romantic spot: our summer home in Northern New York State, on a swing beneath a towering hemlock. I’d linger over paragraphs, tasting again and again the way the words felt on my tongue. I'd look out over the lake to think about the ideas Dreiser presented. It was the first novel I luxuriated in.

Re-reading allowed me to revisit my burgeoning selfhood, since what we love tells us so much about ourselves (especially in retrospect, as anyone who has loved and lost can tell you).

Jennie is 18 when the story begins. Despite the fact that each family member contributes pay from their menial jobs, Jennie and her siblings are forced to eat little and pick coal from the rail yard. Their options in life are limited until Jennie, who is beautiful and kind, draws the attention of men in stations above hers—first an Ohio senator, and later a wealthy businessman.

The conflicts explored have to do with the hopelessness of bettering oneself in society. The lake was a great place to contemplate the topic, as I had a range of recurring summer friendships that included both people with the means to own summer homes and the townies that lived nearby, all of whom I loved equally well.

Unlike most modern writers, who build their concerns into the plot and leave interpretation to the reader, Dreiser was taken to philosophical asides that tickled my curiosity about life’s larger themes. I was already shaping up to be a deep thinker.

He wrote:
We live in an age in which the impact of materialized forces is well-nigh irresistible; the spiritual nature is overwhelmed by the shock.

The materialized forces he enumerates, that produce "a kaleidoscopic glitter, a dazzling and confusing phantasmagoria of life that wearies and stultifies the mental and moral nature," include the telegraph, the railroad, and the newspaper—ha! How much more true today is the "white light of publicity," in this age of cell phone and internet, Facebook and Twitter!

In another passage:
“Must it be?” they ask themselves, in speculating concerning the possibility of taking a maiden to wife, “that I shall be compelled to swallow the whole social code, make a covenant with society, sign a pledge of abstinence, and give to another a life interest in all my affairs, when I know too well that I am but taking to my arms a variable creature like myself, whose wishes are apt to become insistent and burdensome in proportion to the decrease of her beauty and interest?

Though writing styles have changed, I loved in Jennie Gerhardt the same thing I love in novels today. It’s what I love about my own writing: the sweet discovery. The prismatic view. The way carefully arranged words can order and deepen and expand my thinking. The way character or story encourages me to appreciate life’s precious details and mull over its unanswerable questions. To laugh at human folly while contemplating nothing less than the meaning of my existence.

Sometimes, in books like Jennie Gerhardt, a young girl can find all that in one paragraph. That’s a paragraph worth lingering over, in a book worthy of her love.

Jennie Gerhardt is available for free Kindle download. What book was your first love?

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, 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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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lovin’ It!

When I was a preschooler, I loved sitting on the couch next to my mother and listening to her read stories. (This was long before television and computers and Nintendo.) After hearing them multiple times, I read the stories —word for word—to her. She assured me later that I had memorized them, but not so. I had learned to read them. So began my love of books.

By mid-elementary school, I wrote poetry, which was often published in the weekly bulletin. In high school, I worked on newspapers and started a novel. And I read, read, read everything—Nancy Drew and Beverly Gray mysteries, as well as all kinds of fiction (mostly) from the school library. Visions of writing novels (my version of sugarplums) danced in my head.

Then life interfered under the guise of five children, six step-children, a disabled husband, and a myriad other distractions that put writing—and even reading—on long-term hold. The children grew up. A novel took shape in my head, then a second and a third, etc. The disabled husband remained, so my time was still not my own. Nonetheless, my first book finally went to press (when I was in my mid sixties), and it brought requests from others for help with their books. Writing turned to editing and then to publishing. All that was denied me in what should have been my most productive years blossomed forth from wherever it had lain dormant, and a new creative life began.

The writing evolved into editing, which quickly became a full-time job that took over almost all my writing hours. That eventually evolved into my present career: coaching. Teaching a writer to write well and watching that writer progress from a good storyteller to a fabulous novelist brings rewards far beyond any monetary payment. If someone had given me the tools that I can now give others, I’d like to think that I’d have written several books by now. Even if that weren’t the case, the knowledge would have made the process of what I did write a lot easier. Now it has come full circle—I can write again (aka, finish several novels that are in various stages of development).

And I’m lovin’ it.

Tell me now, what are you lovin’ about reading, writing, etc.?

Linda Lane loves to teach writers how to write well. Visit her website for more information about how she and her team can help you become the writer you want to be.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

If You Love an Author, How Much Will You Forgive?

While preparing my new romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, for publication, I spent countless hours editing even before turning the manuscript over to my editor for two additional edits.

I'd heard too many times about how readers can be so disappointed by favorite authors that they'd stopped reading their books. For a long while, before I learned more about the do's and don'ts of good writing, I really enjoyed reading Danielle Steel romances. The problem with too much knowledge is I came to realize her writing was sloppy and repetitive. In how many books did the heroine's lover or husband have to die so she could go searching for a replacement? After deciding not to read any more of Danielle's books, I did try a few times to reverse that decision when I spotted new releases at the library. After all, her books were easy reads, escapism, and it was kind of comforting to know what to expect. That was then. Now I have a huge TBR pile, and don't need to settle for second best.

Danielle Steel has built up an audience and might get away with churning out books that could be better, yet how much is too much before a reader won't buy a book, or will close one without finishing it?

If I'm reading a good story that is told well, I'll forgive an author for a few slipups, whether intentional or otherwise. However, if the slipups start to intrude on my enjoyment and take me out of the story, I won't waste time reading dredge. Like I mentioned before, there are too many quality books waiting to be read.

What author errors won't I forgive? Here are some of them:
  • Unclear and/or wrongly placed point of view changes, sometimes even in the same paragraph. I need to know who I'm rooting for and when.
  • Author intrusion of his or her point of view, unless it's a memoir. Don't tell a reader what to think. 
  • A multitude of spelling errors. I expect a few in a book, but not tons of them. Someone said ten were normal, but that seems a lot. If I spotted five, I'd have to be very interested in a book to keep reading.
  • Characters that do stupid things that don't make sense; such as heroines who deserve to die because they go out of their way to put themselves in danger when a safe solution is apparent.
  • Characters introduced near the end of a mystery for the sole purpose of solving a crime. Where did that person come from? All of a sudden he or she did it. What a letdown.
What will you, or won't you, forgive from an author you love?

Morgan Mandel is a past president of Chicago-North RWA, past library liaison for Midwest MWA, belongs to Sisters in Crime and EPIC.  Her latest romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse is about a 55 year old widow who turns 24, and may not live to regret it.
All four of Morgan's books are on kindle and other electronic formats.

Morgan is an active blogger and networker. Her personal blogspot is:
Also, catch Morgan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Themes in Publishing: Priming the Pump

When I was a little girl, we had a pump that periodically lost its prime. My father would have to prime it so water would again flow freely from our faucets. I remember watching him and wondering about the mechanics of that process.

Publishing a book bears a strong resemblance to priming that pump. Whether you choose to self-publish, use an indie publisher, go for e-books, or find another route to get your work out, you need to make certain the mechanics of what you do assure that your book will flow seamlessly into the marketplace and find its audience.

Doing this guarantees big book sales, right? We all know better than that. What it does guarantee is a finished product that is mechanically and aesthetically pleasing. Our clear, tight content speaks to our intended audience; and our critics cannot find justifiable fault with the grammar, punctuation, presentation, or appearance. What’s next? No matter the genre, the journey we take from idea to first draft to publication follows the same mechanical route.

• Start with a plan – the journalistic who, what, when, where, why, and how.
• Research your topic – even when you think you know what you’re talking about, double-check your facts because “facts” have been known to change. This applies to fiction as well as non-fiction and do-it-yourself projects.
• Consider the needs, interests, educational background, and age of your intended audience.
• Create an outline that works for you – doesn’t need to look like an English-class assignment but should be logical and cohesive.
• Review your notes (in whatever format) and write your first draft. Grammar and punctuation need not be serious concerns at this point.
• Put the completed draft aside for a period of time – at least a few weeks if possible.
• Get it out and go over it thoroughly and with a critical eye – and so the rewrites begin.
• Now’s the time to consider grammar and punctuation. Have you used powerful verbs, created vivid word pictures, and kept your reader engaged? Does one scene or segment flow smoothly into the next?
• Send your best draft to your beta readers for feedback, and consider their suggestions and the reasons behind them.
• Polish your manuscript to the best of your ability.
• Send it to a competent editor who’s well-qualified in your genre and a good fit for your story, style, and personality. Then, under the guidance of the editor, fix the problems in the manuscript.
• If you plan to self-pub, choose a cover designer and a book-layout professional. Great content hiding inside a blah cover and stretched across uninviting pages doesn’t sell books. Also, be sure you or your designers contact the printer for appropriate templates and other guidelines.
• Present your publisher or printer with a full, press-ready package that pops – or at least as full as that entity permits.
• Be sure you have the prerogative to review the blueline or other proof and make necessary changes. If you’ve done your work right, you should find very few problems at this stage.

Now you’ve gone through the mechanical processes that take you a step closer to graduating from amateur to professional writer. You’re ready to publish your book and prime your marketing pump.

What other steps do you take to create press-ready copy of your work? What issues have you encountered in the process and how have you handled them? Do you have any advice for fellow writers who want to prime the pump to facilitate flow from hard drive to hard copy?

Linda Lane and her editing team are now teaching writers to write well. Just as teaching a man to fish will feed him for a lifetime, teaching a writer to write well will help launch him/her into the ranks of professional author and save big bucks on future editing costs. Learn more about what she and her team do at

Friday, February 24, 2012

Writing: Love It or Hate It?

Writing is:

• A clandestine love affair
• An approach-avoidance relationship
• A black hole
• An elusive butterfly
• Giving birth
• Filling the well
• Creating a rainbow
• Completing the unfinished
• Wisps of smoke
• A pact with the devil (or an angel)
• Building a sandcastle
• Reviving the dead
• Walking in someone else’s moccasins
• Joy
• Despair
• Hate
• Love

What does writing mean to you?

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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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Be My Guest: Gemini Wordsmiths on their Love of Games

Please join the Blood-Red Pencil in welcoming guest posters and partners in editing crime, Ruth Littner and Ann Stolinsky, of Gemini Wordsmiths.

During the Jurassic Period, Ann Stolinsky and Ruth Littner knew they wanted to become editors when they grew up. As time progressed, continents drifted, the written word was invented, and their dreams came true. Here is some crucial information about how the company began, who really wears the pants in the family, and what expectations can be exceeded:

Fictional Moderator: How did you start your business?

Ann: Ruth and I met at one of the monthly meetings of the Writers’ Coffeehouse in Willow Grove, PA, during the roundtable introductions.

Ruth: I saw a woman across the table who looked exactly like me. It was a bit unnerving and I felt sorry for her. When she said she was interested in starting an editing company, I knew we were long-lost twins and I had to approach her.

Ann: When we met after to introduce ourselves, it was confirmed that we are identical twins, except for one detail: Ruth is 6 feet tall and I’m barely 5 feet.

Ruth: And to reinforce kismet, it turns out that our daughters have known each other for years.

Moderator: How well do you work together?

Ann: Ruth and I work superbly together. Our work ethic and our desire to deliver the best possible product are very much in sync.

Ruth: The yin and yang of our editing strengths are only surpassed by our ability to laugh together and face work issues from differing approaches.

Ann: As for the question about who wears the pants in the family, that should be answered right here, right now. We both do. It’s a pair of pants.

Moderator: What types of clients do you attract?

Ruth: It’s crazy, but most of them are normal! We have a niche in editing game rules and testing for game playability, so we attract a large gamer market. Additionally, we polish documents produced by folks who have English as a second language so they appear “native” to the reader. We create or improve newsletters for organizations. We attract writers needing developmental or line editing for their manuscripts. We edit websites, write scripts for website videos, and even guest blog!

Ann: The children’s song, "I’m Gonna Eat Some Worms" comes to mind: “We attract short, fat, skinny ones, big, tall, juicy ones. …” LOL. We attract a variety of clients with our twin-ship accident of birth. Our first client was in California and our second was in Canada. We became international superstars with that second job since we went “global.” We’re currently in contract negotiations with a national team of web designers to be their editors. It’s an exciting time.

Moderator: How do you find work?

Ann: We market, market, market. We utilize LinkedIn and other social media. I attend board game and other types of conventions and I market in person.

Ruth: Word-of-mouth is our best marketing tool. Our previous clients are happy to share their “find” of Gemini Wordsmiths. Additionally, sometimes we randomly cruise websites, laugh/cry at their grammatical and typographical errors, and contact the site owners to discuss improvements. We even show them how to play “tag” with SEO for their sites. This works!

Moderator: Do you work independently on each job?

Ann: It depends on the job. The majority of the time, we edit material independently, then get together to review our individual edits. I guess this is really where the wearing of the pants comes in. If we are in conflict, we discuss our positions and come to an agreement. Clients are not just getting one pair of eyes, they are getting two pair — or four pair, if you count our glasses.

Ruth: We work on most jobs independently using our individual strengths. Then we collaborate. If we have a discrepancy, I point out to Ann that I am correct and we continue. Just kidding. She’s right sometimes, too. Kidding again.

Moderator: Last question. How do you exceed expectations?

Ann: With most companies, the client gets one editor, one edit. If the client would like a second edit, they have to pay another company and/or another editor. With Gemini Wordsmiths, the client gets two sets of edits for the price of one, and at the same time. We have no lives outside of our jobs (oh wait, that’s just me!), but we both devote an enormous amount of time to ensuring that the final products are the best they can be. Quality work is our signature.

Ruth: What she said. And, by the way, we’re nice. And who can resist working with two gorgeous redheads?

Disclaimer: Ruth's last comment may imply an oxymoron. We love editors here at BRP, but do writers exist who believe their editors are "nice"?

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, 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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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Love Your Characters

Like most writers I really love my characters. I think we really have to love them to stay with them for a whole book, and especially a series. L.J. Sellers has kept her Detective Jackson series going because she still likes visiting every day with that detective and the cast of characters who continue from one book to another. It is the same with other series writers like Sue Grafton, Louise Penny, John Sandford, William Kent Krueger, and more. They/we all love our characters.

In thinking about this to start writing a blog post about it, I wondered why these characters are so loved and so memorable, and I think I figured out at least one reason why. It's because we know so much more about them than the color of their hair or what kind of shoes they wear. We know how our continuing characters think and feel, so we know how they are going to react to a situation or event. We also know their back story - what happened in their lives before they started appearing on the pages of our books. That information is important so we know what shaped our character, and it is best if dropped into the current story in tasty little tidbits.

Isn't that a better way to get to know someone than by being taken for a tour of their home or office before they even step into the scene?

I just went through the galley for Stalking Season, the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season, and when I finished I thought, gosh I love Sarah and Angel. I started to connect with the two detectives as people again and couldn't wait to get started on the third book. I even considered abandoning the book I'm working on to start hanging out with these two ladies again.

When I introduced them in the first book, it was done with very little physical description and more showing of their thoughts and feelings:

"Sarah took a deep breath and faced Quinlin in the stuffy cubbyhole of an office." The first couple of paragraphs set up why she is there and who Quinlin is. In the second paragraph we find out how she feels about being grilled by internal affairs:

"A trickle of perspiration ran down Sarah’s back and dampened her white T-shirt. Shifting in the wooden chair, she contemplated the wisdom of taking off her jacket, then decided against it. He would interpret it as a sign of weakness."

The first time Angel appears in the story, Sarah has just taken a seat in the briefing room across from a new detective:

"The woman turned to give Sarah the briefest of nods, and she recognized the mass of tight curls haloing a creamy mocha complexion as belonging to a former patrol officer. Angel?"

Then the sergeant assigns Sarah and Angel to a new case as partners. This is Sarah's response, which reveals a bit about Angel:

"Sarah turned sharply to look at Angel, and the elusive last name clicked. Something else clicked, too. An attitude that Angel wielded like a sword, heralding the proclamation, 'Don’t think that the only reason I’m here is because I’m a woman and I’m black.'"

This way of showing character is a trick I learned from a good friend and a terrific writer who was able to introduce a character with one brief line:

"Marco knew he wanted to be an artist from the time he was five years old and got in trouble for painting a mural on the living room wall."

What about you? What characters have you fallen in love with, either your own or others? Do you have some examples of great introductions of characters?

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 Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Hearing Voices: I Swear

Swearing isn’t my favorite human trait, in real life or in novels. But a foul mouth can serve a few purposes in writing including these:

  • Define a character as bad
  • Define a character as different from other characters
  • Create a feeling of tension or stress in a character
Overuse of swearing can simply wear on the reader and that’s not a good thing. Most good authors know to keep it light unless they have a really good reason to do otherwise.

Swearing also has to be in character, and it surprises me how carefully authors will create a character down to the color of the top-stitching on their silk shirts, but don’t really think about what kind of expletives would fall out of their mouths, if any at all.

Recently, I read a book in which the author had used a rather creative cursing expression for the protagonist. That character didn’t swear much, just when he was in the occasional tight fix. To keep things anonymous, let’s pretend this character was a literature professor and he swore by saying “bloody balls”.

In the course of the action, the wicked antagonist, who had not one second of direct contact with the professor and no previous life connection at all, was skillfully propelled toward our hero in one of those deftly crafted train wrecks that make for a good thriller. Suddenly, the perp stops and clutches his heart, he pales, falls to his knees, gasps, and whispers, “bloody balls.”

What? Wait a minute. Who is having the heart attack here? I had to go back and re-read a few pages to figure out what was going on. Now what is the likelihood of two such disparate characters in one book using exactly the same expletive? Not bloody likely at all! That’s exactly the kind of mistake that pulls a reader out of the story.

But you know what? I can hear the author using the exact same expression. What I was hearing was not the hero, nor the bad guy. I was hearing the writer’s voice.

So keep that in mind as you craft your characters’ voices. How would they swear, if they did at all? When they swear, what perpetrates them to do so? It’s just one more way to give them each a distinctly honed and unforgettable personality.
Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, writer, editor, artist, and Special Projects Coordinator for Little Pickle Press. You may find her at Facebook and at Twitter.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Be My Guest - Debby Harris

Quis Cetera Nescit? (Ovid:  “Who Does Not Know the Rest?”)

Some years ago, I was invited to speak at the St. Andrews University Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. I had so much fun, I started regularly attending their meetings - and thereby hangs the tale.

During the week of Valentine’s Day, the president of the Society gave a talk on the subject of Sex and Romance in SF/F Literature. The presentation featured a selection of readings from works by Robert Heinlein, Robert Howard, and Anne Rice, among others. Given the fact that many of these passages were uproariously funny when read aloud out of context, I was more than a little taken aback to find myself represented on the agenda by a passage from Spiral of Fire, the third volume of my Garillon trilogy.

In this scene, Margoth, the novel’s leading lady, seduces her beloved and leads him off to bed. The chapter ends thus:

She traced the sharp-cut line of Serdor’s lips, stoking downward to the base of his throat, where she began loosening the laces of his collar. Without releasing her, he said huskily, “If you’re going to keep that up, I won’t be responsible for the consequences.”

“Nothing could please me more than to hear you say so,” Margoth assured him. “Now why don’t I help you off with that shirt…” (dramatically read out as “Dot! Dot! Dot!”)

Much friendly ribaldry greeted my coy use of the ellipsis here and elsewhere–to the extent that I’ve been gun-shy of using the device ever since. But from a writer’s perspective, the central question still remains: when a particular couple are poised to consummate their relationship sexually, at what point do you metaphorically switch off the camera and leave the rest to your reader’s imagination?

There are, of course, no hard and fast rules to go by. (If only there were!) But in my experience, the following questions may have some bearing on the situation:

1) How much emotional groundwork have you previously layered in?
2) What’s the nature of the sexual magnetism between the partners? (I.e., are you dealing with raw hormonal urges or a conjugation of soul-mates?)
3) What factors in the story have prevented the partners from bonding before now? (And what makes NOW the right time?)
4) What other aspects of the story (plot, pacing, character development, theme, etc.) are being served by this event?

Medieval writers used to discriminate between eros (animal passion) and agape (spiritualised love). Although we no longer formally differentiate between these two extremes, there is perhaps an artistic distinction to be made between depicting sex as an end in itself, as compared to depicting sex as the crowning affirmation of a relationship.

In my own work - though I’m not aware of having made a conscious decision in this matter - my standard of practice seems to have been “the baser the passion, the more graphic and detailed the treatment.” In other words, I have fewer inhibitions writing about lust than I have when it comes to depicting romance. Why this is so, I can only speculate, but I suspect that it has something to do with a fuzzy notion that love in its fullest expression is something of a mystery. Thus, drawing a veil over a love scene may sometimes be the best way to preserve the romance.

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees. She is also an author with multiple titles to her name. Not one to brag about her accomplishments, we offer you the link to her no-longer-secret webpage.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Be My Guest - Jodie Renner

In keeping with our February theme of Love, guest blogger, Jodie Renner, shares her love of reading and some of her favorite books. Enjoy.

I Love Reading Fiction

Reading fiction has always given me pleasure, from way back in my early school days in a small mining town, where the teachers usually provided novels for us to read in our spare time. The world of exciting stories was a magical discovery for me—coming from a large, working-class family, we had very few books at home. Some of my earliest favorites were Heidi and The Bobbsey Twins series. Then the Nancy Drew mysteries, horse and dog books like Black Beauty and Old Yeller, and historical fiction like Little Women, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn—and lots more that I can’t remember. (Yes, I know I’m seriously dating myself here!)

In high school and university, I discovered classics like Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, Catch 22, and others. I’m sure you can all add some old favorites.

As an adult, I’ve gone through phases with my reading for pleasure – historical fiction from James Clavell, James Michener and Leon Uris to find out about other places and times; women’s fiction from Susan Isaacs, Barbara Delinsky, Jodi Picoult, Maeve Binchy and Joanna Trollope for reaffirmation and a sense of community with other women; mysteries by various authors to challenge my mind, and bestsellers by writers like John Grisham and John LeCarre for intrigue.

And as a middle-grade English teacher, even though my school had a library, I always had a huge collection of fiction for my students to choose from, and I read aloud to them daily. (And along the road, I got a master’s degree in French Literature, but that’s another story.)

In the last few years, I’ve mostly chosen, for escapism and entertainment, thrillers and other suspense or crime fiction. After a long day of editing (mostly thrillers and other crime fiction), I still want to read for relaxation, believe it or not, but I don’t choose books that tax my tired brain. So these days I’m going for an adrenalin rush or to see the hero catch the bad guy just in the nick of time—entertaining and satisfying.

My favorite authors of the past several years have been Sandra Brown, Lee Child, Robert Crais, Nora Roberts, (her romantic suspense), Harlan Coben, and Michael Connelly. I especially enjoy the stories where the white knight defeats evil, with brave, determined, strong heroes like Jack Reacher, Joe Pike and Elvis Cole. Other contemporary writers I enjoy for thrillers and suspenseful mysteries are Lisa Scottoline, LJ Sellers, Andrew E. Kaufman (The Lion, The Lamb, The Hunted), Lisa Gardner, Janet Evanovich, Allison Brennan, and Ian Walkley ( No Remorse).

Do you have any thriller, suspense or crime fiction authors to recommend to me? I’d love to hear about more good ones to explore and enjoy!
Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction, as well as YA and historical fiction. Check out Jodie’s website at   

Posted by Maryann Miller who would humbly suggest her suspense novel, One Small Victory, and her mystery, Open Season.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Be My Guest - Susan Malone


Ah, February—the season of the Valentine.  When all thoughts turn to love (or lust!). But with books and stories, we almost always have a “valentine” moment.  No matter in which genre you’re writing, a love scene is almost always included, be it Thriller or Mystery, Fantasy (good grief but vampires seem to have nothing else to do!), Mainstream, etc., etc., at some point our hero gets a breather from his travails and is rewarded by some physical love. And, by golly, most of the time he deserves it! Or should—if not, you may have missed a critical element in your storyline and character development.

I’m not talking erotica or the graphic sex of Urban Lit, but in just about every other story genre we still need some love. And we don’t have to write actual “sex” either. Until the past decade and a half or so, the physical aspects of Category Romance were alluded to (“he took the ribbon from her hair” and we break for the next scene), or at most stopped with kissing and touching. Now all categories and genres go a bit further, but that’s up to you—the writer. Of course, you have to write to a category’s specs, but you don’t have to write in that category if you’re uncomfortable there.

The thing is, where you put in this love scene makes all the difference in a good book. It has to do with pacing, with the arc of your storyline. And while characters can kiss and touch and lead up to this throughout the book, the actual positioning (no pun intended!) has a most-perfect place in the organization.

The natural arc of any storyline builds, of course. We have basically three acts in a great book. Act One is all about normal life, the call to adventure, the refusal of the call, and then finally crossing the threshold into the thick of the plot. Act Two is about trials and tribulations, where our hero is gaining knowledge and strength; about meeting mentors and making allies and coming to understand villains, and finally, himself. Our hero goes into his own depths, faces his biggest fears, and comes out the other side stronger and ready to meet the true nemesis in the “final battle” so to speak—whether that battle is internal, or external. Act Three is about that climax, saving the day, and making the world a better place—for himself or all humanity.

The end of Act Two begs for some down time—for both our hero and our readers. I mean, whew! Hero is tired! And so are we. We’ve all worked danged hard to get this far. So this is the natural place for a breather, for the reaping of some rewards for all of our perspiration so far. And what better time, place, and way in which to enjoy that but in a lover’s arms? Especially if said hero has had to work as well to secure the lover when (apologies to the Bard) his course of true love didn’t run so smoothly. This lets all of the external (and by its very nature, internal) demons go quiescent for a bit, while we all bask in some good lovin’.

Then, of course, our hero is fortified with that final piece he needs to go slay the beast, whatever that beast may be. And all of our readers, having partaken of this little piece of heaven, are ready to zoom off with him—satisfied, stronger, and ready to rumba!

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:

Posted by Maryann Miller, who agrees that everyone needs a little love.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The 25% Challenge

Kathleen Ernst’s latest project taps into the decade she spent as a curator at a large historic site.  The Heirloom Murders was recently released and the third Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Lightkeeper’s Legacy, will be published this fall.  Kathleen’s fiction for young readers includes eight historical mysteries.  Honors for her work include Agatha and Edgar nominations.  Kathleen lives and writes in Wisconsin, but takes great pleasure in research trips to new locales! Welcome to the Blood-Red Pencil, Kathleen.

As a big believer in sloppy first drafts, I try not to censor myself when capturing ideas.  My fingers fly and words fill the pages.

When I revise, a lot of those words disappear.

That wasn’t always the case.  My first three novels were published without making any significant revisions.  Then I began writing books for the History Mystery series published by Pleasant Company.  The business model for these kids’ books dictated a target word count. My rough draft for one of them, Whistler in the Dark, was more than thirty percent too long.

First, I panicked. Second, I reluctantly identified a chapter that could go. Third, I crept through the manuscript looking for places to trim.  I examined each sentence. Was it  necessary? If so, could I rewrite it using fewer words?  Facing the manuscript with scalpel in hand was excruciating. By the time I reached the end of the book, snipping a word here and a phrase there, I had wrestled the count into acceptable range.

Midnight Ink, the publisher for my latest project, the Chloe Ellefson mysteries for adults, also needs manuscripts to fall into a certain target word count range. When MI picked up the first Chloe novel, Old World Murder, the editor asked me to cut the length by about a quarter (I axed twenty thousand words.) Trimming five thousand words from The Lightkeeper’s Legacy, my latest Chloe mystery, was time-consuming but painless. I cut one short scene that didn’t belong, and lost the rest simply by tightening up my prose.

(Want an example of tightening sloppy prose?  Here’s the first draft of a sentence in the third paragraph above:  My first three novels were published by a small press, and each was printed without making any significant length change during the editing process.  That contains twenty-four words; the edited sentence above, eleven.)

I’ve needed to cut length on the last eleven books I’ve had published.  The most important thing  learned along the way?  I don’t miss what was lost.

Since I wouldn’t have discovered this if I hadn’t been forced to,  I often present a challenge to students in classes and workshops.  You can play, too.

1. Choose a short story or novel chapter that you’ve been working with. Not a first sloppy draft; something you’ve revised.

2. Copy it into a new computer document, or make a clean photocopy of the pages. This is important! You won’t feel emotionally safe making changes without knowing that you can return to the original.

3. Check word count.

4. Cut that word count by twenty-five percent. If your first pass through doesn’t do it, work your way through again. Repeat the process until you have reached the goal.

5. Put the manuscript aside for at least a week. Then read the leaner version, without checking it against the original. If you truly miss something you deleted, replace it. Voice and style sometimes trump all else! I suspect, though, that you won’t miss a lot of what was cut.

Give the challenge a try!  I think you—and your editors and readers—will be glad you did.

 I’m grateful to Dani and the other Blood Red editors  for allowing me to visit.  And I’m grateful to readers!  I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you.  Leave a comment, and your name will go into a drawing for a free book.  The winner can choose any of my seventeen titles.  The Heirloom Murders, one of my American Girl mysteries, a Civil War novel—the choice will be yours!  To learn more, please visit my website,

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Writing in 140: Making Characters Suffer

Question: Main character goes through an entire story and does not suffer—good or bad for your book?

Answer: Bad. Characters must suffer. It’s what drives readers to read the book. They want to see how the character gets out of the situation(s) you place her or him in—or if s/he will. And not only should that character suffer, but we should see her or him suffer, too. It’s one thing to be told that a character is suffering, but it’s a whole other (and better) thing to show the suffering—let us be a part of it with all of our senses. Readers need to see your character hurting, wanting for something and unable to have it. They need to see struggle, strife—what we call conflict.

So, what are you making your main character suffer through?

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, February 10, 2012

Cues from the Coach: What’s an Editor Worth?

Recently, the following comment was posted by “Anonymous” in response to my article on writing coaches. Its disgruntled writer disputed any need for “expensive” coaches and editors. (“I know too many editors that insisted on using their own ideas which robbed the author of authenticity.”) If this comment is an objective description of the writer’s personal experience, it heaps shame on the editor(s) involved. However, the blanket statement condemns all editors and, by extension, all writing coaches. This is like saying no works of writers who self-publish or independently publish have value. Neither is true, so it needs to be addressed. Here is the comment exactly as it appeared:

A coach and an editor? And if the book doesn’t sell, how much was spent for nothing? The concept seems too expensive and is more condesending then helpful. In other words, if an ‘author’ uses a coach and an editor, it is no longer his/her story. I know of too many editors that insisted on using their own ideas which robbed the author of authenticity.
Bah Humbug!

Being a great storyteller does not mean being a great writer. Acquiring skill in any field requires some type of training, and it almost always requires teamwork. A writer without a team will likely be a writer without a major publisher because he/she does not know everything necessary to create a marketable book. Self-publishing or publishing through a vanity house is always an option; but even then, a book must be well-written if the writer wants to be accepted as a professional, credible member of the writing community. The truth is this: a writer who puts out books of poor quality will not likely end up on the New York Times bestseller list. Nor will that writer easily live down the reputation of being the creator of inferior work.

The advent of digital publishing opened the doors to a plethora of writers who never before garnered even the most remote hope of being picked up by a big-name agent or publisher. This resulted in an astounding number of poorly written books flooding the market, and the stigma rose like a black cloud over any book that was independently or self-published. As a result of this sub-standard influx, all writers who chose that publishing route suffered—regardless of the quality of their works.

Consider the quotation above. Does that author need a coach? Probably not. The statement is clear, it flows, and the point is made. Does he/she need an editor? All writers need editors. We are too close to our work to view it objectively, and a good editor provides the polish that makes it shine. Does that polish ‘rob’ the author of “authenticity”? No! But it contributes to the author’s reputation as a good writer.

This isn’t an ego issue, and no competent editor will impose his/her own ideas on a story. However, suggestions may be made—and some direction given—to expand a scene, further develop a character, reorder content, provide needed transitions, perk up dialogue, address POV, avoid writer intrusion, smooth flow, create an opening hook or add hooks at chapter ends, or any number of other corrections that will help the author hone his/her great story into a great, marketable book. That story will totally be the creation of the author because the competent editor will draw from what that author has written, not interject personal ideas that are not a natural outgrowth of the author’s own words.

Have you worked with an editor who robbed you of your authenticity? How do you deal with suggestions from your editor? Which is more important to you—your words exactly as you wrote them or the polishing of your unique story into your great book?

Linda Lane and her team mentor writers who want to write well. She welcomes all writers in English and Spanish to visit her website and learn about her work.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ageless Love

If you follow The Blood-Red Pencil, chances are you recognize the name Morgan Mandel. She posts here. I thought, this being the month of love, I’d ask her about writing love.

How does love play a role in your latest book, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse?

The heroine, Dorrie Donato, already knows how to love, as evidenced by her strong feelings for her husband, Larry, and her devastation when he dies. She not only recalls the physical bond they shared, but also how they connected on so many other levels. When he’s gone from her life, she feels the loss immensely. She also experiences other forms of love—that for her mother, and her best friend.

Another central character, Roman Remington aka The Angel Man, dubbed so because of his hunky blond-haired, blue-eyed angelic appearance, has never known love. He finds it hard to imagine the concept. His homelife was less than idyllic, with his father running out on his mother, and his mother showing no warmth for her son. Through interaction with Dorrie, he learns the true meaning of love. Unfortunately, that love results in dire consequences for him.

I’ve heard people say that love is for the young. Since Dorrie, at 55, loves her husband, do you think her love for him changes when she reverts to 24 years old?

No, Dorrie’s love for Larry doesn’t change when she reverts back to her 24 year- old body. That’s because one of the wonders of the Forever Young pill is the recipient not only can go back to a desired age, but also can retain all previous memories. Though her life is filled with new experiences as she touts the miracle pill, she still remembers well her husband’s passing, and very much regrets it. In one exchange, she mentions if she could somehow get Larry back, she’d gladly give up being young again in favor of growing old with him instead.

Forever Young is not a Romance, although there is a strong undercurrent of love. Why did you decide to include love in this Suspense?

I can’t help including some sort of romance and love in my books. Love, whether it be for a spouse, parent, other family member, friend, pet, or on a lesser level, a hobby or occupation, is an integral part of a person’s existence. Without it, there’s a gaping emptiness. Trite but true—Love makes the world go round.

Also, since my writing life matured through the critiques and friendship by membership at Chicago-North Romance Writers of America, love seems to naturally creep into all of my books without any conscious attempt to include it.

Conversely, by belonging to the Midwest Mystery Writers of America Chapter and by going to every Love is Murder Mystery Conference, somehow I can’t help throwing in some sort of suspense in my romance books either, as evidenced in my contemporary romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams.

Why did you decide to publish this book electronically?

I absolutely love my kindle and don’t know how I did without one before. It’s a very handy device, not heavy and so easy to take with, making it possible for me to always have a book on hand to read. I’m sure other owners of electronic readers feel the same connection with their particular choices, so I knew I had to get this book out to the electronic audience, which has grown immensely in the past few years.

Where can readers find electronic versions of Forever Young: Blessing or Curse?

This thriller is on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes, and more. If you don’t see the embedded link here for your desired format, you ‘ll find more at, where I display short excerpts of all four of my novels, as well as all known buy links.

What about paperback copies?

By the time you read this, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse may already be at the CreateSpace store and at If not, it will arrive shortly. I know there are plenty of readers out there who still prefer the solid feel of a traditional book in their hands, so I couldn’t ignore this very important segment of the audience.

Where can people find you on the web?

Right here at at least twice a month.
My personal blog:
My book link blog:

Those are just a start. I’m also at a number of other blogs, Facebook pages, and egroups, too many to mention. I do tend to get carried away.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my Interviewer, Helen Ginger, did a stupendous job of editing Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. For that I heartily thank you, Helen.

You’re welcome. And I thank you for letting me be the first to read it!
Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services. 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 thirteenth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

10 Steps to Writing this just me?

1. Look for your favourite pen.

2. Discover the pen has inexplicably run dry. Go to the store to find new favourite pen.

3. Reward yourself for finding the new pen by buying yourself coffee.

4. Sit down at your desk and rearrange all the paper that has inexplicably covered it.

5. Read what is written on each piece of paper. Decide it's all worth keeping and you'll file it away. Tomorrow.

6. Reward yourself for coming to a decision about the paper by making a tasty sandwich.

7. Clear your head after all this work by taking a brisk walk around the block.

8. Sit down at your desk and stare at the keyboard. Torture yourself with the fact that all the keys are there to write a runaway bestseller, if you just type them in the correct order.

9. Get up from your desk and pace the room. Notice you're making a pathway in the carpet. Resolve to get hardwood floors. Next week.

10. Sit down. Write one sentence. Delete it. Write another sentence. Delete it. Get fed up and write whatever comes into your head. This sparkles. Don't ask why.

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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, February 7, 2012

What's Your Answer?

The What's Your Answer Feature is back, this time in the month of Love and Romance.

Here's how it works. I pose questions. You pick one or more and answer in the comment section. Remember, the more answers you give, the less space each should take up.

You may include one website or blog URL in your comment.

Today's Questions And My Answers:

If romance is included in a mystery, does that inclusion enrich or detract from the reading experience?

I believe romance enriches a mystery, but the author needs to lay enough groundwork to make it in some way integral to the plot. Unexplained physical attraction between characters and/or gratuitous sex at awkward times tip me off the author hasn't put enough effort into weaving the plot.

Do you like to read or write books told from the point of view of a female, male or both?

The books I read or write generally are told from both points of view. It's fun learning about what the opposite sex is thinking, especially in a romance. A good author will string along the reader, letting out a bit of rope at a time, tightening it with more conflict, and repeating the process until the denouement.

Women - Do you read books written by male authors?
Men - Do you read books written by female authors?

Three quarters of the books I read are written by female authors, the other quarter by males. One reason is I like to read romances and other genres which include romance. The ones that interest me generally seem to be written by female authors. That said, two of my favorite authors, who have since departed, were Dick Francis and Sidney Sheldon.

Now It's Your Turn. We'd love to hear your answers. Pick a Question (or more) and Answer In the Comment Section.
On Thursday, Feb. 9, Morgan's Blog Book Tour for her paranormal romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, continues here with an interview by her editor, Helen Ginger.

Morgan Mandel is a past president of Chicago-North RWA,
was the Library Liaison for MWMWA, and is an active blogger & networker.
Her current release, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse is available in PrintKindle, Nook, Smashwords and other formats. Excerpts and buy link lists for all four of Morgan's novels are at:
Morgan's personal blog:

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Grammar ABCs: H is for Hyphen

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate; that is the question.

Is the glass half full or half-full? The answer is not simple. There are so many exceptions it can drive you a little batty.

The grammar books advise us to use the hyphen to form some compound words expressing a combination of ideas, such as cross-reference.

It is also used in SOME compound adjectives (note the use of the word “some”). This means when you use two words as a single modifier before a noun, those two words are hyphenated. For example, Meryl Streep is a well-known actor. The words “well and “known” combine to form one modifier for “actor.” BUT: Meryl Streep is well known. The two words are no longer describing another word and come after the noun.

Sometimes words can mean different things depending on the hyphenation. When you hyphenate the words, you are applying them as a single unit to the noun. For example: A hot-water bottle is a bottle for holding hot water. BUT: A hot water bottle is a water bottle that is hot. My pants need to be re-pressed, but my negative thoughts need to be repressed.

An exception is with a compound modifier containing an “ly” word. You do NOT use a hyphen in that case: clearly defined terms. (I want to, though!)

Use hyphens in fractions: one-half, two-thirds; and compound numbers: twenty-one (up to ninety-nine).

Use the hyphen for SOME prefixes. Usually prefixes do not need hyphens, as in predetermine or unnatural. But use the hyphen when it precedes a capitalized word (un-American) or when a capital letter combines with a word (A-frame) or when it links two words using the same letter (de-emphasize). Some prefixes, such as self-, all-, and ex- usually require hyphens.

The safest thing to do when you're unsure about hyphenating is to look the words up in a dictionary.

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.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Busted!—Colum McCann Caught Exposing his Novel's Spine

In her wonderful cross-genre book The Creative Habit, choreographer Twyla Tharp calls a work’s organizing principal its “spine.” She writes:
The spine is the statement you make to yourself outlining your intentions for the work. You intend to tell this story. You intend to explore this theme. You intend to use this structure. The audience may infer it or not. But if you stick to your spine, the piece will work.

I am such a student of the way structure can support meaning in literature that I had Tharp's notion tucked away in my consciousness while reading my book club’s recent pick, Colum McCann’s 2009 National Book Award winner, Let the Great World Spin.

The book begins with the description of a disparate crowd of onlookers brought together by a 1974 public spectacle—specifically, Philippe Petit’s infamous 110-story walk between the World Trade Center’s twin towers. Because the thread connecting the interrelated stories comprising McCann's novel is as tenuous as Petit's high wire, the book baffled many in our club.

My Kindle was not the best way to experience this book. I longed to flip back through for a more visual sense of how the stories fit together. But I had blogged here about McCann before, and had faith it would all come together—and was rewarded with this paragraph in the voice of a character named Gloria, on p. 306:
I caught glimpses of people’s rooms: a white enamel jar against a window frame, a round wooden table with a newspaper spread out, a pleated shade over a green chair. What, I wondered, were the sounds filling these rooms? It had never occurred to me before but everything in New York is built upon another thing, nothing is entirely by itself, each thing as strange as the last, and connected.

And I thought, there it is: in one paragraph, McCann has revealed the spine of his 400-page work. Once my book club members knew they were peeking into the details of these characters’ lives as if stacked atop one another, the book started to make sense in a way they could verbalize.

Was McCann’s use of this technique conscious? Who knows. But even that which has been done subconsciously, once brought into the light and examined, can be recognized and used again.

About the spine, Tharp concludes:
In the end, whether they see it is not part of the deal I’ve made with my audience. The spine is my little secret. It keeps me on message, but it is not the message itself.

Tell us: What is the spine of your WIP? Is it on the page, on a Post-It, or tucked away in your head?

Kathryn Craft is an author of women's fiction and memoir who 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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