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Showing posts from February, 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

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 dis

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'

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 follo

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.

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 co

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 o

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 swo

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 sh

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

Be My Guest - Susan Malone

THE LOVE SCENE 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 t

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

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

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

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 i

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.

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: Question: If romance is included in a mystery, does that inclusion enrich or detract from the reading experience? Answer: 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. Question: Do you like to read or write books told from the point of view of a female, male or both? Answer: The books I read or write generally are told from both points of view. It's fun learning about what

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 th