Friday, August 31, 2012

Don't Turn Around

Today we welcome Michelle Gagnon, a former modern dancer, dog walker, bartender, freelance journalist, personal trainer, model, and Russian supper club performer. To the delight of her parents, she gave up all these occupations for an infinitely more stable and lucrative career as a crime fiction writer.

Michelle has four bestselling and powerful thrillers under her writing belt, and now has written a young adult novel in the same genre, which was just released a few days ago. Switching from adult to YA of course got our editorial antennae twitching. So we’re going to bombard her with a few questions.

Dani: Welcome to the Blood-Red Pencil, Michelle. I first have to ask you why, why, why? Why the switch to YA? Are you the parent of teens? What made you jump genres?

Michelle: One of the reasons I switched to YA for this series was that a friend pointed out that I’ve had a strong teen character in nearly all of my adult thrillers, and he suggested I try writing an entire thriller from that point of view. And it was really liberating—I ended up writing the rough draft in a little over eight weeks, research and all. No teens yet, although I swear my six year-old is in training to be one.

Dani: Since my interest and specialty is “voice”, did you have to shift mental gears to get into appropriate vernacular for today’s teen reading audience? What kind of special prep work? Any particularly great reference sites to share with us?

Michelle: I think the most helpful thing for me was having teen beta readers. One in particular was fantastic; he went over the texts being sent back and forth, and made them much more consistent with what teens would actually write to each other. I owe him a huge debt.

Dani: I’m a wimp when it comes to thrillers, and wonder whether you did anything to scale back the terror while writing to a younger audience? Or are teens today able to handle about anything? Did you pay mind to anything in particular considering the age of your audience? And what is the age of YA?

Michelle: This book is geared toward 12-17 year-olds (although really, I think that adults will enjoy the story just as much!).  Although, if you’ve read The Hunger Games, you know that terror in YA has become pro forma. I actually think that in many ways, that was one of the most unsettling books I’ve ever read. And hey, Lord of the Flies was pretty disturbing, right? I think that for teens, being able to experience danger virtually is a big plus.

Dani: In a few sentences, tell us what the novel is about, and why a teen would want to read it?

Michelle: How about in just five words? “Teenage hackers on the run.” One reviewer called it, “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets the Bourne Identity,” and I love that description. I wrote the book to be read if possible in one sitting.

Dani:  Will I be able to read it without having heart palps? I cringe already!

Michelle: Absolutely- it’s not nearly as gruesome as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (or even some of my earlier books). But it is designed to be a thrill ride. Good clean fun, though.

Dani:  Okay, I might be sold. Tell us where we can buy the book. Also, how do we connect with you in other places online? Or even in person. Give us details, please.

Michelle: It was selected as an Autumn 2012 IndieNext pick for Teens, so it should be stocked by most of the independents. And I know that Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. all have it in stock. Here are some of my many other links:


Don't miss the party here:

San Francisco
Books Inc., Opera Plaza
601 Van Ness
(Group author Signing with Gretchen McNeil (TEN) and Jessica Shrivington (ENTICE)

Dani: Final comments, Michelle? Supper Club photos, maybe? 

Michelle: Supper Club photos? Ha! Those have all been committed to fire!

Readers, if you have a question for Michelle, please leave them in the comments!

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gateways to Publishing

Please welcome Ginger Moran, author of The Algebra of Snow, to The Blood-Red Pencil today.

When I was in graduate school there was only one door to publishing—the one that lead to the big commercial houses in New York. The only way in was through an agent and it was pretty hard to get one unless you had a guide or mentor who would introduce you to an agent.

And those were the good old days.

Those were the days when there were more than six commercial publishing houses, when the editor you started with was the one you had for your publishing lifetime, and they actually edited your work and helped you get it in shape for publication. In fact, they would take something that was relatively unreadable and turn it into—if not a bestseller, then something like a reasonable-seller.

Make no mistake about it—publishing at the commercial level was never an easy process, nor did very many writers hit that level. I haven’t seen any statistics, but I’d hazard a guess that more writers got commercial publication then, though, and maybe were able to sustain themselves a little better than today, though we should always keep in mind that Faulkner wrote screenplays to make ends meet and Fitzgerald churned out commercial short stories to keep Zelda in feather boas.

But those days are over, for better or worse.

Today the doorway to the commercial houses is extremely narrow. It isn’t nonexistent, as one of my favorite weekly reads, Publisher’s Lunch, will attest. There are a lot of books still being bought every day. Many of them are self-help, true, but the market for some memoirs and novels, both of which I write, still seems extant. And, on a bad day I can still wander into the local Barnes & Noble for a wallop of British breakfast tea and a triple chunk chocolate chip cookie and, though the effect may be abetted by the caffeine and sugar, I’m unfailingly cheered by the sheer number of books that are on sale.

But my books aren’t among them.


Two of my novels have had an agent; many of my essays have been published. An editor at Doubleday who loved my first novel nominated it for a Pushcart Editor’s Choice Award but, like her commercial publishing colleagues, didn’t think it had the potential to make the big bucks commercial fiction has to make to justify the investment.

Several of my friends have published books at the commercial level, including my graduate school buddy Tom Cobb, who wrote the very fine novel Crazy Heart that became the very fine movie by the same name.

But that isn’t the end of the story—publication existing only through the glass of the candy store window, forever out of my reach.

Because now my novel, The Algebra of Snow—the one nominated for the Pushcart Prize—has been published.

And not by me!

I know that self-publication has completely changed its reputation lately and I often counsel my editing clients to consider it. Several of them have not only considered it but done it, and been very happy with the results.

But if I could get one, I wanted a publisher I didn’t have to pay.

Enter the very fine publisher, Main Street Rag.

M. Scott Douglass and his team do a fantastic job of publishing quality books—that is, they look pretty and they are, as far as my sampling has gone, good reads. Not necessarily commercial—but high literary quality.

So here is the gateway that worked for me—a publisher who makes a fine book and gives you a chance to get it out into the world. MSR even does its level best to market it, from taking it to writing conferences to offering Goodreads giveaways.

But mostly you’re on your own—which you know from the very beginning.

Marketing a book is exhilarating and terrifying and hard. When I started writing, I never thought about this end of it. Now it’s about all I think about, as I take a hiatus from writing just to figure out how to do this marketing thing. There are numerous (overwhelming) resources for helping figure this out, and, as with everything else these days, seems to be more a matter of figuring out what not to do—what is actually effective as opposed to possible and/or touted.

If anyone out there has come up with an organized, tested recipe for marketing fiction, I’ll trade you something, like my first-born son. No, totally kidding about that—I adore both sons. But I would certainly send you a copy of my book, which has gotten some very nice reviews and my friends really like it.

For the time being, I’m grateful as heck to have found this gateway to publishing, that avoids both the tricky entry to commercial publishing and the crowded field of self-publishing, and gives me a good publication and a chance to get it into the hands of readers who say things like, “What a read!” (Kelly Coty, Nashville, TN).

Ginger Moran is a teacher, published writer, and single mom of two boys. Her areas of expertise are in fiction and creative nonfiction writing, editing, and creative survival. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston in Literature and Creative Writing and Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English from the University of Virginia. She has published in, Oxford American, The Virginia Quarterly Review and Feminist Studies among other journals and magazines. Her first novel, The Algebra of Snow, was nominated for a Pushcart Editor's Choice Award and was published in the spring of 2012. She edits the University of Virginia Women's Center magazine, Iris, and serves as the associate director.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

When Your Character Doesn’t Speak English

How do you handle the dialogue when an important character (or any character, for that matter) doesn’t speak English? How do you create and maintain the authenticity that helps to transport your novel into a believable story with wide audience appeal?

Granted, most of our readers are English-speaking—either primarily or solely. Too many foreign words will likely turn them off, which doesn’t contribute to our creation of a best-seller or even a good seller.

Obviously, we want to craft a story that the reader understands and populate it with characters who inspire our audience to love them, hate them, root for them, clap when they get caught—you get the idea. It’s rather like the serial movies from my childhood days when the hero’s entrance evoked cheers from the audience and the fall of the bad guy met with resounding applause.

So how do we retain the flavor of realism without putting English words in the mouths of characters who don’t speak the language? We allow that character the dignity of speaking in his/her native tongue and let another character or the context translate for the reader.

In my last novel, a Hispanic family played a major role. The husband spoke fair English, the older youngsters were bilingual, but the mother spoke only Spanish. Is this realistic? Absolutely! I have several good friends who speak little to no English, yet who must work and function in this country. (Bear in mind, please, that this is a discussion about non-English-speaking characters in a novel, not a debate about whether every resident should be required to speak our language.)

Here are two short excerpts from my story that demonstrate how I handled it. The first depicts a meeting with a lawyer, and the second begins the defendant’s response to his attorney’s question during a trial.
The phone on his desk buzzed. “Mr. and Mrs. Ortiz are here,” the receptionist said.
     “Send them in.”
     Mr. and Mrs. Ortiz? He checked his afternoon appointments. Only Ana Ortiz’s name appeared in his scheduler. Beside it he had written “child custody” with a question mark.
     The man shook his hand. “Señor Wolf, I am Emilio Ortiz. This is my wife Ana. She is not good with the inglés, so I come to help her understand.”
      “That’s good. My Spanish is really rusty.”
      Hola, Señor Wolf.” Ana Ortiz clung to her husband’s arm with one hand and reached out to shake his hand with the other.
      Hola, Señora.” Aidan pointed them toward the chairs opposite his desk and sat down. Leaning back, he watched their silent interaction and listened to their story. Within moments, he knew their problem was not between them. Nor would he be able to help.
“When I find my Ana, I know to have this wonderful person in my life para siempre . . . forever, I need to treat her like una flor delicada. When we no treat flowers with the tenderness, they die. I can never do that to my Ana or nuestros niños preciosos . . . our precious children. They are my family.”

Because I am not very fluent in Spanish and still use English structure when speaking and writing it, I asked Hispanic friends to review my scenes that included Spanish language. Also, a number of English readers who did not speak it at all reviewed my manuscript. Based on all their feedback, I would say the end result works.

How do you handle using foreign words in your English stories? As a reader, how do you feel about books that contain foreign words or phrases?


Linda Lane heads up a team of editors whose goal it is to mentor serious writers who want to hone their craft. She is working on her next novel and hopes to finish several more that were started years ago and patiently await her return. You can visit her and her team at
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Monday, August 27, 2012

Word Twitterpation

“That’s not a word.”

You can almost hear the know-it-all fifth grader saying it, hand on jutted hip, eye roll and all.

You also might hear this from your editor. If her comment pointed to an out-and-out error, fix it forthwith, and be glad of the public embarrassment she saved you.

If on the other hand you used the word purposefully and creatively, and because no other English word delivers the right shade of meaning, your editor might be holding you back in the venerable art of word invention.

Children’s literature is full of made-up words, because children reach beyond their vocabularies all the time to amusing—and often revealing—effect. A page torn from the linguistic annals of my grandchildren: commenting on his older brother Liam’s behavior, three-year-old Levi borrowed from his mother’s sense of right and wrong when he said, "That’s not a-poopie-ate, right mommy?" I say we wordsmiths can learn from their fearlessness.

The world of language would be less fanciful indeed without one of my faves, “twitterpated,” coined in the 1942 Disney film Bambi when Wise Owl says, “Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the springtime.” Its consonants arrive in such quick succession that it perfectly evokes that acceleration of heartbeat, that flighty, excited feeling you get when you think about your newly beloved. Much more so than “head over heels,” which has such an air of orthopedic mishap about it.

Some neologisms are one-offs; others are eventually memorialized in Merriam-Webster’s. "Twitterpated" disembarked in the Great In-Between known as the Urban Dictionary, although may gain renewed life as the title of a new romance by Melanie Jacobson.

I made up “philosobabble” for my creative writing, for example. I obviously based it on “psychobabble,” which earned its way into Merriam-Webster’s in 1975, yet I liked the way it more accurately evokes the speech of someone who is constantly spouting off their theories of the meaning of life. I guess this would be an unofficial “second definition,” however, since the Urban Dictionary already defines philosobabble as “conversation among two or more people (usually college undergraduates) that makes absolutely no sense, belying a severe lack of knowledge on the part of one or more participants.” A fun definition, although not the intent of my usage, whose meaning can be discerned through context. When making up words you have to think about one-upmanship.

It’s fun to peruse the Urban Dictionary word list for unusual candidates, though. A few doors down from “philosobabble” was “philosophagus,” defined as “someone who is philosophical ad nauseam.”

Language is always undergoing reinvention. No truer ode to the process can be found than Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky” from his 1871 novel Through the Looking Glass, which begins:
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe. 
Through the years many have believed that ambiguity was Lewis’s point, and that Alice’s reading of the poem illustrates the way we reach for meaning. After struggling through its words, she says,
"It seems very pretty," she said when she had finished it, "but it's rather hard to understand!" (You see she didn't like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate."
Was it nonsense? The poem offered up two invented words snatched up by Webster the very next year (1872)—words you may have used: “galumphing” (to move with a clumsy, heavy tread) and “chortle” (a hybrid chuckle and snort).

While still relegated to Urban Dictionary status, I’m pulling for J.K. Rowling’s “apparate,” which has found its way into my own personal lexicon. I love the idea that something could simply appear after teleporting from elsewhere (“teleportation,” by the way, was introduced in 1932 by writer Charles Fort to describe strange appearances and disappearances).

Writers are so often caught up in finding just the right word. What if it doesn’t exist—should that stop us from reaching for it? And what if inexactitude is just the right effect you hope to conjure in your reader—could a character leave behind a note referencing a mysterious “borogove”? If your writing ever requires a word the English language cannot provide, why not turn to that boundless, pattern-making, meaning generator you carry with you everywhere you go: your imagination.

What are some of your favorite made-up words? Have you ever published fiction with words fabricated to achieve a certain effect?

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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Friday, August 24, 2012

Say What You Mean

This month here at The Blood Red Pencil we've been looking at various aspects of language, and there have been some interesting posts on the use of slang, the clever use of made-up words, and the importance of using the right word in the right time period or for the right character.

In thinking about what I might contribute to this theme, I toyed with the idea of writing about the way journalists, especially broadcast journalists, fracture the English language. Some of the breaks are just funny bloopers, but others are mistakes that are more embarrassing than funny. For example when a commentator during the Olympics said, "He was a whole feet shy." Or another who said, "You've got to perform well to be able to medal."

Like we didn't know that?

I decided to go in a different direction, however, when I started reading a humorous book by Bill McCurry. Bring Us the Head of the Velveteen Rabbit  is filled with short, yet funny and insightful essays about all kinds of topics. His letter to the Thanksgiving Turkey is worth the price of the book, but it was the one about communication that made me decide I would write about how interpretations of what people say can vary. He titled this piece, Listen to What I Mean, Not What I Say, and, yes, it does focus on the differences between the way men and women communicate.

For example he makes the point that for him the word "couple" means 2. That's all, just 2. His wife, however, uses "couple" to mean anything from 2 to 5, which really is "a few." So he never knows exactly what she means.

"The challenge that my wife and I face is that when we fell in love the only thing that we had in common communication-wise was that we both spoke English. We often said the same thing and meant completely different things."

Hence the problem with the word "couple".

There are lots of jokes about these differences between men and women, but we writers need to take the issue seriously. When developing characters, we have to recognize and understand that men and women communicate on two different levels most of the time. I became aware of this when I was going through the final draft of a book I recently finished.  As I went through scenes and paid careful attention to each line of dialogue, I noticed that I didn't always have these differences distinct. I had some of the men talking in broad, general terms like the women, and I had to go back and rewrite the dialogue to make the men sound more like a guy who would say exactly what he means. "Two is just 2."

What about you? Have you had to go back and rewrite dialogue to make it more masculine or more feminine? Are there times to have a guy sound more feminine, or a woman more masculine, for characterization?
  Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her latest release is Open Season as an e-book for all devices. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Game of Anagrams

Please welcome fantasy author S.K. Randolph to the Blood-Red Pencil today.

While in college, I was introduced to fantasy fiction for the first time. I read and reread Tolkien’s Trilogy and The Hobbit, immersed myself in Narnia, and devoured everything I could find by Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Patricia McKillip, Sharon Shinn, and the list goes on. This resulted in an ever-deepening desire to create my own world, to write fantasy.

In 2003, while on a sabbatical from Interlochen Center for the Arts, I began my first novel. Immediately, I encountered a stumbling block—naming my world/worlds and the characters that inhabited them. Always a lover of word games, I started playing with anagrams as means of achieving this. The puzzles, the acts of discovery, and the outcomes fascinated me.

First, I selected the word of origin based upon a characteristic of the place, object, or character to be named. For example, I needed to name a tower at the center of a forest filled with secrets—the Terces (Secret) Wood. Since the tower was mysterious and magical, I choose the word Enchantment as my springboard. Next, I reversed the letters . . . tnemtnahcne. This removed me from any preconceived notions about the word. Then I began to juggle the letters around. The end result had to look and sound right. In this case, I found Nemttachenn . . . Nemttachenn Tower.

Naming characters followed a similar process. In Book 1 of The Unfolding Trilogy, I needed a name for my antagonist. By clearly describing him and listing the characteristics of his personality, I came up with Demon’s Eyes . . . snomed seye. I preferred the words reversed (eyes demons), but the name still needed a little tweak to flow right. So I shifted the “s” from “demons” to “eyes” and christened him Seyes Nomed. The name fitted perfectly.

Although not every name is an anagram, the majority are. I always listen when a word pops into my head from that intangible, creative place from which ideas flow; but when I am stumped, I find my anagram game always provides an answer.

How do you create names for your fantasy stories or other novels?


S. K. Randolph wrote The DiMensioner's Revenge, Book 1 of the The Unfolding Trilogy that was published in July 2011. Book 2, The ConDra's Fire, is scheduled to be released this fall. She lives on a boat in Alaska.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Zarf is a Noun; Google is a Verb

Lately, thanks (or curses) to one of my kids, I've taken up playing Words With Friends. People think that because I write books, I must have a massive vocabulary. Not so. I write contemporary commercial fiction, which is what I read. I like characters to sound like the people I hear every day, and I don't want to interrupt them and say, "What does that word mean?" Likewise, I don't like stopping the flow of a story to look up a word.

On a side note to the latter, if I'm reading on my NOOK, it's not as big a problem because if I touch the word, I get a pop-up menu that will display the definition. But if I'm confident I understand the context, I don't bother.

A lot of times, when playing Words With Friends, I'll toss letters on the screen and see if they're accepted. Sometimes they are, which usually surprises me.

If you're reading an historical, the language will be different from a contemporary romantic suspense, or a fantasy novel. How many Americans do you know living today who use the words mayhap, whilst, thee or thou? I was reading a book recently set in the Golden Age in New York, and the vocabulary would never work in a contemporary action-adventure. I looked up a lot of words since I was reading it on my NOOK.

Recently, while looking for a Words With Friends word to take advantage of a triple letter/double word score using my 10 point Z, I (laughing to myself at how ridiculous it seemed) stuck zarf on the board. To my surprise, the word went through, so of course I had to go look it up. Anyone here know what it means? I'll guess most of you have experience with it in some form or another. But no, I'm not going to define it here. If you're reading this on your computer, you have access to a dictionary program.

As language evolves, it's important for characters to use the right vocabulary for the time, and equally important, their age/social status/education level. Once, early on when my writing was more me on the page than my characters, I'd locked a teen-aged boy in a dark basement and had him searching for a method of egress. Not only that, but he was walking transects of the room as he searched. Definitely not a typical teenagers vocabulary, and even though it was in narrative, it needed to be the kid's thoughts, not mine.

Slang is something else to deal with. If your characters use current slang, firstly it has to be accurate, and secondly it's likely to be out of date before your book has been published. Have you heard anyone say groovy lately? And somewhere along the line when my kids were in middle and high school, bad meant good.

Brand names have become part of our generic vocabulary (although as writers, we need to know which ones are trademarked). Did you know Dumpster is a trademark (Dempsey Dumpster), and if you're using it in your writing, it has to be capitalized? Likewise, Kindle is coming to mean any e-book reading device, which I'm sure pleases Amazon to no end, yet must irritate the heck out of Barnes & Noble, Sony, and all the others. If your character has a NOOK, don't call it a Kindle.

Technology has created an almost light-speed shift in vocabulary. If I ask my father what Google means, he'll say "Barney Google with the Goo-Goo-Googly eyes." On the other hand, not long ago, my mother (who's old enough to be my mother, mind you) sent me an email with a reference to something, and said, "You can Google it."

I learned to type on an old manual upright machine. We still call "typing" anything we do on a keyboard, although I did have a temp job once where my supervisor handed me a document and asked me to "key it in." I confess that although I knew how to use a computer and word processor by then, I didn't know what she meant. And we still "dial" phones, even though the rotary phone is virtually obsolete (my brother has one, so I can't say they're extinct).

What new technology words have you included in your vocabulary? When you run across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up? If so, are you likely to use it? What old words are you using even though their meanings have changed?


Terry is the author of the popular Pine Hills Police Series and the Blackthorne, Inc. Series. You can find out more about them, as well as her stand-alone romantic suspense novels HERE.  Her newest release, Nowhere to Hide, can be found here.  You can find her at her Web site. If you've followed her blog (or want to start!), note that it's moved and is now HERE. You can follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Memories of Slang

As a ghostwriter, I often help people write their memoirs or their family histories. In this role I get to ask a lot of questions, but preparing my interviews can be challenging because research of personal stories cannot be done by searching through public information on the Internet. You have to go fishing in the personal pond, which can be murky or shallow.

One of the ways I fish for interesting and colorful details about my memoir clients’ lives is to ask about how the people in their story talked. Like most writers, I love words, so one of my favorite research topics is on the language used by various generations. Knowing the popular slang of an era adds color and authenticity to a memoir (or fiction.) Asking questions of the client about how their parents talked, or how they talked when young, is a good way to bring back buried memories.

One thing that defines a generation is their way of speaking, especially the slang developed in their teens and twenties. These words often reflect the political changes and social preoccupations of the time. I’ve made extensive lists of popular slang from the 1930s through the 1990s, but here is a brief glimpse into fifty years of slang. Maybe you heard some of these words coming out the mouths of your grandparents, parents, or even your peers.

In the 1930s, many slang words were taken from the world of jazz musicians, such as groovy, jam, tin ear, and juke box, which swept into our language due to the powerful new medium of radio. Radio was also the origin of ether for radio waves, and standby in case the performer was late, and so-so for a joke that falls flat. The thirties were the Depression era, giving us slang like easy street, brain trust, Hooverville, and flop house; and Prohibition was alive until 1933, so people talked of hooch, rot gut, bootleg, and hair of the dog.

In the 1940s, along with sarcastic slang for bureaucratic doubletalk such as gibberish and doubletalk itself, much of the slang had to do with body parts, such as meathooks for hands, breadbasket for stomach, biscuit for head, prayer dukes for knees, and moss for whiskers. Perhaps using humorous words for body parts was a way of neutralizing the horror of what was really happening to those body parts during the war.

In the 1950s the popular vernacular veered back to the world of music as in hip, jive, and swinging, intermixed with political jargon such as Big Brother, brainwashing, Cold War, and overkill, reflecting some of the paranoia of that decade.

In the 1960s, the radical flavor of the decade showed up noticeably in the slang of the baby boom generation. The sixties were all about shocking the establishment, and the slang certainly tried for shock value, especially in the use of four-letter words in polite company. The “s-word” and the “f-word” were the most popular expletives, and they were used everywhere, in every form – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, compound words – used for disapproval, approval, excitement, anger, disbelief, you name it. Sixties slang also recycled terms from the jazz musicians of the thirties and African-American slang, such as groovy, cool, far-out, and the ubiquitous man tacked on to everything. Plus there were so many new words for drugs and drug paraphernalia that it would take way too long to list them.

In the 1970s the revolution in sexual roles was reflected in new phrases such as male chauvinist, gender gap, palimony, sex object, significant other, person used in place of man in words such as chairman, and the title Ms. for a woman regardless of her marital state. The 70s saw the birth of compound words ending in the suffix gate to mean corrupt or scandalous, taken from the scandal of the time, Watergate. The slang of this decade also included dozens of terms for vomit or the act of vomiting. I confess I don’t know why this was, but it’s interesting to speculate why words such as barf and hurl came into vogue, along with phrases such as decorate your shoes and ride the porcelain bus.

Aren’t words fun?
Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit
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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Morgan Mandel Closes the Door of The Corner Cafe: A Tasty Collection of Short Stories

LAST SEGMENT OF OUR CONTINUING SERIES - 18 Stories! 15 Authors! Talk About A Project!

The Corner Cafe: A Tasty Collection of Short Stories is riding high in sales, after a spectacular performance at its first freebie weekend on June 9 and June 10, 2012.

The book is ready, but the work's not over. Dani Greer, owner of The Blood-Red Pencil, along with Morgan Mandel, Helen Ginger, Maryann Miller, Shonell Bacon, and Audrey Lintner, all contributors to the collection and members of The Blood-Red Pencil, are sharing our ongoing experiences with you about the project in this series. Perhaps, what we've discovered will aid you in your own endeavors.

Morgan Mandel
 I hope you've enjoyed my ongoing series,which I am closing out today with my answers to the interview questions. It seems appropriate for me to be last, since one of my contributions to the collection,"The Closing of the Corner Cafe," appears last in the book. This story describes the rise and fall of a cherished eating establishment. My other contribution, "What Nice Blessings," shows how a young adult rises above tragedy.

You can connect with me on my Amazon Author Page at

Now, I'll take the test and answer the questions.

1) What surprised you about this endeavor?
I was happily surprised to discover I enjoy writing short stories. What's so great is by their very nature they are short, which means they can be written faster than full length novels. Not as much to edit as well, which is a nice advantage!

2) What seemed the most difficult?
I had a hard time coming up with topics. I would like to have connected my short stories in some way with one of my full length novels, but inspiration struck in completely different directions, compelling me to write a YA story, as well as a family oriented one, instead of my usual fare of romances, mysteries and thrillers. I'm hoping my voice still rings true in my contributions, different as they may be. What's also difficult has been carving out enough time and energy to effectively push a book, especially on specific days, such as when it's free on Amazon.

3) What proved the most satisfying?
I love the camaraderie of being part of a selfless group with the common goal of producing and promoting a quality product for reader enjoyment.

4) What did you learn?
I learned so much I could probably write a book about it! For one thing, teamwork is a very effective tool in promotion.I also figured out how to set up tweets on HootSuite at intervals, instead of going to Twitter each time. Also, by exploration, our group obtained an immense influx of information about online promotional venues, which I can use later when I promote my next book. Another lesson I learned was that Amazon only allows 10 contributor spaces per book, which meant we authors had to go to Amazon Author Central and claim our contribution to The Corner Cafe before we could be acknowledged. When that was accomplished, Amazon displayed our pictures in the More About the Author section, which was a nice surprise.

5) Would you do it again?
Yes, I can hardly wait for the next one! It's a wonderful experience. I'm glad I took the time to become involved.

Thank you for following this series. I'd appreciate your comments about any of my answers.
Morgan Mandel
Click Here To Order The Corner Cafe: A Tasty Collection of Short Stories

Look for "What Nice Blessings" and "The Closing of the Corner Cafe" by Morgan Mandel in
The Corner Cafe: A Tasty Collection of Short Stories.
Find Morgan's Full Length Books at
Amazon Author Page:
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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Writers and Language

Don’t you just love a great writer’s use of language?  The things that make up voice and style; from the most minimalist prose of say, a Hemingway, to that surfeiting sort of opulent writing of a Pat Conroy, to the inimical magic of Cormac McCarthy.  And can’t you pick it out just about anywhere, the sounds and cadence and flow putting your mind immediately into sync with a great author? 
Language usage changes from what’s in vogue, with new words and made-up ones and trendy slang. But the great writers make it all their own, no matter in what time or place they practice their craft.  And all of it just tweaks me.

Try the beginnings of Richard Ford’s newest, Canada:  “Our parents were the least likely two people in the world to rob a bank . . .  although, of course, that kind of thinking became null and void the moment they did rob a bank.”  Okay, I’m in.  Not just from the pregnant implications but the way in which Ford’s accessible prose draws me into the narrator’s world.  

My breath always stops a bit when I read: “I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton . . . I was born and raised on a Carolina seas island and I carried the sunshine of the low-country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders,” from Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides.  Although some critics describe his language as ostentatious, I never get that feeling, even when he zeros in on the deepest of emotions, which in themselves call for a reaching ache that some folks find too much.  But he makes my heart sing, especially in this passage from My Reading Life:  “My mother hungered for art, for illumination, some path to lead her to a shining way to call her own.  She lit signal flares in the hills for her son to feel and follow.  I tremble with gratitude as I honor her name.” 
Can’t you just feel it? 

The way a writer hooks words together is in large part her style, her signature, the thing that sets her off from all others writing at the time and hopefully, into perpetuity.  One’s way with the language, whether timorous or bold, sets the tone for a story that is hopefully carried throughout.  And oft-times that use of language changes from book to book, all in the service of the story and characters, but still and yet you find echoes of the same.

Cormac McCarthy’s stories run the gamut of plots through his always Literary works, but you can always ascertain his touch whether you love or hate him.  There are differences in his language usage from The Border Trilogy to No Country for Old Men to The Road, each book having a sharp focus uniquely its own.  Sometimes when I read him I must simply stop, my heart catching in a place I didn’t know existed deep within, and pay homage with gratitude that such words exist. Such a passage causes this from The Crossing:  “They were running on the plain harrying the antelope and the antelope moved like phantoms in the snow and circled and wheeled and the dry powder blew about them in the cold moonlight and their breath smoked palely in the cold as if they burned with some inner fire and the wolves twisted and turned and leapt in the silence such that they seemed of another world entirely.”  

Do you have a certain sound to your language when you write? Something your reader can “hear” in the prose and recognize as being from you?  Something that sets your own heart ablaze when you re-read it for the fiftieth time? If so—send it to me. There is very little in this world I love more than great writing.


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:

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Show Visceral Reactions First

To deepen your characters, enrich your story, and engage your readers more deeply, be sure to show your characters’ internal and external reactions to everything that’s happening to them and around them.

Start with their visceral reaction. That’s the involuntary physical reaction we have no control over, that just happens despite all our best efforts to suppress it or hide it. These reactions occur immediately, before any thought processes or deliberate actions, so it’s important to show your character’s visceral reaction first, to mirror reality and put your readers inside the character’s skin, feeling the fear or embarrassment or shock or anger right along with them.

Next, show an immediate thought-reaction, like Ow,or Oh no, or Damn, or Omigod, or That can’t be. Note that these sudden, short thought-reactions are usually italicized, both for emphasis and immediacy, and to indicate a direct thought. See my related blog post here on BRP, “Expressing Thought-Reactions in Fiction.”

Then go on to show the character’s other, slightly delayed reactions, such as their words, facial expressions, body language, and actions.

I had recently started drafting an article about the importance of showing immediate involuntary reactions and of describing reactions in the order that they would occur, when I read a blog post called “Visceral Rules!” by Margie Lawson on Stacy Green’s blog. In this post, Margie Lawson first reminds us that “A visceral response is a physical manifestation of emotion.”

Margie then lists some common visceral reactions to stressful actions, words or events:
        ·    stomach clenching
        ·    heart pounding
        ·    rapid and shallow breathing
        ·    pulse racing
        ·    adrenaline surging
        ·    legs weakening
        ·    throat tightening
        ·    mouth drying
        ·    face flushing
        ·    nausea imminent
        ·    chest tightening
        ·    equilibrium failing
        ·    hear blood rushing
        ·    vision narrowing

As Lawson, a psychotherapist, tells us, “Visceral responses are involuntary. You can’t keep your face from flushing. You can’t keep your mouth from going dry. You can’t keep your chest from tightening, your heart from pounding, your vision from narrowing.”

But she also counsels fiction writers to avoid overused, clichéd responses, which no longer have the power they once had. Similarly, don’t keep using the same reactions over and over, or pile on too many visceral responses – pick the best one or two for the situation, and save the rest for other scenes.

Lawson continues, “When a POV character experiences a strong emotional stimulus, they will have a visceral response. And that visceral response presents immediately.

“Visceral responses are experienced first. Always.”

As she reminds us, “When there’s a strong emotional stimulus, people don’t act first. People don’t think first. People don’t speak first. People experience a visceral response first. It’s immediate.”

So be sure to show characters’ reactions in the order that they naturally occur, and don’t skip that important involuntary initial physical reaction. If you show your characters experiencing a visceral response first, readers will recognize those reactions they themselves have felt, so they’ll feel more deeply what the character is feeling and become more emotionally engaged with the character and their situation—your story.

By the way, a wonderful resource I recently discovered for finding just the right physical, mental, and internal (visceral) character reactions for any given emotion, such as shock, embarrassment, anger, joy, fear, and worry, is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Here’s a link to my recent review of this excellent reference guide for fiction writers.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor specializing in suspense-thrillers and other crime fiction, as well as YA, mainstream, and historical fiction. For information on Jodie’s editing services, please visit her website  Jodie is also publishing a series of e-booklets on various aspects of writing compelling fiction. The first in the series, Writing a Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Powerful Fiction, is available on Amazon-Kindle or PDF for only $0.99. 

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What’s In A Word?


Greetings, all! It’s been a regular whirlwind here at Maven Central. Phone calls, appointments, and all manner of other fun and exciting things have been going on. Such a schedule can be hard on a gal if she’s not prepared. Luckily for your Style Maven, there are dandy reversible pieces for the wardrobe that can double as work wear and play clothes.

Language often follows, er, suit when it comes to double duty. Words that spend many years as nouns gradually take on verb status. Words like husband, or Google, or the recently fashionable mainstream leap to mind; I’m sure that you can think of plenty of examples yourself.

This kind of shift is nothing new. Ages before beloved comic strip character Calvin described the fun of “verbing” words, speakers were bending language to fit their needs. The CMOS states that the word husband went from a noun to a verb somewhere between the years 1220 and 1420. Where there is language, there is bound to be change. Dialect and jargon are linguistic hotbeds of noun-to-verb transitions.

Use these newly minted verbs sparingly, though. If you’re quoting someone in your work, well then, you’d naturally go with their own words. According to the Manual, formal prose requires a light touch. “Such recently transformed words should be used cautiously if at all.”

Right! I’m off to run a load of laundry. Don’t forget to keep your nouns and verbs sorted, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style.


The Style Maven can often be found with one hand clutching a cup of coffee while the other flips pages in The Chicago Manual of Style. Known to her favorite four-year-old as "Mama", she spends an inordinate amount of time playing with toys. You can find some of her other work on her Procraftinator page.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Integrating Writing into a Busy Schedule: One Writer's Story

My life has always been about the word busy. Being busy with so many things often keeps me away from writing creatively. In 2012, the word busy has literally taken on a life of its own. Among other things, my Ph.D. work, my teaching load, and my editorial work keep me plenty busy. After struggling to write well academically, to teach students to write well, and to assist clients with their stories, I have had no get up and go to delve into my own creative spaces.

In July, I tried to give myself time to think about my own stories and was failing miserably until the end of July when I learned of Esquire's short short fiction contest. On a whim, I thought, Surely, I can put together 79 words that don't suck too badly, right?

It took some time to write the piece, for as we all know, the shorter a piece, the more important each word becomes. In the writing of that first piece, a fire was lit inside me to write more. So, I did.

[my 79-worders]

Since July 28, I've written one 79-worder a day. That might not seem like a lot, but in the act of writing these pieces, my creativity has grown. I remember that I am, indeed, a writer, and that I revel in characters and story ideas and conflict. Already, I have ideas for three or four longer works and several key points for the development of my third Double Inkwell mystery. All from a few 79-worders.

It doesn't hurt that these short pieces have also forced me to think about word economy and how to select the right words or develop a sentence in a particular way. I've also had to think about where to start the story, how to start the story, and what key parts are necessary to have the piece make sense and develop within the reader's mind. These are all things that writers constantly think about when writing. It's been good stretching my creative muscles and remembering the importance of questioning these things.

Just as important as the above positive attributes to writing the 79-worders, I have realized how important being creative is to my overall well being. When I write creatively, I feel alive, grounded in something important to me, and that in turn sparks me to move and groove in all my other endeavors.

And all it took was one 79-word submission to reconnect me to my creativity.

The Esquire contest runs until September 1, so consider submitting. Seventy-nine words might provide sparks for your own writing endeavors.

How are you able to keep writing in your busy schedule? What activities do you perform to keep your creative spirit alive in your hectic life?


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. Her second mystery, Into the Web, was released April 2012, and, recently, she's been published in the short story collection, The Corner Cafe. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University ... and trying to find the time to WRITE.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Cues from the Coach: Q and A

Last month we discussed questions from a first-time novelist who had been devastated by the harsh criticisms of a critique group. This time we’ll consider comments from a writer who had completed four historical fiction novels, but who had never worked with an editor and had not been published.

She said, “As a new writer, I was paranoid that no one would like my stories. Would my editor be able to keep my ‘voice’ and not make too many additions of her own? I believed a good editor would instill confidence in a writer’s skills and ideas and yet be honest when something didn’t work or needed a change. A good editor would also convey this in a way that would dignify a new writer and encourage her to improve, not to give up.”

These may sound like simple comments, but this writer expresses major concerns in these few sentences.

First, she worried that nobody would like what she wrote. This is a common fear among writers, particularly first-timers. Even established authors can pen a book that misses the mark with readers—rather like a famous actor can star in a box-office dud. It goes with the territory. We learn to live with it, and it keeps us on our toes to put out the best stories we can—which is still no guarantee that our books will be loved.

Second, her comments about voice have been reiterated many times here on BRP, as well as elsewhere. However, a surprising number of writers, experienced as well as newbie, don’t have a clear concept of what voice is. Wikipedia defines it as “a combination of a writer’s use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).” In other words, “voice” encompasses all the unique ways in which an author creates, processes, and presents material. It may take some time and a number of books before an author develops a distinctive and recognizable voice, but it eventually happens. Case in point: my brother, a devoted Robert Ludlum fan, noted that the books featuring Ludlum characters but written by other authors after his death had a very different voice. And none of those writers, he said, had mastered Ludlum’s extraordinary ability to hook a reader right from the beginning.

No good editor will tamper with a writer’s voice. New writers, as mentioned above, most likely have no voice yet. Furthermore, they tend to be all over the place stylistically and grammatically. That same good editor, however, will help a writer find his/her voice and remain true to it.

Third—and this can be a bone of contention, especially for first-time authors—editors do note where changes/additions need to be made and do, now and then, write some material to show the author the kind of change or addition that is needed. The good editor, however, will never insist on the use of his or her own words by any author, but will explain why such a change is in the best interest of both author and story.

Fourth, the job of the editor is never to discourage a writer, but rather to be a mentor. Teaching a writer to write well, to make the next book better than the present one, should be an editor’s goal. This can often be accomplished by a simple explanation.

Most writers who complete a book display some degree of skill or some area in which they can be commended. Focusing and building on that positive area creates a working platform and a springboard from which to address other areas that need work.

Finally, dignifying the writer goes a long way toward building a powerful working relationship between editor and writer, and it encourages writer improvement. We all respond to deserved commendation. Writers pour heart and soul into a work that may have rough edges and a rocky interior. But like a bit of carbon that is, over time, heated and pressed into a diamond, that work may be heated and pressed into great novel or even a bestseller. A strong, positive relation between a potentially great writer and a powerful editor demonstrates synergy at its best. The two together can produce an extraordinary story with the writer as the student and the editor as the teacher and nurturer.

As a writer, what have been your concerns about voice when working with an editor? Have you had a good experience—or a bad one?

As an editor, how have you dealt with writer concerns about voice? How do you put a writer at ease?


Linda Lane and her editing team mentor serious writers who want to hone their skills. Learn about their work at

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Learning to Spell Is a Fun, Lifelong Adventure

I loved it when I started learning how to spell as a kid. Spelling expanded a world I only knew visually and verbally into layers. Each new word was a precious stone added to my life’s treasure chest.

The C-A-T in the H-A-T S-A-T on the M-A-T. The rhyming was fun and it was great to point to a picture, know what it was, say the word, and then spell the word.

 No longer was I satisfied being told that all the tall plants were “trees.” They turned into T-R-E-E-S, then M-A-P-L-E trees with L-E-A-V-E-S that turned spectacular C-O-L-O-R-S around back-to-school time.

I started to devour books. I delved into other worlds and met so many wonderful characters.

But to get to the ‘next level’ of bigger words, I had to learn some rules.

 Mnemonics were exciting (as was learning to spell ‘mnemonics’). “I before E except after C” was fun to say, which made it easy to remember. I had no hesitation in writing ‘deceive,’ ‘conceive,’ ‘friend,’ ‘receipt’, ‘fierce’, or ‘believe’.

Soon, the rule added “and sometimes Y.” Okay, it was still fun to say and easy to remember, although a bit wierd. Wait, that’s not right, is it? No, it isn’t.

 I think I heard a drum roll at that moment, along with the announcement, “Welcome to the world of exceptions.”

 The exception with this particular rule is that using ‘ie’ or ‘ei’ sometimes came down to whether that part of a word carried a ‘long a’ sound or a ‘long e’ sound. Not so easy to remember, but, okay, it had to be learned.

As I encountered new words, dictionary definitions became important. Spelling bees became the norm in English class. I vividly remember being in the top 2 of my 7th grade class competition and purposely passing on “pneumonia” because I didn’t want to go to the next level (too shy). But I was thrilled to remember that the word contained a silent ‘p’.

I remember a classmate asking the trivia question, “What word has three vowels in a row.” The word was ‘beautiful,’ and it has always stuck with me. How I value knowing the difference between ‘there’, ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘your’ and ‘you’re’.

 I fell in love with words when I learned to spell and that passion has existed ever since. I read and write daily and work with others who need or want to put words onto the page for business or personal reasons.

What I love most about words is that there is an infinite amount of them. If I happen to run out of English words, there are numerous languages I can study, right?

I still come across words I’ve never met before and there’s a thrill in that. I love adding a new gem (word) to my life’s treasure chest, and learning rules and associated exceptions keeps me excited to learn more.

 Do you remember when you fell in love with words? Do you have a favorite word? I’m particularly fond of “ponder” and “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

Lisa J. Jackson is a freelance writer with a passion for New England and New Hampshire. She’s also an editor with Story Circle Network’s Editorial Services, co-founder and regular contributor to the Live to Write – Write to Live blog, and is a weekly author interviewer/moderator at The Writer’s Chatroom. She has a blog dedicated to author interviews and book reviews. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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