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Showing posts from August, 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 f

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 co

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 t

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 fanci

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 e

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 fil

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

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 re

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

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 narrato

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

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

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&

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