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Showing posts from October, 2012

Out with the Fear, In with the Gratitude

Photo credit: Google Images This morning, there was a ghost of a chance I might finish the book review I had planned for this last day of the month. I'm afraid you'll have to wait until November though. My time somehow disappeared into the ethers. It's just as well, because in November we'll focus on new books published by our friends and favorite writers, to give you ideas for holiday shopping. So I'll share my favorite new thriller author in a few days. Tomorrow is National Author's Day - how cool is that? I think someone should take us all out to dinner, don't you? Add to that National Life Writing Month (life writing is what we call memoirs now) and Pursuit of Happiness Week and you see why we can think of lots to be thankful for other than just Thanksgiving Month. We'll share some of the things we're grateful for in upcoming posts, because it's a pretty good time to be a writer despite how bad the news makes it sound. We hope you

What Are You Afraid Of?

“I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.” ~ Stephen King The world's most famous horror writer would know a thing or two about fear, wouldn't he? Misery was the first Stephen King book I read, and is a story that spoke to some of my major writing fears: the possibility of being "hobbled" by early and/or desperate choices of genre, style, publisher, and contract terms; and (more generally for anyone who risks any sort of fame) the nightmare of attaining a stalker. Many years ago, when I first, naively, paid for website hosting, I was (ahem) horrified the day I checked the Who Is information on my website and saw that my home address was displayed publicly for the world to see. I solved that problem by moving house. This month the Blood-Red Pencil editors and contributors have been taking a good, long look at fear, and now it's your turn. Tell us what you're afraid

The Monster in My Office

Saturn Devouring His Children by Goya By James Kendley There’s a monster in my office, and it gnaws at me. This monster lives in the twilight world between life and death, never daring to crawl out of the shadows. It’s too hideous for the light of day; it’s bloated and grotesque, with far too many bizarre and malformed appendages flapping spastically about. No wonder I keep it in the dark. If you ever looked closer, as several people have, you would see that most of its individual parts are quite lovely, even if they don’t fit together like clockwork. Were some of the extraneous bits sliced away and the remainder stitched up neatly, we could see what massive reconstructive surgery might make this creature viable. For now, the monster remains in the shadows. I lock the bottom drawer to keep it from wandering out. It’s my first novel, The Wine Ghost , in which we consider the terrible freedom of Frank Boyles, the last Baby Boomer. Set in Arizona, Japan, Korea,

Fear – Friend or Foe?

What are you afraid of? Personally, I’m not fond of high places or lowly creatures with eight legs. Recently, a neighbor knocked on my door and showed me a tarantula in a gallon jar—he’d found it in my front yard. Yikes!   He told me it was a baby, but it was the size of a small animal, definitely too big to step on. Fear touches all of us in one form or another, and the topic would fill volumes were we to explore its almost endless aspects. So let’s narrow it down to writing. As writers, what do we fear most? Many might say “rejection.” From whom? Agents? Publishers? Readers? Fellow writers? Family and friends? Ourselves? How can we reject ourselves? We do want to be writers, right? Any of the following comments—or thoughts—qualify as self-rejection: Nobody will buy my book. How do you know? Has anybody read it in its final form? What does your editor say? Yes, you need an editor. Find one you feel comfortable with, check out the credentials, and budget the money to pa

A Surprising Fear

Considering that I'm now retired, you'd think I'd have plenty of time on my hands. Still, I have what some might say is a surprising fear, others not. My fear is not getting everything done when it needs to be done. I have lists everywhere of what I need to do that day, the next and other dates as well. I have a calendar to tell me the guests for my blogs, whether they've sent in their information, and whether I've set everything up yet. Still, sometimes I forget to check the calendar, because it gets buried beneath the lists and important notes on my desk. I'm so bombarded with e-mails and blogs and social media sites to check each day, it seems time slips by so fast that I don't know where it went. God forbid if I had a full-time day job, because being an author has become a vast encompassing and time consuming operation. Maybe I bite off too much, but it seems that every author I know does the same. Not only that, somehow they manage, while I seem t

Use Fear to Develop Character and Conflict

We’re all afraid of something. That fear can shape who we are and can create jeopardy in our lives. We’ve all been to the dentist, right? For some, just the word could make you break into a cold sweat. Maybe you’re afraid of the pain, or the buzzing sound of the drill. But most realize that the fear and anticipation of that dental visit is worse than the actual procedure. Fear of the unknown is a similar situation. For example, both my husband and my sister-in-law recently underwent chemo. We were all nervous about what to expect. What would it feel like? Would they immediately get sick? What would their reactions and side effects be? Our imagination can conjure up all kinds of “what-ifs”. But, usually, once you’ve experienced it, you know what to expect the next time, and it’s not as scary as it was before. Use that fear and anticipation to build suspense in your writing. Suspense is about anticipation. It is about what we do not have, what has not happened, about what might


A common condition saps the strength of many of the first novels I’ve evaluated: the fear of telling the story. Granted, a story is a dark house that can be frightening until the author turns on a few lights. Too often, though, she does just that—lights up the conflict, then scoots out into the yard only to view it through windows, from afar. The reader wants to experience the characters stirring ash in the hot center of the conflict. Let’s say that you have a love story set in the highly competitive world of championship dog shows. Perhaps Don grew up around blue-blood Miniature Pinschers, and despite the health problems associated with their suspected inbreeding, he remains a purist—his great grandfather was a founding member of the American Kennel Club. Alice bred Australian Shepherds—that is until her prizewinner mated with the French Poodle next door, resulting in Fifi, the sweetest Ausiedoodle she ever saw. She is now fighting for the inclusion of half-breeds in the AKA obe

Conflicting Your Reader

Photo by Brady Tulk, Indy Trendy Skits, Flickr Draw your reader even more deeply into your story by playing on their own conflicting feelings. How does your reader hope the book will turn out? Think of this plot thread: the protagonist loves two men, but one is perfect for her and the other is obviously using her and will hurt her. For the reader the hope is simple: choose the good guy. Now change one element: Both men are perfect for her but in completely different ways; both men are good, both men have their flaws, both men love her deeply. Now you’ve created reader conflict – whom should she choose? Whom would the reader choose? In one scene, one of the men reveals something that could hurt the protagonist, and the reader makes a choice: choose the other guy. But then the other love interest makes a mistake, and the heroine (and, along with her, the reader) is back to square one. Perhaps the protagonist wants the same goal as another character, or reaching the goal will caus

Writing's Four-Letter Word: Fear

Writers need talent. We all know that.   They also need to learn and master the skills that go into fashioning great fiction and nonfiction. Again, no news flash here! But one of the hidden attributes a writer must have, which isn’t apparent going in, is courage. Because one of the biggest bugaboos pretty much all writers face is fear. Is my work good enough? Do I have talent? Can I make it in this business? Universal questions, all.   Almost every writer I’ve worked with has been plagued by that internal voice that says: What makes you believe you can be a writer? In many cases, this is followed with that snippy little Puleese!   Funnily enough, the folks I’ve worked with who had tons of confidence , and no self-doubt, almost always proved to be not as talented as those who question themselves. Kinda like the old saying that it’s the healthier people who go into therapy. Especially when searching for their sea legs, new writers become terrified when it’s time to ac

Who Says Writing Isn't Scary?

We know there are professions that come with a level of fear attached. Firefighters, cops, military personnel—these folks are doing jobs that put their lives on the line all the time. Overcoming and channeling their fears is part of their training. But a writer? What are we afraid of? Paper cuts? Power failures? Losing files? Hardly life-threatening. However, there are still things that frighten writers. Fear? Maybe not. But darn powerful insecurities. Our job is a constant battle with these insecurities. For example, I just sent my newest manuscript, Deadly Bones (a sequel to Deadly Secrets ) to my editor. Although I sent her the cleanest copy possible, it's not her finding typos that scares me. It's sitting on pins and needles until I get the manuscript back. Or worse, the fear that I'll get an email from her saying, "What were you thinking with this book? I'm not going to waste my time editing it." Or, you get edits back, and they'

Eating My Words I am obsessed by the sound and touch of words. I like Old English comical words like mugwort or marshmallow . I like hushed words spoken in whispers, like neath and ghoul . I like common everyday words like horn and jump and dog . I feel words nestled in my mouth, tucked into my cheeks. I smell them and taste them and lick every last drop from the corners of my lips. Then I let them drip like sweet spiced oil off my tongue. Words like nut have a short sharp crunchy feel as I say them, and when I say honey I can feel the goldenbrown goo thick at the back of my throat. Or the word crazy : the bee-tickled zz sound juxtaposed with the terrified eee sound of the y, the harsh C next to the soft liquid R – these are contradictions that make you doubt the location of your mind. I am enveloped in the sweet glut of words. I jump into them as though they are piles of autumn leaves. I roll around and listen to them crinkle and crisp under my broad soft hips. Or I dive

Cues from the Coach: Q and A

This month’s question often plagues first-time writers and sometimes experienced ones. A great story idea comes to mind. You write it down so you won’t forget it, and then the notes begin. Characters form in your mind, an outline takes shape as a storyline, and the plot thickens. You create character sketches and review them (even if only in your mind) until you know each one as though you had been acquainted for years. With a working title in place, you sit down at the keyboard (or typewriter or with a writing tablet and pencil), ready to produce a bestseller. Where do you begin your story? Now that “once upon a time” has fallen from favor, this is often the first of several challenges that face a writer embarking on a new tale. The experiences of those whose books I’ve edited, as well as my own, indicate the first chapter or two are the most difficult to write. They can also be among the most challenging to edit. Why is this? Even though we think we know our characters intima

Writers Are Fearless

To be a writer you have to be fearless. You're delving into new, un-thought-of ideas, creating characters, surprising characters with twists and turns, writing scenes that make even the writer laugh or cry. And yet…most writers are not all that fearless. They worry no one will like what they write or the book won't sell or what they consider a sentence or plot point that will capture the reader will actually cause them to close the book. But, despite all that, writers are still fearless. They keep moving forward, sitting at their computer or notepad and writing, day after day. They read and re-read what they wrote and make changes, a word or two here and there or even erasing an entire chapter or character. Personally, I don't know of any writer who writes from word one to The End without reading, re-reading, writing, and re-writing. Writers are fearless, but not because they have no fear, but because they face those fears and keep moving forward. If they're stuck o

October's Visit to the Writing Sheep

A bright light turns on. A group of sheep are discovered huddled in a corner, sleeping. Sheep #1: HEY! Sheep #2: Who turned on the light? Writer: Sorry. That was me. Sheep #1: We’re sleeping here. Sheep #2: We’re still recovering from our Thanksgiving dinner. Writer: Thanksgiving? Sheep #1: It was Thanksgiving this past weekend in Canada. We’re Canadian sheep. Sheep #2: Except for Nigel. He’s English. Nigel: Team GB! Sheep #1: Ignore him. He’s reliving the Olympics. Writer: They were very good games. Sheep #1: Anyway, what can we do for you? Make it snappy. We’re tired, we’re Canadian and there’s no hockey. Writer: No hockey? Sheep #2: (whispering) The lock-out. We don’t speak of it. Writer: Sorry again. Sheep #1: Another apology? Are you Canadian? Writer: I wanted to ask about location. Sheep #2: As in where to buy?  Sheep #1: We’re not the real estate sheep. You’ve clicked on the wrong blog.

How Does Your Writing Measure Up?

 Hello, dearies! I hope you brought your appetites today, because your Style Maven has been baking up an absolute storm. Aprons are definitely in right now as the perfect accent for a kitchen full of caramel sweet rolls, blueberry spice cake, and pumpkin scones. Aside from their to-die-for yumminess, these recipes have something important in common. They all require the magic of measuring. Most commercially-printed recipes are easy to follow, but how many of you Suzy or Sam Homemakers have had to decipher Great Aunt Tilly’s hasty handwriting in a hand-me-down cookbook? She certainly knew what she meant, but how about you? Is that supposed to be seven cups, or only two? Using words instead of numerals can make things easier, especially when questionable penmanship is involved. Let’s look at a few general principles. Mind you, these are indeed general. Every rule has exceptions, and various publishers will have their own take on things. In ordinary, non-technical contexts,

The Importance of Communities for the Writer

This month marks my fourth year participating as a contributing blogger for the BRP, and it's a ride that I've enjoyed immensely. I have connected with some wonderful editors, writers, and advocates of the writing craft here on BRP, and as I reflected on that and these last four years, I found myself pointed toward one topic for this post: the importance of community in a writer's life. Sure, we all know the saying, writing is a solitary act , but the success of that writing, the success of the writer is connected to the community the writer belongs to. And what community is this? Well, there are many communities, to include (My category titles are fairly loose; I apologize in advance for that.): The "familial" community, those in our family (and I would add close friends) who support our zany idea of becoming an author, who listen to our doubts and help to push them away, who put the pot of coffee on in the late-night hours, who clean the house and make d