Thursday, October 31, 2013

Book Review: Excuse me, Your Participle’s Dangling!

By Catherine DePino
(reviewed by Linda Lane)

The preface of this book opens with these words: “No matter what your circumstances, Excuse Me, Your Participle’s Dangling! will give you the bare essentials of grammar that you’ll need to write like a pro. This book also offers a simple yet foolproof method of writing under pressure, the key to success in any college program or workplace.” While this sounds like a practical approach for many folks, how does it work for novelists, who rarely fit into the “academic” category and whose grammatical needs can sometimes be extensive and complex?

Chapter one appropriately addresses verbs. Why appropriately? Verbs empower sentences. Verb choice can determine whether a sentence lies on the page, soon to be forgotten, or rises up to compel a reader to digest its content and continue reading for more gems. This chapter focuses on verb types, weak and strong verbs, active and passive voice, and irregular verbs, covering the “bare essentials” — albeit it superficially for a beginning novelist who needs to fill up her writer’s backpack with vibrant verbs. A “quick quiz” challenges the reader to identify which verbs in the sample sentences are active and which are passive.

Chapters two and three discuss building sentences and avoiding run-ons and fragments; both chapters contain quick quizzes to help the reader apply the lessons learned. My experience as a fiction editor has been that a significant number of writers do fairly well at avoiding run-ons — although I've read some independently published books that contained an overabundance of them. Fragments, on the other hand, often abound in the manuscripts I edit.

While run-ons never qualify as acceptable, fragments sometimes do, especially when writing dialogue or recording a character's direct thoughts. A character who always speaks or thinks in complete sentences sounds stilted because we don't talk that way. The need for realism in writing dialogue (conversational or internal) trumps the grammar rule regarding fragments as long as the writer demonstrates good understanding and usage of that rule in the story's narrative.

Adjectives and adverbs, dangling and misplaced modifiers, and the much misunderstood comma appear in chapters four, five, six, and seven. Of these, the comma is misused most often. I frequently find it where it doesn’t belong, and I cannot locate it anyplace near where it is needed. Consider, please, page 48's sample sentences of restrictive and nonrestrictive appositives and their explanations; these should be read and reread by most writers until they understand how different sentence structures dictate whether or not commas should set off an appositive. Again, quizzes help to drive the grammatical points home.

Chapters eight through twelve address other punctuation, agreement problems, oft-confused words, writing style, and writing under pressure. Once more, the reader can take the quizzes to make practical application of the rules discussed. The answers to all the quizzes, by the way, appear in the back of this 119-page book.

Overall, Excuse Me, Your Participle Is Dangling! addresses numerous grammar issues confronted by writers. Of particular interest to some may be the chapter on homonyms and other words that are often misused. For example, there, they're, and their have different meanings; but the wrong homonym commonly shows up in sentences where it clearly does not belong. Other confusing words, such as further and farther, fewer and less, and loose and lose, are clarified for the reader. Stylistic topics include wordiness, clichés, euphemisms, and faulty parallelisms. These subheadings are worth a review by writers in all fields.

The book as a whole seems better suited to academic writing and the workplace, where its concise, easy-to-follow format has been designed to meet the student's and on-the-job writer's basic needs — just as it states in its preface. Serious novelists, on the other hand, may want to find a more advanced grammar book to meet their comprehensive requirements.

Catherine DePino has written a number of books about grammar, as well as books on dealing with bullies for parents and kids. She holds a doctorate from Temple University and has worked as an English teacher. Learn more about her and her books for teachers, parents, and young people at

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Grieving 101

Losing someone you love is never easy, but losing your spouse, your soul mate, your partner in life is especially hard.

My husband died on September 5th, and the days from then until today have been a challenge. One part of me wants to bury my head under my pillow and never peek out at the sun again. Another part of me says, "Get up, do your chores and enjoy the glorious sunrise."

Life goes on. Life must go on.

It does help to have things you have to do. Mindless tasks like feeding the animals, clearing the pasture, doing some laundry. What is so terribly hard for a writer is trying to get back to writing, as any of you reading this who have walked this same path of oneness can affirm.

At first, you are just too numb to write. You're almost too numb to remember to eat or to breathe, and thank goodness we have friends and family to remind of us to do that.

At some point, however, you know you have to get back to the writing; just like you have to get out of bed in the morning. It would be easier if writing was more like other jobs or professions where you are focused on doing specific tasks and accomplishing them. My daughter shared with me recently that it has helped her to get through her days by getting back to teaching. She is a TA for a literature professor, and one of her responsibilities is grading test papers. There are 125 students in the class, so that is a lot of work. Doing something like that takes an investment of mental acuity, but there is very little emotional involvement.

With writing, however, it is all about emotional involvement. That is how we connect to readers through our work. While grieving, we bounce between that numbness and emotions that are so raw we don't want to touch them.

As I have been walking along this path of aloneness, I have realized so many things from the outpouring of support from my online friends, as well as those who can physically put their arms around me.

•    I am not the first woman to go through this, and I certainly won't be the last.
•    There is no right or wrong in the grieving process.
•    Give yourself permission to stop trying to work and do something totally mindless until your brain wants to create again.
•    Most people, when they ask how you are doing, want to hear that you are okay. They hurt for you when you are hurting, and they just want all the hurting to stop. But you do need to tell someone how terribly awful this is, otherwise the feelings bottle up inside and create havoc. I tell my horse every morning.
•    Take care of yourself any way you can. If that means lots of chocolate, buy stock in your favorite candy company.
•    Tell yourself you are strong. "I can do this." Even though you may not believe it. One day you will wake up and realize you are doing this. One day, one baby step at a time.

Maryann Miller
is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent release is Boxes For Beds, an historical mystery available as an e-book. Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series. The first book, Open Season, is available 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. She believes in the value of a good walk.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Part 2 – Scary, Satisfying, Work for Hire with Kris Bock

Yesterday I discussed work for hire writing, with some reasons writers might want to try it. Now let’s look at some more specific pros and cons, and how to get started.

Isn’t it hard?

You certainly face some specific challenges with WFH, though no more or worse than with other kinds of writing. While the work often allows a lot of creative freedom, ultimately you have to meet a publisher’s strict guidelines. This can include targeting an exact length and reading level, as well as including specific material and writing in a certain tone.

In some cases, you may see your work changed in ways you don’t like. You can use a pen name, but you can’t refuse to make changes. On the other hand, sometimes the work will be published without your name, and in a few situations you may not even be allowed to talk about the projects.

Finally, WFH requires the ability to meet tight deadlines. Writers often have only a few weeks for shorter projects, and a few months for novel-length work. Although this can be intimidating, in the long run it’s an advantage – you’re working for income, and tight deadlines mean you can’t let the project drag out for too long.

All right, how do I start?

Many WFH jobs start with a resume and writing sample. Because individual titles must fit perfectly with the overall series, writers may be asked to write a sample specific to that series, maybe based on an outline. Networking also plays a part. Some editors will look for potential writers at conferences, and I’ve gotten leads from other writers on listservs.

Breaking in can be a challenge. You can send resumes and writing samples to companies that use WFH writers. This is the typical process for educational writing. Be patient – it sometimes takes years to hear back. Once you get in, a good first job can lead to steady work. Some writers do multiple books a year for a single publisher, making tens of thousands of dollars annually.

Several online companies, including Scripted and Elance, help connect writers with clients. They may offer jobs in a variety of topic areas. In the beginning, you may have to bid on lots of jobs and take a very low payment while you build up good ratings. Once you’ve proven yourself, you can raise your rates. Carol North suggests Googling “agencies for contract writers” to find companies that handle business, technical, marketing, and advertising writers.

Work for hire isn't for everyone. Some people may find it easier to hold a full-time job than to run their own business. Some may have enough income from investments, retirement, or a supportive spouse, so that they can focus solely on their own fiction. A few may find it more lucrative to simply do fiction, so any WFH is merely a distraction. However, for many of us, work for hire can help pay the bills while allowing enough time for our own projects, as we wait to get rich and famous on fiction alone.

Honestly, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Why try WFH?

  • Get published/build a writing resume

  • Earn steady money

  • Money can come in faster because deadlines are so short

  • Hone your writing skills by working with editors

  • Get to know editors who may also be looking for original work

  • Learn about a variety of topics

Why not?

  • Short deadlines require discipline and fast writing

  • You may need to be good at research

  • You rarely control the content

  • You typically don’t earn royalties

  • You have less time for your own trade writing

I hope work for hire doesn't seem quite so scary anymore. Have you tried it? Would you consider it? Why or why not? Feel free to post questions in the comments.

Kris Bock writes for children under the name Chris Eboch. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog. Also connect at her website and Amazon author page for loads more information.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Scary, Satisfying, Work for Hire with Kris Bock

Don’t Quit Your Day Job.

How often have you heard that? And yet how many writers would like to do exactly that? But writing full time is scary. You can’t possibly survive just from your writing… can you?

In truth, many writers make a living from writing, including thousands whose names you wouldn’t recognize. Most of these writers don’t have the luxury of only working on their own fiction, however. They may offer editorial services, give writing workshops, do school visits, or write articles or work for hire (WFH) books. A combination of these can bring in a relatively steady income, whereas trade fiction tends to have more ups and downs. It’s the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” technique, especially good advice when the basket is as unstable as publishing.

People may use “work for hire” to describe different kinds of work. For writers it usually means freelance work done as an independent contractor. A contract should clearly describe who holds the copyright (usually the employer). Most work for hire pays a flat fee, although some projects may earn royalties. (The US copyright office has legal information on “Works Made for Hire” online:

While some people assume that WFH pays poorly and cheats the writer, some projects pay thousands of dollars and a few even pay royalties. Many successful writers make a satisfying living with WFH. There are other advantages – building a writing resume, getting experience working with editors, making industry connections, learning new things (which you may be able to use in your personal writing), and even having fun.

Former technical/business writer Carol North says:

“Beginning in 1983, I was represented by agents and agencies that found me work for hire (WFH) gigs. I worked constantly; was fully supported on the WFH income; and was sent all over the U.S. on writing assignments; including to Orlando, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Houston, Denver, Atlanta, and on and on. I was living in Chicago at the time. I traveled the country on someone else’s dime and made a lot more money than their full-time employees did. Also, I made a lot more money selling my work than I would have retaining the copyrights and self-promoting."

“I wrote short stories in airports, planes, hotels. They’re published. I’m now semi-retired and completing my fifth novel. I enjoy fiction but miss the money I made in tech and business writing. In addition, the techniques, grammar, and style I learned in WFH have proved invaluable in writing fiction."

“My advice concerning WFH is ‘If you can get into it, do it.’” 

Some writers may be concerned about WFH because they don’t get to choose the topics (although you can always turn down jobs). You do need to be flexible, interested in a lot of things, and willing to do research. I’ve written articles and test passages on science topics, even though I have no science background. My WFH books include topics ranging from magnets to the environmental movement to the history of cell phones to dyslexia. If you like learning about new things and are comfortable doing research, the variety of WFH is an advantage.

Another option is specializing. If you have an unusual area of expertise, look for magazines and book publishers that focus on that topic. Publishers often pay better if they have a harder time finding writers, so if you have a background or strong interest in, say, chemistry or construction, you could be in demand. Loretta Hall, who writes for publications such as Concrete Décor and Traditional Masonry, says, “One of the best ways I have found to develop new markets is to attend trade shows in my areas of specialty, engineering, construction, and space exploration.”

Work for hire can also involve fiction, everything from “licensed property” books for kids (those tied into TV shows and movies) to series genre novels for adults. Payment can vary dramatically, but $6000 is the number I’ve heard/received for a novel of 150-300 pages. You might get more from a big publisher, but probably not from a small one. The key is that you need to be able to write these books quickly. Not only will the deadlines likely be tight (a few months), but your hourly rate goes up dramatically if you can finish a book in two or three months rather than a year. As for royalties, only a small percentage of novels ever earn royalties anyway.

Educational publishing also offers many work for hire opportunities. These can include fiction and nonfiction books for the school library market, articles, and assessment passages for state tests. Teachers have a head start here, as the work typically requires an understanding of what kids learn about in each grade and writing to a specific reading level. However, I’ve done plenty of this kind of work without a background in education.

Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. Whispers in the Dark involves archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. Rattled follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. Connect with her at GoodReads, Facebook, and Twitter.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Getting Organized: Digital, or Paper?

Like many writers, I juggle a lot of commitments: writing organization leadership, team blogging, speaking engagements, writing deadlines, conferences and networking events. I have to pay quarterly taxes and monthly bills and juggle editing clients. Remember birthdays. And, every now and then, I squeeze in routine health appointments.

It’s a lot to keep track of, and it’s getting worse now with the increased workload demanded in advance of and surrounding my book release.

In years past, Staples has met my organizing needs. I adore office supply stores and the entire notion of getting organized—Sharpies in one of each color, please, and same with those Post-Its! I’ve looked forward with glee to purchasing and setting up my planner each year. This year, I always pledge, I’ll stay on top of things!

My chiropractor will testify that I've struggled with my system. How many times has a call from his office had to pull me from my fictive dream, twenty minutes past my appointment time, to ask that I reschedule? It’s embarrassing.

I wrote this post on Oct. 17
This past spring, my flip phone plan finally expired, I got an iPhone, and started using the digital calendar. In case anyone is even farther behind the times than I, this is Star Trek cool. Because I am a desktop/laptop Mac user as well, wherever I enter the data, it moves through “the Cloud” to my other devices. My entire schedule, in triplicate!

The best part is I can set alarms, from five minutes before to up to one week before! (You folks who have been doing this for five years now—quit laughing at me!) As long as *ahem* I remember to set the alert and keep my phone on, I have no reason to miss an appointment ever again.

With a tra-la-la, I skipped my annual trip to purchase a planner at the office supply store.

Three weeks later, with months of planning stored in the cell phone for pre-release events, I (stereotypically) dropped my cell phone in the toilet.

It was only there three seconds, tops. The water was clean. I dried it immediately. I couldn’t turn it off right away because with a previous tra-la-la I’d already ditched my landline. This was my only phone, and I had long meetings scheduled that day with my agent and an editing client. But the second I was done talking with them I popped the simm card and put the phone in a bag of rice (warning: not all techies consider this a valid fix, but I thought it was worth trying).

Then waited. Seven. Long. Days.

I was greatly relieved when it turned back on. The calendar items were on my desktop, sure, but I can’t carry that around all day to remind me of things. So I flipped to the iPhone calendar, eager to be reunited—


Okay, not permanently gone. My Apple geek son, a firm believer in the invisible Cloud, helped me restore it. But it scared me into a new method of organizing.

Every muscle in my body relaxed the second those red automatic doors slid open, welcoming me back into the world that had never let me down. After an hour of perusing every single planner (such decisions cannot be rushed!) I now own a paper monthly version with room for notes. I am so happy to be reunited with the stretch of boxes that allows me to see my commitments over time, so I can plan accordingly. That was hard to do on the iPhone, which lets you see a week at a time, but only if you scroll.

Combined with my restored iPhone to send me reminders, I think I’ve finally hit on a perfect system for me. (And my chiropractor.) And should more frightening waters ever permanently claim my iPhone, and aliens with their evil magnets destroy the Cloud, I’ll always have my trusty paper planner as a backup.

And I won’t have to give up my office supply store addiction. Sharpies, anyone?

How do you stay on top of the multiple demands of a writer’s life? Let’s get organized.

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation service. Her work, which explores beauty and meaning at the edge of darkness, is represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her monthly series, "Countdown to a Book," details the traditional publication of her debut novel, The Art of Falling, by Sourcebooks, January 28, 2014. It is now available for pre-order. Her monthly series, "Turning Whine into Gold," appears at Writers in the StormConnect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Top 10 Things That Terrify

In honor of All Hallow’s Eve, I decided to make a list of the top ten things that make my hair bristle and chills erupt on my arms. I love horror movies, the suspenseful kind, not the gory kind. Unfortunately, they leave a lasting impact.

1. Things that go bump. 

I once heard footsteps in the house when I thought no one was home. I froze, petrified, until I realized school had ended and it was just my daughter rolling out of bed at a time when she should have been at school. Unexplained sounds are guaranteed to up the adrenaline. I can’t count the times I have searched the house with my flashlight/taser or a big knife because I heard a strange noise.

2. Faces in windows.

When my sisters and I were teenagers, our friends thought it was hilarious to show up outside our bedroom windows at night. It was not so funny, especially after reading a chapter of Stephen King. Seeing a face you don’t expect staring at you through a window is always terrifying. The apprehension of possibly seeing a face is enough to keep the blinds drawn at night.

3. Finding something out of place.

It’s one thing to realize you have misplaced your keys. It’s an entirely different thing to enter a room and know that someone has been in there disturbing things when no one should have been there. It can be a chair askew, a throw pillow in the wrong place, or a stack of papers knocked to the floor. It can be a door ajar when you know good and well it was closed before.

4. Entering a dark, unfamiliar room. 

Whether I am in a room at a four star resort or a Motel 6 in the middle of Kentucky, I always have to turn all the lights on when I enter an unfamiliar room. I don't have to sleep with a nightlight on, but I thoroughly investigate the room and keep the door locked before lights out.

5. Dark, deserted spaces.

I once went to a movie theater alone at a mall in a Chicago suburb at night. I didn’t realize the entrance I parked near would be locked after the mall closed at 9:00 p.m. The movie let out at 11 p.m. I had to exit on the opposite side of the mall and navigate the dark, deserted parking lots and a grassy ravine in the rain to reach my car. Parking garages and lots, hallways, basements, and deserted buildings all give me the creeps, day or night.

6. The void under the bed.

This fear probably stems from being told as a child there was a boogie man that would get me if I wandered from my bed during the night. I have always had vague notions that something could be lurking underneath the bed. I no longer check, but I don’t leave a hand or foot hanging over the side, just in case.

7. A closed shower curtain.

As a young girl, I saw the movie Psycho where a killer pushes the curtain aside and hacks the hapless, screaming victim to death. If you enter my guest bathroom, the shower curtain will always be in the open position. I make sure my hotel curtain stays open as well.

8. Something springing out at me unexpectedly.

As kids, we thought it was hilarious to jump out at each other and shout "boo." Nightmares are a side-effect of the medication I'm on for a rare, incurable autoimmune disease (as if that isn't nightmarish enough). Several times a night I wake up after seeing something/someone reach for my face. I wake up silently screaming and deflecting, an instant adrenaline storm. It could be the cat suddenly darting from under a table or a person standing just outside the door as you open it. The element of surprise ensures a startle.

9. Mirrors at night. 

Mirrors don't bother me during daylight hours. However, I don’t like looking into a mirror at night. I’m always afraid I’ll see something. We had a mirror in the entry hall. I’d look up as I passed it. For a moment, my own reflection would startle me. That mirror had to go. This probably stems from the childhood scare tactic of standing in front of a mirror reciting the words "Bloody Mary" three times to invoke her ghostly presence. It never actually worked, but I carry the residual apprehension that she might appear.

10. Scary Pictures.

A friend of mine had a painting and the eyes of the portrait seemed to follow you as you moved around the room. It was an optical illusion that freaked me out. A portrait like that would have to go.

The best horror stories prey on our primal fears of being alone, in the dark, stalked, watched, and detecting a threat you worry is there but can't see or locate. Manipulating fear is far more effective than all of the gory special effects that artists can come up with.

The moment when the character is hiding, heart pounding, fear rising is where the tension lies. The moment deflates after the "boo!"

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Remember

I’ve heard on more than one occasion that being a senior is not for the fainthearted. If you’ve survived long enough to get an AARP card, or even past that and gone on to handle the Medicare maze as I have, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, you’ll learn soon enough. It may seem far away, but you’d be surprised how fast the years fly by.

Being a senior author poses its own challenges. These days you not only need to operate writing equipment, such as a computer, printer, mouse, backup drive, and so forth, but also remember afterward how you did it so you can do it again. 

That’s not all. Along with all the ins and outs of creating a great book, you're also expected to discover and implement ways to promote that book and others you've written. You host your own website and interact on social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Blogger and Wordpress. While you're at it, you keep track of your unique passwords, since using only one password for everything is dangerous.

It's not easy, but it's still necessary to keep track of when and what you’re doing, on and offline, how and when to interact with special people, including friends you favor, those you can help, even those who might be beneficial to you in some way.

What about remembering names, even faces connected with those names? That's never been easy for me, but now it’s even more difficult.

Then there's the matter of book reviews. Once I’ve read a book, for the most part it’s out of my mind. I might remember I enjoyed it, but unless prompted, the details escape me. These days my mind only has room for so much, and my current read commands attention. You might ask what’s so bad about that? Well, try doing a book review about a book you read a month ago. Some of you can do that with no problem, but it’s not easy for me.

For those in my boat, I offer some tips:

·        1. Make lists and keep them in a folder on and offline. One list might be your passwords for social networks, blogs, tweets or book blurbs, even the voice mail number on your cell phone. Anything new or difficult is a great candidate for a list. That way you won't have to go backward to Step One again to figure it out, or resort to Google. Crazy me bought a new laptop with Windows 7 and Microsoft Word 2013, after years of Windows XP and Microsoft Word 2007. I bought a new smartphone a week later, so I have lots of things to figure out and remember. I'd be lost without lists.
·         2. Get a desktop calendar and use it to mark important events, such as your blogging day, a day you’re hosting someone on your blog, a retweeting day, or anything else you need to remember. I not only mark writing events on that calendar, but also personal events, such as birthdays. Often, the personal and writing events intersect, and that needs to be taken into account when making commitments. Half the battle is having that calendar in front of you. The other half is remembering to look down at it and notice what’s going on that day and in the future.
·         3. Develop habits. The more often you do something, the easier it will be, such as looking down at that calendar on the desk, or maintaining connections with special people. Visit the groups, blogs, or other spots, as often as possible, to share experiences and remember others.
·         4. About that book you want to review: Jot down a few pertinent notes either during or immediately after reading the book to keep your memory fresh.

Okay, those are my tips. Now it's your turn. What aids can you offer for the memory impaired, such as me?

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My Dreams. Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or CurseShort Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two Wrongs. Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Witch Books for Halloween?

I’ve always had a bit of fondness for stories with witches in them – perhaps I was one in a previous life! My personal interests lie mostly in herbal studies, and I expect most women marked as witches in prior days were nothing more than miscast healers. Such is the case with one of my favorite classic books by Mary Stewart, Thornyhold.

During Gilly Ramsey’s lonely childhood, the occasional brief visits of her mother’s cousin were a delight, seeming like visits of a fairy godmother. Years later, when Gilly inherits Thornyhold, her house, she discovers that her cousin, with her still room and herbalist practices—and her undoubted powers—had long been known to the locals as a witch.
Another favorite new paranormal collection is the Witchcraft Mystery series by Juliet Blackwell. Set in the modern day and now four books strong, the story begins when Texas witch, Lily Ivory, opens a popular vintage clothing store on the west coast. As one of San Francisco’s resident witches, searching for hidden clothing treasures can sometimes lead to dangerous discoveries, not to mention a complicated love life with at least two hunky men. There is more than one way to make magic as this author so aptly demonstrates!

And who better to throw a little romance into spell-casting than Nora Roberts? The Three Sisters Island trilogy begins with Dance Upon the Air and is the strongest story of the three books.

Publishers Weekly: An enchanted island off the coast of Massachusetts, Three Sisters was formed as a sanctuary by three frightened witches fleeing persecution. Although the witches found peace on the island, each of them entered into an ill-fated relationship and died tragically. Now their descendants Nell Channing, Ripley Todd, and Mia Devlin have to break the pattern set by their foremothers, or the island will sink. This first book focuses on Nell, a newcomer to the island who escaped her abusive husband by staging her death. Nell is unaware that she's a witch, but she is instinctively drawn to the island and secures a job as a chef in the cafe‚ owned by Mia. Between coping with her bleak memories and deciding whether she can give her heart to Zach Todd, Ripley's brother and the island sheriff, Nell has little time to digest the discovery that she's a witch. In the end, however, Nell will have to come to terms with her newfound powers so that she can fight her all-too-demented husband. It's probably witchcraft that Roberts can turn out so many books and still create something that's sexy and charming...
Keep reading with Heaven and Earth, which has a particularly well-cast and attractive hero in the form of paranormal researcher, MacAllister Booke. (I bought the Kindle copy and the formatting was dreadful, so returned it for refund and wrote to the publisher. I would not recommend buying it from Amazon until someone wiggles their nose over this issue.)

Then wrap up the story and the 300-year curse with Face the Fire. (I read this one on a Chromebook via my library's Overdrive Cyber-shelf and loved the book formatting on this platform - I'll be doing that again!) I also plan to buy all three in paperback for my home library.

And for all you diehard Nora Roberts fans, her latest book releases on October 29 and is available for pre-order now. You can get a signed copy of Dark Witch at Turn the Page Bookstore (which the author owns). Read more about the book by clicking here.

Now leave me comments about your favorite Halloween reading, witchy or not. So mote it be!

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, has been known to make magic in the kitchen, has a wicked sense of humor, but rarely flies a broom these days.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Calling for Back-Up: Sidekicks and Henchmen - Part 2

The previous posting on the subject of Sidekicks vs. Henchmen was devoted to exploring what these secondary characters have in common.  In this installment, we’ll be examining the significant ways in which they differ.

Broadly speaking, there are two issues to be considered.  On the one hand, there is the personal relationship which exists between the group leader and his/her second-in-command.  On the other, there is the question of how henchmen relate to one another as members of a group.

One key difference between Sidekicks and Henchmen is predicated on altruism.

A Sidekick, consciously or unconsciously, is dedicated to serving some Greater Good as embodied by the Hero.  A Sidekick has the best interests of the Hero at heart.  His operant faculty is intuition:  in extreme instances, a good Sidekick will “go with his gut” even if that means disobeying a direct order given by the Hero.  If, in spite of all good intentions, a Sidekick screws up, he can count on the Hero to forgive the miscalculation and give him a second chance.  

A Henchman, by contrast, serves the Villain either (a) as long as the pay-off makes it worth his while, or (b) until he can wriggle out from under whatever form of duress the Villain has been using to keep him in line.  A high-grade Henchman (i.e., someone with brains and talent) is always on the lookout for an opportunity to become a Villain in his own right.  The Villain is aware of this possibility.  If a Henchman screws up, the Villain will take decisive measures to ensure he never repeats the mistake.

Next, there’s the issue of group dynamics.

Any group of Sidekicks will be a motley crew. (Diversity is much more interesting than similarity!)  What keeps them together is loyalty to the Hero in pursuit of a Common Cause.  Members of a band of Sidekicks can – and do - squabble amongst themselves (especially when mixed genders are involved).  However, when the chips are down, Sidekicks will set all their differences aside and rally around their Hero, even in the face of death.

Members of a group of Henchmen, by contrast, nurse their rivalries and look for opportunities to assert themselves at the expense of their associates.  The more intelligent and ambitious members of the group are constantly seeking opportunities to advance themselves.  In the event of a crisis, Henchmen will retain their group identity only as long as the authority of their leader remains in force.  If and when that authority breaks down, there will be a power struggle.  Whoever emerges on top will eliminate any surviving members of the Group who aren’t prepared to accept his ascendancy.  After that, it becomes a question of survival. 

In the final analysis, however, the most interesting Sidekick or Henchman is one with the potential to change sides.  My next posting will be devoted to characters like these under the heading of Chameleons. 


1   In the real world, altruism is one of the most perplexing puzzles confronting students of human behavior. From a purely rational-materialist standpoint, there is no logical reason why anybody in his/her right mind should promote another person’s well-being at the expense of his/her own.  Nevertheless, against all reason, the daily news resonates with stories of individuals who make extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of strangers.

2 Though Fantasy literature abounds in female Sidekicks, once again in the interests of economy, I’m going to treat masculine pronouns as generic.

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Calling For Back-Up: Sidekicks and Henchmen

Batman and Robin
Photo by Dave Keeshan, via Flickr
In an earlier posting, I noted the fact that Heroes and Villains alike are intelligent, resourceful, and charismatic. It naturally follows that individual members of both parties should attract followers. Those attached to a Hero are popularly referred to as Sidekicks; those attached to a Villain are commonly known as Henchmen (or alternatively “minions”1).

Insofar as these subordinate characters perform similar narrative functions, they belong to the same species. When it comes to personal affinities, however, they belong to rival clans. This installment will be devoted to examining the points of comparison. I will be exploring their distinctive differences in Part 2.

No man is an island. This saying holds true for the Heroes and Villains that occupy the pages of modern Fantasy. These individuals can exist as one or the other only in a populated environment – which is where this discussion begins.

Sidekicks and Henchmen bring their respective principles to life, first of all, by giving them someone to talk to. These exchanges can serve as vehicles for exposition. From a writer’s perspective, one sure-fire way of cranking up the narrative tension is to let us listen in on a private conversation between the Villain and his chief Henchman. If we know something that the Hero and his Sidekicks don’t know, the suspense will keep us turning pages to see how the situation plays out.

“Stage business” is a vital aspect of all good writing. Sidekicks and Henchmen enliven the narrative by giving their principles someone to interact with. Setting up an interactive scenario between your Hero and his/her Sidekick (even something as simple as building a fire) is a dynamic way to establish character and/or foster character development. It fulfils the all-important precept: show, don’t tell!

The third vital function performed by Sidekicks and Henchmen alike is to carry out tasks delegated by their superiors. These auxiliary activities expand the narrative framework, enrich the story texture, and promote plot development. This is true, even when plans miscarry through the meddlesome agency of the opposition.

Sidekicks and Henchmen, on the surface of things, share a number of the same attributes. Those attributes include loyalty, fortitude, obedience, and a capacity to carry out orders efficiently. Here, however, we come to a fork in the road: on closer inspection, the qualities which define a good Sidekick are largely conditional in a Henchman.

Stay tuned for the next installment on Monday.


1 The Despicable Me films may have redefined the word minion in perpetuity. (I mean, who wouldn’t want a Minion - or better yet, several?)

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.