Thursday, July 31, 2014

Perfecting the Craft of Writing

Humorist Slim Randles is back with an update on how Dud, the writer among the folks who hang out at the Mule Barn Truck Stop, is progressing with his novel. Dud is always trying to improve his craft.

Dud Campbell, our resident would-be novelist, was busy on his day off. Anita watched him excitedly as he removed something from the box that had arrived. It was a CD. And it was something he hadn’t asked her about. Sometimes Dud just did things like that.

So here, on his day off, Dud was walking around the yard wearing ear buds and talking to himself. Anita opened the window and listened.

“Low,” Dud said.

“Hi,” said his wife.

Dud grinned. “No Honey, I said low, because low is French for water.”

“We’re going to France?!!!”

“Well, no. It’s an experiment I’m doing for the book . I think maybe what the book needs is a touch of sophistication, you see. So I’m trying to find out what language the duchess might speak.” 

The Book, seven years in the crafting … so far … is a transcontinental miasma of mayhem, murder and passion that Dud calls “Murder in the Soggy Bottoms,” but everyone else calls “The Duchess and the Truck Driver.” There was this American truck driver, you see, who was sent on special assignment to the village below the duchess’s castle … oh, you know.

“Anyway, Hon, I got this language sampler CD in the mail. It has samples of a bunch of those European languages. I’m trying to find one for the duchess that sounds classy. I’ve ruled out German so far. It sounds angry. And some of the Slavic languages don’t make sense. But French has possibilities, as well as Italian. They have duchesses in Italy and France, don’t they?” 

“Pretty sure they do, Dear,” Anita said.

“See … what I have to do is find a language that I can write easily, then I can kinda sneak in some sophistication for the duchess, like having her order a glass of low instead of saying water, that kinda thing.” 

Anita gave that some thought. “You know, Sweetheart,” she said, “a lot of those Europeans speak three or four languages. Maybe you could really make her sophisticated that way.”

“Anita Campbell,” he said, shaking his head, “you’re giving me a brain burn, you know that?”
Slim Randles writes a nationally syndicated column, Home Country, and is the author of a number of books including  Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing. That title, and others, are published by  LPD Press.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. To check 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. Slim Randles always makes her laugh.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Photo by Andre Chinn, via Flickr
Firsts are exciting. They’re the things you remember forever, right? I was racking my brain, trying to think what I wanted my first post for Blood-Red Pencil to be about. Should I write about my self-publishing experiences? How I’ve been writing since I was 10? The pitfalls I’ve encountered or the tricks that keep me from getting writer’s block? Or should I write about Romance and the beauty of genre fiction?

While I was contemplating all this, a first of epic proportions happened. It was a first that could change everything. I knew I had to write about that. Because on Saturday, July 26th, a novel called Off the Edge by Carolyn Crane became the first self-published novel to win a RITA award. That’s right, a self-published novel just won a major industry award.

So why is this important? Why is it important for you?

Obviously, when a self-published novel is judged by two rounds of peer readers to be the very best in its sub-genre, it sends a message to the world of books. Self-publishing is not only a viable alternative to traditional publishing, it’s a method by which brilliant, quality books are being delivered to readers. It puts to rest the notion that all self-published authors are just hacks who couldn’t get a traditional contract putting out garbage at the click of a button. It proves that the playing field has been leveled. The world of books just got bigger.

But what does this mean for YOU?

Whether you’re indie published or traditionally published or as yet unpublished, what happened in San Antonio on Saturday is a boon for writers everywhere. It’s an endorsement of the fact that no matter which method of publication is right for you, if you put in the hard work, you will be taken seriously as a writer. The time to worry over whether your efforts count as “real” writing or whether outsiders will diminish your accomplishments because of the way you get your work into reader’s hands is over. Your way of writing is the right way for you, and no matter what opinions you may be hearing in the world, no one can take that away from you.

I have a lot of writer friends on all sides of the traditional/indie/small press debate who have seen a wide range of success with their books. Universally, they have all chosen the path that works best for them. Some of them are much more comfortable with a traditional model and others wouldn’t trade their self-pub status for a thousand Big Five contracts. What brings us all together now is that our books are being viewed by the Romance Writers of America as six of one, half a dozen of another as far as legitimacy and quality.

Choose the path to publication that’s right for you and strut down that path with your head held high! The world is changing, and I predict that soon the days of assuming one method of publishing is better than another will give way to the option of picking which path is right for you without stigma or judgment.

Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Little Fixes - Your Turn

Those of you who follow the blog regularly know that I have a penchant for finding little things in writing that are awkward and pull me out of the story. So often I wish the author and/or editor had taken one last pass through a manuscript and smoothed some of the rough edges.

I first wrote about my obsess... er, interest in those little problems back in October 2007 here at The Blood Red Pencil. Wow, we've been doing this a long time. But I digress. The title of that older post is Things That Drive an Editor Crazy, and not everyone has agreed with my critique. That's okay. We don't have to agree on everything, and one of the nice things about this blog is that we are all constantly learning if we keep ourselves open to new ideas and other opinions.

Today, just for fun, I thought I would turn the editing over to you, our readers. The following are some bits of writing that made me stop reading because I found them awkward. Why don't you try a rewrite on one or two and post in the comments? Hopefully, we can get them all smoothed out.

1.  When he arrived at Princeton, Limpys pickup and the area were crawling with people. (NOTE - in the story nobody was on Limpy's truck.)

2.  A group of kids are playing....

3. Sam, who had been listening despite himself, looked up at Smith. (This is a common device writers use when having a character do something they were reluctant to do, but the use of the reflexive pronoun is awkward. The context this sentence was taken from was one in which Sam was busy at his desk when Smith walks in to  "run something by you." Sam does not care for Smith and would rather not respond. So how could  that sentence be rewritten to better reflect that?)

4.  After five minuted of walking the beach is deserted.

5.  Suddenly he found himself blushing. (Again an awkward use of the reflexive pronoun. I'm also not fond of people "finding" themselves. Are they lost?)

6. I wasn't sure how long I'd slept for.

7. I don't want them to grow up an only child like I did.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. To check 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.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Remember the Reader

Today we have a guest post from Roy Faubion, a Texas writer who does a newspaper column Ponderations From the Back Porch that is published in a couple of small town newspapers. Roy has been a journalist for many years, and finally settled into this once-in-a-while offering that he shares occasionally with readers at my blog, It's Not All Gravy. I thought this piece was particularly interesting and had a message for writers as well as entertainers. Enjoy....

“I am the star; therefore I am the most important person here tonight," declared the diva as she expressed her feelings of herself, the Grand Lady of the opera.  Standing in the wings, listening to the orations of the presenter and his magnificent introduction of her, she smiled with the confidence developed over the years by the pampering of her managers and the adoration of music lovers of several continents.

Responding to her remarks, the stage manager gritted his teeth and said, "No one is more important than I as there would be no curtain opening, no lights, no stage decoration should I not be here to see to things so you high and mighty can get all the credit.  Just look at the stage.  What do you see?  I see an artist's pallet.  It is where I put everything together to make the things you do possible.  Forgive me if I boast, but I have reason to do so."

"Bosh!  Neither of you know anything!  I give you everything," said the orchestra leader, waving his baton in a sweeping gesture.  "Surely, there is no music unless I say so.  Certainly, there is no crashing of the cymbals without my pointing to the percussionist.  Drama will never appear on it’s own.  It must have the rise and fall of the symphony, and I make it so.  How dare you suggest otherwise."

"My, my, how totally self absorbed are we!  I am completely immersed with awe as I listen to the gushing of over inflated self admiration coming forth from each of you.  Surely you jest.  I laugh at you.  I pity you. All you can see is the face in the mirror, the face you feel the whole world loves and admires.  Well, my friends, I suggest you get real.  Get a grip on reality.  Without me you would be nowhere.  Who am I?  I am the owner of the building you are standing in.  Now who is the big shot around here?"

All heads turned and glared at the owner.  Not one of them said anything.  Each was set back a little.  The owner smiled victoriously.

It was about at that moment when a soft small voice spoke up from somewhere nearby and asked, "What about me?"

"Who are you?" They all demanded.  And the little voice said, "I am the audience."

Roy Faubion has written columns for small-town newspapers for most of  his adult life. The first column was entitled Around The Sagebrush. Second was The Clodkicker. Finally, he arrived at a title and concept with which he is most comfortable, Ponderations from the Back Porch. Through the years of being a radio announcer (preceding the term Disc Jockey) and years of news reporting, and doing all the other jobs in the industry, he racked up enough experiences to shape a column of thoughts, remembrances, and often, true stories.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. To check 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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Prologue and Epilogue

I’ve seen a lot of questions about using prologue and epilogue lately in forums. I’ve heard many an agent or panelist at a conference say: cut them, period! There is some truth to that. However, I’ve seen both done well. This rule is often broken to effect, particularly in Literary, Fantasy, and Thriller and Suspense genres.

The prologue gives background information to the story that would give the reader insight that helps the story move along that is not found within the story itself. An author might add a prologue to help the story flow more smoothly by getting in information that would be clumsily delivered otherwise.

The epilogue is the opposite. It helps tie up loose ends or possibly hint about a sequel or continuation of the series. An author could add an epilogue to entice the reader into buying the next book in a series or provide resolution by telling us how the characters end up further down the timeline.

There are multiple ways to use prologue and epilogue.

1. In Thrillers, the story can begin with a scene from the antagonist's point of view. This is good if you are following a serial killer, not so good if you are listening to an angry spouse rant. It shouldn’t attempt to tell the reader every little detail about your story world or the history of a situation before the action begins. Some readers will flip past the prologue anyway, especially if it is long. If it is used to set up the villain as really, really bad, it could be a turn off. Your villain is supposed to be bad. The first chapter should include the inciting event. If your prologue does that job with the antagonist or secondary characters, it is weaker than meeting the protagonist and making the reader care about how the inciting event affects the hero.

2. In Literary stories, we often first hear from the protagonist long after the events are over. The entire story is one long memoir with an epilogue that reinforces the wisdom gained. The entire story can be told in flashback between the prologue and epilogue “bookends.” It irritates, rather than delights, if not done well. Many readers don't mind this method if it is intriguing or poignant.

3. In a Fantasy, the prologue sometimes sets up the time, place, and story world. If it is kept short, the reader might actually read it. Otherwise, they flip to chapter one. If necessary, they reference the prologue later. You should be able to fit in the crucial setup and history without using this device. Done badly, it is received as melodrama. Too long and the reader feels overburdened before the story begins, and they may not purchase the book at all.

4. In a Suspense story, the prologue can set up the story problem in advance or hint at the ending before the beginning to set up suspense. You should be able to write suspense without this device, but it is certainly used.

5. In a Mystery, the author often writes the prologue from the villain’s POV or sets up the finding of the body by secondary or tertiary characters. This can be a weak start and the reader might flip past it. If the mystery has multiple scenes from the killer’s POV, then the prologue should really be chapter one or two. If this is the only scene from his POV, you have to ask if it is really needed and if it is a way of introducing false suspense. It is much stronger to pull the reader in with the sleuth being made aware of the crime.

6. A prologue may introduce a past mystery relating to a present day story. If the book alternates past story and present story scenes, the prologue could easily be converted to chapter one. Since a reader picks up the book and opens it to read the first few pages, you might lose them with the past story if the setting or situation bores them. These prologues tend to add color and set the stage with no real action or interaction for the reader to care about. If you use it, make it count. Consider starting with the contemporary story in chapter one, then weaving in the past story as chapter two. Give the reader a reason to care.

Revising Tips:

1. Do you really need a prologue or are you just in love with it?

2. Is it crafted with intention or lazy writing?

3. Is it riveting in its own right?

4. Is it too long?

5. Does it regurgitate information or try to stuff an entire world history in before the story starts? If so, cut it.

6. Does the story work without it? If not, are you in trouble if the editor says “Delete?”

For more information on prologue and epilogue, check out:

Backstory, How Much Do You Use?

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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Similar, But Not the Same

Camilla Franks at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, photo by Eva Rinaldi, via Flickr
The other day when I was at church I couldn't help noticing that two women sitting apart from each other wore the same floral patterned top.

After a second look, I realized that actually one of them wore a pull-over blouse, while the other had on a short-sleeved cardigan.

What could this discovery have to do with writing?

Well, some authors get the notion that others steal their ideas. In some cases, that might be true. However, in many, it's not.

According to British journalist and author, Christopher Booker, in his book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, there are only seven basic storylines.

Wikipedia lists them along with examples, of which I've provided one for each.

1. Overcoming the Monster - James Bond
2. Rags to Riches -  Cinderella
3. The Quest -  The Wizard of Oz
4. Voyage and Return - Odyssey
5. Comedy - A Midsummer Night's Dream
6. Tragedy - The Picture of Dorian Gray
7. Rebirth - Sleeping Beauty

For every example here, there are many others which also follow the same basic plot, yet are unique in their own right.

In other words, there may be seven plots, but it's what authors do with them that set their stories apart.

Can you think of an example from one of your books, or another's, using one of these plots?

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman & its new sequelA Perfect Angelor try the standalone reality show romance, Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. & its Collection Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com & Morgan Does Chick Lit

Monday, July 21, 2014

32 Reasons to Read a Good Book

From John Kremer's blog, Tips on Marketing Books and E-books, here are 32 great reasons to read more books. Please share.
  • To escape your normal life.
  • To travel to real destinations.
  • To explore new worlds.
  • To imagine more than you could on your own.
  • To understand something new.
  • To understand something old.
  • To connect with the author.
  • To connect with other readers.
  • To dream a new life.
  • To compare dreams, realities, and in-between.
  • To laugh and enjoy.
  • To deepen your understanding and insight.
  • To know more than you could learn on your own.
  • To learn what you don’t know.
  • To learn what you do know.
  • To discover something extraordinary.
  • To meet incredible characters.
  • To build a larger vocabulary.
  • To cry after a great read.
  • To be entertained by a great story.
  • To relax with a great storyteller.
  • To stimulate thought.
  • To grow your spirit.
  • To find motivation to do more.
  • To go on a great adventure.
  • To learn how others live or have lived.
  • To expand your horizons.
  • To explore inner dimensions.
  • To educate yourself.
  • To inspire your own writing.
  • To learn how to change the world.
  • To discuss in a reading group.
  • To share a good book with your friends.
What are your reasons for reading?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, has just been released, and her non-fiction book Cowgirl Up: History of Women's Rodeo will be out in September. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Narrative Voices - Part Two: Third Person Limited

Photo by Ryan Wick, via Flickr
As noted in my previous post, in First Person narration, the angle of vision is “single-track”. The central character is also the story-teller who addresses the reader directly, uses first person pronouns for self-reference, and recounts events in his/her own words.

In Third Person limited narration, the angle of vision is similarly “single-track”. There is only one focal character, and our access to plot developments in channeled through his/her personal perceptions, experiences, and discoveries. But there the similarity ends. In Third Person Limited narration, the focal character is being viewed through a telescope wielded by the author. And this makes a Critical Difference.

In Third Person Ltd. Narration, the character is oblivious to the fact that he/she is under observation. Meanwhile, the author plays the role of an on-the-scenes reporter operating under cover. Like a Nato observer, he/she uses third person pronouns when reporting narrative developments to the reader - ostensibly without bias.

But by inserting himself/herself between the focal character and the reader, the author asserts his/her mastery over the writer’s craft, via diction and selective detailing, to influence our assessment of the focal character’s actions. The designedly ironic effect is that we see the character, not as he sees himself, but as he really is.

A stellar example of Third Person Limited narrative technique can be found in the Carnegie-Prize-winning Y/A novel The Scarecrows, by Robert Westall (Puffin Books, 1981).

Our focal character, teenaged Simon Wood, is the son of a soldier killed in action. At the point our story begins, Simon’s widowed mother has begun seeing a new man, who turns out to be a famous political cartoonist. Simon’s Oedipal tensions are evident in the first chapter of the novel, at a public school event at which his pretty mother is invited to play a tennis match on Parents’ Day:
Summer Parents’ Day. Started all right. Mum had done nothing to shame him. Red hair short and clean, her make-up slight, her skirt a decent length…Nothing for Bowden to get his rotten little teeth into.
  It was Montgomery’s father who spoiled it. Montgomery’s father, who used to play tennis for Gloucestershire…with his lanky legs and bounding stride and crinkly black hair. Montgomery’s father had buttonholed Mum. Somebody’s [parents had cried off from playing] tennis against the staff; would Mum step into the breach? Mum had fallen for it, like a sucker. Even though Simon begged her not to; with his eyes. Begged and begged…
  Mum coming onto court, beside Mr. Montgomery. In borrowed shorts. Showing her legs. Not that Mum’s legs weren’t all right…But when she bent over to pick up a ball, you could see her bottom…
From this short passage, we can tell Simon has serious proprietary issues when it comes to his mother. Even before we’ve seen the full extent to which he idolizes his dead father (whom Westall, using Simon’s memories, reveals to us in his true guise as a self-involved macho prig), we know that Simon’s views of his family situation are pathologically unsound. The dramatic tension thus created, as we wait to see how this toxic situation unfolds, renders this novel a riveting page-turner.

Third Person Limited narration demands a lot from the writer, but if you can pull it off like Westall, the effect is stunning!

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Connect Those Dots

Danger in Deer Ridge by Terry Odell
Every now and then, there's a scene that absolutely refuses to get from opening to closing in a straightforward fashion. When I was working on a scene for Danger in Deer Ridge, I had my starting plot points, there were only two characters in the scene (and one was asleep for most of it), and I had a reasonable idea of where it should end.

As I worked on it, however, it was more like a connect-the-dots picture, but without any numbers telling you where the next dot should be.

This scene happened to be one of my few ventures into the villain's POV. It's only the second time he's been on the page, so I wanted to show what kind of a man he was in a little more depth, as well as reveal some points that would heighten the tension. And, as I was writing, it turned out he was a lot nastier than I'd first thought.

My plot points for this single-scene chapter:
Bad guy is having an affair. He's thinking about breaking it off. He's looking for something he thinks his wife (who's our heroine, and is supposed to be dead) took with her before she left him. He's hired someone to investigate. Bad Stuff will happen if he doesn't find it.

Seems simple enough, especially since the foundation for these points has already been established. But that creates other problems—like how much is adding depth, and how much is just plain repetitive. Since this guy's POV scenes will be several chapters apart, a few reminders to the reader might help.

But for some reason, the details to expand each of those plot points kept hopping around. There was no flow. My system of asking "why?" seemed to create more questions. I couldn't find the next dot.

Starting the scene was easy enough. He's in bed with his mistress in the hotel room. He's the villain, so I saw no need for showing the actual sex.

Why a hotel room? Why not his own home, or hers? How much detail should I show for the mistress? How much back story is needed to explain the affair. I needed to show that it had started while he was still married. How much more? Why is he still in the room? Why doesn't he get dressed and leave?

How much is he thinking about the relationship, and how much about his dilemma? How much to reveal about exactly what it is he thinks his wife took? Do I try to layer in a red herring? Could someone else have taken it?

Eventually, I think I got all the information on the page exactly where it needed to be so it flowed smoothly. I think it works. But I had a few surprises along the way. In one of the first versions, this came in the opening paragraphs:

He stood in the doorway and watched her sleep, her red curls splayed over the pillow. Not a natural redhead, he'd discovered early on. One way or another, he figured he was paying for her hair color along with her wardrobe.

However, after two days of juggling plot points, this paragraph moved down to the end of the second page, and this is what happened to it:

He paced to the doorway and watched her sleep. A dim glow filtered through the curtains, highlighting her red curls splayed over the pillow. He stared, transfixed, at the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest. His gaze wandered to the pile of bed pillows strewn about the floor. How easy to creep in, pick one up, cover her face until her breathing stopped. His shoulders bunched, and he rubbed his neck.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Villains Are People Too

A line in a recent review of one of my books gave me the idea for this blog post.

“I loved the way in which even the so-called unsavory characters have been endowed with humane and just feelings.”

Villains in mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels are many times more important than the hero and heroine. Antagonists drive the story, create the suspense, and put the main characters at risk. The worse they are, the more tense the story. We want our readers to turn the pages as fast as they can, but if they don’t feel the hero or heroine is threatened, that their life is on the line, we probably haven’t written a memorable villain.

However writers craft their villains, we have to be careful. The reviewer who prompted this post wasn’t talking about the true villain in my book Threads, an unrepentant psychopath, evil through and through. He is a rare character for me. I like to imbue my bad guys or gals with characteristics that make the reader care about them; otherwise, they become stereotypical clichés, direct from central casting.

Authors spend so much time creating their heroes and heroines, bestowing them with defining traits, we sometimes forget that our villains are people too. We want to cheer when they get their comeuppance, but we should have some sympathy for whatever made them the way they are. Is the shark in Jaws the villain or are the people hunting him down? Is Moby Dick the heavy, or is Captain Ahab?

One reviewer of Mind Games said this: “...the villain is marvelous--evil but human. I almost felt sorry for him.”

Now that’s a villain. His young life was a disaster, and he had no hope to be anything but what he turned out to be. He knows he’s on a downward spiral to hell because he’s smart, but he can’t stop his trajectory. Knowing his history makes the reader that much more sympathetic toward him. We wonder what he would have been like if someone had loved him as a child.

The antagonist in Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is a nasty piece of work. Yet even as he eviscerates his victims, the author imbues him not only with brilliance but with a spark of humanity that keeps us riveted. Lecter is fascinated by the novice FBI agent, Clarice Starling, and feeds her hints so she can find the murderer, Buffalo Bill. Reading that book was like watching a horror movie through splayed fingers, yet I couldn’t put it down. Lecter has to be one of the most compellingly evil villains in crime fiction, but....

My work in progress, Backlash, has what I hope to be a sympathetic villain, even though he’s a cold calculating killer. Actually, there are multiple murderers in the book, and ridding the world of their victims starts out as a noble mission. If the law can’t deliver a just verdict for these sinners, then this band of avengers will. Unfortunately, committing immoral acts to balance immoral judgments tends to result in bad endings.

I was discussing villains with my son, and he made a blanket statement about comic book villains: they’re all products of something bad that happened to them early on in their lives. So as evil as they might be, the reader, especially kids, can find something sympathetic about them.

How do you craft your villains? Do you make them all bad, or do you leave a little light to shine in their eyes?

Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Collector's Items

Another lovely day in La-La Land, dearies. Just in case your area, like the Midwest, is enjoying the remarkably non-July-ish weather, I’ll keep this brief so you can skip outside to play.

Our topic for today is the mass noun. No, this isn’t a sermon; we’re talking about noncount nouns, those little words that denote uncountable concepts. These nouns fall into two categories: abstract (trendiness, comfort) and collective (the paparazzi, the staff).

The interesting thing about mass nouns is how they are paired with verbs. In essence, this boils down to location, location, location. In American English, most mass nouns receive the singular treatment, and are paired with a singular verb. The audience was bored by the uninspired offerings of the fashion show. On the other side of the pond, British English allows for singular or plural treatment. The whole family was stunned by Mother’s makeover. Also, the paparazzi were staggeringly rude again.

There are certain mass nouns that are always paired with plural verbs, most notably people and police. While a quick check of any reputable dictionary will give you the scoop on correct usage for your chosen noun, the CMOS offers a simple rule of thumb to consider: a singular verb emphasizes the group; a plural verb emphasizes the individual members.

In the meantime, it’s time to slather on the sunscreen. The ivy is attempting to throttle the big pine tree, which means that a bit of pruning is in order. Enjoy your day, mind your masses, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Having discovered the joys of pin weaving, the Style Maven is now indulging in the joys of mail-order mass yarn shopping. You can read about her high-fiber diet at The Procraftinator.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - The Original Handwritten Manuscript

Shelley, M. (1816). "Frankenstein - Draft Notebook A", in The Shelley-Godwin Archive, c. 56, fol. 1v. Retrieved from The Shelley-Godwin Archive
Transcription from Shelley, M. (1816). "Frankenstein - Draft Notebook A", in The Shelley-Godwin Archive, c. 56, fol. 1v. Retrieved from The Shelley-Godwin Archive
If you have a spare hour or ninety, have a browse through the Beta version of the Shelley-Godwin Archive, a project to make available in digital format the handwritten manuscripts of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft. So far only Frankenstein has been scanned, but that's plenty to get excited about (well, for us editors, anyway). You can read the entire manuscript online, together with the transcription and highlighting of Percy Shelley's edits and alterations to Mary Shelley's text. It's an opportunity to examine a classic author's writing process.

You can read more about the project here, and detailed guidelines on how to use this remarkable resource can be found here.

Elsa Neal
Elle Carter Neal is the author of Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, which features symbolism from Frankenstein. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. To keep in the loop about “Maddie”, join her mailing list here, or find her at or

Friday, July 11, 2014

Are You an Advocate for Yourself or a Jack of All Trades?

Image by Ryan Ritchie, via Flickr
Let’s face it: being an author isn’t a simple, one-task job. Similar to that of a wage earner/wife/mother (or the male counterpart), it requires expertise in multiple fields.

Exactly what all does a writer need to be? We can begin with researcher, organizer, storyteller, grammarian, developmental editor, content editor, proofreader, marketer, publicist, PR person, distributor, and the list goes on. Oh, yes, this includes learning the formats/skills required by these diverse professions. Remember that being a jack of all trades also implies being a master of none. Yet we are counseled to learn our craft. How can we do that without acquiring the expertise needed to fulfill all the “jobs” included under the “successful author” umbrella?

We can become advocates for ourselves. One dictionary defines advocacy as the act of supporting something, and who can support us better than we can? After all, we have the most to gain—and the most to lose. However, supporting ourselves doesn’t mean doing it alone. It’s an extremely rare writer who’s an expert in all the above fields, and a reality check will likely reveal that we have neither the time nor resources to spend years becoming proficient in all the required areas. We need help.

Look around at the successful authors you know or have read about. How did they do it? Consider our folks here at BRP: Kathryn Craft, Maryann Miller, Carola Dunn, Helen Ginger, Morgan Mandel, Polly Iyer, Terry O’Dell, Heidi Thomas, Kim Pearson, Elle Carter Neal, Shonell Bacon, Diana Hurwitz, Elspeth Antonelli, Debby Harris, and others, as well as our commenters, many of whom are published writers. Are they all privy to some well-kept success secret? Or have they adopted self-advocacy rather than trying to become jacks of all trades? Many of them have shared their “secrets” in this blog.

Personally, I begin with a potential plot, ask myself a lot of “what if” questions, and utilize my knowledge of grammar, punctuation, structure, and plot/character development to create my stories. After writing an opening scene to hook my readers—and no doubt rewriting it numerous times—I turn my characters loose to run with it. Beta readers help me find weaknesses in completed manuscripts and offer invaluable suggestions to enhance flow and readability. Editing skills are exchanged. Cover design is turned over to more qualified hands. Marketing has been one of my biggest shortcomings, so I’ve engaged someone to handle much of that aspect. Farming out those areas where I am lacking did not come at the outset of my writing career, but rather has been an outgrowth of my early experience with trying to do everything myself. Presently, I’m updating and revising my completed books and planning to reissue them before the end of the year, along with one or more new ones. Budget, always a concern, has been enhanced by bartering; I exchange my expertise for that of others, and we both benefit. An occasional skill still requires out-of-pocket money, but total output is an affordable expense.

How do you advocate yourself/your work? Do you have a team (beta readers, editor, designer, etc.)? Have you educated yourself in the various aspects of marketing? Do you advertise? How do you distribute your books? Do you produce hard copies, e-books, or both? What words of wisdom can you share with us?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at

Thursday, July 10, 2014


How many of you are self-publishing your work? If you're getting it printed yourself, how are you doing it? Using a local printing company? Using Lightning Source? Going Print On Demand?

Despite the emergence of e-books, a lot of writers still want their book in print. Now that's doable since we're into a new era of publishing. More and more authors are "doing it themselves". This is especially true when it comes to e-books. But it's also true for those who want to publish a print book. Putting your book into print is not all that difficult to do anymore. Admittedly, it takes time and the formatting can be a bit arduous. You can make it easier, though.

We're now in a new era of publishing. Some of us are adapting and participating. Some are kicking and screaming. Either way, we're now in a new world of publishing.

The good news is that the formatting is pretty basic. Whether you publish through Smashwords or Lightning Source or wherever, try to make it easy. Here's the first step I would recommend.  You have an idea for a book. You've plotted it out. Now you're ready to write.

You open a Word document and start typing.

You could do that, but remember, the goal is to make it easy when the time to print comes. Look at the books on your shelf. Measure the width and height of the books that you like to read.  Whatever height and width that you decide on, set those in your Page Layout. For me, that means setting the margins so the book is 8.5 X 5.5.

A print book has three sections. The front matter, the book matter, the back matter. The front and back matters have no page numbers. The first page of the book matter has no page number. The rest of the book matter has page numbers in the Footer.

The book matter section usually will have headers. On the odd numbered pages, it's usually the book title, centered or at the right edge of the page. On the even numbered pages, it's the author's name on the left edge of the page (or center both odd and even headers).

Don't hit the Tab button on your keyboard. Set it up so that it automatically indents for you.

Sometimes the company that will print your book will tell you not to worry about buying an ISBN. They buy those and will put one on for you. My opinion is … buy your own ISBNs. They're not all that expensive and whoever owns the ISBN owns the book. Do you want to be the owner or do you want the publishing company to be the owner?

Helen Ginger is an author and blogger. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, the novel Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her most current book, Dismembering the Past, debuted in June 2014.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Playing With Words

Humorist Slim Randles is our guest today with a bit of non.. er, fun from his friend, Windy, who sure does like to mess with words a bit.

The Literacy Tree
On a good, warm Saturday morning, you have your choice here in our valley: yard saling or livestock saling. Since Windy didn’t have much of a need to rummage through stacks of doilies or record albums starring Patti Page or the Kingston Trio, he headed for the sale barn.

You see, Alphonse “Windy” Wilson doesn’t have a ranch or farm.  No, Windy was trolling for an audience.

He tried the coffee shop, but there were just two ranchers there, and they were in an intense conversation. He walked around through the waiting pens, and it was there he saw the kids. There were three of them, teenage boys, chatting with each other, wearing hats and boots. Leaning on shovels. Windy knew what their jobs had to be and figured them as good audience fodder.

“Shore is a flamtastic kinda day, ain’t it boys?” Windy said, maneuvering so they would have to actually walk over him to get back to work. “Puts me to mind of the day we was all having a picnic up on Thompson Ridge … you boys know what a picnic is?

"Oh, they still have ‘em, eh? Hard to keep up with all the new innervations you young people have … I’m an old timer, you know? Oh, of course you knew.

“Wellsir, it was a day just like this, solarily speaking, with picnic writ all over it, and there we were, just a salivatin’ along on Thompson Ridge, looking for a ’propiate spot to have lunch, when the ground started to shake. It was a dad-gummed earthquake! We used to get one oncet in a while, you know. Well boys, it shook and shook and the trees went wobbly at the knees and so did we. Some of us thought it was the end days, you know. But then it quit, and I can extrapolate to you that was a mighty good thing to have happen.

“And we sat down and opened our picnic baskets and do you know what? That there earthquake turned the young’uns’ ration of cow’s milk into vanilla milkshakes!”

Windy sighed. “Used to have some pretty good picnics in them days.”
If you enjoyed this bit of fun, you might want to hop over to Maryann Miller's blog, It's Not All Gravy
where Slim is playing with more words.

Slim Randles writes a nationally syndicated column, Home Country, and is the author of a number of books including  Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing. That title, and others, are published by  LPD Press.
Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. To check 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. Slim Randles always makes her laugh.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Whoosh...That was my deadline!

Image by Joshua Kopel, via Flickr

Time was when I always met my deadlines, even when I was writing four books a year and had a part-time job. My latest 3 or 4 books have all been turned in late.

My work-in-progress, the 24th Daisy Dalrymple mystery (Superfluous Women) was due June 1st. My editor will be happy if I get it to him by the end of July. We both have our fingers crossed.

I have an excuse. I have multiple excuses.

The most fundamental is the length of the series. After 21 books, I've run through a great many of the possible permutations of plot, character, motive, mode of death, and so on. One of the difficulties of a series such as Daisy's is finding new reasons for her to become involved in investigating murder, and ways to get her husband, DCI Alec Fletcher, on the case. The longer the series grows, the more my powers of invention and imagination are taxed. It takes time to come up with new variations.

I've also slowed down for physical reasons. A herniated disk with two relapses, "trigger thumb", a broken foot and subsequent problems with the opposite leg, leading to months of physical therapy: only the thumb directly affected writing, but the rest made everything else—shopping, laundry, the inescapable chores—take forever. And that's not including time occupied by medical appointments.

On top of that, my dog, extremely healthy since we got past the horrible state she was in when I adopted her, all at once had to have endless visits to the vet.

Another factor is the endless opportunities for promotion now so easily available. It's no longer a matter of a signing tour once a year. It never stops, though I don't take advantage of half the possibilities. That's one good thing about being with a major publisher. They still do a lot of promo that small publishers expect their authors to do for themselves.

My editor has been very understanding. In fact, he said to my agent, "I get the impression that Carola would like to slow down a bit." Actually, I'd already slowed by the time he said that! He adjusts and readjusts publication schedules with aplomb. At least, I don't hear about any frantic hurrying and scurrying there may be behind the scenes.

The only penalty is that I have to wait longer for the parts of my advance that are payable "on delivery and acceptance" and on publication. I'd already gone past due-date a couple of times when Minotaur offered the latest 3 contracts.

All the pressure is self-imposed. I've always been a better-early-than-late person (though when I stunned my dentist by turning up a day early for an appointment, I was not making sure I arrived in good time, I'd simply mixed up the date). Knowing for weeks that I'm going to be late, and for more weeks that I am already running late, makes me uncomfortable.

Self-imposed and reader-imposed, I should say. People eagerly awaiting Daisy's next adventure and the next Cornish mystery are dismayed to hear they'll have to wait a year for the former and two for the latter.

I'm writing as fast as I can!

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Journaling Your Way to Creativity

As the first-half of 2014 closes and the second-half opens, some of us writers might find our writing much like us when we step outside in the heat: wilted.

This month, I wanted to share one of my favorite ways of reinvigorating my creative writing: journaling.

To do that, I talked with a dear sisterfriend, author, blogger, encourager, and creator of the Optimist-Kit, Pachet Spates. Like me, she adores journaling and uses it for a variety of projects. Below, she shares her thoughts on journaling, how writers can tap into journaling to better their creative writing, and her Optimist-Kit project.

Pachet Spates is a creative trifecta who is following her passion of creating innovative products, inspiring others to tap into their creativity and motivating individuals to think outside of the box. You can delve into Pachet's world by checking out her blog and The Optimist-Kit and by following her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Why did you get into journaling?
I started journaling as a way to escape. I grew up as a latch key kid; I was always stuck in the house, so instead of watching TV, I started writing in notebooks. I wrote stories, I wrote about my feelings and my dreams of one day “breaking free.”

How can journaling help a writer develop their creativity?
There are a variety of ways via journaling that can help writers tap into their creativity. Keeping an idea journal is a great way for writers to list various ideas that come into their head or even things that they overhear. Art journals are great ways for anyone to tap into their creativity. Through the use of various mediums, a person can create visuals for their emotions or create the “ideal” home for a main character through collaging, sketching and painting.

How has journaling helped you in your writing endeavors?
My idea journals have helped kick start a lot of stories. I reference my idea journal often, especially when I am brainstorming a new story for my monthly SNAPS 1000 Words short fiction.

What are three journaling activities writers can do RIGHT NOW to jump start their creativity?
One thing I suggest to my fellow writers is what I call a “purge.” Don’t set an alarm, just grab a pen and your journal and write down EVERYTHING that is in your mind. From questions to day dreams. Don’t worry about the content, just write it all down.

The second activity I recommend is “listing.” List ALL the reasons why you need to write a story, list 10 things your main character likes/dislikes. The possibilities are endless and aid in story and character development.

Finally, writers can create a journaling jar. Fill a jar with journal prompts. They can be related to their current works in progress or random prompts. Journal jars come in handy when anyone is stuck in a writing rut AKA writer’s block.

Tell us about the Optimist-Kit and how using these kits can help users tap into their creativity.
The Optimist-Kit is a product I created centered on the benefits of journaling. Kits are now made to order, and each one comes with a journal, a writing utensil, coffee and/or tea, an inspirational trinket, and a 30-day journaling challenge. I created the kit to help people tap into their creativity through written self-expression. Using the Optimist-Kit provides users down time to reflect creatively and openly.

When I asked Pachet if she had any remaining comments on journaling, writing, and creativity, she shared her thoughts on what journaling is to her and some of the benefits attributed to it:
Journaling is often used in conjunction with the word “diary.” It amazes me how often I hear people say that journaling is like keeping a diary. A diary is one of many forms of journaling. The initial concept of journaling is to track a journey- our progress through various stages of life, events and ideas. The benefits of journaling include enhancing creativity; healing, growth, and development; an increase in intuition; and my favorite, becoming a better writer.

Do you journal? How do you use journaling to further develop your creative writing?

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Innie or Outie? A Quiz Actually Helpful to Writers

If you are a writer on Faceboook, you’ve had the opportunity to take a plethora of quizzes. Which Disney princess are you? What is your prostitute name? Which U.S. state should you really be from?

Amusing? Perhaps. Creative time-wasters? Down to the last one.

Here’s a quiz, however, that will actually help you with your writing. It was constructed by Dr. Katherine Ramsland, author of more than fifty books ranging from vampires to serial killers to creativity, and who holds graduate degrees in forensic psychology, clinical psychology, criminal justice, and philosophy.

Published on her popular "Shadow Boxing" blog at Psychology Today, the quiz assesses your “OQ,” or observational quotient, and places you on a scale of inward to outward focus. Knowing which you gravitate toward helps you identify your natural strengths as a writer, and allows you to see where you should probably focus revision efforts.

Ramsland writes:
The ability to observe one’s surroundings, including the people in it, and to understand what the details show, is observational intelligence. We each have an OQ, but the truth is that people oriented in an interior direction have to work harder at it than people with an external orientation. They can easily miss a lot. 
I tell writers that knowing this about ourselves, especially if we’re what I call “Innies,” is important information. If we want to decorate our scenes and develop how our characters appear to others, we need to observe comprehensively. To some, this comes naturally; others must actively initiate outward attention.
This quiz will help you in your relationships as well—as a matter of fact, I had to push my husband out of my head as I answered some of the questions.

Number one, for example, which asks us to rate how true the following statement feels:

I am alert to the environment around me.

Sometimes, I thought, so I gave myself a “1”. Seriously, I do sometimes notice the darnedest things! For example, I just noticed our garage door was open, and I thought, "Did my husband leave it that way all night?" My husband, however—who must corral me with his arm every time we leave a hotel room, because I’ll be heading the wrong direction toward the elevator—would have given me a "0".

My husband, who scored 23, is an outie: he is much more attuned to observing the outer world than I am, so is likely to naturally insert more physical description and sensory detail in his writing. With a score of 13, I am much more inwardly focused. I will reach for the inner conflict and emotional turning points before I ever get around to anchoring all that in a world of real sensations.

At a recent writing retreat I hosted, participants had scores ranging from 8 to 30! Knowing this will only help us be better writers.

The action list for #8’s revisions would be to ground the character in the real world through connection to setting, and make sure to add in plenty of sensory images.

The action list for #30’s revisions would be to make sure all that lush description actually serves an inner arc that moves the character through the story.

I won’t write more because I want you to go take the quiz. You'll find it here:

Are you an innie, or an outie? Report back!

Kathryn Craft
is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service, and the author of novels The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy (May 2015, both by Sourcebooks). Her monthly series, "Turning Whine into Gold," appears at Writers in the Storm. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bare Bones Draft

I used to waste a lot of time on my first draft. I agonized over each sentence. I filled it full of stuff I would later cut or alter. Revision layers took forever to complete, especially repetitive words.

My first drafts are now skeletons. I gradually add muscle and skin and dress the bones in the revision layers.

I start with a conflict outline and a timeline (which I generally mess up somehow anyway and have to go back and fix).

When I sit down to write a scene, I start with:

Date, Time, Location, (Type of ) Conflict # _____ Dick needs to convince Jane to do something.

Date, Time, Location, (Type of) Conflict # _____ Jane is caught snooping around Dick's office.

For me, scenes are visual. I see the characters moving around the room or characters talking to one another. My first draft consists of dialogue and choreography with a tiny of hint of description. It looks a bit like a screenplay.

Dick (insert tag) “ ....”

Jane (insert tag) “...”

Dick enters (describe how Jane sees him)

(insert description of place here) (look at photo of room)

(Need a visceral response here) (angry) (sad) (hopeful)

(Need gesture)

(insert name of place here) (look at map/diagram and fill in)

They move around the space, they fight, they do stuff. Then comes the hard work. Once I have a draft, I make sure the scenes illustrate cause and effect.

Because this conversation occurred, it set up a conflict in Chapter __.

Because this conflict occurred, it made this conversation necessary in Chapter __.

If I can take out any of the scenes without making a difference to the plot, they aren't earning page time. I either strengthen them or cut them.

The revision layers take a lot longer than the draft, but are far more effective because I can focus on one layer at a time.

1) Motive: At the end of the scene I ask myself, "Why are my characters behaving this way?Is this behavior true to his or her temperament?

I find it easier to write with the character profiles nearby, so I can refresh my memory about their motivations and purpose. (Blatant plug - having the Build A Cast Workbook by my side is invaluable).

2) Descriptions: I use photos, diagrams, and other prompts to set the scene, add atmosphere, and describe people and places.

3) Dialogue tags and gestures: I have lists of visceral responses and gestures and cross each of them off when I've used them once or twice. I choose a speech pattern and verbal tics for my characters. I make sure their dialogue is consistent throughout by scrolling through the manuscript one character at a time, stopping when I reach their verbal interactions and checking for consistency.

4) Sentence structure: The first draft has simple sentences. When revising, I vary the sentence length and add cumulative sentences. I make sure my nouns and verbs agree and my punctuation is where it needs to be.

5) Hooks: I add creative first and last lines for each chapter. I try to get the goal of the scene in at the beginning and the new goal in at the end.

6) Theme: I make sure actions and dialogue address theme.

7) Adjectives, adverbs, and other parts of speech: I consult lists and cross them off when I use them.

A bare bones draft gives you the opportunity to get the key ingredients right before you add the magic that makes the scene rise from the page and dance.

First drafts always need work. Why waste a lot of time on something you will rewrite anyway? Give the bare bones approach a try. It might keep you from rewriting sentences over and over instead of moving onto the next scene or chapter.

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.