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Showing posts from October, 2014

Why I Write Young Adult Paranormal Suspense

Short answer: I don’t. Longer answer: I first got the idea for A Dead Guy at the Summerhouse when I was a young adult, before young adult was even a label. Very long answer: A friend had given me some books in the genre that was known then as Gothic. Remember Gothics? Young girl goes to large house filled with wealthy eccentrics, usually with a threatening figure and a helpful figure (often romance is involved), the threatening one turns out to be Good and the helpful one turns out to be Bad, much fear and emotion, happy ending. The covers usually featured the house with the young girl (usually in her nightdress) running away under a full moon, looking back over her shoulder in terror. I thought it would be fun to write one with a young man instead of a young girl. I thought it would be fun if, instead of trying to winkle out the house’s secrets, everybody would be trying to share them with him and he would be all, “I don’t want to know. I don’t want any drama or excitement.

With a Bare Bodkin...

A number of readers have asked me to write about the reasons I pick one method rather than another to kill my victims. For a start, I must confess that I prefer my murders not too messy. The messiest one was in The Bloody Tower , and Daisy closed her eyes before it got too horrible. Considering the setting, close to the spot where Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, and many others lost their heads (literally), a bloody death could hardly be avoided. The method of murder is quite often suggested by the setting. What better to cover the sound of a gunshot than a Guy Fawkes party, with fireworks exploding at irregular and unexpected intervals? And at an ancient manor house with ancient weapons decorating the walls, a stab in the back with a dagger is an ever-present danger. If you find yourself in the Natural History Museum, a primitive flint spear can do the job just as well, though with less finesse. One prime consideration in choosing how to commit murder is what means I have used


This post has been reprised and updated from one that first appeared Oct. 17, 2011. False Evidence Appearing Real Having suffered from insomnia in the past and now facing a new journey of life alone after the loss of my husband, I know fear can raise its ugly head during the wee hours when you are between awake and doze. You are most vulnerable then and negative things keep running through your mind in a continuous loop. As writers, we all experience this to some degree at various stages of our work. First it might be “I can’t come up with an idea.” Then, after a great start where the story flows effortlessly, there is that sudden stop and “Oh no! Where do I go next? What if I can’t finish the story?” The fear seems real. After you finish the story and polish it to a high sheen, then fear sets in again: “What if I can’t get it published? What if nobody likes it?” Any small word of critique becomes that F.E.A.R. OK, say your book gets published and after the happ

Fear of Success

Afraid of success? We can fix that. Are you tired of succeeding in this writing game? Below is my tried-and-true 12-step method of making sure you don't get stuck working as a professional writer for the rest of your life. 1. Turn off grammar and spellcheck in your writing program. Spell words however the hell you want to spell them. It's your work. Be exprimental and break boundaries. Rules are for suckers. 2. Don't write more than two drafts of any particular work. More than two and you'll lose the magic. Be raw. 3. Disregard critical comments your critique group partners and beta readers make. It's all due to jealousy anyway. 4. List all the agents you've queried on your blog, and their response times, so other writers will know not to query agents who take too long. 5. When you query an agent and the agent declines to read a full or a partial, let her know what a golden opportunity she has missed out on. When you're famous, instant karma w

Scared Stupid

I remember a movie I attended in a theater many years ago. It was a romantic thriller. I munched from a container of popcorn as the tension ramped up and love scenes grew steamier. Then the female lead, for whatever reason, crept down the stairs in the dark toward the front door. No. Don’t. Not a good idea. The front door was glass at the top, but fogged so the character, and the audience, could not see what was on the other side. Was there a shadow? Maybe. Did the shadow move? Not sure. A fist slammed through that glass panel. The audience expected something to happen, but the impact of fist with glass was so sudden and so loud, there was a collective gasp. I jumped. My right hand flew toward my mouth, flinging popcorn at the moviegoers sitting behind me. I’m not sure anyone noticed. That’s why characters do stupid things in books and movies. Fear…or terror…leads to bad decisions, often making a situation worse instead of better. The reader or movie fan is happy with th

Notes from a DIY Book Launch

This morning I held a book launch for my first published book, and, since I am also my own publisher, I was the one who had to organise and run the event. Here are some considerations that worked for me, and some wish-I’d-thought-of-that-earlier ideas that occurred to me during and afterwards: 1. Food and books. It seems like a good idea at the time to treat one’s guests to yummy cake... Luckily I have two small children, so, as par for the course, I grabbed a packet of wet wipes as I dashed out the door – and placed it on the table beside the books for cleaning any sticky fingers. 2. Crack open as many of your sale copies of your book as you have time for, and check that there is nothing obviously amiss. I had a book with two folded pages, with the print broken across the fold line - embarrassing when someone picked it up for a browse and pointed it out. 3. Hire a “publicist”. If you own a teenager (or can borrow one), this is a perfect job for them. I’d had in mind that

Body Talk

In the real world, human communication doesn’t depend exclusively on the spoken word. On the contrary, the non-verbal aspects of communication in any conversation entail a whole range of signals – both voluntary and involuntary - including vocal inflexion (pitch, intonation, changes in breathing), facial expression , and body language (posture, gesture, manner of movement). Consciously or unconsciously, these non-verbal aspects of communication bespeak our moods, intentions, personal likes and dislikes, social attitudes, and responses to any given situation. Playwrights have the luxury of being able to rely on their actors to supply all the relevant details of intonation and body language to bring a scripted scene to life on stage. In fiction writing, however, the writer has to inject occasional descriptions of body language into the text to show us how characters are reacting to circumstances. This kind of detailing enriches the tone, atmosphere, and texture of the story overa

Hifalutin' Hyphenation

Cheerio, duckies! Orange is everywhere, and pumpkin spice has our flavor options in a death grip. It is decidedly fall. It is also decidedly easy to fall prey to sneaky little style slipups. Luckily, we have our faithful CMOS to finesse any faltering. Today’s case in point: the hyphen. That teeny little line can bewilder the best of writers, but the Manual is quite forgiving with regards to hyphen usage. In section 7.77 of the Sixteenth Edition, the CMOS acknowledges the mental gymnastics required to decipher compound mechanics. It also offers an easy out: by consulting the dictionary. Webster’s provides a substantial, though not exhaustive, list of hyphenated compounds. Section 5.91 of the CMOS goes further, providing an especially helpful rule of thumb. Look for substantial alterations in meaning when deciding to apply hyphens. Is it a small shoe shop , or a small-shoe shop ? Hopefully, the size of your feet does not range into square footage, and you’ll easily see the di

The Chicken Story

When she was around four, my granddaughter Ellie once stayed with me for a weekend while her parents were off gallivanting. What a great time we had! Ellie is into making up stories, so my grandmotherly ambitions went soaring – another writer in the family! She told me her stories while I scribbled them down. We wrote quite a few about Rapunzel, Tinkerbell, MuLan, and other heroines. (My favorite was the one in which Rapunzel went to San Francisco to buy a pretty dress and finally have her hair cut, leaving the Prince behind.) We also wrote a “round robin” story in which Ellie told a piece of a story, then I told a piece, then Ellie, then me, and so on. We called it “The Chicken Story” and here it is: Ellie: The chicken went to the park and he slid on a bumpy slide. Grandma: Then he fell off the slide and hit his head on the ground at the end of the slide. Ellie: Then he goes on a tire swing, and he fell off and he bumped his head again. Grandma: The chicken sai

A Place At the Table

There has been a lot of talk on one of my writers’ loops about the disrespect given to self-published and small-press authors. Are they good enough to be included in one of the big writers’ organizations? That organization just sent out a questionnaire to its members to ask for their opinions. I gave up my membership in that group a while back because, as a self-published author, they didn’t support me, so why should I support them with my hard-earned money? If self-published authors are to be included in these organizations as “active” members, then by what criteria? Should we be accepted on the basis of how much money we’ve earned? And if that doesn’t guarantee acceptance, what does? How about the quality or quantity of our work? Who is to judge which writers are acceptable and which are not? What about rankings or reviews on sales outlets? Should that be a method of evaluation? By what calculus should we be judged? I have two friends, one self-published and one published by a

Alright Already?

First, a  quick followup to my last post about pre-orders, and Windswept Danger . Since someone near and dear to me was recently diagnosed with MS, I'm donating ALL royalties from pre-orders of the book to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Pre-order price of 99 cents, a $3 savings, is good through Oct 26th. You can find buy links here . And now, on to your regularly scheduled posting. Language, as everything else, is constantly changing. But what constitutes a legitimate change? When does something that was previously "wrong" become acceptable? Back in the Dark Ages, when I was in school, we were taught that already was an adverb that had to do with time. "When I got to the mall (although there were no malls back in those Dark Ages of my school years), Mary was already there." This was not to be confused with all ready , which means that everyone was prepared, or someone was completely prepared. Likewise, there's altogether and all

A Halloween Tale: I Am Alone

I am in bed, alone. Sleep doesn't come easy. There are creaks and groans in this old house and I am fourteen weeks pregnant. I lie awake, listening to the voices in my head and whispers from the past. I was in my crib when I first heard the ghosts whispering. Over the years, I've given the ghosts names: Saliva, Tick, Catie, and Drool. There are others, but they rarely speak to me. Once they are all gathered around my bed, the temperature drops. Even with two blankets, I am cold, shivering. "Go away," I plead. They move closer, bending low. Their faces waver only inches from my nose. "We have come for you." My teeth chattering, I manage to whisper, "It's not my time." Tick's face floats forward. Sharp metal teeth drip saliva onto my cheek. "When I say it's time, it is time." "You don’t control me." "Ah, but we do. We have been with you since you were born." I turn my head and l

Using PR and Advertising to Grow Your Writing Career, Part 2

In yesterday's post here at the Blood-Red Pencil , I talked about how writers can use PR to grow their writing career. Today, we're moving on to advertising, a totally different beast. As mentioned yesterday, PR tends to have a long-term goal in mind, that of building a relationship with its public so that the public grows to trust the company, to have loyalty with that company. In the end of all that relationship building, the company hopes that the relationship is strong enough that the public will buy their wares, support their causes, etc. Buy Now image by Stuart Miles at Buy me now! Advertising typically has a short-term goal in mind. You are attempting to lure your audience into buying your products/services or support your causes NOW, not later. Being able to communicate in a concise way the availability and benefits of your products is vital in advertising. What is your product? Why does your audience need this product? What can thi

Using PR and Advertising to Grow Your Writing Career, Part 1

If you’re looking to develop or redevelop your public relations (PR) and advertising activities for your writing career, it’s good to first differentiate between the two sets of activities and then take time to consider how each will benefit your career. Before doing so, however, you do want to think about two things: 1) how you will brand yourself and 2) who you are trying to reach because without knowing these two things, developing PR and advertising activities won’t connect with your career goals and with those (your audience) who will help your career grow. PR image by Stuart Miles at Let’s build a relationship for the long haul . PR often has a long-term goal in mind. You are attempting to build a relationship with your public so that they become loyal to you, so that they begin to trust you. In building that long-term relationship and the loyalty and trust, your public ultimately comes on board to buy your product, support your causes, etc. On

Here's a Book In Your Eye

Often the best titles, and memoirs, come from seeking connections between seemingly unrelated events. This takes time. In Colorado, a boyfriend threatened to shoot me, so when I was twenty-six I moved to Alaska.

Time Out For Some Fun

Good morning dear readers. It is now time to lighten our mental load, and sharing a few jokes is almost as good as Yoga for a stress reliever. Notice I qualified that. Practicing Yoga and deep breathing are probably the best way to relieve stress, but laughter does run a close second. If you'd like to know just how good laughter can be for your health, check out this article: Laughter is the Best Medicine. When I read Merry Farmer's post Monday about the review trolls , I was reminded of how much stress the writers' life has. I don't know about you, but Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, so I thought I'd start with a few ghostly jokes that I found on the site. Q . Why did the game warden arrest the ghost? A . He didn't have a haunting license. Q. Why didn't the skeleton dance at the party? A. He had no body to dance with. Q. What do you call a witch who lives at the beach? A . A sand-witch. Image courtesy of Bear Tale

What Gadgets Do You Use, and Why?

I'm writing this post while enjoying the Fall colors in the North Woods of Wisconsin. I brought my laptop computer with me for writing blog posts, and hopefully making headway on my work in progress, but haven't used the laptop as much for social networking. At home, I head to the desktop computer for almost all online communication and book creation. Away from home, I click on my Samsung Galaxy S4 to check e-mails, upload pics to places like Facebook, and use Google to answer burning questions. I was tempted to get an iPhone 6 Plus when my current plan expires, but what stops me is its camera hasn't caught up to the one I have on my present phone. I also own an 8.9" Kindle Fire, but hardly use it. It's heavier than I like as a tablet, and doesn't have as many capabilities as a laptop. It did come in handy, though, when the power went out in the house about a month ago, and I was able to read in the dark. Also, it does have great speakers for listeni

Beware of Trolls

photo by Jlhopgood , via Flickr   When I first started this journey of writing for publication many years ago, I had one major fear that loomed large above all of the others. I wasn’t afraid of meeting deadlines, I wasn’t afraid of having my work evaluated and edited by a professional, and I wasn’t afraid that my work wasn’t good enough. Nope. What I really feared was that someday, someone would come along and publically trash my baby. Because I knew it was going to happen at some point. I knew it. I think it’s physically impossible not to have someone at some point give you a really, really bad review. I mean, J.K. Rowling has 1-star reviews for Harry Potter . Heck, The Goldfinch , a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, had 1,604 1-star reviews when I checked for this post. Not everybody likes every book, and books don’t come with a mind-meld sensor that warns the reader that what they’re about to read really isn’t for them. Bad reviews are a fact of life as a writer. I told mysel

The Emotion Thesaurus

I love the Internet. Today while researching "street teams", I ran across a blog post by Angela Ackerman that nailed the basics. You can read it here. I immediately connected with her and was intrigued by her writing books, and in the course of our conversation, I invited her to visit the Blood-Red Pencil. Turns out, we've already written about her with this post from September 23, 2012. Well, it's worth a second read, and happily, we'll get to visit with Angela again. Very soon. Hooray! ~ Dani/Chief Red Pencil I have not read or purchased a new grammar or reference book recently, but rely on my old favorites, The Little, Brown Compact Handbook, Self-Editing for fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King and the Flip Dictionary (better than a thesaurus sometimes).  But I’m always preaching “feelings” to my students and editing clients. What is he feeling here? What is her reaction to this? How does sad (happy, angry, frustrated) feel? I sometimes have