Friday, October 31, 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.”

This was my “training wheel” book. It was my first completed novel; it was the first one I struggled through to the end. When I finished, neither the book nor I was the same as at the beginning. Over the years of playing with the idea, the reams of false starts, the micro-tweaks and total rewrites, A Dead Guy at the Summerhouse took shape and the stereotypical Gothic elements dropped away or were transformed. I also discovered I can’t totally write by the seat of my pants; I do much better with an outline, however general.

After having written and published many short stories and several novels, I came back to my old pal, Mitch and applied what I’d learned.

Mitch is an orphan, and has lived in a group home all his life. He’s about to turn 18 (in 1968) and is worried about his future. Hired by an elderly (70 – less elderly to me every year) rich woman to protect her dogs from the killer stalking them, he thinks she’s dotty. Never having known a “normal” family life, Mitch isn’t certain he’s right about the strangeness of the dynamics and undercurrents in the household. He’s certain, though, that the maid is wrong when she insists he’s possessed by the spirit of the last young man his employer hired – the guy who died at the summerhouse and is buried there. At least, he thinks he’s certain. Sure, he’s certain. Probably. Then the anniversary of the dead guy’s fatal “accident” rolls around.

And, yes, there’s a scene where Mitch leaves the house by moonlight, dressed in his jammies.

How could I resist?

A Dead Guy at the Summerhouse is available at Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Marian Allen was born in Louisville, Kentucky and now lives in rural Indiana. For as long as she can remember, she has loved telling and being told stories. She writes science fiction, fantasy, mystery, humor, horror, mainstream, and anything else she can wrestle into fixed form.

Allen has had stories in on-line and print publications, on coffee cans and the wall of an Indian restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky. Her latest books are the Sage fantasy trilogy, her science fiction novel Sideshow in the Center Ring, and her YA paranormal suspense A Dead Guy at the Summerhouse from Per Bastet Publications.

She is a member of Quills and Quibbles and the Southern Indiana Writers Group. 

Visit Marian Allen at her blog for free stories, samples, and recipes: Marian Allen, Author Lady or her follow her on FaceBook, Twitter, GoodReads, Google+ and LinkedIn. She also posts at the group blog Fatal Foodies on Tuesdays and monthly on The Write Type.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

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 in previous books in the series, especially recent ones. This applies especially to the more dramatic deaths.

When I’ve pushed someone over a cliff, I want to stay away from high places for quite a while. And I doubt I’ll ever again blow anyone up in a coal-gas explosion. Poisons, on the other hand, are so varied as to be endlessly useful.

You can kill someone with a misused medication, an easily available lab chemical, or some leaves from a nearby bush. You can even have one victim with two different villains feeding him two different poisons at the same time, unknown to each other. Poisons can be slow acting or fast acting. The murderer need not be anywhere near the victim when he dies. There’s a poison to suit practically any situation.

Do I want the body to be hidden away—buried in a garden, say—or somewhere where it will soon be found, such as a dentist’s chair with a patient expected? Each requires a different modus operandi.

The most fun I’ve had killing people was in To Davy Jones Below. It’s set on a transatlantic liner, so obviously you’re going to have people falling overboard port, starboard, and amidships. The fun part was figuring out a different way to make each one fall.

I’ve never murdered anyone at Halloween. Now the season is upon us, it’s time to make plans...

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


This post has been reprised and updated from one that first appeared Oct. 17, 2011.

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 happy dancing and celebrating calms down, then next phase of fear sets in. “What if I’m a one-shot wonder? That was just a fluke. I’ll never be able to do that again.”

I’ve been there, done that—all of it. Fear is destructive and counter-productive. We all need to confront that Fear and talk it down. You know you are doing the best job you possibly can, and you WILL finish that WIP, and readers WILL like it (especially if you hire an independent editor to help you)!

Think positively, take the next step, and persevere. Don’t let fear rule your writing life. And check out this article by Katherine Swarts about overcoming fear.

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, and a non-fiction book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, have just been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

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 will get her.

6. If an agent does request a full, email him daily for updates. They like those continuous reminders.

7. Write lots of blog posts criticizing other authors. This will boost your own popularity. Be sure to attack these other authors for their personal beliefs; don't make it so much about the work. Everyone else comments about the work, so you
need to stand out.

8. You got an agent! My condolences. Be prepared to fight tooth and nail when she or the editor suggests "improvements" to your manuscript. It's your baby; don't let anyone mess with it.

9. You got a book deal! My condolences. Now take a few months off. You've earned it.

10. Quit your day job. The royalty money is going to start rolling in soon, so take out a loan to float you until then.

11. You can stop blogging now. All that hard work you did building your platform is finally over!

12. When you're published, respond to those 1-star Amazon reviews so potential readers will know those other guys just didn't get it.

And that's it! When my twelve-step method works for you, be sure to drop a comment in the section to say thank you. And you're welcome, by the way.

Jim Heskett is a writer of short fiction, long fiction, and the snarkiest blog posts in three states. You can currently find him slaving away at a laptop in an undisclosed location in Broomfield, Colorado. More details about current and future projects at

Monday, October 27, 2014

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 the increased tension, the surge of adrenaline, the anticipation of what will happen next.

It’s only the occasional book reviewer who will call a scene “over the top” or the offending character “stupid.”

The main character in my November 2014 release, Dead Wrong, is forced to make a whole series of decisions based on fear. Fear for her life. And fear for the safety of the young people she connects with along the way.

Lynnette Foster married a cop without giving herself enough time to discover he had a serious anger problem. She’s not the “stay-forever-no-matter-what” type, so she heads for the Miami airport to put a lot of miles between her and the cop’s fist. A few hours later, Lynnette walks away from the Denver airport with the wrong laptop case. The real owner, a thug carrying stolen goods to his criminal boss, is desperate to retrieve his case. A runaway kid begs Lynnette for help and a college student tries to rescue them. And Lynnette discovers her husband was murdered and she’s a person of interest in the case. With a killer on her trail and the troubled kid she’s taken under her wing telling a new lie every few hours, Lynnette is so scared she can’t think straight.

Scared stupid? No. But scared enough to do foolish things or pick the one really crazy option from a long list.

In real life, sometimes the craziest option is the bravest, like trying to pull a passenger from a burning car that might explode at any second. Or rushing to help a sick person and risk exposure to a serious disease. Or trying to stop a mugging, or a parent mistreating a child, or a kidnapping.

On the other hand, the crazy option might be that tendency to creep down the stairs in the dark and find out what caused the noise in kitchen. I’ve done it a couple of times, armed with nothing by my cell phone. Shoulders tight with tension. Stoked on adrenaline. Ready for anything.

As long as a fist doesn’t crash through a window as I walk by.

Patricia Stoltey is the author of two amateur sleuth mysteries, The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders. Originally published in hardcover by Five Star and paperback by Harlequin Worldwide, both are now available as e-books for Kindle and Nook. Her November 2014 novel from Five Star/Cengage, Dead Wrong is a standalone suspense. The novel has been described as “…lightning paced…” and “…a fantastic combination of suspense and action…”

You can learn more about Patricia and her fiction at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Friday, October 24, 2014

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 I would take some photos with my phone and upload them to my Facebook Page when things got a bit quiet, so I could run a virtual launch at the same time, but the quiet part didn’t happen. I also didn’t work up the nerve to ask someone to take photos of me until the end.

Instead, have someone who knows their way around a phone and social media running around taking snaps and tweeting or Facebooking on your behalf (but not pretending to be you, of course – Facebook Pages can have multiple contributors, so simply add your “publicist” and select an appropriate role).

If you do a reading, have your slave “publicist” record it on your phone, upload it to YouTube, and then post the video on Facebook.

4. Hire a “stylist”. Again, a great role for a bored teen (as long as they don’t have it in for you). This job involves a quick check that you don’t have spinach in your teeth before a photo/video session, that your hair (piece?) is in place, clothing and jewellery straightened, etc.

5. Hire a “PA” (who could double as your “stylist” if you’re running out of victims to rope in). This job involves bringing you water, lip balm, pens for signing, or your phone if you have a call or a message. Perhaps even making a note of numbers of copies sold, and replacing the books on display as they sell.

6. Keep it simple (unless you have all these people, plus an event co-ordinator and crew, available to run around for you).

My car broke down yesterday, so I planned my worst-case-scenario on having to walk to the location with books and cake in a back-pack, carrying a two-year-old. Luckily I didn’t have to do that, but, after that, everything extra was a nice bonus rather than a necessity. Simple equals less stress.

What about you? Have you stage-managed your own book launch, or do you have a publisher who organised your launch for you? What went wrong, or right, on the day?

Elle Carter Neal is the author of Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, a science-fantasy for tweens and teens. She blogs about the craft of writing at

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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 overall.

This is especially true in passages of dialogue. Take for example the following very basic four-line script.

Scene: two people meet at a bus stop.

Speaker One: Nice morning, isn’t it?

Speaker Two: Beautiful.

Speaker One: Do you think it’s going to last all day?

Speaker Two: Your guess is as good as mine.

Pretty flat, huh? Ok, let’s recast this exchange as fiction, adding in aspects of intonation and body language:

A man dashed across the street and ducked into the bus shelter. Shaking the rain from his jacket, he remarked, “Nice morning, isn’t it?”

Maisie backed up to avoid getting splattered. “Beautiful,” she muttered.

“Do you think it’s going to last all day?” the newcomer asked chattily.

Maisie made a show of studying the bus timetable. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

The addition of these extra features sets up the contrast between the two characters: the man is good-humored; Maisie is in a bad mood. He’s inviting further conversation; Maisie attempts to rebuff him. This raises our interest: Why is she so grumpy? Will her mood prevail over his and make him shut up? Or will he persevere and talk her into a better frame of mind?

Of course, given the original script, simply tweaking the body language of the participants will completely change the tone of the scene. Let’s try it again:

The man dashed across the street and shouldered his way into the bus shelter. Pushing his way past Maisie, he growled, “Nice morning, isn’t it?”

“Beautiful,” Maisie agreed with a rueful chuckle.

The man adjusted his collar. “Do you think it’s going to last all day?” he demanded irritably - as if Maisie would know.

Maisie sighed inwardly. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Now the situation is completely reversed. For whatever reason, the man is behaving very boorishly. Will Maisie’s temperate responses to his snappish remarks make him aware of his behavior and alter it? Or will she leave the bus shelter and walk on to her destination in the rain just to get away from him?

In fiction, as in life: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Make this precept work for you!

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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 difference.

With common usage, many open or hyphenated compounds close over time. While both the CMOS and Webster’s dictionary may encourage hyphenated spellings, it is becoming more and more acceptable to use closed compounds where “pronunciation and readability are not at stake.”

Essentially, it all boils down to clarity. If your well-dressed businessman character requires a tie and a hyphen to be obvious to your readers, by all means, include both. If your description makes it all clear without the clutter, you may skip the hyphen if you are so inclined.

Just be prepared for Spellcheck and Webster’s to argue the point.

There are naturally many more considerations and rules to take into account, but it's time for all of us to be about our day. Have a lovely week, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!
Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew 
Tired of fishing walnuts out of the ornamental pond, the Style Maven has threatened the local squirrels with a steady diet of boring bread crusts instead of their usual cake tops. Whether this tactic works remains to be seen; if it does, you can read about it at KOFO's Procraftinator page.

Monday, October 20, 2014

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 said, “This park is too dangerous, maybe I should go home.”

Ellie: No, he said “I’m going to find another park.” But then he was hungry, so he said, “I’ll go home and have lunch.”

Grandma: But when he got home, there was no food to eat. He said to his mom, “Where is all my food?”

Ellie: His mom said, “We ate it all up. So the chicken said, “Okay I’ll wait while you go to the grocery store.” But then he remembered he was a big chicken and could go to the grocery store himself. So he did.

Grandma: At the grocery store, the chicken looked at all the food. He couldn’t decide what to buy, there was so much.

Ellie: He waited too long in the aisle and then everybody else bought up all the food, and then there was none left.

Grandma: So the chicken thought, “Maybe I can go outside and see if there’s any chicken food I can peck up. He went to the parking lot to find food.

Ellie: Some kid spilled his McDonalds french fries in the parking lot so the chicken ate them. They were good. Now the story is all done.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 8 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, October 17, 2014

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 small press, who were bluntly rejected to guest on a writers’ blog because my friends weren’t “traditionally” published, which by the bloggers’ standards meant published by a major publisher. Both friends are avid readers, supporters, and blogging hosts, and both were embarrassed and hurt by the put-down. I understand bloggers want to draw in readers by hosting big name authors, but we all know the big guys. We want to learn about good writers we haven’t heard about. Not too long ago the same writers making these judgments were searching for publication acceptance themselves.

That’s not the only example of the caste system snobbery within the writing community. Self-published authors want an even playing field. A seat at the table, so to speak. The possibility of representation on the panels of major conferences. How that’s decided is up to the organizations who host these conferences, but how long can they pretend that so many good self-published and small-press authors don’t exist?

I recently attended a conference where I was barred to be on a panel. I witnessed first-time authors participate while I, who at the time had six well-received and highly ranked books, could not. I knew this before I went, so I accepted it.

But it’s wrong.

The insult is that “traditionally published” authors aren’t held to the same standards we are. I understand that bestselling authors bring more money to the publishers’ coffers. They’ve worked hard and earned their places. Many self-pubbed authors are also writing terrific books and making tons of money. They’ve been great advocates for the rest of us. We appreciate them and hope more of us join their ranks. But when will we have a seat on a panel at a big writers’ convention? When will we be considered “real” authors?

If I wrote the same books for a big publisher, would my books be any better? Some would argue that they would. They’d say I’d have first rate editing and outstanding covers. I admit that at the beginning of my writing career, I made mistakes, but I and others learned quickly what we needed to do. We hired editors and cover designers. Even books edited and published by The Big Five have glaring mistakes and typos. I’ve seen them, and so have you. As for covers, the books represented in the collage on this page are all self-published books. I think they look pretty darn good.

A friend went to a romance conference this past weekend in Atlanta, Moonlight and Magnolias, and told me that three of the eight category winners were self-published. Romance seems to be ahead of the curve. Three cheers to RWA. I may even renew my membership.

Are there some bad indie books? Yes, but we’re working harder and getting better collectively all the time. In all fairness, there are some less than great books in the traditionally published market too. I forecast that a self-published author will win a prestigious award in the near future, and more will follow. There have already been a few indie writers nominated. I hope I’m there to cheer their win.

Stay tuned.

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.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

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 together, which have different meanings as well. Altogether means wholly, or entirely, whereas all together means everyone was in a group. (This omits the idiomatic use of altogether, meaning nude, and I'm not going there with this group.)

And, perhaps because already is a word, it was easy to get confused and carry that over to words like "alot" instead of the correct a lot. Another major No No, resulting in Miss Cook leaving big red marks on one's paper, was to use the word alright. Again, our teachers insisted, there was no such word.

But recently, I've been running across "alright" in published books. And, although I hate to have to qualify this, because publishing is changing, too, I'm talking "traditionally" published, not indie published. For some reason, people assume that what they read in traditionally published books is "right" and indie books are full of mistakes. But since reading alright makes my teeth crawl, I had to go look it up.

What I found in my online dictionary:
alright - adverb
1. all right.
Can be confused (see usage note)
Usage note
The form alright as a one-word spelling of the phrase all right in all of its senses probably arose by analogy with such words as already and altogether. Although alright is a common spelling in written dialogue and in other types of informal writing, all right is used in more formal, edited writing.

So, it would appear that alright is slowly gaining acceptance. In fact, as I write this post, there are no red squiggles under the word alright. At what point do we take what used to be wrong and consider it correct? After all, new words are cropping up all the time. Google is a verb now, isn't it? And will readers understand what we mean if a character "MacGyvers" something together to get out of a tight spot? The word might not be in standard dictionaries yet, but it's out there in some of the slang ones. However, I'll say this. I'll use MacGyver long before you'll catch me using alright in my writing. I do not want Miss Cook turning over in her grave.

What about you? How receptive are you to change when it's not something new, but something that contradicts what you were taught? Do you have any hangups about the language? Any words you confuse?

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, October 15, 2014

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 look into her eyes. "Since I turned eight, I have researched the Ghosts of Death. You cannot take me. If you so much as touch me, you will be returned to hell. You will be forever gone."

The four ghosts laugh.

Catie pushed Tick aside. "We took your mother. We will take you."

"Go ahead. Try."

Both Saliva and Drool reach for me. The moment they touch me, they are thrown backward, their heads crashing against the wall.

"I have had twenty-four years to plan for this moment. I knew you would come for me. I am ready. That was just a warning." I push the covers off and stand up.

I didn't know ghosts could growl, but that's what Tick did.

I stepped forward until I was only inches away from the ghosts. "As you now know, you can't touch me. And I can't kill you." With one sweep of my hand, I throw Tick and Cat once more against the wall. "But the child inside of me can."

I walk across the room to look at the four ghosts as their images melt away. Once they disappear, I sit back down and rub my mid-section where my daughter grows.

I am not alone.

Helen Ginger is an authorblogger, and writing coach. 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, Angel SometimesDismembering the Past and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book,Deadpoint, is due out in 2015.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

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 this product deliver that no one else can? How will your audience feel after partaking in your product?

In advertising and marketing, the acronym AIDA is often used.

AIDA means
  • Attention (or Attract) – Using powerful, engaging words and/or pictures to quickly grab audience’s attention
  • Interest – After grabbing the attention of your audience, here, you need to keep their attention and make them interested in your full message. How do you focus on your audience’s needs to keep them interested?
  • Desire – Desire may sound like Interest, but here, you want to focus on FEATURES & BENEFITS. What does your product/service feature and how do these features connect with benefits to the audience?
  • Action – What do you want your audience to do? Don’t leave this vague. Let them remember your product/service, the slogan, and what they should do: BUY… GIVE… DONATE… etc.

Because a major goal of advertising is to get your audience to buy your product or service, you want to make sure you think about AIDA as you develop your advertising activities.

Some of those activities include
  • developing flyers for your products;
  • buying radio, TV, print, and online ads and/or commercials;
  • creating and/or buying Web banners;
  • designing a shopping cart for easy purchase;
  • creating infomercials on your products;
  • encouraging current fans to create customer-generated advertising; and
  • using email and mobile devices to advertise products.

Again, the purpose of activities such as these is to seduce your audience with the awesome benefits of your product(s) so that they will run, not walk, to buy your product NOW.

What PR and advertising activities have been successful in your writing career? Share them below!

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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

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.

Once you know how you’re trying to pitch yourself as a writer and you know who you’re trying to pitch to (your audience), there are several activities you can pursue to build your audience and strengthen your relationship with that audience.

Some of those activities include
  • building and developing a Website, a blog, and a social media presence;
  • creating a strong media kit with information that caters to both your fans and the media (contact info, full bio, headshots, upcoming appearances, product info, endorsements [for you and for your product], and goodies for your fans);
  • writing strong press releases detailing news related to your writing career (news and feature releases);
  • seeking reviews and press for your work;
  • finding causes and topics and trends in your work that can be repackaged into articles that build awareness of your work to your audience;
  • having giveaways;
  • building relationships with other authors and pursuing guest blogging experiences; and
  • developing book tours both online and offline.

Activities such as these will define who you are and give both the media and potential fans the ability to learn about you, your work, and decide whether they want to hop on your train and build a long-lasting relationship with you.

Tomorrow, I'll be back to talk about advertising!

What PR activities have been successful in your writing career? Share them below!

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.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

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.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

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 where there are more Halloween jokes.
When I saw this cartoon in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago, I had to save it to share here. It is from Bizarro by Dan Piraro, who has a very unique view of life, to which I can relate. Dan does single panel cartoons, and this one shows two cave women standing by the wall of a cave. Two other women stand outside the cave talking, and a man is hunched over a fire eating some meat he has skewered and roasted. One of the women inside says to the other, "I don't get it. We've had language for a few hundred years now. What's taking the men so long?"

This flashback cartoon from Doonesbury may resonate with some writers. Joanie Caucus is sitting at the table in the kitchen reading a book when her son, Jeff, walks in and says, "Anyway, I got kicked out of Zip's dorm, so I think I'll move back upstairs."

Joanie says, "Well, think again."


"Your old bedroom is now a study. If you want to come home, you'll have to stay in the basement. Rent is $500. We would also require you to get up and write every morning for four hours like real writers do. You will meet your contractual obligations. 

"In the afternoon, you'll have to shop and clean and do laundry. Those are my terms. Your life as a reality intern is over. Any questions?"

They have a moment of a stare down, then Jeff says, "Cold, Mom. Hip replacement has changed you."

To which she replies, "Your rent just went up. Anything else?"

Let's wrap it up today with a couple of quotes:

"If writers were good businessmen, they’d have too much sense to be writers." - Irvin S. Cobb

"If Moses were alive today he'd come down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and spend the next five years trying to get them published." - Anonymous

So dear readers, do you have a favorite from these? Do you have a new one to share? Don't be shy. Go ahead.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, screenwriter, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mysteries are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, hardback and digital, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. For 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. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

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 listening to my small music collection. For normal reading, however, I prefer the Kindle Touch. It's easier to hold and easy to read from, even outside in sunlight.

On a side note, I keep all my gadgets charged enough to use them if needed, even the
not-as-favorite ones.

And now, I'm asking you: What gadgets do you use, and why?

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman & its sequel, A Perfect Angelor 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.Com

Monday, October 6, 2014

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 myself this time and time again. I steeled myself for bad reviews every time I popped on Amazon or B & N to check. I knew they would come, so I was prepared.

And then came The Review Which Shall Not Be Spoken Of.

It was my first book, The Loyal Heart. The review came about six months after it had been published. I had had other less-than-enthusiastic reviews, and while I wasn’t happy with them, I was able to take them in stride. For this one, I saw the one star, cringed, and prepared myself to swallow a bitter pill and move on.

Nothing could have prepared me for that review. It was long. Like, essay long. It was vicious. We’re talking spiteful, cruel, and personal. The reviewer accused me of plagiarism (not understanding the actual meaning of the term, mind you). They picked the book apart bullet-point by bullet-point and ripped every comparison between my story and Robin Hood to shreds. And then, to pour salt on my writer wounds, they said the book was terribly written on top of all that.

So two weeks later, once I’d stopped crying and thinking my career was over and that the literary police would come cart me off to prison based on someone’s cry of plagiarism, I awoke to a bitter truth. The Review Which Shall Not Be Spoken Of was written by a troll. Not only that, the troll won. I started to second-guess that story, wondering if I’d let my collection of inspirations leak too sharply into my work. I doubted my originality and my skill. And, yes, to this day I have lost interest in promoting that book or even remembering that I wrote it. All hail the troll!

It’s a sad story. It’s also a cautionary tale. My greatest fear in writing was realized to a level that I couldn’t and didn’t want to imagine. But it also taught me the single most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my pursuit of a full-on writing career: Trolls are out there. They are horrible. They thrive on destroying the light that drives us to pour our hearts out into our work. Sometimes they win. And you cannot avoid them.

So how do you deal with these inevitable black moments in your career as a writer? How can you face that deep, personal fear that someone with malicious intent will flay you in public? Because you can’t stop it from happening.

The best advice I can offer on that score is to forewarn you that it’s going to hurt. Take a deep breath and accept that. You will cry bitter tears and/or rage against the trolls. No, it’s not fair or right or just, it just is. The only way to get through it is to accept the battles you can fight and the ones you can’t. That review, when it comes, is not going to go away. The trolls are not going to suddenly feel bad and apologize.

But you know what? You’re not going to stop writing. Bittersweet as it may be, there will be another book and another and another. That awful troll review might hold nothing of any value for you, but there will be other reviews that are constructive in their criticisms. The very thing that scares you can also be a tool for improvement if you can take away the emotion of the criticism and judge the validity of the reviewer’s complaints. And there will be great reviews to balance out the bad ones. No writer’s career is the frozen point in time of a single review.

I wish I could have a better attitude about my bruised and battered baby. Honestly, the key thing that I learned from that nightmarish experience was to not read my reviews. That’s much harder than it sounds, by the way, but these days I honestly don’t read reviews. In the end, that may be the best way to fight the trolls, by ignoring them.

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.

Friday, October 3, 2014

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 to stop my own writing and think about how to describe a feeling in a way that’s not over-used, trite or clichéd. You can only have your character’s stomach clench a time or two before your reader begins to suspect he or she has an ulcer.

So, recently I downloaded The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writers Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Angela and Becca host The Bookshelf Muse, an award-winning online resource for writers that offers a number of different thesauri to aid authors in their descriptive writing efforts.

Their book is an excellent resource for prompting your creativity in expressing feelings. It gives the definition of a word, for example, “Anger.” Then it follows with a list:

• Physical signals, such as flaring nostrils or jerky head movements
• Internal sensations: such as sweating or the body heating
• Mental Responses: irritability or taking inappropriate action
• Cues of acute or long term anger: skin problems, ulcers, etc.
• Cues of suppressed anger: false smiles, sore muscles and jaw

I keep this handy reference on my Kindle for PC so it’s always right there when I get stuck.

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.   
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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Face Time

I’m on Facebook. A lot, perhaps too much on days I choose to procrastinate. I am careful who I friend, but my profile is public. Anyone can read my posts and comment on them. I keep controversy to a minimum, though I do love this planet and its inhabitants and wish I could save them both.

I read through posts on my stream as I sip morning tea, opening up articles I want to read on new tabs. I connect mostly with other writers, book lovers, favorite publications, writing related FB groups, a few television shows, organizations I have an interest in, and George Takei who can always be counted on for a good laugh. Facebook is useful that way: my own personalized morning magazine.

I share my blog posts, all Blood Red Pencil posts, and other blog posts I find informative. Many times these posts go without likes or shares. I have no idea if anyone has viewed them.

I admit my page is where forwarding schemes and chain letters go to die. I don’t want to know about your pretend farm animals or game scores. If the words “I bet you won’t” appear, I don’t. I do make a point of liking or commenting, sometimes sharing, friends’ posts as I go through. I’m not a stalker. I’m staying engaged with you. If I don’t, you’ll fall off my feed.

Facebook keeps changing its algorithm. Currently, they have decided that we must see what is “trending,” i.e. topics that are being liked and shared the most. So I like and share a lot.

The key to successful Facebook networking is participation.

1. Paying to promote is no guarantee that more people will see your post. There is no way to tell if it is successful unless people take the time to like, comment, or share.

2. Having an author page is no guarantee that people will see your posts. I don’t see your author page in my daily feed unless you are Anne Rice. I do see your profile page if we interact. If we aren't "friends" I cannot "tag" you when I brag about your books. Author pages don't work that way.

3. Though there are friend limits on your profile page, if your profile is public, anyone can read it, follow it, share your posts, and interact with you.

4. Unless you interact with people by liking and commenting on their posts, you drop from their daily feeds. If they never interact with you, they drop from your feed.

5. There are lots of groups on Facebook including MWA, historical writers, romance writers, thriller writers, SCBWI, etc. I belong to several. You will meet writers, bloggers, editors, and readers in that genre. My “to be read” pile is toppling with the books of authors I've discovered through groups. Interacting with groups gets your name out there and is a free way to promote your book. Not from obsessive “buy my book" posts, but through becoming a familiar "face," one they associate with "likes" and comments and sharing of useful information.

6. If your reason for not “liking” or commenting is because you don’t want to be bombarded with e-mails, you can selectively turn e-mail notifications off under your settings tab. You will still have the notifications section on Facebook itself to see what is new when you visit your news feed.

7. Facebook can be a great place for gathering a virtual literary salon/water cooler. Where else can you connect with so many of your favorite authors, learn about new ones, read articles to improve your craft, and make connections that can further your career while still in your jammies? It can be a book-lover/introvert’s paradise.

8. If you are a writer, you might consider having a separate profile that you limit to pages and people involved in the craft: writers, bloggers, editors, agents, fan groups, fans, reading groups, and genre-oriented promotion/information groups. This allows you to make your personal profile private and your professional profile public to gain more exposure for your work.

9. Prune it to control it. If you are seeing posts you don't want from people you don't want - cut them. It may be painful but necessary.

10. People never visit your personal or author page other than to decide if they want to friend you. They read what appears in their daily feed. If you aren't interacting, you are missing an opportunity.

It only takes one second to “like” someone’s post, comment, or share. Doing so frequently puts your name in front of other people, so that when you have something to promote, they are more likely to pay attention, perhaps share your information or promote your work. 

 Are you a participant or a spectator?

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.