Friday, November 28, 2014

Cool Tools for Writers

Most writers have seen ads galore for gadgets and gizmos to increase productivity that do anything but. You have undoubtedly received endless pens, paper weights, journals, etc.

Here are a few of my favorite tools that you can ask Santa for this year. If Santa neglects to bring them, treat yourself.

1. Nuance PDF allows you turn documents into PDF documents within Word for Windows: just select Print, Save as PDF, and voila - done.

2. Word Web Pro brings up a dictionary and thesaurus within word with a click of Control-W. It includes pronunciations and usage examples, and has helpful spelling and sounds-like links.

3. Smart Edit goes beyond the many editing tools available in Word for Windows (as outlined in Story Building Blocks III) to make your prose the best it can be before you turn it over to an agent or editor. If you are an independent publisher and can't afford an editor, at least give your manuscript a run through with this tool before hitting upload.

4. Natural Reader reads your work back to you. The readback voice is not the quality that allows you to make an audio book, but it beats reading your manuscript back to yourself. You can purchase additional "voices" beyond the basic two.

5. Serif Web Plus provides website building for the HTML challenged. There is no need to learn code. If you can operate a photo manipulation program, you can build your own website with this user-friendly gem. You can utilize a template or build your own from scratch once you get the hang of it.

6. Interior Templates by Create Space creates a template based on the selected trim size. If you can use Word for Windows, you can modify the template to fit your needs. The precalculated gutters and margins keeps your text where it needs to be. You can customize the headers, footers, and fonts.

7. Cover Creator Templates by Create Space allows you to use any photo manipulation program or Adobe Photoshop to create stunning covers. It generates a template based on the trim size and page length.

8. Calibre helps you create an e-book with ease. It supports all the major e-book formats. It can rescale all font sizes, ensuring the output e-book is readable no matter what font sizes the input document uses. It can automatically detect/create book structure, like chapters and Table of Contents. It can insert the book metadata into a "Book Jacket" at the start of the book.

9. Scrivener: there is a learning curve, but it is an excellent way to organize your plot and works perfectly with the Story Building Blocks theory of story structure and character creation.

10. Story Building Blocks Series: learn how to structure a plot, build believable characters, craft believable conflict, and revise like a pro with this set. One fan called it a Cliff-note MFA.

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflicts examines the core building blocks for plotting your book and their relationship to the different genres.

Story Building Blocks print book
Story Building Blocks for Kindle

Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict introduces you to sixteen character prototypes that can be warped and tortured to create realistic characters your readers will care about. It helps you create psychology-based conflict amongst the cast members of your story.

Story Building Blocks II print book

Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers takes you through high-low revision techniques to remove the plot holes and speed bumps from your first draft and basic editing tips so your agent and editor won't cringe while reading it.

Story Building Blocks III print book
Story Building Blocks III for Kindle

Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook uses the sixteen mannequins from Story Building Blocks II and offers a "fill in the blanks" format to flesh out your cast.

Build A Cast Workbook print book
Build A Cast Workbook for Kindle

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.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Birthday and Happy Thanksgiving

To the Chief Red Pencil who dances into her sixties.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American friends who ate too much.

Two good reasons to shake it up good! Enjoy your day, dear readers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanks to Baristas and the Coffee Drinkers They Serve

Richard Keller joins us at the Blood-Red Pencil today.

Photo by GoToVan, via Flickr
Not so long ago, in a coffee shop not too far away …

They wouldn’t stop talking. Talking and drinking coffee. Talking, drinking coffee, and eating. They complained about their college classes, their roommates, the people they were dating at that particular hour. And they were loud — to the point I couldn’t concentrate my writing. I think it was my science fiction novel Paradise Not Quite Lost or my erotic/mystery/horror/comedy novel based on Kafka’s The Trial. Sadly, due to the incessant conversation at the other table, and a lack of ropes and gags at my own, I packed up and left.

Fast forward a few days, or weeks, or months later, and I’m back at the same coffee shop with another group of loud, young, angst-filled college students sitting in front of me, talking, and eating, and … you get the idea. I’m about to leave, or at least scream at them to be quiet, when one of them says something which clicks in my brain. It doesn’t mean much to that person. To me, it’s a story idea. So I type up a little something and continue on my other project.

A subsequent trip to my favorite coffee shop results in an additional story idea derived from another conversation. Soon, I no longer have the urge to ask other patrons to shut up. Quite the opposite – I want them to speak clearer in order to cull more story ideas. There comes a point where I have enough ideas for a book. And that’s when Coffee Cup Tales is born.

I think that’s all I’ll get, yet the story ideas continue to amass. And not just from my favorite coffee shop. Other locations I visit have their fair share of folks, angst-driven and other, who say or do something which results in a creative ping, subsequent creation of a story title, and a few sentences of plot. I now have enough stories to produce Coffee Cup Tales 2: Extra Foam and release it on New Year’s Day – a time when people crowd the coffee shops to drown their hangovers with intravenous caffeine.

Coffee Cup Tales is becoming Chicken Soup for the Soul … well, in my head. There’s always a story or two created by people who don’t realize a writer sits in the same room as they do. Is it snooping? Absolutely! But it’s creative snooping, which is okay, at least according to my attorneys.

And this is why, as we enter the period of giving appreciation by eating a dead bird, I thank the baristas who work tirelessly to caffeinate a public ready to spill their guts in raised voices. Without their assistance, Coffee Cup Tales wouldn’t have been born, exist now, or last into an unknown future. Okay, there’s one known thing – it’ll be full of coffee and stories.

Richard Keller is the founder of Wooden Pants Publishing and Assistant Director of Northern Colorado Writers. Coffee Cup Tales 2: Extra Foamis scheduled for release on January 1, 2015. In the meantime, pick up his eBook Santa is a Stalker! And other modern holiday stories on November 28 and THE Book About Squatin December. Follow Rich at and The Writing Bug.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Being Thankful

Looking ahead to Thanksgiving in two more days, I have spent some time considering all that I have to be thankful for. First and foremost, is my family. I am blessed with terrific kids and grand-kids who have been so good to me in a most difficult year. So have all my brothers and sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews. What would we do without family?

Next I would have to say I am most thankful for all the friends I have; those here in my small town as well as those in the larger arena that is the Internet and social media. Who would have thought that one person could have thousands of friends on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and Google+. It boggles the mind and thrills me to hear from readers who have enjoyed my books.

I am also thankful for the advances in publishing that have opened so many doors for writers. When I started my writing career, back when dinosaurs typed on old Royal manual typewriters, there were few choices for places to submit a book, and most of those choices were in New York. A hard nut to crack back then, and still a hard nut to crack.

With digital publishing, the choices are myriad. The giant in the business, or course, is Amazon, but there are many other avenues, too; Nook, Kobo, Google and Apple. And one of the best things about these avenues is the control that authors have over publication, from the written word to the finished book ready to go into the hands of a reader. You can hire your own professionals to edit and create book covers. You can set your own prices. And you can take advantage of promotional opportunities by choice.

I still like some of the perks that come with traditional publishing, primarily the opportunity for reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus, and I was thrilled to get reviews from them all for Open Season and Stalking Season, the first two books in my Seasons Mystery Series. Both books are available for all electronic reading devices, and I self-published the e-books.

One of the downsides of traditional publishing, however, is the length of time it takes for a book to come out once it is accepted. Sometimes it can be two years from the date of the contract. That was one of the major considerations I had when I decided to self-publish the mystery series as e-books, as well as my most recent mysteries, Boxes For Beds and Doubletake.

That dinosaur and I are not getting any younger.

Along with the higher royalty rate, another advantage of being an independent, is the opportunity to do promotions that help create some buzz about the books. Through the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing program an author can set days for a book to be free, as well as Kindle Countdown days, and both programs have been successful for me.

Last year I offered Boxes for Beds free a couple of times, and then did a Kindle Countdown deal, and the book reached over 30,000 readers, and picked up over 100 reviews.

This year, I am offering Doubletake free from November 28, Black Friday, until December 1.

There are some pros and cons for giving a book away, and Terry Odell covered some of those very well in her post last week, To Free or Not to Free. One of the most important points she made was that the free book promo works best if you have other titles so happy readers can purchase your other books.

That is what I'm hoping for with this latest campaign. I hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to get Doubletake free, and maybe even help me spread the word. You can go to the book page on Amazon and share. I would be most grateful.

Wishing all the readers in the United States a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, screenwriter, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mysteries are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds 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. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fun With Palindromes

Here's something to spark your Thanksgiving dinner conversation!

Palindromes are words or phrases that read the same in both directions, e.g. EYE,or RACECAR, or MADAM I'M ADAM. Here are a few good ones:
  • Do geese see God?
  • Was it Eliot's toilet I saw?
  • Murder for a jar of red rum.
  • Some men interpret nine memos.
  • Never odd or even.
Palindromes have been used for centuries, going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Here are the top 30 from the website Fun With Words

Don't nod
Dogma: I am God
Never odd or even
Too bad – I hid a boot
Rats live on no evil star
No trace; not one carton
Was it Eliot's toilet I saw?
Murder for a jar of red rum
May a moody baby doom a yam?
Go hang a salami; I'm a lasagna hog!
Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas!
A Toyota! Race fast... safe car: a Toyota
Straw? No, too stupid a fad; I put soot on warts
Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?
Doc Note: I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod
No, it never propagates if I set a gap or prevention
Anne, I vote more cars race Rome to Vienna
Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus
Kay, a red nude, peeped under a yak
Some men interpret nine memos
Campus Motto: Bottoms up, Mac
Go deliver a dare, vile dog!
Madam, in Eden I'm Adam
Oozy rat in a sanitary zoo
Ah, Satan sees Natasha
Lisa Bonet ate no basil
Do geese see God?
God saw I was dog
Dennis sinned

Do you have a favorite palindrome?

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.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Skimming Stones (or The Art of Omission)

Photo by Killy Ridols, via Flickr
In the real world, we are all slaves to linear time. Waking or sleeping, whether we like it or not, we have to live through every minute of every day.

Only a relatively small proportion of what we experience on a daily basis is interesting enough to make it worth remembering. An autobiography detailing every moment of the writer’s life would make excruciatingly dull reading. If I were going to write my “life’s story”, I’d focus only on the high spots.

Much the same principle applies in fiction. Writing your first draft is a bit like “living” the plot a day at a time. But when it comes to Draft Two, what you leave out can be as significant as what you put in. Like a kid skimming stones across a pond, sometimes you want your story to leap from point to point.

The actor Robert Morley (1908-1992) used this “shortcut” technique to comic effect in his various memoires. In Around the World in 81 Years, he sums up his early career with droll brevity.
I spent a year at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Gower Street behind the British Museum. There was a final meeting with the principal

“Tell me, Morley,” he enquired, “do you have private means?”
These three short lines speak volumes.

This “skipping” technique is doubly effective in more substantial narrative contexts. One of the most masterful examples on record can be found in Wilkie Collins’ blockbuster epistolary novel, The Woman in White.1

Artist Walter Hartright comes to Limmeridge House to give drawing lessons to the beautiful Laura Fairlie. Inevitably, he falls in love with Laura, despite the fact that she is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde. Glyde is under the baneful influence of a criminal mastermind calling himself Count Fosco. Between them, Fosco and Glyde plan to defraud Laura of her inheritance.

Laura’s redoubtable half-sister, Marian Halcombe, harbors well-founded suspicions concerning Fosco and Glyde’s intentions. We follow her investigations via her personal diary. One night Marian crawls out onto the roof in a heavy rainstorm to evesdrop on the villains’ plans, and learns they mean to commit Laura to an insane asylum and replace her with a look-alike. Before she can act, however, she is stricken with fever. Her last journal entry records her lapsing into delerium:
Nine o’clock. Was it nine struck, or eight? Nine, surely? I am shivering again – shivering from head to foot, in the summer air….Oh, my God! am I going to be ill?

Ill, at such a time as this!

So cold, so cold – oh, that rain last night! – and the strokes of the clock, the strokes I can’t count, keep striking in my head –

At this point, the journal breaks off. The next voice we hear is a man’s:
The illness of our excellent Miss Halcombe has afforded me the opportunity of enjoying an unexpected intellectual pleasure.

I refer to the perusal (which I have just completed) of this interesting diary.
The signature attached to this entry is Count Fosco’s. When we realise he’s read everything we have, the effect is like touching a live electric fence.

These are just a few examples of the art of hitting the high spots, but the principle is one worth remembering.

1 First serialised between November, 1859 and August 1860 in All The Year Round.

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

To Free or Not To Free

I recently attended the Novelists, Inc. (NINC) Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. This conference is one of the few devoted totally to the business of publishing. Members are all authors who have published at least 2 books, and they're a savvy group. Industry professionals—editors, agents, lawyers, publishers, as well as representatives from the big e-tailers, aggregators, marketing experts, cover designers … well, it's a wealth of information sharing.

One topic that came up frequently was whether authors are "cheapening" the reader perception of what a book is worth by selling their wares for deeply discounted prices, or even—gasp!—giving them away. If you're an indie author, you have the right to set prices for your work that make sense for you. While traditionally published authors bemoan the $3.99 e-book, those indie authors are making more per sale than those with traditional, mass-market paperbacks. If you can attract readers to your series with discounted books, or free books, it might be worth a shot.

I've never been big on bouncing my prices around, but I had the opportunity to take part in a "First in Series Free" program at Kobo Books, and then another one at iBooks.Was I satisfied? Very much so. What I've learned:

First, not all channels permit indie authors to drop a price to free. To have a free book at B&N, you'd have to go through one of the aggregators, such as Smashwords, and since I prefer to hold control of my work, I don't use Smashwords to get to any of the major stores. I do use Draft2Digital to get my books to iBooks, because Apple has more hoops than I care to jump through. I also want my books everywhere they can be (something stressed as very important at NINC by everyone other than the Amazon reps), so I don't play the Amazon Select game. However, so far, Amazon has price-matched my free books, at least in the US and UK.

Free, or deeply discounted pricing--loss leaders--are marketing tools used across the board, not just for books. A lot of readers are willing to take a chance on a new author if they're not investing a lot of money. For the author, it's a discovery tool. For it to work, there are some caveats.

1. You have to have more than one book. Getting your first book published, then setting the price to free, might get you a blip in the rankings, but what happens when the readers finish the free book. Where do they go next? Not to another one of your books, because you don't have one.

2. Even better than several books: have a series. Offer the first one at a discount, or free, and if readers like it, they're going to want to continue reading that series because you've earned their trust. In fact, many best-selling indie or hybrid authors have their first books in their series perma-free.

3. Take advantage of sites that promote free books to get the word out beyond your own circles. BookBub is good, but it's a tough nut to crack. Others include eReader News Today, eBookSoda, The Fussy Librarian, and Bookli, and there are many, many more. There are blogs, Facebook pages, Genre-specific newsletters that exist to get the word out on free or discounted books.

What can you expect? In general, your sales spike at the beginning when your book is free. Sales will drop, but they'll level off at a higher rate than before the promotion. Only a teeny-tiny fraction of the people who grab your free book will even open it. But of the ones who do, and who finish reading it, about half will buy your next book. And that "halo effect" is what free can get you.

There's also the consideration of what your goals are. Boxed sets for 99 cents were/are popular, but the goal of the authors who participate is not to make money; it's to make a NYT or USA Today best-seller list so they can proclaim themselves best-selling authors. But that's a whole 'nother topic.

Deadly Secrets, A Maplton Mystery, by Terry Odell
For those of you who might be interested, Deadly Secrets, the first in my Mapleton Mystery series is currently free. You can find it at the iBooks store, Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. It's 99 cents at B&N.

What are your thoughts on free? On discounted books? Have you discovered authors and gone on to buy more of their books?

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, November 19, 2014

Elmore Leonard and the 10 Rules

I love Elmore Leonard’s books. I write characters who cross ethical lines, but no one has written more books with questionable characters than Mr. Leonard. In some, you can’t tell the good guys from the bad. Over twenty of his novels have been made into movies, and more people found his books through the TV show Justified. His 10 Rules of Writing is well known among writers. I decided to see how they applied to my own writing, remembering that since I’m self-published, I have no masters but my readers.

My rule is never to follow religiously anyone’s Never Rules. For that reason―and I say this fully aware that people will think I have a lot of nerve to question a master of crime fiction―I don’t agree with most of Mr. Leonard’s rules. Why? They don’t take into account the specifics of the story. Now I realize these are generalities, but Leonard writes them as if they’re the Ten Commandments. I’ll take them one by one.

1. Never open a book with weather.

Storms, hurricanes, blizzards, floods can be the antagonists in a story. They can set the conflict on the first page. Now, if a character wakes up―worse if he’s waking from a dream―and the rain is pouring down, we have a different situation.

2. Avoid prologues.

Most writers won’t use prologues because agents and editors have told them not to. Writers get around this by calling prologues Chapter One or heading them with a date. Time shifts are perfect reasons for prologues. If I need one, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a prologue. Star writers use prologues all the time, but they have a different set of rules called ― No Rules.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.

3 & 4 together: Said is a perfectly anonymous attribution, which is the point. BUT, though I hate said with an adverb, what’s wrong with someone whispering or muttering? Yelled? Whimpered? Interesting that Leonard’s example, “admonished gravely,” is one where the word gravely is superfluous. If he had used “he said,” it wouldn’t have the same impact as the words “he admonished.” So is he breaking his own rule?

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

I rarely use exclamation points: them because they’re distracting, but 3 or 4 in a 100K book? Hmm, okay.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

I agree with Suddenly. There are other ways to say the same thing, and “All hell broke loose” is an obvious cliché. So I agree there too.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Setting the tone so that the reader hears the dialect, whether it’s written or not, is tricky. I’ve done it, but mostly I used grammar, if possible. I do have a stutterer in one book, and I did show the stutter in moderation. No one’s complained about it being a distraction. I also dropped the g in an ing ending for one character to …in’. The problem with this is once you do it, you’re required to do it throughout the book.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

I bet a lot of writers disagree with numbers 8 & 9. This is one place where the story dictates how much description we use. Many times, less is more. Other times, more is necessary. Readers want to “see” our characters, feel the setting. If either goes on too long, you’ve lost them. The trick again, moderation.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

This one is my personal favorite. Applying it to numbers 8 & 9, you can see how a reader might skip pages of description. I’ve done it.

Leonard is all about dialogue, and in the hands of a good writer, dialogue is the key. Personally, I wish I knew which parts of my books readers skip — maybe a sex scene I feel is intrinsic to the story. One thing is sure: if I’m bored with a scene in my book, readers will be too. I might not want to acknowledge that boredom at first, but I’ll eventually go back and delete. Sometimes this falls under the “kill your darlings” column. You know, those passages you love but really need to go.

So, what do y’all think? (Notice my dialect.) How do you feel about rules when writing? Do you follow them or break them? Me? I think rules are meant to be broken, but since I’m self-published, with no masters but my readers, I can do what seems right to me.

Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. 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, November 18, 2014

The Style Maven Steps Out

Photo courtesy of
Greetings, duckies! It’s been an absolute rollercoaster around here these past few weeks. Various forms of drama, and none of it the fun kind that you can leave behind after two hours in a matinee.


I decided to treat myself to an outing, which turned into a (possibly) naughty bit of free advertising. Mind you, I only did it to give my favorite authors a boost; there was nothing at all self-promoting about it. Shall I tell? All right, then.

I found myself enjoying one of those rare but glorious days when there’s actually time and gas money for a trip to a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Might as well go out in the cold when you have a lovely new jacket, don’t you think? Rounding a corner of the mystery novel section, I spied a familiar name.

Gasp! One of our own from the Blood-Red Pencil!

Deciding that the volumes weren’t nearly visible enough, and since I had the department to myself, I set about twitching the books a bit closer to the front of the shelf. Much better. And lovely covers, I might add. Pleased with my work, I set out on a methodical search for anything by any author known to me personally. It wasn’t long before several seemingly unrelated tomes were, shall we say, subtly obvious to passers-by.

An extra step involved looking up more authors on those charming “help yourself” kiosks, leaving tabs open to display books that most assuredly should have been available. The final brooch on the blazer was to declaim, “Oh! You have this author’s book in stock! How divine; I adore their work.”

It was quite a giggle to see one or two interested souls venture closer to the book in question and actually pick it up. Perhaps I’ll make this a regular pastime; I do have a new pair of heels that need to be broken in. Hmm …

Well, dearies, that’s it for me. There’s a loaf of pumpkin-cranberry bread in the oven, and I need to finish setting in the sleeves of a new sweater. Leave a story about your own PR escapades, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew
Due to an abundance of coffee and cocoa drinking brought on by intolerably cold weather, The Style Maven is considering switching to an all-brown wardrobe to disguise jitter-induced splashes. Find her alter ego at The Procraftinator.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Who Knew? or Seven Things I Learned by Ghostwriting

One of the reasons I love my job as a ghostwriter is that I get to learn so many unexpected things. Although there are times I wish I hadn’t learned them, because some stories are painful. Yet those are the ones which make me feel grateful – and lucky. Other stories are hilarious and make me laugh out loud, and they too engender gratitude. All stories – yes all of them – will teach me something. Stories are like that.

Here are just seven of the many interesting tidbits I’ve learned from my clients. Since I only ghostwrite non-fiction, they must be true, right?  

1.  Did you know that it is important to teach your child to always close the lid before they flush the toilet, because billions of small water drops full of nasty bacteria are released into the air with each flush? These water drops are capable of aerolizing twenty feet from the center of the flush, if they are not stopped by the toilet lid. So close that lid. Or at least rinse your toothbrush in peroxide before you brush.  

2.  Did you know that if you catch a snake you can put him in your freezer and he will not die? Instead he goes into hibernation, and his venom loses its potency as well. In the summer you can take him out of the freezer and put him outside, and the heat will wake him up and you can watch him twitch into life.

3.  Did you know that it’s called “breaking luck” when a prostitute takes her first trick of the night? Or that when she is “turned out” this means she finally realizes that her pimp owns her and she is no longer free?  

4.  Did you know that fish eyeballs have a terrible smell, especially when fresh and raw? So when you bite into them don’t spit the juice out because it will make the people around you angry.

5. Did you know that until the 1920s adopted children were considered by U.S. law to be indentured servants of their adoptive parents? Adoptions had been granted by the courts by issuing orders of indenture.

6. Did you know that redheaded people comprise only two percent of the world’s population? Yet they are found all over the world, from Jamaica to Vietnam, Australia to Scotland. In many cultures redheads have been considered to be servants of the devil. Although both Mark Twain (a redhead himself) and Shakespeare wrote kindly of them.

7. Did you know that in ancient China they had a special suitcase called a pillow box? If you were going on a trip, you packed your special things, the things that meant the most to you, in a wooden box with a curve in it. The curve was where you laid your head when you slept.

Toilets, frozen snakes, prostitute lingo, fish eyeballs, outdated adoption laws, redheads, and ancient Chinese pillow boxes. Those are just a tiny smattering of the interesting things I’ve learned in my fifteen years of ghostwriting. With my job, I never know what I’m going to learn next. But I do know it will be interesting.

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, November 14, 2014

Scary Night to New Beginning

by Earl53 in MorgueFile
When I was a child, each holiday occupied a place distinctly its own. Gorgeous autumn colors led up to rows of corn shocks in fields depleted by the harvest of luscious ears of the succulent grain, bright orange pumpkins dotted the brown earth, and root vegetables found their way into storage for winter’s hearty meals. On the heels of this seasonal change came Halloween with trick-or-treaters knocking on neighbors’ doors in hopes of finding candied apples and other sweets to add to their burgeoning goody bags.

After the treats were consumed and blustery November winds rearranged piles of dead leaves (hopefully into the neighbors’ yards), thoughts turned to Thanksgiving menus and plans for family gatherings. Black Friday didn’t exist, at least by its dark name, and Native Americans, Pilgrims, turkeys, and cornucopias graced school artwork and home decorations.

by Earl53 in MorgueFile
Following Thanksgiving, merchants and families eased into what is now referred to as the holiday season. Christmas trees, Santa Claus, snowmen, holly, mistletoe, and poinsettias set the tone for festivities, and the observations of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa shared the space for celebrants of those holidays.
by Earl53 in MorgueFile
Capping the celebrations, a lot of people then and now observe the New Year with a late night, a big party, and too much booze. The New Year, which should, according to some, equate to a new beginning, starts out with a hangover and a bad mood from too many excesses.

No more can any of these holidays claim exclusivity in any sense. Each one crashes headlong into the next until we have one long, expensive, almost irritating season that leaves a lot of folks weary, several pounds heavier, and deeper in debt. The distinction has disappeared.

What does all this have to do with writing? Nothing. And everything.

Many people celebrate one or more of these occasions, and a few observe none of them. In all cases, however, they make great grist for the writing mill. Readers relate to familiarities. Debbie Macomber, for example, has made good use of Christmas to create successful books for her numerous fans. Others have tapped into the sinister aspects of Halloween to create thrillers. Early Thanksgiving celebrations lend themselves to historical fiction pieces, while modern day get-togethers fit well into women’s fiction and family sagas. I am less familiar with Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but both offer opportunities to learn about customs and practices of other peoples and cultures and to share that knowledge through story and characters. I always like my readers to take something new away from each novel, and I love to learn fascinating facts through research to give my stories interest and depth.

How do you use celebrations and holidays in your books? Do your characters observe practices that are not your own? It is said we should write what we know, but surely we can broaden our horizons by bringing elements into our stories from outside our own little worlds and our comfort zones. What do you think?

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, November 13, 2014

Build Your Story

Recently I came across some old photos. I think photos can be helpful when you're trying to develop a character. You can also look at the picture and, in your mind, build a story around the people or scenery. I've recently been going through old family photos, deciding which to keep, which to throw away, which to make copies of and send to relatives.

I sent some to my nephews, including a picture of their mother, my next older sister, Cathy. It was her high school graduation picture and she was beautiful. I hung my copy up on our wall of family pictures. There are three other pictures I want to make copies of and send out. One is of my oldest sister, Gordonna, and the next sister, Cathy, and me. In one, we're all sitting on the grass. In the other, we're standing and Gordonna's holding me on her shoulder. I also have several pictures of Gordonna by herself. And then there's the youngest sister, Molly. I have pictures of her, too. I came across a picture of  Molly, Cathy and me together. OMG. Molly's hair was beautiful. She's always beautiful. Cathy and I … well, I’m not showing that picture. Where in the world did I get that hair? I know when I give Molly a copy of that picture, she's going to laugh. And laugh and laugh.

I have so many pictures that I've taken from the Grand Canyon to San Francisco to New York.

So what does this have to do with writing?

If you write characters or scenes that are true-to-life, they have to change over time. In one picture, I have a massive amount of hair, dark brown, all curly. It's now straight and blondish. I've changed. Your characters will change, too. Even ongoing characters may change from book to book. They can change hair color, or put on or take off weight. They might belong to one church, then start going to another. A character might be dating Jack, then they break up in the next book.

If it gets too complicated to keep track of who's who, what's what, names, etc., then create a "bible" for your book, especially if you're developing a series of books with the same protagonist. That way you can always refer to your "bible" when you're unsure about what happened in a past book or how a character has changed.

Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and writing coach. 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 Sometimes, Dismembering 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 Spring 2015.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Time Out For Some Fun

My how the days have flown by. Was it not just last week I posted the fun for October? Here we are into another new month, and I am here to remind you to stop, take a moment for a deep breath or a little chuckle, or both. There are great health benefits to deep breathing and laughter.  

This first bit of frivolity is from One Big Happy by Rick Detorie. Ruthie is working on a homework assignment, completing several proverbs:

     Seeing is… something you do with your eyes.

     If you can't stand the heat… move to the North Pole.

     A man who is his own lawyer…doesn't have to send himself a bill.

     It's never too late to…microwave a snack.

     The squeaky wheel gets….on your nerves.

     If you make your sure nobody's in it.

     Give the devil…a firecracker and RUN!

     No news…is better than no comic strips.

Oh, my. What would we do without the comics?

This next one is from Shoe by Gary Brookins and Susie McNally. Shoe is sitting at his trashcan desk working and Cosmo rushes in saying, "Stop the presses! Shocking news just in from the Vineyard murder trial: the wine connoisseur admitted he identified the wrong person and decanted his testimony."

Okay, take a moment to groan about that one. Now here's one from Pearls Before Swine by Stephen Pastis. Rat is a rewriting some of the Mother Goose rhymes. He writes, "Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick. Jack be drinking, Jack be soused, Jack set fire to his whole house."

Goat asks, "Must all your nursery rhymes end in tragedy?"

To which Rat replies, "Jack led a high-risk lifestyle."

Visit the Website to see all the Nursery Rhyme Characters
This is a classic from For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston. In the first frame Elly says, "OK! All right! Who folded up my typing paper?"

Elizabeth answers, "I did. Daddy said I couldn't draw on it."

Elly finds a smooth piece of paper and fits it into her typewriter. Elizabeth climbs on the desk.  "Can I try that Mom? Can I type something? Huh? Mom? Can I try?"

"Not just now, Elizabeth."

Elly is typing away when she hears from offstage, "Cut it out, you guys. I'm telling!!"

Then Michael is telling Elly, "Lawrence and Gordon shook up a can of pop and blasted the dog!"  Grinning, Elizabeth runs to see, while Elly goes back to what she was typing. Then another voice from offstage, "How do I work the microwave, El? Do I crack the egg, or leave it in the shell?"

The phone rings and Michael pops his head in, "Phone's for you, Mom."

In the last frame John steps up behind Elly and asks, "Who's the letter to, Honey?"

"My Aunt Bess. She wants to know why I never write."

Now that I don't have kids at home to interrupt me, there is no excuse for not getting the writing done. Oh, right. I have cats. 

In another classic from Shoe Cosmo is standing behind the Wizard who is checking Cosmo's computer. Cosmo says, "I've looked everywhere, Wiz, and I can't find my column."

"You've lost all your files, Cosmo." He turns to face him. "When using your computer, it's important to back it up."

"Can we back it up to 1970? That way it would just be a typewriter again."

I'm not sure I ever want to go back to the days of typing full manuscripts on my old Royal manual typewriter, but it is frustrating when a computer crashes and you are left with.... nothing.

I do hope you had a little fun here today, and if you would like to share a joke in the comments, please do.

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, November 11, 2014

War, Research, and TMI

Armistice Day. November 11th. A date I’ve known all my life and commemorated annually with a red poppy in the buttonhole as long as I lived in England; commemorated—without really understanding its meaning until I started to write about the 1920s.

I’ve learned a lot about the first world war in the 20 years since. Though I decided not to make its horrors the focus of my series, I soon realized that two subjects that attracted me to the period were inextricably linked to the war. First, the country could not afford the extravagances of fashion, so women’s clothes became much simpler and more comfortable; and second, the huge loss of life in the trenches helped open an unprecedented range of careers to women.

The more I learned, the more careful I had to be to pick and choose what information I used in my mysteries, especially as they’re basically lighthearted. We’ve all read (or started to read) novels where the author has attempted to cram in every scrap of extensive research. Nothing kills a story quicker.

The art is to find the details that will bring your fictional world to life. The rest of the research isn’t wasted, though. The better you know and understand that world, the easier it becomes to convey it to the reader in a way that is integral to the story.

Almost all the Daisy Dalrymple books have some direct reference to the war. Its effects loomed over the following decade. Daisy’s brother and fiancé were both killed in France—that’s part of who she is.

I used the after-effects of the war as motivation for other characters. I didn’t have to go into a lot of detail about battles and trench warfare to convey the horrors that made an army chaplain, the vicar in Styx and Stones, lose his faith.

In The Bloody Tower, a Yeoman Warder suffers severely in a London fog after his lungs were badly damaged by mustard gas. In Superfluous Women (June 2015), three young women make a life for themselves together because the deaths of so many men left a large disproportion of females to males.

In Gunpowder Plot, there are pistols at hand because of the household’s involvement with the Home Guard (Yes, Britain already had strict rules about gun registration!).

All these are reminders of the recent war, but are also germane to the plots and flesh out characters.

Only one of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries is deeply concerned with the aftermath of the conflict. In Anthem for Doomed Youth, the dual plots revolve around what happened in the war and what it leads to in Daisy’s present. Here the necessary facts are presented by the characters themselves, in speech and in their actions, illuminated by their emotions.

Thus the research blends organically into the narrative. It’s all about people and their stories, not information.

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Writing in 140: Color Your Story's World

One quick yet important way to infuse your story with meaning (emotionally, mentally, physically, even spiritually) is through color. Research shows that color can affect mood and human behavior, and those in marketing often use the psychology of color in branding products.

Multicolor Card Stock Image by gubgib with

Whether you consider color at the start or end of writing a book, it’s a good idea to at least ask what color represents your…

…Setting’s personality? What colors within the setting create this personality?

…Character’s personality? What colors in a character’s dress and home create this personality?

…Conflict? Think about your protagonist and consider contrasting colors to represent your antagonist(s).

Don’t go overboard in using color; a little goes a long way. Don’t be cliché in your use of color; allow color to work in the context of YOUR story.

When painting your story’s world, how important is color?

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, November 6, 2014

Memories and Flashbacks

Memories can add poignancy, reveal clues, and give insight into character behavior.  A character may have a flash of memory every now and again.The key is to keep them short and simple, a sentence or two, perhaps a paragraph, and make them relevant.

It helps to trigger memories with something the character sees, smells, touches, or tastes. It can be a person, place, or thing. Songs stick with us and can bring up a feeling or a forgotten person. Smells can take you back to a place and time and the person it reminds you of.

Every time Dick sees the ocean on television, he may smell saltwater.

Every time Jane smells fresh baked cookies, it may remind her of the grandmother she adored.

Every time Sally hears a train, it may remind her of her sad childhood.

The neural connection is hard-wired. The response is involuntary.

Use memories as a visceral beat.

Dick frowned at the impossibly blue sky, perfect sand, and white-edged waves on the travel poster that read: "Beaches are for Lovers." He pictured Sally on the beach in Puerta Vallarta, all tanned and flirty in a bitty bikini. The hot sun and tropical breeze had lulled him into a stupor of tequila and hotel sex. Then Sally smiled, cruel as a shark, and tossed him aside, bashing him onto razor sharp coral, not caring if he drowned. Beaches were for suckers.

You could extend it with a little more detail about what went wrong (if this is the correct time and place to do so). Memories are good triggers to put the character in a specific frame of mind to set them up for the next encounter.

If Dick sees Sally again, the game is on. If she wants to woo him back, it would be wise to avoid the beach. If they meet on a beach, the conversation is likely to turn heated.

A flashback is a transition in time and is triggered with thoughts or interior dialogue. It should be pertinent to the current story. It can reveal information, put a new twist on old information, explain the missing piece of a puzzle, or motivate a character to behave differently than expected.

If you must use a flashback, incorporate it into the action. Keep it short and resume real time as soon as possible. A few paragraphs work better than a few pages. Begin the flashback with a single-phrase transition, but avoid telling.

Dick arrived at the train platform amid the pacing commuters focused on their telephones. Across the tracks stretched a panoramic view of a pristine beach with tanned white people on red Adirondak chairs. The last time he had been on a beach was during an op. No pretty people. No chairs. Just the hum of choppers and the snap of chutes as they landed.

The scene continues, relating his experience during the op that went wrong.

Flashbacks can create speed bumps and should be used sparingly and only when the information cannot be slipped in another way. To format, you can switch from past tense to the past perfect tense for a sentence or two before reverting to the past tense again within the flashback.

End the flashback with another, short transition phrase to orient the reader to real time. You can use another sensory cue to bring them back to the present: a doorbell, a voice, a dog barking. Be subtle.

The train screeched to a halt, exhaling a horde that jostled him like so much flotsam. No more beaches. No more ops. That was all behind him now.

Of course, it won't be. Dick will be called in to do that one last "job."

If a look at the past is related as a full scene, it should contain action and dialogue, an obstacle and a solution. It should not be a narrative dump.

Memories and flashbacks are not the same thing as a past story woven into a current story. That is a structure choice best handled by alternating chapters. Triggering and releasing the past story is still an important component to keep the reader oriented to the time and place when weaving the threads together.

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Being Grateful 10 Times

I’m Canadian, so I celebrated Thanksgiving last month. However, not everyone is Canadian. So, in honour of American Thanksgiving I’m sharing 10 things I’m grateful for each and every day.

Bonus # 11. (Dare we say it?) No trolls to feed.
Photo by Josh Wedin, via Flickr

10. The ability to weave a plot and create characters to walk its path.

9. Being able to lose myself in my fictional world.

8. Warm soup on a cold day. (Remembering to keep said soup out of the spill-zone.)

7. Fingerless gloves. (No, it doesn’t get that cold in my little corner of Canada, but it does get damp.)

6. The increasingly acceptable option of being in charge of my own destiny by self-publishing.

5. Getting away from the lights of the city and glorying in the wonder of the stars.

4. A purring cat. In my opinion, there are few sounds more comforting that the rumble of a cat’s purr.

3. Typing “The End.”

2. Having my characters talk to me. I might not like what they’re saying or the hour that they’re choosing to say it, but I am grateful that they talk.

1. Being a contributing writer to the Blood-Red Pencil. I have learned so much from reading this blog for the past five years and from writing my monthly post for the past four. Thank you.

To my American friends, wherever you live, enjoy your turkey (or whatever). Have a slice of pie for me.

Elspeth Futcher is an author and playwright. Her murder mystery games A Fatal Fairy Tale, Deadly Ever After and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the Internet. All thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by Her newest game, Once Upon a Murder, is now available and published by Red Herring Games. Her 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Adapting - And a Freebie Alert

This morning I was struck by how birds readily adapt to change. In lieu of what at one time was their normal venue, they're now in the habit of perching on wires. Not only that, they've built nests in the fixtures on our patio, they sit on top of shovels and broom handles, and today I found some sitting on the branches I'd placed in a bin, due to a windstorm. The birds flew off before I could show them to you, but note what they left behind on the shovel.

Birds adapt, and authors can and do. Countless have taken the plunge and are self-publishing, either all or some of their books, in e-book and/or print format. Some, myself included, have either hired illustrators for covers, or even created their own book covers, through such resources as Amazon Cover Creator. 

Many readers have also adapted, and use e-readers, instead of, or as well as print books. I like both, but lean toward reading from my Kindle most of the time.

Promotions also have changed. Before, booksignings were the norm for getting the word out about books, but now blogs, social media sites, as well as Kindle Countdowns (Price reductions for a short period of time) and Free Offers proliferate. 

This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, November 7, 8 and 9,  I'm doing a promotion, and am offering my romance, A Perfect Angel, the sequel to Her Handyman, free for Kindle, and other devices through Amazon. 

If you've a reader who's adapted to electronic reading, mark your calendar to get your freebie, which can be read as a standalone or after reading Her Handyman.

Here's the link:

And, let me know if you've also adapted as an author, reader, or both.

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