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Showing posts from March, 2015

The April Fool

Rider-Waite Tarot Am I the only Aprilian morosoph here? Probably not, but my reasons are likely crazier than most.  Once again I’ve decided to participate in the A-Z Blogging Challenge. With more than 1,300 other bloggers, I’ll be posting daily on topics following the alphabet from day-to-day. You can see what I have to say starting tomorrow at my News From Nowhere blog. Blogging that much and that often is intense, but I decided to add to the craziness by also joining Camp NaNoWriMo for another 50,000 word novel-writing challenge. A few of my friends in the Colorado Writers and Publishers group on Facebook have a cabin at the Camp and we’ll all plow through together, insane fools that we are. Specifically, my posts will talk about the novel and how the writing is coming along. In truth, all this writing is less about playing the fool than putting a stop to months of fooling around. I haven’t written anything serious since before Christmas, and as I was brainstorming topi

Are You In or Out of Control?

Are you out of control? I confess that in some ways, I am. In others, I'm not.  Take for example, my dog, Rascal . I devised a system to get her to go out to do her duty. I put a treat or two on the floor leading to the door, and then she willingly trots into the backyard. So, I've trained her to go out, or have I? Maybe she's trained me to give her treats. One more animal example. Once again, this year in Illinois, we had a cold, snowy winter. In the morning, I'd let Rascal into the yard, then I'd venture out and feed the birds and squirrels with crumbled up, unsalted corn chips placed on the patio and under the tree. It's now spring, and the snow is almost gone. I'm guessing there's more natural food around now for my yard buddies. Still, the birds come to the patio in the morning to get their chips, and I  can't resist feeding them. Then, the funniest thing of all, when I let the dog out, one particular squirrel dashes across the phone wire

The 3 Cs of Successful Authors

There are thousands of people the world over eager to write stories, some because they want a creative form of expression or to communicate a message, others because they think it is a lottery ticket to fame and fortune. There are three main traits I believe a writer must possess to have a glimmer of a chance of winning that elusive ticket. 1. Creativity You must possess an original mind to come up with new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no storyteller has ever gone before. A good writer has a unique way of expressing himself with words and a facility for language. You can lack this trait and still write a pedestrian story, rarely will it be a memorable one. 2. Curiosity I’ve met people who seem to completely lack curiosity about other people and the world around them. Their world must be very … beige. Sadly, I’ve read a few manuscripts by these people. It wasn't  pleasant. Being a writer is about asking questions, getting underneath the skin of

It's About Conflict

From the New Yorker I saw this cartoon from the New Yorker and it reminded me of an underlying theme in so many of the panels I attended at the recent Left Coast Crime conference. LCC is more reader-oriented rather than craft-oriented, but even in the panels targeting readers, there were writing tips hidden amongst the panelists’ responses. One repeating theme was conflict. Without conflict, there’s no story, so creating conflict is obviously any author’s challenge. For example, the first panel I attended was called Couples Solving Crimes , and the second was Guns and Roses: Romantic Elements in Crime Fiction . In the first panel, the couples involved weren’t necessarily working as partners, which one might have expected in a mystery crime panel. Instead, they were often partners off the job, or had jobs that brought them together. But each panelist did mention that having dual protagonists, or a protagonist and a sidekick, was a way to increase the conflicts in the books. You ca

Can We All Just Behave?

Last month here at The Blood-Red Pencil I wrote about moral and ethical lines that we writers need to consider before we cross them just to make a buck. We had a great discussion about what we are comfortable writing, as well as our responsibility to consider what we're contributing to society with our work. One of our regular BRP contributors, Diana Hurwitz , had this to say on the topic: Stories have the power to shape the collective consciousness. You can write with brutal honesty about what has happened and what could happen without suggesting that it should happen. Your work has a slant - perhaps a subliminal one. As a writer, you should at least be aware of the message you send and make sure it is the one you intended. How we use our words is indeed important, and it is also important to consider how we act as professional writers. Addressing that need to always put a professional foot forward, was an interesting article on Writer Unboxed, written by Katharine Gru

Using the Calendar for Inspiration

Dave from MorgueFile With the Ides of March nine days past and spring having arrived on the twentieth, we find a wealth of grist for our writing mills. Did you know the assassination of Julius Caesar isn’t the only marker that establishes March 15 as a date in infamy? “Beware the Ides of March,” according to the Smithsonian, extends well beyond Caesar’s murder to our present day. Their list of same-date tragedies includes some surprising entries. French raided southern England in 1360. A Samoan cyclone in 1889 smashed three U.S. and three German warships in the harbor at Apia. Over 200 soldiers died. In 1917 Russia’s Czar Nicholas II abdicated the throne, making way for Bolshevik rule and setting the stage for the execution of his family. In 1939 the Nazis overran Czechoslovakia, effectively eliminating it as a country. A disastrous blizzard in 1941 killed 60 people in North Dakota and Minnesota and another six in Canada. In 1952 a deluge pounded the island of La Réunio

The Maguffin Plot Device

So, what is a Maguffin, you might ask, as I did when I first heard the word. Is it some kind of puffin  or penguin-like animal? Or maybe a “Big Mac” sized muffin? The term appears to have originated in 20th-century filmmaking, and was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s who described a Maguffin as that object of desire everyone in the story wants, but whose only purpose is to bring the protagonists and antagonists together. A Maguffin ( often spelled "MacGuffin" or "McGuffin") is a plot device, something in the plot that someone (or everyone) is after, making it a focal point of the story. It may be a secret that motivates the villains. A common Maguffin story setup can be summarized as "Quick! We must find X before they do!" The most common type of Maguffin is an object, place or person. However, a Maguffin can sometimes take a more abstract form, such as money, victory, glory, survival, power, love, or even something that is entirely

Grappling with the Facts

Photo by Reck via Flickr Even experienced authors struggle with exposition from time to time. To begin with, there are issues having to do with ratio and proportion. Provide too little expository information, and your story will lack texture. Provide too much (or provide the wrong kind), and you risk weighing down the narrative with excess baggage. 1 Writers get migraines trying to decide which facts are vital to story development, and which facts can be left on the cutting room floor. Next there’s the issue of expository technique. The most straightforward tactic is reportage. With this method, the writer uses authorial overvoice to provide the reader with compact parcels, as needed to move the narrative along A typical example of reportage-in-action would read something like this: Meg and Walter Clancy had three children. Laurel and Lucy were normal healthy kids, but Jeb, the youngest, was diabetic. He had to have a special diet and needed two insulin injections a

Make Me Laugh

Photo from the archive of American Television According to the calendar I was given, today is "Let's Laugh Day." I guess that means I'm supposed to either write something funny or talk about writing funny. The former would be a post that sucks more than a vacuum cleaner. I'm not sure I can do the latter a whole lot of justice, either, but I'm game. While I do have a sense of humor, I don't/can't write comedy. Sure, my characters joke around a bit, and I hope my readers get a smile or two, but to bill my books as humorous fiction would end up in more 1 star reviews than [insert metaphor here.] Writing humor is one of the places where using metaphors, clichés, and the like becomes an asset rather than a liability. Comparisons can work to your advantage. I saw this quote the other day: "Game of Thrones is a lot like Twitter. There are 140 characters and terrible things are always happening." Even though I've never watched Game o

Novels with a Message

As a writer or reader, how do you feel about novels with a message? A writer aims to tell a good story to entertain, but do you tackle subject matters that have socially conscious significance? As a reader, do you prefer pure entertainment without a brain strain, or do you enjoy reading a book that makes you think? I’m not sure I’ve incorporated “issues” in my books intentionally, but every one of them makes a statement about something important, at least to me. I’ve written seven books, an eighth coming out soon, and I’ve dealt with an array of topics that I hope causes people to think. Greed is a big story motivator for me because it drives people to do things they might not do if money or power wasn’t involved. The best compliment I ever received about any of my books came from a woman who lives with a man who spent ten years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, even though DNA at the scene of the crime didn’t match his. He was convicted on bite marks. Yes, the victim was

Rules of the Read: Pet Peeves

Hello, loves! A week without snow and ice is a delightful week, indeed. Watching the neighbors bask in the glow of sunlight reflecting off of one’s winter-pale legs is somewhat less delightful, but we can still be thankful for the warmth. Warmth. That reminds me of a conversation that I once had with the news editor of our local paper. Not that his was a warm personality; on the contrary, his charm rivaled that of a glass of cold gravy. No, the warmth in question related to the fact that I felt an urge to strike him with a fire extinguisher. The discussion centered on his, shall we say, creative use of grammar. He insisted that certain phrases were perfectly acceptable for use in news stories because “people talk that way all the time.” People wear florals with plaid, Honey; that doesn't make it a good idea. While style manuals give a fair amount of leeway in certain areas, there are a number of phrases that never fail to cause teeth to grind. The use of over whe

The Fictorial

Recently I wrote an Amazon review of a new novel, Dream of Darkness by John Yeoman*, book two in a mystery series set in the late 1500s. I’m a sucker for both mysteries and historical novels, so it’s not surprising that I enjoyed this book, especially since Yeoman is an outstanding writer. But this book is a lot more than a mystery or even a novel. John Yeoman ** is not only an outstanding writer, he is an outstanding teacher. Dream of Darkness proves it. Dream of Darkness is a fictorial. If like me you are not familiar with this term, here’s the description from its Amazon page: “an intriguing crime mystery – and also a step-by-step guide to writing your own novel. It’s one of the world’s first ‘fictorials’, an historical crime novel packed with clever but unobtrusive tips that show you precisely how it was written.” Before I began to read, I admit I was dubious. Sounded confusing. As I shuffled through the pages of the first chapter, it also looked confusing. There

Celebrations and Inspirations

With St. Patrick’s Day just days away, Emancipation Day coming up on April 16, and Cinco de Mayo on May 5, I was thinking about various observances that can add richness to our writing, inspire a story (or stories), and open doors to our own pasts. What begins as research for a book may end up a journey into our ancestral roots—or vice versa. Great-great-grandfather John Unversaw thwarted attack on Union munitions depot during Civil War. In the late 1990s, I wrote a family genealogy after interviewing elderly relatives, reading old wills and documents, and searching a newspaper morgue in an Indiana town. Decades ago, obituaries offered a wealth of information about the deceased, and I learned a lot from them that no one had ever told me. Old newspaper photos and pictures long stored in relatives’ attics added faces to the accounts. The book grew to over 80 pages. As a small child, George Clements, M.D., came to the U.S. from Ireland with his mother, my great-grandmoth

Feedback with Compassionate Detachment

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee I feel sorry for the first writers who ever came to me for feedback. My initial writing experience was in news, where deadlines were brutal and so were the editors. We believed that was because nobody had time to waste, but I now believe it was because we were young and stressed out and didn’t know another way. I’ve discovered that providing feedback with the goal of serving both writer and story can be faster and easier, if you know how. I learned the hard way, the first time I judged a writing contest. I meant to be empathetic and constructive when I told a writer that her story about financial hardship was an opportunity to broaden readers’ minds. Unfortunately, I included this: “…take a moment to explain why you couldn’t get a better job.” She was outraged, believing I was judging her for not having a better job. Egads, that wasn’t what I meant at all! I was just suggesting she write more detail. I was a professional writer and I had failed to communic

Time Out For Some Fun

On this dreary, gray day in my neck of the woods, I thought it would be good to cheer myself up. I miss the sun. I need the sun. And when I don't get enough sun, everything that goes wrong is magnified. Ever feel that way? Of course you have. The business of writing is sometimes wrought with frustration, and adding any stressers like daylight saving time and no sun, makes for screaming fits and hair pulling.  So let us take a moment for a deep breath. Here we go... slowly in, hold it, and let it out. Repeat ten times. There much better. Now for a chuckle or two. Enjoy.... This first cartoon is from Shoe by Gary Brookins and Susie Macnelly. Cosmo is digging through the usual mess on his desk - can we relate or what?   - and finds a ticket for a shoe repair shop. "Geez! The date on it is October 9, 1982. I wonder if ol' man Swettsock is still around?"  So Cosmo goes out and sure enough, the shoe repair shop is still there. He goes in and hands the ticke

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Spring came early to Western Oregon this year. Crocuses and daffodils started to bloom in February instead of March, but they’re the same old daffodils. Yet year after year, “my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils.” This year, March brings me a different renewal: My very first mystery is being reissued, in trade paperback, twenty years after its first publication. Of course, even with a brand-new cover, it’s not quite as exciting as when it came out in 1994, but it’s still a thrill. It’s been “out of print” (except in Polish and Hungarian) for quite a while. I write “out of print” in quotation marks because it doesn’t mean what it used to mean, that the books are unavailable unless the reader hunts them down in used-book stores or libraries. Only an author’s most dedicated fans would make the effort to obtain every title. And if they did, it resulted in no profit to the author. Now, we have ebooks. Practically anything published today will probably be easi