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Showing posts from April, 2015

Spring Writing Fever

Inspirational blooms in my garden If you're anything like me, you might be ready to push back your writing chair and do something different for a few weeks. Spring fever always has me wanting to get outside and work in the garden. The last thing on my mind is crunching out a daily word count for a novel. Maybe the outdoors is exactly what your writing life needs to replenish a surge of creative energy. There's nothing like a change to make the imagination bloom again, and what better place than outdoors where nature is bursting through the warm soil, sending up new shoots and flowering bulbs? I love when the days warm up and I can get outside for long walks and photo sessions to record all the changes around me. By the time I'm back in my writing chair, I usually have a few new ideas to explore or directions for online research that I might be able to use in the book. A long country walk I also find connecting with new friends and projects can help inspire. M

Misha Herwin and a New YA Book

What would happen if the world ran out of water? Would our societies survive? Would our technology? The more I thought about this, the more complex the situation became. Without water, humans and animals would get sick, cities crumble, and the way of life we know would disappear. At first I set the book in the real world. I started doing research about how people would survive in a dystopian land, which technologies would last, and which would not, but I soon got bogged down in the details. What I needed was an alternative world and a history which is based on ours, but is nevertheless a fiction. This was my starting point, but the book took off when I found my main character. As is usual for me, she came in one vivid image -- a girl standing on a rock looking down on a line of wagons carrying water to a distant town. So precious is their cargo that the wagons are guarded day and night. Mouse wants to be a guard. She wants to leave the narrow confines of The Town and go out in

More Yoga for Writers

Hip and back stretches are especially important for people who sit a lot. The older you are, the more important it is to get up often and stretch out those tight joints and muscles. Here's a short video to help. You can find more Yoga JP videos by clicking and subscribing here .

Favored Creativity Starters

Even after writing for years, do you still get stuck with “writer’s block?” What do you do to break through? As a former journalist, having a deadline to meet helps me. I belong to a critique group that meets once a week, so I know I need to bring pages for that. Another tip I’ve learned is to write a scene out of chronological order—write your ending first, or maybe you know what you want to write somewhere later in the story, but you don’t know how to get from where you are now to that scene. Go ahead a write it. It often will give you ideas of what you need to write to fill in the gaps. Ask yourself 5 'what if' questions. For instance: 1. What if he/she decided to kill someone? 2. What if they won a million dollars? 3. What if they had quadruplets? 4. What if aliens landed in their garden? 5. What if they turned into a frog? Apparently, Stephen King plays a variation of this game called, “Wouldn't it be funny if…” to come up with his horror ideas. In

Contrasts and Layers

sebp on morguefile Most people like contrast. A neutral wall becomes a focal point in a room if decorated with colorful artwork or contrasting stripes. Bland chairs and couches make a fashion statement when adorned with brightly colored, harmonizing throw pillows. Conservative suits and shirts invite brilliantly hued or dazzlingly printed ties to show them off. Beige or black skirts and pants beg for multicolored tops or jackets. All the above transform boring into fascinating. Similarly, layers pique interest. A winter or spring outfit layered to address cold or changing temperatures often garner second looks. Gorgeous rose blossoms sport layers of delicate petals. Vegetables also come in layered forms—cabbage, lettuce, artichokes. Delicious lasagnas and pizzas with multiple toppings, as well as some dips and desserts, offer layers of “yummy” to hungry diners. pippalou at morguefiles Our books benefit greatly when both these elements are incorporated. Contrast, for example

What Brush Do You Prefer?

My editor recently returned her edits for Deadly Production, my next Mapleton mystery. It's the fourth book in the series, and she said this was the cleanest manuscript of all the books she'd edited for me. But, she did have one overall comment. She said, "It reads like a sequel." Of course, we both know it is, but she suggested more details, both about Mapleton and the locals. Before I plunged in and added details, I needed to look at the first three books to make sure I wasn't changing things around. Putting the mayor's office on the wrong floor, or moving other buildings, for example. Or taking a tall, skinny character and making him short and fat, or white when he was African American in another book. You know what I found? Very little. Most of my character descriptions throughout the entire series were painted with very broad brush strokes. A few words here and there, but I never stopped to give a full-blown description. Ozzie is the cook at Dail

Capitalizing on Captions

A cream puff, soon to be devoured. Hello, dearies! It’s been a week for ducks here, with rain a near-constant companion for the last several days. Lacking suitable damp-weather gear, I've taken the downpour as a sign to stay in and perfect my cream puff recipe. In between nibbles, I’m delighting in turning the glossy pages of various baking tomes. The recipes are nearly as inviting as the photographs, and the photographs themselves caught my attention for another reason entirely. Captions. How often do we really pay attention to captions beyond their informational content? Figure 1. A stick-thin model pretends to enjoy a bite of artisan bread, which she will promptly spit out once the camera is off. While you as an author are sensibly focused on providing the best possible narrative, your editor will be on the lookout for appropriate punctuation and capitalization throughout the book; this includes captions. The CMOS is generous in its treatment of captions, t


It’s a writer’s truism: the most important paragraph is the first one. It opens the door to the reader, inviting him or her to come into the place you have prepared for them. Your opening must convince them that this place is somewhere they want to visit, and perhaps stay for a long time. I have two rules for writing openings, which I (almost) always try to live up to. Here they are: The first rule is to provide a few sensory details in the first paragraph, so the reader feels as though they are “there.”  What does the character or setting look like? Colors, shapes, designs? What sounds are there? Loud voices, whistles, screams, bells? What smells? Strong like gasoline? Sweet like lilacs? Wet wool drying on a radiator? What tactile sensations? Soft wind on skin? The rough scrape of a poorly shaved chin?  The second rule is that the first scene should either encapsulate or foreshadow the theme of the entire chapter or book. Here’s an example from a book I worked on a f

More on Expository Technique

Photo by Jackie , via Flickr In last month’s post on expository technique , I identified reportage as the most utilitarian, least evocative mode of exposition. By way of supporting evidence, I provided parallel passages demonstrating alternative strategies for relaying expository information to the reader. By force of habit on my part, these passages were all written in third person. But what holds true in third person doesn’t necessarily apply in other modes of narration. On the contrary, there’s a case to be made for arguing that reportage is the very essence of first person narration. This is owing to the narrow restrictions in first person vision and perspective. Information pertaining to setting, atmosphere, backstory and plot can only be layered into the narrative through the medium of the narrator’s self-expression. First person reportage is thus both highly selective and highly subjective. The challenge for the writer is to establish the first person narrator as an au

Loving Libraries

Woodland Park Library, Teller County, CO This is National Library Week. Do you love libraries? I know I do. When I was a child, my parents told everyone we had to move because I'd finished the local library. Okay, so maybe only the children's section, but I was an avid reader and loved our trips to the John C. Fremont Library in Los Angeles. We were allowed to check out ten books, and it was all I could do to carry them. Sadly, our new home wasn't as close to a library, and I was busy with school—but the school did have a library, and in junior high I chose "library service" as one of my electives. I got to spend an hour a day surrounded by books. Years later, we moved to Florida, and I instilled the library habit in my kids. I can still remember how they'd arrive home with their piles of books and say they'd already finished some of them. And yes, they were little, and the books were mostly pictures, but all of my kids seemed to emerge from the wo

Compressed A to Z

My writer friend, VR Barkowski, gave me permission to repost one of her blogs because I thought it bore repeating. VR’s debut novel is A Twist of Hate and can be found on Amazon. Check it out. A is for Anne Lamott. Who, in Bird by Bird , reminds us of the importance of shitty first drafts. B is for blogging. After all, isn't that what the A to Z is all about? C is for critiques. Be gracious, be kind, be honest, be open-minded—both when giving and receiving. D is for drafts. First drafts receive the lion's share of attention, but a first draft is only the clay. It is the innumerable subsequent drafts which will mold that clay into something extraordinary. E is for editing. Approach this task without mercy. (Unless you're writing about a character named Mercy, as I am.) F is for formula. The kryptonite of the creative mind. Avoid whenever possible. G is for grammar. One of the required tools of the writing trade. Get up close and personal. You can't do th

The Wrong Place

Whether real or imaginary, the places I set my books are always entwined with the plot and the characters. In fact, sometimes my starting point is a particular place and the story and people grow from that basis. For instance, I decided to set a book at the Tower of London ( The Bloody Tower ). The plot could not happen elsewhere, nor could the characters and their relationships. Last Autumn, I visited St. Michael’s Mount in southern Cornwall with a view to my protagonist, Eleanor Trewynn, staying at the castle for my next Cornish mystery. The basis of the plot had already been growing in my mind for some time. The place seemed ideal: a semi-island reachable only by boat at high tide or on foot at low tide. St. Michael’s Mount, Cornwall, photo Carola Dunn I wrote nearly 20,000 words before I decided the Mount was just too much of a good thing, too inaccessible. Besides the difficulties of getting there, the path to the castle is steep and rocky—and Eleanor is in her 60s (whi

Writing in 140: Resurrecting Your Old Books

Sometimes, books die. They die because authors fail to promote them properly, or they don’t promote them long enough for the books to gain traction, and ultimately, more sales. Sometimes, they die because they are not the next book. As authors move on to their next story and the promotion behind that book before, during, and after publication, they may think their older works can do well on their own. And that’s not true. If you have older works, perform a promotional inventory. Brainstorm two questions: 1) what have you done in the past to promote older works? and 2) what can you do NOW to re-introduce these books to new readers? Books don't die. There is always a new reader to introduce them to. How do you continue to resurrect your older works to new readers? ----- Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less. Creative Passionista  Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator whose biggest joys ar

April Showers, May Flowers

What do April showers and May flowers have to do with writing? Much more than we might think. How so? Cause and effect . by Seemann at MorgueFiles A primary mover of story that keeps the reader riveted to its pages is conflict—what causes a rift or problem between characters or character and circumstances and what short- and long-term effects ensue. Conflict (which often springs naturally from a “what if” writing mentality) creates loose ends, both great and small, that almost always need to be tied up. Failing to address even little dangling “ends” may make a disappointed reader hesitate to purchase our next book, so this is a biggie when it comes to establishing ourselves as go-to writers when a reader wants a sure-fire great book. One of the big differences between mediocre work and excellent work is attention to details. When applied to writing, this difference includes the cause-effect-loose ends-resolution scenario. While there may be times when resolution isn’t ap

What I've Learned from a World-Class Novelist

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee When novelists speak about their craft, I feel like a voyeur - because what is more intimate than storytelling? Novelist Kazuo Ishiguro recently told me that he drafts novels long-hand, partly because writing at a keyboard feels "like a performance." Actually, he said this to about a hundred people, but he was looking right at me! I had the privilege of listening to Ishiguro answer questions from fellow authors during his recent weekend with Denver's Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Ishiguro is the author of six novels, including The Buried Giant, Never Let Me Go,  and The Remains of the Day, which earned him the Mann Booker Prize. His comment that typing feels like a performance influenced me this past week as I faced a daunting rewrite. I chose to forego the intimidating task of typing-and-deleting, typing-and-judging, typing-and-regretting perfect little letters into my manuscript. Instead, I used a pen to slop whatever came into my head i

Alternatives to Writing

Instead of my usual Just For Fun monthly offering, I thought I'd share this story from humorist, Slim Randles. He's a frequent guest here at The Blood-Red Pencil, and this story of Dud and his writing challenges resonated with me. There was a time when I gave up on writing after a college literature professor suggested I take up basket weaving as a creative outlet. He was not fond of my writing. What I learned from that experience, and perhaps what Dud has learned from his, is to never give up on writing if that is your passion.  If you ask Dud Campbell, it’s all right to take a break from the arts now and then. Well …  since the arts are a part of a person, that’s not quite right. All right, it’s okay to switch arts now and then. Dud had pretty much beaten himself to death trying to fathom what to do in the novel about the duchess and truck driver, and it had left him gasping for ideas. So he went back heavily to his accordion. From the early lessons of squeaking and

I've Done More Than One Fool Thing

©   Thorir Aron Stefansson   |   Dreamstime Stock Photos  April Fool's Day has come and gone, yet this month brings to mind  what kind of silly things I've done along the way in my writing career. When I first started out, of course, I was gung ho about writing, and oh, so confident.  I finished my first book, a romance. It was my turn to read for a critique at my RWA chapter's meeting. I was convinced my book was the best I could ever do.   I passed around the required first twenty pages for the members to follow along while I read out loud, then waited to be happily told my pages were fine the way they were. Turns out I was wrong, as my fellow members gently pointed out. That's when I learned that an abundance of adjectives and adverbs was a no-no, and stories based on coincidences were not believable. Also, too much backstory and narration, and not enough dialogue did not help my cause any. No one said it, but I came to believe that my first book was h

Thoughts on Backstory

Does the reader need a detailed explanation of your character’s background in the first pages? No. When you meet someone for the first time you usually don’t tell them your entire life story. As you get to know the person, the background comes in bits and pieces. So it is when writing. When you’re starting out, you as the author need to know everything about your character, so it’s okay to write those “expositional info dumps”, but you probably will not use everything in the story and certainly not all at once. One of the best examples of revealing backstory is Dean Koontz’ Icebound , an adventure thriller. He feeds us tidbits as we read through the entire book—not revealing what the traumatic event was that makes the protagonist Rita Carpenter afraid of ice and snow—until the very end.  The first hint comes on page 31: In fact, she’d driven herself to return repeatedly to those polar regions primarily because she was afraid of them. Since the winter when she was s