Thursday, April 30, 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. Most recently, I joined Colorado Writers and Publishers on Facebook, and have participated in several live write-ins. Just last week, I joined the Seven Sentences blog as a book reviewer; connect with them so you can read my short and pithy book reviews soon!

Special writing tools
What ideas do you have for regenerating? Maybe changing routines a bit? Drinking sparkling water while you write, instead of coffee? Lighting a special scented candle just for intense outlining sessions? How about recording some ideas while you soak in a warm bubble bath? Or maybe some heavy weightlifting is your thing. Leave a comment and share how you make your work blossom in new ways.

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil blog. Connect with her at Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

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 into the world in search of the knowledge and learning she has been denied, because in her society women are either mothers or fighters, and she knows that for her there is more than this.

I don’t want to label Mouse as feisty and fiery. She is both, but above all she is herself, a girl who has problems understanding other people and who believes that the most important thing in life is to survive. A girl who has no time for love or, most importantly in a YA novel, sex.

Clear Gold is the first of three books. To write a trilogy, which explores love and romance, but does not involve sex,  was something I very much wanted to do. I am not against sex in YA novels, or indeed any other books. My novels for adults do include sex scenes and I enjoy writing them, but I do believe that there is a place in books for the 13+ readership for less graphic, more romantic scenarios.

The reason for this comes from my experience as an ex-teacher, who used to have to teach sex-education to mixed classes. Searching for suitable material for my tutor group of fifteen-year-olds, I was only too aware of their very different stages of development. Some were almost adults, others still kids. They all needed to know the facts but not all of them were ready for, or indeed wanted to read about, steamy sexual passion.

So Mouse, whose every action contradicts the name she was given by her foster sister, was born. Her life is not ruled by the need to find the one true love of her life. She fights, she swears. She is independent, awkward, and sometimes downright difficult. And I love her.

Misha Herwin lives in Staffordshire, near the countryside that inspired the terrain of Clear Gold. She writes books for children, young adults, and adults, and has a number of short stories in various anthologies, mostly dealing with the darker, supernatural side of life.  Her latest book for adults is House of Shadows, a time slip novel. When she is not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family and ever-patient husband. Baking bread is relaxing and marzipan muffins are a specialty.

Clear Gold by Misha Herwin for illusio & baqer. Art by Yanmo Zhang. To be published in the next few weeks by Zharmae Publishing Press.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

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.

Monday, April 27, 2015

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 Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury describes a kind of collage of words. He would make a list of nouns, i.e.: the Lake, the Carnival, the Old Woman, the Foghorn. Referring back to the list later, he frequently found inspiration for a story (and quite often, the noun pair became the title). Interesting aside: his short story “The Foghorn, became the seminal prehistoric-monster movie “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.”

I’ve also done a similar exercise: make a list of nouns and a list of verbs. Randomly pair them to come up with strong actions or descriptions.

What are your tricks for breaking through that brick wall?

Shared by Heidi M. Thomas. A native Montanan, Heidi 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 recently been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, April 24, 2015

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, can elevate a mediocre story to a must-read novel. How does the protagonist differ from her family? What if the good guy and the bad guy come from the same background? What catapulted one into a bright future and the other down a path of crime and self-destruction? Why does one victim sink into a life of despair while another rises to help other victims overcome their pain? How does major trauma make one person strong and drive another to suicide? The “what-ifs” are almost endless, and the potential for an engaging book practically shouts from contrasting scenarios.

Sarah Unversaw - My great-
grandmother as a teen
The use of layers adds dimension and depth to stories. We are all products of our pasts and family  lines. Recent research suggests that much more can be inherited than just eye and hair color, stature, physical characteristics, and possibilities of certain diseases or other health issues. Some researchers contend that attitudes and actions may be passed from one generation to the next—even if a person has never met the ancestor(s) who possessed those characteristics. Imagine how this possibility might pit a protagonist against family history to enhance your story. Or what if you’re telling the story of identical twins separated at birth? Some captivating tales of uncanny similarities between such twins defy logic and open doors to potentially incredible (and layered) stories. Peeling back family layers, as well as personality layers, opens up a whole can of storyline worms to keep readers coming back for more of your riveting books.

~~Don't miss the start of Kathryn Craft's blog book tour for her new release The Far End of Happy. Kathryn will be our guest on May 1st, discussing the importance of effective layering with examples of how she has applied this to her book. Follow Kathryn's tour here.~~

How do you use contrasts and layers in your stories? Sometimes these come naturally as we write, but other times we need to intentionally incorporate them. Have you experienced the need to consciously include these elements?

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, April 23, 2015

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 Daily Bread and appears off and on in most of the books. This is all the description I had for him:

He checked the counter, where Ozzie, whose broad girth and extra chins attested to enjoying his own cooking. … Ozzie plunked a mug in front of him and filled it with hot, black coffee, a shade or two darker than his skin.

For Gordon, the hero of all the books, there's almost nothing. In book 1, Megan, a female lead, notices his eyes:

Somewhere between blue and green, the color of Aspen Lake after it rained. (And, because she's a woman, she'll notice things in a more 'picturesque' fashion than Gordon, the cop, does).

Later, she's describing a man she saw to Gordon.

"I remember noticing the Florida plates, assumed he was a retiree. Maybe because he was bald, but that's silly. Guys can go bald at almost any age."

Gordon rubbed the top of his head, thankful he wasn't one of them.

Here, the reader can see that Gordon does have a full head of hair, and that he's a bit vain about it as well.

Laurie, Gordon's admin, has been in all four books, and all we know about her is that she worked for Gordon's predecessor for over a decade before Gordon became Chief, she's very efficient, and she has a daughter.

I admit to my lack of physical descriptions of my characters in my mysteries. I prefer to show their personalities. For example, Ed Solomon, one of the best cops on Gordon's staff, is never described, yet we know that as well as being a good cop, he has a wife and kids, he's a good father, and he has a sense of humor.

At other times, there are specific bits of description, but I like to include a little more about the character along with the physical traits.

Detective Colfax, who's a semi-regular, is introduced as follows:

Mid-forties. Average height, beginnings of a paunch, but his relaxed stance was deceptively casual. Steel-blue eyes grabbed every detail. Soft-spoken, but people did what he said, no questions asked, Gordon knew, after working with him earlier.

I think Michael Connelly said in all his Harry Bosch books, he had a total of about 80 words of description. John Sandford said he summarizes Lucas Davenport as "tall, black hair, a scar on his cheek and a clothes horse." There's something to be said for letting readers fill in the details. Lee Child's descriptions of Jack Reacher weren't extensive, but they were enough to have fans in an uproar when Tom Cruise was cast to play the 250 pound, 6-4 man with hands the size of hams.

(My romantic suspense books are another story, but there's no room to go into that today.) One final point. My editor edited the first three Mapleton books as well, and this is the first time she's mentioned wanting more description.

What about you? Do you like broad brush strokes or a lot of detail?

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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

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.


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, those helpful little accessories that provide the finishing touch to an illustrated work. Captions may range from a few words to a paragraph; the odd incomplete sentence may be concluded with a period to maintain consistency.

Sentence style is recommended for caption capitalization; if a formal title of another work is included, it appears in headline style. If your caption includes an illustration number, that number must be presented as a distinct part, typically through the use of boldface or a period. Italics are needed when locators are included, such as above left or overleaf.

It appears that the rain has ceased for the time being; perhaps a walk around the block is in order, especially after so many cream puffs. While I attempt to burn off a calorie or two, try an experiment. Choose three pictures for your current work-in-progress, and sort out suitable (and suitably capitalized) captions for each. Share your results in the comment section, if you are so inclined. In the meantime, have a lovely week, stay dry, and remember—a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Having fallen into the cream puff trap, the Style Maven is learning to like kale in an attempt to avoid learning to like letting out seams. You can follow her adventures as The Procraftinator here.

Monday, April 20, 2015


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 few years ago. It is a memoir for an 80+ year old man, who was a curmudgeonly but lovable fellow. It contains his musings on the “big” questions of life – like how did the world get so screwed up and what can we do about it; who or what is God; the differences between men and women; and other topics philosophers have been arguing over for centuries. My client believed he had answers for many of these questions.

The first chapter in the book is his take on the meaning of life. Yes, really. So my problem in writing the opening was how to provide sensory details on such a big, vague subject, and give the reader an idea of what the whole book was going to be about. This was my solution:

In the first scene, he and his cousin, also in his eighties, are standing together at their grandfather’s grave. They are arguing over their different versions of where Grandpa is now. The cemetery overlooks San Francisco Bay, and the crisp wind blowing off the Bay ruffles their gray hair up so high they look like fighting cocks.

What do you think? Would you want to come inside this book?

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 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, April 17, 2015

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 authentic source of information, preferably asap. Success is often predicated on being economical with the word count. When it comes to selective detailing, there is no better stylist than multi-award-winning children’s and SF author, Jane Yolen. A particularly clear demonstration of first person expository technique in practice can be found in the opening paragraph of her YA novel Snow in Summer, (Philomel Books, 2011):
I have an old black-and-white photograph on my wall of all the things Papa loved. Its edges are curling and brown. In those days in the small towns of West Virginia, we didn’t have cameras that could take a picture in color. I’ve no idea who took that photograph, but I do know how it came into my hands. Cousin Nancy gave it to me years after this story happened.
This short passage – a mere 70 words long – serves several narrative functions simultaneously. Let’s take a closer look.

The focal “prop” is the old black-and-white photograph. This photo anchors the narrative in place (“small town West Virginia”) and in time (the past, within the living memory of the narrator). By alluding to “all the things Papa loved” the narrator establishes her credibility as a witness to the events of the past. Her use of the childlike term “Papa” in preference to the more formal “Father” infuses the narrative with a tone of retrospective tenderness. This small detail defines the essence of their relationship.

The fact that the narrator doesn’t immediately reveal what is in the photo engages our curiosity: what are these “things Papa loved”? The unanswered question concerning who might have taken the photo is trumped by the disclosure that it was given to her by “Cousin Nancy”. This familiar reference signals that Nancy also has a significant role to play in the story which is about to unfold. By now, the reader is hooked. We read on, eager to find out how these different pieces of the puzzle fit together.

It’s true that Jane Yolen makes it look easy. But if you’ve ever struggled with exposition, take heart: performance improves with practice.

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

Thursday, April 16, 2015

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 womb able to read.

In Orlando, our library system actually delivered requested books to your door. Their reasoning was that one car out making deliveries was more efficient than ten cars driving to the library to pick up books. My husband used to open the door in the morning and say, "The library threw up on our porch again."

Now, living in the boonies, our library system is much smaller, but with the beauty of computerized catalogs, I can request a book here in my county and have it delivered to my library (not my front door, sadly) from anywhere else in the state.

One of my publishers, Five Star, targets the library market and the books I publish with them are available to readers at no cost. I love that people can meet my Blackthorne team that way.
All they have to do is request that their library carry it, or borrow it through an inter-library system.

Libraries are also a great way to try out new authors. Check out a book, give it a try, and if you like it, you can come back for more. Plus, libraries have so many wonderful programs. They're a place to learn, to meet authors, to use computers, for kids to learn to love books … so many opportunities.

Libraries, like so many other institutions, have to deal with budgets, and they need our support.

What about you? Do you use libraries? Do you have fond memories of libraries?

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, April 15, 2015

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 the job if you don't have the right (write) tools.

H is for hell. Refers to the oft-mentioned destination that lies at the end of the well-paved writing road. According to Philip Roth, “The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.” While Stephen King maintains that same road "is paved with adverbs."

I is for imagery. Use words not only to create pictures in your reader's mind but to engage ALL the senses.

J is for J.R.R. Tolkien. Who warns against procrastination thusly: “It's the job that's never started as takes longest to finish.”

K is for killing your darlings. See entry on editing if further explanation is required.

L is for literary fiction. Three cheers for writing that goes beyond spinning a good yarn.

M is for mystery. All great books are mysteries. At the heart of every good story is an enigma, puzzle, or unsolved problem.

N is for Nathaniel Hawthorne. He not only gave us The House of the Seven Gables and The Scarlet Letter, he reminds us that, "Easy reading is damn hard writing."

O is for Oprah. While no one can adequately explain why, Oprah has the ability to get people to read. Props.

P is for process. "The idiosyncratic act of producing a written communication." Plotter, pantser, or something in-between, there is no right or wrong way to write. There is only not writing, and that is very wrong.

Q is for quotation. My favorite: “Write like no one is reading.”

R is for revision. The single truth every real writer knows (or is destined to learn): all writing is rewriting.

S is for show don't tell. Let readers live your stories through emotions, senses, actions, thoughts, and dialogue rather than expository narrative.

T is for theme. The unifying idea around which a story revolves. Identify theme(s) before revision to add to, enhance, and deepen meaning.

U is for unsolicited manuscripts. Submissions not requested by an editor or publisher. Also known as the pit of despair seekers of traditional publishing hope to circumvent by acquiring an agent.

V is for voice. How a writer is reflected in his or her work. To develop your voice, learn The Rules™ then break them as only you can.

W is for words. The building blocks of writing. Words matter, both choice and spelling, because your knotty plot can also be naughty.

X is for xeroxing. A practice embraced by writers (and everyone else) prior to the advent of digital copies and email.

Y is for Yahoo Groups. A means to communicate with folks who share your interests. Are you a writer? There are scores of Yahoo groups focused on writing. Can't find the perfect fit? Start a group of your own.

Z is for zeitgeist. The defining spirit of the time. Whether you are writing about the present, the past, or even the future, capture the period's zeitgeist on the page to ground your story.

Posted by Polly Iyer, who 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, April 14, 2015

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 (which was older 40 years ago than it is now), though fit for her age. Also, there’s nowhere on the island for other necessary characters to stay. With the mainland hard to reach and the return arduous, Eleanor would be too isolated for the story to work.

St. Michael’s Mount, Cornwall, photo Carola Dunn

I moved the whole kit and caboodle to Tintagel, on the North Coast. Necessarily, this changed a whole slew of scenes I had already figured out.

An example: The hideous Victorian hotel on the cliffs, overlooking the ruins of King Arthur’s Castle, is easy to reach by car, impossible by train. It’s much closer to Eleanor’s home (the imaginary Port Mabyn). I had to come up with a reason for her friend and neighbour Nick to be staying nearby. My solution was raising a violent storm to make driving home in his small car dangerous!

Tintagel ruins and Camelot Castle hotel,
photo Carola Dunn

It was sunny in the first version. I need fine weather for the following day, and then fog. Isn’t it lucky that the weather in Cornwall is REALLY that variable?

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

Monday, April 13, 2015

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 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.

Friday, April 10, 2015

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 appropriate (as in real life, it isn’t always attained), the reader may want that spelled out in some way so that it’s obvious realism rather than omission by a forgetful author.

by pippalou at MorgueFiles
My beta readers are excellent at spotting my loose ends and calling me to account. Also, I read and reread the manuscript, which allows me to catch some of them, especially if a bit of time elapses between readings. Interestingly, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and realize I’ve overlooked something in my story. (Apparently, my subconscious is working even when I am not; but because this is not a fail-safe method, I rely heavily on my beta readers.)

How do you make sure you tie up the loose ends in your stories? Please share any innovative ideas you have for avoiding this error in writing.

Now about those showers and flowers here in Colorado. Trees are sprouting baby leaves, and we’re hoping for the showers that bring those beautiful May flowers. (Otherwise, we go to Plan B—get out the hose and help things along.)

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, April 9, 2015

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 into a cheap notebook. I felt less pressure to perform for a "saved" document, which freed me to ponder wild possibilities that could be crossed out or crumpled without fear of leaving a blank page.

Here are three other Ishiguro thoughts I found worth noting:

"I deliberately leave space for feelings and emotions."

Here, Ishiguro was not talking about including emotions, but rather leaving space for readers to feel the emotions between the lines. It takes two to "tell" a story: once an author sends words into the world, interpretation is up to the reader. I often admonish myself to write with abandon, but Ishiguro reminded me of the value in restraint, knowing when to trust that I've sketched enough detail for the reader to feel whatever I've left unspoken.

How do we do that? I believe this is where intuition comes in. I need to ask myself: "Am I leaving space for the reader's emotional response, or am I telling the reader how to feel?" When someone asked Ishiguro how he knows when he has gone as far as he needs to go, he compared it to writing music - he's also a lyricist. Why does a musician in a recording studio pick one take over another? "It just sounds right," says Ishiguro.

"What I'm trying to do is just to share emotions."

Ishiguro called that his "humble goal," but I believe it's a profound aspiration. Emotion is what keeps readers up past bedtime: investment in the emotional lives of imaginary people. Exciting plots are important, but if we don't care about the characters, a plot with high stakes can still fall flat. We don't merely want to know what happens. We also want to feel what the characters feel. Their hopes become our hopes, their dreads our dreads, their losses and triumphs ours. More than that, as we empathize with these reflections of humanity - we all feel more connected with each other.

How does a writer do that? Ishiguro relies heavily on the concept of memories. He says that, for him, storytelling is about remembering, even if the memories are fictional. Memory leans on the kinds of images that stick with us because of the emotions attached to them. Memory is emotion.

"If I focus on relationships, the characters will take care of themselves."

No character is an island. Our entire lives are lived in relationship, not only to loved ones or enemies, but also to strangers, to home, to nature, to ourselves. If we didn't bump up against something other than self, we would not exist in any meaningful sense. So it is with characters. Characters have desires and fears, and when those come into conflict with the desires and fears of others, the characters make choices that reveal who they are.

How do authors make that happen? We don't. We allow it to happen. We observe and reflect human nature, including our own. We become curious about the way people relate to each other. We ask: How  would he react if she said this or did that? Why would he react that way? What do these people really want that they're not saying? It is through discovering who two characters are to each other that they become real to us.

If we pay attention, we might even find out who we are, in relationship to each other, to the story, even to the author - as if he or she were speaking directly to us.

What wisdom have other authors brought to your craft? 

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles TimesDenver PostConnotation Press, and Rivet Journal. She’s a book editor, a writing coach, and a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She was a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Denver.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

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 squawking and driving most of the cockroaches out of the neighborhood, Dud’s playing had progressed to the point where people actually smiled when they discussed it.

When the cold weather hit, Dud would hurry home from work and pick up the squeeze box and work diligently on it. Polkas and waltzes, primarily. A few of the easier Cajun tunes, too. He concentrated on those left-hand exercises, of course, where hitting the exact right little black bass button every time is a challenge known by all stomach Steinway artistes.

He had told the guys down at the world dilemma think tank (aka the philosophy counter at the Mule Barn truck stop) that he was ready to go out that weekend and squeeze out some money at a local night spot with his music.

Monday morning, Dud pulled in to the counter and flipped his cup back to the upright and fillable position.

“Well?” said Doc.

“Well what?”

“How did it go? The music. The accordion. "Lady of Spain" out on the town. You know?”

Dud just shrugged and threw some sugar into the coffee.

“Did you make money playing your accordion?” Steve asked.

“Yes,” Dud said, glumly.

“So it was a success, right?”

“Well, not … entirely.”

“Why not?”

“Went down to the Covered Wagon Saturday night. They had a good crowd in there. Played some waltzes and a few polkas to get the crowd warmed up. You know Bill? The owner?”

We nodded.

“He gave me $20 to go play somewhere else.”

Have you had more encouragement for your writing than discouragement? Please do leave a comment and share your experiences.

Slim Randles writes a nationally syndicated column, Home Country, and is the author of a number of books including  Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing. That title, and others, are published by  LPD Press.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery Doubletake was named the 2015 Best Mystery by the Texas Association of Authors. She has a number of other books published, including the critically-acclaimed Season Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. Slim Randles always makes her laugh.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I've Done More Than One Fool Thing

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 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 hopelessly unfixable. I chalked it up to a learning experience, and began another.

After I finished the second book, I excitedly sent out query letters to various publishers and agents. I'd decided to call myself Dana Starr. You'll never guess why, so I'll tell you.

Not only did I insert cute little hearts as part of my stationery letterhead, but in the body of the query letter, I just happened to mention the reason for my pen name. Are you ready for a laugh? I actually wrote that my pen name would make it possible for my books to be placed next to Danielle Steel's on the shelf!

Okay, if you've caught your breath and have stopped laughing, I'll confide that, believe it or not, I've absorbed a few things about writing and marketing since those early days. Still, writing is always a learning experience, so I know I have a lot more to discover.

What about you? Would you like to share a fool thing you've done, either about writing or something else? Please do, or I'll think I'm the only silly one.
Experience the diversity and versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman, its sequel, A Perfect Angelstandalone reality show romance; Girl of My Dreams.  Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse,its sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer CareerMystery:Two Wrongs. Short  and Sweet   Romance: Christmas   Carol.  Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com    Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com.

Monday, April 6, 2015

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 six years old, Rita had stubbornly refused to surrender to any fear, ever again, no matter how justified surrender might be…

And so on—a little hint here and another one there, gradually filling in the backstory. It’s not until page 378 and then page 384 that we get the longest flashbacks that tells us exactly what happened to her at age six (only 1-2 pages long each).

Another example of needing some backstory is Clarice in Silence of the Lambs. Her father slaughters lambs, she tries to save one. The story continues with her need to be recognized, a need for a father figure, the need to do right. The backstory in this case sets up the emotional needs and fears of the character.

  •   Character histories should always be relevant to the action at hand
  •    Histories should be kept brief. Find a way to break it up over the course of the action
  •    Use a trigger—a song, a smell, something that reminds the character of something or someone and sends him/her back into the past. Create a scene with dialogue, action, etc. Then trigger the character back into the present (the song ends, someone asks a question, etc.) You must account for time passing
  •     Avoid flashbacks during an action/conflict scene. It stops the flow and bumps the reader out of the height of the action 

What is your opinion of the best way to use back story?


Shared by Heidi M. Thomas. A native Montanan, Heidi 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.