Friday, May 29, 2015


BSP. Not sure what it is, then head over to the BookShop Blog for a good article about it - or at least one related to authors. Wikipedia hasn't caught up with us yet.

This June, we're all about BSP for our resident bloggers and you'll get to learn much more about them and their publications. Join us throughout the month.

Don't forget to connect with the Blood-Red Pencil on Twitter and Facebook too! We're going to practice BSP everywhere.

How about you, readers? Are you into it or would you rather not do it? Leave us a comment.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Where Do You Get Ideas?

One question authors are asked frequently is “Where do you get your ideas?” I don’t know about other authors, but I have an idea tree at the edge of my yard, and when I’m ready to start a new book, I just go out and pluck one from the branches. But sometimes, the tree’s not in fruit-bearing season, so I have to look elsewhere.

Sometimes the ideas for books come when you’re looking for something else. When I was embarking on the journey to write Dangerous Connections, book 5 in my Blackthorne, Inc. series, all I wanted was a place to set what my daughter calls my “MacGyver Opening Gambits.” I thought my covert ops team might be dealing with the Mexican drug cartels, so I was searching for a setting in Mexico. I ran across an article about how American engineers were being kidnapped to build cell phone networks so the cartels could communicate privately, and wham! The story took a whole new direction.

For my Mapleton Mystery series, which is set in a small town, I have to deal with the Jessica Fletcher/Cabot Cove syndrome trap. Book 1 deals with the first homicide in the town’s collective memory, and I didn’t want to be killing off Mapleton citizens in each book. I’d already done the cold case (Deadly Bones) and the “Gordon goes out of town” (Deadly Puzzles), so I needed something different for the next book (Deadly Production). I noticed that my daughter was tweeting about having to get up at 2:30 in the morning and when I asked her why, she said it was because she was an extra on Game of Thrones.

Voila! A movie company comes to Mapleton, bringing in an entirely new cast of characters. And surely, there will be one I can kill. (Sorry, that’s what mystery writers do.) Not being overly conversant with movie-making, I pumped my daughter for information about the process, and asked her to vet some of the scenes in the book. (Should you watch the show, she's the blonde Wildling in Season 5, Episode 8.)

Right now, until the end of May, you can buy a download of Deadly Production for the introductory price of 99 cents. All buy links are here.

When life seems too good to be true—watch out.

Mapleton Police Chief Gordon Hepler thinks his troubles with the small-town politics are behind him. The town council has even awarded him a reserved parking place. But an early-morning summons from the new mayor has Gordon on alert.

Instead of yet another budget dispute, the mayor announces an independent film company is making a movie in Mapleton. For the mayor, it means good press for Mapleton—and more importantly—more money for the town coffers. For the citizens, it means rubbing elbows with celebrities. For Gordon, the news means headaches, extra shifts, and scheduling issues. But he’s a pro. He’ll ensure the company has his full cooperation while continuing to protect his town.

When a member of the film crew is found dead, everything goes sideways. The mayor pushes Gordon to adopt a business as usual mentality, and let the film company handle the investigation. But a murder on Mapleton soil makes it Gordon's jurisdiction, and nothing the mayor says can make him halt his investigation.

When other members of the cast and crew haven't reported in, Gordon wonders if he's looking for more suspects or more victims. Will Gordon listen to the mayor, or risk his job to find the truth?

Ideas are everywhere. Where do you find them?

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, May 27, 2015

EEK! What is the Right Word?

Okay, somebody else said it first, but the proper use of entitled or titled is another Pain in the English Language. One just has to do a Google search on the topic to find differing, and conflicting, opinions. Did you know that entitled was the preferred word until the 21st century? Books, plays, and music were entitled, not titled.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary entitled means:
  1. to give a title to: designate
  2. to furnish with proper grounds for seeking or claiming something. (this ticket entitles the bearer to free admission.) 
 The second definition is the one that most of us associate with the word, which is probably why many of us find the usage a bit awkward for naming something - my mystery is entitled Doubletake. However, that usage is correct, ungainly as it is as it trips off one's tongue, and it has been making a bit of a comeback. Maybe someone did some research and found out that the use of entitled to mean named goes back centuries, and entitled was in fact the preferred term until recently. Then that someone decided we should be using the proper word.

Proper or not, I'm not sure that I will start using the word. I agree with Grammar Girl who wrote that while the two words can be used when it comes to naming a work, simpler is still better. She suggests that using titled is okay, but even goes another step and suggests eliminating the words entirely: Doubletake is my new mystery.

That said, I noticed in my research that people who write for more scholarly publications use entitled, and it is noted in the comments on the blog piece on Grammarist that one uses what one is most familiar with, which is why we have The Great Debate. The Grammarist's blog is well worth a visit and do read the comments if you have a moment. There is quite an interesting, and fun, discussion over there, and I had to smile when I read this from a Brit:
 The dictionary may say titled is just as good but us proper English people know better. We'll be calling petrol gas next - where will it all end?
Just in case you might be feeling alone in your confusion over the proper terminology, this is from another comment on the Grammarist's blog:
I used entitled all my life until two British editors on separate occasions told me that it was completely wrong (not that one could use either - completely, utterly wrong) so since then Ive been using titled.... now both sound weird.
Another blog, Writing Explained, covered a bit more about the differences between, and the proper usage of, the two words. Contrary to popular belief, they are not always synonymous. For instance, Garner’s Modern American Usage states that, to be correct, entitled should be used as a past-participle adjective. 
  • I read a book entitled Huckleberry Finn. (CORRECT)
  • The article entitled “America’s Moving Habits” was a good read. (CORRECT)
  • What did you entitle your book? (WRONG)
It goes on to say that as a transitive verb, title is preferred. For example,
  • What did you title your book? (CORRECT)
  • What did you entitle your book? (WRONG)
I thought after doing all the research, I would come away with a definitive answer to the question - To Title or Entitle? However, there is no definitive answer, so I think I'll stick to the suggestion by Grammar Girl and avoid all usage entirely. What about you?
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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Indie Publishing Right Now

The week before last, I had the pleasure of attending the RT Booklover’s Convention in Dallas, Texas. And while this is primarily a reader event for Romance lovers, there were quite a few workshops and networking opportunities for writers. I’d never been to this conference before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I had a fantastic time, though, and more importantly, I learned a lot about what’s going on in the industry for indie writers right now, today.

Me gearing up for the book signing at RT Dallas

The short answer to “What’s the state of indie publishing today?” is that things are constantly in flux. But then again, the same goes for the traditional publishing industry. One of the workshops I attended was presented by a panel of agents and editors from the big five publishers, all of whom agreed that trends are flipping and shifting faster than they ever have before. Where once any given sub-genre would stick around for a couple of years at the top of the popularity pile, now sub-genres are cycling through in a matter of months. So if you write Paranormal Romance or if you write Political Science Fiction or Psychological Thrillers and they aren’t selling now? Wait a few months.

That was nice to hear, but this same panel—professionals at the very top of traditional publishing, mind you—disturbed me and the entire rest of their audience by demonstrating that they had an utter lack of understanding of what indie publishing actually is and what it’s capable of. I mean, they did not get it. Furthermore, they inadvertently advocated FOR indie publishing over submitting traditionally—without even realizing what they were saying. In a nutshell, the question of royalty rates came up. Indie publishers are paid roughly 70% of the book’s list price. The panel stated that traditional publishing pays 25% (which, frankly, is a gross exaggeration, as the usual rate is much, much less than that).

When a member of the audience asked what it would take for a traditional publisher to sign an indie author, after much guffawing and frowning, the panel agreed that that author would have to routinely sell 10,000 copies of a new release in its first week and 100,000 in its first month. To which the audience responded “But if we make 70% off of those sales and you’re telling us you’ll only give 25%, why would any indie author want to give up their earnings when they’re already a bestseller?”

The moral of that particular story and the reality of publishing today is that once you go indie, you can’t go back…and why would you? In conversations with authors at the conference, I found that more and more indie authors are making a comfortable living off of their writing with no regrets at all. Amongst authors who have already made the choice, there was a sense that traditional publishing is irrelevant. It has no impact on what we’re doing or our ability to do it. They do their thing (and good for them!) and we all do ours, and everyone is okay with that.

The other thing that stood out to me was a tiny part of one of four workshops that Mark Coker of Smashwords presented about indie publishing. The advent of indie publishing used to be seen as a tsunami of crap. And that attitude still persists: that the vast majority of indie-published books are crap. That’s just not the case anymore. Indie-published books routinely make up huge percentages of the bestseller lists. They have been nominated for and won prestigious industry awards. We’ve long, long passed the days when anyone has the right to say that indie authors only do what they do because they couldn’t get a book deal with a “real” publisher. Bury that notion right now (if you’re still holding onto it).

No, as Mark said, the problem these days is that there is a tsunami of great books being published. In fact, there are so many really good books being published every day that discoverability is harder than ever. Not because readers have to sort through trash to find the treasure, but because there’s so much treasure that they don’t need to dig and work and search to find it. Favorite indie authors are rising to the top, and newer indies have to work harder than ever to make a blip. The supply of great books is almost greater than the demand.

Not exactly cheerful news for individual writers, even if it’s great news for indies in general. Mark is more of a statistics guy than a “Here’s the solution to the problem” guy, but I did take away that persistence is key in launching and maintaining a career these days. Persistence and professionalism. And treating your writing as a small business, which means investing both time and money in it.

So that’s the state of indie publishing according to workshops and buzz in the bar during RT Dallas. I’ve got several more conferences lined up this summer, so I’ll report anything new I hear as the months go on.
Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tips for Managing Your Files

Spring has sprung and it is time to do a little spring cleaning. For me, that means sifting through and deleting old computer files I no longer need. The chore is made easier by having an organized filing system.

I’d like to offer the following tips on organizing and maintaining your precious manuscript documents. The tips apply no matter what platform you use: MAC, Windows, or Linux. Having an organized system makes it easier to find the document you are looking for and for finding the documents that need to be backed up.

Many users do not realize that you can create a folder on your Desktop (the screen that comes up when you turn your computer on with all of your program icons). If you want to get fancy, you can choose a specific icon to represent your project.

A program called Iconator allows you to create an icon from any jpeg image you have saved on your computer. You change the icon by hovering over the folder image, right click the mouse, select Properties, select Customize, select Change Icon and upload the desired image, then Save.

You can create subfolders in My Documents instead if you prefer. You can change the icons for those folders as well.

I start with making a master folder on my Desktop for each book project or group of projects, such as a book series.

To do so: Pick a blank area on the Desktop, right click the mouse, select New, select Folder, name the folder the title of your project in the box that appears, and hit Enter to save.

The next step is to create folders within the main folder such as Characters, Setting, First Draft, and Research.

You can create subfolders by the same process, right click a blank spot within the folder, select New, select Folder, name the folder, and hit Enter to save the change.

For example, create a subfolder Characters and within it create a folder for each character. These character folders can contain a photo of someone you want to base your character on, clothes they might wear, things they might own, and a character profile document.

For Setting you can include images, maps, and a setting profile document containing all your notes about the various settings in your novel: worlds, cities, weather patterns, moon phases, rooms, layouts, chase routes, etc.

Research can contain documents supporting your story world, laws, technical information used in your story, articles, letters, etc.

Name a subfolder Drafts. Within that folder create a folder named First Draft which can contain individual chapter or scene files.

You can create a new folder for Revision 1, Revision 2, and so on up to Final Draft. This keeps your original documents safe if you decide you need to go back to a previous version of a chapter, you lose part of a chapter by accidentally erasing it, or the computer crashes in the middle of it.

If you self-publish, create a folder named Formatted Files with subfolders for Kindle, Nook, Create Space, Smashwords, etc.

Next time, we will discuss ways to back up your folders and subfolders.

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, May 21, 2015

Memos for Plotting

Among other things, today is "National Memo Day." A memo, or in its original, longer form, memorandum, is defined as "a short note designating something to be remembered, especially something to be done or acted upon in the future; reminder."

As a non-plotter, it's important to keep track of ideas, clues, story reveals, character development and all the myriad details that keep those dreaded plot holes and continuity errors at bay.

Some writers use lengthy outlines, some jot notes on legal pads, some use voice recordings (I know one author who dictates all his novels while hiking), some keep a separate document file, or use a program like Scrivener to help them keep track of their stories.

I use a foam core board and sticky notes, and it's as close as I can get to plotting.

There's no particular ordering of my notes. If I place a clue in chapter 6, I'll note it on my board. Then, when it's dealt with, I can toss the note. As the book progresses, my board gets emptier, unlike my story tracking board, which gets fuller. (But that's another topic.)

And, as a non-plotter, I don't know a lot about my story at the beginning. As I write a scene, or, more likely, when my critique partners give me their feedback, I might realize that Adam should have a laptop. Or that Derek's ranch is losing money. Or who put the envelope in Sabrina's coat pocket?
Character ideas get noted as well, such as Derek's love for big words, so I can remember to adjust his dialogue as needed. And, since I write mystery-themed books, there are always clues and questions that crop up. I don't want readers wondering what happened to that gun on the mantel in chapter three. (Chekov's gun rule).

Or worse, why there's a dog in chapter one, and he hasn't appeared again and I'm writing chapter thirty-six. My board will have lots of question notes, because I'm always asking myself why or how something could happen. Some of them need to be answered sooner than others, but at least there's less of a chance of me forgetting to deal with them. And, when the writing slogs, it's nice to have a reminder that you haven't mentioned what kind of a car Merry has, and that's a quick and easy fix.

I do prefer to keep moving forward, but I also prefer to fix problems before they're going to require dealing with a 350 page manuscript. There are always times when I'm waiting on research, or have only a short block of time to work. That's when I can look at my board, and go back and deal with some of my notes. Like getting Charlie the dog into a few more scenes.

How do you keep track of your story?

(And, on another note, I have a new release, Deadly Production, and I'm offering it at the introductory price of 99 cents through the end of May.)

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, May 20, 2015

Kindle Scout

My book, Indiscretion, has been on Amazon’s Kindle Scout program for an entire week as of today. It’s been on and off the “Hot and Trending” list, which I guess is natural. This is measured by how many people read the sample and nominate my book during a thirty-day period. I’ve done some promotion, but there’s a fine line between promo and overkill. I try to be cognizant of where that line is. That said, self-promotion has never been an easy fit for me.

So what is Kindle Scout, you ask? This is from the Kindle Scout website:

“Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It’s a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing.”

Bloggers have debated the pros and cons of the program. From my point of view, the answer depends on where you are in the publishing world. I’ve self-published seven books with Amazon. The difference with Kindle Scout, besides the nice advance, unheard of for an indie writer, is the strength of Amazon’s marketing that I wouldn’t get otherwise.

No longer can writers just write. Due to the increased number of indie and hybrid writers and the plethora of free book promotions, we must now be creative to keep our books from falling into obscurity, in contrast to those days when I first started, way back in 2011. We now pay companies to advertise our free or specially priced promotions to their huge reader mailing lists, many times at high costs. The outlay is usually refunded by greater sales. We are social media experts, bloggers, promotional gurus, Pinterest pinners, LinkedIn joiners, Google+ members, and Twitter tweeters. We join groups to support each other and share writing tips and posts about the things we learn on our writing journey.

In order to submit to the program, Amazon Scout insists on a professional cover, editing, and formatting. If my book is chosen by reader nominations and the Amazon Scout Powers-That-Be, it will receive a complete edit.

I created the cover for Indiscretion, but after 25 years as an illustrator, and eight book covers under my belt (one for my alter ego), I have no problem immodestly calling my covers professionally designed. I would have to meet the same criteria if I decided to self-publish, so I’m used to the parameters established by Kindle Scout. From what I’ve tracked, most of the books chosen in the first few groups are doing well.

I tried something new with Indiscretion. I incorporated an actual crime, Boston’s 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, with a fictional story. SO, unwilling to miss an opportunity, here’s my pitch for Indiscretion in 500 characters or less:

“Separated from her controlling husband, romance author Zoe Swan meets a charismatic art history professor on the beach and begins a torrid affair. But who is he really? By the time Zoe finds out, she’s on the run with her husband, his jewel thief brother, and a priceless painting stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. With the FBI and the murderer in pursuit, the trio heads to Boston. The only way to prove their innocence is to make a deal with the very people who want them dead.”

There’s a sample on the site. If you like what you read and would like to read more (if my book is picked, everyone who nominated it receives an electronic copy), consider clicking “Nominate me.” Sorry for the blatant self-promotion.

Here’s the link.

Thank you kindly if you do.

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, May 19, 2015

Manual Dexterity

So there you are, clattering away at the keyboard and filling page after page with enthralling dialogue and vivid imagery. Suddenly, your fingers halt as your brain wrestles with a question of grammar. You have a sentence in mind, but you’re not quite sure if the phrasing is acceptable.

What do you do?

Do you forge ahead, risking potential editorial wrath? Do you take the not-quite-easy way out and re-write the entire line, thus avoiding grammatical conflict?


You grab that coat by the lapels and consult the Chicago Manual of Style. Now in its sixteenth edition, the CMOS gives definite and definitive answers to your most pressing prose questions. Is the singular they acceptable, or is the more formal (if slightly stilted) he or she required? Are social titles always abbreviated? What on earth is an em dash, and when should you employ one?

Even a first-time reader will find that the CMOS is user-friendly, with clearly marked sections, a cross-referenced index, and a how-to section for editors. After a few consultations, you’ll have no trouble flipping to the correct page for the answer to almost any question.

While it’s not the sole authority on composition—publishers often have a house style, and other countries have established rules of their own—the CMOS is an excellent reference for novice and novelist alike.

Oh, dear. There is one thing that the Chicago Manual of Style can’t help with, and that is bailing out a flooded basement. Three and a half inches of rain in an equal number of hours? Sigh. Thankfully, my sweaters are stored in the attic. Have a lovely week, everyone. Stay dry, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Grateful that any bailing to be done does not involve jail, The Style Maven makes up for a chronic lack of sleep by consuming vast amounts of caffeine. You can read about the adventures of her alter ego, The Procraftinator, here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Late Bloomers

In 2011, the Oscar for writing was given to David Seidler for The King’s Speech. He was 73, and it was his first Oscar and first nomination. In his acceptance speech he said his father had told him he’d be a late bloomer. The audience laughed, since obviously his father was right. David Seidler also said he hoped that his record as the oldest person to win this particular award was broken quickly and often.

I’m with him. Some might say I’m a late bloomer too, because I didn’t start my writing career in earnest (that is, quit my ‘day job’ and went full time) until I was nearly 50.

My writing flowers may have begun to bloom in the autumn of my life, but I had plenty of other flowers blooming in the springtime too. Who says we have to plant the same flowers all our lives? Like tulips in the spring, sunflowers in the summer, dahlias in the fall, and poinsettias in the winter, we can bloom in every season of our lives.

As David Seidler and other late bloomers like him show us, it is never too late to bloom. We live in a youth-worshipping society, and that is so sad. Youth is beautiful, but it’s only one part of life. Age is beautiful too. If we denigrate age, we should not be surprised when we are denigrated ourselves when we’re no longer young.

It’s always struck me as silly that no one wants to die young, but no one wants to get old either. Yet, those are your only choices. If you don’t die when you’re young, you will get old. I think we need to adjust our attitudes. The David Seidlers of the world help us do that.

We writers are lucky. You’re never too old to write. Plus you just might have more to write about when you’re old than when you’re young.

Bloom early, bloom late – the important thing is to bloom.

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 10 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, May 15, 2015

Different Gardens

Creating a beautiful flower garden is an art—whether it’s to grow May flowers, bright summer blooms, or richly-hued blossoms that rival autumn leaves for vibrant color. Great writing is also an art, and flowers can play a vital role in our stories—from the bouquet that delights the protagonist to the vase of buds that sends chills down the back of a terrified character.

Covers, too, offer great opportunities for flowers to promote our stories. One of my new branding techniques is to include some kind of flower on each of my book covers, and I've updated my first two cozy thrillers to reflect that. Treacherous Tango, for example, now depicts a black rose with drops of blood falling onto it from the title. A Brother Betrayed shows a yellow rose licked menacingly by raging flames. Both bear significant relevancy to the stories within—a necessity if a reader is to tell my book by its cover. No matter how gorgeous or striking a cover may be, it will let the reader down if it’s false advertising. Personally, I am first drawn to any book by its cover, but I am put off if, after reading it, I discover that cover has not honestly portrayed something important about the story.

However, the application of flowers to writing extends beyond covers and content. Symbolically, we begin our writing careers as fragile buds. With appropriate preparation (learning our craft), proper cultivation (developing a basic storyline, outline, and character sketches; doing necessary research), planting (sitting down and beginning to write), weeding (eliminating passages that don’t move the story forward), and fertilizing (editing), those buds mature into gorgeous blossoms that grace library shelves and readers’ bookcases. Isn’t that what we all want to happen?

(Books shown here are currently unavailable but are scheduled to be reissued this summer: A Brother Betrayed in June and Treacherous Tango in August.)

Do you use flowers in your writing? Have you utilized them to raise tension and cultivate emotion? Did you ever compare your development as a writer to planting a rose (or any flower) garden?
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 Coming soon:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Writer and the Secret Fan

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee
When I read Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret FanI was captivated by the idea of two women sharing a history by exchanging notes in the folds of a fan. I teach young writers for Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and I decided to create an exercise using fans. The opening of a fan is a vivid metaphor for storytelling.

I often talk to writers about scenes in terms of opening a fan or accordion. It’s a dynamic way of visualizing the question, “What’s happening between the lines?”

Sometimes we get so caught up in pushing a scene from point A to point B that we glide over opportunities for a more intimate look at the character’s experience. We may offer sensory descriptions, but overlook imbuing those descriptions with the way a character's emotional state and personal history affects the way the view looks, the way tones sound, the memories that smells evoke. We may write dialogue, but neglect to reveal the physical tells or intruding thoughts that communicate more than spoken words alone. Or, we may dart from action to action, instead of pausing to drive home the impact of each action.

When I see the scene as a fan, I envision unfolding its inner life, exposing things I didn’t know were there, revealing what’s under the surface. Closed, it simply looks like red-and-gold paper, but open it up and...ooh, look at the white crane hidden inside! The fan reveals layers, and so does the scene, opening opportunities for surprise.

Here’s my favorite part of the fan metaphor: fans are fun! I've seen writers young and old respond to this idea.

I recently taught an elementary school workshop in which we used construction paper folded into fans. (In truth, they looked more like window shades.) Each sheet yielded about five creases, or ten folds—twenty if you count the back. I asked the children to write five lines from their stories-in-progress into every other fold, leaving the folds in between blank.

Then I asked them to write a new sentence into each blank fold, one that offered more detail about what happened in the previous sentence. The goal was to read all ten sentences in order and have them make sense as a scene.

Some kids grasped the idea, opening up the story with new sentences. Others simply rewrote the sentences they had already written. Either interpretation was fine, because they all expanded their scenes with more details.

That same week, while giving a talk to parents on the subject of creativity, I had them try a variation of the fan exercise. They wrote a flash-fiction story on every other line. Then they added sentences in between. Afterward, several looked up in surprised delight, and a couple of them said, “This really is a better story!”

The folds do more than you might think, because you cannot get away with simply making the scene longer. Instead, the new information must illuminate what’s already there. Otherwise it won’t flow with the rest of the story.

There are many possible variations on the fan exercise, such as: 1) write dialogue on every other line, and then add physical tells or internal monologue in between, 2) tell a group story in which each person contributes one line, or 3) create a fictional correspondence between two people à la Lisa See. 

I’m preparing for a summer writing camp at Lighthouse, and my fellow instructor and I want to order either white folding fans or a fan-making kit. I love writing on objects that have another purpose, such as paper cups, cereal boxes, or even airline barf bags. (Those are fun for letters because you can tuck in the tabs to create a self-contained envelope.) I believe when we take writing into a three-dimensional space we open ourselves and our stories to reveal more than we first imagined.

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, May 13, 2015

Time Out for Some Fun

Back in April we found out from humorist Slim Randles that Dud had pretty much given up on writing his book and had taken up playing accordion. Much to the relief of his friends and his dear wife, Anita, Dud is once more squeezing words out of his computer and the accordion is resting. Here is Slim to tell us all about it...

Dud looked at his Anita across the kitchen table and smiled at the wonderment of her. She didn’t take him for granted, and he didn’t take her for granted, either. Seemed like a nice way for a man and his wife to be in love.
But how was he going to translate this? This has been the problem for several years now with the book. Dud shook his head slowly. Anyone who thinks writing a novel is easy should spend an hour inside my head first. It’s been several years since he began writing “Murder in the Soggy Bottoms,” the book that the rest of Dud’s people referred to as “The Duchess and the Truck Driver.”

“What’s the matter, Hon?”

“Oh … nothing. Just thinking about the book again.”

“Because it’s Spring?”

He nodded. They smiled at each other.

“Mrs. Campbell,” said Dud, “may I ask you a question?”

“I think you just did, Mr. Campbell.”

“Well … I mean, could you put in words how you feel about … well, us?”

Anita put down her toast and sipped some coffee and smiled as she looked across the table at Dud.

“I think … we are special,” she said. “I used to be Anita. But now … well, I’m now half of Anita and Dud, and that half is twice what Anita used to be by herself. Dud, you have given me a foundation and a safety net. I know I can say anything to you, and I’m safe in saying it.”

Dud walked over quickly, kissed her, and almost ran into his study. Anita heard the keys clicking away on the computer.

Well, she said to herself, maybe, just maybe, I helped write a book.
Brought to you by the Home Country podcast 
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, May 12, 2015

The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring...

Have nothing to do with the case.
Mikado - WS Gilbert

Laburnam Walk
Photo of Temple Newsam House, courtesy of TripAdvisor

I usually bedeck my books with flowers, both wild and cultivated. More often than not, they do indeed have nothing to do with the case. They’re part of the setting, marking the seasons, differentiating between town and country gardens, hedgerows, meadows, moors, and woods.

Sometimes, though, they have other purposes. In Heirs of the Body, the 21st Daisy Dalrymple mystery (just reissued by Minotaur in trade paperback), I use a pleached walk of laburnam to suggest the threat of poisoning. The seeds are deadly. In fact, I use the walk for a different purpose, and another plant is used later in the book to poison one of my characters.

In another book, I killed a victim with oleander he himself had nurtured and cherished in his conservatory.

Perhaps the most fun I’ve had with flowers was when I used them to indicate character and illustrate a relationship. In Anthem for Doomed Youth, DCI Alec Fletcher goes to question a victim’s widow:
“The front garden was laid out with military precision. A rectangular patch of lawn on each side of the brick path had rectangular flowerbeds centred in each lawn, edged with low, rectangular box hedges, as was the path. The beds were planted with rigid rows of magenta rose-campion and sternly staked red-hot pokers.

The widow is already planning to tear out the lawn, the box, the campion—hideous colour!—the lot. I’m putting in a forsythia, and rambler roses, and... What else sprawls all over the place?’

“‘Well, buddleia, madam, but they be mortal untidy!’

“‘Just what I want, a bit of untidiness in my life. Nasturtiums! Trailing geraniums!’”
The smell of flowers can be very evocative, too. My Regency Lavender Lady took its title from the fragrance of the home-made lotion the heroine uses. Later, when the hero smells the lavender sold by a street pedlar, it takes him straight back to the moment he first saw her and makes him decide he must overcome the breach between them.

Even if you use plants in your writing only as window-dressing, it’s good to be specific: not a river lined with trees but a river lined with willows; huge Cedars of Lebanon framing the mansion’s facade rather than the generic “evergreens” (I had to ask the artist to correct the shape of the trees on the new cover of Death at Wentwater Court); spicy-scented crysanthemums instead of autumn flowers. Your reader may not know the difference between peonies and poppies, but the names make the scene come alive.

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

Monday, May 11, 2015

Let Your Writing Bloom: 3 Tips

It is said that April showers bring May flowers. For us writers, sometimes our inevitable writing droughts seek those showers so that we can bring forth the blooms of new writing.

Back in March, I wrote a BRP post titled "3 Ways to Reclaim Your Passion for Writing." This month, I want to add three more suggestions on how you can grow your writing.

Find Time Stealers in Your Daily Life
We all have them--those activities that steal time from our daily lives but that offer no real rewards. Examples? Almost EVERYTHING that has to do with electronics, especially when we don't take time to break away from those activities. Spending too much time on Facebook or any form of social media, whether on the computer or on our smartphones and tablets. Checking email every five minutes. Keeping notifications for all apps on so that we're distracted by every ding, chirp, and bell. Take an honest look at a 24-hour chunk of your life and write down how much time you spend doing activities. Are there any places where you can cut and integrate writing? Instead of checking Facebook every ten minutes to see if someone liked your picture of your dog, perhaps take that time to jot notes for a story, or write a page for that story. Reclaim your time for your passion.

Integrate Writing into Your Life
First thing first: be realistic. You know your life is busy. You know all the things you need to do. Where in your life can you realistically place writing, and place it in a way that it becomes a consistent part of your life? If writing is important to you, finding where to place it so that it fits well is important to do.

Pick a Story Idea
Sometimes, when we're in a writing drought, we either don't write anything, or out of desperation, we try to cull together several ideas for stories and try to write them all. How about going through all of your story ideas and listening to your inner writer--which idea speaks to you? Take it and give yourself 30 minutes to just THINK about that idea. After that half an hour, ask yourself, "Am I moved to write on this idea?" If the answer is yes, then WRITE RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Do not delay. It doesn't matter if it's good--just write. If the answer is no, then move on to the next idea.

Every writer knows of drought, but digging in and finding ways to fertilize your literary grounds will enable you to produce colorful, strong stories.

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, May 8, 2015

Accountability for Authors

One of the biggest struggles that we have as authors is keeping focused on doing our job in a world that is full of distraction. And I’m talking about distractions like family, the day job, sleep, and the need to occasionally eat. Not having time to write (or procrastinating away that time) is one of the top problems that we writers have. I know that the busier I get, the harder it is for me to stick to my writing schedule. I’m sure the same goes for all of us.

What’s a poor, busy writer to do?

I’ve recently discovered a fabulous way to stay on task and to receive encouragement from other writers who are in the same boat as I am. You’ve heard of critique groups and writing partners, well, I recently joined an accountability group.

We're all in this together
photo by Liam Quinn via Flickr Commons
So what’s an accountability group and how does that help the writing process?

The accountability group that I belong to was organized as an off-shoot of another, much larger writer’s conglomerate that I’m a part of: The Pioneer Hearts authors. The Pioneer Hearts authors group is actually a segment of a much larger group. Pioneer Hearts is a Facebook group for readers and writers of Historical Western Romance. It’s much more than a fan group or a promotional space, though. It’s become a family of over a thousand, at least 80% of whom are readers, united by our love of the genre and a general silliness. You’ve heard about the importance of socializing naturally with readers because readers want to buy books from people they know? That’s what we do. Side note: I invite you to come on over and join the group whether this genre is your thing or not to see what kind of magic we’ve created.

The PH Author’s group is a place where we, the authors, come together to discuss projects and what we can do for our readers. The accountability group was born from that group when one of our members fretted that they were terrible about getting their butt in their chair to write every day. A few others agreed, and someone came up with the idea of a group where we could check in daily to keep each other on track.

Okay, but does it really work?

Absolutely! This is what we do. Every morning, a post goes up from one of the core members asking what our goals are for the day. We each reply to that post, stating what we’d like to get done. At the end of the day, we check in again to say what we actually managed to accomplish. Simple, right? There’s no judging in the group, no brow-beating, but there is a TON of encouragement. Sometimes one of us will share that with everything else going on, there’s no way they’ll get any writing done. Some days a member will write 10k words.

Sometimes a member will ask for help, which usually results in a couple of people joining them in a sprint. Have you ever done a writing sprint? It’s where you pledge to write non-stop for a set length of time, or to write without stopping until you get X amount of words done. Sprints in our group are coordinated through a chat room, where participants cheer each other on before and after the sprint happens. A lot of us have been able to get our butts into chairs to write this way.

This sound so simple. Why does it work?

Easy. When you know that someone else is looking over your virtual shoulder, especially when they’re also struggling to get things done, doing the actual work becomes so much easier. It’s the definition of accountability. It’s also a living demonstration of all those things you hear about the future of writing and writers being author groups and grass-roots partnerships. This is where the rubber hits the road.

Writing is no longer a strictly solitary endeavor, nor should it be. The internet gives us incredible tools to form networks with our fellow writers so that we can bolster each other when we most need it. I encourage you to use these tools wisely and to connect yourself with a group of like-minded writers so that you have your teammates in place as you tackle all of the challenges of writing.

Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

5 Tips For Avoiding POV Speedbumps

Sometimes in a story you need to convey information to the main character or to the reader that your main character would not be privy to.

This is often done by switching the point of view character. There are times when this method works well, such as cycling between POV characters for suspense. There are times when it needlessly interrupts the story.

Another technique is to use news articles, diaries, etc. often offset or in italics. Some readers love this type of interruption. Many loathe the interruption and scan read or flip past it.

Let’s look at a few ways to keep the main character informed without switching point of view.

1. Spying.

Dick learns information by intentionally listening or watching while attempting to not be seen. This type of scene is fraught with tension and fear of him getting caught. He can be in the room next door, in a surveillance van, watching people through a camera lens, sniper rifle, or on a remote camera feed.

2. Eavesdropping.

Dick can eavesdrop without intending to spy. He can arrive at a doorway at an opportune moment, be in the room but out of view, or pretend to talk to Sally while actively watching and listening to Jane.

3. Secondhand News

You can relate the information through dialogue between Dick and a character that was present, eavesdropping, or spying. The conversation should divulge the information but also contain tension.

4. The Broadcast

There are cameras everywhere and the internet is available 24-7. He could find out what he needs to know by simply turning on his phone, tablet, or laptop. You create a “scene within a scene” with Dick as voyeur. It adds tension if he attempts to do so covertly or is with someone he can discuss the unfolding scene with.

5. The Evidence Recap

This is particularly useful in mysteries, but could be used in any situation where a group of people are involved in the overall story problem. They can meet to discuss their progress and each person can contribute new information. You add tension when Dick reacts to the information presented or the new information has a major impact on the story.

If you only utilize a point of view once or twice in your story, ask yourself why it is necessary and see if there is another way to deliver the information without creating a POV swap speedbump and breaking the flow.

You can use a satisfying mix of techniques that eliminate the need to move your verbal camera away from the main cast to secondary or tertiary characters and cutting the connection to the characters that matter.

For more tips on point of view check out:

Deep POV or How to Avoid Head Hopping Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

POV 1 or 2?

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, May 6, 2015

How to Grow Your Writing

‘Now is the month of maying, 
When merry lads are playing,
 Fa la la la la la la la la la la 
Fa la la la la la la.’ *
 English madrigal, Thomas Morley (1595) 

There are many similarities between learning to be a successful gardener and learning to be a successful writer. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned: 

Sunshine = Praise. Both are necessary and make your garden or your writing ‘bloom’. Too much, however, can lead to sunburned leaves or dangerously over-inflated egos.

Stones. Most gardens suffer from some degree of rocky soil, so work is necessary before anything decent will grow. Removing pebbles from soil takes time and so does decent writing. No one becomes an expert in a day. Or a week. Or ever. However, you can never get rid of all the rocks and carrots will grow around them. Your writing will adapt too - twists are a good thing.

The necessity of fertilizer. Remember a little goes a long way. And... remember what natural fertilizer is made from. A garden takes time and work. The only things that grow by themselves (and seemingly overnight) are weeds. Think of weeds as sloppy or lazy writing and clichés you’ll need to get rid of before growing something nutritious.

Crop rotation. Moving what you grow where is good for your plants. I also highly recommend to try writing different genres - or try your hand at non-fiction or poetry or a screenplay. No one says you need to try to publish the thing. But who knows what you’ll grow?

Stretching. Stretch before you work. Stretch while you work. You'll be amazed what you can see from different angles.

Showers. Never underestimate the worth of a shower - either from nature or the other. Some of my best ideas or ways out of plot holes have come to me while I’ve bathed.

Keep records. Keep track of what you’ve planted where. This applies to gardening and to what I write, which are mysteries.

Learn from the experts. Be it in gardening or writing, there are resources out there. Use them.

Look at the calender. Have a deadline. If seeds aren’t planted by a certain point, they won’t have sufficient time to grow. It’s the same with writing. Even self-imposed deadlines are better than none. Pushing back the date doesn’t make you feel better. Trust me on this.

Enjoy the fruits of your labours - both in the garden and on the page. None of it would be there without your hard work. Rejoice.

* I even know the tune to this madrigal thanks to an excellent choir teacher when I was in school (no, not in 1595).

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, May 5, 2015

Don't Waste Those May Flowers

Who doesn't think of flowers when they think of May?

However, let's go a step further. How can we use flowers in our books? Here are some examples:

Setting - When describing a character's surroundings, to ground a reader, include a flower typically grown in one portion of the country. For example, in the Spring, you might see outdoor cactus flowers in Scottsdale, but not in Chicago.

Season - Poinsettias are a prime example for Christmastime, while crocus, daffodils,and tulips bring Spring to mind, in such places as the Midwest portion of the United States.

Romance - Flowers are a no-brainer when it comes to romance. Single flowers, especially red roses, convey passion, while pink, affection. White roses are popular in bridal bouquets. And, a groom, who usually wouldn't wear a corsage, would wear a boutonniere at his wedding.

Sloppy or Not? - This time of year also brings to mind dandelions, which some consider a weed, others, a flower, or even a  home remedy.
A meticulous character might own a weed-free lawn. You might think the presence of dandelions on a lawn might be a sign of a sloppy homeowner. You could be right. However, think of another scenario. Maybe the dandelion lover is an earth-friendly person who despises chemicals. Sure, that person could take the time to pick all those pretty yellow flowers up, and put them in the lawn recycle bag, but maybe that person also likes to dabble in home remedies. Believe it or not, dandelions are considered great for blood sugar levels, as well as digestion.

Sinister or Not? - Who'd guess that many popular outdoor flowers that look so pretty, such as azaleas , irises, and hydrangeas, can be poisonous to pets, and even to humans in certain quantities?

By now, you get the idea. I invite you to share an example as well, or comment on one mentioned.

Experience the diversity and versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman, its sequel, A Perfect Angel, standalone reality show romance: Girl of My Dreams. Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, its sequel: the Blessing or Curse Collection. Romantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two Wrongs. Short  and Sweet   Romance: Christmas Carol.  Twitter: @MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com    Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com.