Monday, June 29, 2015

Just the Facts, Ma'am

“Who cares if it’s accurate? It’s fiction.”

A writer whose book I was editing said the above when I questioned something in her manuscript. I suggested she research the subject, and she became irate, a bit rude even. Because I was also contractually obligated to publish the book, I did the research myself and corrected the information in the story. Later, the writer mentioned my “absurd” request to another author who informed her that fiction must, indeed, fit the facts, be accurate, and pass the plausibility test. After a contrite apology, my writer never again challenged me when I advised her to confirm her info.

What does this have to do with blatant self-promotion? Think about it. If our stories don’t ring true, we can lose our readers. If we lose our readers, we won’t have an audience. If we don’t have an audience, we won’t sell books. If we don’t sell books because our stories don’t ring true, all the BSP in the world isn’t going to make any difference.

Why is accuracy so important in fiction? Our readers come from all walks of life, are often well-read, and many have extensive knowledge and experience. If our stories contain misinformation, inaccuracies, and impossibilities, our credibility as writers goes down the toilet. Even science fiction and fantasy need to be based on sound scientific principles, no matter if they’re set far in the future. The best writing in the world will not overcome deficiencies in the fact department.

Bottom line: be wise, be savvy, be accurate. And, of course, write well. Make the reader so eager for your next novel that she’s regularly checking your website for a release date. Then BSP can do its job to help sell your book.

So what do you think? Does fiction need to be factual?

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

Friday, June 26, 2015

Beat the Bully… Stand Tall With BSP

Remember that kid in the back of the class who was never talked to? Who was never picked for teams? That nerdy runt who was stuffed in lockers, got food thrown at him, got pushed around in the halls? The boy all the girls laughed at while saying ‘Not if he was the last boy on earth’?

That was me.

I was bullied on a regular basis. I had the freckles, goofy haircut, skinny frame, and I was smart. I was the student who always raised his hand for questions, and always gave the right answer. Until I decided being smart wasn’t cool. It seemed my intelligence played a big factor in getting the crap kicked out of me. So I stopped raising my hand, stopped showing my intelligence. I tried hiding even deeper in the vague identity of ‘that boy”. But it didn’t help.

It was freshman year when I reached my breaking point. I had enough and one unlucky bully got every ounce of frustration and anger I had inside me. He put me in a headlock and laughed. I didn’t find it funny at all. I wormed my way out of the headlock and swung with every bit of fury I had bottled up inside my scrawny little body. And I knocked him out with one punch.

The people who had gathered around went quiet. I knocked out one kid and, by doing so, I silenced an entire school.

From that moment, my life was different. I never lost a fight throughout the rest of my years in high school. I went on to become a competitive fighter, only losing two fights… my first and my last. I became a professional bouncer facing people of all sizes. I never went down. In my lifetime, I have stared down the barrel of three guns, had multiple knives pulled on me, and been in several situations where I’ve had to fight multiple assailants.

I am still standing. I am still in one piece. And now, I must fight once again.

People have the wrong idea about being tough. Being ‘tough’ isn’t about the biggest muscles, the hardest punch, or the worst attitude. The art of ‘being tough’ is being able to make the other person believe that you are. You have to find a way to exude confidence, even during those moments when confidence is lacking. Trust me, I am not invincible. Deep down inside, there’s still a scared kid who thinks he doesn’t have a chance in the world. But I refuse to allow myself to believe it. More importantly, I absolutely will not allow YOU to believe it.

How does all of this apply to Blatant Self Promotion?

As writers, we have one goal: To get our stories out into the world. To do that, we need people to take an interest in our work. We need them to spare some of their hard earned money to purchase our books, our stories. That doesn’t happen without promotion. If we are not willing to talk about ourselves, about our work, no one else will want to either.

Think of that bully I faced in the ninth grade. Had I shown hesitation or fear, he would have gained the upper hand. I would have been back in a headlock, being laughed at and ridiculed. If my moment of conviction had failed, where would I be today?

Be proud of who you are and believe in yourself. Shout from mountain tops, “I am a writer, read my story!” You poured your heart into every word of your manuscript and it deserves to be read. No matter how nervous or terrified you are, talk about your work and yourself every chance you get. Whatever you have faced in your lifetime, you are still here, still standing tall, and you are chasing your dream.

The worst bullies are all the little voices inside our heads that tell us we can’t. Silence them. Allow your voice to be heard. Don’t let self-doubt to push you around or get in the way of your success. Steady your trembling hands and nervous voice. Stand tall and bestow your dreams and ideas upon the world.

That moment when you realize you faced the bully and won… it’s an amazing feeling.

And, if you ever need a champion, someone to stand by you and shout with you, find me. I’ll be directing the 2016 Pikes Peak Writers Conference, April 15th-17th, 2016.

(You see what I did there?)

When he's not working with the dedicated and passionate people of Pikes Peak Writers, Jason P. Henry is lost in a world of serial killers, psychopaths, and other unsavory folks. Ask him what he is thinking, but only at your own risk. More often than not he is plotting a murder, considering the next victim, or twisting seemingly innocent things into dark and demented ideas. A Suspense, Thriller and Horror writer with a dark, twisted sense of humor, Jason strives to make people squirm, cringe, and laugh. He loves to offer a smile, but is quick to leave you wondering what lies behind it. Jason P. Henry is best summed up by the great philosopher Eminem “I'm friends with the monsters beside of my bed, get along with the voices inside of my head.” Learn more about Jason at

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tips For Book Promotion

Promoting books is all about exposure. No, I don't mean running around the neighborhood nekkid, although that might get a lot of attention. What I mean is that people have to know about your book in order to be interested in reading it, and that entails spreading the word far and wide on the Internet and in the real world.

In my earlier post here at The Blood-Red Pencil this month, BSP - It's All About Buzz, I mentioned how much I dislike this promotional part of the writing biz, and most of the comments on that post shared the same sentiment. So it was kind of ironic that in my research for this article I came across this bit of advice from Tony Levelle in a blog post on the Writers Store Ezine.    He suggests that we change that negative to a positive. 
Think of book promotion as storytelling. The story you are telling is why you wrote your book, how it can help others, and how the world will benefit from your book.
If you can develop a positive attitude about book promotion, people will pick up on it, and tune in immediately. 
That makes sense. If we are not excited about our books, who is going to be? The last few times I have had signing events, I've had some nice conversations with potential readers about the story as they checked out my book. Those conversations helped me remember why I wrote the book and rekindled the passion I had for the characters and the story. The more we talked, we generated a mutual enthusiasm for the subject of the story, and that often led to a sale.

Because I've always enjoyed these interactions with interested readers, I appreciated the following tips that I found on Seth Godin's Blog, Advice for Authors,  He has other tips there that are worth a moment of your time.  
If you've got the patience, bookstore signings and talking to book clubs by phone are the two lowest-paid but most guaranteed to work methods you have for promoting a really really good book. If you do it 200 times a year, it will pay.
If you want to reach people who don't normally buy books, show up in places where people who don't usually buy books are. Media places, virtual places and real places too. 
So now I want to share some excitement about Open Season, the first book in the Seasons Mystery Series, which is now available as an audiobook. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to process what still happens too often between police officers and the general public, and that is racism. When I first started developing the story about two homicide detectives in Dallas, there was a huge outcry in the city because of a young black boy being shot by a white cop.

Unfortunately, not a lot has changed between the years when the story idea came to me and the present day, and the flames of hatred and bigotry burn hotter than ever.  I find that such a sad state of affairs.

There are no easy answers to the problem, and racism runs deep on both sides of color lines. That is what I explore in the series as Sarah and Angel face off on opposite sides. I interviewed a lot of police officers and civilians of all colors while developing the characters and the story lines, and that research gave me a much wider view of the problem from both sides. It is that view that I try to illustrate in the books. Consider this excerpt from Open Season as the detectives struggle with their partnership:

Thrusting her hands deep in her pockets to avoid acting on the urge to smack the defiance off Angel’s face, a sudden realization slammed into Sarah like a lead ball. She controlled the force of her words with an effort. “Do you really think I’ll treat Hammel any differently than a white suspect?”

“I suppose that’s a question you need to answer first.”

“Jesus H. Christ!” Sarah whirled and kicked the trash can, sending it clattering across the tile floor. Anger pulled her with the strength of a runaway horse, and Sarah desperately clawed at the reins to bring it under control. Then she turned and faced Angel again. “Why does everything have to come down to color?”

“Because that’s the difference. Black and white.” Angel took a step closer and pulled up her sleeve to hold her arm next to Sarah’s. “There’s a whole history written on this, and you’ll act on that history whether you realize it or not.”

“And what about you, huh? What history are you acting on? Or is it only us white folks who have to answer for what we do?”

The slap caught her off guard and Angel was out the door before Sarah even registered the stinging on her cheek. She reached up and touched the spot, feeling the radiating heat.

Production of the audio book for Open Season  was just completed and the book is available now at If you sign up for an Audible membership you can get the book free. The audio version will be available for purchase at Amazon and iTunes within a few days.

To maintain the same look, my cover artist adapted the art for the e-book for a new cover for the audio version.
Now it's your turn. Please leave a comment and share your experiences with promoting and some excitement for one of your books.
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.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Cowgirl Up!

“…Rearing, bucking, fighting, a frenzied bronco tears at the burden on its back. Claimed by a thousand devils, he kicks and plunges with the fury of the damned. The rider, a woman, is buffeted and tossed like dust in a storm…”

While we are not likely to see this scenario at modern rodeos these days, it was not uncommon in the 1920s and ’30s for women to compete in the same rodeo arenas and draw from the same rough stock as the men.

The first cowgirls learned to ride out of necessity to help on their family ranches. At an early age they learned to ride horses, rope cattle, and stay in the saddle atop an untamed bucking bronc.

The 1920s are known as the “heyday” of women’s rodeo, producing more world champion female riders than any time since. These cowgirls were products of working-ranch values, where athleticism, skill, competitiveness, and grit were acceptable traits in women.

Some cowboys were skeptical of women rodeo riders, and society in general branded them “loose women.” It was claimed that women who participated in such a rough sport would not be able to bear children.

World Champion bronc rider Margie Greenough Henson proved that adage wrong when she brought her months-old son along to rodeos, cradled on a pillow in an apple box. When it was her turn to ride, she turned to the nearest cowboy, asking him to hold the baby “for just a few seconds.”

These cowgirls were also criticized for the practical, comfortable clothing they adopted—first, divided skirts and then pants.

Well-known British-born photographer Evelyn Cameron found out what could happen when she wore a split skirt she’d designed and sewed. Going about her shopping in a rural Montana town, she was accosted by a group of angry townswomen, along with the sheriff, who threated to throw her in jail unless she got out of town immediately.

But these cowgirls proved themselves capable of surviving the rough life of rodeo, while still hanging on to their femininity, and they became accomplished athletes well ahead of the athletic and feminist movement of the 1970s.

Rodeo cowgirls pursued their dream nationally and internationally until the 1940s. Madison Square Garden Rodeo in 1941 was the last time a woman (Vivian White) was able to compete on rough stock in a sanctioned rodeo.

It has only been the past 14 years that a women, Kaila Mussel of BC, Canada, has qualified to compete with men, riding saddle broncs, on the PRCA circuit.

Cowgirl is a state of mind, to paraphrase Dale Evans, who goes on to say, “Cowgirl is a pioneer spirit, a special American brand of courage. The cowgirl faces life head on, lives by her own lights, and makes no excuses. Cowgirls take stands. They speak up. They defend the things they hold dear. A cowgirl might be a rancher, or a barrel racer, or a bull rider, or an actress. But she's just as likely to be a checker at the local Winn Dixie, a full-time mother, a banker, an attorney, or an astronaut.”

Heidi M. Thomas is the author of Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, and the “Cowgirl Dreams” novel trilogy, based on her grandmother who was a roughstock rodeo rider in Montana during the 1920s. She is a member of the Professional Writers of Prescott, Women Writing the West, edits, writes and teaches classes in north-central Arizona.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Being Your Own Text Doctor

Image by Oliver Symens, via Flickr
Not long ago, I came across a folder of materials I used while I was teaching at the University of St. Andrews. Among the files was a questionnaire I devised for my Creative Writing students to help them assess their own work from the perspective of an editor (or, as in this case, the members of their academic examining committee).

There are four categories of five questions apiece: Plot,Characterization, Setting and Atmosphere, and The Writer’s Craft. It occurs to me that this self-assessment questionnaire might be helpful to fiction writers in general who are trying to gauge whether their manuscript is ready for submission.

A) Plot
  • Does the work feature a strong/striking central idea around which the action of the plot revolves?
  • Is the central concept sufficiently robust to be conveyed in a single "pitched" paragraph?
  • Is the action well-paced, reflecting a balance between incident and exposition?
  • Does the main plot advance logically in terms of cause and effect?
  • Are all subplots accounted for, or are there loose ends in need of resolution?
B) Characterization
  • Are the principle characters well-rounded in terms of back story?
  • Do characters behave consistently with respect to their age, gender, social and educational background, experience and temperament?
  • Does character dialogue and interaction contribute to the development of plot and theme?
  • Do the characters use language appropriate to the characters themselves and the work’s target readership?
  • Do important characters undergo significant change or growth in response to their experiences in the story?
C) Setting and Atmosphere
  • Is the setting well-established in terms of time and place by means of descriptive imagery and selective detailing?
  • Have relevant back story elements been artfully accounted for in terms of background research and character profiling?
  • Are atmosphere and mood effectively generated by means of figurative language?
  • Do factors relating to setting and atmosphere enhance plot action and character tensions?
  • Does setting and atmosphere contribute to thematic development?
D) The Writer's Craft
  • Is exposition conveyed via a variety of expository techniques?
  • Is character dialogue crisp and to the point, or is it wordy and overblown?
  • Does the writer employ foreshadowing and/or irony to good effect?
  • How effective has the writer been in "staging" scenes, paying due regard for the use of props and choreography of action?
  • Does the work throughout exhibit a polished command of diction, syntax, and the ornaments of language?
If you’re honest with yourself, the answers you provide will help you identify aspects of your story that may need of further polishing.

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

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Banding Together for Promotion

Booklover's Bench
With this month's theme being promotion, instead of promoting my own newest release (because I've already hyped Deadly Production in my last post), I thought I'd give a plug to my author group, Booklover's Bench.

BSP—Blatant Self Promotion—gets old in a hurry. If all anyone ever sees from you is Buy My Book, you'll lose them in a hurry. And, quite frankly, especially if you're an indie author, a great deal of your time—time that could be spent writing—has to be devoted to marketing. If not your time, then you'd have to hire someone, which costs money.

A couple years ago, at the Novelists, Inc. (NINC) conference, a group of established authors presented a panel on their "Lifeboat Team." Ten of them banded together to share marketing efforts, including social media time. During my usual conference recaps, I reported on this panel, and had several authors asking if I wanted to form a similar team. We were not the NYT best-selling authors the panelists at NINC were, but the concept was valid for us. (We're more of a dingy than a lifeboat, but although we operate on a shoestring budget, we've been pleased with our results.)

Serendipitously, one of our members was a web designer, so that was his contribution to the group. We split the cost of domain hosting, but he did the site itself. Because time is at a premium for all of us (one of the reasons we banded together in the first place), we've kept things simple. Each of us has a small task we're responsible for. For most of us, it's under an hour a month of our time. We don't sell anything, so there's no money to track.

From the start, given we were all struggling to be noticed in the vast sea of authors, our primary goal was to increase visibility. For this, instead of shouting Buy My Book, we shout Buy Jane's Book; I read it and it's great. That has a LOT more credibility. We are all active in various social media sites, and we all have lists devoted to our group which we check for posts to share or retweet. Sharing on Facebook is the way to go—it's liking on steroids, and expands reach tremendously.

Another goal was to increase our direct reach via our mailing lists. Tweets have a shelf life of minutes. Facebook shows your posts to a mere fraction of your friends or likers. Facebook can decide to remove your friends, and since you can't track them, they're gone. (This happened to a well known author and marketing guru, who woke up to find she'd lost 4000 of her "friends.") But your newsletter list is yours, and you control the content.

Our strategy was simple. Give stuff away. We have contests every month. But in order to enter one of our contests, the terms and conditions say you agree to be added to all the group members' newsletter lists. Opting out, of course is always part of the terms.

When we began, and each year on our anniversary, we've given away major prizes: a Nook, a Kindle, and an iPad mini. But the other 11 months of the year, it's a $25 gift card to Amazon or B&N, and we rotate the donors monthly, so we're only spending our money on these prizes every 6-8 months.

We've also begun a new "Let's Talk" feature, because our goal is to attract readers. Again, we rotate these posts through our group, so we're only writing one every 6-8 weeks, and the authors can donate a prize or prizes of their choice.

One other cross promotion technique we've used is giving away prizes in each others' newsletters. Readers like to see something other than "all about me" when they get these, and with the opportunity to give away more prizes without having to spend the money on more than one has worked out well. All of us have seen huge leaps in our newsletter subscribers.

If you're reading this today (June 18th), you still have time to enter our June contest on the site. And while you're there, be sure to check out the "Let's Talk" features as well. Those change weekly, and you never know who might be offering a prize. Pop over and let us know what you think.

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, June 17, 2015

Making a Book Trailer

I had always wanted to create a book trailer. I’d seen others do it and thought if they could do it, so could I. Microsoft Movie Maker came loaded on my computer, so why not give it a try? I figured out how it worked by trial and error and a tutorial, then made an outline of the story, something I don’t do with my books. I’m strictly a pantser with an idea of where I’m going. A vague idea.

So which book did I want to present in visuals? It really was a no-brainer—Hooked.
It’s the book in which I see my characters more clearly than the others. Plus, the story lends itself to a trailer. Hooked is the book I chose for my first, and last, effort at writing a screenplay. I even entered it in a competition, getting nowhere, but it was another challenge I wanted to try. I thought it would make a fun movie, because if you have a certain sense of humor, parts of the book are funny, and there’s enough suspense to keep today’s impatient viewer interested. I cast Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the leads. Yeah, right!

I began the trailer where the book starts, with Lincoln Walsh, NYPD sex crime investigator, seeking out Tawny Dell, retired call girl extraordinaire, on a South Carolina beach to hook her into going undercover in a high-class New York City brothel to find out who was killing prostitutes. If she doesn’t comply, he’ll turn her over to the IRS for avoiding to pay taxes on all that money she stashed overseas. Yes, it’s blackmail. He has her over a barrel with no way out other than to do what he wants. I described Linc as looking like an old Roman coin, and Tawny would stop traffic even in the land of beautiful people.

It’s not unusual in the high-priced world of New York call girls for Tawny to know the owner of the brothel, ex-Wall Street hedge fund manager and first-class letch, Benny Cooper. He’d been trying to hook her into his harem for years.
Tawny also knows of his wife, Eileen, another retired call girl who latched on to her Pretty Woman millionaire.
And while Tawny’s doing undercover work for the police, who should turn up at the brothel? Her old client, Mario Russo, mob boss of one of New York’s five boroughs. Complicated enough?

I used four different sources for my photos and found a great site for the music to pull it all together. The music ran a little short, but it was dramatic and conveyed danger. All are listed at the end of the trailer.

I made a few mistakes, but I didn’t realize it until it played a number of times and people mentioned it. I should have let the review copy run a little longer. One of them zips by too fast, but the viewer can always Pause the video. Two other mistakes I should have seen without help. I won't mention what they are. I didn't want to correct them because I’d lose all my views on YouTube. The whole trailer cost me just under $100, but it took about three days to make, which included searching for the perfect photos. Watch the video here:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Stress Relief for the Deskbound

Greetings, duckies! Anyone who has ever totted up the checkbook after a shopping spree knows about the tension that can settle around the neck and shoulders. Take that tension and multiply it by several hours each day, every day, and you have an idea of what authors often deal with.

If ever you find your shoulders clamped against your ears (and you’re not at a rock concert or fending off bargain hunters at a closeout sale), consider having a go at these simple yet effective moves. 

Questions, comments, considerations? How do you deal with muscle tension at your desk?

As a devotee of Chocolate Therapy, The Style Maven was originally skeptical of yoga. Having lived through one of the Padded Shoulder fashion eras, she is now convinced of the benefits of muscle-relaxing practices.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Synopsis Dread

I finished my new novel, The Masks on Grandmother’s Wall, months ago. I had it edited. The editor suggested I expand some parts. So I did. The novel is now complete, and I am very happy with it. But now comes the icky part.

I have to write a synopsis for the book proposal. I’m okay with writing the promotion plans, my bio, competitive analysis, all that stuff. But for some reason I just detest writing synopses, at least of my own work. So for nearly six months I have been putting this chore off. And The Masks on Grandmother’s Wall is still patiently waiting …

So finally I made myself write a synopsis. But because of my issues around writing synopses, I don’t know whether it’s a good synopsis, or a bad one, or just mediocre. Therefore I am sharing it on this blog, to see if someone will give me their opinion.

So here it is, the synopsis of The Masks on Grandmother’s Wall. What do you think? Would you want to read this book? Please comment. (But be gentle.)

   The Masks on Grandmother’s Wall is a short novel of 29,000 words, including fifteen original animal folktales. It is about the power of storytelling and how it connects, inspires, teaches, and heals us. It is about the elusive nature of truth and the illusion of safety. Finally, it is about the search for identity, and finding a place where you belong.

   Long ago, or maybe only yesterday, cousins Emma and Lucy arrive at their grandmother’s empty house. They have come to pack up Grandma’s studio after her death. Grandma was a storyteller and mask artist, and memories of her stories and masks come flooding back during the afternoon Emma and Lucy spend at her seemingly now-empty house.

   While they take the masks off the wall of the studio and wrap them up, Emma and Lucy tell each other some of the stories that go with the masks. The fifteen stories they choose are told in the classic folk-tale style, companions to animal masks, such as the Beaver who tells “How to Lighten Up,” the Flea who tells “How to Stop an Itch,” the Frog who tells “How to Take a Leap of Faith,” and so on, until they come to the final story, the Spider, who tells “How to Find Your Way Home.”

   Emma and Lucy are young women in their twenties, closer than most cousins and also close to their grandmother, to whom they often told their problems and griefs. These problems are still operating in their lives, but Grandma is no longer there to help them. Emma is a self-described “waffler” who cannot decide on a profession or a man, and dismisses her inborn talents that are obvious to others but not to her. Lucy is a budding archaeologist in love with scientific facts and fearful of anything that could be described as “deep.”

   As they tell the stories and wear the masks, the narrative shifts between Emma and Lucy. Until the last story when Grandma herself, through the mask of Spider, again helps Emma and Lucy discover truths about themselves.

   And so it ends, or maybe it is just beginning. 

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, June 12, 2015

Family Connections

A heartbroken widow sacrifices her dream job, an angry daughter attacks her mother, the premature birth of twins threatens to cause yet another loss, an abusive relationship devastates the family, and a brother sets out to collect all that is “rightfully” his — these are just some of the family connections that pepper this cozy thriller.

Interactions among family members always provide great grist for our writing mills. Powerful emotions and situations that many people relate to create strong hooks for readers. The following excerpts from A Brother Betrayed play on this theme. The book is scheduled for release very soon if all goes as planned.

Katherine Kohler shivered and pulled the Afghan up around her neck. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep on the couch again, but her bed felt so empty without Ed.

Sleep had come fitfully, and now, in the first cold rays of dawn, her eyes popped open for the umpteenth time. As the room came into focus, her gaze rested on the photograph that shimmered in the pale beam of the night light. She and her husband had posed for it three weeks before, on their twenty-ninth wedding anniversary. His pleased smile said it all when he’d placed it on the piano next to the vase of her favorite yellow roses. Had that been just ten days ago? It seemed so much longer.

*  *  *  *  *

Like a video on fast forward, the past two weeks flashed through her mind. Her husband’s last words that had brought her to this place in time still baffled her. Print shop. Promise. Stop. The agony in his voice had torn at her heart.

She stared again his picture. “What am I supposed to stop, Ed?”

Whatever it was, she had given up the job she loved for it — the job she'd worked so many years to get. And now nothing made any sense at all.

The face in the photograph smiled back at her; but the wilted, yellow petals scattered around the vase of bent, barren stems spoke only of death.

*  *  *  *  * 

“Katie, dear, what on earth has happened?” The gleeful glint in [Oren's] eyes mocked the concern in his voice.

“There was a fire.”

“I’m so, so sorry. Why didn’t you call me? You know I would have been there for you. Edmund would want me to be there for you.”

“Thank you, Oren,” she forced herself to say. “But I knew you didn’t have your truck. Besides, I didn’t want to bother you.

“Bother me? You’re my brother’s widow. It’s my responsibility to take care of you in your time of need.”

*  *  *  *  *

Very successful business…that had a great ring to it. And it was very successful, wasn’t it? The thought of the check in [Oren's] pocket made him wonder. The bank manager had said there were insufficient funds to cover it, but he’d seen the register. He knew the money was there. Unless...
Kent! So Katherine wasn’t the only snake in the grass. Her good-for-nothing son was doctoring the company books, stealing what rightfully belonged to his uncle. Well, one more jerk would go down the tube. He could almost feel Edmund’s disappointment in his family. It was a good thing his brother wasn’t there to feel it himself.

“That’s okay, bro. I’m handling this personally.”

GaborFromHungary via MorgueFiles
Family connections (or lack of them) affect the vast majority of us in one way or another, and my stories always include them — which isn't to imply that they lack action, intrigue, love interests, etc. My next re-release, Treacherous Tango, due out in the fall, uses them, too, but in very different settings and ways.

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, June 11, 2015

An Author's Two Paths To Happiness

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee

I’m living a double life: promoting the new edition of my memoir while also pitching my novel to agents. In one life, I’ve arrived at a pinnacle. In the other, I’m standing breathless on a false summit, staring up the steep slope ahead, wondering if I’ll ever reach the top. The view always promises to be better up there, but I find it important to pause and appreciate the climb.

Back in 2006 to 2007, I began researching my historical novel. I explored East LA and El Paso from my grandmother’s and father’s point of view; interviewed family, locals, and historians; read books about Chinese-American and Mexican-American history; and studied archival photos and articles. That same year, I sent fifty queries to agents to pitch my recently completed memoir, They Only Eat Their Husbands.

In 2007, I registered a synopsis of the novel I planned to write, Daughter on the Borderline, with the Writers Guild of America, West. That same year, I landed an agent for my memoir. We soon had a nibble from a major publisher. I naively told my husband, “Our lives are going to change!”

By 2008, no publishers had bitten, but something did change: I wised up to the fact that I was writing for love, not money or fame. I spent the next year pitching my memoir to two-dozen small presses. I also took my novel research to China, where I found my great-grandfather’s village and interviewed a ninety-nine-year-old cousin.  

In 2009, I began actually writing my novel, renamed Tortillas from the Chung King Café. That same year at Denver’s Lighthouse LitFest, I landed a contract with Ghost Road Press for my memoir. I called my husband, jumping like a cheerleader, shrieking, “I have a publisher!”

In 2010, every time I sat down to write my novel, I felt like a castaway floating in a small boat in a vast ocean. Although my memoir read like a novel, it had not prepared me for the challenge of fiction. I took classes at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and discovered how much I didn’t know. I also realized how much I didn’t know about China, and returned for more research. That same year, my memoir came out, and I gave talks on writing and travel.

In 2011, I traveled to Chihuahua, Mexico, infamous for its drug war, to do more research for the novel, then called Tortillas from the Canton Café (I worried that Chung King sounded like a canned food company). I completed about 100 pages, That same year, I drove around the West on a book tour for my memoir.

In 2012, I accepted what fellow authors had warned me about: my novel had the wrong protagonist. I had to rewrite half my pages. By the end of that year, at page 171, my characters had just reached America, which I had originally expected to happen around page 21. 

By 2013, I accepted what my memoir’s editor had warned me about: Ghost Road Press was going out of business. I had to find a new publisher. 

Last year, I finished a first draft of my novel. At more than 500 pages, it only told half the story I intended, but the dramatic arc felt perfect. I decided to split my original idea into two books. Meanwhile, also last year, Conundrum Press published a second edition of my memoir.

Today, I’m still rewriting the novel, but closing in on the finish. This week, I’m going to another LitFest, where my memoir will be for sale in the book tent while I meet with an agent to pitch my novel, now called The Candlelight Bridge. Here’s the basic pitch:

In 1910 a Mexican girl and a Chinese man flee revolutions and devastating losses in their two countries. In El Paso, Texas they meet and marry, but his lust for her thirteen-year-old sister threatens to destroy their lives.  

I’m nervous about the pitch, much like I was the first time, with one big difference: this time it’s just as important to me that I be excited about the agent as it is for the agent to be excited about me. I’ve trekked far enough up this mountain to believe I’m not seeking a rescuer but a partner.

Who knows if I’ll ever reach the top? They’re all false summits, aren’t they? That’s fine because I love the climb, and the unique opportunity I have as an author to walk more than one trail at a time.

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.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Superfluous Women

My new book comes out today, June 9th. Superfluous Women is the 22nd Daisy Dalrymple mystery, my 25th mystery, and my 57th book (not counting four collections of novellas).

Friday, June 5, 2015

Why Do You Write That Stuff?

It still vaguely surprises me when I tell people I write Romance and they get that startled look. That look like Romance isn’t “real” writing or that it somehow cheapens what I do compared to what other authors do. Fortunately for me, that look generally only comes from fellow authors and academics, not readers. Readers love Romance, as proven by the gigantic percentage of the book market that Romance takes up.

But do I write Romance because it sells so well, particularly in digital format for Indie authors? Nah, that’s icing on the cake. I write Romance because I love a good love story. I adore watching my heroes and heroines fall in love and overcome obstacles. And for the naysayers out there, yes, it’s escapism, and one could even argue it’s wildly unrealistic. But it’s the dream we would love to see become a reality. I love to dream.

Okay, but why the heck do I write Historical Romance, let alone Western Historical Romance? Aren’t those genres, like, really, really dead?

Those of us who write Historical Romance have been hearing that chant for years now. Historical Romance is dead. Okay, it doesn’t sell as much as Contemporary right now, and if you want to get technical, it kind of feels like Romantic Suspense is queen right now. And yeah, that does make me feel like the ugly red-headed step-child of the Romance world to an extent, but I don’t write what I write because I’m chasing trends, I just love it.

Available at Amazon, iBooks, B&N, and all those places ;)

Take my most recent Historical release, for example. Trail of Destiny is the fifth book in my Hot on the Trail series of romances set along the Oregon Trail. Although this one involves a side trip to a very early ranch in Wyoming. Sure, it’s about the Old West, and there are a few cowboys involved (although they weren’t called “cowboys” back then). But really it’s about a young woman grieving for her husband, who was killed in the Civil War. It’s about a young man who is aching to make something of himself and to move up in the world. Like any other story set in any time, it’s about two people trying to reconcile their feelings for each other and to find their way through the world.

With sex.

Because, come on. That’s the best part of a really juicy Romance novel!

Okay, I’m joking a little, because I also write sweet Romance (no open-door sex). But it is fun. It’s the stuff of life. And yeah, there are a lot of people who like to read that. Sex is an integral part of love and falling in love. Even out in the Old West.

But here’s the thing, I don’t exclusively write Historical Westerns. I do trend chase just a teensy, tiny bit. Partially to keep things fresh with my writing, partially so I can play with algorithms at Amazon and places like that. So yep, I also started a Contemporary Romance series this year. My actual newest release is the second book in that Contemporary series, One Night with a Star.

This one is an Amazon exclusive - and I'll totally do a post about going exclusive or not with Amazon at some point!

One Night with a Star is basically my answer to the question “What if you had a one night stand/summer fling with a huge movie star… and then ended up pregnant with his child?” Of course, the twist is that our heroine, who is now the mother of an adorable baby boy, is someone who the star in question, Simon,  just can’t forget. He always intended to go back to her—after sorting out some of his own major problems—but he is unaware that she’s had his son. And the heroine, Jenny, isn’t the sort to swoon and fall back into any man’s arms.

I wrote this book, this series, because I was looking for characters in the modern world that are equivalent to the dukes and princes of Historical Romance. And, of course, the answer there is movie stars! And who doesn’t want to fall in love with a movie star, or rather, have a movie star fall in love with them. Throw in some gorgeous Maine beach settings and we’re good to go.

So yep. I write Romance. Lots of Romance. It’s what my heart wants to write, and judging by the numbers, it’s what people want to read. But really, the process of crafting and writing these books is what makes me happy on a daily basis, makes me look forward to getting up and doing the work. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

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, June 4, 2015

Backing Up Your Babies

Nothing causes showers of tears, and violent bursts of expletives, more than losing a file you’ve been working on, whether it is a chapter or an entire story.

Backing up your files is easy to put off. Once you've lost important data, though, you are left with scars that are slow to heal.

Last time, we discussed how to organize your files to make backup easier. Let's look at a few ways to backup them up.

1. You can purchase a cloud storage program which backs up daily.

Pros: There are many cloud services to choose from. Some of the programs, such as Carbonite, automatically save every file every day. You can access your files from virtually any device. You don't lose the saved data if your computer crashes. You tell the program which files and folders to backup and they stay in that configuration.

Cons: There are usually monthly/annual fees.Your notebook, laptop, or PC needs to be on and have access to the internet to perform the backup. You can search for a specific file, but forget what you named it.

2. You can attach and program an external drive to backup daily.

Pros: You have your own "cloud." The drives are getting larger and less expensive every day. You don't have to access the internet or Wi-Fi to retrieve files.

Cons: The software of the backup drives can save files in a way that makes it harder to find them when you need them. They often save in "batches" by date rather than intuitively finding and replacing files that have been edited. Your device must be attached and on for the backup to take place. A savvy user can simply use it to store files and manually move them when you want to, maintaining your organizational system, but it is easy to forget to do it.

3. You can email the file to yourself at the end of every session.

Pros: Your files are safe if your computer crashes. It is free and easy.

Cons: It can be time consuming to sort through the emails and easy to forget to email them to yourself. You have to have access to the internet to mail and retrieve the files. Your in-box can fill up quickly and most have storage limits. Most services allow you to create unique folders to save your emails in. Some services will automatically erase documents after a period of time. You wouldn't want to backup all of your computer files, photos, or videos this way and risk losing them when you run out of storage space.

4. You can save the files on a USB drive at the end of every session.

Pros: They are small and easily portable. You can transfer files from one device to another. Drives are getting smaller with more memory at a less cost. You don't have to access the internet to retrieve files.

Cons: You can accidentally overwrite a previous version if you don’t rename the file. USB drives can be damaged or misplaced because of their size.

5. You can permanently move all of your files off of the device.

I have had several "blue screen of death" moments. The kind that make you feel viciously lethal and equally nauseated.

The thing that recently occurred to me is this: I don’t have to save my files on the PC, laptop, or device at all, ever.

USB pen drives and external drives come in small packages with massive memory. I currently have a pen drive with 256 gigabytes of storage space. You could store and save all of your documents and files on a USB pen or a USB connected external drive.

You can create folders and subfolders on the drive in the same manner that you would your Desktop or My Documents folder. That way, if your computer crashes, the files aren’t on it and they aren’t floating around in the cloud either. You don't need to involve the internet. You are certain your documents are on it.

After the initial cost of purchase, there is no monthly or annual fee. The USB can remain plugged into a port all of the time. When you open a file, you just need to look under the designated drive (E:, F:, or M: etc.) instead of My Documents or Desktop.

You could purchase a new drive every one or two years (just in case) and copy the files from one USB to another. If you don’t have enough USB ports on your laptop or computer, you can always add a multiple USB hub or copy all the files onto your computer then onto the new USB drive. The files are easily portable from one device to another.

I double my protection by backing up my USB drive files to an external terabyte drive at least once every 3 months along with all my photos, videos, etc.  I have terabytes of video and image files.

Both drives are plugged into USB ports and I simply copy files from one drive to another. It will save you a whole lot of heartache (and money) when your software crashes or your device dies without warning.

None of these methods keep you from accidentally overwriting a file if you don't rename it, so make a habit of renaming new versions of your manuscript with each round of changes.

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, June 3, 2015

Author Self Promotion: 6 Things to Remember

It is one of the ironies of the writing life; most writers are introverts who must morph into extroverts when it comes time to promote their wares. This isn’t just about changing hats, it’s more like changing skin. Keep in mind though…(and in no particular order)

1. There’s a slim (very slim) line between effective self-promotion and annoying pushiness. Tweeting ‘Buy My Book’ every two hours is the latter.

2. Building a writing platform takes time - in every sense of the word.
Do you need a writing platform? Yes.  However, before you strap on that tool belt, remember that the time you need to write that blog post, compose that tumblr presentation, tweet and retweet, snap that photo for sharing on Instagram, and update your Facebook and Goodreads page, can devour a great deal of the day. This can prove somewhat problematic if you also have a word count to produce and you’re not one for working into the wee hours of the morning. There's also the very real danger of falling down the rabbit hole - i.e. wandering around the internet for no reason other than 'ohhh, look at that'.  But once you've constructed that platform...remember: there is no secret formula to building a following. It simply takes time. Unfortunate but true.  Writing a post which goes viral isn't a bad start. Viral in this case is a good thing.

3. Accept that there is only so much you can control. 
This is hard. This is very hard. You can self promote with the skill of DaVinci, but luck plays a part. Your post/picture/tweet needs to be seen by the Right People. It needs to Go Viral. Viral, in this case is a good thing.

4. You do not live or die with your Klout score. 
However, if you don’t even know what this is, then I’d suggest you might have a bit to learn about social media.

5. Social media is just that - social.
You need to talk to people on Twitter, Facebook, whatever. A one note message of ‘Buy My Book Because It’s Tremendous’ will turn everyone off. Even your mother. And that’ll sting.

6. What works? Almost always, making people laugh. 
My post Before You Write went viral over on tumblr. However only writing posts which are funny isn’t funny for long. See? Comedy is a serious business. Change it up occasionally. Pictures of penguins are good. Just a suggestion.

Oh - and I write murder mystery games and host murder mystery events. My newest game, The Great British Bump Off takes place during a baking competition. If you’ve ever watched The Great British Bake Off on the BBC or as it’s called on PBS, The Great British Baking Show you’ll know the setting. If you want me to write a game just for you, I can do that. Get in touch!

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 game, Once Upon a Murder, is 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, June 2, 2015

Hailey's Chance Coming Soon, or Else!

This month at the Blood-Red Pencil, we're promoting our new releases. Well, I had hoped to finish a Women's Fiction book, called Hailey's Chance, by Easter. Then it turned into Mother's Day, and now, it looks like it'll be ready either this month, or maybe by the 4th of July! At least I have a cover to show you.

Turns out I had more thinking and researching to do about adoption in Wisconsin, a topic which I knew little about. Though the story is purely fictional, I don't want to present misleading information.

After various attempts, I finally latched onto Sandy Otto, a helpful social worker at a Wisconsin adoption agency. For her efforts, I'm including her name in the dedication.
Hailey's Chance is a standalone prequel to my December, 2014 release, Christmas Carol, and takes place in the same fictional small town of Deerview. I've become attached to that town, and plan to contribute more books taking place there.

I've included some of the same characters in the new book, even Chris Carol, the waitress who played a starring role in Christmas Carol. However, in Hailey's Chance, I'm also introducing three new people from whose points of view the story is told: That of the wife and husband who have lost their baby, and that of a birth mother who offers her own baby up for adoption. 

I'll let you and the whole world know when all is ready!

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, June 1, 2015

BSP Anxiety

Most authors hate the idea of Blatant Self Promotion (BSP) of their novels, but it's an increasingly important part of publishing success, for indie as well as legacy-published authors. To help, simply stop and breathe on a regular basis. Here's a yoga video that can help you: