Monday, August 31, 2015

Who Needs an Editor...

...when they have kids? 

Since this month has been devoted to writing about kids, or including kids in our stories, I thought I'd share a bit about writing around kids. Several years ago I wrote a blog piece here about how our kids  Help With Our Writing, and this piece today is how mine helped me with editing. This excerpt is from my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck, and originated as a column for a Dallas suburban newspaper, which is where I was first legitimized as a writer. 

 In those early years of writing I didn’t have an editor who did more than a copy edit of my work, so I was on my own when it came to content. Thank goodness I lived with five eager little editors who were willing to help me with my work and my conversations. They took it upon themselves to keep the record straight and bail me out of the perpetual state of chaos and confusion in which they were convinced I lived.

"Last Monday, when I went shopping —"

"That wasn't Monday, that was Sunday."

"Okay, so it was Sunday. Anyway, I bought six Twinkies--  "

"No you didn't. You only bought five."

“I distinctly remember buying six Twinkies."

"That was two weeks ago on Tuesday—"

"Okay, stop. I don't really care what day it was. Who ate my Twinkie?"

If they truly cared about the state of my mind, they would have realized that my mind was in fairly decent shape before they started messing with it.

At least I knew where my Twinkies were.

It became a major undertaking for me to carry on a conversation with a friend over coffee, without having one or more of the kids run into the kitchen to remind me that I was not relating an incident exactly the way it happened.

"You did not send me to Grandma's by parcel post."

"I didn't say I sent you, I said I wanted to send you parcel post:"


"Because I wasn't looking forward to a long car drive with a thirteen year old know it all."

"I don't know where you ever got that idea."

If I commented that my house looks like the Ninth Infantry just marched through it, a friend totally understand and overlooked the minor exaggeration, but the kids had to know why I didn’t call them to see the parade. They just had no appreciation for the subtleties of exaggeration, and by the time they finished correcting me, they’d wrung all the humor out of a story and it had about as much appeal as a limp dishrag.

I didn’t let them near my columns.


Please do share how your kids have helped or hindered your writing. I know any young mother can relate to the challenges.

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.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Art of Word-Painting, Part Two

Photo by Dennis Jarvis, via Flickr
As noted in last month’s post, we all want our readers to become immersed in the world we are creating. Using sensory imagery is a key element when it comes to bringing your fictional world to life. One effective technique for “translating” sensory impressions into words is to use figurative language.

The term figurative language encompasses a barnyard of rhetorical devices.

The twin work-horses in the stable are metaphor and simile, with style points for originality. Your average junior high school English student can be excused for trotting out a sentence like The stars were like diamonds scattered across against the black velvet sky. Aspiring writers need to aim higher. It’s no big deal if one of these old chestnuts finds its way into your first draft, but make yourself a mental note to upgrade your figurative language the second time around.

A good metaphor or simile depends on a single bold stroke of the imagination that establishes a previously undiscovered connection between two unlike things. The reader is invited to see both objects in a new light, sometimes on more than one level. One of my favorite examples occurs in Chapter XXVII of Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles. At this point in the book, Tess is working as a dairymaid on a thriving dairy farm. Her admirer, Angel Clare, comes looking for her on a mid-summer afternoon. Tess has been asleep, and when Clare gathers her into his arms, he notes that she was warm as a sunned cat. This simile translates the heat of the day into something palpably sensual on two counts.

Finding a good simile or metaphor demands extra imaginative effort if you’re trying to describe something big or intangible like cold or darkness. The African American poet James Weldon Johnson pulls off a beauty in The Creation. In the opening sections of the poem, he describes the primordial void:
As far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
This wonderful hyperbole anticipates the world even before God has called it into being.

Another factor to bear in mind is that the elements you bring together in your metaphors and similes should be appropriate to your narrative context. I.e., you don’t want to disrupt your own narrative continuity.1 To put it another way, the similes and metaphors you use should contribute to the overall ambiance of the story. For instance, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men is set in the American South in the first half of the 20th century. Early in the novel, the local sheriff, lounging with his feet up on his desk, abruptly snaps to attention. Warren writes His feet hit the floor like a brick chimney collapsing. The sound effect evoked by this simile never fails to make me wince.

These few examples will have to suffice for now. Watch this space for further installments.

1 If your story is set in a pre-industrial fantasy world, you need to avoid coining similes and/or metaphors that involve modern/mundane technology.

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stage a House, Revise a Novel

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee

My husband and I are selling our Denver, Colorado home at the same time I’m revising my novel. I can’t help but notice parallels. Let’s look at a few:

1) Staging my house: A real estate agent told us it might take two weeks to repair, repaint, de-clutter, and clean. It took five weeks, more than twice what we expected.

Revising my novel: Last August I hoped to finish my novel revisions by February. That would have been six months. It’s August again, and I won’t be done until October. That’s fourteen months, more than twice what I expected. I’ve always believed, “Everything takes twice as long as you expect.” Since “twice as long” is what I expect, sometimes I double that.

2) Staging my house: While de-cluttering our house, I began deciding what to keep and what to throw away for our move to Ventura, California. I recently watched a video about the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. Here’s my favorite of her tips, and I paraphrase: jettison anything that doesn’t bring you joy. I kept some things for years because they seemed “important,” but they did not bring me joy. I’m now tossing them, giving them away, or selling them. It’s liberating.

Revising my novel: Although I add material when I revise, I also catch plenty of overwriting. Some of my initial descriptions are so dense I need a machete to get through them. Here’s an example from my manuscript: "Yankee swayed forward and back, as if plowing through the push and pull of the water, as if he could will the invisible man across the water by moving in rhythm with him." Maybe the words sound nice, but they were part of an overgrown jungle that needed pruning so readers could see the forest for the trees. I’ve decided to keep the one image that gives me joy, and dump the rest. Here’s my revision: "Yankee swayed forward and back, as if he could will the unseen traveler to make it across by moving in rhythm with him." Now we’re getting somewhere, somewhere simpler to imagine.

3) Staging my house: When I saw online photos of our home, I noticed a personal item I’d left in the kitchen: a refrigerator magnet. It’s a big kitchen, with cabinets, a table, appliances, and plants. Still, that magnet pulled me in like, well, a magnet. It features an image of a fifties-style magazine model, who asks, “was she in love…or was it just allergies?” Fun, yes, but I should have removed it so it didn’t distract from the overall inviting feel of our kitchen.

Revising my novel: Sometimes the details I love most draw attention away from character development, plot, or theme. The distractions must go. However, I tread carefully. Sometimes what seems to be a distraction—say, a woman’s face on a fridge magnet—might be the most interesting thing in the scene. In that case, I would reduce the kitchen to a sketch and zoom in on the woman: who is she, what’s she doing here, what’s her secret? Either way, something has to go, so I can focus the reader’s attention where I want it.

4) Staging my house: I hate shopping. I didn’t want to buy a shoe organizer or flowers to stage my house for showings. I wanted homebuyers to see our home at face value, to say, “I can see the lovely closet floor beneath the shoes.” But now that I have a shoe organizer, it’s easier to pick shoes for the day and the closet looks nicer. Oh, and the flowers? Just three strategically placed bunches have brought the house to life.

Revising my novel: I liked my book the way it was. So did early readers. I had already reworked each chapter as I went. Why do more? But now that I see the story as a whole, I’m discovering possibilities I couldn’t imagine when I first created it from nothing. As I rearrange and add material, the story grows easier to understand, the words more beautiful, the characters more alive.

5) Staging my house: “When you de-clutter, you need to depersonalize.” – a real estate agent

Revising my novel: “This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” – Stephen King

Sometimes I read chapters I wrote, and once considered exceptional, only to ask, “Who wrote this drivel?” (Except drivel is not the word I use.) Let such thoughts not intimidate us, but instead serve as proof that we have the talent to recognize what our story—our home—can become if we’ll admit there’s more we can do…and do it.

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 Times, Denver Post, Connotation Press, Rivet Journal, and Pangyrus. 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.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Put a Child In It

Country singers, Brooks & Dunn, sang a song called, "Put a Girl In It." Its basic message implies a guy can own tons of toys, yet his life is not complete without a gal in it.

For the purpose of this post, let's substitute the word, girl, for child. There are many couples who yearn for children, and feel their lives are not whole without at least one child. Others consider children a curse.

Readers' tastes also follow on differing lines. Some enjoy reading books, no matter the genre, as long as a child is mentioned somewhere. Others feel children just get in the way of a story. I'd say, that depends on the story. Throwing a child character into the mix, with no real purpose, doesn't make sense. Every character, no matter what age, should move a plot forward in some way.

Then we come to authors, like yours truly. I usually write romances and thrillers, but happened to fall in love with a stock photo of a baby. Suddenly I was inspired to write a story wrapped around a child.

Hailey's Chance: Will Baby Make 3? is about a couple happily expecting their first child. Their unmarried neighbor is also pregnant, but is in no way happy about her situation.

When a natural disaster strikes their small town, the couple's hopes and dreams fly out the window. Then their neighbor offers a startling suggestion. The wife is leery about taking her up on the offer, yet still can't help hoping somehow she can still have a child in her life. 

Hailey's Chance: Will Baby Make 3? is actually the prequel to my previously released Christmas novella sweet romance, called Christmas Carol, and is set in the same fictional small town of Deerview, Wisconsin. I should mention that while writing Christmas Carol, I happened to fall in love with Deerview. I'm hoping to write more stories about that town's inhabitants. This particular one is not a romance per se, but a blend. I'm calling it a Christian Women's Fiction Gentle Read, for want of a better description. If you click on the Amazon link, you'll get a chance to look inside the book's beginning and decide for yourself what to call it.

Anyone care to share how or why you wrote or read a certain book? 

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
Christian Women's Fiction:  Hailey's Chance: Will Baby Make 3?  Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com    Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Dream Chaser: The Beginning

Over the last few years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to meet many successful authors. I have listened to their stories and learned from them. Two things are certain: Every writer’s path to success is seemingly different, but they all begin with a passion for books and knowledge.

I’ve learned that best-selling authors are not mutants with special powers. They’re human. They are people who have had ‘real jobs’ and regular lives, who have struggled, and have doubted themselves. But they have also persevered, standing steadfast in the pursuit of their dreams. They believed in what they were doing and kept writing until they found their place on a bookstore shelf.

My own path has been anything but conventional. Until about seven years ago, the idea of being a writer never crossed my mind. However, like so many writers, I have been obsessed with books and knowledge since childhood. I always preferred books over television and read encyclopedias like many kids read comics. Looking back, I am thankful for that obsession. Still, I spent many years thinking it was more of a curse. In a previous blog (Beat The Bully), I mentioned how I was the lonely kid at the back of the class. When I was called on by the teacher, having the right answer meant everything to me. It was my identity. That was the moment, even if fleeting, that I stood out, that I had something to offer. Being wrong was not an option for me and when I was, disappointment was an understatement.  

My life has been dictated by that need to know. If a job had nothing left to teach, I became bored and my nomadic tendencies pushed me in new directions. Among other things, I’ve been a preschool teacher, road worker, coach, tutor, competitive fighter, bouncer, horse trainer and a reptile handler. I settled on a career as a manufacturing manager for a while, but only after walking away from the music industry. I convinced myself that I was living a life of fantasy and needed to do as society dictated; get a job, build a family, and become content with my misery. 

(My path reminds me a lot of that classic Fisher Price toy where you have to fit shapes into the matching cut outs on a plastic ball. I was the toddler and my life was the block. I constantly contorted in different directions, trying to bend, squeeze, and force into molds not meant for me.)

It was that eagerness to learn, to do it all. How could I possibly know who I wanted to be if I had not yet tried everything? If there was still so much knowledge to be had, how could I find my place in the world? I went through a period of depression. I nearly conceded to all the voices that said there was no room in the world for dreamers.

Then I started writing.

At first, it was just fun. I scribbled down a few really bad poems, wrote a few kid’s stories that weren’t half bad, and I tried my hand at sports articles, covering a high school in a small town paper. Then came the inspiration for my first short story. Driving through Waitsfield, Vermont one winter I saw a frozen pond. In the middle of that pond, sitting on the ice, was an outhouse. For the town of Waitsfield, that porta-john was part of an annual contest. For me, it inspired a short story called Thin Ice. The story that would spark a wild and crazy notion to write a novel.

I dropped everything. From then on, every step I took was leading me to Colorado. I knew I wanted to be a writer. I understood it wouldn’t be easy. I was certain that it could only happen with the Rocky Mountains in sight.

So, here I am.

The first novel is complete and seeking adoption. The second novel is half written. I have a dozen others started and more ideas than I have time to write. I’m a proud, active member of Pikes Peak Writers and  director for the next Pikes Peak Writers Conference. I’m fully immersed in the writing world.

I found my place and the dream is alive. Thank you for sharing this amazing journey with me. Perhaps one day soon we can celebrate together. Not just my achievements, but yours. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the best path to success is rarely walked alone.

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, August 19, 2015

Adding a Child to an Existing Series

I was glad to see Carola Dunn had a good experience with a continuing child character in her books. I’ve been toying with the idea of adding a ten-year-old boy to my Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series to add another layer to the stories, but I’m finding that inserting a new character, especially a child, into an established series is a tricky maneuver.

The two main characters are a couple. By book three, they are living together, and part of their chemistry is playing off each other. The male character, Ernie Lucier, lost his wife and three children in a car accident eight years earlier. It left a big hole in his heart. So I thought I’d fill that empty space.

I tried to find mystery novels that had children as main characters, and I couldn’t. Most of the male/female teams in books and movies don’t have children, going back to Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. There were mysteries with cats and dogs, with recipes and humor, but no kids. The mysteries that had kids in them, were kids’ mysteries.

But plodding along where others fear to tread, I created Téo, a boy who steals a woman’s purse in Jackson Square where Diana and Ernie happen to be. I liked the beginning. Actually, I loved it. I even visualized where I was going with the plot. So I wrote chapters two and three.

I wrote Téo as part of a band of junior thieves ruled by a Dickensian Fagin character. Lucier becomes involved with the boy on a personal level. Of course the child has a backstory, as do the other wayward children in the group, and though Téo may fit for this story, I realized that I didn’t know what to do with him as a permanent character in future books.

Téo has to go to school and do homework and eat dinner. He’d need structure and supervision. Did that mean Diana has to stay at home and out of trouble? How would he fit in with an ongoing set of characters in a mainly police procedural series? Would he ruin the dynamic between the two main characters? A pair of characters on whom I’ve built dangerous plot lines where children would only be in harm’s way.

This is where I stopped writing and understood why no one writes children as permanent characters into their mystery novels.

Of course I have options.

I could write Téo out at the end, leaving Lucier saddened by the loss of a child once more. I do believe followers of the series might not be happy with that ending. But I won’t rule it out.

Another solution is I could end the series, especially if book four doesn’t hold up to the first three—heaven forbid. In that case, the boy would become part of a happy-ever-after denouement. Goodbye, Diana and Ernie. And Téo.

There is one last solution: make Téo part of the team because he has something to add no one else can. I have some ideas, but I’ll have to work them out.

Stay tuned.

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.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Children As Characters

I’ve always enjoyed having children as characters in my books. Sometimes they’re just part of the background crowd, but often they play major roles.

In my fourth Daisy Dalrymple mystery, Murder on the Flying Scotsman, Daisy’s ten-year-old stepdaughter-to-be (i.e., DCI Alec Fletcher’s daughter, Belinda) makes friends with an elderly man in the train and later finds him dead. She also finds a clue to how he died, though she doesn’t realize it. She’s important to the story in Styx and Stones, and again in Mistletoe and Murder, where she and her cousin Derek go hunting for clues in the woods and discover an ancient corset (which, however, turns out not to be a clue, to their disappointment!).

Belinda plays a part in several other books, notably Anthem for Doomed Youth, which is set partly at her boarding school. One of her school friends finds a body in that one. The cover shows Daisy calling the girls, who are lost in a maze. (The only cover that shows Belinda, with a friend, is Fall of a Philanderer.)

Some readers are disappointed when she’s missing for too long, and I get requests to put her in the next of the series.

Many of my Regencies also include children. The heroines of both Lavender Lady and Ginnie Come Lately, for instance, have large families of siblings. It’s an interesting challenge to differentiate them with age-appropriate speech and behaviour.

In the second and third books of my trilogy that starts with Miss Jacobson’s Journey, there’s a little half-Spanish girl who is three years old. The original paperback cover of Lord Roworth’s Reward had an adorable picture of her. Captain Ingram’s Inheritance takes place a few weeks later; in the meantime, if you judge by the cover, she has aged by about 5 years and bleached her hair. Ugh!!



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

Friday, August 14, 2015

Do Your Stories Include the “C” Factor—Children?

Youngsters are a part of life. While I enjoy good love stories, adventures, historical novels, and “cozy” thrillers as much as the next person, I often find them lacking if they don’t contain children in a role that fits seamlessly into the plot, even if that role is minor.

Including children in a story, however, isn’t simply a matter of injecting them into a scene to round it out. They need to “belong.” Adding the son and daughter of a third cousin twice removed—characters that appear only once in the story—doesn’t work. Their inclusion must be well thought out and an integral part of the story. And they must be spontaneous, whimsical, and outspoken as only children are.

Nearly all my books include youngsters, sometimes as secondary characters or, minimally, contributors to the development of the story, always as recurring members of the novel’s cast. Here are two short scenes from my books being released this year. The first takes place between two pre-school-aged brothers whose mother is about to have a miscarriage, the second between teenaged siblings who’ve been kidnapped. In both cases, the children play ongoing roles in the story.
by mensatic - morgueFile

  “I can’t find my Dr. Seuss book, Mamaw Barry,” five-year-old Darren interrupted in a loud voice as he bounded down the hall in his red pajamas. “Donovan took it. I’ll make him tell me where it is.” He looked up at Katherine. “Hi, Gram Kohler.” Then he turned and ran back toward the room he shared with his two-year-old brother. “I’m gonna get you, Donovan! I want my Cat in the Hat!” Indignant screams from Donovan added to the din.
  “Oh, my goodness!” Martha Barry hurried after Darren. Katherine closed the door and followed her.
  A few moments later Martha sat on the end of a twin bed, smoothing Darren’s tousled brown hair. He clutched the book his little brother had suddenly found under the covers.
  Donovan ran to Katherine, arms raised and waving. “Up, Gram-Gram. Don’van up.”
  She scooped him into her arms. He looked so like Anne had at his age…and so like Ed. Wrapping his little arms around her neck, he nuzzled his face into her shoulder. “Love you, Gram-Gram.”
  “Mommy went to the hospital,” Darren announced. He crawled down from Martha Barry’s lap and stood in front of Katherine. “Daddy took her there because her tummy hurt, and the babies inside her are too little to come out.”
  Mali pulled the ladder into the corridor and set it under one of the non-working vents. Dragging the mattress from his bed, he placed it next to the ladder. Then he went back into the bedroom and brought out the battery-operated clock.
  “What are you doing?” Haley asked.
  “I’m setting up my telegraph station.”
  “Your what?”
  “My telegraph station.”
  “This isn’t the Wild West, and you aren’t wiring the next railway station about an Indian attack.”
  “Every little while I’m going to climb that ladder and tap out an SOS. Somebody might hear it.”
  “The more you go up and down that ladder, the harder you’re going to breathe. And the harder you breathe, the more oxygen you’re using. That means all our lives are a little bit shorter because you want to spend your last hours fulfilling some stupid fantasy.”
  “Got any better ideas, big sister?”
  “What I’ve got is a headache. It stinks in here.”
  Mali gave her a serious look. “You think we’re gonna die, don’t you?”
  “I don’t want to think that, but I can’t help it.”
  “So think positive. We’re gonna get out of here.” He looked up at the vent over the ladder.
  “I wish I could believe that.” She was quiet for a moment. “I wanted to have kids someday. Mom and Dad would love being grandparents.”
  “Do you think they’ll have more kids if we never come back?”

by naomickellog - morgueFile

How do you include children in your stories? Would you like to share a short scene to show your technique for integrating them realistically into your plot?

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Writing for Children

“I have an idea for a children’s book. Who should I pitch it to?”

I see this question often on writing forums and it takes willpower to refrain from posting, “Whoa, back it up, Nelly.”

Writing for children is hard, hard work. I do not advise attempting it without a thorough understanding of children’s literature. The best place to start is the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators.

Children’s literature has multiple categories based on age. There are board books, early picture books, standard picture books, easy readers, transition books, chapter books, etc. Picture books in particular have specific page and layout restrictions. There are language expectations based on target audience. You can find a list of categories at Write For Kids.

At the very least, you should peruse Writing Children's Books for Dummies and the current version of the Children's Writers and Illustrators Market book.

Go into a bookstore and head to the children’s section. The first thing you will notice is it is full of “classic” children’s books, the books parents of baby boomers read to them. Then there are successful series by writers such as Mercer Mayer's Little Critter series and Stan and Jan Berenstain’s Berenstain Bear series.

There are shelves of Little Golden Books. Disney has rows of spin off books. There is a special category for marketing-related books that tie in to specific movies, products, or television cartoons, such as Barbie, My Little Pony, Sesame Street, and Dora the Explorer, etc. Publishers in this category hire their own writers or contract with specific freelancers. Unless you have their permission, and it is highly unlikely they’ll give it to you, you can forget “fan fiction” or spin offs.

I have critiqued a few stories meant for children. There was usually a kernel that could have made a wonderful children’s story, but the writer was unwilling to switch the focus away from the adult characters or adjust the words to suit the audience.

"I am writing a children's book. I need an artist willing to split the profits with me."

This is another post I see often. Illustrating a book is a specific skill set. There is nothing worse than a children's book with amateur artwork.

Illustrations require a high level of craft. Artists are not willing to put in the man hours for free, nor should they be expected to. There is no guarantee your book will sell one copy, much less the thousands it would take to pay them back for their efforts. You can commission an artist to do work for you, but expect to pay hundreds of dollars per image for their time and expertise. You may not share the same vision.

If you go the traditional route, publishers prefer their own illustrators. In most instances, the writer does not interact with the illustrator directly. There are examples of brilliant collaboration and, once in a while, a brilliant writer/illustrator comes along. That is not the usual case.

If you wish to join the ranks of illustrious children’s book writers or illustrators, keep in mind that the gates to the children’s market are higher and thicker than the entry into genre fiction markets.

I'm not saying you can't do it on your own or even publish it on your own. These days, with POD technology being what it is, it is possible. In fact, I'd go so far to say as a book written by you would make an excellent gift for your children or grandchildren if you have the talent. You can find stock art images on many sites. Some are free. Others have fee and licensing options, just search for "stock images." You can visit Deviant Art and scroll through the hundreds of artists there. Some offer their work for free, others charge. You can find artists willing to draw illustrations for a fee.

However, if you want to break into the professional market, it won't be easy.

It is a small community. Networking is as important as a full understanding of the craft. I advise joining SCBWI and attending conferences, taking classes (online or in person), and exploring the rich world of children’s literature before picking up your pencil.

Unless, you just want to doodle for your own enjoyment, in which case I highly recommend starting with the Prismacolor line of erasable pencils.

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.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Importance of Imagination and Play in Writing

Years ago, I traveled to a library to talk about storytelling with a group of children.

It was my first time, and I was so nervous.

Why? Because children can be brutally honest. Unlike adults, they haven't had time to develop a filter to which they feed their opinions before spewing them out (though these days, a lot of adults have forgotten their filters, but I digress). I was worried the children would be bored or rude or want to be anywhere but in a library--on a Saturday afternoon no less.

But I was wrong.

As I approached a long conference table, I was met with a full house of children with wide eyes, stacks of paper, and pencils and pens at the ready.

After I introduced myself, I went around the table and had the children introduce themselves. Many talked about why they loved writing. Some of them even wanted to be writers.

We talked about their favorite stories, favorite characters. We talked about setting, plot, conflict, and other storytelling elements, and I found them eager to learn the components.

Toward the end of the presentation, I had the children write their own stories. I gave them a character, a setting, and a conflict, and off they went, scribbling furiously upon the paper.

I couldn’t help but to smile as they wrote. I watched as some looked toward the ceiling, thinking hard. Some had their foreheads nearly touching the paper they wrote upon. Others showed their writing to neighbors and giggled.

There was a joy there. It was as if they were using their entire beings to create the stories they wrote.

In spending that afternoon with these young, budding writers, I learned several things, but two have stuck very close to me as a writer:

  1. Use all of your IMAGINATION—there are no limits.
  2. Even if writing is “work,” integrate PLAY into the process.

Images by Sicha Pongjivanich/

Often as writers, we can become complacent, find ourselves in a rut and not know how to pull ourselves out. We might be afraid to try something different, like a new genre, or a new form. These children jumped into writing as a form of play, and in doing so, it activated all of their senses. Did some of the stories not make sense? Oh, most definitely. As I had each child read his/her story, we all spent a good deal of time laughing at the unlikelihood of some of the story events even happening. But the absurdity of the story didn’t stop the children from writing. They stayed on the page. They wrote until I called time's up.

Even with deadlines and writer’s block, and agents and editors on our heels asking for new material, we should remember to be playful, to be unencumbered with our words as we spin tales. Let that joy and exuberance and imagination feed the desire to write… and to keep on writing.

Do you add PLAY and IMAGINATION to your writing process? If so, how?

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, August 7, 2015

Being a Stage Mom for Your Book Baby

Photo by Bonnie Burton, courtesy of the Star Wars photostream on Flickr

The term ‘stage mom’ provokes an instant, visceral reaction in most of us. We immediately conjure up images of pushy parents, barging into agent’s offices or haranguing a director for more screen or stage time, or else we picture painfully young girls dressed in puffy dresses with make-up. It’s not necessarily a pretty sight.

But I have to say, from my years in theater, there is a good side to stage mom-ery. Those are the moms who get up early every day, make sure their child has a nourishing breakfast, drives them to classes and lessons and auditions, and supports them every step of the way in their dream of greatness.

As writers—yep, you guessed it—we need to be stage moms for our book babies. We’re the ones who brought them into the world, after all. We’re the ones who have to get them looking their best, make sure they’re ready to go out there in the world, and we’re the ones who have to be their biggest cheerleaders once they face the public.

But just like traditional stage moms, there’s a right way to go about supporting your baby and a wrong way. These days, whether you’re self-published or traditionally published or something in between, a lot of the onus for promotion of books falls on our shoulders. The budgets for big media blitzes paid for by the publisher are gone, so we’re the ones who have to get that book baby up in the morning and make sure it shines.

Think of promotion as helping your child become the best little ballerina or sports star that it can be. The right way to do that is to know your industry, to research what audition opportunities—I mean, promotional vehicles are right for your story. Yeah, sure, we all know that BookBub is the gold standard for promotional sites, just like Hollywood and Broadway are the pinnacle of aspiring young actors, but it’s important to look for regional productions—or smaller promo sites, like The Fussy Librarian, Robin Reads, or The Midlist—on your way to the big time. The important thing is knowing how to best use your energy to support that book baby in the most effective way.

But like that initial image we all have of a stage mom, there is a wrong way to go about promoting your books. Think about all of the things that we find most obnoxious about stage moms. They’re pushy, they get in people’s faces, they have a way higher opinion of their child than that child warrants. All of these things correlate with wrong ways to promote a book.

There is a fine line between being proactive and being pushy. Pushy is emailing all of your friends and family and telling them to buy your book. Proactive is maintaining a mailing list newsletter of people who have subscribed to receive notice when you have a new book out. Pushy is spamming Facebook or Twitter with Buy My Book messages every five minutes in every thread and message board you can find. Proactive is seeking out appropriate forums to post those messages and posting them once—ONCE—or, yes, paying for a boost. Pushy is attacking anyone who leaves you a bad review. Proactive is learning from criticism and applying the lessons learned to the next book.

All of these are things that we know or should know as writers, but it’s amazing how quickly we forget when it’s our baby out there in the world. If you find yourself trying to promote your latest and wondering if you’re too much of a book stage mom, imagine how you would feel and how you would react if you were presenting your child in the same way. At the end of the day, our books really are our babies, and should be treated accordingly.

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.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

10 Ways to Parent Your Manuscript

Many writers refer to their books as their children, so why not treat your manuscript like a child?

1. FOOD. A child must be fed and so must a manuscript. Food = words written.

2. PLAY. A child needs to play and so does a manuscript - or more precisely, its writer. Anyone who has read some of my posts about writing, knows I’m a planner, but I also advocate giving yourself the freedom to wander off that carefully-laid path occasionally. Remember, without that crucial question of ‘What if…’ nothing happens.

3. SLEEP. A child needs to sleep. So does your manuscript. Once you finish that first draft, let it sleep in a drawer. Time away is good. Think of it as recharging your batteries before the next round - just like those naps your toddler takes give you precious time to find your sanity.

4. FRIENDS. A child needs friends. So does your manuscript - but we call them beta/first readers and editors.

5. RULES. A child needs to know who’s boss - and it’s not them. Yes, it’s tricky to get a 2 year old (or a 15 year old) to acknowledge that they’re not all-knowing and the Boss of Everything, but your manuscript can be just as troublesome. Discipline is involved. This is where outlining helps. Think of an outline as your manuscript’s playpen (or, as it was known in my household, the Baby Jail).

6. ROUTINE. Children need a routine so they know what’s coming next - or perhaps it was me as a parent who wanted to feel a bit of control in those toddler years - in any case, routine is good. Having a writing routine for your manuscript is also good. Try to write at the same time each day (or night) even if it’s ten minutes. It gives your work the respect it needs because if you don’t respect it enough to give it time, who will?

7. TO BE HEARD. Children must be listened to - its how we know when they’re hungry, bored, in trouble, etc. Also, there’s a reason why ‘Out of the mouthes of babes’ rings true! Manuscripts must be heard as well. On one level, your manuscript will tell you if you’re going wrong; your characters will stop talking to you. Seriously. This happens. On another level, literally listening to your manuscript, i.e. reading it out loud is a wonderful way to uncover mistakes you hadn’t noticed. Wrong rhythms leap out when you read out loud.

8. SMILES. There is nothing like seeing your baby smile (when it’s really a smile, not gas). Every manuscript needs to smile too - humour, people! Every manuscript needs it.

9.  LOVE. Of course we know a child needs love, but so does your manuscript! How else could you stick with it? It’s a different kind of love than for a child, of course, but I would argue it comes from a similar place.

10.  REWARDS. For the child, this could be a special treat, for the manuscript - publication!

Elspeth Futcher is an author and playwright. Thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by Her A Fatal Fairy Tale, Deadly Ever After and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the Internet.  Elspeth's newest game, The Great British Bump Off is now available from her UK publisher, Red Herring Games, as is her Once Upon a Murder. Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Children in Writing

When I first began moodling the main characters in my murder mystery series - a high-powered attorney who is a partner in the family law firm, and his new bride, a child psychologist and writer - they were mostly just the perfect couple on whom I could hang my social justice plots. But the two of them had different ideas about how their relationship, and their life together, would develop.

First, both developed a strong focus toward building their rural kingdom (it's just a setting, damnit!), and before long, having children and raising a family became a huge issue, especially for my heroine. How do characters take over like that? Soon I found myself searching for photos of the perfect redheaded boy to enter the story (perhaps in book #3 after the heroine suffers some fertility anguish?), instead of teaching readers about the dangers of GMO crops, fracking, and other really important stuff.

Children add elements to fiction that completely change the dynamics of a story, just as they do in real life. This month on the Blood-Red Pencil, we'll explore the topic of children as related to writing, publishing, and even teaching. With back-to-school themes on many minds, it's perfect timing.

We're also welcoming a new member to the blog - Jason P. Henry - who has contributed two posts recently, and now will share his journey to publication every month, as well as information about the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, which he is heading up this year.

Be sure to bookmark this blog and visit us on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to join the conversation. You can also connect with us on Twitter and Facebook. We love your questions and input, so please leave us a comment!

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter