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Showing posts from December, 2016

A Matter of Style—On or Off the Grid

This top post of 2016 was first published on March 17. Image courtesy of vikas bhargava Hello, dearies! While Mother Nature has seen fit to deck the yards in our neck of the woods (So many lovely daffodils!), there are a great many readers who are suffering the ravages of floods and other assorted nasty weather. To them we send our wishes for safety and a quick recovery. I will admit that while the local weather has been mild, the interior of my home currently looks like Tornado Alley. It’s bad enough that the squirrels are laughing at me; I’m unable to locate my beloved Chicago Manual of Style! Fear not, duckies. Whilst grumbling and tossing various bits of clutter, it is still entirely possible to set one’s mind at ease regarding elements of writing style. Simply visit the online edition ! For a fee, groups and individuals may access everything that the print edition has to offer, as well as taking part in the Forum, an online kaffeeklatsch for writers and reader

Character Goals

This top post of 2016 was first published on April 21. It's spring in the northern hemisphere, and a good time to check in with our goals (especially those we might have made a few months ago at the start of the year). But what about our characters? To create a life-like character the reader will identify with, like, and root for, we must give that character motivation and goals. What does your character care about? This element of caring sets the character up in how he/she is going to live life, how he’s going to react to certain things. Giving your character something to care about commits her to a stance to live by. What next? We know what our character cares about, so now what? We have to challenge him, threaten her and what they care about. You throw them into a situation that challenges the part of them that cares and threatens the thing they feel is important. A precious collection is stolen. A girl enters a dangerous relationship. Perhaps it’s a parent whose c

Who's Telling This Story Anyway?

This top post of 2016 was first published on May 24th. Photo by Cara Lopez Lee I’ve heard some fiction authors talk about characters as if the writer is the boss and the characters are employees who do what the boss tells them to do. I’ve heard other authors talk about characters as if the inmates are running the asylum: the writer enters the schizophrenic place in his or her mind where imaginary people appear, and those people say and do things that feel outside the writer’s control. Just who’s in charge here? In the instance of characters as employees, sometimes the author has a plan and then changes his or her mind, and the characters follow the new plan. In the instance of characters as instigators, sometimes the author has a plan and then the characters change their minds, because they know that nobody with their characteristics would ever engage in such shenanigans. We sometimes say such characters have minds of their own, but since they live in our minds, aren’t

Editors Rant: Jessica d'Arbonne

This top guest post of 2016 was first published on September 13. The stupid mistakes that put me in a rejecting mood: As an acquiring editor, I spend many weary hours combing through my slush pile. Sometimes this process is exciting and fulfilling—like when I find exactly the sort of diamond in the rough I’ve been hoping to find for months. And sometimes it’s the worst part of my day. But it’s never more baffling, tedious, aneurism inducing, and annoying than when I’m faced with stupid and avoidable mistakes. Many of these mistakes are merely nuisances, and not automatic cause for rejection. But think about it: why would you risk putting an editor in a bad mood right before she reads your query letter? Other mistakes are so egregious or just plain brainless that they immediately set off my highly sensitive Reject Reflex (every editor has one). If you’re the sort of author who takes painstaking, neurotic care with every one of your query letters, it’s probably unimaginable t

Encounters with Книги

This top post of 2016 was first published on May 10. Дом Книги (Dom Knigi—the House of Books) - Moscow Recently my editor told me translation rights for the first three books of my Daisy Dalrymple mysteries have been sold to a Russian publisher. As I studied Russian (50 years ago!), I’m hoping that not only do they follow through and print them, but that they send me copies, which doesn’t always happen. I would definitely attempt to brush up my Russian to read them—or at least bits of them. If you’ve never been to Russia, you probably don’t know how incredibly generous the Russian people are. You have to be careful about what you admire, because they’ll give it to you. Before I realized this, I was given several classical LPs and some books. (Both were subsidized in the USSR.) I still have all but one—a tiny volume, about 1 1 / 4 " by 2", of poetry. I mentioned it to an academic librarian friend who was excited about having recently received a box of miniature books

An Excerpt from Succulent Wild Love by SARK and Dr. John Waddell

This top post of 2016 was first published on February 4. We wouldn't want to neglect real life (a.k.a. non-fiction) in our month of romance from the male perspective, so we are delighted to run an excerpt from Succulent Wild Love , a new book co-authored by SARK with her beloved, Dr. John Waddell . The happy couple share their advice on how we can all keep the love and romance in our lives even when there's only one piece of blueberry pie left.  Believe You Can Create a Joyful Solution An Excerpt from Succulent Wild Love Most people spontaneously look for solutions that meet everyone’s needs. We want to please the people we love and want to please ourselves. It’s when we get stuck that we start to look for a compromise or think someone has to sacrifice. To create a Joyful Solution, you start with the attitude that everyone can get what they want. That is the biggest factor. Starting from that approach is so powerful because when you believe that everyone can get wh

Things I Learned From Listening to Audio Books

This top post of 2016 was first published on May 31. I have been absent from The Blood-Red Pencil for several months. Just thought I'd point that out in case you hadn't noticed (smile). I was laid low - really low - with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome the end of January, and it has just gotten to the point where I can do more than recline and listen to audio books. No reading, no writing, no television, no driving; and for several weeks nothing more than hobbling from the bed to the bathroom to the couch at my daughter's house. One of my sons joked that Ramsay Hunt must have been a CIA interrogator in a past life. I believe it. While being incapacitated, I did a lot of thinking about how other authors deal with health issues that throw great challenges at them. A blind writer who continually loses tools no amount of technology can replace. A friend who slogged through her last book hampered by the sludge of a mind drowning in personal problems. Another friend who continued

When Do You Fire A Protagonist?

This top post of 2016 was first published on June 9th. Image from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen/Illustrator: Charles E. Brock (Macmillan & Co, 1895) I picked the wrong protagonist. It took 20 versions and 100 pages of my historical novel-in-progress for me to admit fellow work-shoppers were right. I value feedback from writers I respect, but I do take care to avoid group-think. In this case, colleagues simply called to my attention what my manuscript was already screaming: “You have to rewrite me from a different point of view!” The problem was that I had chosen to write a story revolving around a girl who was only three years old at the start of the tale. I thought she would turn thirteen within a couple of chapters. She didn’t. I had one other point-of-view character to play with, but he was already playing the role of antagonist. Many great adult novels have child protagonists— To Kill A Mockingbird , A Tree Grows in Brooklyn , and The Secret Life of Bees to

Avoid Sad Sack Protagonists

This top post of 2016 was first published on June 2nd. Your characters should be multi-faceted. They should have strengths and weaknesses. Wounds from life that haven't healed can supply internal conflict or motivate them to take on the overall story problem. However, if your character is so lacking in self-esteem that he is not equal to tackling the overall story problem or so sniveling or pathetic the reader can’t get behind him, it is a serious plot fail. If you decide to burden your characters with low self-esteem at least understand the why and how. Use the problem judiciously to motivate them, not from a standpoint of ignorance. Choose the degree of affliction carefully. As children grow up, there are several ways in which their self-esteem is damaged. 1. Healthy self-esteem requires competence. A child needs to feel self-confident and independent. If Dick, as a child, is not allowed to master things, to build self-confidence and independence, he becomes weak

Hollywood, Here I Come

This top post of 2016 was first published on April 28th. From April first to the third, I blew my budget on a trip to California for the Sisters in Crime Hollywood Conference at the Hilton Hotel in Universal City. The SinC organization put on a great conference, and it didn’t cost the Sisters one cent. Well, except for travel and hotel, but the conference was free. Every morning started with a continental breakfast except for Saturday when the Los Angeles Chapter of SinC put on a magnificent spread. Lunch was provided Friday and Saturday, and I have to say the Hilton food was outstanding. The conference included panels with Hollywood industry veterans that included writers, producers, editors, screenwriters, cable and network professionals, directors, program and development honchos, literary agents and managers, and even an entertainment attorney. The speakers explained their jobs, told antidotes, gave us ideas how to connect, and graciously offered five minute pitches to the

What is Deep POV?

This Top Post of 2016 first published on May 17. Just when you think you’ve figured out this thing called Point of View, you get an editor who says “go deeper.” So, what does deep POV mean, anyway? Basically, it is taking the author completely out of the story, leaving the reader inside the head of the character. As readers we want to experience this character’s adventures vicariously. We want to see, smell, hear, taste and touch the same things the character does. The character is interpreting the story for us just like we interpret what happens in our lives. That means that in deep POV even the “less exciting” parts like description become exciting because they show emotion and personality. Part of going deeper into POV is the “show versus tell” technique. Because we want to become Indiana Jones or Bridget Jones or whoever we’re reading about, we don’t want to be TOLD that Indiana is afraid of snakes. We want to FEEL his fear, to taste it, smell it. We don’t want to be told