Thursday, August 30, 2018

Trending or Enduring

Once upon a time—it was a dark and stormy night—Elmer Gantry was drunk.

The above three beginnings are indelibly written in literary history. The first one has been hugely overused; the second one from Bulwer-Lytton's novel Paul Clifford was dubbed by Writer's Digest as "the literary poster child for bad story starters"; the third is the opening of Sinclair Lewis' sacrilegious novel Elmer Gantry, written in 1926 and turned into a film starring Burt Lancaster in 1960.

Openings are important because they hook readers, but what follows is equally important because it keeps those readers hooked. Content makes a book enduring (surviving the test of time) or trending (focusing on trends that change from generation to generation and fall out of favor).

Many of us have read—or at least heard of—William Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts, and the list of enduring authors goes on and on.

While some may argue that Ms. Steel and Ms. Roberts (also writing as J. D. Robb) are in exceptional company, considering their recent entry into the literary field, their books have sold many millions of copies, and both are still going strong. By virtue of their sales numbers alone, we can reasonably say their stories are enduring.

Let's take a closer look at one of those modern, enduring examples, Danielle Steel. What has earned her a place among the literary giants of the past? Sales. She has sold more than an estimated 800 million books, making her the fourth bestselling novelist of all time. Will her books continue to sell a hundred years from now? Only time will tell, but they've certainly endured so far.

Why has she been so successful? She was in the right place at the right time with the right content. Her readers became fans and, because she is a very prolific writer who has fed them a constant flow of stories that endeared her to them, they multiplied significantly. She's written more than 160 volumes to date.

The publishing industry has changed. Still, authors are making a living in the halls of modern literature. With new publishing methods such as digital delivery systems, which can take books to places where hard copies might never go, we can reach readers in ways not available to writers of the past. Self-publishing has thrown open the doors of opportunity and overtaken the large publishing houses of the past. While the number of avid readers has dwindled, the number of published volumes has exploded into the stratosphere. Still, we can learn from authors whose works have passed the test of time (even recent times). One commonality that threads through all their books is content: readers relate to their characters and their issues. Stories that address the unchanging human condition are enduring, timeless. Regardless of genre, there's no trending here.

How do you feel about the evolving world of publishing? What have you gleaned from past authors as well as modern ones such as Danielle Steel, whose works are enduring despite all the changes?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and suspense. You can contact her through her websites: and

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Weeds - Writing Prompt

Weeds dance rain or sun
They don’t care that you hate them
They dance anyway
~ Drawing and haiku by Kim Pearson ~

Writing Prompt: Think about "weeds" metaphorically in your own story. Do you have a character who delights in being loathed by others? Who feels power in being annoying? Or perhaps one who rises above petty gossip or misunderstandings and refuses to care what others think?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

It's All About the Character

The other night I searched my bookcase for something to read that wasn’t on my Kindle. I chose The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series. I had read the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, when it first hit big in the United States. I loved it. I’m not sure why I didn’t continue the series at the time, but maybe it was because I had seen both the Swedish and American versions of the filmed trilogy and decided to wait.

I contemplated why these books became almost instant bestsellers. The noir feeling to the stories, high degree of tension, and well-drawn characters are the elements of page-turners I love to read, but why did this particular series generate six movies and bestseller status? The answer is simple: the “Girl.”

Lisbeth Salander is without a doubt the most intriguing character I’ve ever read. She’s an anti-social, computer-hacking genius with a photographic memory who is probably on the high Asperger’s scale of autism. She’s tiny, under one hundred pounds and shorter than five feet, but she’s tough and relentless with a backstory that would defeat most people but only made her stronger.

In the second book, Salander is accused of triple murder. Almost everyone in the story thinks she’s guilty except the people who know her best. The reader roots for her at every turn. She is driven by her own moral code, but we also know that if she feels justified, she is perfectly capable of committing murder. She’s resourceful and smarter than everyone else in the book, even though she’s been painted as intellectually challenged because it suited the person doing the painting.

How many books have you read in which you don’t care what happens to any of the characters? I’ve read a few of those lately, and they leave me cold. It’s no revelation that a character can make or break a novel. That sounds simplistic because of course it’s the character, stupid, but not just any character. An unforgettable one that keeps the book alive through generations. The character can be good, evil, or anything in between, but s/he must be memorable, and here’s the tricky part―we must care. Think Scarlett O’Hara, Hannibal Lecter, Sherlock Holmes, Atticus Finch, Holden Caulfield, and Scrooge to name a few. We all have our favorites, but few reach cult status.

As writers, our aim is to create memorable characters to advance our story. In some cases, an unforgettable character transcends a weak plot. We’ll overlook implausible derring-do if that character makes us believe he can carry out whatever situation he or she is put in, whether it’s Harry Potter, Rambo, James Bond, Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher, Katniss Everdeen, or the heroine of the series that started this blog post, Lisbeth Salander.

Nothing gives writers more pleasure than a review where the reader falls in love with our creation, or couldn’t sleep because the villain is so evil. A villain is as boring as a goody-two-shoes character if neither has depth. Why is that character evil? What made him that way? What gives our heroine the strength to overcome all obstacles put in her path? Main characters, protagonists or antagonists, must be equally well-rounded or they’re nothing more than clichéd cardboard cutouts. We need to get inside their heads.

At the end of The Girl Who Played with Fire, Lisbeth Salander is at death’s door, but somehow I’m sure she’ll rise from the almost-dead and survive whatever hell the author puts her through. I'm halfway through The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the final book in the trilogy. I love this one too. I wish Mr. Larsson had lived long enough to bask in his success.

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Writing Through Pain

Hello, dearies! I'm so pleased to visit with you again, though it must be a draft and dash. Contrary to popular belief (Pool boy, my left stiletto; there's only the gardener on alternate Thursdays!), I've had a very good reason to be away---I'm in recovery from a rather nasty run-in with a spider.

How does one deal with pain? By writing through it, often with careful misdirection by means of humor. It can be a way of looking on the bright side of things, such as the fact that a nasty flesh wound on the leg gives one a perfect excuse to wear a flowing, non-chafing sarong. With that in mind, here is my woeful tale.

Image result for brown recluse
Image courtesy of Medical News Today


In the beginning was the recluse bite. It was red and angry, and gave rise to many symptoms, of which great pain was one. And the patient went therefore unto the physician and said, "Lo, this sucketh heartily." The physician agreed, and gave unto the patient acetaminophen, and it was ... meh.

After many days, the bite waxed yet more painful, and great blisters of blood appeared, and the patient went again unto the physician and said, "Behold, the suckage has grown worse, and I fear that I shall find myself up the excremental tributary without adequate means of propulsion ere long. Give thou to me some relief." And the physician agreed, and gave unto the patient high-grade pharmaceuticals. And the patient went home and took the pharmaceuticals, and spent many hours smiling beatifically and eating chocolate cake, and she sat in a chair and stirred not for quite some time.

And when the pharmaceuticals wore off, the patient said unto herself, "Verily, this is not a help, for I have shit to do." And she gazed upon the blistered redness of the spider bite and beheld that it had begun to weep blood, and she said unto the weeping blood, "Ew." And giving thanks unto her personal fashion sense that prevented her from wearing white raiment, the patient went before the Cabinet of Requirement and retrieved sundry bandages and Telfa pads, and dressed the wound.

And when, during the course of that day, the patient saw that the protection of the bandages provided great relief from the rubbing of cloth against the poisoned skin, she discarded her pills and ice packs, and put on clothes, and ventured forth with only a slight limp. And she went yet again unto the physician, and said, "See thou, I am but a two or three on thy pain scale now." And the physician saw, and sang praises, and sent unto the insurance company a large bill.

The patient returned home for more cake, and there was much rejoicing.

The Style Maven, who absolutely, positively, does NOT have a pool (she can't even swim), has been spending most of the past several months heavily involved with the medical community, and hopes to be back with you soon. The gardener says 'hi'.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Art Appreciation Month

August is Art Appreciation Month. I didn't know that until I received a newsletter from ColorIt, a company that produces coloring books for adults and all kinds of coloring pencils and pens. Since I could not find a listing for Art Appreciation Month in the list of official list of month-long observations in the U.S., perhaps ColorIt made the designation themselves. Regardless of who made the designation, taking a month to appreciate art is not a bad thing, especially for those of us who paint beautiful pictures with words.

But I'd like you to take a moment to consider a different kind of picture making.

In 2016, the adult coloring book craze exploded, and sales of coloring books soared at Amazon and other retail outlets. Craft stores, such as Micheals and Hobby Lobby, had full aisles of books and coloring pens and pencils of all kinds. While the fad seems to have waned some this year, there are still plenty of adults coloring to relieve stress or just for fun. I do it for both, and here is one of my latest pages.

I didn't want to cut the picture out of the book, hence the shadow at the bottom.
I have been coloring for pleasure most of my life, and some of my favorite childhood memories are of sharing crayons and construction paper with my sister, especially when our mother would join us to color. It was a past-time that we carried into adulthood and visits home to Michigan always involved a day of coloring and/or drawing. Some of the best conversations I had with my mother about her past happened while we were creating. It was like she was more comfortable talking when the main focus was on coloring, not what was being said.

In light of recent studies that show how coloring is good for us, emotionally and mentally, I understand now how that activity allowed my mother to talk about things that were difficult. (Those difficult things are the basis for my novel, Evelyn Evolving, which is a fictionalized story of my mother's life. It is now finished, after three years of writing and rewriting and advice from a developmental editor, KathrynCraft, who was a contributor here at BRP for several years. More about the book when it finds a home.)

All the years that I spent drawing and coloring with my mother and my sister, I always did it just for enjoyment, not knowing the specific emotional benefits. According to clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis, coloring is a stress-free activity that relaxes the amygdala — the fear center of the brain — and allows your mind to get the rest it needs. 

I didn't even know we had an amygdala, but I'm sure glad mine is relaxed. :-)

While I have always known that creativity feeds creativity, which means that pursuing any form of creative endeavor can improve our writing, I never considered that narrow focus of resting the fear center of our brains. Going to movies, listening to music, and visiting art museums connects us to that great creative consciousness, and primes the well as Heidi Thomas wrote here in April, 2013. Those are still important pursuits for writers, but I would like to encourage adding coloring to your list of creative pursuits. Perhaps there is some fear you need to put to rest.

Coloring is not the same as art therapy, but they are related in that they help a person with focus and mindfulness, two things we writers need for sure. It also stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity. So there is no doubt that coloring is beneficial to us wordsmiths, so again I invite you to try it. You don't have to invest in the expensive books and pencils and pens that are sold by the specialty companies. A simple child's coloring book and a few crayons will do for a start. 

Are you willing to try? Have you ever had a love for coloring? Please do share.

Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She won her first writing award at age twelve with a short story in the Detroit News Scholastic Writing Awards Contest and continues to garner recognition for her short stories, books, and screenplays. You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Pageread her  Blog,  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

On the screen or in the mind?

We go to movies or stage plays to be entertained. Sets and stages are created as backdrops for the story, and actors are chosen to portray the characters, delivering lines the scriptwriter has written and engaging in actions called for in the script and/or by the director. Story-appropriate sound effects complete the desired ambiance to complete the story. Viewers then can fully engage the senses of sight and sound, as well as emotions, to bring the story to life exactly as the writer(s) and director intended.

Of course, taking a script to screen or set is more complicated than the overly simple description above, and one or several variables may come into play along the way that complicate the process even further. Still, the end result will hopefully accomplish its purpose, whether to entertain, educate, terrify, or otherwise affect the viewer.

While stories often entertain, there much of the similarity between story writers and screenwriters and playwrights ends. Because novelists don't have access to the accompanying sets and living, breathing actors don't exist in our writing world, the challenges can be greater. We must use words to replace sets and visible characters who speak with inflection for the audience to hear and who act out their emotions for the audience to see. Words alone must create in the mind of the reader mental pictures that rival those on the stage or screen.

Let's consider two ways to present a short scene in a story. In the first one, sentence structures and lengths vary, and neither run-ons nor fragments in the narrative mar the flow. It sets the scene and tells the story, but it doesn't pull the reader in. The second invites the reader into the action and paints a vivid word picture that lifts the story off the page and onto the screen in the reader's mind. These examples were taken from a writing manual I created several years ago.

Example 1: 
     Maria stood in the bay window of her large bedroom, smiling as she looked out over the scene below. Claws, the feral cat that seemed to dare her to pick him up again wandered across the manicured lawn, past the bed of fall flowers, toward the patch of colorful woods that stood between
the house and the stream that cut the property in half. She watched him quicken his pace and knew he'd spotted his dinner. Laughing out loud as he pounced, then ran toward the path in the woods, she realized his prey had taken flight. She also realized the kitty food she kept in the bowl on the porch would remain untouched. When she looked again, Claws had disappeared into the trees. Turning away, she walked out of the room and down the stairs. It was time to fix dinner.

Example 2:
     Laughing, Maria bolted out the door and sprinted across the manicured lawn in pursuit of the feral cat.
     "I'll catch you yet, Claws!" She cast a glance at the scratches on her arm. "One of these days you'll be purring on my lap."
     The cat shot a fleeting look in her direction and detoured through rows of crimson and yellow nasturtiums.
     "Don't think you can distract me just because I love these flowers." Slowing her pace, she reached out to touch a blossom. "Yum! These are ready to eat." She blew a kiss in the direction of the blooms and resumed the chase.
     Claws had stopped running and assumed a stalking stance. Looks like you've found dinner. I need to be a lot more  creative than putting out a bowl of kitty morsels if I hope to ever tame you.
     Suddenly, he leapt forward and darted down the wooded path that led to the stream.
     She chuckled and called after him. "The victory's yours today, but I intend to win the war."
     On the way back to the house, she stopped to pick a handful of tangy nasturtiums. Tonight's salad would be special.

Which example creates a more vivid word picture in your mind?

Suggested reading:
Hollywood and Screenwriting
Lessons Learned from Writing Scripts and Acting
Say It with Gusto

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and suspense. You can contact her through her websites: and

Thursday, August 9, 2018

How the Internet Is Destroying Our Language

Photo of Eduardo Paolozzi mosaic inside Tottenham Court road tube station by Mark Hillary, via Flickr
Like many people with creative tendencies, I wear more than one “artistic” hat. I not only love to read, write and edit, but I also dabble in art, photography, poetry, bead-making and a form of mosaic known as pique assiette that uses pieces of broken crockery in place of colored glass.

You might be asking yourself what does any of this have to do with a blog about writing and editing? Quite a lot, in fact. My artistic ramblings led me to the world of t-shirt design and I was pleased to discover it was a lot of fun and brought in a few extra dollars each month.

A few years ago, I posted some tee designs on Amazon when they opened their print on demand division, known as Merch. These evergreen designs had all been best-sellers on other POD platforms in the past so I figured they were a good place to start.

And there they sat. I was pulling out my hair trying to figure out why my clever, amusing shirts weren’t selling while barely literate teen boys whose designs were frankly awful were routinely making $10,000 to $20,000 a month selling their tees. Seriously. They were. See why I was intrigued?

I started investigating and soon realized the difference came down to language skills. My insistence on using proper grammar and punctuation in my keywords was costing me sales because almost no one else in America cares about such things anymore. Why search for a t-shirt when it’s so much easier to search for a tshirt? That’s one less character to type, plus it’s so difficult to reach all the way up to the top of your keyboard to type a hyphen when, really, it’s not needed.

Why bother with possessive apostrophes when potential buyers looking for runners’ t-shirts are almost certainly searching for runners tshirts instead? The sheer number of adults whose grade school teachers never managed to convey the difference between your and you’re to them, nor the vaguest concept of why it might be important not to use them interchangeably is staggering. Now, on almost a daily basis, I see the pronoun “our” used in placed of the verb, “are.” I guess they do kind of sound alike...if you’re underwater with a motorboat running nearby.

These errors are creeping into headlines as well, and not just in local community newspapers. Last summer, the scroll on an NBC newscast read: “Turkey Trimmers.” Now you might be forgiven if you thought that meant a light-hearted story about someone who provides free haircuts for needy turkeys, but nope. The story was about a devastating 6.6 earthquake in the Aegean Sea that injured almost 500 people and caused millions of dollars in damage to homes and irreplaceable historic structures. I guess whoever wrote that scroll was actually looking for the term, “Turkey Tremors” instead. But there was no copy editor on hand to correct the mistake before it aired because most copy editors have been fired, because really, they're not needed anymore either, right? So I say the Internet is destroying our language, I mean that when people see errors repeatedly in print, either on the Internet on TV, or in trusted publications, the error becomes the norm as it is inculcated into our language as acceptable usage. And correct usage withers, dies away and becomes "archaic."

I would like to say I am carrying this noble grammar flag into battle but the truth is, I caved on this one. I now meekly peck out "writers tshirts" in my descriptions, cringing with every letter I type. I guess that makes me part of the problem now, but hey, if you can manage to make $10,000 a month selling anything that isn’t drugs, I guess you’re doing something right.

Addendum: For the record, I don’t make anywhere close to that amount selling t-shirts online. If I did, I’d be on some sun-soaked island in the Aegean Sea, keeping a watchful eye out for trimmers.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Summer NovelRama: 25,000 words in 4 days. Because you can.

That’s the slogan for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers most excellent summer NovelRama, a writing event sponsored by RMFW’s IPAL (independently published member writers) and open to writers everywhere who need encouragement, inspiration, camaraderie, a challenge, and a chance at prizes…and all from the comfort of your own home where you can work in your sloppy sweatpants and slippers (or any other venue and attire of your choice).

Need a boost (aka a kick in the pants) to produce a lot of words in a small amount of time? Think about that novel that just needs a few more chapters but has been neglected while you toddle off to lunch with friends, binge watch a new series on Netflix, or procrastinate by cleaning house (yes, I’ve been doing all three).

Doesn’t have to be a novel though. Maybe you want to write three or four short stories. Churn out the first draft of a novella. Whatever works for you works for NovelRama. Even if you can only participate one day or a few hours, you can still benefit from the activities and the fellowship.

Want to give it a try? Visit the NovelRama Facebook page and click on “Interested” or “Going.” There will be LIVE videos, writing sprints, and fun llama memes (ranging from charming to silly but guaranteed to bring a smile to your face).

Did I mention there are prizes? If you join the challenge, you'll need to post your word count each day and meet the word count goal. That’s how you get entered in drawings.

The date for this fantabulous event is August 10th through August 13th, Friday through Monday. The link to the Facebook page is right HERE HERE HERE.

A special note: This year there’s also a NovelRama Jr. Young writers can participate with a goal of 5,000 words in four days.

My own project for NovelRama is to finish the first draft of the historical novel I’ve been fiddling around with for many, many months. As of this writing, I have 54,964 words written and the rest of the story in my head. The research is all done, but I’ve been lollygagging on the writing part. The invitation to participate in NovelRama showed up in my Facebook notifications at precisely the right time—and the event is happening on a weekend when I have nothing else planned. I think the Force is with me.

I've committed to the event. What about you? Are you in?

To learn about other ways to kick start your writing efforts after a period of lethargy, check out these past posts from the Blood-Red Pencil blog:

Breaking the Literary Atrophy
Beetling Along

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Benefits of Genre Associations

Fiona likes to critique
As writers, many of us are introverts and would rather hang out in our pajamas with our pets than go out and network and attend public functions where we don't know anyone.

Still, you really need to reach out and get involved with other people if you want to improve your writing and market your finished product.

There are multiple advantages to joining a genre-related group:

1. They have meetings, local and national, and online events so you can meet other people who love the same books you do. Most of them have online communities and Facebook groups which offer support and connections for beta readers, editors, etc. And I guarantee your TBR pile will grow and topple over.

2. Genre groups offer opportunities to build a virtual or in-person critique group. I met my crit group members at a local writers' conference. I wouldn't have met them if I hadn't gotten dressed and gone outside.

3. You can learn what is selling in your category. The groups often post articles about trends (and what not to do) and industry news.

4. All of them have great material on craft for their specific genres. Facebook groups post wonderful articles on craft, setting, worldbuilding, history, etc.

5. They can offer unique marketing opportunities. Banding together with authors who write the same genre allows you to do group promotions and cross promotions. A good example is Sisters in Crime for the Mystery genre.

6. Group blogs also help promote your work. A great example is Jungle Red Writers  with a few of my favorite mystery mavens: Hank Phillippi Ryan, Lucy Burdette, Rhys Bowen, Deborah Crombie, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Hallie Ephron, Ingrid Thoft, and Jenn McKinlay. There is power in numbers.

7. They often have contests you can enter to increase your exposure. You might even win!

8. They understand you. Unlike your partner, family, friends, and pets, they get what you are going through and serve as a support system and cheerleading team.

Here is a short list of groups by genre. Note, there are many other local, regional, and international chapters and subgroups. Look for those close to you.

Romance Writers of America

Gothic Romance Writers

Mystery Writers of America

Sisters in Crime

Thriller Writers

Horror Writers Association

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

Fantasy Writers Organization

Historical Writers of America

Western Writers

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Blatant self-promotion is always frowned up. It is important to be a positive contributor and follow their guidelines. Groups are not entirely free of cliques, hierarchies, or trolls, but for the most part they are wonderfully supportive and enlightening and well worth your time. It is important to participate and not just ask for favors. Be professional and put your best self forward. Always add value when you can. Make a name for yourself - a good name.

Read more about networking:

Face Time


Building A Critique Group

2018 Writing Workshops and Courses

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.