Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Writers Gotta Read, Right? Halloween

It’s October— the nights are getting longer and colder, and thoughts turn to ghosts, pumpkins (pies or Jack-o-Lanterns or headless horsemen), and the great beyond. If you are looking for a season-appropriate book to snuggle up with on Halloween, keep reading for places to start your exploration.

Online mystery lists are a great place to find Halloween-themed stories, from the cozy end of the spectrum to the dark and devious:

The Mystery Fanfare blog, run by mystery aficionado Janet Rudolph, offers a looooooong list of Halloween crime fiction (what is it about mystery writers and Halloween, I wonder?).

Head over to the not-entirely-cozy Cozy Mystery List to find Halloween-themed mysteries to fit your mood, from BEDEVILED EGGS by Laura Childs and VAMPIRES, BONES, AND TREACLE SCONES by Kaitlyn Dunnett, to THE WITCHFINDER by Loren D. Estleman and TRICKS (87th PRECINCT) by Ed McBain.

Nightstand Book Reviews offers up a list of 55 Halloween mysteries, some brand new and some classics.

Other Halloween-themed roundups abound as well:

Goodreads Listopia provides lists galore, including “Best Books to Read for Halloween,” “Historical Ghost Fiction,” “All Hallows Reads,” and “Best Halloween Picture Books.”

Speaking of Halloween books for the younger set, Working Mother weighs in with “20 Halloween Books for Kids That Are Scary and Fun.” I have to admit that STUMPKIN by Lucy Ruth Cummins (“a story about acceptance and a reminder to children that everyone belongs somewhere”) and GO TO SLEEP, LITTLE CREEP by David Quinn (“a holiday inspired story for children who always ask for five more minutes before bedtime”) caught my attention. If only my children were younger…

Decorations = done! Now, what to read???

If the above is not enough, you can turn to the article “120 Books to Read for Halloween” in BookBub. The recommendations run the gamut from ghost stories to thrillers to true crime.

I'll add my two cents here, and say that THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW by Washington Irving (who is credited with being the first “professional writer” in the United States) falls into my oldies-but-goodies category. While noodling around on the internet, I found an interesting analysis of the tale on enotes.com, suggesting that the character Ichabod Crane embodies “Manifest Destiny.” Hmmmm. You can read all about it here.

Faster, Ichabod, faster! (The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane by John Quidor (1801–1885) Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible in part by the Catherine Walden Myer Endowment, the Julia D. Strong Endowment, and the Director's Discretionary Fund.)

Your turn. Do you have any favorite reads for this time of year? Let us know!

Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for "editor/writer"). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit AnnParker.net for more information.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Resurrecting an Unfinished Book

In September, I decided I didn’t like the book I was working on. I had written almost 30,000 unimaginative and dull words. Depression hit me like a body slam. World events had me reeling, breaking my concentration, but I couldn’t blame that for a crappy story. I put the book aside, hoping I’d find the trigger to motivate me with fresh ideas at a later date.

I’ve covered a lot of ground in my books, from a prisoner wrongly accused, rape, stalking, Nazis, crooked televangelists, baby kidnapping, and vigilantes to name a few. Coming up with a fresh idea was straining my overloaded brain.

And there it was: 34,000 words sitting in my computer, minding its own business. I had started the book way back in 2015, and it has one of the best opening chapters I’d ever written. Suspenseful and twisty. Intriguing enough to make a reader turn the page. My opinion, of course.

The book was my first and only foray into a political novel, and international politics at that. I touch on political themes in most of my books, but it’s usually as a sub-plot or an oblique mention around my primary theme: greed.

So why did I stop writing this particular book?

The novel explores the impact of one man’s view of how to achieve peace in the Middle East. The man is an Israeli writer, editor, and publisher of his own newspaper. To some he is a hero; to others he is a villain.

In 2015, I felt the political situation in the Middle East, always shaky and unstable, would change considerably before I finished the book, rendering it obsolete. To this date, it hasn’t, and as a political junky friend said, it probably wouldn’t in my lifetime. I decided to pick up where I had left off and not worry about the politics.

But there are other problems. Let me interject here to proclaim that I am a pantser. For those who don’t know the term, it’s a writer who writes by the seat of her pants. No outline, maybe notes. I did have two versions and am culling parts from both. All of my books are complicated, with multiple threads going in different directions. This one was no exception.
I discovered timelines and scenes out of sequence, so I rewrote them in one, two, three order. My critique partner felt I had fleshed out the antagonist too deeply in the beginning, then dropped him like a hot rock. Was he worthy of more pages, or should I trim the pages I’d already written? After some thought, I decided to justify the character I’d created and give him a proper denouement.

My biggest problem was how to return to my 2015 mindset. Being a pantser, the story and characters tell me where to go. I’m not quite sure I’m going to the same place I planned to go four years ago, but I now feel I’ve caught up, and I’m determined to finish the book this time.

I noticed something else while scanning my Word doc files ― another forgotten novel. This one is 94,000 words. I borrowed part of that book for one of my alter ego’s books in 2010, but the bones are still there, waiting for me to fill in the missing parts. Dare I go back to my old computer? What might I possibly find?

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, October 23, 2018

Rules - Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

In keeping with the October theme here at The Blood-Red-Pencil, loosely connected to Halloween and fears and all that, I thought I'd pop in with something that has bothered me for some time now, and that is the proliferation of writing rules that can leave a new writer's head spinning. I got the idea after reading a blog post over at the Author's Community site, about rules of writing. A lot of rules have popped up over the years I've been writing, and more and more they are matters of opinion, often contradictory, hence the head-spinning and all that.

Some of the more popular rules that are cited on the blog post I read, and elsewhere, are Elmore Leonard's famous rules that include:
  • Never open a book with weather:  If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. Instead of "never" that would be a good guideline if it suggested making sure the genre in which you are writing calls for a mood-setting opening where the weather plays an integral part in the story. 
  • Avoid prologues: They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. Well, yes. One would hope that a good writing instructor would point out that fiction often has a prologue. No introduction or foreword. Those primarily belong to nonfiction books. 
  • Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue: The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. True. And an overuse of other attributives can be jarring. But a better approach is to use action tags. "Oh my lovely." Jared touched the face of his cat with great affection. See how much we learn about this character while also eliminating that pesky dialogue tag? More about this can be found HERE from a post by Dani Greer.
  • Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”: … he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. As much as I admire the writing of Elmore Leonard, I would hesitate to give him powers to attribute sinfulness to writing. Would we have to run to our confessor after using an adverb? That said, I do suggest that adverbs be used sparingly. Let the wording of the dialogue or the narrative imply the tone.
  • Keep your exclamation points under control: You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. That is a bit much of a quota, Mr Leonard, but I do agree that that particular punctuation mark is overused. I recently edited a manuscript for a client that was rife with them!!!!! A well-used exclamation point is a good tool of craft and has more impact when it shows up now and then in a story.
  • Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly: Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Perhaps not being able to stop is a bit of a stretch, but I do agree with this one. And note, Mr. Leonard did not say "never." Fractured English to show certain ethnicity in fiction can sometimes make the reading difficult, so it is better to capture the rhythm of the way people speak to get that across. This was pointed out to me when I submitted a short story, Maybe Someday, to Southern Living magazine many moons ago. While the story was not accepted for publication, the editor was kind enough to suggest I stop dropping all the "gs" off the end of words to make the characters sound more Texan. He, the editor, is the one who told me about rhythm, and listening for rhythm when eaves-dropping on conversations at the country diner.
  • Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, and don’t go into great detail describing places and things: You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill. That applies to some writing, but not all. Fantasy and science fiction do require quite a bit of detail to set up the world in which the story takes place. For most other genres, however, there is not a great need for details, and I don't enjoy books that use what I call "the grocery list" of description of people and places. Shon Bacon offered a concise take on the topic HERE
Polly Iyer posted her response to the ten rules here at the Blood-Red-Pencil four years ago, and it is interesting to see that her take on it is pretty close to mine.

If I wanted to post a rule of writing, it would be to "never say never." Nothing is cast in stone when it comes to writing a good story, except write a good story. All these other things are mere guidelines to help one along the way, and books are published every day that break all these so-called rules.
So write away my friends. Write away.
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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Using Facts in Fiction

Typically, when facts and fiction are mentioned together, it is as fact or fiction. Yet another application of the two words has a very different meaning: facts in fiction. Why is this important to writers and readers alike? Making sure a story is factually accurate when appropriate grounds that story and allows the reader to suspend disbelief.

When I retired from teaching elementary school, I began my second career—writing fiction. My first stories centered on my interest in dance. Seventeen years of lessons and performances throughout the Pacific Northwest provided fodder to keep my fiction real. Still, my experience alone didn't seem quite enough, so I researched professional dancers and read ballet stories. Then I sent Marta and Lynne, my two seventeen-year-old dancers, off to join a ballet company set in Billings, Montana, in the late fifties.

My original intent to write a single young adult story grew into a trilogy, 84 Ribbons; When the Music Stops—Dance on; and Letters to Follow—A Dancer's Adventure, which follows the budding careers of my two aspiring ballerinas. Sharing their hard work during practices and performances provides opportunities to accurately depict classical ballet, while focusing the story on my own growing up years, the 1950s, adds interest and authenticity. For example, the girls lived with relatives or in a boarding house, they used phones that hung on the wall, and they traveled by bus and train. I knew that time well and could convey it with realistic ease.

The trilogy also introduces readers to real places. In book one, 84 Ribbons, Marta comes to appreciate the prairie about Billings, the vista from The Rims, and the Yellowstone River near Lake Josephine. In When the Music Stops, book two, she returns to western Washington and the Pacific coast, an area where I've lived my entire life. Book 3, Letters to Follow, showcases Lynne on her trip to France to join a summer dance troupe and tour famous locations, many of which I'd personally visited. (The rest were thoroughly researched before being included.)

Did the careful attention to authentic details pay off? Absolutely. The trilogy received recognition, including a ForeWord Magazine feature and awards from Feathered Quill and Moonbeam Children's Book Awards, and was an Eric Hoffer finalist. By adding facts into my fiction, I created interest for a wide range of readers, ages 13 to 90—from young girls currently hoping to have a career in ballet to seniors who remember the time period in which the story is set. Tasman, my fourth novel and a very different kind of story, was runner-up in the 2018 Hollywood Book Festival.

After finishing the ballet trilogy, I jumped back a century into 1850 to write about my visit to the ruins of the brutal British Port Arthur penal colony on the southern tip of Tasmania. We toured the Isle of the Dead and the settlement, stepped into convict cells and the isolating silent prison, and visited the prison church. The quiet rural setting held ghosts of its former purpose that I couldn't forget. I knew I had to write the story of the real young man I'd learned about through the museum displays. After months of researching and reading fiction and nonfiction, Ean McClaud emerged. Once he stepped onto the page, the adventure began. Tasman—An Innocent Convict's Struggle for Freedom tested his patience, his strength, and his resilience as he grew into a three-dimensional character that compels the reader to keep turning pages, all the while cheering him on.

It has been said we should write what we know. I say, "Write what you know and what interests you." Add facts to your fiction to bring depth and authenticity to your stories. In my case, realistic fiction grew from a mixture of personal experiences, interests, and research. No matter the genre, using facts in fiction makes stories spring to life for both writers and readers.

If you wish to connect with me, please visit PaddyEger.com I love to talk about writing.

Paddy Eger is the author of The Ballet Trilogy, and Tasman - An Innocent Convict’s Struggle for Freedom. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Journey by L. Katherine Dailey — A Review — #FridayReads

The Journey, Volume II of the Viana Memoirs, follows the lives of the three Viana daughters in Victorian era England. Rich in the activities and lifestyles of the time, this fascinating story pulls the reader in to experience the ups and downs of Alexandra Viana as she is pursued by the less-than-gallant Roman Winterfield.

However, there may be hope for him. When he unexpectedly joins her family and his on holiday in France, Alexandra notes some significant changes in the man she and her sisters once dubbed "The Ogre." Sadly, his distasteful qualities resurface in all their revolting grandeur, and Alexandra is perplexed when he nonetheless appears to win the approval of her family.

Her fascination turns to distress upon her return to England to spend the summer as the guest of Roman's sister, Catherine. Much to her dismay, Catherine is courting one man while falling in love with another—a servant of her father! Catherine chooses to keep both romances a secret, and Alexandra dreads the day when the socially prominent Winterfields learn of her deception. Meanwhile, Roman reappears and announces his plans to stay, which further annoys the already stressed Alexandra and promises to finish ruining what should have been a joyous summer.

Filled with adventure and treachery, The Journey is a classic story of love and misjudgment, a compelling read that will keep the reader glued to its pages from beginning to end.

I worked closely with L. Katherine Dailey on the editing and proofing of this book prior to its 2008 release. She is an amazing writer who loves to read as well as write historical fiction. I applaud her reason for choosing that particular genre in which to write her books. She states that her unique ability to draw readers to her stories stems from her own personal attempts to escape the harsh realities of the modern world, preferring instead to live somewhere in the depths of her imagination and the far reaches of the past. Her latest novel, Once a Thief, is scheduled to be released in early 2019.

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 romance. You can contact her at websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

What Are Writers Afraid Of?

Photo by HTO [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Writers. We’re talking about the folks who create sci fi novels and don’t flinch when confronted with hostile aliens. And horror writers who deal with vampires, zombies, and werewolves (and worse yet, evil humans) without breaking a sweat. And romance writers who create tales of love and sex, the scariest experiences some people face during their lifetimes.

If a writer can handle vicious crimes, terrifying cartels, human trafficking, other tragedies of modern life, and even love, why aren’t they fearless in all things writing-related?

I can’t speak for others, but I can tell you what turns me into a squishy doubter of my abilities and ideas.

1. The sneaking suspicion I don’t know what I’m doing.

In spite of reading hundreds of books and taking many classes and workshops on writing craft, including plot development, point of view, dialogue, and common mistakes, I still screw up. A lot. Like my last manuscript in which I allowed ALL of my characters to develop a shrugging habit. Even worse, I did not catch this incompetence myself, in spite of numerous readings. Each time my editor digs into my manuscript, she returns enough questions and corrections to send me into a deep funk for at least a day or two before I get to work.

2. Fear that a gross error will get past my editor and proofreaders.

If such a mistake gets into the print and ebook editions, readers and reviewers might call attention to the goofs in reviews. Now that I’m writing historical fiction, there are even more opportunities to mess up. The timeline is critical. Words used as slang and even part of regular language need to be checked against word origin sources. Research of weapons, medical procedures, and even animals must be thorough. Did you know the Appaloosa horse was called a Palouse when first introduced in the U.S.? See what I mean?

3. Marketing and book promotion.

Seems like all the writers I know are on superspeed with their marketing efforts. I’m not keeping up. I’ve resolved to do better. For Instance, Colorado Humanities and our new online news publisher, Colorado Sun, have collaborated to promote the winners and finalists of this year’s Colorado Book Awards. My interview and book excerpt from Wishing Caswell Dead was part of the SunLit feature. Still, I fret about marketing and book promotion enough to lose sleep while trying to think of more ways to get the word out.

4. Social media.

Many publishers and agents seem to think authors need a big social media presence as part of a marketing plan. What I’ve found there, however, turns me off. I recently cleaned out my contacts on Facebook, hid some of my profile information, and now try to direct people to my author page. I mostly stick to updates or tweets about books, blog posts from my own site and the Blood-Red Pencil, writing, cats and dogs, and owls. I worry that publishers/agents might consider me a social media failure. I fret about missed opportunities for my number 3 worry about book promotion.

 5. Lousy sales. 

My books were originally published in hardcover and ebook. I have the ability to issue a trade paperback of each novel at a good price and promote like crazy, thus also increasing the likelihood of more ebook sales. I haven’t done it…yet. Sometimes I can be my own worst enemy because of intervening life events, trying to get a new book finished, the irresistible lure of a new project for NaNoWriMo, or simple procrastination. Or doubt that I can self-publish a paperback and do it well.

I’ve owned up to my worries and doubts. So what about you, writers? What are you afraid of?

Check out these related Blood-Red Pencil blog posts:

Writing’s Four-Letter Word: Fear
Tackling Historical Slang
Marketing & Selling: The Same?

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, October 4, 2018

Truth and Controversy in Writing

Truth—or lack thereof—and controversy seem to hang over us like a thermal inversion in a windless desert valley, where the smog of dissension and division dictate the behavior of distressed residents. Normally calm, rational people react to this toxic environment with unprecedented anger as they spew forth vile language and violent demonstrations against what they perceive to be a threat to their belief systems and lifestyles.

Is that threat real? Only time will tell. Will vocal and physical resistance stem the tide of unwanted change? Again, time holds the answer. Can writers weave the growing unrest into the fabric of their stories? Of course, but beware. Unwarranted assumption and words quoted out of context can send misleading or false messages to the reader and incite an ugly retaliatory response. The war of words is then on, and the battle rages.

Newspapers, magazines, television programs, and documentaries report truths, half-truths, unverified stories, and personal opinion, frequently presented as though all "facts" had been researched and proven  accurate. Sadly, many of today's news stories would not receive a passing grade from any of my journalism instructors several decades ago, when accuracy and integrity counted for a significant portion of a student's grade. Neither would they have been presented to the public until every "fact" had been documented and all remnants of personal opinion removed. I was taught that opinion pieces appeared on the editorial page, and content was clearly acknowledged to be that of its writer and not the publication.

What about that editorial page? Do opinion pieces work? Have you heard of Thomas Paine? His political writings are credited with influencing the Revolutionary War and helping to inspire the Declaration of Independence. However, they were clearly his opinion, and his readers knew that. This speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the op-ed.

Another path exists for the expression of political opinion and community concern. Both fiction and nonfiction books often depict the mentality of the time in which they are set. Current events inspire numerous reporters and commentators to expound on their take of what's happening, as well as its short-term and long-term impact on society.

Fiction writers, on the other hand, can use current settings and events to comment on public figures and troubling scenarios through their characters. They can choose to be in the reader's face, or they can subtly and discreetly use logic and gentle persuasion. In either case, beware of writer intrusion. For the work to be most effective, it needs to be a natural outgrowth of the character's personality, not an obvious insertion by the author.

We live in troubled times. Controversy and contentiousness challenge compromise and collaboration in so many situations. Are we all affected? Definitely. Yet, our unique gifts as wordsmiths offer us a variety of platforms through which to reach people. These gifts, however, come with great responsibility because of their potential impact. Our articles, editorials, books, and stories can educate, warn, console, encourage, and accurately inform those living now, as well as future generations. It is essential that we speak in truth rather than controversy. Just as in the time of Thomas Paine, the pen is mightier than the sword.

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 romance. You can contact her through her websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Writing Steampunk

As the mists of October roll in, there is no better time to curl up with a good Steampunk novel.

My love of steampunk started with Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel series, continued with Susan Kaye Quinn's bollypunk Sisters of Dharia series, The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, and the Lady of Devices by Shelly Adina to name a few.

I have added to my toppling to be purchased list with these titles from Best Sci Fi Books.com.

Initially a combination of Victorian steam age and futuristic mechanics, the genre has expanded to cowboy punk, spacepunk, cyberpunk, bollypunk, elfpunk, mythpunk, and atompunk.

The story skeletons are firmly rooted in Science Fiction and Fantasy, sometimes with a little Romance thrown in. Westerns also get a retool with cowboy punk. Some could be considered alternate history. Others have a literary feel.

In steampunk, world building is a unique mixing of old and new worlds in the costuming, settings, vehicles, and props. The only limits are your imagination.

There was a Steampunk'd decorating competition show with a brief run in 2015 where tinkerers and makers created steampunk themed sets and costuming. It is well worth a look for inspiration.

You can hobnob with Steampunk lovers at themed conventions, fairs, and local events.



If you would like to try your hand at the steampunk genre, which comes with a built-in fan base, here are some articles to get you started.

1. Writing Steampunk ~ Writers Digest

2. 8 Tips and Tricks Every Steampunk Writer Should Know

3. Better Steampunk Secrets

4. Girl Goggles Tips for Writing Steampunk

5.The Joys and Perils of Writing Steampunk

6. Geared Up Steampunk

7. Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes in Regency Steampunk

8. Writing Steampunk

9. Beyond the Goggles, Writing Steampunk

10. Writing Steampunk

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 DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.