Thursday, February 28, 2019

Car Horns

(Author's Note: I wrote this in 2005. I live in North Carolina now. One day I'll write about turn signals.)

Photo by Jimmy Chan, via Pexels
Let's pretend that you live in China. Let's also pretend that, unlike me, you own a car. A Volkswagen Santana, of course. Who do you honk the horn at?

Well, you honk at everyone who's in your way, and who you think is in your way, and who you are passing, and who you think is trying to pass you. Every bicycle needs a honk in case the driver can't see you. Every pedestrian, most definitely, because they're not looking at anything except their feet as they float out in front of you, or the text messages they're sending on their cell phones.

Every car does this, and the roads become a constant cacophony of car horns. The noise is such that everybody tunes it out in order to function, so the horns are pointless. Nobody is listening to the horns. Some of us wear MP3 players cranked up to full volume specifically to block the noise, which is why we're deaf. But honking is a habit the Chinese driver can't break. It's like breathing.

Okay, now here comes a legitimate reason to honk the horn: an emergency, perhaps some fool walking right in front of your car. What do you do? Flick the headlights. Just how stupid is that? If he can't hear your horn, he sure can't hear your headlights. Of course he can't see your headlights, because he's not looking at you. That's what caused the crisis in the first place. Plus, it's daytime. Nobody can see headlights in the daytime when he's facing the other direction.

I offer this little tale for authors who wonder why I prefer understatement. Exclamation points and superlatives are your car horns. Save them until you actually need them.

(Author's Note 2: I gave this to one of my Advanced English Writing classes in China. They weren't offended. Hey, it never hurts to check. Beep beep!)

Michael LaRocca has been paid to edit since 1991 and still loves it, which has made people question his sanity (but they were doing that before he started editing). Michael got serious about writing in 1978. Although he’s retired more times than Brett Favre, Michael is writing his 19th book. Learn more about him at, GoodReads, or Amazon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

For the Love of Writing

My book Making History: how to remember, record, interpret, and share the events of your life, published in 2007, is full of great stories – some of them mine, and many others from people who shared theirs while attending my memoir-writing workshops.

Here is one of my own stories, illustrating that we should never underestimate the power of our heroes.

Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a writer. I wrote plays, poems, stories, and even a newsletter for my family, which I subjected them to every Sunday night at the dinner table during the year that I was nine.

My mother kept some of my early efforts, and it is to her credit she was able to see anything impressive in them. One of the first stories I wrote was a thrilling epistle called “The Cow.” It featured a cow who broke out of its pasture and ran amok through a quiet suburban neighborhood, mooing and bellowing in rage while it knocked over cars and trash cans. It even ate pet cats, birds and small dogs. The cow was eventually caught and ground up into hamburger, the moral being that bad behavior is punished.

I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and stories; it seemed a miracle to me that color, excitement and action could bloom out of black lines on white paper. My mother read to me until I was old enough to read on my own. I still remember the Christmas when I was nine or ten and given Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I fell in love with its heroine, Jo March. She too wanted to be a writer, and her “scribbling” meant more to her than anything else. She wasn’t one of those namby-pamby, retiring, “good” girls – no, she was exciting, bold, tumultuous, a passionate rebel who had problems with anger and who rebelled against female restrictions. I identified with her strongly.

Jo March was my first author mentor. I read and re-read Little Women until the pages came out of the spine and I could recite whole chapters by heart. Jo March was my touchstone. She was how a writer was.

I was savagely disappointed when I first read Little Men, the sequel to Little Women. It told the story of an adult Jo, who had become a wife and mother, leaving her writing dreams behind. All the focus in the book went to her boys, and Jo was relegated to the sidelines. Even worse was she seemed happy with her diminished role.

I was somewhat relieved when I read the third book about the March family, Jo’s Boys. Here I learned that Jo had retrieved her writing dreams and become a successful writer in middle age. Better late than never, I thought, although to my eleven year old mind, it seemed like a long time to wait.

But now I am struck with how my life has paralleled that of Jo March. I, too, showed early promise and wrote from heart-stopping passions so deep I knew I would always keep writing. But I grew up and married, had children, and left my writing dreams to molder while I made a living and focused on my kids. Just like she did.

But today! Today I am past middle-aged, but my writing dreams are still young and vibrant. I have published a number of books and am working on more. I help others write their books. I make my living scribbling.

Just like Jo.

PS: Making History is available for purchase online. (You might also find it in your neighborhood library.)

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Thursday, February 21, 2019

What Do Romance Readers Really Want?

I enjoy reading romance novels, particularly those set in the Regency era. I got to thinking about why this is so and realized it was because of the societal norms portrayed in the stories. Yes, they're fantasies about what it would be like to be a Lady hotly pursued by a rakish Duke, or even an Earl, and finally be the one who tames his wild heart. But for me, it's more than that. In Regency romances, men treat women like ladies, and I find such courtesies sorely lacking in modern life.

I was raised in the 50s when men still held doors for women, so a desire for those small bits of what I consider to be masculine grace is woven into my DNA. At that point in history, members of the male sex were not as yet fearful of excoriation from some nascent feminist more determined to stake out her own boundaries than to be grateful for a simple act of courtesy. Now when I reach a door at the same time as a man, I see the poor thing looking at me with terror-stricken eyes and feel sad that society has fallen so far that men don't know when they hold a door for a woman if they'll be thanked or assaulted for doing so.

Then I got to thinking about all the romance sub-genres and wondered which types of readers are drawn to the different sub-genres and why. I know from my years as a medical reporter that individual romantic preferences are driven by something called an erotic roadmap or in modern parlance, lovemap, something that is set in very early childhood and modeled after what we see in our parents. I had a warm and loving relationship with my father and in adulthood, found myself attracted to men with dark hair and pale skin, simply because they reminded me of the man I trusted above all others. (Note to readers: this is NOT a good way to choose a life mate as my dark-haired, pale-skinned husband turned out to be something of a rotter.) Psychologists will confirm that if my relationship with my father had not been good, I would have been attracted to his physical opposite.

How then does this account for the booming genre of romances where women fall madly in love with vampires, werewolves, creatures from hell and even dinosaurs? I am not kidding. Look it up.

A few years ago a couple of college kids thought it would be hysterical to create an explicit romance series featuring women having, um..."relations" with dinosaurs, as in T-Rex dinosaurs. Of course, no editor in his or her right mind would have ever bought such a thing, but they self-published the series and laughed as the books shot to the top of the erotic romance genre. I would still be shaking my head over this but I got a crick in my neck and had to stop.

Sorry, but I just don't see how a dinosaur worked its way onto anyone's erotic road map. Yet, today, so-called "dinosaur erotica" is a top-selling sub-genre on Amazon. As I said, look it up, and also have a barf bag ready.

So why do romance fans select and read the things they do? What would possess someone to want to buy and read a novel featuring what is essentially an impossible and even terrifying physical relationship? How is that erotic? Are modern women so fed up with the antics of modern men that we'd rather turn to reading about some fictional woman having relations with a cold-blooded and, not to mention, blood-thirsty lizard than work on our own lives and romantic relationships?

What kind of romance is your favorite? Modern, historic, lonely cowboy, businessman, Prince? Let us know in the comments. One of our Blood-Red Pencil bloggers might be working on just the book for you.

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, February 19, 2019

Love Is 365 Days a Year

February, the month of romance. Personally, setting a day aside in a month when lovers are supposed to acknowledge each other in romantic terms is silly. There, I said it. Bite me!

My son thinks Hallmark is the smartest company on the planet. They have a poem for every day of the year (birthdays, you know) and now charge upwards of three or four dollars to say what a smart man can say in a few words. Let’s not forget florists and supermarkets who peddle their rose bouquets and planters. Oh, and add jewelry stores, because nothing beats a diamond to show how much you love the woman in your life. And it’s always the woman. How much advertising do you see for the man? Not much. Are we that conditioned?

The point is, shouldn’t we show our affection to those we love daily? My husband didn’t like having certain days to buy me things. Granted, he was raised in a country where there is no Valentine’s Day, so it was never that important to him. He did buy me flowers and a card, and we sometimes went out to eat because he knew it was important to me. I feel silly that it was. A card was fine with me but only because I was brainwashed into thinking the day was a message of love, and nothing says love like flowers or diamonds.

No! You know what is? When my husband tells me I look pretty when we go out or when he says I look great without adding, “for your age.” When he went on a trip to India and brought me back a ring with three diamonds for no reason at all, that was special. (Well, he probably got a good deal on it, so there’s that.) What said love was when he pulled his weight as a parent because nothing about raising kids was solely a “woman’s job.” Dirty diapers? Not a problem. School pickup? He was there when I couldn’t be.

Romance means different things to different people. I started my writing career not in the suspense genre but writing erotic romance. I thought it was the fastest way to get published, and it was, three times. I used an alias to protect my kids. Now they think it’s rather funny that their mother wrote “porn.”

When I wrote the first book, I had never read an erotic romance. Later when I did, I realized my books were rather tame, considering what I’d read. That’s okay; I learned a lot. I even wrote a couple of semi-graphic romantic scenes in my suspense novels. Got trashed in a few reviews for it, too, though I never understood what was so offensive to some for depicting love, in all its many forms.

So happy romantic February. Happy romantic March, April, May, and every month forever. Loving your man or woman is a 365-day proposition. Say it with a kiss and, okay, with chocolates, a dozen roses, and a card. But it's better with words and actions.

The photo above is a card my husband made years and years ago. If you can’t read it, it says:


Even though you cannot
Stand me sometimes,
Will you be my
For ever.

He signed it with all three of his names. It has hung in the kitchen all these years.

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.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Romancing the What?

Do you remember the 1980s movie Romancing the Stone? I never knew what that title meant, and am still not real sure, even after a bit of research.

I checked the Cambridge Dictionary online and found “to tell stories that are not true, or to describe an event in a way that makes it sound better than it was.”

So, I thought, my novels are romancing. That makes sense. The word for “novel” in French is “roman.”

I’ve been romancing crime, romancing Illinois, romancing history…

But romancing a stone?

After reading the synopsis on Wikipedia, I conclude it was the filmmakers who were romancing the stone, an emerald.

They told a fantastical tale about the good guys and the bad guys chasing after each other during the search for a great treasure.

Do you have a better idea?

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. Check out the book excerpt and interview featured on SunLit at the new online news source, Colorado Sun.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Writing - Love it or Hate It

For February, this month of celebrating love in our personal and professional lives, I am taking a look at how love enters into my writing. Many writers I know have a love/hate relationship with this wacky world of writing, as do I. We love the process of writing when those great surges of creative urges give us words faster than our keyboards can keep up. We love it when we finish a scene and can smile and say, "Damn! That was a fun ride."

We love getting positive feedback.  And we love the satisfaction of coming to The End of a story with that great sense of accomplishment.
Photo courtesy of 
On the other side of the coin, we hate marketing - at least some of us do. We hate feeling like we are butting our heads against a brick wall when it comes to submitting an article or a story or a book for publication. We hate the things that are out of our control, like the algorithms on Amazon that determine the standings of our books. We hate the fact that Amazon controls so much of the online retail market. We hate that reviews disappear from Amazon for no reason that we can fathom, and no notification. We hate that the retail market has shrunk so much that we who are Indie Authors have to rely on Amazon for any sales at all.

For me to continue writing, I have to put those "hate" things aside and concentrate on what I love most, especially the kind words and encouragement from others.

Recently I received this in a note from a friend about my short story collection, The Wisdom of Ages. "Thank you again for gifting me this wonderful and special book. When I started to read the first story I was reminded how talented and gifted you are. The stories themselves were great but the way you wrote about each one created such emotions for me. At the end of "Maybe Someday" I actually got a big case of goose bumps. Now that’s a great story. At the end of  "The Last Supper" I had tears in my eyes."

That note will keep me smiling for a long time. Not just because it was from a friend, but because it is from a friend with very discriminating reading tastes.

Another bright light in this crazy business is getting a rejection that doesn't cut  us to the bone. That may only happen to a writer once or twice in a lifetime, and I was lucky to experience that not too long ago.

I was talking to an editor who had to turn down an idea I have for a book, but he was so nice about it, it was hard for me to remember he was saying no. That was such a pleasant change from the rejections that would send me reeling…

“How dare they not LOVE my book?”

“My life is ruined.”

“It’s a conspiracy. I know it is.”

Sounds a little paranoid, I know, but for a long time the only thing I had to attest to my credibility as a writer was my basic insecurity. Writers are insecure for a lot of reasons. Some of us were born that way, but for others it's accumulated over the years like a fringe un-benefit.

Before the Internet, we writers tended to work in a professional vacuum- no office mates with whom to share our latest disappointment or get some direct feedback on the day-to-day accomplishments of our job. For years there was nobody here to pat me on the back except my cat, and he’d rather sleep in front of my monitor than offer me any kind words.

Now we have blogs like this one to offer advice and inspiration. On Twitter there are virtual writing and blogging communities like @bloggertribe  for mutual support and help in building an audience. On Twitter, if you use the hashtag #amwriting or #writingcommunity, you can find other writers from whom you can get daily feedback on how your writing is going, or not going, whatever the case might be.

We all know that we write because we think we have something to say, hopefully, something important and meaningful. Even when we get discouraged, we all seem to still be drawn to the keyboard - if the cat will ever move - to impart some words of wisdom or a bit of finely crafted prose. To work on that novel that is burning inside us. To spend a little time with characters who have become like family to us. To satisfy that urge to paint pictures with words.

But if that was all there was to it, we wouldn't care if our words ever saw print; and I have yet to meet a writer who didn’t care. It's good to want to say all those nice things, but the whole process would undeniably be meaningless if no one was ever going to read what we write.

So we put it out there. Do due diligence in the marketing, and hope that at the very least our monthly royalty will buy us a decent dinner out. The added bonus comes when someone reads the work and thinks it's good. Or better yet; great, wonderful, fantastic, and terrific. Like my friend who sent me that note.

By the way, the greatest gifts you can give your writer friends is to send them a note telling them how much you liked their book, as well as posting reviews of their books on Amazon and Goodreads. Have you given your favorite author any love recently?

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 Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short&Helpful, can be found HERE

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Writers Gotta Read, Right? Valentine's Day

Ah… Valentine's Day! Bring on the romance and the love, the chocolate, and the lacy, cutout paper hearts.
Sooooo lovely!
(By Chordboard - Self, from material in my possession., Public Domain,
--> But I'm a mystery author, so I can't help but think of the "dark side" as well:
  • The downside of love—jealousy, possessiveness, obsession. 
  • The poisoned box of candy. 
  • The scissors, sharp enough to cut paper, but maybe sharp enough for other, more deadly uses… 
... And now for the dark side. "Jealousy" by Edvard Munch, 1895
(Edvard Munch [Public domain])
Whether you prefer the light-hearted romance or the emotional ruin of this special day dedicated to lovers—or something in between—there's something for you to read as the following lists show…
While we're at it, who among us isn't "Dying for Chocolate?" From the blog of that name, here's a great recipe for Cherry Port Heart-shaped Brownies (yum!).
If you have a favorite Valentine's Day-themed read or a great chocolate recipe to share (!yes!) please chime in and let us know. 

Not-a-brownie, but definitely chocolate! (Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)


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 for more information.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Is love dead?

February has long been associated with love, and Valentine's Day is celebrated in a number of countries, including the U.S., Mexico, Argentina, Britain, France, Australia, and Canada among others.

Strangely, it's origins lie in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility rite involving the sacrificial killing of animals celebrated on February 15. The name was reportedly changed to St.Valentine's Day in the fifth century by Pope Gelasius I to honor Christian martyrs by the same name. Literary links to the ancient festival and modern celebrations include Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, which opens during the Lupercalia in Rome, and Chaucer's fourteenth-century work, Parlement of Foules, written to celebrate romantic love and the first anniversary of King Richard II's engagement. He wrote, "For this was on seynt Volantynys day, Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make." ("For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate." Aren't we glad we don't have to deal with Old English!)

Fast forward to the twentieth century. Heart-shaped boxes of candy, flowers, cards about love, and romantic candlelight dinners are some of the trappings that accompany this observance. In the Philippines, it is the most common wedding anniversary, and mass marriages of literally hundreds of couples often occur on February 14. Valentine Day's message of love has been extended beyond romantic boundaries to include family, friends, neighbors, and school children. I still remember the parties during my elementary school years and the excitement when the big box where all the valentines had been deposited was opened and the cheery greetings were passed out.

What has happened in the twenty-first century? As it marches on toward its third decade, it seems to have left love on the side of the road—or at least sent it to the back of the bus. News reports depict friends and neighbors parting ways over differences of opinion, family members opposing one another on any number of issues, students being bullied into committing suicide, and private citizens as well as terrorists invading schools and public gatherings to slaughter attendees. Large crowds of protesters march in the streets, demanding their rights, then vandalizing cars and businesses and attacking bystanders without regard for the rights of others. Racial, religious, and ethnic prejudices abound. Much of the world appears to teeter on the brink of anarchy.

Still, reports of love, neighborliness, and fellow-feeling creep into the news now and then. Strangers reaching out to those they do not know offer hope that love may not be facing its imminent demise.

Writers, like everyone else, are affected by the changes in our world. Unlike everyone else, we have the unique opportunity to inspire conversations when we incorporate into our stories the concerns and fears of real people—not only making our books relevant to readers, but also preserving the woes of our time for posterity. Through our characters, we can show the impact of rapidly changing and unstable world conditions on individuals and families. We might even find comfort and hope for ourselves as we allow our characters to express their concerns and seek ways to deal with what appear to be hopeless situations. They can articulate the feelings many readers are reluctant to voice. They can open the door to dialogues that need to take place, whether within the framework of a readers group or book club or simply among family members or friends.

The people who populate our pages might even remind us of the dangers inherent in isolating ourselves behind the impersonal environment of our cell phones and other forms of digital communication that separate us from hugs and human touch. Yes, technology serves a useful purpose when we can't be someplace in person; but rather than allowing it to replace physical presence when we interact with family and community, we have the power to bring love back into our lives by sharing it in person with those around us—as do our characters.

We humans have a great capacity to love and a strong desire to be loved. While we cannot alter world events, we can certainly control how we respond to them, how we deal with others, how we reach out to help where help is needed. Returning to the mentality of the heartless festival of animal sacrifices should never be an option. Instead, we can move forward to demonstrate through our actions and our characters the superiority of love as a counter to the anger and hostility and violence that permeate so much of the air we breathe.

We can show that love never fails. Not in February. Not in any time of year.

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 thriller. You can contact her at websites: and