Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Writers Gotta Read, Right?—July marches on

It may be the end of July, but the reading never stops. For your browsing pleasure, please check out the lists below. You'll probably find plenty to add to your TBR (to-be-read) virtual or paper-based stacks of books for the rest of summer and beyond.
  • The Booklist Reader has a list of authors and books to tackle for various July events, including Canada Day, the Fourth of July, P.T. Barnum's birthday, and Bastille Day. (Note: the list is nine years old, but hey, some authors never go out of date.)
  • BookBrowse lists their Best book for July 2019. You'll find all kinds and flavors here. Click on a cover to learn more about a particular book.
  • For the Fourth of July, the Cincinnati Public Library has recommendations for all ages and tastes.
  • To stretch the timeframe a bit, Listopia's Best Children's Books about Summer provides plenty for small fry to devour—251 books in all.
Now, to mysteries, because that's my favorite genre.
  •  The Cozy Mystery List Blog lists all the books released this July right here.  Get your reading glasses ready.
  • Looking for Fourth of July crime fiction? Mystery Fanfare has plenty for you to choose from in this list.
  • And if you're craving foreign climes in your reading, Mystery Fanfare presents books for Bastille Day...
Pick up a book and visit France for Bastille Day!
By Albert Marquet - Public Domain

July features a lot of obscure holidays as you can tell from this list. Some of these holidays might lead you to consider books of a different nature. For instance, to my delight, I see July 12 is "Different Colored Eyes Day." Why am I delighted?

[Warning: I am about to tootle my self-promotional horn]
Well, one of my favorite characters from my Silver Rush historical mystery series, Antonia Gizzi, has a condition called heterochromia, i.e., two different colors of eyes. You can meet Antonia in Leadville, Colorado, in What Gold Buys and follow her further adventures in San Francisco, California, in A Dying Note.
[End of self-promotional horn-tootling]

 Hmmmmm... I wonder if there are any books befitting International Chicken Wing Day or Take Your Houseplants for a Walk Day. And then, there is today, July 30, which happens to be both International Day of Friendship and National Cheesecake Day. Let's raise a slice of cheesecake to good friends!

How about you? Any July-themed books you wish to recommend? Let us know in a comment below.
Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press, an imprint of Sourcebooks. 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.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Is the State of the World Affecting Your Writing?

It’s become increasingly obvious that the fate of the world is keeping me from completing my current work in progress. Every day I try to concentrate, then a crisis distracts my attention and mires me in a variety of fears, insecurity, and shock. Where I used to worry about what my main character would do next or what I’d make for dinner, now I worry about the survival of our people from the cold and hot realities of life on this planet, children I don’t know and never will, and the threat of another foolish and unnecessary war.

I worry that our government representatives, people we put in place to take care of those things, seem not to worry about anything other than enriching themselves and putting their ideological desires for power ahead of their own grandchildren. Doesn’t anyone consider the consequences? Have they never seen a dystopian movie or read a book where the aftermath of greed, the thirst for war, or the quest for power leaves us destroyed? Hell, if 1984 by George Orwell or The Children of Men by P.D. James, about the inexplicable infertility of the human race—probably caused by poisonous chemicals, in my opinion―or the rear view mirror of history doesn’t inspire them to look forward, what will? Even the genre film Mad Max series should have some message for them.
These books used to be considered science fiction. They don't seem that way anymore.

My book is political. It’s about a man who speaks up about what he considers his government's inhumane abuses toward people under its control, and as a newspaper publisher, he has the platform to promote his opinion to every citizen. For some he’s a hero; for others he’s a traitor. Those who consider him the latter, plan his assassination, not in his country, but in ours. Not just anywhere but in front of the United Nations where he is to give a speech. It's up to a retired military general and his twin sons, both who have been changed by war, to stop the murder.

I started this book a long time ago and put it aside. I thought things will change. A sane head of government will be elected, a peace accord will be reached, and my story would be obsolete. But that did not happen; in fact, things are worse. Sides are split, vitriol is the tone of the day, and people have lost their moral compass. Politics span countries. What happens in one country affects others, and in turn, affects the world.

Writers are influenced by what happens―in their homes, in their cities, and on the planet. In whatever genres we write, we incorporate what we see and feel around us, whether we know it or not. Bits and pieces creep into our dialogue, in the actions of our characters, and yes, in our plots. Many of us have sponge-like minds, curious natures, and feel the righteous duty to explore and expose the inequities as fodder for our stories.

In my novels, I’ve tackled criminal justice, racism, the plight of the handicapped, sexual and vicious assault, vigilantism, art theft, Satanism, and prostitution. Writing about politics is pushing the envelope in a divided world. I’ll eventually finish this book. Some might not like the way it comes out, and I’m sure there will be critics. But what the hell.

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, July 18, 2019

Writing Tips With a Touch of Snark

Okay Dearies, Style Maven's Snarky Cousin is back after an extended time away. I do hope everyone had a simply marvelous good time while I was gone, writing those wonderful words of gold. I've abandoned my own words of gold to pop in to remind you darling new writers about a few basic elements of craft.

In writing a book, it's not enough to put words on a computer screen and hit publish. Really it's not. It can have the most disastrous effect on readers.

There was a time when one took classes - creative writing classes - in which we darling new writers learned important craft elements. One of which is the proper use of dialogue. For instance, if you have two longtime friends sharing a bit of bubbly and some juicy gossip, you totally spoil the moment with awkward exposition.

What? You don't know what awkward exposition is?

OMG, as the young people might say. Let me bring you in out of the cold. Your two lovely characters are chatting away when they start sharing information they both already know, such as who kissed that boy under the bleachers. Hello! They were both there. They know about the kissing. Then one girl mentions the friend's brothers by name, "Your brothers Kyle and Chris were there, too. Remember?"

Okay, unless the young woman has more than two brothers, does her friend really need to drop the names into the dialog?  If this were a real conversation you were having with a friend, would you decide she has a sudden onset of amnesia? Of course not. That would be a most awkward moment. Perhaps resulting in the confiscation of your glass of wine. 

Something else you might want to avoid is the meandering story-line. Really. That's a thing now. And I've been stumbling across it so often in some self-published books, that I'm now limping. Please, don't take a reader down a new path because there might be an interesting wildflower along the way, especially if wildflowers have nothing to do with the main story line. And if you do choose to take your reader off the main path for a moment, make sure there's a clear route back. Don't leave her stranded at the end of a trail calling for help.

Oh, yes, I can hear the cries now. "What about flashbacks?"

Please do simmer down. I have a beastly headache, and you're right. See, I can say that sometimes. There are times to use flashbacks. Just make sure the transition from what is supposed to be immediate in the story, to a prior scene - whether it is one that somebody is thinking about, or one that we've actually gone back in time to experience with these characters - is clear. One mustn't fog up the windshield of our readers' vehicles. That could cause the most frightful mess.

In closing, let me just say how I feel about the use of the word "felt" in a story. Too many novels are just full of them. When we're writing a first draft, we often say John felt angry or John felt embarrassed or Sarah felt sad or Sarah felt happy as a way to get that emotion identified and bookmarked on the page. Then we can move on to writing the rest of the scene without slowing the plot momentum to fix details.

However, we really shouldn't let those identifiers stand in their bland, boring words. Bring some passion to the scene. Describe those feelings in a way that will make the reader feel them. "Traffic inched along at a snail's pace, and Sarah could see the flashes of red and blue from police cars and ambulances just ahead. She shouldn't have driven. It was too soon. She gripped the steering wheel, willing her eyes not to stray, but they did, and the floodgates opened when she drew alongside and saw the EMTs pull an old man out of the mangled car. It could have been her father."

See. Not a word about Sarah feeling sad.

So, dearies how about we practice a bit. Leave a comment in which you describe a feeling instead of just naming it.

For help with writing emotions, you might want to check out The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Beccca Puglisi. It's filled with tips on how to convey emotions in new and clever ways.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Posted by Maryann Miller who struggles with craft as much as anyone. That's why there's a second and third and maybe fourth draft before a book is finished.  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 And Helpful, can be found HERE

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

When the Writer Has Too Many Ideas

There are plenty of writers out there in the wilderness, many of them beginners, who will wail, “What do you mean too many ideas? I can even nail down one!”


 Others will know exactly what I mean. All the while one author is working on a novel, ideas for a sequel are percolating in the back of her mind. Thoughts pop up just before she goes to sleep, then are forgotten by morning. She’s writing contemporary crime fiction, but a historical novel picks at her brain, set in the state where she grew up and full of fictional content against events that really happened and people who really lived during the times. On the other hand, there’s that nagging feeling she’d really like to try writing romance.

William Kent Krueger, author of the Cork O’Connor mystery series, tells of that story he’d wanted to write for a long time but didn’t get a lot of encouragement from his agent or publisher. The idea wouldn’t go away, and Krueger finally wrote it as a standalone. That novel is the award-winning Ordinary Grace.

In Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about ideas that wander from person to person, looking for the receptive host. The writer has a chance to receive the idea and turn it into a creative project, but he doesn’t get to hold onto the idea forever. My interpretation of Gilbert’s notion is that a formal acceptance of the idea is necessary. That receptive writer might be open to several ideas that present themselves, and obviously, he can’t write them all at the same time.

How do we grab an idea and attach an anchor so it can’t get away? How do we care for the idea while we’re working on another project?

These are questions I’ve wrestled with lately while feeling stuck and unable to decide what to work on next. This little limbo has even kept me from doing the rewrites on my current work-in-progress. Indecision can be paralyzing.

I finally came up with my own solution while trying to brainstorm with a writer friend who also has too many ideas.


1. Make the decision to finish the project on which I’ve done the most work so far.

2. Use one or more notebooks to anchor those other ideas I don’t want to neglect or forget. That would include scenes that need rewriting in other first draft manuscripts sitting on the shelf. I favor the 9 ½ x 6 in. notebooks. Although my old ideas and notes (off and on since 1/1/89) were getting jotted into one 3 subject notebook, for real projects going forward I’ll use one notebook per serious novel idea with sections for setting, character, and plot.

3. Continue to add notes to each idea book as the thoughts occur.

4. After completing the current project, move to the next project on which I’ve done the most work.

5. Continue to add notes to each idea book as the thoughts occur.

6. Repeat 4. And 5. until I run out steam, which hopefully will not happen too soon. I have a lot of ideas to go.

If you’re a writer, would you say you have trouble finding new ideas or that you have too many ideas? How do you solve that problem?

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. This novel is also now available in a large print edition.

Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” will appear in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, scheduled to be released in November 2019.

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 the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

What Type of Story Gardener Are You?

How often have you answered the question, “Are you a pantser or a plotter?” with “I’m a bit of both” or “I’m somewhere in the middle”, or something along that line?

In this video, at around the 50:30 mark, you can listen to Carrie Vaughn and Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones) author George RR Martin discussing their approaches to writing and referring to “architects” and “gardeners”, which is an analogy Martin has used before instead of “plotter” and “pantser”. Presuming Martin is referring to landscape architecture (as opposed to building architecture, which would make less sense used as a metaphor alongside gardening) this analogy gives us a spectrum of different writing approaches, rather than the more dualistic argument of pantsing versus plotting.

The Landscape Architect

Like a professional landscape architect who has to produce an extremely detailed blueprint of their proposed design, sometimes down to the actual species and number of plants that are to be planted in each section, the author on this end of the spectrum first plans out their book in great detail. This might particularly apply to a non-fiction author who has to get approval from a publisher, or a traditionally-published fiction author sending in a proposal for several books in a series. Authors of fantasy, science fiction, and historical novels might also be in this group due to the world-building and research aspects of these genres. If you enjoy developing character profiles/biographies, in-world encyclopedias, and what I like to call fictionaries (fictional dictionaries) pertaining to the world of your book(s) then you might fit somewhere in this section.

The Landscape Gardener

A little more hands-on from the beginning, this author creates a relatively quick sketch before digging in to the work itself. This author probably has a lot of experience and now knows where they can take shortcuts. Like a landscape gardener who takes soils samples in order to work with or alter the pH of the soil or the drainage conditions, authors in this column continually analyse their market and know their genre extremely well.

The Sculpture Gardener

Like the artists in charge of beautiful public and private manor gardens which require a great deal of vision and a lot of time pruning and shaping and attention to symmetry and elegance, these authors spend a lot of time on rewriting and editing to create a true work of art.

The Botanical Gardener

These authors pay strict attention to themes and/or accuracy. They might collect notes on, or write about, a bit of everything, but they are well organised and logical in their output.

The Farmer

Working hard to produce a large volume of nourishing work that brings in an income, writers in this field might be producing articles, text books, early reader books, quick chapter book series, or even what was called “pulp” fiction in the past. To be this prolific requires a solid system, professional tools, and commitment to regular high-quality writing that needs as little editing as possible. Farmers cannot operate without the back-up of their families or paid staff since this kind of workload leaves little time for distractions such as holidays, leisure time, or even housework.

The Vegetable Gardener

Perhaps less prolific than the farmer, these are authors who are working to produce books as quickly as possible, but they also have pesky loads of laundry to deal with. Concentrating on getting the words right as much as possible in the first draft can help to cut down on time-consuming rewrites, getting those books out to harvest on a regular cycle.

The Constant Gardener

This is the writer who must write, who cannot breathe without writing. Daily “morning pages” are like fresh air. Getting words on the page is the only goal. But with all this time immersed in the work, this author notices everything that needs attention and the necessary pruning and shaping happens organically. Just as new projects arise out of this gardener’s awareness of how their garden is used and enjoyed by others, so the author using this approach understands what their readers want and need and tries to bring joy and usefulness into being by the way they shape their works.

The Weekend Gardener

Like the average person with a day job who escapes into their garden on the weekend, these authors have other commitments that leave them only a very specific window of time in which to write. These authors would benefit from keeping detailed notes and a solid planning system so that they can easily pick up where they left off and get writing. It also pays to aim for clean copy in the early drafts to avoid spending precious hours on rewriting and editing.

The Cottage Gardener

The cottage gardener doesn’t do much planning, instead choosing plants mostly on a whim or through long experience and trial and error. They may be set in their ways, or willing to plant anything once. They might take cuttings from plants in a friend’s garden. Likewise, the cottage author is attracted to a variety of different genres, doesn’t plan much beyond the initial idea and perhaps the ending, may abandon a work-in-progress in favour of a new idea, and usually prefers to let the characters and story develop organically through the writing process. Some might enjoy writing fan fiction, or building upon classical stories and motifs, or collaborating with a co-author or illustrator.

The Wildflower Gardener

This author does no planning whatsoever. They arrive on the garden of their page and scatter the seeds that come in the moment. The plants of their words are allowed to grow where they will and the author does little more than the equivalent of watering, nourishing, and any obvious weeding (always bearing in mind that what looks like a weed today might be the prize of the garden in a few weeks). The wildflower author is content to soak up the beauty of placing words on the page and enjoy the surprise of what those words become. Many poets find themselves in this column.

Over to you. Have I left any gardeners out? Where do you fit in such a spectrum? Has this given you (ahem) food for thought? Are you using the most beneficial writing approach for the body of work you’re trying to produce and the time and resources you have to work with? Do you need to consider a different approach?

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or HearWriteNow.com

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Writers Independence Day

Known for its celebration of Independence Day in the U.S., the month of July inspired this discussion about a different kind of independence—one desired by a number of fiction writers. This Independence Day, however, is not observed on a specific date. It is celebrated any time an author chooses to step outside the proverbial box when writing a story from the heart.

What exactly is Writers Independence Day?

A recent BRP comment comparing genre fiction to literary fiction made me revisit those diverse methods of story writing. The person who wrote the comment stated she had not to date found a literary fiction book that engaged her sufficiently to make her finish it. No words exploded off the page to keep her reading. In what way does literary fiction differ from genre fiction?

Several years ago, when I began researching how a book qualifies as being one genre or another, I discovered that specific rules dictate the writing of a genre story. These formulaic guidelines had to be followed for a manuscript to be accepted in a given genre by a big publishing house. Being a bit of a nonconformist, I rebelled at the thought of adhering to certain rules. Nonetheless, I couldn't argue against the successes of books written by guideline-following authors. For generations those books have been extremely popular with huge numbers of loyal readers.

Called escapism by some reviewers, genre fiction entertains its readers in a world of make believe. Typically plot-driven stories do not require strong, three-dimensional characters, although they're welcomed. Great writing is a plus and often recommends a story on just that merit. I have dubbed genre fiction as extroverted fiction. Why? It lures the reader out of himself/herself and into a place where personal problems can be temporarily put aside.

Literary fiction doesn't do that. Powerful characters bare souls and secrets, pulling readers into their emotional journeys. Happy endings may occur, but they're not guaranteed. Rather than allowing readers to escape the rigors of reality, literary fiction draws them into characters' lives and circumstances that may parallel a reader's own situation. Often eloquently written, its carefully chosen words can profoundly affect readers by granting them unexpected and occasionally disconcerting personal insight and self-realization. I call literary fiction introverted fiction because of its effect on the reader's (and writer's) self.

As noted previously, genre fiction usually follows rules that determine when, where, and how a particular event occurs and what obstacles lie between the beginning and end of a book. In other words, the author may not be allowed free rein regarding the tale's development, trajectory, and ending.

Writers of literary fiction have a free hand in developing their stories.This freedom—or independence from publishers' rules—allows the author and the characters to journey from beginning to end without imposed inclusions or restrictions. However, that independence imposes heavy writer responsibility to readers. The author must keep theme, characters, trajectory, and purpose from going astray.

The above is not intended to discourage anyone from writing a literary novel. To the contrary, I prefer literary writing. Just keep in mind that, while hard and fast guidelines may be nonexistent, the rules of good writing always apply. In fact, literary prose may indeed be a beautiful work of word art, painting a picture in the reader's mind so vivid and so real that it reduces that reader to laughter or tears as though he or she were a participant or close observer in the depicted scene.

It's important to remember that traditional houses may not be open to accepting literary works for publication. Historically, such books are often not great sellers. If a work is rejected on this basis, what's a literary writer to do? Some smaller publishers may not enforce the guidelines of the past and therefore may be viable options. Self-publishing, sometimes referred to as independent publishing, might also be a possibility.

Authors who opt to write literary novels control story content and trajectory in order to create a work in the best possible way to convey their message. Those who take the leap into this uncharted territory—silently celebrating their self-declared Writers Independence Day—must always bring to their readers a well-written, memorable tale.

One final thought: Boredom is not a requirement. A literary story can be as exciting, compelling, and dynamic as any genre novel. It's all up to the author.

Do you know the differences between genre and literary fiction? (See the list below for articles that discuss several dissimilarities.) Have you ever written a literary work? Do you read literary fiction? If so, who are your favorite authors?


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

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Give Your Book a Listen

Is the story on the page the same as the story in your head?  When you finish revision and final proofreading rounds, it is a good idea to give your finished manuscript a listen. 

The process of listening to the narration highlights problems such as:

1. Smoothness of flow.

2. Awkward transitions between scenes or chapters.

3. Repetitive word usage.

4. Clunky, run-on, or repetitive dialogue and dialogue tags.

5. Missing and redundant information.

6. Awkward choreography of action scenes.

7. Boring passages.

8. Ratio of narrative versus dialogue and action.

9. Spelling and grammar errors.

10. Missing words.

Unless you can bribe or coerce someone to read your story to you, there are several tools to do the task. Most of them are free, or free for the basic program. Some offer additional voices or functions at a cost. The "narrators" sometimes stumble over words, but it won't insert words that aren't there the way your mind fills in gaps as you read.

Having your story read aloud gives you an idea of how your manuscript might sound as an audio book. Some programs give you the option of turning the narration into an audio file. But please, for the love of books, don't upload the file as an audio book. Audio books are more complex than that. They require a script and file specifications not provided by a text to speech program.

Learn more about audio book production:

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.