Thursday, October 17, 2019

Welcome to the Future, or Not

I’ve never been afraid of much. Not sure why. I don’t like scary movies, don’t read horror novels. I used to fear getting old, but I’m kind of there, and it’s not as bad as I thought. But in day-to-day life, nothing much ever made me really scared, until recently.

Why could that be? you might ask. It’s the future—the future I probably won’t be around to learn if my fears were justified. The future that my children, grandchildren, and their children face. It’s the banal reality show mentality of the Kardashians and Big Brother. The greed in politics and lack of empathy. It’s people shrugging off the ugliness toward others and normalizing it. It’s a diminished public educational system that only serves those kids who are lucky enough to live in a good district or have the benefit of a private education. A good public education used to be for all kids from grades one to twelve and then affordable college. Now, some people bribe colleges to get their kids accepted, as if they have no faith their child will be accepted on his or her own merits. We need to teach critical thinking and civics, and we need to spend more money to do it.

My fears aren’t momentary fears, like a monster coming out of the closet or a “we’re-gonna-need-a-bigger-boat” shark attack. It’s fear of the real and all-too common nutcase with an AR-15 or a bomb attacking those out for a peaceful afternoon or a movie. It’s the heartbreak of seeing people living on the street and the fear that it will get worse.

If this sounds political, it isn’t. These are not right or left concerns. There is only one side to this, the human side. Before anyone jumps on me and reminds me of slavery, segregation, and Kent State, among dozens of other examples, yes, I know. We have some dreadful history in this country that people will point out when we get on our idealistic high horse about how much better we are than everyone else. We recognize these atrocities and wars, the shootings and prejudices, but I never feared I’d be shot in a movie theater or my kids would have classes on how to survive being the senseless targets of a psycho while they were at school.

How does this all pertain to writing, for I can’t forget, The Blood Red Pencil is a blog for writers, editors, and readers. At the risk of sounding shallow, all these fears and distractions have interfered with my concentration to write. Some things are keeping me up at night. Maybe I’m not a “real” writer if I can’t compartmentalize what worries me. I can accept that. Like I said, most of my life is behind me, but I worry about what’s coming, for my kids and yours. The fact that we have become more callous and complacent to the erosion of common decency is terrifying to me, and that so many don’t see the future repercussions of what is happening now is even more scary.

All that said, I try to convince myself that I’m wrong and and that there’s nothing to fear. When I can concentrate, I write. The book I’m working on now is political. It’s about power, revenge, and betrayal. Perfect for our times, but it’s also a way of making sure I control the ending, and that everything comes out all right.

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 15, 2019

Are Your Characters' Fears Your Fears?

Franklin Roosevelt said "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". Those words from his 1933 inaugural address were intended to encourage and energize the American people, who seemed to have lost all hope of recovering from the Great Depression that had devastated their lives.

Now fast forward to October 2019. The world appears to be teetering on the brink of another crisis, one that threatens to break peoples and countries into fragments that seem to be headed toward anarchy.

How does this affect your writing? Earthshaking events on the world scene can drive a story or be a backdrop for events in various genres from romances to thrillers to mysteries to science fiction and fantasy. But what about other fears—ones that fall short of a world crisis? Do things that go bump in your night show up on the pages of your novels?

Do you and your character share a fear of spiders or snakes? How about fear of the dark? crowds? height? flying? the opposite sex? Why do you you shrink back from confronting your fears? How do you react when a spider or snake crosses you path? What are the perks of sharing what you are afraid of with someone in your story? Realism.

When something terrifies you, your ability to convey the fear and emotions attached to it multiply exponentially. The reader will be drawn into the scene to a far greater extent than she would have had you simply described what you imagine the fear to be like.  For example, how do you react to standing on the edge of a high cliff? Do you shake inside? Are you afraid of falling? Or are you tempted to jump? What goes through your mind? Show your reader your gut reaction to what scares your character (and you), and you'll have a memorable scene.

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 thrillers. You can contact her at websites: and

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Fear: What Scares You the Most in Books and Movies?

I am no longer in the habit of indulging in self-fright by reading books that are too alarming or watching movies that terrify. But that’s today. When I was young and foolish, I took chances.

Back in the day, I read several Stephen King novels that have stayed with me forever. Cujo was the first. Pet Sematary was even worse. I still read Stephen King from time to time, but I read the synopses very carefully before I buy. And I don’t read King novels after the sun goes down.

As far as the movies made from King novels, I think the only one I dared to watch was Carrie. If I had watched the others, I might have been scarred for life.

My friend and critique group co-member Brian Kaufman wrote a few horror novels and ran the chapters through our meetings. I had to “woman-up” and read critically without freaking out. I can safely say that’s the only way anyone will persuade me read about zombies (Dead Beyond the Fence: A Novel of the Zombie Apocalypse) or a creepy haunted house with a possessed owner (The Wretched Walls). Also any story that features werewolves, vampires, or Hannibal Lecter.

Brian has moved on to other genres (The Fat Lady’s Low Sad Song). That one is not scary.

I avoid scary movies altogether. Sometimes I get unpleasant surprises with movies I expected to be suspenseful but not horrifying. Like that bunny scene in Fatal Attraction. Or the surprise-fist-through-the-glass-door scene in what might have been Sea of Love, but I’m not sure because it’s the only scene I can remember of a whole movie. When the fist crashed through the glass, my hand that held a container of popcorn flew up involuntarily and shared my popcorn with all those sitting around me. My soda was safely in the cup holder instead of my hand, thank goodness.

Music can be a fear trigger for many of us, I’m sure. Consider Psycho, Jaws, and, for me, the theme from Deliverance. Yes, I saw those movies a long time ago, before I knew better. The music still sends chills down my back.

Are you a reader or movie fan who seeks out the scary stuff? What scares you the most in print or film?

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.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Writers Gotta Read, Right? Scare yourself silly

Right on the heels of our month exploring humor (September) is our month on FEAR (October). So hang onto your hats, turn on the lights, and muffle the screams (or not), because I've rounded up some lists of scary reads for you to indulge in (or avoid).

 Let's start at the top and go all out with Daryl Chen's 20 Scariest Books of All Times over at the Reader's Digest site. The post includes covers and short summaries, so you can pick and choose how you prefer your frights.

Stephen King is well represented in the previous list, and his works appear as well in Buzzfeed's 23 Books That are Actually Really, Really Scary.

ADDENDUM: King also appears prominently in another Buzzfeed article: 23 Books That Actually Freaked People Out So Badly, They Had To Stop Reading. (And here's a shout-out to my local indie bookstore, Towne Center Books, for mentioning this particular list.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Okay, I'm officially freaked out after looking over those lists. How about we look at something a little less intense, such as:
 And, oh dear, I see there is an official HORROR WEEK over on Goodreads. Yikes! Cybil's Be Afraid: It's Horror Week on Goodreads! has links to several posts, including:
... There are more links listed on Cybil's original Goodreads post, but I can't wrap up without mentioning the "Nightmare Generator," which claims to tell you what will haunt your dreams. For me, it turns out to be "teenage zombie in the library." Hmmmm. Maybe I could use this as a character in a story (or maybe not!).

What about you? Have you read a scary book that continues to haunt you even now?

And what is your nightmare, according to the Nightmare Generator? Do share!

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 for more information.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Fears That Usurp Writing

Let’s just get that word out of the way now because it and all its ugly friends—worry, doubt, and anxiety to name a few—often play a role in how or why we write (or don’t).

We all at some point have fears, and it seems that we creative types have them in constant, overpowering waves.

As I moved into my twenties and began to write in earnest, fear was my constant companion. Every year, there is a plethora of stories published. How was I going to compete? How was I different from or better than those who were already published? Those two questions swirled inside my head all the time. Who did I think I was to think that I was good enough for other people to want to read my work? It didn’t help that some editors recommended that I “write blacker.” The fear of writing expanded to me wondering if and how I could pander to the publishing world my blackness for the sake of being published.

When you let fear in, it becomes a squatter. It comes not to visit and have some tea, a little chitchat, then leave. No, its goal is to find a nice, comfortable spot in your mind and live there forever and keep you from moving forward in your writing endeavor.

Even people who have the strongest confidence suffer from fear from time to time, so we can’t get away from it. We can, however, fight it.

If we know what our fears are, then we can find ways to kill those fears every day. And ultimately, in the killing of those fears, some of them will die and stay dead.

When I have the fear that I’m not good enough, I go back and I read passages of my first mystery Death at the Double Inkwell because my favorite writing experiences come from that novel. I also go back and read stories I wrote that other people enjoyed reading. I think about my MFA fiction professor, who always had such positive, motivating things to say about my work. I still have the last page of my revised thesis (a novel) where he wrote, “Shon, this is really great.” That short statement meant so much to me, and it still warms my heart and makes me think, Hmm, maybe I am a good writer after all. I try to combat the fear with fact because really that’s the only way you can kill a fear: obliterate it with facts.

What fears keep you from writing? What facts do you have to kill the fears?

If you journal, you might consider thinking further on this topic and journal on the following questions/suggestions:

  • What negative thoughts do you have when you try to write?
  • Where do these negative thoughts come from? Where do they originate?
  • How true are these thoughts? Fear typically is not true; it’s something we’ve conjured up in such a way that it looks real. It can even develop a physical identity because we have made it so real. Try to get outside of your negative thoughts and that place where fear exists and truly examine each of your fears, each of those negative thoughts that try to kill your writing. How real are they?
  • Write positive truths to negate each of those negative thoughts.
  • Repeat those positive truths aloud.

It will be important to keep those positive truths nearby so that you can recite them every day, several times a day if necessary until you kill those fears.

This post is an excerpt from the book, Make Your Writing Bloom.

PS... There are other great articles on BRP regarding fear. Check them out here.

Shonell Bacon is an author, editor, and educator with 20 years of experience in helping all levels of writers become better writers. When not editing, Shonell is writing (mysteries, literary, non-fiction) and crafting digital products for people who love planning and organizing their lives. You can learn more about Shonell and her work at her website, ChickLitGurrl.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Overcoming Writer's Block

Writer's block is most often internal resistance based on fear which drives writers to self-sabotage and procrastinate. If you expose the source, you can battle it.

1. Your writing isn't good enough.

The good news is a writer doesn't have to be perfect. It isn't neurosurgery.  A reader won't die if you make a grammatical error.  You should have a basic grasp of language. If your last encounter with grammar was high school, you could probably use a refresher course. Some writers know how to compose language like a musician creates scores. If you are a true word nerd, you will enjoy learning how to craft masterful sentences and paragraphs. You should also have a basic grasp of story structure and genre expectations, but you don't need a degree to gain them.

You can improve your craft in three ways:

A. Read and analyze the best. 

Read them with an analytical eye. Take notes. What did they do well? What did you dislike? Describe the point of each chapter in a few sentences and view them at the end. How did the story flow? What information was relayed when? Take note of how the characters were crafted. Mark descriptions of people and places that brought the story to life. Note when you were moved, frightened, or tense. By analyzing other writers, you can borrow methods to improve your own work.

Learn by Analysis

B. Take courses.

There are plenty of options to learn about writing that do not require a Masters of Fine Arts degree.  Whether you prefer lectures or the written word, there is something for everyone. Many of the classes are free or low cost.

Online Courses

Great Courses

Master Classes

C. Practice.

Everyone's first draft sucks. I'd go so far as to say everyone's first book sucks. Even Jane Austen revised. If it is at all possible, join or create a critique group.  A nurturing critique group, and by that I don't mean a rah-rah session where everyone gushes praise, helps identify your weaknesses. You will learn from reading other writers' work and identifying their strengths and weaknesses.

You can't fix something you haven't created. I recommend a bare bones draft rather than wasting time finessing words you will later cut. If you prefer to trim later, then it helps to break revision into steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the task.

2019 Conferences

Building a Critique Group

Finding a Critique Group

2. No one will read it.

Your best chance of being read hinges on two aspects: target audience and demand. While Mystery and Romance are the top sellers over time, there is plenty of room for a good Gothic, Horror, Thriller, Historical, Literary Drama, etc. If you have an original twist on a genre, go for it. Understanding who you are writing for before you start makes the next essential step easier.

People have to know you've written a book which leads to panic-inducing task of marketing. The majority of writers have deep internal resistance to putting themselves out there virtually or in person. But you have to do it. There is no way to wriggle out of it. You may find you enjoy hanging out with other writers who love your genre at conferences and book events. You may never go to a book signing and that's okay. Many people successfully navigate social media and other online tools to gain readership without ever leaving their house.

Self-promotion and marketing are specific skill sets. It doesn't matter if you are traditionally published or self-published. You have to get readers to look at your premise and like your description. Pitches and cover design are also special skill sets.  You either have to develop them or pay for others who have them if you self-publish.

Marketing Questionaire

Marketing and Publicity

Unique Marketing Opportunities

3. People won't like it.

You can't please everyone and shouldn't try. Even J. K. Rowing and Stephen King have haters. Don't worry about people who aren't into your work. The internet is a magnet for hateful trolls who have nothing better to do than tear other people down. Block them if you can. Ignore them if you can't. Whatever you do, don't feed them.

While your book is full of your blood, sweat, and tears, to the greater world it is a product. And what a product! You strung thousands of words together to create people, places, and events. You created a verbal movie all on your own. You were writer, producer, director, set builder, costume designer, cast, and crew. That is an amazing achievement requiring discipline, intelligence, imagination, and daring.

The hardest part of being an artist is separating your ego from your product, which leads to the greatest fear of all:

4. People won't like me.

We all have doubts and insecurities. No one is immune. But my bet is anyone who liked the result of your labors will also like the creator. You don't need Photoshop filters or Twitter feeds full of sparkling wit. Just be yourself. You are enough.

That said, social media gives audiences greater access to the artist. It is best to keep a professional distance. Put your best foot forward like you would for any job and leave your personal life at home, or on an alternate protected online profile.

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.