Thursday, August 27, 2020

Another Rip Van Stoltey Moment

I remember toward the end of July I decided to create a Blood-Red Pencil blog post early for August as well as finally posting to my own blog which has sat neglected since February 3rd.

And then suddenly it was August 15th. No Blood-Red Pencil post. No post to my personal blog.

What happened?

I know I did stuff over the last month. I see the notations on my calendar. A cortisone shot in my arthritic shoulder (which did not help). My annual checkup which I passed with flying colors (for my age). A Saturday morning Crowdcast online event called Mystery in the Midlands. A grooming appointment for Sassy. Curbside pickups for groceries. A couple more online writing programs. A solid effort to apply the edits to my current almost-finished frontier fiction manuscript called In Defense of Delia. Critiques for two writers’ group meetings.

And yet, without that calendar to look at, I might have had a hard time remembering what I did in the last four weeks to fill up all that time.

Pixabay

Except for reading and watching television. I remember I did a lot of both, especially since almost all the books I had on Hold were ready at the same time.

Plus my daily walk with Sassy. But the walk is out of the question for the moment. We have smoke from the Cameron Peak fire up here on the Northern Front Range, so like much of the rest of Colorado and Southern California, it’s best to stay inside.

So, I finally stepped out of the time warp and wrote this blog post, which is about as exciting as eating dry toast.

The only thing I have to offer is this little list of good reading…because I definitely have been doing a lot of it.

Margaret Mizushima’s new Timber Creek K-9 mystery releases September 8th. I read an advance copy on Net Galley and reviewed it as 5 stars: I'm a big fan of Mattie Cobb and her K-9 dog Robo, and Hanging Falls, book number six in the series did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, I liked this book best of all because we got a deeper glimpse into Mattie's background and met new family members  Mattie had thought she'd never see again. This was a heartwarming development for a character whose backstory has been pretty rough, leading to Mattie's problem forming new relationships with the folks in her life that she wants to love. The mystery plot is excellent, as always, and the writing topnotch. This whole series is highly recommended.


Sins in Blue, by Brian Kaufman, was released May 21st. I read an early version of the novel-in-progress, read and reviewed the advance copy on Net Galley, and then purchased a hardcover edition for my own library. Five Stars for this novel about a young man who wants to make his name as a music manager by representing a blues guitarist he thinks is better than anyone in the world. Trouble is, the musician is old and white and has failed to make it in a world dominated by African-Americans. It's a nice twist on the cultural appropriation theme set long before anyone coined the term. This very well-written novel will touch your heart as it follows young Kennedy Barnes on his mission to revive the music of Willie Johnson, a down-on-his-luck motel worker with a rough past.

Kenneth Harmon’s In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow released August 1st. Five Stars. This is a beautifully written tale of WWII and the trauma surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima, but it is so much more than a war story. An American pilot, Micah, dies when his plane crashes near Hiroshima before the main assault. His spirit attaches to the first local resident he encounters, the widow Kiyomi, and connects even more with her young daughter Ai. The lyrical prose, the well-researched cultural information, and the mystical descriptions of Japanese afterlife grabbed my interest and did not let go until the last page. I will go back and read this novel again. Highly recommended.

And for a thrilling series worthy of binge reading, try Rachel Caines’ Stillhouse Lake, Killman Creek, and Wolfhunter River. I now have Book 4 in the series, Bitter Falls, and am anticipating another exciting page-turner. When main character Gina Royal discovers her husband is a serial killer, her life and her children’s lives are changed forever. In a world where there are few secrets from those on the web, trying to run away from the social media mob seems impossible. This is a gripping series. 

This is just a sampling of the great books I’ve read this summer. I’d love to hear your recommendations. I suspect I’ll continue to slip in and out of my time warp with a pile of books for many more months.

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, ebook, and trade paperback. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” appears in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West 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  interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Crafting Characters: Seenagers

A few years ago, my husband retired from pathology and we moved to the land of eternal summer: Florida.

We had scoped out many retirement communities and they were simply, to my much younger self, sad little places. I was not ready to retire to a rocking chair on the porch. Neither was he. We chose an over 55 community with 120,000 people and growing. The goal is 250,000 at the moment, but we may overtake Orlando at some point. It is often referred to as Disneyland for Grownups.

You can do everything here: over 2,000 clubs from Scrabble to scuba, and every sport imaginable in addition to golf. There hundreds of Rec Centers with pools and workout equipment.  Hubs leads bicyclists on 45 mile a day ride and he is in the "slow club." There are eighty-year-olds riding at 20-28 miles per hour. There are rowing clubs, marathoners, triathletes, weightlifters, kayakers, and swimmers. There are many senior Olympians.

There is dancing at the three town squares every evening, or was prior to COVID. A few rebels still go there. There are multiple movie theaters and bowling alleys and a polo club. We are visited by top entertainers: comedians, Broadway plays, musicians, and something I didn't know existed - tribute bands. There are opportunities to learn everything from square dancing, line dancing, ball room dancing, hula, and belly dancing to something new called Kanga dance. And people enjoy showing off their skills at the squares.

There is a learning college where you can take classes from dance, yoga, languages, pottery, computer programming, to discussions of history and literature. There are multiple libraries. There are book clubs and writing clubs. There are travel clubs and travel opportunities and tours. There are myriad opportunities for charity work, community outreach, and mentoring. They have Kiwanis, Shriners, Rotary etc. who raise money and contribute to the local communities. There is a camp for children dealing with illnesses. I make blankets for them. Crafters and artisans of all kinds abound here.

The University of Florida did a study on how this lifestyle improved senior's health and longevity. Too many older people end up isolated and alone.

What I've learned about seniors is they are not the stereotypical "old people" my younger self imagined. They are still vital. They have dreams and ambitions. They have experienced life's joys and tragedies which gives them depth. Everyone has stories. There is a huge brain trust of experience and talent. If our world was knocked sideways on its axis, seniors would take up tools to rebuild it.
Older people are rich characters to draw from. So, here are some things to think about when crafting characters.

1. Age is a number, not a definition. Any plot device you can apply to young and middle aged characters, applies to the over 55.

2. There are conflicts with second marriages, children, and grandchildren. But there is so much more to seenagers than family conflict. Romance feels just as potent at 60 as 20. Seniors don't stop having sex and feeling desire just because they qualify for AARP. Not everyone learns from relationship mistakes.

3. Personality types are the same no matter how old people are. In Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, I take 16 mannequins based on personality types from cradle to grave. Life may have nudged them to the extremes or softened their traits. They all have different likes and dislikes, quirks and wounds.

4. Seniors are just as passionate and idealistic as younger people. They have strong opinions and are willing to fight for their beliefs. There are bigots and rights activists. They clash. Sadly, stupid does not age well. There are many willfully ignorant seniors and some that behave worse than out of control teenagers. Like all adults, they have conflicts with other people. They can be lovely and generous or hostile and vindictive. They form new friendships and make new enemies.

5. Not all seniors are incompetent when it comes to technology or any area of employment. Most of them have decades of experience. Senior citizens have worked in every field at every level, from spies, to generals, and CEOS of large corporations. You can build them however you like, give them expertise in any field. A large portion of over 55s are still working and starting new businesses. They might have "retired" but that doesn't mean they have ended their usefulness. They despise being looked down on or dismissed as incompetent just because they have wrinkles and gray hair.

6. They 100% resent being infantilized. They hate being cooed at and talked down to. They hate being "invisible." Their bodies might have aged, even betrayed them, but they are still vital humans. Don't say anything to a senior you wouldn't say to 30 year old. Don't treat a senior differently either. Do not call them "sweetie" or "old dear." They are not toddlers. They will knife you, or at least want to.
Fiction has a tendency to stereotype or dismiss anyone over 55. A few smart movie makers have tapped into the "boomer market." Sadly, their characters are mostly still predictable.

Whether your story is about older people or not, make sure your senior characters aren't cardboard cutouts. Anything that applies to young characters can apply to older characters.

It is time to change the way people think about aging. It is a gift, not a curse. And you can do that by representing them fairly in fiction.
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.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Putting the "P" for Productivity into the Pandemic


COVID-19, also known as SARS-CoV-2, as seen through an electron microscope.
Image provided by The National Institutes of Health.

Now that we're all several months into this pandemic, each of us has settled into something of a routine that may or may not be productive. I confess my first response was to turn into a human slug, sitting in my chair for countless hours with my computer on my lap, staring into space, or working endless rounds of crossword puzzles or games of Sudoku.

I suddenly realized a few days ago I was in a sort of semi-coma and wondered if my epitaph would read, "She played a lot of Sudoku."

I didn't want that to be my epitaph.

I tried focusing on my garden but we're suffering from a plague of slugs this year and it is really one disgusting mess. This time last year, I was eating fresh organic food straight from my garden every single day. This year, the slugs are eating fresh organic food straight from my garden every single night. By the time I wake up in the morning, there is nothing left but a few slime-covered green nubs.

Next, I decided to reorganize my kitchen. Let's just say that is a far more daunting project than I realized in the planning stage, but at least it is ongoing even though my progress is slower than I would like.

Still, I couldn't bear the thought of picking up a knitting needle or crochet hook or even threading my sewing machine. I didn't feel like beading. I didn't feel like reading...something that had never happened in my life. Reading has always been my go-to happy place, but once the pandemic settled in for its extended visit, reading began to feel like it required too much effort, squandering energy I didn't have. I couldn't even focus on listening to a book on tape. In fact, I didn't feel like doing much of anything and was alarmed by the growing number of my friends who found themselves in a similar frame of mind. Were we all going die from ennui?

Finally, I realized I was just using the pandemic as an excuse to put off spending time on my work in progress. I fought against that conclusion for days but finally had to acknowledge it was true.

To be completely honest, my work in progress is a hot mess of a book. I am essentially a journalist, a non-fiction writer completely at home in the world of accurate quotes from real live people, science-based data, and verifiable facts. But when I have to make up stories and characters from whole cloth, I lose my moxie. Oh, I can still turn a pretty sentence. But can I actually write a complete work of fiction that makes sense, with a story that both intrigues and satisfies my readers and characters who are so real they leap off the page straight into the readers' hearts and imaginations?

That is a question that has yet to be answered.

After several failed attempts, I was beginning to worry that I would never complete a work of fiction. But there have been many authors who made a successful transition from journalism to fiction. Louise Penny and Hank Phillippi Ryan come immediately to mind. Not to mention Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway, among others. If they could write both a compelling news article and a compelling work of fiction, why couldn't I?

Then I hit upon an inspired idea. Instead of trying to wrestle my story back into a dimly remembered past or forward into an amorphous future, why not set it down smack in the middle of the pandemic?

I am happy to report that one small change has made a huge difference. Now my words are flowing. I don't have to stop and ponder, "What is going on here?" I just write out what is happening all around me and have plopped my characters right into that muddle and am watching to see how they respond. They haven't let me down. The book is finally moving forward.

The pandemic forced me to look at my fiction in much the same way I look at my non-fiction, and allowed me to put the "P" back into my productivity after months of sitting on my duff. For that, I suppose I should feel grateful, but my head and my heart keep taking me back to the heartbreak of the crisis that is gripping our nation, the tens of thousands of families affected, lives decimated, so it is difficult to feel too much joy in taking a small forward step with my writing. But I do feel grateful to have had that breakthrough, even within the context of the immeasurable suffering happening all around me.

Has the pandemic changed or helped you in unexpected ways? If so, let us know in the comments.

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Lost And Found And Other Missteps

Being somewhat quarantined at home allows for a lot more reading time, especially since writing time seems to have slowed to a snail's pace.

Through most of my life, books and stories have been the great escape from difficult times. I could get lost in a story and forget for a time that my life was not always as perfect as a fictional story.

When I read as a child and young adult, I wasn't a discriminating reader. I don’t mean in the sense of avoiding books written by or about other cultures or people. But when I read for pure entertainment and pleasure, I wasn’t aware of how the careful use of craft can lift good writing above ordinary writing.

Then, when I started taking writing classes and being more serious about my work, I developed that reader discrimination and could see things that I call craft-stumbles. By that I mean word usage, or inconsistencies, or plot holes that suddenly pull me out of a story.

Lately, the craft-stumbles that have become increasingly irritating to me are poor word choices. Maybe it's the pandemic that's made me more than a discriminating reader. I'm a cranky reader and I really have issues with the way some authors use the word “found.”
For instance, it's become quite common to have characters find themselves while moving from place to place. "He found himself in a large room with bookshelves along one wall and a large dark teak desk." 

"She found herself in the most ornate dining room she had ever seen."

I don't understand why those characters can't simply walk into a room and then see what the author wants the reader to see.

Sarah walked into the most ornate dining room she'd ever seen.

This use of found has also been used awkwardly, in my estimation, to describe the way a person is feeling. For instance, "She found herself unable to wipe the enormous smile away that had appeared on her face." Watching him approach, she was unable to resist an enormous smile.

"And so she found herself telling him of her past." And so, she opened her heart and told him of her past."

"As the service began she found her mind drifting." As the service began, her mind drifted from what was being said at the pulpit to thoughts of her mother.

"She found her eyes drifting across the room." As her mind drifted, so did her gaze, shifting from pew to pew to see who was there.

Another overused phrase I see used too often is "in spite of herself."

"In spite of herself she was unable to shake her anger at her mother for deserting her." How much stronger that would be if the reader knew what this character was doing to try to overcome the anger. No matter how many counseling sessions and Yoga classes, she was unable to shake her anger at her mother for deserting her.

Relying on these generalities that we all probably use in our first drafts, weakens what is otherwise a really strong narrative. The real "crafting" comes in the rewrites when we find better ways to say what we mean.

A couple of pointers I picked up from the grammar check newsletter that listed a number of clutter words that we use all the time to that particularly struck me was the use of up and down. Too often we have characters stand up, but think about it. If characters are going to stand, they can only do that "up" so we don't need that word. Likewise when a character sits, it is "down."

Truth be told, I've made plenty of the same mistakes, but hopefully not as often as I used to. I also used to be guilty of overusing is the word pretty. I seem to have a tendency to want to qualify when it is much better to state something directly and concisely. Some of those qualifiers I've been weeding out of my writing besides "pretty" are: very, almost, somewhat, sort of, and really.  

I'm sure there are more.

As a reader, what are some craft-bumps that will pull you out of a story? If you're also a writer, do you find it harder to ignore those bumps the more you write? What are some of the words you are taking a hoe to in your own writing? Please do share. Discriminating readers want to know. 



Posted by Maryann Miller  Still maintaining social distancing, you can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page, read 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

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Developing Non-Writing Talents during a Pandemic

As writers, we always say something like, "Man, I wish I had time to write. If I did, nothing would stop me."


What happens when, oh, a medical pandemic arises, forcing you to stay in place?

Crickets.

And for many of us, no writing.


Although I see a plethora of memes every day telling me that I need to hustle hard and that I'm a slacker if I'm not using this time to grind and write, overall, I have not practiced self-loathing over not writing a book a day during this pandemic.

I've been doing some writing--on social media, and I've been an editing queen, but for the most part, I've used this time to develop another talent: designing digital products to help keep people organized and "planned-up."

This talent has morphed into a new Etsy shop, #HUGSlove Studios.


For the shop, I create digital planners, planner pages, and stickers.

I've created journals for writing self-care love notes and for journaling your coffee- and tea-sipping experiences.


I've created planners and planner pages that help people keep track of to-dos, habits, savings, budget, meal planning and shopping, and more.




I've created stickers that people can use in their bullet journals and regular planners.

I thoroughly enjoy coming up with new products, sketching them out, determining dimensions and colors, and then hopping on the computer to create and perfect. Doing so keeps me calm, happy, and productive.

There are a million and one things I could list in a CONS column regarding our world's current events, but being able to express my creativity in this fashion would never land in that column.

If you are interested in digital planning, be sure to check out my shop, #HUGSlove Studios on Etsy!


What are YOU doing for yourself during this so-called "down" time?

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 works on her Linktree page.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Wordless and Walking

Since I work with words in the day job as well as in my fiction endeavors, there are times when I get tired of them all spinning nonstop in my head. This is especially true in these days of hunkering down "in place," and trying to live the "new normal"— which is constantly shifting and anything but normal!

 When I need to escape, I go for a walk.

I don't go far, usually just around my VERY suburban neighborhood. (I occasionally walk downtown, but that ends up stressing me out since so many folks seem to think the "new normal" equates to "let's just pretend this whole pandemic thing doesn't exist.")

 To calm my jibbering, always-in-overdrive mind, I walk, try to erase words from my mind, and photograph what I see. In other words(!!), I take a short, nonverbal holiday and focus on the visual gifts the everyday world has to offer.

Here's a sample of the sort of images I take:








You can view the photos I take on my little circumambulations on my general Facebook page, under the hashtag #walkawalk.



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.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

A Genre Dilemma in a Changing World and Other Covid-19 Activities

I have a great story idea, and I can't wait to finish the rewrite. It's sort of a romance, something of a thriller, definitely a psychological drama. Because the rewrite makes it an evolving story, I'm not sure which genre it fits into.

While most novels contain elements of multiple genres, one should dominate, assuring buyers they're getting the kind of story they want to read. Readers have expectations, which is why genre is essential if your goal is to sell books and build a fan base. A reader of horror may be upset if the ebook she just downloaded is a yarn about two young sisters that takes place during a storm—and one of them is horrified of lightning. Sci-fi aficionados will not likely be pleased if the science-fiction-type cover of their latest purchase wraps around a major love story that overshadows the anticipated futuristic drama.


Consider the following scenario: A sweet old lady purchases an author-advertised "young adult" mystery for a preteen great-niece. Halfway through the story, a graphic rape scene "educates" the young bookworm with lurid details she is not emotionally ready to read. The child is so upset her mother forbids the aunt to give her any more books. The older woman is crushed. She had believed the author's misleading advertising that compared the story to the beloved Nancy Drew series of the past—which implied it would be appropriate for a 12-year-old.

Takeaway: Do your homework and learn the category requirements before you aim the arrow of your story toward a particular audience. Genre classifications dictate a story's style, determine the blueprint for its creation, and lay the foundation on which reader expectation is constructed. Pay attention to them.

After careful research, I determined that my story may (or may not) be literary in style. I have to wait and see where the rewrite takes the book. Do you ever have a genre question? Check out the links below for more information on category requirements and relevancy in twenty-first century writing. If you have any doubts about which genre your story fits and the criteria for its inclusion, you should read the material in these links before you begin writing.

toasted-cheese.com/jj/fiction/

writerswrite.co.za/the-17-most-popular-genres-in-fiction-and-why-they-matter/

jenniferellis.ca/genre-vs-literary-fiction

Now, about those"other" projects . . . hmm. Most of my interests center around books and manuscripts. However, they do include activities beyond writing my own stories. For example, a good editing project (which I have) pulls me out of the writing doldrums and seasons my sometimes tired mind with new literary spice. Also, I've been doing some reading, mostly Kathleen Norris novels (published in the 1930s) because she was one of the best of her generation. (How different their writing was from that which we expect today!) I'm about to embark on reading Mara Purl's Milford-Haven series because I've put this off too long. I've already downloaded the first book.

Finally, I'm reworking my stand-alone novels into stories featuring Emilie Hart. Em's my new protagonist—a clinical psychologist and gifted empath who travels from place to place to help those in desperate need of her special skills. This switch is invigorating me, as well as my writing, because I'm venturing into new territory and situations and perhaps even a new genre. The stories may migrate from literary into a suspense/thriller category or . . . we'll wait and see. Yes, that's writing-related, but it's bringing new passion to my weary skills.

Upward and onward!


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 through her websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.