Monday, November 30, 2020

It's been a baaa-d year

Time to wind down this awful year. Hopefully 2021 will treat us all a little better. Here at The Blood-Red Pencil, we thought we would try and lighten things up a bit for the last month of the year, and showcase the best of our humorous posts.

Elspeth's Writing Sheep

 


Elspeth Futcher kept us all entertained for many years with her wonderful sense of humour. We featured Elspeth's writing sheep and top posts in 2019's December re-run (see this post for a bind-up of all her writing sheep entries), so today we're highlighting another of her funnies that didn't make the cut last year.

Amazon Dangers

 

Amazon River image by Jon Rawlinson, via Flickr

Amazon-the-mega-bookstore and The Amazon (the river) have more in common than you might think, including the:

"Anaconda - the world’s largest and heaviest snake. Can grow as long as 30 feet eating up to 30 pounds of prey a day. On Amazon, the Anaconda would be the newest release by John Grisham or Stephen King."

and the:

"Jaguar - a solitary killer that climbs trees as a vantage point when hunting prey prior to pouncing on their target. On Amazon, the jaguar is the person who hunts new successful authors and gives them one star reviews."

Read all of this post here.

 

Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at host-party.com since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Her latest game is "Which Guide Lied?" Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Her Father's Daughter by Gene Stratton-Porter : A Book Review

Born August 17, 1863, in Lagro, a small town in north central Indiana, Geneva Grace Stratton was the youngest of twelve children. Although receiving little formal education in her early years, she began attending school regularly after the family moved to Wabash, Indiana, in 1874. She quickly became an avid reader and soon expanded her learning to music and art. In 1884 Charles Porter met her, established a relationship via letters, and they married in August 1886. During their courtship, Geneva called herself Gene, and used that shortened version of her name for the rest of her life. In 1919, she moved to California, where she lived until her untimely death on December 6, 1924, from injuries suffered in an auto accident.

Stratton-Porter penned 12 novels, most of which became best sellers in the first part of the twentieth century. She also wrote nonfiction, children's books, poetry, and more during her writing years. In 1921 she published Her Father's Daughter, the subject of this review. That story relied heavily on her considerable knowledge of nature and plants, as well as her artistic ability, which set much of the scene throughout the book. A comparison of it to today's novels reveals an interesting picture of the change in writing styles during the last hundred years. 

Her Father's Daughter qualifies as a young adult novel, at least to this octogenarian—although the story contains sufficient adult characters and situations to hold the interest of older readers. Its protagonist, Linda Strong, is an outspoken high school junior when the story begins. A free thinker who was raised primarily by her father until his death when she was about twelve. The auto accident that took his life also killed her mother and the parents of her best friend. Thereafter, she lived with her older sister and the family cook in her parents' home and was mostly left to fend for herself by her selfish, spoiled sister, who took all the monthly funds provided from her fathers' estate, paying the household expenses and confiscating the rest for her own extravagant wardrobe and private savings account. Meanwhile, young Linda was looked down on and made fun of by her classmates because of her sparse, unattractive clothing and shoes.

(I read this novel because it was my aunt's favorite when she was a young girl. She will still tell me about it if I bring up the topic of books. My aunt, by the way, will be 103 this coming February, and she's still quite sharp mentally.)

The story begins with a senior boy at Linda Strong's school making fun of her clothing and shoes. So intense is his criticism that she makes an appointment with him on a Saturday to have an all-out argument over her clothing choices. Well aware that her few plain, worn outfits were not up to par with the girls in her class, the teenager had not, up to that time, felt overly self-conscious about being different. However, the confrontation with the senior changed all that, providing a solid stepping stone into the story.

Following her through her growing toward womanhood and her relationships with the few people close to her creates an interesting tale. Having said that, however, it contains some definite pros and cons.

Pros:
The story dwells at length on the various kinds of plants that grow in a desert area near Linda Strong's home in southern California. While this is often fascinating information, it is sometimes a bit lengthier than it needs to be.

Characters are generally well developed.

Some excellent dialogue engages the reader and highlights the protagonist's sense of humor.

Good story progression.

Somewhat predictable, but doesn't detract from the book's readability.

Conclusion ties up the loose ends and doesn't leave the reader wondering what happened.

Writing quality is generally good.

Cons:
As mentioned above, the overabundance of nature description sometimes pulls the reader out of the action. I skipped parts of it rather than put the story down, since it was to be the topic of my book review.

Dialogue often was overly long and detailed. Seemed more like a speech than a conversation.

The Irish brogue of the cook is ineffective and on occasion hard to decipher. It didn't remind me of any Irish brogues I've heard in recent years.

While the writing is good as noted, the punctuation leaves a lot to be desired.

The problem for me: 
This story reeks of racism and white supremacy. The author doesn't pick on any particular race; rather, she looks down on all of them except whites, disdainfully portraying black, brown, red, and yellow as inferiors. The antagonists in this book are Japanese. Throughout the story, however, she openly includes all non-whites as unfit to enjoy any privileges or luxuries of their white counterparts. On the other hand, she repeatedly touts the superiority of the white race. For me, this spoiled what otherwise was a decent story. 

Takeaway:
Personally, I believe we have a responsibility to our readers. No matter what our personal feelings are, I don't believe we should hit those who read our fiction works over the head with them. This doesn't mean we can't share our beliefs through those who populate the pages of our stories—of course, we can. However, doing it in a balanced storyline dignifies readers by giving them a choice of who to cheer for. In my opinion, presenting differing points of view through various characters adds interest to a story. That's what makes humans—and by extension our characters—so interesting, so thought provoking, so real. Just a thought . . .

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.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Kindlian For Ebooks

My husband gifted me a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas a few years ago. He had jumped on the Kindle bandwagon a few years before that. I was still stubbornly clinging to paper over plastic. Then we moved from the Midwest to Florida which involved serious downsizing. So the majority of our massive book collection had to go. Parting was such sweet sorrow.

Finite Folio Cover

My Kindle sat unused for a while other than to purchase a cover that made it look like a book.

I gradually added to my Kindle library. Soon, I had more than one page of options and became frustrated until I learned how to create collections, which you can learn more about here.

Still, I was not content. I missed actual bookshelves with books neatly lined up by author and series in order. As my Kindle content grew, I tired of searching through books I had already read.

Around this time, on an unrelated note, Apple completely changed its Itunes store to favor streaming. Thank goodness I still had two iPODs and my music was backed up on my PC which was backed up on backups plus the cloud. I had learned a lesson about hard drives that just quit and erase everything overnight.

I pondered what would happen if my Kindle died and Amazon decided to drop it someday. The original Nook had been decommissioned in 2018.

Which is a long, roundabout way of saying I found a reassuring solution: Kindlian software (https://www.kindlian.com/) which allows you to put all of your ebooks on a PC and back them up in multiple locations.
 


Though the Kindle does not automatically sync with Kindlian for PC, you can transfer from the Kindle to the PC with a USB connection.

I love the virtual bookshelf and the ability to create collections and arrange them in order. You can edit book title, author, cover, description, series, series number. This data is stored only in Kindlian, but not in the book files. You can safely remove books from the Kindle yet keep them on a virtual shelf.

You can convert all of your books to PDF if you wish and store them elsewhere.

You can add non-Amazon books with other file formats to your virtual library, including the books you have written. Kindlian opens MOBI, PDF and non-DRM protected AZW books. It also converts EPUB, FB2, and HTML books to MOBI. 

With Kindlian installed, you can access your library on any computer or tablet. You can also connect more than one Kindle to the app if you wish to control the whole family's library.

It currently costs around $19.95, but frequently offers discounts.

For book addicts who are on the fence about going digital, Kindlian can make the decision a little easier. For the book lover that has everything, it could be a fun gift.

Frequently Asked Questions



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, November 19, 2020

The Heroine's Journey by Gail Carriger - #GiftsForWriters

 

(Shhh! While your favourite writer is still distracted by NaNoWriMo, now is the ideal time to sneak in and purchase them a gift or two. This one is sure to be a hit if it finds its way under the tree...)

The Heroine's Journey by Gail Carriger is a game changer for genre fiction. Using dozens of examples from books and movies, Ms Carriger carefully and convincingly divides these into two distinct story camps based on the character arc of their protagonists: the lone wolf and the team player. Until quite recently, tales headed by a team player (a.k.a., "The Heroine's Journey", which includes male protagonists like Harry Potter) have been roundly ridiculed and dismissed as only suitable for sweet and amusing genres such as romantic-comedy and cosy mysteries. The Hero's Journey (the lone wolf) is the story that is taken more seriously and which attracts big Hollywood budgets. 

 But - and it's a big 'but' - the type of story you write, or journey you take your readers on, must depend on what your reader wants from you: excitement, thrills, danger, action (Hero's Journey), or comfort, connection, friendship, and team work (Heroine's). Though Ms Carriger makes a very strong case for choosing The Heroine's Journey, she skillfully guides you towards the best choice to suit the type of book you want to write to satisfy the type of readers you want to serve, so that you never miss the mark again. 

"...the emphasis on solitary action, self-sacrifice, and never asking for help in the Hero's Journey is damaging to modern society...The myth of the rugged individual has been canonized as a particularly American trait for centuries, in a manner that makes going it alone and doing it yourself something glorious and desirable. This has led us to a place where asking for help, particularly if you are male, is seen as weak or feminine. Simultaneously this correlates weak with feminine, and strength with isolation. We are collectively dealing with the consequences of having created a space where males are vilified for wanting to care for others - for seeking connection through communication, touch, or emotional resonance." - Gail Carriger, The Heroine's Journey

Ms Carriger invites writers to help usher in a new narrative, where the ability to identify and make use of the differing skills of various members of a team is the ultimate definition of "strong leadership"; where friendship and loyalty are revered over stoicism and brute muscle; and where loneliness is no longer a default endgame for the hero or heroine who has worked so hard to make the world a better place. This doesn't mean we toss out the Hero's Journey and never pen another action-spy-thriller; far from it: if this is our chosen genre, we can give it depth, make it even richer and more exciting, with a little help from the team.

 

Review posted by Elle Carter Neal

Monday, November 16, 2020

Pumpkin Pie and Memoirs

November is always a month that stirs a lot of reflection on my part. Thanksgiving is such an important holiday in my family, and always has been since I was a kid when we'd drive from Michigan to West Virginia to celebrate with my father's extended family. 

In all those years that my siblings and I rolled down snowy hillsides to become human snow-people, and went inside to vie for one of the drumsticks, I never thought of what my mother was doing that day while she was alone. 

My parents divorced when I was five, so she never came on those yearly visits to my father's homeplace.

So why am I sharing this here? This year I've been writing a memoir as a follow up to my novel, Evelyn Evolving, which is the story of my mother's life. That book ended when I was about five years old, and readers have asked, "what happened next?" so I thought my story would answer that question. What I didn't realize is how hard it is to write a memoir.

There are so many choices to make:

  • What do I share?
  • What don't I share?
  • Do I have to tell every little private thing?
  • Am I willing to touch those very sensitive places of my life?
Which brings me back to the Thanksgivings of my childhood. I just recently started writing about that, and this realization of not thinking of my mother when I went to West Virginia with my father, was a shocker. It made me stop and really consider the reasons why. Was it just because I was a kid, totally wrapped up in the excitement of the vacation? Or was there more to it?

I haven't been able to answer those questions yet, but I have gained an awareness of how important it is to ask ourselves questions like that when writing a memoir. Maybe not about situations of our early childhood when we rarely thought about anything outside ourselves, but definitely the experiences that shaped us later. Those are the ones that we can probably look into and find the nugget of what makes a memoir significant and meaningful - the values that come out of life experiences. 

Focusing in part on the values is something I learned recently listening to an interview with Matthew McConaughy as part of a virtual book tour for his new book, Greenlights. During the interview, McConaughy also differentiated between what a person should, or shouldn't share, just for the shock value, especially for a celebrity like him because of what the media might decide to focus on. 

I have nothing to be concerned about on either count. :-)

Peter Selgin, who wrote The Inventors  shared this advice: I think the key thing to understand is that – though based on our memories and experiences – unlike an autobiography, a memoir is never about us. Even when we’re the main character of our memoirs, we’re not the subject. The subject is something bigger than ourselves, a theme to which certain experiences we’ve had attach themselves. 

Other good information I found on the internet was in this Reedsy blog, How to Write a Memoir, A few of the points in the article that stood out to me the most are:
  • Don't focus on facts and details
  • What are the moments in my life that stir the strongest emotions? They are the ones readers will connect to.
  • Who does my book appeal to?
That last one is crucial for determining whether one should try for traditional publishing, or do a more limited release. The jury is still out on that one for my story.

Now, back to Thanksgiving, which this year is probably going to be very different for most of us who celebrate the holiday. There may not be trips "over the river and through the woods" to Grandmother's house. There may not be any trips, or gatherings at all, and as the days march along toward November 26, I'm trying to steel myself for the distinct possibility of a one-person celebration. Not my first choice by any means, but also something that may have to be, depending on how our dear friend COVID 19 decides to treat us.

In addition to wrapping my brain around the possibility of being alone, I'm desperately trying to figure out how to make a pumpkin pie for one. When it comes to that traditional dessert, I'm a bit of a snob. I'm really partial to my recipe that has a lot less sugar and isn't cloying with its sweetness. I also don't know how to make less than four pies. It's just the way my tried-and true-recipe rolls. If you'd like to try said recipe, you can find it here on my blog. Feel free to share.


And if you can figure out how to make it work for just one pie, do let me know.


Despite the tumultuous year that 2020 has been, there are still things for which I'm very grateful. My family and friends, who for the most part have been spared the nasty virus. My own health which, though not perfect, is better than many others who are battling life-threatening illnesses. A fairly productive year of writing that included the release of a new book in the Seasons Mystery Series, Desperate Season, progress on my memoir, and progress on another nonfiction book, The Many Faces of Grief. which is based on an older blog I wrote of the same name. 

What about you? What are some of the things you're most grateful for? Has this been a good, or only mediocre, year for writing? Are you just waiting for January 1,2021 to have a fresh start?




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, November 12, 2020

Meet Paige Allen - the new Director of IngramSpark

Paige Allen has been appointed the new Director of IngramSpark, ahead of the planned retirement of Robin Cutler later this month. Watch the video below to get to know the energetic and dynamic Ms Allen a little better.


Posted by Elle Carter Neal

Monday, November 2, 2020

Sink or Swim During NaNoWriMo 2020


I’ve been sucked into the NaNoWriMo whirlpool again. My husband says, “Oh, no! That means no big meals and no housecleaning for a whole month.”

“Except Thanksgiving,” I respond. I plan way ahead for that meal because it’s my favorite of the whole year. I still make homemade bread stuffing, and I buy half turkey breasts to roast. Often we repeat the whole meal for Christmas, especially if we don't have company coming.

And this year, there won’t be any company.

But back to the dear man’s comment about big meals and housecleaning. Unless you do a little housecleaning, I think to myself. I don’t say it aloud. After all, he mows the lawn and shovels the snow and several other things it would pain me to do. Literally. I’m grateful.

About NaNoWriMo. I’ve jumped in the pool several times over the years, but I think I only made the full 50,000 word total with a real novel one time. I’d have to check, but I might have done 50,000 words of combo short stories and rewriting in another year.

By now, some folks will be asking, “What is NaNoWriMo?”

It’s that worldwide gathering of like minds online to try and create 50,000 new words each during the November National Novel Writing Month. If you’re a writer but have never participated, you can find out more at https://nanowrimo.org/

This year I’m working on a brand-new mystery with a brand-new character. I took my older guy protagonist for a test drive in a couple of short stories I ran by my critique group. They liked the character and the light humor, so I’m going to run with the idea and hope I swim instead of sinking!

It’s pretty easy to sink during NaNoWriMo if I haven’t maintained a steady writing schedule in the past couple of months. And I have not.

I’ve been editing old stuff and getting out-of-print books back online, finishing the edits on a new frontier fiction novel which I’m about to submit to traditional publishers, and testing my skill (or lack thereof) at short story writing. You'll find Wishing Caswell Dead on Amazon with more sites coming soon.



I’ve also been obsessing over nearby wildfires that are now, thank goodness, calmed by the recent big snow that interrupted our fall season for a temporary taste of winter. Fall is back with some lovely days without smoky skies, and that’s a blessing.

Obsessing over COVID-19 is something the rest of the world will sympathize with. That one doesn’t require explanation.

Other petty annoyances, like umpteen million phone calls a day from politicians and umpteen more from scammers, were eliminated by just not answering the phone anymore. Hopefully I haven’t missed any agents who wanted to represent me or producers wanting to give me a movie contract for one of my books. Sigh!

I’m writing this on October 31st, thinking how sad that we finally have a year with beautiful weather for trick-or-treaters. Sad because, you know, COVID.

By the time this post publishes, I’ll hopefully be several thousand words into my NaNoWriMo project. Wish me luck.

 

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 now available in a large print edition, ebook and trade paperback. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” appeared 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, and brown tabby Katie 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.