Thursday, April 29, 2021

Writers Gotta Read, Right? Poetry

Poetry for me started with Mother Goose, many many decades ago. I still have a fondness for the old nursery rhymes, but of course, there's much more to this particular genre. To help you (and me) celebrate/appreciate Poetry Month, I wrangled together the “list of lists" below. So, hickory, dickory, dock, let's hop to it! (Or should that be hickety, dickety, dock?)

Hickety Dickety Dock 2, by William Wallace Denslow
Public Domain 

Finally, if you’d like to “take a gander” at Mother Goose, her (possible) origin, and all those familiar children’s poems from the past (plus a bunch you may never have heard of) check out this All Poetry post. Be sure to scroll down to the list of poems and their links.

If you have a favorite poem or poet or poetry collection, let us know in the comments! We all need more to read, right? ☺

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.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A Gallery of Famous English and American Poets

Decades ago, I was shopping in a second-hand store. It may have been Goodwill or Salvation Army. I always shopped for books—old books, and I’ve found some beauties, especially old art magazines from England. But this day, I saw the book featured here: 500 gold-leaf-edged pages of English and American Poets. The publication date is 1874. Most poets had their etched portraits to begin their sections, with more etchings interspersed throughout their poems. The book was $5. I snapped it up without hesitation. I have another of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, 1975, but it’s not anywhere near as precious.

I chose a few first stanzas of some of the more popular poems, except for the full poem by Browning because I liked it so much. In addition to Gray, Tennyson, Keats, and Browning, there are poems by sixty-five more, including Wordsworth, Scott,  Whittier, Butler, Longfellow, and Poe. I found only three other women besides Elizabeth Barret Browning: Felicia Hemans, Jean Ingelow, and Caroline Ann Southey. I regret to say I’d only heard of Browning.

 Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
  The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
    And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
The Charge of the Light Brigade 
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

 Ode on a Grecian Urn 
Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy? 
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The Lady’s Yes
" Yes !" I answered you last night ;
 " No !" this morning, Sir, I say !
Colours, seen by candle-light,
Will not look the same by day.

When the tabors played their best,
Lamps above, and laughs below —
Love me sounded like a jest,
Fit for Yes or fit for No !

Call me false, or call me free —
Vow, whatever light may shine,
No man on your face shall see
Any grief for change on mine.

Yet the sin is on us both —
Time to dance is not to woo —
Wooer light makes fickle troth —
Scorn of me recoils on you !

Learn to win a lady's faith
Nobly, as the thing is high ;
Bravely, as for life and death —
With a loyal gravity.

Lead her from the festive boards,
Point her to the starry skies,
Guard her, by your truthful words,
Pure from courtship's flatteries.

By your truth she shall be true —
Ever true, as wives of yore —
And her Yes, once said to you, 
SHALL be Yes for evermore.

Polly Iyer is the author of ten novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, Indiscretion, and her newest, we are but WARRIORS. Also, 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, April 27, 2021

Poetry: Read it and Write It

 While I don't read poetry on a regular basis, I do enjoy the occasional collection, and I'm reading one now for review on my personal blog, The Mad Ramblings of a Joker by Brandon Dillon. I can't say much about the book as I've just started reading a few of the poems, but I'm struck by the honesty of what the author shares. Getting in touch with poetry again reminded me about how often that medium has the power to stir emotion in a way that prose often does not. 

I truly believe that it's good for writers to read poetry, even if it's not your medium of choice. We learn something about how to write a story with conciseness, and we learn how to dig deep for those emotional connections we need to make with readers. Those heart-to-heart connections are what keeps a reader engaged over and above plot. Or maybe I should say below plot? 

So I encourage you to give poetry a try. 

Here are some recent reading recommendations from Simon & Shuster that caught my eye. For now, I can only buy one book, so I’m going to get Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart by Alice Walker. Not only am I a huge fan of her other works, the title is most intriguing. 


By Gabbie Hanna

New York Times bestselling author Gabbie Hanna delivers everything from curious musings to gut-wrenching confessionals in her long-awaited sophomore collection of illustrated poetry.

I Would Leave Me If I Could

By Halsey

Grammy Award–nominated, platinum-selling musician Halsey is heralded as one of the most compelling voices of her generation. In I Would Leave Me If I Could, she reveals never-before-seen poetry of longing, love, and the nuances of bipolar disorder.

 Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart

By Alice Walker

Alice Walker, author of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize–winning The Color Purple—“an American novel of permanent importance” (San Francisco Chronicle)—crafts a bilingual collection that is both playfully imaginative and intensely moving.

The Best American Poetry 2020

By David Lehman and Paisley Rekdal

The 2020 edition of contemporary American poetry returns, guest edited by Paisley Rekdal, the award-winning poet and author of Nightingale, proving that this is “a ‘best’ anthology that really lives up to its title” (Chicago Tribune).

I also encourage writers to try penning some poetry, even if it doesn't measure up to what accomplished poets produce. Writing poetry is a good exercise, as I learned many moons ago in a writers' group I belonged to in Omaha, Nebraska. We had a short class at the beginning of each meeting, and once a month the class focused on poetry. We read some, then wrote some, before moving on to critique sessions. My poems, or snippets of poems, weren't all that stellar, but I learned a lot about craft in those exercises.

What about you? Have you written poetry as a way to stretch yourself as a writer? Do you have any books of poetry to recommend? Please do share in the comments.

Award-winning author Maryann Miller has numerous credits as a columnist, novelist, screenwriter, and playwright. She also has an extensive background in editing. You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page read her Blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter

Monday, April 26, 2021

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme — That Is the Question

Merriam-Webster defines poetry as verbiage chosen and arranged to affect the reader emotionally through rhythm and sound. It also notes that writing other than what is normally viewed as poetry can be likened to it if the beauty of expression is particularly moving. I like that expanded definition.

Poems come in numerous shapes, sizes, and forms. Let's examine a few.

Blank verse doesn't rhyme; but its carefully structured, precise rhythm typically follows a duh DUH, duh DUH, duh DUH, duh DUH, duh DUH pattern — known as iambic pentameter. Enough said. 

Less structured free verse lacks the rhythm, rhyme, and musical lilt of its blank verse cousin. Simply stated, it isn't encumbered by strict rules but still qualifies as poetry.

Epic poems, lengthy (book length) tales depicting the lives and times of characters from the past, include Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey and Longfellow's Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, as well as numerous other long works. The similar narrative poems such as Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Longfellow's "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" also tell a story but are generally not book length.

Sonnets, 14-line poems often but not always about love, may include internal rhymes and be written in iambic pentameter or another format. Among the most famous are Shakespeare's sonnets.

A five-line, single stanza poem, called a limerick, has an AABBA rhyming pattern and may be humorous. Many moons ago when I was a sophomore in high school, I was reading poetry rather than paying attention in geometry class. I came across the poem below and nearly fell out of my chair laughing. (Please overlook my teenage sense of humor.) 

I sat by a duchess at tea,
Embarrassed as I could be;
Her rumblings abdominal
Were something phenomenal,
And the guests all thought it was me.

Numerous other forms of poetry exist, but the last one we'll touch on here is the most familiar: rhymed poetry. Although rhyming patterns vary, that commonality identifies most works in this category. Many personal favorites come from my school years and include "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer, Rudyard Kipling's "If", "Daffodils" by William Wordsworth, and my all-time favorite, "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. The rhyming pattern in this Poe work really speaks to me.

Have you ever written poetry? Do you have any favorite poems? Have you ever read a passage in a novel that reminded you of poetry?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels lean toward the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. Watch for new cozies to be released soon. You can contact her through her websites: and

Friday, April 23, 2021

Poet's Journey: Interview with Kim Hansen (Part 2)

Today, we continue our Q&A with poet Kim Hansen. Quick Kim bio: Kim received her MFA in dance and spends time outdoors every day. Writing, especially poems and letters, is another way she explores the relationship of humans moving in our environments. Kim is a massage therapist and Feldenkrais Practitioner and lives in Boulder, Colorado with her astronomer husband and their translator son. You can view Part 1 of her interview here and connect with her on Facebook here or email her at

Why do you do post your poetry daily on Facebook?
Writer Laurie Wagner (teaches Wild Writing classes) offered the Wild Writers a private Facebook page to share our work if we cared to, and she suggested there is something helpful about putting our words out there. I decided to do everything I could to make the most of those 27 days, so I posted my first piece to that Facebook page. I asked myself what would really push me, and I knew I wanted to put it on my own personal page, too. I knew it would challenge my vulnerability, and I wanted to allow that during a pandemic, especially, to see how I was adapting to the world changing around me in such an unprecedented way. If there was ever going to be a time to find who I am without my usual identity as a massage therapist or a Feldenkrais practitioner, it is while I put my practice on hold due to safety protocols.

Somewhere during those early days, I heard that the poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer had written and posted every day for years, and that became immediately interesting to me. I love practices: daily walking, sitting meditation, regular Awareness Through Movement lessons, and just ordinary rituals that remind me what I am doing here, so this appealed to me as a way to stretch myself in my writing and to keep myself accountable. I have written every single day since April 15, 2020.

I thought maybe a few people would read once in a while. Now, especially after a local tragedy, a mass shooting in my neighborhood grocery store here in Boulder, Colorado on March 22, 2021, I have been getting so many responses from people who have found solace or some kind of outlet for themselves with my words and have asked if they can share my poems with others they think might benefit. I never expected that. It feels good to have something to offer to my community. There is something special about the potency of the poetic form that seems immediate to these times.

I ended my daily open posting on April 15th to shift my focus to cleaning up what I have already written. I don’t seem to have the ability to do both at the same time. I am considering doing some kind of weekly sharing, but I don’t yet know what that will look like. I hope to create a small collection of my stronger pieces for self-publishing, but I have no experience of what that looks like or how to do it. It will take some more stretching for me.

Does any of your work appear outside of Facebook?
I am working on that! I had one poem published in Tiferet this year, and I recently sent in a collection of poems to The Sun magazine for consideration. A writer from Arizona asked if she could submit one of my poems about Comet Neowise to The New York Times, which thrilled me even though they never accepted it.

Some of your favorite poets?
I started with the Beats: Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Joanne Kyger, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsburg.

In my twenties, while my friend and I were both going through divorces, we found Marge Piercy’s The Moon is Always Female in a box in her basement, and I fell in love with that strong, hard-working female voice and went on to Adrienne Rich and Patti Smith. Wendell Berry was a farmer poet close to my heart and roots. Mary Oliver loved the natural world and snuck wisdom into her work in a particularly powerful way.

There are so many great living poets. I love Alison Luterman, Antler, Jane Hirshfield, Ellen Bass, Maya Stein, Lynn Unger, Naomi Shihab Nye…

Kim's pup Ruby has good taste in books!

One thing I highly recommend is Rattle, an online source for daily poetry delivered right into your inbox (they also have a quarterly paper journal). The Sun Magazine has introduced me to great poets for decades. There are some really good collections out there with a variety of poets so you can meet some new voices. I like Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection and The Poetry of Presence for starters. 

Interview by Ann Parker

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Poet's Journey: Interview with Kim Hansen (Part 1)

Today we welcome poet Kim Hansen. Here's a little about Kim: Kim wasn’t sure whether to dance or work for the forestry department, so she received her MFA in dance and spends time outdoors every day. Writing, especially poems and letters, is another way she explores the relationship of humans moving in our environments. Kim is a massage therapist and Feldenkrais Practitioner and lives in Boulder, Colorado with her astronomer husband and their translator son. You can connect with Kim on Facebook here or email her at

In this two-part interview, Kim shares her journey into poetry writing, offers some advice, and talks about what is next for her.

What got you started on writing poetry?
I wrote poetry in school study halls when my homework was done, and I was looking for a way to spend time while also processing feelings. But that was a long time ago, and other than writing in journals though the years, or getting together with friends for free-writing sessions, I hadn’t really written much poetry until the pandemic hit.

For the past few years, I enjoyed the blog posts of a Bay Area writer named Laurie Wagner. I knew she held in-person Wild Writing classes, but living in Colorado, I didn’t think I would ever be able to participate. In mid-April 2020, she offered a free Wild Writing class online for 27 consecutive days. I signed up the moment I saw the offer. Each morning I received a 7-10 minute video where she talked a little about writing and read us a poem by a different poet, inviting us to sit back and listen with our eyes closed and then to set our timers for 15 minutes and write without stopping our pens. She gave us jump-off lines from the poems or open-ended prompts to get us moving again if we found ourselves stuck. I was immediately hooked.

Not everyone’s writing in the group takes the form of poetry with these prompts, but that seems to be how it flows for me.

I continue writing in this way every morning, whether or not I have a zoom session or video waiting for me. 

Where do you get your inspiration?
At first, my inspiration came solely from listening to the poems Laurie shared with us. Now, I also find myself recalling snippets of words or images, responding to events happening in the world (racial protests, shootings, life during a novel virus), emotional responses to books and films, and most often, the details of my daily life: what I notice when I hang up laundry or cook a meal. I come from a very physical background of dance and somatics, and I get lots of insights just from being in a moving body and playing with my awareness.

What is your process?
Whether or not I listen to a poem first, I always set my timer for 15 minutes and write on paper without a plan. I try to clear my mind until I push my timer and see what emerges, messy, nonsensical, surprising as it comes. I rarely write longer than 15 minutes in one sitting, but that time gets extended as I transfer from paper to computer, shaping as I go. Sometimes that means extending a metaphor or becoming more precise with my language, but mostly it means trimming away what doesn’t belong. The whole process of listening to a poem, free writing, and transposing it to the computer is around an hour.

I am just beginning to go back through a year’s worth of daily writing, trying to pull out the stronger pieces and begin to edit them further. I have zero experience with this, so I enlisted the help of one of my favorite contemporary poets, Alison Luterman, to help me identify my voice and to see what kinds of things clarify and empower the seeds of a piece. I cannot believe how much I benefitted from her look at ten of my poems and the hour-long conversation we had afterwards. She spoke in a way that lit my understanding of what I do well and how to make that better, and she did it with specific imagery that sticks with me.

What advice do you have for folks thinking of writing poetry?
I have recommended Laurie’s Wild Writing practice to a number of friends who equally enjoyed it, and it helped jumpstart them as well as it did for me.

If you’re not interested in that, I still suggest starting small and wild, meaning, set a timer and don’t edit as you go. Let that be a separate part of your brain that you can listen to later once you find out what you are trying to say. For me, a blank piece of paper is daunting until I set a timer and realize I can do anything for 15 minutes.

I also like to use photographs, word snippets cut from journals, tarot cards, and pieces of music as constraints, to create a puzzle to work within to help get me out of my language habits.

Interview by Ann Parker

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Waxing Poetically in Fiction

I am not a poet.

Yes, I have written poetry, and some of it might even be palatable, but overall, it would receive no finger snaps upon hearing them.

What I do have, however, is poetic license within my fiction and non-fiction writing.

Just like fiction, there are elements within poetry that when developed well can heighten the caliber of the work. Some of those elements include voice, imagery, sound, rhythm, and structure; I'm sure you already see how these elements find their way into fiction, too.

We can all agree that fiction writers care about the voices of their characters, especially the voice(s) of the main character(s) that readers follow throughout a novel. What these characters say (and don't say) and how they say it informs readers and helps them to make the characters real in their minds.

In developing their characters and the worlds in which they live, fiction writers also care about the use of imagery. This, of course, does not mean to write flowery prose or be heavy-handed with images, but it does mean that the use of images can help illustrate the setting, the tone, the overall feeling that encompasses a story. Just like we would be light in how we apply seasonings to a tasty dish, we would be wise to discern when, where, and how to use imagery in our fiction.

Sound is important to consider as a fiction writer, too. Using onomatopoeia (words that imitate natural sounds—buzzed, crunched, babble) is a great way to produce sound in your work. Alliteration is another way to incorporate sound—though I probably wouldn't use too many Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers throughout my story; I'm sure you get the gist, however. 

Rhythm ties into sound for me because often the sounds we create in our stories, especially if we use something like alliteration (or a rhyme scheme) produce a rhythm. With the daily interaction I have with my 4-year-old niece and 7-year-old nephew, I am constantly reading children's books—and loving it, by the way! In doing so, I get to revel in the use of sound, rhythm, and rhyme that livens up the stories and makes them fun to read--quietly, but especially aloud. Another component that ties into rhythm is sentence development. Consider three paragraphs in a story. Paragraph 1 contains all short sentences, paragraph 2 contains all long sentences, and paragraph 3 contains a mix of the two lengths. There is no right or wrong here regarding which paragraph would be better—unless we delve into the context of your story. If, for example, your character is running from an intruder, a paragraph with shorter sentences might heighten the fear, the rush of action that occurs. If your character is experiencing her first taste of freedom in years, a paragraph with longer sentences that explore the character's thoughts and what we see as readers might be more appropriate. Either way, how we write our sentences and then how we fit them together play an important role in developing appropriate rhythm (or pacing) in our stories and in heightening a reader's involvement while reading our stories.

In a BRP piece I wrote six years ago, I talked about how we can effectively use line breaks in our stories to give readers additional space to think and to feel as they read your story. How we structure our words on the page can affect how a reader responds to our stories, too. In the older post, I talked of a friend who remembered reading my MFA thesis (a novel) and how much he enjoyed seeing my use of line breaks throughout the story and how the breaks affected his read. He recently brought that back up to me. I wrote this story almost 18 years ago. This told me that how we tell our stories matters.

Keep in mind that this poetic license I carry isn't something I consciously use when I'm writing a first (or second) draft of a story. However, in revisions and rewrites, it's important to examine how I can craft my stories to be pleasing to read to my audience. You don't have to be a fan of poetry, but I think it's a great idea to recognize what marries it to our storytelling and how we might enhance our stories by using poetic elements.

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.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Ask Us Anything About #Writing with Amy Shamroe and Our Blogging Team

Dani: Dear readers, today we welcome Amy Shamroe to the Blood-Red Pencil. Amy, tell us a bit about your writing project.

I have worked in books pretty much my entire adult life (bookseller and book festival organizer). As one might imagine, I have been a voracious reader since I could first read, too.
Despite that, when I was sitting in my living room working on designing an ad for work and an idea of a book popped in my head - not just a book, but a series - I was both excited and scared. Like many I have daydreamed here and there and toyed with ideas, but suddenly I could see my main character and her love interest detective. Her character and personality were so clear, I swear I could hear her voice. And so was the time period - the 1920s. Living through a pandemic now certainly certainly makes that time period so relatable. But it also has so much to work with - the losses from the war combined with the wealth and excess of the new decade. The changes in everything from music and literature to social norms. I am venturing to bring her and her very interesting friends to life.

So here are my first few questions:

What advice do you have to first time authors to stay inspired? Life can get in the way of a lot of things, especially something you are trying for the first time and not sure how it will go. What can I do to keep myself keeping at it?

Make it a daily ritual to write, and think of it as a gift to yourself. Even if you only spend a half hour at lunch writing, or an hour before bed, this is your time to create something precious. Do it for yourself, before anyone else, and without regard for any long-term goal. Enjoy the process just for itself.

I think having an accountability partner is very important. It could be a fellow writer, your best friend, or a writing group that you can be a part of so that you can share your journey. I think it's also important to create a space in your world that is delegated to your writing. It could be an actual room, it could be a closet that you put a desk and chair in, it could be a lap desk that you purchase to put your laptop on, as long as when you see this item or are in that space, you know it is time to write. Also, it is important to think about your day-to-day activities. It would be a good idea to sit down and journal what you do throughout a week. You want to put in the times that you eat your meals, take care of children, go to work, play on social media, Etc. Doing this will allow you to find time that you can reclaim to use for writing. For example, many of us spend a great deal of time on social media, and we could easily carve out 15 minutes or 30 minutes or even an hour a day or every other day for our writing instead of for being on social media.

Commit to yourself to show up every day. That's all you have to do: just show up. Make it your priority, before browsing the internet, checking social media, answering emails. What does "show up" mean? That's something you get to define. Everyone is different, and it's a muscle you need to develop. So a beginner writer might not be able to pound out 4000 words a day, but they could do 100 or 200. Some days might be really bad and "showing up" could simply mean opening the file on your computer, reading through some of what you wrote, and making a quick note about what's next. Showing up every day allows the work to stay in your mind, which is how you maintain momentum even when life gets in the way.

Many folks subscribe to the "show up every day" philosophy, and there's definitely something to training your brain to recognize: It's three o'clock: writing time!

But for some, that just doesn't work, so then you have to find something that will. Maybe every day is too much, what with all the other responsibilities. If so, then how about once a week? With Zoom and so on, there are all kinds of "write-in" groups one can join that meet at various times of the day or night. (My local Sisters in Crime and local California Writers Club chapters both have such.) 🙂 I find having writing buddies who nag me, who are willing to brainstorm, is extremely helpful in keeping the writing on track and keeping me inspired.

How do you keep confidence in your ideas? As someone who has read her entire life, I write and work on character development and then have moments of "Does that sound too much like X character or Y series?" No one needs to reinvent the genre wheel, but no one wants to be a hack either ...

One thing I like to do is keep affirmations around my writing space. These affirmations speak to me being a great writer with an active, unique, and creative imagination. I recite these every day, especially when I sit to write. I also get very drill sergeant on myself and say, "Shonell, stop and write, now!" I do this because it's important to get out of your thoughts and into your writing.

Keeping our confidence level high is always a challenge. One thing that helps me is going through an older manuscript and finding a passage that just sings. I marvel that I wrote that and let that euphoria bolster me. I love to find such passages in books I read, which is why this works for me. That doesn't mean that the confidence doesn't ebb and flow, but to succeed we need to keep on writing.

Even if you gave ten writers the same basic plot and number of characters, each story would be unique: different voice, view of the world, opinions, descriptions, dialogue, and themes. No two stories are identical unless someone plagiarized. 🙂
The characters you come up with and their interactions will be your unique stamp on your work. Plots very often turn out to be similar (Georges Polti posited the 37 dramatic situations theory in the 19th century), but, as Diana said, every writer approaches these core plots differently, and every character responds differently. As long as you, as the author, are fascinated by your own characters that will carry you through the doubts. If you think they seem too close to characters you've viewed or read in other stories, think about what aspect or trait of that other character might have stayed with you and why. Then think about your character's back story and how it must be different to the other author's character. How does your character's history change their point of view and their response to situations? How did they get to be like so-and-so if they didn't have the exact same set of experiences? What did happen to your character?

And in the first draft, what is most important is that you love your own characters. So what if they might seem like someone else's? For now, don't even think about it. The time to critically examine that is in a revision. Just love them as they evolve in the first draft.

What about you, readers? Do you have any advice or suggestions for Amy as she embarks on writing her first book? Please leave us a comment. We'll have more questions from Amy soon!

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Poetry is Just Not My Thing

Even if I admit to being deeply moved by Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb, delivered with such stirring passion at President Biden’s inauguration, poems are still not my thing.

And even if I have a favorite poem that I’ll read again and again, specifically The Calf-Path by Sam Foss, poetry does not regularly call me to read or write in any of its forms.

Counting syllables to create a meaningful haiku does not feel like fun. Even if I wanted to write more ambitious poems, I’d have to go back and learn the basics all over again. Any little thing I might have learned from my college class has long ago been deleted from memory.

For me, National Poetry Month is less exciting than some of the other national month options. Did you know that April is also National Fresh Celery Month? I thought not. I love celery, especially with cream cheese. Or peanut butter.

April is also National Humor Month. Humor has carried me through the last year via television comedy and the antics of my cat and dog. I’m even writing humor these days (in a cozy mystery).

But back to poetry. I tried to write a few poems way back in the old days. They were terrible. I still have them in my box of unpublishable stuff to remind me not to do that ever again.

Those who find joy in reading and writing poetry are special people. A few of my friends have been writing poems for many years. They know what they’re doing, and they do it well enough to get published.

I’ll be satisfied if I can occasionally write prose lyrically. But it won’t be poetry. For me, April will have to remain more about fresh celery and humor.


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.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Why I bought the book: Magic Lessons is a prequel to the book Practical Magic. I am ashamed to admit I had never read Practical Magic (which I have now remedied along with book two in the series The Rules of Magic and a third will be out later this year The Book of Magic). I will likely purchase her entire back list and add her to my top favorite writer list. I had enjoyed the 1998 movie with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock.

Magic Lessons traces the origin of the Owens bloodline starting with Maria Owens in the 1600s and her mother Rebecca. Rebecca leaves her daughter Maria with a woman named Hannah Owens, so she can chase love. Thus begins the Owens women's fraught entanglement with romantic love which seems doomed to bring them sorrow even as they help other women with their relationship woes. Hannah teaches Maria to always love someone who loves you back. However, like her wild mother, Maria falls for a weak man who leaves her pregnant and alone in the world. Maria follows him to Salem Massachusetts where she gives birth to her own daughter, Faith. Faith is kidnapped by a woman desperate for a child as Maria is on her way to the gallows to be executed for being a witch. Maria escapes and spends years searching for her daughter.

From an analytical standpoint, Hoffman does several things that would make me set aside another book. The story is related by a distant omniscient narrator like fairy tales of old. The characters are spoken of, not spoken through. The entire story could be considered telling not showing. There are historical information dumps and long lists of magical potions and plants. I admit I skipped over the lists. The book would be a great research source for anyone interested in writing about magic and folk cures in the 1600s. The story also has some interesting history about New York City. 

However, the haunting story weaves a magic of its own. You care about the women trying to find their way in a world where they have no real power, except for the ability to practice the "natural arts" they are born with. It is a beautiful treatise on what constitutes love and what people are driven to in the name of it, how the heart sometimes wants what it shouldn't have and often regrets it. It explores the love of a mother/mother figure for her child.

The use of magic is described in enchanting terms. This is not the special-effects laden, wand waving kind of magic from modern cinema. It is a history lesson about folk wisdom, herbal lore, and incantations. It is a story about the danger of superstitions and the power of emotions.

I was caught up in Hoffman's story spell and could not stop reading until The End. I highly recommend trying it, even if it isn't your usual cup of Courage tea.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon: in paperback or Kindle. 

You should check out her back list while there too.

Posted by Diana Hurwitz, 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.