Thursday, September 30, 2021

Book titles — more than just a name

How do you choose the title of your book? Do you write the story, then give it a name? Or does the title come first and the story follows its lead? Or does the name evolve out of the developing WIP?

Over a period of more than twenty years, my first novel's title and cover went through a number of changes before coming to rest under its current (and final) appearance and designation. Why did I have such a difficult time settling on the right title and look? First, I was a newbie at novel writing. Second, this likely happened in part because I wasn't at peace with one of my main characters. To take credit for this realization would be neither fair nor truthful. Over a period of a few years, two special writer friends, S. K. Randolph and Maryann Miller, urged me to take another look at my protagonist. The result: Katherine Kohler loosed the shackles holding her captive and evolved into a strong, decisive, admirable woman capable of carrying the story on her shoulders. Does this make her perfect? Oh, no. She still has weaknesses and shortcomings, as we all do. However, she accepts the blows life deals her, allows herself to mourn, and moves on.

Does this relate to naming my book? Indirectly, yes. Some readers felt the original title, Katherine's Song, had misled them. They expected a tale about music—which this book is not. The second name, A Brother Betrayed, better represented the story, but "betrayed" appears in many titles on Amazon and therefore doesn't stand out as memorable. Nor had my protagonist yet learned who she really was. The third title—which is appearing on the final rendition of the story—has little competition. Its uniqueness in fiction genres should make it easy to recall and find in Amazon's massive bookstore. Katherine Kohler, more than 20 years later, has grown into her own.

Why did it take so long for me to (hopefully) get it right? I made the mistake of becoming too attached to my protagonist. This attachment exceeded my willingness to let her become the powerful woman she needed to be. I knew her so well in the earlier versions of the story that I was reluctant to meet her new and improved self. Lesson learned.

When I submitted this article, I didn't have my artist's first cover draft. I received it this evening and like it a lot. So here it is. Neither the art nor the font are decided on for sure, but the above may closely resemble the final draft. I included it for your comments if you would like to share your thoughts.  

I have several more novels —10 to be exact—in various stages of creation. Each one has a name and a few words under that designation to remind me of the story to be told. Of course, those names are working titles and may have no resemblance to the novels' final monikers; on the other hand, they may pass the tests of time and relevance to grace the covers with invitations to come inside and travel with the characters on their life-changing journeys.

Interestingly, I have never experienced the problems with later books that I had with this one. The sharing of its ups and downs is intended to encourage you never to give up. If you feel your story needs to be told, tell it. Be patient with yourself until you get it right.

How do you choose your titles? Please share the techniques you use to make your stories appear appealing and your covers memorable.

Linda Lane is currently updating two previously written novels and is laying the foundation for her new cozy mystery series with a twist, the first book of which should be out in late 2021 or early 2022. She also has a number of partially finished novels that are scheduled to make their debuts in 2022 and 2023. Although still doing some fiction editing, she now focuses primarily on writing and on encouraging beginning writers to hone their skills and read, read, read. You can contact her through her writing website,

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Joy of Being Edited

I just spent several days analyzing editor comments and corrections on a manuscript and fixing all those things the editor found that I had overlooked in my writing, revising, and self-editing passes over many, many months.

Editors deserve so much praise for their knowledge of craft and story, the mistakes writers commonly make, and grammar and punctuation. We writers study and learn, but we invariably overlook repeated words or accidentally insert extra spaces as we enter changes. There are so many ways a writer can mess up a story. I know them all.

At any rate, I went through all of my editor’s notes and made the fixes, then sent the manuscript back with my fingers crossed. Hopefully, I’ll get a passing grade this time.

At least until the copy editor has her chance to check those dates, commas, ellipses, and all the other things copy editors look for. 

You may have guess, all this happened because I now have a contract for my second novel of frontier fiction. In Defense of Delia is set in the same fictitious Illinois Village of Sangamon, four years after the events described in Wishing Caswell Dead

The new novel is about Delia Pritchard, who ran away from Sangamon when she was sixteen years old. Thirteen years later, she returns with an outlaw’s reputation and a bullet in her shoulder. Trouble for her and for the town is not far behind. These Sangamon novels are a little like westerns, but they’re set east of the Mississippi. I like to write outside the box.

It will be some time before I have new cover art or a date for publication, so now I'll get back to work on that mystery I'm writing. Tentatively called A Bad Week in Wampo, this humorous cozy's first fifty pages made the finalist list for a Killer Nashville Claymore Award. It did not win, place, or show, but I did receive a very nice finalist badge for my website and posts.

It's nice to have these moments of good news while we're still in the confusion and apprehension stages of a pandemic. Staying busy with projects might be the secret to maintaining our sanity.

Naps don't hurt, either.


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.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Words of Wisdom from Patricia Smith

February 15, 1949 - August 23, 2021 Bellingham, Washington
Patricia Smith
February 15, 1949 - August 23, 2021
Bellingham, Washington
In addition to being part of the Blood Red Pencil Team, Patricia Burkhart Smith was a journalist and experienced professional developmental editor, working for publishing companies and private clients, as well as running her own publishing company. She described herself as, "a writer who wants to explore the creative freedom the Internet provides. I am also the proud mother of two wonderful children, but I still haven't figured out what I want to be when I grow up, or even if I want to grow up. However, I am certainly tired of "growing out," hence, this blog."

Pat always said she had more hobbies than Hobby Lobby and her interests included gardening, cooking, mineral collecting, lapidary work, jewelry making, natural health, herbs, sewing, needlework, and stained glass.

Her published works included:

Fifty Shades of Santa: Clean and Wholesome Romance Short Story Anthology

Christian Family Guide to Total Health

What the Animals Tell Me 

Flipping Houses (Idiot's Guide)

Alzheimers for Dummies

Cupid's Quiver

Shadows After Midnight

In addition to her eclectic books, she graced the blog with great advice for writers:

Being Productive During A Pandemic

Best Ever Hacks for Writing When You Don't Want To

Fear of Writing

Best Ever Excuses for Not Writing

Do You Know Where Your New Year's Resolutions Are?

When A Book Humbles You

Cross My Path - a New Blackie and Care Mystery by Clea Simon

Killer Companions

Fear on Four Paws

Best Ever Critique Groups from History

What Makes You Laugh

What Do Romance Readers Really Want?

Cats and Cozy Mysteries Go Together Like Clotted Cream 

The Futility of Relying on AI Grammar Checkers

How To Tell Good Editing From Bad

How The Internet is Destroying Our Language

Is Editing A Dying Art?

How Not To Sell A Book

Pat's wit, wisdom, and her wonderful spirit will be missed.

Patricia's Obituary

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.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Villains Are People Too, My Friend

To borrow from a famous politician, changing one word, Villains are people too, my friend. Yes, they are, and they need to be written with the same care that you give your main characters. They need to be full-bodied, three-dimensional people with a backstory that, though you might hate them, you see why they developed as they did. We want to know what made them who they are, and if you fail to do this, you might be writing a cardboard villain. It doesn’t take much finesse to write totally evil characters, sneering and plotting the most dastardly crimes, but that doesn’t make them whole, and it doesn’t make them memorable or believable.

The best villains are pitted against the noble hero/heroine: Lex Luthor vs Superman, Hannibal Lecter vs Clarice Starling.
I remember reading Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs, and Lecter was the epitome of evil. A sociopath, he had no moral compass, no reason he turned out the way he does. So why is he so compelling as a character? I believe in the movie, Anthony Hopkins’ brilliant portrayal gives Lecter an added dimension. Lecter first appears in Harris’s Red Dragon. In that movie, Lecter was portrayed by Brian Cox, and the hero was played by William Petersen, who would later become the first star of the original CSI.

In contrast, we have DC Comics and The Joker in the Batman films. Evil, yes, but because of his history as a tortured and abused child, we can muster some compassion for the way he turned out. That doesn’t give him a pass, but we better understand the pathology.

Villains are not always killers. Some are manipulators such as big business moguls, like Michael Douglas’s character Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. Totally amoral in his business dealings and quest for riches, he doesn’t care who he steps on to reach his goal. The screenplay was written by Oliver Stone, known for pushing the envelope. Gekko is a great character, a composite, Stone said, of many real life corporate raiders, many of whom went to prison for insider trading and/or fraud.

Shakespeare created some great villains -- murderous, duplicitous, and evil: Lady Macbeth, Iago, Richard III, etc.
Conan Doyle’s Moriarty, though appearing in only two books but mentioned in others, will always be remembered as the villain, taunting Sherlock Holmes in a battle of wits. I love Ian Fleming’s villains. Goldfinger, Dr. No, Ernst Blofeld, et al. So over the top and so much fun because they are over the top. Other literary villains might include, Anton Chigurh, the psychopathic villain in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men played in the movie by Javier Bardem, the shark in Jaws (I kind of felt sorry for him because he was just doing what killer sharks do), the Corleones in Mario Puzo’s Godfather books/movies, Darth Vader, and don’t forget Grimm fairytales.
The wicked witch in Hansel and Gretel, the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, and Disney’s evil stepmothers in Snow White and Cinderella, Cruella DeVille, and Scar from the Lion King. There are so many more, scaring children since the beginning of storytelling time. Some are downright frightening.

I’ve written my share of villains. The most evil is Stephen Baltraine in my book Threads.
He has no redeeming qualities, which goes against everything I said above, but he just took over, and I couldn’t stop him. Allowed and enabled by his parents to get and do anything he wants, he turns into a monster. Threads was the very first book I wrote, though I didn’t publish it until thirteen years later. Harley Macon, the villain in Mind Games is similar to The Joker in many ways. Twisted as a child by adults, he knows nothing but evil. But my favorite is my latest villain, Grady Parker, in we are but WARRIORS. He’s a killer for hire but with a skewed moral code that doesn’t always fit who you think he is.

We give heroes all the accolades, but it’s the villains who make our books interesting, as long as we make them compelling. I’ve wondered in the past if there was something inherently wrong with me that I could get into their heads and write them. Then I decided the villain was one of the most important elements of a good thriller, and if I had to become one for the time it took to write the book, so be it, as long as it didn't turn me into a schizophrenic.

Just as an aside, Hopkins, Bardem, Douglas, and Brando all won Academy Awards for playing villains, along with Louise Fletcher for playing Nurse Ratched for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Kathy Bates playing Annie Wilkes in Misery. Who wants to play the hero with those stats?
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.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Saying Goodbye to One of Our Team

It was with a sad heart that I read about the recent death of author Pat Smith (Patricia B. Smith). Not only was she an accomplished author, she was a valued member of the Blood-Red Pencil blogging team due to the many insightful posts she wrote, as well as her kind and generous spirit. From the time she joined as a regular blogger, she fit into our little family of friends and colleagues. Most of us have never met in person, but we’ve forged bonds through the years that are deep and strong.

Such was the case with Pat.  

Patricia B. Smith

After she got sick and was in so much pain, she still managed to get her blog posts written almost every month. She still managed to respond to the rest of us in our times of need. And she still managed to support everyone with comments on our blog posts.

I was especially touched when she shared her kind spirit with me. We both had episodes of severe pain over the past few years, and if I shared my struggles with the team she never failed to respond with thoughts and prayers. At one point, we talked about praying for each other on a regular basis - something I’ve done with other friends who are experiencing great pain and facing death. We agreed that the only benefit that can come from suffering is to offer it up for someone else.

Once Pat's pain was relieved, all of us here at the Blood-Red Pencil cheered, hoping that meant that she'd recovered.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

When Pat announced a few months ago that her body was failing, and she was resigning from the Blood-Red Pencil team, we were glad that she didn’t leave our private Facebook group that is the Office for team members. There, she occasionally posted that she knew that she was dying, and she shared her plans for making the most of what was left of her life. Primarily that meant spending time with family and doing as much as she could to bring joy and peace to her life.  

In late July she posted the following on her Facebook page: 

“Hi, friends. I've been fighting hard and relying on your emotional support for the past 3 years since my diagnosis. I am now officially terminal, but we don't know exactly what my final date will be. Please just continue to pray for me, particularly for pain relief. 

“I am otherwise content. I will get to see my son and his family before I go, my two sisters as well, and we are trying to figure something out to get my daughter over from Finland to say goodbye. Thank you all for your friendship and love.”

That post brought tears to my eyes, but it also made me more appreciative of her indomitable spirit.

This quote from Kurt Vonnegut Jr that Pat shared on her Facebook page is an appropriate one to include here. “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.”

My impression of a woman I only met virtually and spiritually, is that she lived up to the message of that quote. She was steadfast. She was strong. She was sweet.

Patricia B. Smith

 Rest in peace, Pat.


Posted by Maryann Miller. Maryann 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. Her most recent book is a short-story collection, Beyond the Crack in the Sidewalk, released by Next Chapter Publishing and available as an ebook or paperback.