Thursday, August 17, 2017

Wonder(ing) Woman

On the outside, I'm staring blankly at the screen, my fingers frozen on the keys as my once-steaming cup of coffee congeals. On the inside, I'm hurling enough blistering invective at the neighborhood dogs to turn any listeners within a three-block radius into pillars of salt.

The barking is driving me nuts.

Come on, focus. Wonder Woman; I'm supposed to be writing something about how Wonder Woman relates to my writing. Psht. Yeah. I wonder how I ever get anything done; how about that?

Hey, that could work.

How does Wonder (insert gender here) manage to do All The Things without collapsing in a sobbing heap at the bottom of a carton of Dark Chocolate Caramel Espresso* ice cream?

Ah, I see that you are now on the edge of your seat, hoping that I will reveal either The Secret or the location of said ice cream. Truth be told, they are one and the same. In two words: self care.

Back when my husband was diagnosed with the second of six cancers (I tell you, he's a freaking overachiever), our son was diagnosed with Autism. Our already busy schedule of chemo, hospital and doctor visits, and trips to the store to buy barrels of hand sanitizer ramped up considerably. Every time I set foot outside the house, some kind soul would remind me to "take time" for myself.

I kind of wanted to punch them. There is no more time to take, so where am I supposed to find any for myself?!

Fortunately, the message eventually sank in, and the clock slowed down. Instead of hovering over my husband, making sure that he was still breathing often enough during naps, I blew the dust off my spinning wheel and made yarn, checking in during trips to the kitchen for more coffee. Instead of sitting by the phone, wondering if the school might call, I hauled my laptop/knitting/newest book purchase to the local coffee shop and indulged in a mocha.

I ate the ice cream.

The past five-plus years have been a learning experience in a lot of ways. The biggest lesson? I don't have to be Wonder Woman and do All The Things. Not all at once, anyway. Most of it can wait until I reheat this coffee.

Audrey Lintner is the Owner/Chief Editor/Head Gofer of ALTO Editing Services. When she's not at the computer, she's likely to be found knitting and listening to her son relate the first few hundred digits of pi. Her celebrity crush is Lewis Black.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Give Yourself a Break

Photo by Roy Chan, via Flickr
I have a problem with guilt, probably because I was raised by a workaholic father who was raised by a Puritanical mother. It is hard for me to do nothing. It is especially hard for me to write nothing. Because that’s who I am, see? I’m a writer, so if I’m not writing, then guilt spreads its snarly tentacles throughout my brain. The unfortunate part of this mindset is that guilt does not produce much.

So when I talk to other writers, I advise them to not be like me. Here’s what I tell them:

Take a day off and do no writing at all. Don’t even turn on your computer. Forget you are a writer. Pretend you are a plumber, or an accountant, or a scuba diver. Go for a walk. Call your brother and give him some advice. Go shopping and buy something you never thought you’d wear. Go swimming at the YMCA to exercise more of your body than just your fingers. Take a bubble bath. Sing folk songs at the top of your lungs. (You can sing in the bath if you want.)

It doesn’t matter what you do on your day off as long as you don’t write anything. Not even a check or a shopping list. Pretend the keyboard, the pens, and the pencils have been sprayed with vile chemicals that will make all your hair fall out immediately.

Do this exercise at least once a month. Eventually you will become sane again.

Sometimes I even take my own advice.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, August 11, 2017

#FridayReads : Emily, Jenny, Wonder Woman, and Me

I have a confession to make. I have been writing a memoir about the years I lived in Yemen for about three years now. At least, that is what I pretend. In reality, I wrote several chapters in a streak of inspiration, then ran into a wall. In my case, the wall consisted of my uncertainty about writing about the time we spent in a small village that was under siege by rebel forces. Uncertainty is not the right word. Inability is more like it. So, there the manuscript sits. Occasionally I pull it up and start writing, only to quit in frustration after a paragraph or two. I don't know how to convey the reality of that time in a way that will make it understandable to my readers.

Make that "I didn't know how..." because, as often happens, everything aligns to give some clarity just when we need it.

The first star that aligned occurred in a writing group I am in. I was expressing my frustration with myself and my writer's block, and mentioned that all I had been able to write about that time in my life was poetry. At that, Jena, the facilitator, said, "So write that chapter as poetry."

Well. Duh. It had never occurred to me to mix genres. My memoir is pretty straight up prose, yet as a writer I have long played with different forms of writing, including all sorts of types of poetry and prose. Why couldn't I mix them up, not just for this chapter, but maybe even for the entire book?

Number one reason that came to my head? I am so NOT Wonder Woman. Sure, I run a homestead pretty much single handedly. Yes, I teach and support my family. Uh huh- I sew and knit and crochet and make soap and bread and...all that stuff. And, yes, I write. But I doubted very much that I have the talent to write something that defies categorization, crossing cultural and genre boundaries in a single bound.

Oops. Wrong superhero.

Jena's words stayed in my head, and I continued writing poems about that time, that village, and what happened there- but not as a part of my memoir. Then came the second star in the lineup, in the form of a book, The Illustrated Emily Dickinson Nature Sketchbook: A Poetry-Inspired Drawing Journal by Tara Lilly.

This is a book that transcends boundaries. Lilly has chosen poetry from Dickinson that celebrates nature, illustrating each with lovely, whimsical illustrations that bring different aspects of each poem to the forefront. In addition, she has left space for the reader to write, draw, color, paint - whatever she likes, inspired by the poem, Lilly's drawings, or nature itself. Part poetry book, part book of illustrations, and part sketchbook, it sets the imagination on fire on several levels. I am no artist, but I have really enjoyed playing with this book.

Then came the last star needed to push me into action. It was another book, this one by Jenny Lawson, better known, perhaps, as simply The Bloggess. See, that even has superhero undertones!

The book is You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds. Lawson is well-known for her insightful, often humorous blog in which she shares not only what is going on in her life, but her struggle with mental illness. This is how I came to know of her. Then one day my twenty year old son showed me some of her drawings that he had found on the internet. And WOW. They ran a gamut from fantastical to haunting to lovely to fun. In short, she is as gifted in her art as she is in her writing ability. In this book she brings both together, but even her writing is unexpected. Instead of lots of text, Lawson chooses to write in short, thoughtful, often inspirational bursts that rarely take up even half a page. Opposite each is a drawing that often has another message snaking through it. The drawings are black and white and invite the reader to pick up a marker or colored pencil and start filling in the lines - or drawing outside of them. Like Lilly's book, Lawson's defies categorization. In addition, it is an example in and of itself of breaking personal boundaries, being bold, and following our inspiration.

So that's it. Jena's simple statement, two books that showed that it really is okay to color outside the lines as a writer, and my natural inclination to slap on my cool bracelets and be Wonder Woman, and the wall is starting to crumble. How it will turn out is anybody's guess, but I will get my story told.

Do you have any example of books that cross genre lines? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to break out of the familiar and step into new territory in order to get your story told? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

About the reviewer:  Khadijah Lacina  lives on a small homestead in rural Missouri with her children, horses, goats, chickens, cats, dogs, and an elusive bobcat. She is passionate about speaking up and working for change, and is writing a book about the ten years she spent in Yemen. She is a writer, teacher, translator, herbalist, and fiber artist.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What is Your Superpower?

One of the games we play at our annual Summer Drama Camp is a name game that includes everyone saying their name and what superpower they have. It is a way to help the campers get acquainted, but it also invites them to start thinking about tapping into their imagination for understanding the creative side of what we are doing at camp. Sure we have fun, but that is only a small part of a drama camp.

What I have found very interesting when we play that game, is that the kids rarely say they can fly like Superman or climb up the sides of buildings like Spiderman, or run with the blinding speed of Wonder Woman. Often they share things like; "I can remember things." "I can sing very high notes." "I am good at drawing." "I can make my dog sit."

That last one is good if we need someone to corral an unruly child.

This camp, which I started 15 years ago with a handful of campers and two other adult volunteers, has evolved into a major event. For the past five years we have had 25+ kids in the program, three paid camp leaders, three or four teen helpers and two or three adult helpers. The paid leaders are professionals and work with the kids to write and produce a musical production, which is performed on the weekend following the second week of camp.

Everyone brings their special gift of creativity - their superpower - to the process of writing the songs, writing the script, and staging the show. In addition, we do lots of art to decorate the gallery part of the Winnsboro Center For the Arts, which is where all this fun and magic happens. The artwork then becomes the summer exhibition at the art center, and the pieces will stay up until the first part of September. The kids are almost as excited about the exhibit as the show.

This year we had a Beginner Camp, and the art from that one is part of the exhibit.
So why am I talking about a drama camp when the theme for this month at the Blood-Red Pencil is Wonder Women?

Because watching the repeat campers expand their talents from year to year is not unlike the way Wonder Woman discovered her special powers over a period of time. For her, it didn't happen all at once.

Neither does it happen for the kids.

Or for most of us.

It comes through the months and years that we are open to our superpowers of creativity. When we give them free rein, it's amazing what we can do. Part of having that loose rein is exploring new ways of perfecting our craft. New ways of finding creative energy through art and music and theatre. And new ways of using technology.  Twenty years ago if someone would have said that I would be writing a blog and maintaining a website, I would have asked if I could have some of what they were drinking. But here I am. And there I am, and I am pleased to be able to say I have not allowed myself to become stagnant.

This was my last year as Camp Administrator, and my amazing team surprised me with a tee-shirt. Of course it made me cry, but it also made my heart swell.

This is the front of the shirt.
When I saw what was printed on the back, I cried some more. But now a couple of weeks later, looking at it with less tears, the shirt reminds me that I do have a lot of creative superpowers, and even though I have never made a big splash in the pond of fame, I have made a big splash here in my hometown.

And we won't make any kind of splash at all if we don't keep exploring avenues of creativity.

The back of the shirt.
 So, what are your superpowers? How have you discovered them over the years?

Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor, and sometimes an actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. Yes, she will miss the drama camp.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy"

The post last week by Linda, Independent Writer? Team Player? Can you be Both? really resonated with me.
Photo by Maryann Miller
Since I was born on the Fourth of July there has been a strong independent streak down my back a mile wide, and it did take me a bit longer than some others to appreciate the benefits of joining a team. Whether that be a critique group, or even later joining with other authors in a group blog, such as this one, or banding together for marketing and promotions.

In some ways, marketing was a little simpler for the author before the advent of the Internet - thank you Al Gore, LOL - and all the social media outlets. If we were lucky enough to have a book accepted for publication, often the publishing house would do the marketing, and we were encouraged to make a few bookstore appearances, but that was all. Of course we all know how different that was for big name authors.

For us in the mid-list, we were encouraged to write the next book, respond to fan letters, and tell all our family and friends to keep buying our books.

When digital publishing and marketing came about, that turned that paradigm on its head. Now many of us have become Independent authors - back to that independent streak - and the resources online to help us abound. Some of my favorites are:

  • Author Marketing Experts - where you can find lists of the "best" such as this one 50 Best Resources for Indie Authors.
  • Digital Book World - that also has lists of sites to help authors, including 15 Free Resources for Every Stage in an Author's Journey
  • The Indie Guide to the Universe posted on the Venture Galleries blog.
  • Publishers Weekly, which hasn't overlooked the indie author. Six Great Blogs for Indie Authors - each of the blogs have more links to helpful information.
  • Ryan Zee, works with authors in joint ventures to build newsletter subscriptions, and I have had my subscriber number double in the past year and a half working with him. You do not have to do a monthly retainer for his services and can opt in or out of any of the special deals he runs. He does multi-author giveaways and the contest entrants have to sign up for your newsletter to enter the contest. One thing I really like about how he sets this up is that the unsubscribe rate after the contest is minimal. 
On Facebook there are a number of groups you can join for promoting your latest release or a terrific review of an older book. A quick search of groups will open up a lot. One of my favorites is Books Gone Viral, which was started by Morgan Mandel, who used to be a contributor here. 

One of the most important things when you are doing all the online promoting and marketing is to remember you are part of a team. Share the news from other indie authors when you are on Facebook and Twitter. Share resources you come across to help new indie authors get their bearings, and, above all, be professional and be kind. Avoid the rants over the icky one-star review, or the author who is slamming another professional. 

Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor, and sometimes an actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. And, yes, every Fourth of July, she sings "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy." Sometimes she doesn't even wait for the Fourth.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Independent writer? Team player? Can you be both?

This month's theme at Blood Red Pencil is independence, very appropriate for July because this is the month it's celebrated every year in the United States. Independence, however, has a far broader application than one country declaring its liberation from another.

Take writing, for instance. Like other art forms, it promotes solitude. With some exceptions we work independent of others, turning our imaginations and creativity loose and letting them lead us wherever our characters go to tell us their stories. Those characters become our closest companions while we all share space in our heads. How do we view and deal with flesh and blood professionals who are equally vital to our stories?

Consider the following fiction scenario depicting some of this editor's experiences with writers over the last 25+ years:

Writer: I can't  believe I let my critique group talk me into hiring an editor. They all said my story was unique, so why do I need somebody to edit it? Everybody in the group suggested changes; but after I explained why none of their ideas worked, they all backed down and seemed to understand my reasoning. I still can't believe I wrote that fight scene. It's the best one I ever read, if I do say so myself. The writering group was stunned into silence when they read it. I can see it now: the big publishing houses will compete for the right to publish my debut novel. The advance will set me up for life.

Editor: What's this? A fight scene? Where's the setup? Who's fighting? Is it—no, it can't be; he's out of town. Maybe it's—no, he took his wife to the ER a couple pages back, and he's still there with her. Wait a minute—that's physically impossible. Oh, dear. I wonder what the best way would be to approach this writer. She seems quite convinced her book is the next New York Times bestseller. Maybe I could coach her, help her to see why she needs to work on more effective ways to hook her readers and keep them engaged. It's not a bad story, but definitely a diamond in the rough.

Writer: I can't believe that editor had the audacity to suggest my fight scene was less than perfect. What did she mean there was no setup? Those two characters argued on page three. It's only page 76. Readers are smart. They'll remember the bad blood between those guys, and they understand subtleties. What! Physically impossible? How dare she say that? They might have to be a bit more agile than the average Joe, but really! Then she had the gall to ask if I had done my research on the story's locale. Research? That's ridiculous. This is fiction. A rewrite? No way. As I always say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This ain't broke. I'm going to send that editor a piece of my mind right now. I can't believe I had to pay her and then tell her how to do her job. I'm glad I only wrote a check for her to edit the first half the book.

Editor: It seems I struck a nerve with this independent writer; I tried so hard to be tactful. I became a freelance editor to help self-published and independently published writers compete with authors from the big houses. The notion that self-pubbed writers are second rate because they aren't published by Random House can be changed if we all work together to produce great books, but that's easier said than done. I'd better send the writer an apology for ruffling her feathers; that was not my intent. Too bad. With a little work, hers could have been a great story.

Writer: I guess that editor found out who's boss. She was just the hired help, nothing more. At least she recognized I have talent, but then she went on to suggest I take a writing course. That would be like telling Beethoven he needed to take piano lessons. (Of course, maybe he did take piano lessons.) Hey, I know grammar pretty good. Commas sometimes confuse me, but that's not important. She mentioned fragments. Hey, the reader will understand what I mean. Hmm, she also said my storyline has potential. It's not potential, honey, it's reality. I've already written it. What's this? She rewrote my fight scene to show me another way it could be presented. How dare she! Wait a minute. Oh, I see. That does make more sense. My characters wouldn't have to be contortionists to do it this way. She did use a lot of my words, but the action flows better. That's a great verb, more powerful than the one I used. Wow, I didn't know that about my story's setting. I guess I should check out the place so I don't turn off any readers who live there and who might tell their friends not to buy my novel because it's wrong. Maybe I shouldn't fire her quite yet. I suppose I could learn to work with her, as long as she understands I call the shots. Several in my writing group have been real happy with her work. Two have sold their manuscript, and three self published. All of them are selling books. Maybe I should send her another e-mail and tell her I'll give her one more chance.

Editor: I see this writer's having second thoughts. I'm glad. What's this? Whoa, she reworked the fight scene, using several of my suggestions and adding some good ideas of her own. It works now. I'll let her know right away what an improvement she made. Maybe she understands that my goal is to help her book be the best it can be, not to rewrite it and make it mine. Who knows? We might be a great team after all.

Writing is an independent profession. Publishing a first-rate book is a team effort. Editors play a major role in polishing the rough diamonds of our stories to highlight all its spectacular facets. Cover and interior designers put the wrapping on the package to maximize eye appeal. Marketing experts work to help introverted and inexperienced writers sell their wares. Specialists create e-books and audio books to reach readers who prefer those options. Of course, you may not need all these pros for your project. Just remember that none of them desire to take over any writer's work, but only to make it the best it can be and reach the widest audience possible.

Can you be both an independent writer and team player? What do you think?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. She also helps new and not-so-new writers improve their skills through posts on Blood Red Pencil and private tutoring sessions. You can contact her through her writing website, Also, you can visit her editing team at to find experienced editors to help you polish your book into a marketable work.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Journalists and the First Amendment

Freedom of the Press is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. It is supposed to safeguard against government interference in the dissemination of information and opinions needed for an informed electorate. Take away that freedom, and you eliminate the very principles on which our nation was founded. 

One of the first things an escalating authoritarian government does is limit the press, close the doors on the information it uncovers, and demean its research. When Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, the Nazis controlled less than three percent of Germany’s 4,700 newspapers. Little by little, they seized control of the press and radio stations, and destroyed opposition political party offices, which fundamentally stopped the distribution of information that wasn’t in their self-interest.

Governments have used the press to propagandize its positions. John Adams signed into law the 1798 Sedition Act, which made publishing anything critical of the government illegal. Jefferson stopped it when he became president. Teddy Roosevelt hated the press, called them muckrakers and liars. Sound familiar? Eisenhower restricted media access, and Kennedy’s love affair with the press went sour during the Cuban Missile crisis. He then shut off all foreign policy information. Reagan charmed the press. He also had a good public affairs department who did their job well. The press didn’t hit as hard as they could have on the Iran Contra affair, though the courts did.

Then there was Nixon, who called the press “elites.” Sound familiar? The Watergate scandal erupted because two journalists unearthed the facts behind the “third rate burglary” of the Democratic National Committee's office, with the help of “Deep Throat,” a source that urged them to “follow the money,” and whose identity they concealed until after the man’s death. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s stellar reporting exposed an effort by Nixon to cover up the crime, but the more the fearless reporters exposed the truth, the more obvious Nixon’s involvement became, which ultimately led to the fall of his presidency. Their book, All the President’s Men, was a bestseller, and the movie is still one of the best films of all time about journalism.

The book Game Change, an exposé of the 2008 election, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin is a more recent example of journalists doing their jobs, in spite of efforts to shut them down. Another great journalistic endeavor and bestseller of the 1960s, The Making of a President, by Theodore White, chronicled John F. Kennedy’s rise to power.

TV shows like 60 Minutes have done some amazing stories. One I recall about Jeffrey Wigand, a chemist for the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company, who exposed the addition of chemicals to the nicotine in cigarettes to make them more addictive. He received death threats for his whistleblowing and was the subject of a movie starring Russell Crowe.

For all the freedoms of the press, sources like Wikileaks dispense communications to advance a certain political agenda and can be both dangerous and/or informative. It’s still up to journalists to filter through the information, misinformation, distortions, propaganda, and fake news to makes sure that what surfaces bears some semblance of truth, free of bias.

Let’s hear it for the First Amendment and for the intrepid journalists who make sure we know what’s going on behind the scenes.

 If only we pay attention.

Polly Iyer is the author of eight novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. 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.


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