Guest Post

HAVE A BOOK TO PROMOTE? Lyrical Pens welcomes guest posts. Answer a questionnaire or create your own post. FYI, up front: This site is a definite PG-13. For details, contact cj

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Glorious English

cj Sez: A friend sent me this quote from a fellow blogger, Sol Sanders: "Perhaps the glory of the English language is that it is so expressive. Its remarkable heterogeneous origins have given it an almost limitless vocabulary. And American English, particularly, has used that tool with an enormous flexibility to make it the international means of communication. One is able with a minimum of linguistic dexterity to capture every meaning, or almost every nuance."

Mr. Sanders's comments were part of an introduction to his essay on what today's journalism and media do with and to the English language. The gist of his blog is that they overcomplicate their sentences with words that muddy their meanings . . . i.e., changing nouns into verbs and, perhaps, calling a shovel a "hand-held, earth-moving tool." My take on this is that media types and journalists employ this old trick of confusing the issue to try to persuade readers to their (the writer/editor's) point of view.

I'll admit to a few personal dislikes. One is the word "impactful:" a noun turned into a verb turned into an adjective by adding ful on the end. What the Sam Hill does that mean?

The truth is, English is a living language. It's constantly evolving as we create new words with new meanings to compliment new technology. The caveat is that the generations cease to understand each other at an almost exponential pace. Many times I need an interpreter to understand "teen talk," and I think if I texted (a noun turned into a verb because of technology), I'd forget how to spell.

For me as a genre writer, the gloriously expressive English language is what makes my craft so fascinating.

Yes, I happily use nouns as verbs. Yes, I deliberately obfuscate (and add the disclaimer that it's for the sake of mystery). And I am drawn to the syntax, symbolism, and syncopation of a well-drafted sentence that is the hallmark of successful mystery/thriller/suspense novelists.

It's using that "minimum of linguistic dexterity to capture every meaning, or almost every nuance" that appeals to me, and, I think, to readers of those genres. They like trying to decipher the code, find the clues, and solve the crime. I like trying to confuse the issue.

I am, however, still working on my craft. How are you doing with your genre?

Okay, that's all for today. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.


PS: The cartoon is from Facebook.

PPS:  My novel DEADLY STAR is included in the publisher's "Running to Love" bundle of novels, tentatively slated for release on October 27. That's TEN romantic suspense stories for 99 cents! Available on all of the Crimson Romance sites, including and B& 

After you've had a chance to read the stories, please let the authors know what you think by taking a few moments to give them a review, good-bad-indifferent. We appreciate your feedback.

Monday, October 27, 2014

That Little Thing Called Plot


Just the word plot sends shivers up and down a writer's spine. We read about it in writing books, we study it in how-to workbooks, we labor over it in writing classes, but too many of us never feel like we understand it.

Published writers
Have you ever listened to a well-known, well-published author with books on the best selling lists and heard them say something like, "I don't know how the plot twists and turns came to me, they just did." We go away wondering why we didn't get a muse that spits out plot twists and turns that magically become a best seller.

Other writers with similar credits, freely admit they slaved over the plot and revised their book so many times, they were sick of it by the time it made it to an agent. We go away from those admissions wishing we knew how to achieve what we're missing. What questions to ask. What blanks to fill in.

Creative Writing
In my overview creative writing classes, I have the pleasure of working with students at all stages of their writing future. It's amazing to see those that seem to have the least knowledge and the smallest number of words on paper suddenly grasp a new idea and run with it.

Run with your idea
And that's what I think the secret to plot really is: Running with it. It's all about moving ahead and giving it the best we've got. Sometimes, we celebrate success. Sometimes, we get a rejection, but the challenges and the differences in ultimate success merge - like a good plot - from our methodical movement until we hit pay dirt.

It's a unique pleasure to see our words in print, a joy only another writer truly understands and only a writer who keeps at it will ever understand.

But back to that dreaded word PLOT. I'm sharing a few clues to help you move forward in your writing, clues that work for my students and hopefully will work for you.

Enticing Hooks
Not just the opening book hook, but those scene and chapter hooks that keep the reader turning the pages.

A hook doesn’t have to startle the reader but must get their attention, usually through an emotional surprise. Those hooks may be the only chance you get as they scan your book and decide whether to purchase it. Here's a good example of an opening hook from The Book of Bright Ideas by Sandra Kring, which is one of my favorite books.

“I should have known that summer of 1961 was gonna be the biggest summer of our lives. I should have known it the minute I saw Freeda Malone step out of that pickup, her hair lit up in the sun like hot flames. I should have know it, because Uncle Rudy told me what happens when a wildfire comes along."

A plot interwoven with one dysfunctional family after another, this book like so many other best sellers invokes the imagination of readers. Here are a few I feel certain you've probably read.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by  Stieg Larsson

Romeo and Juliet  by Shakespeare

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant  by Ann Tyler

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

Rebecca by Daphne du Murier

Oedipus by Sophocles

Kramer vs Kramer by Avery Corman

Each of these stories has a plot entirely different from the others, yet the stories are filled with intrigue and tantalizing tidbits about the human condition - that thing all humans like to explore to find out if we are "normal" or "abnormal."

Some of these books open quietly, but all of them introduce the characters and give at a minimum a strong hint that something is not quite right and something interesting is on the horizon. Some of them slam readers in the gut with the erratic behavior and insidious personalities hovering on their pages.

A plot is not a template. A plot is a story with a beginning that peaks our curiosity, delivers a delicious middle, and wraps up with an ending that fills our needs, whether emotional, moral, shocking, or logical.

Want to practice how to plot a story? Sit across from a friend or colleague and tell them a good story, complete with an opening to get their attention, grabs them with the ups and downs that make the middle interesting and keeps them from yawning mid story, and wrap it up with a can-you-believe-it or isn't-that-the best-thing-you-ever-heard ending.  That's a plot and you did it!

Let us know what tricks you have up your sleeve when it comes to plot development.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Right brain or left brain

cj Sez: As the year's end races closer and closer, I find that keeping on track with meeting my appointments is getting harder and harder. I could alibi that I've bitten off more than I can chew in terms of volunteering in the midst of necessary stuff, but that'd be an untruth. The truth is, I need to pay better attention and keep a better appointment calendar, as in just one. Right now, I have at least two and occasionally three.

I'll note an appointment (or paperclip a card) on the calendar hanging on the kitchen door and then forget to write it in my planner . . . or vice versa. That wouldn't be much of a problem if I would just check both places every morning . . . which, of course, I don't. The third "occasional calendar" I mentioned is simply the collection of all those little scraps of paper and back-of-business-card notes that I shove into my jeans pockets or bottom of my purse. Who I'm supposed to meet when and where just disappears.

Out of sight, out of mind is the term.

I'm more of a visual person (is that a right brain or a left brain thing?), and that shows up in my writing. Scenes are the least complicated for me to write. I enjoy creating the details that permit my readers to visualize where the characters are and what they are seeing. But I tend to keep my details sparse and incorporated into the flow of the scene's action. I don't tell the reader the office is small and crowded. I like to let my character do that by having her desk chair bump against the wall when she stands up and then walks the five or so steps it takes to open the door for a client to enter her office. This lets the reader imagine the scene as well.

Dealing with personal introspection/emotions/internal dialogue is more difficult for me since I "see" the action in my stories as movies in my head. Narrative without dialogue doesn't exist in movies unless there's a voice-over, so I tend to use very little. I've been told and I do understand I need more narrative in my novels, so I'm working on expanding my use of internal dialogue. I'm sure it'll be sparse, but I'm also sure it will bring more depth and realism to my characters.

Okay, I've confessed. Your turn. What is your writing strength or weakness?

That's all for now. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.

cj . . . sending ghostly, ghastly Halloween vibes your way.

PS: Halloween craft ideas from Facebook

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Deadly Star in new sales promo

cj Sez: First . . . I want to pass along the good news that publisher Crimson Romance has included my DEADLY STAR in their "Running to Love" bundle of novels, tentatively slated for release on October 27. That's TEN romantic suspense stories for 99 cents! Means I might earn about a penny in royalties, but look at all the people who (hopefully) get enticed to read my novel. %>)

Next . . . It's official. I either have to get the lawn tractor fixed or hire a herd of goats. My two-acre yard is almost three weeks behind in needing mowing, and the recalcitrant lawn tractor refuses to cooperate by allowing itself to be repaired. We're now on option three of electrical parts. If this fix doesn't work, I'll have to give in and take the thing to an expert: A Professional Mechanic.

Kind of reminds me of a work-in-progress. I take the manuscript as far as I can take it (critique group, several edit cycles, a manuscript exchange among two or three out-of-state authors that write in my genre, beta readers), and then, to really get it ready to publish, I have to take it to an expert: An Editor. That's because I'm sure to have missed something in the plot or character development that makes the story work. Something like what's obviously wrong with the lawn tractor (i.e., the nut behind the wheel is loose).

Getting an editor is a "given" for any author. Typing "The End" is the beginning of another phase of getting published. Whether you're submitting queries or undertaking the task of self-publishing, having your manuscript professionally edited is an essential part of the process. Editor-proof your novel . . . Do not skip that step.

By the way, the "Running to Love" bundle is being made available on all of the publisher's sites, including and B& After you've had a chance to read the stories, please let the authors know what you think by taking a few moments to give them a review. We appreciate your feedback.

That's all for today. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Want to Write A Book?

Are you one of those people who say, “I’d like to write a book someday, but I don’t know where to start”?

Do you hesitate to start writing because of confusion about what to say and how to shape your ideas?

I’m here to tell you that there is no wrong way to write.

New books break the rules. Yes, I know we are all told that debut novelists shouldn’t step outside the box. Wrong! Debut writers are known for their risk taking and ultimate success. J. K. Rowling, Kathryn Stockett, Stephen King, Jesmyn Ward, Vanessa Diffenbauch

What makes you happy might not make me happy. Creativity is the ultimate enigma—the greatest mystery of the universe.

But—and this is a big but—there are some rules about writing that are sacrosanct.

            6 Key elements to develop a story worth reading

1.         Protagonist:               star of the show
2.         Characters:                people to talk to the protagonist, includes the antagonist
3.         Plot:                          a story deliberately arranged to be interesting
4.         Point(s) of view:       the storyteller
5.         Setting(s):                 where the action takes place (scene changes)
6.         Tension:                    not the same as conflict

Today, let’s talk about characters. I’ve added some clues with each bullet.
1.  Your protagonist is the key to every story. It is incumbent on the author to identify and explain the physical, psychological, and sociological traits of the lead character. I use a method similar to FBI profiling to get to know my characters inside and out.

Good Characters are Multidimensional
Your protagonist must want/yearn for something - not necessarily tangible—often love, acceptance, winning a battle, killing the bad guys, winning the girl/guy, forgiving themselves or others, redemption, big diamond, the gold, the crystal skull. Shrek finds true love. Miss Havisham seeks revenge. Katniss strives to live. Sherlock solves the case. Gamache brings justice. Sarah Booth protects her friends. Harry finds his place. Indiana Jones finds tangible and intangible things of value.

2.  Strong character development is required. It is important to:
     a.  Create characters that you look forward to spending time  with because both you and the  reader will be doing just that. Indiana Jones, Alex Cross, Miss Marple, Harry Potter, Hermione, & Ron, Rizzoli & Isles, Miss Julia, Detective Gamache, Father Tim

     b.  Create characters your reader will follow, whether they like them or not. Ms. Danvers, Draco Malfoy, Lisbeth, Miss Havisham, Sgt. Havers, Hannibal Lector, Dracula.

     c.  Create interesting characters that you “know” and either understand or come to understand, and  half the battle is won. Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, Pip, Georgia Bottoms, William Monk, Thomas Pitt, Kay Scarpetta, Sherlock, Jane Eyre, Heathcliff.

3.  Define the enemy of the protagonist (antagonist). Can be themselves, a parent, friend, society, bad guy, boss, co-worker. Batman vs The Joker, Kramer vs Kramer, Katniss vs President Snow, Dorian Gray vs himself, Romans vs Masada

For me, characters come quite naturally. For others, the plot springs to mind first. It doesn’t matter,  as long as you get where you want to go with your writing.

I love learning about the characters that pop into my head and creating new ones for them to pal around, argue, and enjoy sharing the pages. Characters are the foundation of a good book. A great story can be staring us in the face, but without characters to bring the story to life, the story isn’t going anywhere. And conversely, great characters without a story simply toy with readers' emotions.

Do you have special tricks you use to bring your characters to life?


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Fall must-have: Tall leather boots from . . .

cj Sez: Oops. Wrong headline, but here I am, in a state of flux. I’m somewhere between the beginning of fall (the autumnal equinox occurred Sept. 23) and the end of daylight savings time (if you’re on it, it ends Nov. 2). I feel like I'm on a downward slide to the end of the year. Happy HalloThanksMasYear! Think about it. Right now, many stores have displays up for the generic harvest time and fall colors as well as for every one of those holidays.

Now, if you’re a writer who likes a challenge, here’s another event to anticipate and celebrate: The beginning of NaNoWriMo . . . November. The National Novel Writing Month. A challenge to write fifty thousand words, as in 50,000, in one month. Let’s see, “30 days hath September, April, June, and November.” That means you'd need to write an average of (just a minute, calculations going on) 1,666.67 words per day to reach 50,000 in 30 days. Whew!

If you’re going to take the challenge (I’ll only admit to “thinking” about it), now is the time to pre-plot, if you haven’t already started the process. Deciding to accept the NaNoWriMo challenge is one of those times when it isn’t a good idea to jump right in and begin writing. In order to accomplish 50,000 words in thirty days, you will definitely need some pre-planning. You’ll need a basic idea of how you want the action to progress. Also important to this speedwriting contest, you should know something about the development of your characters, what their emotional arcs will be.

Granted, the final NaNoWriMo story will wind up as a fast, first draft of a new novel. However, the plus side of all that pre-plot/pre-plan work is not only will you have a better chance of completing the NaNoWriMo challenge, but it’s also a good bet that you’ll need a lot fewer rewrites to make that first draft into a viable, saleable novel.

If you’re not in a support group (they are very good for encouragement and motivation), there are multiple sources of helpful forums and advice online. There is even an official organization:
Note: NaNoWriMo is not a competition. Well, maybe it is in a way, except you won't be competing against anyone but your self-discipline.

So, what are you waiting for? Put pen to paper or fingers to keys and get started on developing those plots. There are only 26 days left until Nov. 1. And now that I think about it, since I get paid monthly, I have only two more paydays until Christmas. Aarrgh!

Okay, I’ll leave you to your work. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same. Remember, I’m rooting for you!


PS: I absolutely have to thank Hope Clark for her great blog on conferencing. I learned something new!
And the cartoon is from my Facebook page.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hope Clark Talks Conferences

Hope Clark is always welcome at Lyrical Pens. She brings her extensive experience in the writing world to the page, and today shares with us advice on how to approach a writing conference to get the most bang for our buck (and as we all know, bucks can be short for writers) a subject near and dear to our hearts. 

Be sure and check out Hope's new mystery series set on Edisto Island, a place near and dear to my heart. I used to own a condo there and wish I still did. Beautiful beaches, beautiful scenery, and beautiful people. The first book has just been released.

 You Signed Up For A Conference - Now What?

You paid your conference fee and reserved your motel room. You're finally going to a writers conference, but once you think about it, you aren't sure what to do once you arrive.

First, make sure this is a conference that suits your needs. If you are unpublished and seeking agents or publishers, then don't stick to a conference that focuses on craft, and vice versa. Make sure the majority of the classes fit your goals.

Second, while you're researching, dig deeper and research the teachers, agents, and so on. If you see teachers that really haven't published much, yet they’re talking about publishing, think twice. Anybody can teach. You want teachers who have experience, as well. And make sure what they are teaching is what you want to learn.

Third, participate in at least one critique or pitch session. Unless you are green as a gourd and just dipping your toe in the water, you have a piece you've been working on. Toss it into the fray and see what feedback you get. They might rip it up, but that's okay. You show you've got guts and you walk away much more educated.

Fourth, plan your agenda. Don't wait until you get there to decide what you want to attend. They publish that schedule ahead of time for a reason. Map out your days and evenings to include the questions you want to ask and the goals you hope to achieve. Get the most of your sessions.

Fifth, meet at least one new person per session. Speak to those at your table or seated around you. There's a wealth of networking opportunity available to you at a conference, and that networking might be the biggest plus you come home with. I once sat next to a self-published young woman who saw my nametag and FundsforWriters and whispered she knew nothing about money. She’d made $30K the previous year and $300K in the present, and it was scaring her.

Sixth, plan your clothes. Sounds like a woman thing, right? Wrong. You'll be sitting for long periods of time. You might have to trek up and down stairs or from one end of the motel to the other to make classes. Look sharp but make it comfy. Throw in a scarf, the boots, or those special pieces of jewelry. Give the person you meet something to remember you by.

Seventh, plan your one-liners. If you've read The Shy Writer Reborn, ( you know that I'm keen on one-liners. Plan for those expected questions someone will ask like: what do you write, what's your current story about, why are you at the conference, what have you published, etc. Come prepared with succinct answers. You'll sound smart, trust me.

Eighth, pack your writing stuff to include:

=> two copies of your WIP (just in case)

=> business cards (don't say WRITER/AUTHOR on it and avoid Vistaprint templates)

=> notebook - You'll not only take notes, but you'll dabble on your WIP as these productive ideas come to you in class. I've rewritten chapters in class as the teacher led me to a new concept.

=> name tag - They'll give you one, but consider having a permanent, professional one made. I have two: one with a magnet and one with a pin, so that they can go on anything I wear. People remember tags, and if yours is unique, they'll remember you more.

=> one-sheets - See this article on one-sheets. These are marvelous if you are pitching and speak volumes about your creativity and professionalism.

Ninth, before the last day, take a moment to go over your notes and goals and determine what you're lacking, then approach the teacher, writer or agent while you can. Walk up and ask the question. That's why they are there, and what you paid for.

Tenth, You can do this! And you can do it better if you go prepared.

 Been to a conference lately? We'd love to hear about it. Mahala

BIO: C. Hope Clark’s is the award-winning Carolina Slade Mystery Series, and editor of /, chosen by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for 14 years. When she’s not walking the sand of Edisto Beach, she’s dipping her toe in the waters of Lake Murray, SC.

The Edisto Island Mystery Series

Murder on Edisto debuts this series in September 2014. Set on historic, scenic, intriguing Edisto Island, one of the South Carolina sea islands, the Edisto Island books feature former detective Callie Jean Morgan. Dragging a tragic past with her, she relocates to her parents’ vacation home on Edisto Beach only to find that murder and mayhem happens in paradise, too. She had no plans to return to law enforcement, but for some reason, Edisto thinks that’s what she was sent to the shore to do.