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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Story excerpt

cj Sez:  I haven't decided if this will be a short story or a novel, but what follows is the first chapter of  one of my works-in-progress.

By cj petterson

Evan Burnette’s cell phone went off at the same time he started twisting the hickory handle of the claw hammer through a hoop at the fence post to tighten the wire and re-balance the gate.  He peeled off his thick leather glove, plucked the phone out of his belt clip, and checked the name on the display.  
“Hey, Boss.” Evan expected to hear the voice of his wrangler boss, Lou Kildeer. Instead it was Steve Carradine, the owner of Rancho LaCascabel, the cattle spread everyone called La Bel.
“Evan, where are you?” Steve asked, his voice terse.
“At the loading pens in the north pasture. What do you need?” Evan wiped the sweat off his brow with his sleeve.
“Sander’s had an accident at the cabin.”
“Better get over here.”
Evan threw the tools into the back of the pickup. What’s Steve doing at Dad’s? Thirty minutes later, his tires skidded to a stop in the gravel at his father’s cabin. He jogged past idling County Sheriff cars, hesitated a second next to the covered bed of the coroner’s pickup truck then took the porch steps two at a time.
The house smelled of burned coffee, and something he couldn’t identify put a coppery taste in his mouth.
He strode into the kitchen where Sheriff Dan Merton stood in a hushed conversation with Steve Carradine and Mitchell Hargreaves, the local medico who, when necessary, also acted as the coroner.
The sheriff’s two deputies, Bradford Neil and Johnnie Slaughter, were raising a gurney that held a blue body bag. 
Evan’s eyes were drawn to a wide pool of deep red liquid on the colorless linoleum under the table. He inhaled a gasp.
Carradine intercepted him. “Evan, I’m real sorry.”
“What happened?”
“Snake bite,” Doc Hargreaves said.
Evan ran the zipper on the body bag down as far as the second button on his father’s shirt.
“You might not want to do that,” Merton said.
Evan pushed aside the blue bag and stared at his father. “Aw, Dad,” he groaned.
Sander Burnette’s ashen face had multiple pairs of swollen and bloody holes on his cheek and neck.
“He must’ve fallen into a nest of rattlers,” Merton said. “They struck him almost a dozen times.”
Evan looked at Doc Hargreaves. “He would’ve called for help. Why did it take you so long?”
“His cell’s on the kitchen table there,” the sheriff said and pointed. “Not working. He must’ve let the battery die.”
Evan swallowed hard then rubbed his hand over his face. “How’d you find out?”
“I stopped by, to say howdy, and found him,” Carradine said.
“Snake bite’s not what killed him,” Doc said.
Evan’s face asked the question.
“He would have been going into shock, about to pass out,” Doc said. “It looks like he decided to take control of how he died.” Doc cleared his throat. “Sorry, Evan. No easy way to say this. He slit his wrists.”
Evan looked again at the floor. The taste of copper in his mouth had come from the drying blood. “There’d be no reason for him to do that,” Evan said. “Antivenin could’ve saved him.
The coroner shook his head. “He had a dead phone. With him not being able to call for help, that’s not likely. He took too many hits. He knew it’d be a slow and very painful death.”
Hargreaves laid a gentle hand on Evan’s shoulder. “I’ll have to do an autopsy.”
“You said he
“I know, but the law says I have to do an autopsy in circumstances like these. You go on home, now. I’ll get somebody over here to clean up,” Doc said and swept his hand toward the kitchen floor.
“No,” Evan said. “I’ll do it.”
The look in Evan’s gray eyes quieted Doc’s protest. He turned and nodded at Bradford and Johnnie. “Carry him on out to the truck. I’ll be there directly.”
Evan let his hand trail over his father’s body as the EMTs rolled the gurney through the doorway. 
“I’m real sorry for your loss, son,” Doc said softly, put on his Stetson and walked out.
Sheriff Merton slipped a small note pad and ballpoint pen into his shirt pocket, buttoned it down then cleared his throat. “Saying I’m sorry doesn’t say enough, Evan. Sander was a good man and a good friend. You let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
Evan collapsed into one of the wooden kitchen chairs, his eyes fixed on his father’s blood. After a few seconds, the sheriff patted him on the back and left.
 Evan, suddenly intense, rummaged around in a desk drawer and found the family portrait taken at Risen Son Baptist Church when he was twelve.  He touched his fingers to each face.
Three years ago, his mother drove away with his younger sister and never returned. Sheriff said she’d taken a curve too fast and rolled over. If they’d been wearing seatbelts, they wouldn’t have been ejected, but the ten-year-old pickup wasn’t equipped with the safety equipment. He’d closed his law practice in Colorado Springs and came home to Hobarth, Nevada, to be near his ailing father. Working as a ranch hand for Steve Carradine at LaBel was a return to his youth when he’d worked side by side with his father on this land that had once been theirs.
Evan sat down in the saddle-brown leather chair his father kept in front of the picture window that framed the dusty green sage and Ponderosa pines in the distance. Propping his boots on the ottoman, he gazed, unseeing, at Sander’s favorite scene.  He pressed the photo hard to his chest while silent tears dripped off his chin. “Damn it, old man. What were you doing?” Then he broke down and sobbed uncontrollably.
The cabin was dark when Evan stirred from the chair. Flipping the switch on a lamp, he placed the photo back into the drawer.  He skirted the mahogany stain on the floor and filled a three-gallon bucket half-full of cold water at the kitchen sink and poured in a stream of bleach. He threw cupped handfuls of water on his face, and scoured off the dirty tracks of his tears with a rough towel. He used a scrub brush on the legs of the table and chairs before carrying them to the porch. Then he threw the water of the floor, grabbed the mop from behind the door, and began to clean up.
He scrubbed the floor twice. While it was drying, he sat on the porch and toyed with the dead cell phone. It’d taken a lot of convincing to get his father to agree he needed a cell phone in case of emergency. Evan had instructed Sander on its use and had programmed his own cell number as number one on the speed dial. Cracking the back, he discovered the battery pack was gone. I didn’t think you knew how to open this thing.  

So, what do you think?  Drop me a note and let me know, yea or nay. Thanks. 

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


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review: Homer and Langley

Friday Forum - a day late and short this time.

Mammatus Clouds
Once in a while, a book comes along that is so different, so mesmerizing, so wonderful, you have to tell others about it. Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow (one of my favorite authors) is one of
those. If breaking the rules, reading literature, or being flummoxed for a bit isn't your cup of tea, do not, I repeat, do not read this book.

Atypical: If you want traditional, Do Not Go Near This Book.

Peculiar: Is the style of the writing.

Brilliant: Difficult to ascertain exactly what Doctorow is saying at times.

Rule Breaking: Grammar and punctuation, chapters, scenes - forget all the rules.

Lush: Adjectives and adverbs draw readers into the story.

Mesmerizing: Story moves swiftly through U. S. history: 1800s almost to new millennium

Researched: Well done and leaves you wanting to find out more about the Collyer brothers.

Creative: The End - a wonderful Aha! moment.

Historical Fiction at its most creative.  If you take a chance and read it, let me know what you think.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Book - Beginning or End: Hope Clark

Hope Clark, well known for her Funds for Writers newsletters, and author of the popular Carolina Slade series graces our pages again today, 
reminding us that as writers, we are a business made up of many, unique branches. Give her delightful books filled with tension and fun Southern settings. One of the best things you can do for yourself as a writer is to join one or all of her Funds for Writers newsletters. Weekly, they include loads tons of valuable information and feedback from the successes of writers breaking into the business.

Welcome back, Hope!

A Book Isn’t the Beginning or the End

All too often, writers think the book is their ultimate goal. Other writers see a book as the catapult for their writing careers. In reality, a book is a tool, and your career is much more than that book.

Picture Yourself Years from Now

It's also not just about marketing THAT book. Your career is a long and winding road, and like any professional journey, you should have benchmarks and vision. How do you want to be known? What is your brand? What is your theme as a writer? What do you hope to accomplish by the time your ink runs dry?

A Slice of the Pie

A book, any book, should just be a piece of the pie, not an ultimate conclusion or centerpiece. If you pitch a book to an agent, she would not be interested in just the book. She would want to know how you were grounded, how you plan to use a book as a tool coupled with your brand, and what you intend to pursue after that book to improve yourself and that brand. A step, not a goal.

You must show that you are not just a one-hit-wonder. Your manuscript is a story that means the world to you, but it won't make you a writer or seal your success. Again, it's a step in your effort to establish your unique voice in storytelling, a voice that you and readers should expect to grow.

Branch Out

You can write articles about or around the book. You can speak, blog, spin off sequels. You network with others and raise your image, using the book as the conduit between you and others. Spin off into ebooks, trailers, classes, newsletters, and consults. It's like Coca Cola and all its
flavors, containers, advertising, clothing and trinkets; it’s so much more.

You are a business. The book is only one of your commodities. The day of an author only selling books is over. Today, an author has to do more than sit in a room writing. He has to become an asset for a publisher, or if he self-publishes, he has to become an asset for his own organization.

Don’t Stop

But if you stop with one book, and wait for that one book to sell, you’ll be disappointed.
Don't be deceived that writing that lone book will jump start your career. It won't. It never has, for any writer. But it'll help you share your message. Your bigger picture message. The message that becomes your legacy, assuming you take your writing energy and keep it going.

C. Hope Clark is author Carolina Slade Mysteries, an award-winning series pitting a country girl against government bureaucracy, corruption, and rural criminals along the back roads and coastal marshes of South Carolina. Hope is also editor of, chosen by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 14 years. /


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Free Writing Aids

Summer is the perfect time to experiment with new ideas and products—think of it as a vacation for your brain. For years, I have used Copyscape to check for plagiarism, especially when I rewrite articles for a wide variety of clients, and have found it a very inexpensive and helpful tool.

Mistakes:  All writers know that finding our own mistakes is a challenge. After we’ve read something one-gazillion times, it looks write to us. See what I mean? And we all know spellcheck was a gift from Heaven, but it doesn’t pick up misused words like two and too and to. They’re all spelled correctly, so what’s the problem? I’ll leave you to answer that. Grammarcheck is helpful for finding the unusual and very boggled sentences, not so much using the wrong word.

Corrections: As an editor, I frequently hear that writers can’t afford an editor. Sadly, I spend a lot of time correcting spelling and grammar, sentence structure and a long list of other things. My clients spend money for me to make those corrections when they have low priced and FREE tools that easy to use available that would substantially reduce their editorial fees. Using these tools gets the basics out of the way and lets your human editor talk about character development, pacing, plot, your get the idea.

Copyscape ( has free and fee services. I have found their Premium product efficient, effective, and economical. There are good tools to check the originality of content (no plagiarism) and ensure you haven’t stepped on someone’s toes when writing your blog post, rewriting research materials, etc. Numerous companies that I work freelance for use Copyscape to check my work as a requirement of their contracts. Their Copysentry product will track down copies of pirated work on the web. No downloads are required.

Paper Rater ( A free online editor, Paper Rater checks for plagiarism and analyzes the originality of the work in addition to basic editing functions: grammar and spelling, vocabulary appropriateness which includes word choice. Looks like their dashboards are easy to use. An interesting plus is their Vocabulary Builder product—kind of a Thesaurus with an edge. No downloads required.

After the Deadline (, I gave this free online editor try, and it’s easy to use and caught every grammar and spelling error I threw at it. It also made suggestions for verbiage changes. One thing I like is their use of different colors to denote the problem in the writing. When I clicked on the words underlined, a box with suggested changes popped up – nice.

Pro Writing Aid ( This free online editor has a nice feature for signing into the site. Use your Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google accounts – a few less steps to get to where you want to be. Like other online editors, simply paste in the text and get an analysis. It has a few extra bells and whistles with the grammar and spell checks, including finding clich├ęs, sentences and paragraphs that are too long, overused words (you know: actually, even, just, in/out), passive voice (gotta try this), and WAIT FOR IT—pacing! Once you get the report, you can click on the “errors” and get suggestions for solutions. Check out their articles on improving your writing and they have something in the clouds that does word collages, which I want to check on. But first, I have to figure out if it’s the cloud that looks like an elephant or the unicorn. No downloads required.

For The Brave of Heart
Rescue Time  ( If you play Spider Solitaire, are addicted to online Mahjong, or spend your writing time playing Free Cell, all done under the guise of taking a break from your writing, this little jewel might be for you. I, of course, have none of those problems and do not need it. Silently running on your computer—what I have labeled the spy gizmo—it quietly monitors which websites you visit and logs the time you spend there as well as noting the “other” activities you do online. If you have teenagers or work as a PI, could be helpful.

I'd love it if you would let us know if you’ve used any of these products and how well they did or didn’t work for you, so we can share info with other writers.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Do you critique?

cj Sez: I written about some of these things before, but they bear repeating because critiques are a must for serious writers. We’re way too close to our manuscripts to be subjective. Despite our best intentions, we can’t judge/proofread/edit our own words, at least not thoroughly or objectively. We read past things . . . because we “thought” them. Obviously the reader will know what we mean, even if the words aren’t on the page or are wrong. Objective critique partners are able to find missing words, poorly constructed sentences, punctuation errors, missing story threads, plot holes, and all those other etceteras that the subjective writer misses.

Finding compatible critique partners is hard, sometimes very hard. Shared likability and a mutual respect for expertise are required by/for/from each other. But the manuscript deserves/needs critiques, so connecting with a critique group is definitely worth the effort.

It’s important to note that members of critique groups generally have different strengths and areas of expertise. One might be a whiz at line editing. Another might offer insights into story structure. Still another may be great at recognizing any plot weaknesses. Or character flaws. Or the dreaded middle-of-the-book sag.

There is yet another type of critiquer that can be incredibly helpful. That’s the one who perhaps isn’t so technical, but who points out the things that elicit their visceral reactions. What they laughed at, what they got scared of for the character, where they cried, got lost, what they did or didn’t “get” or where they were tempted to skim over paragraphs or pages. That kind of emotional information is invaluable. These are the comments that point the writer to where s/he’s succeeding or where s/he’s failing to communicate the desired story. These comments can represent the reaction of the writer’s intended audience.

A caveat: Writers should consider all critique comments as if they were values on a bell curve. The comments that are similar (and bunch up like a hump in the middle) could need another look. The outliers on either end of the curve (the one or two strange or obviously subjective comments) can probably be disregarded.

Whether your work is critiqued in chunks (as I like to do) or you wait until your manuscript is complete, find some fellow writers to read it over. Trade yours for theirs. And the more eyes on the manuscript, the better. I formally belong to two critique groups and occasionally also trade whole manuscript critiques with other members of the Guppies…a subset group of the Sisters in Crime organization.

Something to remember, though, is that there really are rules for critiquing. The most important one is: Be kind. Second: Find a way to start your critique with something positive. (Writers have fragile, creative egos, but you already know that.) But also be truthful. It won’t help any writer if you praise something that is poorly written. I truly understand that no one likes to hear their baby manuscript is ugly, but speaking from experience, if we’re going to be successful writers, we have to develop a rhino hide to deflect unwarranted or warranted criticism and agent rejections.

The step after getting critiques—before you send it to an agent or consider self-publishing—is to send it to an editor, but that’s a post I’ll leave for Mahala, the Lyrical Pens editor-in-residence.

I’ll leave You with an offer:  I’ll be happy to provide a brief/written critique to the first ten writers who eMail me the first three (3) pages and the last three (3) pages of Chapter One of their work-in-progress.     Rules:  Copy and paste the pages within the eMail (no attachment). The formatting might be lost so use asterisks or extra line spacing to separate the first three pages from the last three. It'll be a long eMail, but that's okay.

In the meantime, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same

cj . 

P.S. Congratulations to Carolyn Haines on the release (in May) of the latest must-read book in her Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery series. BOOTY BONES is now available in hardcover or eBook at and

P.P.S. Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there, and to those fathers who can't be home because they are serving our country in far-off places, my prayers go up for your safe return to your families.