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, March 25, 2018

Newsy item and Historical fiction bytes

cj Sez: Newsy tidbit: Now that spring has sprung, U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard ice cutters getting ready to clear the shipping lanes in the Great Lakes.

Three Coast Guard cutters gathering at the Soo Locks will open shipping channels in Whitefish Bay and Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, to facilitate $500 million worth of commercial traffic during the shipping season. In an average year, the Coast Guard breaks ice for 120 days. Whitefish Bay on the eastern end of the southern shore of Lake Superior is 90 percent ice-covered. There are windrows of ice piled four feet in upper Whitefish Bay. 

The U.S. Coast Guard operates nine ice-breaking-capable cutters on the Great Lakes, including the heavy ice-breaking Mackinaw. At 240 feet in length, the vessel, with a crew of nine officers and 46 enlisted personnel, can break solid ice up to 42 inches.  (Excerpted from the, March 23, 2018)
cj Sez: Ice 42-inches thick? I moved from Michigan to the Gulf Coast, so let's get back to my personal reality…

The above is a picture of about 50 feet of my side yard in Mobile. The picture was taken March 8. What a difference 1,300 miles makes.
Some things to remember when writing historical fiction manuscripts:

First, as with all stories, well-developed conflict drives the plot.

I have seen historical manuscripts described as those set in a time that predates the end of World War II.
   That makes a lot of writers I know historical figures, so I don’t buy that definition. Historical to me would predate the end of World War I, but you go ahead and be safe. Use the World War II definition.

Historical characters, their dialogues and dress have to be appropriate to the time and setting.

  Believe it or not, sailors in the 17th and 18th centuries pioneered the wearing of trousers ("slops") made of a denim fabric called “jean.” but the plural term “jeans” wasn’t used in the United States until 1843.1 

Historical manuscripts require long hours of research (notice my footnotes just in this post).

The things that fill the scenes have to belong there. Examples:
    Incandescent lights didn’t exist before the late 1800s.2  Before 1947 the number of U.S. homes with television sets could be measured in the thousands.3 (It's likely that very wealthy people may have had one.)

Don’t beat your reader over the head with all the historical details you’ve discovered...the dreaded info dump.
   Historical elements are essential but mustn’t be boring. They should be blended into the plot. You want these details to draw the reader deeper into your story.
Yeah, right, D.T. (Love this one.)

All of the above points directly to long hours of exacting research to write a historical fiction novel. Keep in mind, if a history buff reading your novel spots an error s/he considers egregious, your Amazon review will not only reflect that reader’s disappointment but can deflect potential buyers as well.

That’s it for this week’s post. Please let me know if you found a nugget in here you can use or improve upon.

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

Although Crimson Romance has closed, Simon&Schuster still has (so far) my books available on Amazon, so stop by and try one. I think you’ll like it.
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Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo
California Kisses—10 ebooks publisher’s bundle (includes Deadly Star)
The Great Outdoors  8 ebooks publisher’s bundle (includes Choosing Carter)
Bodies in Motion — 10 ebooks publisher’s bundle (includes Choosing Carter)
Short romance stories in:
        Pieces Anthology 20+ short stories published by Mobile Writers Guild
       The Posse a Western anthology of 8 short stories

Sunday, March 18, 2018

ABCDE Short story structure

cj Sez: Since yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, I’m sending all of you my wish that the Luck o’ the Irish (includes health, happiness, love, success…all the good things) continues with you throughout 2018.  

I’ve taken to writing more short stories recently and find myself referring to the following notes for guidance and reassurance that I’m on the right track. I’ve posted about this before, but perhaps you’re new to the process, and the notes will help you as well.

The first thing I do is put a copy of Anne Lamott’s ABCDE structure of a short story within eyesight:

Action—Start with something happening to draw the reader into the story. 
Background—Provide context for readers to understand how the characters came to the current situation
Conflict—The characters must want something they don’t have and work to achieve it (sometimes against each other)
Development—The 70-80 percent of the story describing the characters’ struggles to get what they want. Each time it appears they have the goal within reach, give them something more difficult to overcome until they reach the climax  (cj Sez: That’s the part where you get them up a tree and throw rocks at them.)
Ending—What happens after they reach their goal. In a romance, the hero and heroine realize their “happily-ever-after”. In a mystery or thriller, all the loose ends are tied up. In a literary story, the ending may be rather ambiguous.

I merge Ms. Lamott’s guidelines with a ton of writing tidbits I’ve cobbled together from how-to workshops and essays. And this is what I’ve learned (and a lot of this applies to novels as well)…

Short stories are about ONE thing, so start as close to the central action as possible, and I find that to be close to the end.

Try to let the setting help reveal the character and advance the plot. This is where a deep point of view can reveal internal character through reactions to setting.

In a short story, every line should (probably must) serve more than one purpose.

Every character needs to want something, even if it’s only to be left alone so s/he can take a nap.

Make the reader care about your main character. Snappy dialogue, beautiful settings, or surprising plot twists won’t keep your readers turning the pages if your main character is boring or unlikable. They need someone to root for.

That being said, all great characters have flaws—something that readers recognize or sympathize with. You don’t have space in a short story for paragraph-long character descriptions. This is where less is more, necessarily. One significant detail can tweak the imagination, and a complete character is formed in the reader’s mind. This is the character that can lead the reader to an unexpected twist ending, perhaps best exemplified by the master of twisted endings, William Sydney Porter (O. Henry).
A story with a moral appended is like the bill of a mosquito. It bores you, and then injects a stinging drop to irritate your conscience.Strictly Business by O. Henry 
Okay, all you short-story writers, is there something I’ve missed that you’ve found helpful?

That’s it for this post. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

By the by, Adams Media has closed the Crimson Romance imprint. My books are currently still available on Amazon, but I’m on the hunt for another publisher for my next novels. Wish me luck.

Short romance stories in:
      Pieces Anthology 20+ short stories by Mobile Writers Guild
    The Posse a Western anthology of 8 short stories
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Sunday, March 11, 2018

40 Days of questions, and a good copy edit is a must

cj Sez: Daylight Savings Time is here. Did you remember to Spring Forward one hour? I did then forgot to actually do it (sigh).

I wonder how many of my Lyrical Pens visitors have been, like me, the beneficiaries of author and editor Ramona De Felice Long’s 40 days of questions.  Instead of fasting for Lent, Ramona, my Sisters in Crime/Guppy mate, pledged to ask three thought-provoking questions (writing tasks) every day for 40 days.

I can’t believe how fast the time has flown. Only a few more days to go. I’ve saved them all as reminders and cues while I’m writing.

The next time you’re on Facebook, slip over to Ramona’s site and ask to friend her. You can reach her on Facebook at  or at her website:

Speaking of editors, do you ever open a book, read a few chapters (or even a few lines), and then put it down because of errata gremlins, i.e.; those typos, misspellings, and factual errors that drive a pedantic like me crazy. One or two will make me shake my head and pause. More than that and the book becomes a give-away.

It used to be that indie books were the worst. They tended to be poorly edited and poorly written. Now, I find errors in books by established authors and big publishing houses who should know better. Perhaps the problem comes down to the time it takes to do a detailed copy edit vs. getting the book on the market.

Self-published books are so often done on such a shoestring (cost-wise) that the author can't afford to hire a copy editor. Unfortunately, I have come across some who simply don’t want to go through the process.

Speaking from experience, self-edits and beta readers do not, will not, and cannot catch everything that a good copy editor will. You do not, however, need to hire a copy editor for your first draft…nor your second or third or however many drafts it takes to get your story told.  Don’t presume that because you’ve typed “The End,” your manuscript is ready to publish. It’s probably months away from publication. It needs fresh eyes. That’s when you should consider hiring a copy editor.

What does a copy editor do, you ask? Besides checking spelling and correcting grammar and punctuation, copy editors review the manuscript for proper word usage and syntax. They make sure the author has maintained a logical and consistent flow of style, and they polish the story structure. 

Personally I want my manuscript to be the best I can make it. I read the document on the computer screen, and then I print a few pages. Because the text looks different when printed, It makes it easier to find the missing comma, period, or quotation mark that was missed on numerous computer-screen read-throughs. Sometimes, I make a copy of the printed page. Copying changes the size of the font once again, and I will (too often) find something else to correct. When you’ve gotten this far, read it out loud. Your mind won’t self-correct what isn't on the page when the text is read out loud. 

It’s a personal and financial consideration for each author, but please consider hiring an editor if you can afford it. Caveat: Expect that if your manuscript is accepted by a publisher, their punctuation rules and style manual for how they want their publication to look may differ from your copy editor’s input, and there could be more changes needed. But don’t think of your copy editor dollars as being wasted. They got your story accepted.
Got any horror or triumphant stories to share? Lyrical Pens would love to read them.

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

And now some verbiage from my sponsors:
PIECES ANTHOLOGY…I’m thrilled to have two stories included in this collection of short stories and poems by more than 20 authors from the Gulf Coast of Alabama, including USA TODAY best-selling authors Carolyn Haines and Craig A. Price Jr. The anthology is available at
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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Milestone or millstone?

cj Sez: I am pleased to announce that I recently passed another annual milestone: I had a birthday—of course, the cake was chocolate.

I spent the day taking advantage of free celebratory lunches and free desserts at more than one restaurant. Interestingly, those freebies were not age-based. That is, I didn’t have to be a certain age to qualify. But that age thing is a big deal for me and a lot of women, maybe “most” women. Aging can be a millstone if you let it.

We (that plural pronoun includes men) have come to the realization that the world is geared to the younger generation. They get ads for computers, tablets that can do everything but dance, hundreds of phone apps, outrageously sexy vacations, every sort of sports equipment you can think of, and flirty workout apparel that’s sure to inspire you to shape and tone. Past the age of let’s say 35, it seems the majority of advertising is aimed at medicines … for constipation, overactive bladders, or erectile dysfunction.

Agents, some of whom look like they’re two years out of high school, voice their interest in finding the unique voices of young writers that they can “develop.” I was personally exposed to this attitude at a conference a few years ago, and it put a damper on my ambition…for a short time.

Then I decided, I didn’t need an agent to write. Personally, I didn’t even “need” to be published, (although I have appreciated very much publishers' affirmations of my story telling skills).

I did and do, however, need to write.

Here’s a quote by author Babette Hughes that I keep on my computer:

Age is not a disability, it is a second chance at life. I’m 92 years old and Post Hill Press has just published my three-novel Kate Brady series; (The HatThe Red ScarfThe Necklace); I’m working on my fourth novel (Searching For Vivian) and fifth book, and am a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post. 

(cj sezBabette is now 94 and has published that fourth novel, as well as a memoir, Lost and Found. If this post seemed familiar, it’s a modified re-run.)

I had a wonderful time at the 2nd Annual Mobile Literary Festival today, an event that shines the spotlight on local authors and poets, both traditionally and self-published.

The talented writers conducted workshops on marketing and publicity, writing the forbidden, story creation, and an emerging writers’ workshop exploring world building and character development methods. Poets read from their published works; and fans of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, magical realism, and the supernatural enjoyed the Speculative Fiction discussion panel.

All of that in one day. And it was free! The Festival was sponsored by the Mobile Writers Guild, the Mobile Public Library, and the Metro Mobile Reading Council. Thank you and sa-lute.

So, tell me. What keeps you from writing? More importantly, what inspires you to write?

That’s it for this week’s post. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

And now some verbiage from my sponsors:
PIECES ANTHOLOGY…I’m thrilled to have two short stories included in this collection of short stories and poems by more than 20 authors from the Gulf Coast of Alabama, including USA TODAY best-selling authors Carolyn Haines and Craig A. Price Jr. The anthology is available at
Qrtly newsletter sign-up at