Monday, March 27, 2017

Manual Dexterity, Revisited

Image by Agne Kveselyte

Hello, darlings! It seems that the downsizing trend applies to more than houses; our beloved CMOS is also on a reducing kick.

You may have heard that the soon-to-be-released Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition, has officially dropped the capitalization of Internet and removed the hyphen from e-mail. “Pshaw,” I hear you cry. “I’ve been doing that for ages!” This, duckies, is one of the beautiful things about the CMOS.

Rather than an arbitrary change from the depths of left field, or a hard-nosed “Thou shalt not,” the CMOS takes the evolution of language into account and responds accordingly. Hobble skirts were once the height of fashion for ladies, right up until said ladies discovered that being able to move more than three inches in any direction was rather useful. So it is with language and style.

To your devices! Send email via the internet to your heart’s content, secure in the knowledge that you can save a few keystrokes for something really important, such as that novel you’re supposed to be working on.

Enjoy your day, dearies. Take some time to smell the first flowers of spring, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

The Style Maven, in an effort to keep the squirrels away from the daffodil bulbs, has spent the past week seasoning the soil with cayenne pepper. When she's not muttering rodent-related obscenities, she can be found knitting and drinking coffee.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Writers: Is Your Life Fiction or Non-Fiction?

Illustration by R. Crap Mariner, via Flickr
Did you wake up? If yes - Your life could be either. Continue the quiz.
      If your answer was no, please let me know how you’re reading this.

Who made your breakfast? If the someone was human: NON FICTION. If the someone was a house elf or woodland creature: FICTION.
      Note: If your situation is the latter; when was the last time you gave them a pay raise? Just a soupçon of non-fiction in your fictional life.

You dragged yourself to the computer and are sitting there now with a large mug of coffee/tea, reading this post because you are procrastinating: NON FICTION.  You danced to your computer and are reading this post before noon because 5,000 words have already flowed onto your keyboard and you’re taking a wee break before you spew out another 5,000 before creating a gourmet meal with organic vegetables from your garden: FICTION.

Your pet sits at your feet/on your lap/on your keyboard demanding attention: NON-FICTION. Your pet is dictating his/her autobiography: FICTION.
    Note: I want to meet your pet.

Your next great idea begins flamenco-ing  in your imagination before you’re finished with your current WIP: NON FICTION. You ignore it because you are the master of writerly discipline: FICTION.

In all your years of writing/reading you have encountered many plot holes in other people’s books. NON FICTION. In all your years of writing/reading you have never once encountered a plot hole in your own writing. FICTION.

The book in your head is far, far better than the book which appears on paper: NON FICTION. Your current manuscript is turning out exactly as you thought it would: FICTION.

You have lost count of the number of drafts you write before submitting your manuscript to beta readers/your editor: NON FICTION. Your first draft is your only draft, because you are like Mozart whose original manuscripts didn't contain scratched out notes: FICTION.

The empty white page mocks you: NON FICTION.

You will fill it: NON FICTION.

With ease: FICTION.

Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Headstone Humor

The other night, on a TV news show, Shirley MacLaine was pitching her new movie, The Last Word. Those of you familiar with cable news will recognize on which show she appeared. The premise of the story is a successful older woman hires a young journalist to write her life story, including her obituary. Coincidentally, one of the non-fiction ideas for this month’s column was obituaries. I did a little research and found some funny epitaphs I thought I’d share. For some of us, these are dark days. Humor is essential to keep from crying. So, with no further ado, here are parts of obituaries I thought chuckle-worthy.

Thurman was a loving husband and father with a big heart open to everyone. He had a passion for cars, motorcycles, and entertaining family and friends, hunting, fishing, and remodeling. His motto, “Accomplish what you can today because tomorrow ain't promised.” He stayed busy. He leaves to cherish his memories, his wife, children, and grand kids, a host of back stabbing mother f^@&#*$ that still owe him money.
Ohio man: He respectfully requests six Cleveland Brown pall bearers so the Browns can let him down one more time.

Perhaps most important to Bill was educating people on the dangers of holding in your farts. Sadly, he was unable to attain his lifelong goal of catching his beloved wife Judy “cutting the cheese” or “playing the bum trumpet”—which he likened to a mythical rarity like spotting Bigfoot or a unicorn. […] He was a gas.

Ding dong the witch is dead, but the memory of our mother lives on.

My personal favorite: “Bill” encountered an unhandled exception in his core operating system, which prematurely triggered a critical “STOP” condition on Wednesday, […]Diagnostics indicated multiple cascading hard-ware failures at the root problem. Though his hardware has been decommissioned, Bill’s application has been migrated to the Cloud and has been repurposed to run in a virtual machine on an infinite loop.

Mr. Ziegler “escaped this mortal realm” just so he could avoid having to vote in the 2016 presidential election.

Freddie adored the ladies. And they adored him. There isn’t enough space here to list all of the women from Freddie’s past. There isn’t enough space in the Bloomingdale phone book. A few of the more colorful ones were Momma Margie, Crazy Pam, Big Tittie Wanda, Spacy Stacy, and Sweet Melissa (he explained that nickname had nothing to do with her attitude). He attracted more women than a shoe sale at Macy’s. He got married when he was 18, but it didn’t last. Freddie was no quitter, however, so he gave it a shot two more times. It didn’t work out with any of the wives, but he managed to stay friends with them and their parents.

Beloved husband Moe Lester was best known for his ability to have a name that doubled as an unfortunate pun.

He was sadly deprived of his final wish to be run over by a beer truck on the way to the liquor store to buy booze for a date.

Louis […] bought the farm Thursday, Feb. 5, 2004, having lived more than twice as long as he had expected and probably three or four times as long as he deserved. Although he was born into an impecunious family, in a backward and benighted part of the country at the beginning of the Great Depression, he never in his life suffered any real hardships. Many of his childhood friends who weren't killed or maimed in various wars became petty criminals, prostitutes, and/or Republicans. Lou was a daredevil: his last words were "Watch this!"

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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Impolite First Drafts

Photo by Tambako The Jaguar, via Flickr
Here’s a writing suggestion that you may find difficult, or you may find fun: don’t be polite. In fact, you don’t even need to be kind. Write what is not politically correct. Write what you really think, but never had the courage to say. You don’t have to read it aloud if you don’t want to. You don’t have to keep it. And you can always edit later. Courtesy and tact are important virtues, but if you invite them to have free reign while you are writing, they can paralyze you.

So in your first draft, swear, tell a dirty story, write down the words to the first racist chant you heard. Write what you really thought about your brother’s first girlfriend, or the time your mother forgot to wear her underpants, or where you were when you got your first period. Write a story about your Uncle Henry’s alcoholism, or the year your cousin Jennifer spent in prison, or about how your father cheated on his income taxes. Write about how you are secretly jealous of rich people, or how you really feel about your neighbors, or what you said to your sister’s boyfriend to make him break up with her.

Let it all hang out. And then read it to yourself. Edit out what you don’t want, and what might be hurtful to others, and throw that part away. Keep the rest. I promise you it will read fresher and truer than if you had edited as you wrote.

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

Finding Form: Making Sense out of my Yemeni Journey

It seemed straightfoward enough. Live life. Write life. But the reality has turned out to be very different.

First of all, there are the many ways to tell a story. I picture early storytellers sitting around campfires after all the day’s work was done, telling of the bear they saw while gathering berries, the old man they met up by the cave on the hill, the lightning that frightened their babies in the middle of the night. Stories with gestures, actions, and, at some point, words. Next, I would guess, would be poetry. Condensing experiences into words that ebbed and flowed and had meanings beyond the obvious. This would naturally lead to song, ballads of deeds great and small, carried from town to town in the hearts and minds of travelling bards. Writing, of course, came along at some point, and made the lives of storytellers both easier and harder; they could remember and tell stories the same way every time, and share them more widely, yet the written word is so final, so sure, so true.

Secondly, we live lives that, while they have much in common with other people’s, are unique in a billion different ways. How do we describe people, places, emotions, and experiences using our own truth in such a way that others can experience it? How do we find common ground, while celebrating diversity?

I have been struggling with these issues from the first time I put pen to paper to tell the story of my almost ten years living in various parts of Yemen. I faced some difficulty from the start, just because my journals are still in Yemen, and the Arab Spring that forced us to leave the country has also held my notebooks and books hostage since I returned to the States. I find myself having to tell the story completely from my memory, without being able to look at what I wrote at the time for a timeline and verification. Beyond that, much of what I saw and went through there, especially that which was related to the Arab Spring and the war that took place in the village in which I lived, is beyond the experience of Western readers. Finding a way to bring it all to life in a way that makes it understandable is more of a challenge than I ever thought it could be.

I started out with the idea of a straight memoir. I took the time to figure out and write down why I want to share the story in the first place. I want to open a window into a world that most people will never know, and I want to find a way to build bridges between cultures that seem, at times, so alien to each other. I made a timeline as best I could, mapping out the major events. I diagrammed and outlined and, finally, was ready to write.

At first it flowed easily. It was easy to use storytelling magic to tell of the beauty of Yemen and the beautiful character of its inhabitants.

Then, as I came to the most intense parts of the story, the time spent living in a mountain village in the north of the country, the time of sickness, desertion, and war, my words backed up, filling my heart without being able to come out of my pen. Eventually I found the only way to write about this time in my life was through poetry. The story is still not completely told, as I work my way through the twists and turns of the maze, trying to show how light comes in darkness, and strength is born in fire.

Now I sit with a jigsaw puzzle of story in front of me. How do I know if all the pieces are all there? How do I arrange them in all of their myriad shapes and sizes and fit them together? How can I tell the story I burn to tell in a way that will set fire to the imaginations of the ones who read it?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. But I am determined to find them, and share my story with you.

Khadijah Lacina lives on a small homestead in rural Missouri with her children, 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.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Cookin' Up a Storm

Have you ever considered writing a cookbook? You've created some super recipes—family favorites that everyone begs you to fix again. Do you think other families would enjoy them, too? By writing a cookbook, you can share them with lots of folks as well as make a few dollars in the process.

Is writing a cookbook difficult? Like most projects, it takes time. However, when you already have your recipes, you've completed the most time-consuming part of the process. If you don't yet have them perfected, however, you will need to complete that phase. Be sure to take detailed notes as you work on them so you can share the little tidbits that make your recipes special and delectable.

Several years ago, my daughter wrote a cookbook. While it is no longer in print (I'm encouraging her to update it so we re-release it later this year), it was both a major learning experience and a joy to be among the beta tasters of her luscious entrées and desserts. For years, several of us have been wheat/gluten free, and she adapted standard recipes containing those ingredients as well as created new ones to meet our dietary requirements. Her cream puffs are the best I've ever tasted. So are many of her other dishes.

Why mention this? Often we don't realize we have something special, something unique to offer. Even if you've never considered writing a novel or a non-fiction book, you can write a cookbook if you love to cook and family and friends beg you to make something yummy again…and again…and again. Think about it: you could have a gold mine in your recipe box or that drawer where you've been storing instructions on making family goodies, some of which may have been handed down for generations.

You say you're not a writer? You say English grammar was your worst subject in school? The beauty of a cookbook lies in its traditional content:

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut in small pieces
etc., etc., etc.

The typical writing requirement for a book doesn't apply to a cookbook.

Hints for those making your goodies; other brief comments that would likely go in a sidebar; substitutions for those who can't use dairy, wheat and so forth need not be lengthy. Suggestions for vegetarian or vegan adaptations broaden the value of your book and increase your potential audience. Preparation directions need not be wordy, but they must be sufficiently detailed not to leave your reader wondering when you add this or what you mean by that. Your introduction or opening letter to your readers can be simple and straightforward and should personalize your work by speaking directly to each person who has chosen to try your recipes. For these things, you get the basics on paper (or the computer) and hire an editor to polish the text and fix the punctuation. A final suggestion: make liberal use of photos—even if they're black and white. Readers love to see what a dish is supposed to look like.

Your contribution—that which sets your book apart from all others—lies in your recipes. Think about sharing them. Who knows—your name could become a household favorite. You might even become as well known as Julia Child.

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 offers private tutoring as well as seminars online. You can contact her through her writing website, Also, you can visit her editing team at to find experienced editors in a variety of genres to help you polish your book into a marketable work.

Monday, March 6, 2017

3 Ways Non-Fiction Helps My Creativity

I loved reading Dani Greer’s "Word" yesterday; it spoke to me on many levels. One thing I particularly liked is that she makes us aware of non-fiction writing we might tend to overlook because it might not be seen as the "real writing."

As for my "real writing," like Dani, the number of words I’ve written for any fiction project can be counted on one hand.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing, however. And the writing I have been doing has helped to keep my creativity thrumming while I’m on a fiction writing hiatus ("writer’s block" just sounds so harsh).

How has non-fiction writing helped my creativity?

I connect with people. Last year, I joined CLMOOC, Connected Learning MOOC - a massively open online collaboration. During one of its cycles, I participated in a postcard exchange where we all sent postcards to random people who signed up for the cycle. I received postcards from the US, Canada, and overseas, and the postcard writing allowed me to connect with writers and educators who are doing great things. I still connect with participants via social media. When I connect with others, I learn their quirks, likes and dislikes, other cultures, rituals, etc. I learn about them as people, and as a fiction writer, connecting with and learning about them deepens the information in my writer’s arsenal.

Two postcards I received from CLMOOC.

I celebrate myself. More than two years ago, I began writing daily love notes to myself that I call #loveaday notes. I started writing them on sticky notes, then index cards, then various styles of colorful paper, and now a planner. Every morning, I get up, prepare for my day, and think about what I’m feeling, what I need to accomplish, what I still aspire to do, and I write a short note to myself—sometimes two words, and sometimes, a paragraph. When I am well, I am able to be more creative; these notes enable me to give myself love that aids in making me well. Every few months, I go back and read the notes because they fill me with love, confidence, and reassurance. They also tap into my creativity because I practice my handwriting, and sometimes, I doodle as well. Which leads me to another point.

I expand my creativity into other areas. One thing I began last year thanks to the talented Angelica Suarez is doodling. Through her Doodle Days (365 Day Art Challenge) group on Facebook, I returned to a love of mine, drawing. Each day, participants are given a word and have to create a doodle based on that word. Dani began her post yesterday with this short statement: "Word counts." And these one-word doodle prompts are no exceptions. One word can explode a writer’s imagination with images, people, stories, and when I read my word for each day, I sit and think about how that word could be presented. I think about how I feel when I’m doodling, and if I capture an essence of that word within the doodle--the same thing I do when I write a story. I want the words in my stories to resonate beyond the words and into images, people, circumstances, etc.

Like Dani said yesterday, "It's important to remember that all words count." And she’s right. My postcard writing, my #loveaday notes, and my doodling all connect to words and to my creativity, and it all helps keep that sacred creative area fertile and ripe and ready for the fiction words to come.

How does your non-fiction writing help your creativity?

Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, a crafter, an editor, and an educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. You can learn more about Shon at her website, ChickLitGurrl.


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