Friday, March 30, 2012

Guest Blog: "Catharsis Anyone" by Dr. Natalie Frank

As a psychologist, I was asked to write a guest post on anything writing related. I froze. Nothing came to mind that that would encompass psychology and writing.  Then I thought of my own writing. Why do I write psychological thrillers all of which seem to include some kind of revenge theme? And why do the revenge scenes always seem to practically write themselves, leaving me feeling energized instead of worn out?  The answer could be summed up in one word:  Catharsis.

I realized whenever an idea for a revenge based plot lines took hold of me, I was always in the midst of some kind of negative uncontrollable situation.  When you feel like a part of life has become a nightmare from which you can’t awaken what do you do?  I’ve found over the years of working with people in various life circumstances that there are generally two possibilities.  The first is to give up, falling apart to the point you are unable to function in that sphere of life.  The second is to figure out some way to cope.

Writers have a unique ability to use their work as means of coping with whatever comes their way through cathartic experiences.  You’ll frequently hear authors of memoirs state they experienced a feeling of closure after finishing the work.  That said, while much has been written regarding the use of journaling to “get your feelings out,” there is another side, a slightly darker side to catharsis achieved through writing:  Coping with the desire for revenge through creating a fictional version of a situation.

Standard techniques recommended for achieving catharsis, such as imagining your pillow as the face of the person you’re angry with and punching it until you feel better never held much appeal for me.  My personal belief is that catharsis results from doing something that can be related to the actual situation.  Let’s face it, how many of us need to get over being repeatedly punched in the face?

The desire for revenge most often results from having experienced some type of harm which you had no ability to control and for which there is no recourse.  For this, we don’t want to land a right hook – we want an eye for an eye.  While some may say to be the better person and just let it go, that also rarely makes us feel better.  I say get revenge.  Just do it on paper letting your imagination be your guide.

The beauty of writing, especially fiction writing, is that you can create any scenario you choose and determine the course of the plot, the experiences of the characters and how the entire thing will end.  Through the freedom of words we have within our grasp the perfect means to create the exact cure for our unrequited desire for revenge, which we can match to whatever specifics we need in order to move past it.  This is true catharsis.

Short Bio:  Dr. Natalie Frank received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Georgia.  She is widely published in the field of psychology, is sharpening her first novel, and several literary journals have featured her short stories and flash fiction. Her blog is Divine Madness.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: "Rage" by Kimberly A. Bettes

In Kimberly A. Bettes novel Rage, 13-year-old Brian Boozer's life is horrific. His alcoholic step-dad is a child-beater and molester who sucks down the money Brian's double-shift working mother brings home so efficiently that Brian has little in his life to live on. His situation at school is no better, dealing with small pack of sadistic bullies. Save for one girl who gives him the time of day for reasons not entirely clear, Brian is alone to face the world bereft of any adult or child willing to look past the physical and emotional abuse and scars to give him a hand up. Therein lies the positive and negative aspects of this story.

In an effort to show the terrible nature of bullying, along with the ultimate final betrayal, Rage is relentless in its anti-bullying message by any member of society on another. It is a great instructional tool on how one exists and then drowns in a world in which no child should live. Kudos. The effort to show the negativity of bullying, however, provides no inkling as to the means in which readers could/should curtail such situations in their life. One could argue that Bettes doesn't have the responsibility to provide or hint at answers to the bullying dilemma in telling Brian's story, but the abrupt ending made the story feel incomplete, as though no answers exist, and that the people in this story learned nothing, making it a double tragedy. No one grew; no one changed. He is a victim in the beginning, middle, and end. All are villains in the beginning, middle, and end.

The story is well-written. The spiraling downward trail of events believable. It certainly built my rage, including at times towards Brian, who seems well aware of the events unfolding around him, but still backs off taking the baby steps necessary to curtail his personal hell. It's a solid read about a difficult subject matter that some readers may not finish, but should. It is a well done "4."

Monday, March 26, 2012

MMWUC: What Do I Know About Paragraphs?

A friend lamented about the comments he received regarding the correct length of a paragraph. His were often the length of a scene. He queried: How do you know when to start a new one? When is a paragraph long enough? I tried to help, keeping the guidelines simple, disregarding attempts James Joycian or Faulknerish, or trying to tweak paragraphs to match new means of information dissemination (i.e., ebooks, phones, or mental probes). A new paragraph begins...

1. ...each time there's a new speaker in dialogue.

2. ...each new POV (Point of View).

3. ...each new thought (though many will string related thoughts together).

4. ...when there is a significant shift in action in the narrative.

5. the end of a significant string of related actions.

No firm rule dictates paragraph length. They can be a single word. Extending one beyond half a page would be a good benchmark to consider if you're going overboard with the paragraph. What are your best tips for my friend?

- - - EXAMPLE - - -


"Wait," barked Lassie.

"What's up, Lassie? What is it, boy?" Timmy asked.

Stupid human, Lassie thought. I'm a girl.

Stupid mutt. Timmy exhaled. Barks at anything.

"There's a rattlesnake behind that tree, you Moron," Lassie barked.

"Want to play fetch. Here, chase this stick. Stick!" Timmy threw the stick.

Lassie dashed after the irresistible piece of oak that a dozen squirrels, two possums, and one raccoon had used to mark their territories. She sniffed the delightful stick then picked it up. She turned around just in time to see Timmy lie down on the snake. The fangs sank into Timmy's arm through the flannel shirt.

Timmy screamed. Lassie barked. The stick fell to the forest floor. The snake slithered away. Lassie ran back to Timmy, bit him on the arm, and sucked out the poison as best she could.

A squirrel in a tree overhead chattered, "Dog!" All the squirrels in the area froze in place.

Timmy died from the snake bite. Dogs can't really suck anything. Lassie was put down, deemed a vicious dog. The squirrel became owl food. The snake ate the baby owlets. A smiling God watched on high from his orthopedic mattress set at 43 for firm comfort.

- - - END - - -
That's all I know about paragraphs. Go forth and write with confidence.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Guest Blog: Carter Jefferson - The Value of Historical Novels

I've spent most of my reading life with historical novels--all periods, everywhere. My earliest memories of childhood reading include novels about boys who travelled with Caesar and Vercingetorix.  I can't possibly name more than a  few of the best authors--Mary Renault on ancient Greece, Edith Pargeter on Wales, Morgan Llewellen on Ireland, Douglas C. Jones on the U.S. Civil War, Susan Vreeland on the Italian painter Artemesia. There are hundreds of them.

Then there is the mystery set in earlier times. Recently I've been reading Charles Todd's Bess series, dealing with a nurse in WWI, and Charles Finch's books on England around 1865. Both are outstanding.

I'm sure that historical novels shaped my life. I read them from childhood on, and ended up getting a Ph.D. in history from the U. of Chicago. Not only are such novels fascinating in themselves, they are a painless way of learning about the lives of people in other places in other eras. Want to know about Aaron Burr or Abraham Lincoln? Read Gore Vidal's novels about them.

Biographies are one thing—novels are something different. Needless to say, some of the novels are more accurate than others, but the best of them are based on solid research.

Right now I'm in the middle of Katherine Webb's The Legacy, which jumps back and forth between now and 1900. Gotta go now and see how it comes out!
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Carter Jefferson can be found hanging out here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Review: The Yard Sale by Cal Kirby

And now for something completely different--The Yard Sale (But It Ain't No Bargain). This slender novel is closer to a novella, but I don't believe author Cal Kirby cares. His command of mechanics is fine, but this 2001 first published book (now a 2011 ebook) is far from writing perfection. In fact, it's full of dropped-in factoids, blocks of character description, give-a-way chapter titles, odd asides, and violates many rules or guidelines in the search for conventional writing perfection. But, there is something endearing about this story and Chas Kirkland, a homicide detective, who tries to find a missing friend, Lisa Shoeman, before dastardly deeds can be done to her.

Gather around the kitchen table, Cal is just telling a story. And if he needs to say that Lisa didn't know what was coming her way, even though the reader does, well, that's just the way Cal tells the story. A Cheshire Cat grin stayed on my face while reading Yard Sale despite the serious nature of the story. Why? I turned page after page despite a strong desire to pull out the big red pen and mark the hundreds of ways it could have been made better through some serious editing. The simple story has some really terrible bad guys, a good cop with strong and dependable cop allies, a few twists, a couple of plucky characters, heck of a chase scene, and friends who rally when the chips are down. A good screenplay writer could do a lot with this.

Despite enjoying it for what it was, I doubt that many readers will: it's just not a quality read. Unlike some people who put out crap just to get your $0.99, I believe Cal published an honest, if flawed book. But if you can put down your big red pen, toss a buck this way, and just let your critical nature go, you just might have a nice afternoon beach read. Giving it a 2 for its flaws seems just mean for the pleasure I got out of the story, so I'll raise it up like Atlas to a "3."

Monday, March 19, 2012

MMWUC: Another Can of Beans

A friend asked me to help him out. His publisher had been pressuring him to create a web presence via a web site. He wondered if it was worth it. Well, I'm no marketing expert, but I agreed with his publisher. The higher the name recognition, the better the sales. The more times you show up on a web search, the more likely you won't be like an old can of beans stuck on a shelf waiting for some granny to get you on discount. You'll be the "AMAZING NEW ALL-TEMPERATURE WRITER on display in front of the store.

That written, there is a time drain involved with doing anything other than writing. Blogs and web sites can turn into the nightmare from Cleveland, the thing that wouldn't leave, or that blood-sucking monster under the bed. Don't get pulled into a big trap. Learn to budget your time. And if you're uncomfortable about your ability to build a website or blog, get some help. Sydney has some thoughts to help.

1. Look at the websites of authors you like. Steal the idea; make it better.
2. Keep the web page simple so that you don't have to update it every five minutes; though, you will be on it a lot in the beginning as you load up pertinent information.
3. Whoever designs your website, make sure they keep it simple to update. You don't want some expert geek giving you something that only he can update.
4. Create a blog that's linked to the website. Again, keep it simple. I hate going to a blog and spending a half-hour just trying to figure out what's going on.
5. Use the website for more static information; use the blog for more dynamic-interactive information, though there are times when the web site is better suited for contests and some other events.
6. Link, link, link, link. Should I say it once more. Link. Link the website and blog to everything you can. (via Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, etc.)
7. Create a signature line to make sure people remember who you are and how to get more information about you.
8. Pick a theme for both your website and blog. They don't have to be the same. What are you trying to say that separates you from the crap that's out there clogging up the web?
9. Create consistency with your blog so that you aren't updating it daily or, god forbid, hourly. Leave the updates that your cat just barfed on your WIP for twitter. Write your weekly or bi-weekly blog entry about the positive affects of cat barf on the re-editing of a previously perfect WIP, as an example.
10. Don't let either the website or blog consume you. Without that next book, your career will wither and die. You must write.

Go forth and pollute the web. Does anyone else have additional advise?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Guest Blog: Virginia Winters "Revising and Editing"

I'm sitting at the kitchen table in front of the bow window. Beyond the glass, the bird feeder is busy this Sunday morning, with chickadees, purple finches, American goldfinches, doves, nuthatches and cardinals the most frequent diners. In front of me sits a mound of paper, my trusty MacBook Pro and James Scott Bell's book entitled Revision and Editing.

It's that time. The third in my Dangerous Journeys series lies before me in pieces, some in the bowels of the computer and some in that mound.

I read through the lot after I'd put it aside for a month or so. I tried to come to it with fresh eyes, and didn't edit or revise.

Now I'm on the hunt for the adverbs, the dreaded "ing", the clauses beginning with "as". My weapons are markers, orange and pink.

What to do about "had"? I've come to terms with removing or rewriting phrases such as "congealing on her yellow linen skirt" or "as she watched the birds" or any word ending in "ly".

But what to do about "had"? My English teacher and my Latin teacher were both tough. An event in the remote past called for the pluperfect (past perfect) and nothing less.

The complaint by current writers seems to be that the use of this tense slows down the action. I like the clarity of knowing just when events occurred and in what order. I want to understand the cause and effect, and I need the past perfect for that.

So what happened in the past, stays in the past, held in place by that useful little "had".
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Virginia Winters - The Facepainter Murders, available at and

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Review: "Ties That Bind" by Carolyn Arnold

Sometimes a person (or character) will just rub you the wrong way. So it is with Madison Knight in Ties That Bind by Carolyn Arnold for me. As a detective, Madison hates clichés as much as, well, seemingly most people. She is Kojak with a candy bar substituting for the lollypop but without the charm. Her attempts at empathy are mostly swallowed up as repetitious and muddled internal thoughts. She appears uncomfortable in her own skin, and I never knew if she was going to laugh or punch her partner one more time. (I'd have hit her back a few times!) The book has more than its share of clichés in the form of cardboard characters, a sounding-board partner with belabored personal issues dragged out far too long, and an overused twist regarding the bad guy--though it was nicely handled.

My copy of the story had numerous formatting issues. I can't hold that against the author, but I believe a stronger editor would have tightened the decent story line, cutting some of the lengthier scenes and eviscerating the partner. (Second bananas need to bring something to the table, and he just doesn’t.) Is it really that bad? No. Personal preferences will draw (and have drawn) some readers to Madison's tough-as-nails personality. The investigation proceeds more like real-life: hard work, bad breaks, lucky finds, bad timing, confusion, inexperience, intrusive politics, etc. The twists are well handled, and while the suspense is not as sharp as it could be, it was there. All total though, this is just a slightly better than average read, shy of a four rating. It is a "3."

Monday, March 12, 2012

I'm Just Following Orders

Guile told me to do this for reasons I'm not sure, but I've been tagged to show, from my current WIP, page 77, beginning with 7 lines from the 7th line.
- - -

"Yes, a screw. He'd been screwed. Move on. Do you have anything more conclusive?"

      Norm pushed his glasses up to the bridge of his nose and cleared his throat. "I found a small bat that fits the mark on his head. I bagged the bat. It wasn't near the body and was unlikely to have struck him with sufficient force to kill him when the meteor crashed through the office. He was hit hard. Doc needs to take a liver test, but from my experience, he was dead three to five hours before he had his close encounter."

      Jerry's close encounter wasn't close. It was dead on. I popped an aspirin for my growing headache,
- - -
Conclusion: Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes it's confirmed.

MMWUC: You Titled Your Novel What?

If I've read one article about titles, I've read a hundred. While first time novelists going through the traditional publication route don't have a tremendous say-so about their titles, the wave of indie (self-pubbed) writers have total control. Much has been written about the power of titles on readers as they browse the racks at the store or scroll through the endless twitters or online lists for a new read not associated with everyone's favorite word: FREE. Titles can make a break a sale. No magic exists that can derive a perfect title, but for fun the LULU Title Scorer can derive the value of your title.

Also, this article covers some dos and donts for television titles; however, it might be instructive for that new novel of yours. And I don't like your title: Why Jennifer Aniston Barfed on my Date with Her

Friday, March 9, 2012

Guest Blog: Is 'The End' Really The End?

Query, Synopsis, Pitch, Logline:  Essential Elements and Differences

The novel written, you take a deep breath and stare in disbelief at the words on your computer screen: The End. Perhaps you reward yourself with a drink or a cup of tea. You deserve it. Many wannabe writers talk about wanting to write a novel, few have the courage (or are crazy enough) to type ‘Chapter One,’ many will run out of steam by page one hundred, but you have persevered. Go ahead, enjoy the feeling of accomplishment, because what writers dread most lies ahead. Can you say query, synopsis, pitch, logline, and not shudder?

Actually, I’m here to tell you that those four writer’s tools have gotten a bad rap. So relax while we examine together what they are, and what each should contain.

1.      Query: There is plenty of information on this subject, and much conflicting advice. Let’s sort it out. First, do not overthink; use the inspiration and writing skills that make your novel shine. Since you only have a few seconds to grab the agent’s attention, open with a powerful hook. Of course, if you have a strong personal referral or have met the agent, by all means mention that right away. Follow this with four succinct paragraphs that cover: (1) why you chose this agent (e.g., she specializes in your genre); (2) the story line (only the highlights—this is not a plot summary), including the protagonist’s goal and the main obstacles to reaching it; (3) your potential market and/or comparison with successful books; and (4) your credentials, focusing on any prior publications and your motivation and qualifications for writing the book.  

2.      Synopsis: How do you distill the essence of your full-length novel into a one- or two-page synopsis? The temptation is to summarize the plot as if in a book report, which is guaranteed to make an agent’s eyes glaze over. Concentrate on the arc of the story, the main events upon which the plot turns, shedding details of settings and other things that do not entice the agent to read the manuscript. Make your synopsis a vital selling tool. In your best writing style let the reader feel with your characters and their conflicts. And you must reveal the ending, at least in broad terms.

3.      Pitch: This is the blurb you’ll find on the inside flap of a hardcover’s jacket or on a soft cover’s back cover. It must compel the reader to ask for more. Think of movie trailers that give you enough to whet your appetite but not so much as to satiate it. Therefore, the pitch should end with a strong hook that begs the story question without revealing the ending. For examples check out my pitches for The Stasi File and its sequel, Teya’s Kiss, as entered in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) in 2011 and 2012, respectively, on my website.
Logline: In addition, your promotion tool kit should include a one-sentence logline a/k/a elevator pitch or book concept. Here is mine for The Stasi File:

An American lawyer and his former lover, an Italian opera diva, are drawn into an assassination plot by a Stasi General desperate to prevent the collapse of the East German police state after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

And here is the one for Teya’s Kiss:

When a Washington trial lawyer and a budding opera diva are pressed into searching for a missing archaeologist in the Santa Fe hills, they not only encounter ruthless antiquities traffickers, but find their fates intertwined with that of a shaman’s daughter, who centuries earlier played a crucial role in the Pueblo Indian Revolt that drove the Spanish from New Mexico.

5.      Differences:

(1) Query - Its purpose is to capture an agent’s interest so that she will request additional materials like a synopsis, the opening chapters, or even the full manuscript.

(2) Synopsis - It must represent your best writing style so as to wow the agent to where she will want to read the manuscript.

(3) Pitch - You will most likely use your pitch at a writer’s conference or in a contest like the ABNA. For an oral pitch, be sure to memorize your three-hundred-word version so well that you can recite it not verbatim but in a way that feels as if you were making it up on the spot. In other words, you fake spontaneity.

(4) Logline - It should be short enough to enable you to spout it off even if awakened from a deep sleep.

You can appreciate the impossibility of covering these essential sales tools in detail in this short article. I hope you’ll find what I’ve stated here useful to get you started on your road to publication. But no matter what happens, don’t forget to congratulate yourself on the accomplishment of writing the novel you always wanted to.  

Peter Bernhardt, Author, The Stasi File: Opera and Espionage - A Deadly Combination; Quarter Finalist 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award; Amazon/Amazon Kindle: Sequel: Teya's Kiss. - - tweet @sedonawriter
Short Bio: A naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated at age 23 from Germany, the author served as editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Law Journal. He graduated first in his law school class. His 25-year legal career included 18 years with the Department of Justice as the Civil Chief in a U.S. Attorney's Office. Writing has been a lifelong passion. Teya’s Kiss, sequel to his first novel, The Stasi File, will soon be published. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Book Review: Murder Deju Vu by Polly Iyer

Any book published on my birth date has to be read. It was this in mind that I bought Polly Iyer's "Murder Déjà Vu," a book with a strong plot, solid writing, and well-drawn characters. The plight of ex-convict Reece Daughtry, trying to live out his life after an overturned conviction for murder on a technicality is compelling and his emotional upheavals believable. This is especially true once he meets a woman who trusts him at every turn, even when events put him back into the cross-hairs of various characters bent on Reece's demise. The story details surrounding the two major settings put you right there. And the romance intertwining with the mystery seemed unforced and true. This is a solid read with numerous twists, turns, and surprises worth the space in you library. It rates a solid 4 stars.

Monday, March 5, 2012

MMWUC: Are you in Writing School

As we mature, people tend to surround themselves with mirror images. Career, family, school, our social media trends, and outside activities create a homogenous lifestyle. As a writer that's both instructive and deadly. Instructive, if we keep our senses attuned like John Updike, in understanding at a deeper level what is happening around us, capturing nuances and subtleties that others outside our circle might miss. It is also deadly in that our world gets isolated and the process of like-think begins. People with similar values, beliefs, and actions glued together. For a writer, like-think is deadly. No matter what lifestyle we live in, we are a minority and slowly lose our sense of other lifestyles. Save us Chuck Palahniuk.

I'm too old, settled, and not brave enough to live life on the edge--sleeping under railroad bridges, drinking myself into a stupor, or bitch-slapping some puny guy I picked up in a bar only realize that she's a he and only after the $20 bill in my wallet. That's why I go to Writing School.

I watch Maury Povich, COPS, Judge Judy, and sadly, Jerry Springer, when doing brain-idling chores like folding laundry, cleaning, or cutting caramel wrappers. "Who are these people, Maury?" You may prove whether or not he's the father, but the children of these louts don't stand a chance based on the sad overall behavior they put on for 10 million viewers for a few guest bucks. COPS is instructive for both the idealized cop and the irrationality of the criminal mind. "I don't have no dope," says the guy with a joint tucked behind his ear. Maybe the double negative gave him away. "You’re an idiot," screams Judge Judy to someone who thought that wrecking a car got them out of paying for their loan. And still believes it! And Springer proves that just when you thought life couldn't be more weird, out pops the mom who abandoned you to an alcoholic father, and she's now a transsexual who's there to tell you that your wife is really your sister with whom your mom's been having an affair.

It's Writing School. Exposure to characters I have a hard time dreaming up. But now I know they are real and necessary if my books want to dip a toe into some realities that my like-think readers might not have been exposed to and might feel a bit uncomfortable being around. Where is your personal Writing School.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Guest Blog: "Deadly Deadlines or Power Prompter" by Sherry Gloag

Who, in their right mind, would want to work to a deadline? Well for many they have no choice.  It is part of their job description (so perhaps they did have a choice, after all.) But surprisingly many people thrive on working in just that way.  It’s not that they are disorganized, or forgetful, it’s not that they are slackers, and hope to pass the job to someone else before they have to approach it themselves.

No.  For many people the approaching deadline is the incentive they need to get ‘those juices’ flowing.  They are people who enjoy working under pressure to meet a deadline, and if done in the right way, they deliberately apply pressure to inspire themselves into action, even massive action. For these people putting themselves under pressure stretches them personally and breaks through the limits they’ve set themselves.

Most authors know all about deadlines, and believe me there are more of them than just turning in a manuscript on time. So why, you might ask, do they do it if they can avoid it? Well, sometimes they can’t.  Sometimes it is the process that creates the deadlines, but in many cases a little bit of organisation could avoid the additional stress created by looming deadlines.  But, and as ever there is a ‘but’ here.  Not a proven one, but an interesting one, never-the-less.

Authors, writers, are creative people, who have to provide hooks and conflicts in their stories to hold their readers’ interest.  Is it possible, on some subliminal level, they frequently work to the wire themselves because of the environs of their writing?

While adrenaline is mainly associated with the ‘fight or flight’ scenario, it is also naturally produced in high-stress or physically exhilarating situations, which is why so many people actually derive pleasure from leaving everything ‘till the last moment.
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The Gasquet Princes novels from Sherry, From Now Until Forever and His Chosen Bride from Astraea Press, are now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She can be contacted at her websiteblog, Facebook, or Twitter accounts.