The Right Character Names

“How attached are you to the name Anna May?”

Sandy Isaac’s question took me and six other members of the critique group by surprise. While I appreciated most of the suggestions I had received, I wondered about Sandy’s question. Anna May Godfrey is the villain in A Season for Killing Blondes. I had spent several years in Anna May’s company and wasn’t prepared to change her name.

Sandy noticed my hesitation and explained her resistance to the name. Said quickly, Anna May becomes “anime,” a style of animation often featuring themes intended for an adult audience. Two of the other members nodded while five of us merely shrugged. But Sandy’s concern raised several questions in my mind.

How would my readers respond?

Would they make the same connection as Sandy?

Would Anna May’s name suit or hinder her villain status?

Continue reading on the Sisterhood of Suspense blog.


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How to Get Your Story Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

Yesterday, Chicken Soup for the Soul released Angels All Around, a collection of 101 fascinating tales about miracles, divine interventions, and answered prayers. I was thrilled to have my essay, “Prayers and Positive Thoughts,” included in the anthology.

Since 1997, more than 250 Chicken Soup for the Soul books have been published and over 500 million copies sold. Each volume receives thousands of story submissions from writers worldwide.

Here are Publisher Amy Newark’s best story writing tips:



To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Whenever I’ve asked a writing instructor or workshop facilitator about prologues, I’ve encountered a variety of negative facial expressions—everything from a wince to a frown to a quick shake of the head. And the following responses:

Prologues = Information Dumps.

Agents hate prologues.

Readers will skip to the first chapter.

One instructor offered a ray of hope: Use only if the prologue adds an interesting and integral layer to the narrative.

Continue reading on the Sisterhood of Suspense blog.


Loving Those Oxymorons

Technically they’re oxymora, but according to the wordsmiths, oxymorons can be used as the plural form.

Whatever form you choose to use, one thing is certain: Oxymorons attract attention. And people who like to pepper their conversations with these literary devices are well aware that their listeners will stop and think, wondering whether they should laugh or not.

Continue reading on the Soul Mate Authors blog.


On Planting Red Herrings

Red_HerringWhen I shared an early draft of A Season for Killing Blondes, a beta reader complimented me on my use of red herrings and suggested the title could also be considered a red herring.

Puzzled, I asked for clarification.

She explained, “A red herring is a literary device that leads readers toward a false conclusion. Glancing at the title, I expected to read a thriller about a serial killer who had designated a specific time period for the Rampage.” She winked. “That’s definitely not the case here.”

A bit worried, I wondered if I was misleading my readers. Would they expect a thriller and be disappointed when my novel turned out to be a cozy?

Continue reading on the Sisterhood of Suspense blog.


Replenishing My Inner Well

In 1992, I picked up a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Hoping to inspire and motivate my inner writer, I spent an entire weekend devouring the book and then decided to incorporate morning pages and artist dates into my life.

That enthusiasm fizzled after only one week.

At the time, I was in the thick of my career and personal life. Busy with course preps, curriculum meetings, extra-curricular activities, and family health issues, I found myself unable to even consider adding one more activity to my schedule.

Continue reading on the Soul Mate Authors blog.


Inspired by Dr. Ross Pennie

This past Saturday, I attended the “Writing Your Life & Other Personal Stories” workshop facilitated by Brian Henry in Guelph. A book editor and professor, Brian teaches creative writing at Ryerson University in Toronto and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Saint John. You can find out more about Brian here.

In the morning session, Brian shared tips and techniques for writing creative non-fiction. In the afternoon, one of his star students—Dr. Ross Pennie—shared his fascinating writing journey.

A bit of history…

In 1977, at the age of twenty-five, Dr. Pennie set off for a two-year posting at a Catholic Mission on a remote island in the South Pacific. He spent his days dealing with tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious diseases. Evenings, he would read, write letters and update his diary.

At the end of his posting, he returned to Canada and spent the next twenty years working as an infectious-disease specialist and daydreaming about writing his memoirs.

Finally, he took action and signed up for creative writing courses and workshops. He also analyzed other memoirs, read books on writers’ craft, and joined a writing group. It took him two and a half years to complete The Unforgiving Tides, which was released in 2004.

The logline is a tantalizing one: A young doctor encounters mud, medicine, and magic on a remote South Pacific Island.

He then tried his hand at fiction and wrote the well-received Dr. Zol Szabo medical mysteries. The first of these, Tainted, came out in 2010 and won the Arts Hamilton Literary Award for Fiction. He followed up with three more medical mysteries: Tampered, Up in Smoke, and Beneath the Wake.

After 39 years of working as an intensive-care pediatrician and infectious-diseases specialist at McMaster and Brantford General Hospital, Ross retired.

But he is not retired from writing.

In a 2017 interview with Hamilton News, he shared his love of the creative process: “I love spending time with the characters. They seem very real … it’s almost as though they live with us. I also find writing meditative. I enjoy being on my own, so there is a meditative and reflective aspect to it.”

At Saturday’s workshop, Ross shared practical advice about the memoir process.

Here are ten nuggets that resonated with me:

• Dribble the dry facts gradually into your story so that any one page is not filled with a laundry list of details. Do not confuse the reader with too many characters and too much technical jargon.

• Keep the narrator humble, vulnerable, embarrassed, noble, quirky, smart, but never arrogant.

• Leave yourself open to memories that bubble up unexpectedly.

• Exaggerate your deficiencies. (You will probably be telling it like it is!)

• Imagine that your mother and Grade 8 teacher are never going to read your memoir. This leaves you free to add healthy naughtiness. Some examples of healthy naughtiness include embarrassing situations, swear words, family secrets, petty criminal acts, and sexual encounters.

• Break grammar rules with pizzaz. But first, learn the grammar rules.

• Show the action and dialogue up close. Don’t just talk about it from a distance.

• Punctuate your stories with newsworthy events. Make a dated list of earth-shattering events that occurred during the period of the memoir such as wars, elections, assassinations, and natural disasters. Include some of these events in the memoir.

• Write frankly without bitterness.

• And most important of all … Persistence Writes the Memoir.

Find more about Dr. Ross Pennie here.