Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Archive for the month “January, 2015”

Writing Prompt: 01-30-2015

Origin“Lava Falls” by Jesús Campos Jiménez. I know neither this artist, nor his other work, so if you decide to look him up, beware.

Feeling inspired? Write something from this prompt! You can leave a response in the comments or move the prompt to your blog and leave a link in the comments. I cannot wait to see what you come up with!

Please keep responses clean.

Tips from a Month Old Editor

Tips from a Month Old Editor

Prior to starting edits on my novel at the beginning of this month, I knew next to nothing about editing. Oh, certainly, I had done some editing on short stories and essays before, and read umpteen articles on editing, but I had no experience editing a 116843 word novel. In all my planning and research, I had never had anyone tell me, “This is what it’s going to take.”

Though I’m still not anywhere near an expert, I now know basically what it’s going to take. All of you who have a finished novel that you’re preparing to edit—this blog post is for you. You’re about to start on a journey that will test and try you, and neither you, nor your novel, will ever be the same again. You should know what you’re getting yourself into.

It will be hard. You know those days when you’re working on your first draft, and every word seems to be painful? The days when you stare at your screen for hours, not managing to write anything regardless of how hard you try?

It will be like almost every time you edit. Thirty minutes of editing will exhaust you like three hours of writing. You’ll find yourself longing to just write something, and you’ll miss the flow of words dreadfully.

You will need caffeine. lot of caffeine.

There will be days when you feel like you’re only making your writing worse. Be aware that you probably aren’t. But save a copy of your first draft, just in case.

You will most likely hate it. I know a few authors out there enjoy the editing process; perhaps you will be one of those writers. You most likely won’t be, though. Prepare to despise the majority of the editing process.

You will come up against decisions you don’t know how to make. During the editing process, you’ll probably change your plot, be it in ways large or small. At some point, you will almost certainly come up against a question (for me, it was, “Does she die?”) that you don’t know the answer to. You’ll debate about it for days. You’ll ask advice. You’ll second-guess your decision.

And, forgive me for restating my first point, but… Editing will be hard.

It will also be worth it by the time you’ve finished.

Your novel needs the editing. I mean no insult to your or your novel, but I don’t believe there has ever been any novel, at any point in history, that did not require editing. Editing takes an okay work and makes it good. Then it takes a good work and makes it great. You’ll be able to work out the flaws in your manuscript and make sure everything lines up; you’ll make flat characters three-dimensional; you’ll fix your writing mistakes.

“But,” you say, “you just spent half the blog post telling us how horrible editing will be. How can we make it easier?” 

I am glad you asked, good reader. The fact that you want to know how to make it easier shows that you are brave, and still plan to edit your manuscript. Thankfully, there are ways to make editing less terrible.

Make goals. “Finish Chapter One by January 5th” works well, but I personally have been using “Edit for however-many minutes per day.”

Edit with friends. Then, when you get on the computer you can be greeted with, “Have you edited yet?” and you can ask each other, “Would you like to focus on editing for the next fifteen minutes?” While you may end up groaning every time the topic comes up, the best way to keep yourself on track is to have someone else keep you on track.

Listen to music while you edit. I’m a strong supporter of listening to music while you write. That goes for editing, too. I’m listening to the same playlist as I edit that I did while I wrote, which makes everything connect nicely. I have more or less the same mood while editing that I did while writing the novel.

Allow yourself to relax while editing. It’s perfectly acceptable to forget to edit for thirty minutes while you get caught up in reading your novel. Remember why you love your manuscript in the first place. Laugh at your characters. Love your story.

Do you have any experience editing? What did you learn while doing it?  

Writing Prompt: 01-23-2015

Origin“Beware of Dragon” by Rowena Wang. I know neither this artist nor her other work, so beware if you decide to look her up.

Feeling inspired? Write something from this prompt! You can leave a response in the comments, or move the prompt to your blog and leave a link in the comments. I can’t wait to see what you write!

[I really look forward to being able to read anything you write from this prompt, and I expect to enjoy it very much and for my readers to also enjoy it. That said, please keep everything as clean as it gets because otherwise I will delete the comment or link to your blog.”Only what is good for building up…” If in doubt, ask. My contact information is on the About page.]

Avoiding the Pseudo-Narnia

Avoiding the Pseudo-Narnia

On October 16th, 1950, C.S. Lewis released the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia. The world had never seen that type of novel before. The idea of a few children hopping into another world where allegorical figures told timeless truths was an original one in the ’50s.

It isn’t anymore.

In all the years since I’ve been reading, I cannot count the amount of Narnia-style books that I have read. All could be summarized like this:

A child (or a couple of children) happen to find themselves in another world (usually after being upset for some reason) where they are prophesied to save the world. They find a European-style society with mythical creatures and oftentimes talking animals, and an allegorical representation of God and Jesus.

Though some add or take away minor elements, all of these “Pseudo-Narnias” as I like to call them follow the same basic pattern.

Authors have been called over the years some of the greatest thinkers in the world. We have imagination like no other type of people. We have the ability to critically think through problems and find solutions. We find it entertaining to create whole new worlds—so why have we churned out so many reproductions of the one most well-known book in children’s literature?

I am not a huge fan of world hopping. Even when I was seven years old and reading through The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time, The Horse and His Boy was always my favorite of the series because it lacked moving between two worlds. Even when I was that young, I hated the feeling that I had seen all there was to see of world hopping—I would rather just be rid of it altogether.

Since then, I’ve read more books and eased off slightly on my no world-hopping rule (though it grew dramatically in between this time and that before it lessened). I’ve read some books where portals and other worlds were masterfully done.

The difference in these novels?

They lacked allegories. They lacked prophecies. They didn’t have random small children wandering into other worlds in order to save them without the slightest bit of strain or PTSD on the kids.

Personally I am of the opinion that if an author wishes for people to read The Chronicles of Narnia enough that they would be willing to write a book, they should instead firmly but politely direct them to the series. Instead of creating a Pseudo-Narnia, they should create their own stories, craft their own worlds, and leave clichés behind.

Ways to Avoid Creating Pseudo-Narnias

Avoid eight to ten-year old children who are upset about moving. Instead, try a thirty-two year old secret agent who was apparently born with a semi-automatic in his hand and an unending supply of bullets (but please, watch out for how many times he can shoot a gun in a row without having to reload).

Not all cultures are even vaguely European. Try creating your culture from scratch. Make things drastically different for your hero who just stepped out of modern America and into a strange land where the people are forbidden to eat round fruits from trees and children are expected to carry knives in their bags with their dip pens. Better yet, have your culture so incredibly different from ours that your character experiences culture shock.

Please, please don’t stick an allegory in there. I have nothing against allegories—indeed, one of my favorite books (Heartless, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl) is an allegory. However, with world-hopping people slipping off to other worlds from our own in order to save the world, sticking an allegory in is just the thing you need to be branded as yet another Lewis-impersonator.

Avoid—at all costs—prophecies, chosen ones, random children being picked to be a part of an elite fighting force when they have had no training and no particular skills, and people deciding quite randomly to have a ten-year-old be their commander. These things have been used to the point of being beyond cliché.

Better yet, turn the clichés on their heads. Flip them around. What if the prophecy that the young child believes turns out to be a fake one constructed by the villain just months before they arrived in the world? What if the person your character is fighting for is really the villain and your character is just the person your villain needs to get the people over to his side—someone from another world is working with him, so clearly he’s a good man, and shouldn’t the peasants he needs in his army decide to follow him, too?

In the sixty-five years since The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was published, hundreds of Pseudo-Narnias have been written. Thankfully, most didn’t make it to publication. Yet even with those missing, you could still probably find a Pseudo-Narnia for every day of the year with no problem.

You are a writer. You use your imagination for a living.

Don’t fall into the trap of creating yet another book that so closely mirrors that which was once your favorite novel in your childhood. You may draw inspiration from it. You may wish to give people the same feelings that you had while you were reading it.

But please do avoid recreating it entirely.

Have you ever started to create a Pseudo-Narnia? Are there any that you’ve read recently? What are some ways you know of that people can avoid copying Lewis?

Character Interview: Ellis

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today I have the pleasure of introducing to you Ellis, from C.B. Cook’s Teen Warriors Series. 

Ellis has always felt ordinary. In fact, he is ordinary. Everyone sees him that way, including himself. Well, everyone… except for one. King Winsloe, the King of the country of Arbia, sees something more in Ellis – a great leader. So he picks Ellis to lead a group of teens in the search for one of the most famous pieces of Leralian history – the Portal through which the first humans came from Earth to the world of Lerali. The other teens aren’t quite pleased with the King’s choice. How will stammering Ellis be able lead the unruly – and sometimes violent – group? And how in the world will they find the Portal?

Hello, Ellis, and welcome to Red Lettering! It’s a pleasure to have you here today. To start with, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Ellis: Well, um… I-I’m not good with people. Uh, that is to say, I’m mostly an introvert. I prefer books and my workshop to socializing, and, honestly, I wish I could just live in my workshop. Other than that, I’m a single child, technically, an amateur inventor, and I’m a Messenger – basically, I can send telepathic messages and use mind control, that sort of thing, plus a bonus photographic memory. Basically, the most useless Gift of all. 

Wow. That sounds like an interesting gift for a solid introvert. Someone who doesn’t like people has to be the one to deliver messages. You mention that you’re an only child… What is your family like?

Ellis: My family consists of me and my dad. *pauses* Uh, my mom and younger brother, Herbert, died several years ago. My dad and I are really close. I get my inventing skills and my Gift from him.

I’m sorry about your mom and brother. That must have been tough. Have you ever wished you could live in a different time—another world, perhaps? Would you choose to remain where you are now or go to another place or time if given the chance?

Ellis: From your perspective, I do live in another world. But I’ve always wished I could go to your world, where my inventing and nerdiness wouldn’t be looked down on quite as much. At least, I would hope not. If given the chance… well, I like Lerali and all, but maybe just visit Earth. Maybe on my sky saddle…

If you ever do decide to visit Earth, you may not find it entirely to your liking. But if you find yourself in the area, feel free to stop by and visit me! Who do you look up to?

Ellis: My dad, really. King Winsloe is pretty awesome, too. And he believes in me, unlike most other people, including myself.

Your King sounds like a good man; maybe you should believe him when he talks about you. Do you have a favorite color? And—I’ve heard that you’re scientifically minded, so I hope this won’t be a difficult question to answer—what would you say that shows about your personality?

Ellis: Um… I tend not to do favorites very often. But I guess I’d have to say that it’s gray, or silver. Like my tools, or my sky saddle… Hm, what does it show about me? I guess it reinforces my dullness. Gray is just so boring and bland, like me.

Silver and gray are some of the most beautiful colors in the world; they’re the color of the clouds, the color of tools as you mentioned, and the color of duct tape. What’s the first thing you remember?

Ellis: *clears throat* Well, that’s a bit of a… touchy subject. You see, my first memory is of the fire that killed my mom and brother. That was pretty traumatizing. A pretty wonderful first memory. I’d rather not talk about it.

Ah, I understand. Where did you grow up?

Ellis: I grew up in our humble cottage, after the fire happened. Dad doesn’t talk about Mom’s and Herbert’s deaths much, so I really don’t know much about that time, although I have a few mental pictures of my mobile thing above my crib, and my high chair, and all that thanks to my photographic memory, but that’s it. As far as I know, I had a fairly normal childhood up until the fire.

Is there one location that you hate—or one that you dislike very much? What would be the worst place you could imagine going?

Ellis: Voslelo, anywhere there, especially the capital, Croydon. See, they’re very against the country I live in, Arbia. Tensions are getting higher, and since my work with the government started, they wouldn’t be very kind to me. *shudders*

That’s very practical of you. Definitely not somewhere you would want to go vacationing, eh? If you had to describe yourself in one word, what would the word be?

Ellis: Just one? Ugh, let me find my thesaurus. *flips pages* Well, I’m so boring I’m soporific. Sleep-inducing, ha. It fits perfectly, in my opinion.

I can’t say I would describe you as that… You interest me greatly. I should probably let you go now… Thank you so much for coming, Ellis! It was wonderful to get to know you. Have fun adventuring!

C.B. Cook is a home school student who loves to write, and gets half of her inspiration from her surroundings, which is one of the reasons for some of her random stories. The rest of her inspiration comes from her extremely overactive imagination, which provides her with the stories that seem completely unrealistic. Check out her, um, interesting blogs at and, and her account at

Cover Reveal: Draven’s Light, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Alas, this post is going up later than I had planned for it to—I forgot to schedule it yesterday—and so most of you have probably already seen the beautiful cover of Draven’s Light. Even if you have, though, I get to have it and the teaser up on my blog, and that makes me happy.

In the Darkness of the Pit 

The Light Shines Brightest

Drums summon the chieftain’s powerful son to slay a man in cold blood and thereby earn his place among the warriors. But instead of glory, he earns the name Draven, “Coward.” When the men of his tribe march off to war, Draven remains behind with the women and his shame. Only fearless but crippled Ita values her brother’s honor.

The warriors return from battle victorious yet trailing a curse in their wake. One by one the strong and the weak of the tribe fall prey to an illness of supernatural power. The secret source of this evil can be found and destroyed by only the bravest heart.

But when the curse attacks the one Draven loves most, can this coward find the courage he needs to face the darkness?

Coming May 25, 2015

 Draven's Light Cover


Isn’t it beautiful? Click on it. Zoom in. Zoom in again. The details are lovely, down to the wax dripping onto his gloved hand, or the texture in the vines. He looks almost breathless, but very determined.

Excerpt from


By Anne Elisabeth Stengl


He heard the drums in his dreams, distant but drawing ever nearer. He had heard them before and wondered if the time of his manhood had come. But with the approach of dawn, the drums always faded away and he woke to the world still a child. Still a boy.

But this night, the distant drums were louder, stronger. Somehow he knew they were not concocted of his sleeping fancy. No, even as he slept he knew these were real drums, and he recognized the beat: The beat of death. The beat of blood.

The beat of a man’s heart.

He woke with a start, his leg throbbing where it had just been kicked. It was not the sort of awakening he had longed for these last two years and more. He glared from his bed up into the face of his sister, who stood above him, balancing her weight on a stout forked branch tucked under her left shoulder.

“Ita,” the boy growled, “what are you doing here? Go back to the women’s hut!”

His sister made a face at him, but he saw, even by the moonlight streaming through cracks in the thatch above, that her eyes were very round and solemn. Only then did he notice that the drumbeats of his dream were indeed still booming deep in the woods beyond the village fires. He sat up then, his heart thudding its own thunderous pace.

“A prisoner,” Ita said, shifting her branch so that she might turn toward the door. “The drums speak of a prisoner. They’re bringing him even now.” She flashed a smile down at him, though it was so tense with anxiety it could hardly be counted a smile at all. “Gaho, your name!”

The boy was up and out of his bed in a moment, reaching for a tunic and belt. His sister hobbled back along the wall but did not leave, though he wished she would. He wished she would allow him these few moments before the drums arrived in the village. The drums that beat of one man’s death . . . and one man’s birth.

His name was Gaho. But by the coming of dawn, if the drums’ promise was true, he would be born again in blood and bear a new name.

Hands shaking with what he desperately hoped wasn’t fear, he tightened his belt and searched the room for his sickle blade. He saw the bone handle, white in the moonlight, protruding from beneath his bed pile, and swiftly took it up. The bronze gleamed dully, like the carnivorous tooth of an ancient beast.

A shudder ran through his sister’s body. Gaho, sensing her distress, turned to her. She grasped her supporting branch hard, and the smile was gone from her face. “Gaho,” she said, “will you do it?”

“I will,” said Gaho, his voice strong with mounting excitement.

But Ita reached out to him suddenly, catching his weapon hand just above the wrist. “I will lose you,” she said. “My brother . . . I will lose you!”

“You will not. You will lose only Gaho,” said the boy, shaking her off, gently, for she was not strong. Without another word, he ducked through the door of his small hut—one he had built for himself but a year before in anticipation of his coming manhood—and stood in the darkness of Rannul Village, eyes instinctively turning to the few campfires burning. The drums were very near now, and he could see the shadows of waking villagers moving about the fires, building up the flames in preparation for what must surely follow. He felt eyes he could not see turning to his hut, turning to him. He felt the question each pair of eyes asked in silent curiosity: Will it be tonight?

Tonight or no night.

Grasping the hilt of his weapon with both hands, Gaho strode to the dusty village center, which was beaten down into hard, packed earth from years of meetings and matches of strength held in this same spot. Tall pillars of aged wood ringed this circle, and women hastened to these, bearing torches which they fit into hollowed-out slots in each pillar. Soon the village center was bright as noonday, but with harsh red light appropriate for coming events.

Gaho stood in the center of that light, his heart ramming in his throat though his face was a stoic mask. All the waking village was gathered now, men, women, and children, standing just beyond the circle, watching him.

The drums came up from the river, pounding in time to the tramp of warriors’ feet. Then the warriors themselves were illuminated by the ringing torches, their faces anointed in blood, their heads helmed with bone and bronze, their shoulders covered in hides of bear, wolf, and boar. Ten men carried tight skin drums, beating them with their fists. They entered the center first, standing each beneath one of the ringing pillars. Other warriors followed them, filling in the gaps between.

Then the chieftain, mighty Gaher, appeared. He carried his heavy crescent ax in one hand, and Gaho saw that blood stained its edge—indeed, blood spattered the blade from tip to hilt and covered the whole of the chieftain’s fist. Gaher strode into the circle, and the boy saw more blood in his beard. But he also saw the bright, wolfish smile and knew for certain that his sister had been correct. The night of naming had come.

“My son,” said the chief, saluting Gaho with upraised weapon.

“My father,” said Gaho, raising his sickle blade in return.

“Are you ready this night to die and live again?” asked the chief. His voice carried through the shadows, and every one of the tribe heard it, and any and all listening beasts of forests and fields surrounding. “Are you ready this night for the spilling of blood that must flow before life may begin?”

Gaho drew a deep breath, putting all the strength of his spirit into his answer. “I am ready, Father.”

Gaher’s smile grew, the torchlight flashing red upon his sharpened canines. He turned then and motioned to the darkness beyond the torchlight.

The sacrifice was brought forward.


Personally, I cannot wait to read it… And there will be three people who won’t have to wait as long as most of us. Anne Elisabeth Stengl is offering a giveaway of three advanced reader copies of Draven’s Light.  Visit Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s blog to enter the giveaway!


7721_133549311830_623396830_3040333_1407935_n (1)ANNE ELISABETH STENGL makes her home in North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She is the author of the critically-acclaimed Tales of Goldstone Wood. Her novel Starflower was awarded the 2013 Clive Staples Award, and her novels Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Dragonwitch have each been honored with a Christy Award.

To learn more about Anne Elisabeth Stengl and her books visit:

The Art of Naming Novels

The Art of Naming Novels


When it comes to naming our novels, we are faced with a huge decision ahead of us. Not only do we have to find something that fits the story well; we also have to come up with a name that will make a publisher interested and later make the book sell. Even if you name your novel late in the writing process and know your book inside and out by the time you know the name, other people will see the name first—and if they don’t like the title, they won’t ever pick up your book.

No pressure.

Some ideas come with their titles. Some books present their names to you between the third and seventh chapter. Some you must grab a pencil and paper and write out several dozen names before finally deciding on the correct one; and some, it seems, will never have a name at all.

Fear not, O ye brave writer. There is always a way to find a name for your novel.

Remember your genre.

Your potential readers, agents, and publishers are usually looking out for specific things. They want to know what genre your novel is immediately, and they may feel as though your title is awkward or odd if it feels like a different genre than what your novel actually is.

For example, compare the titles of these two novels: Precisely Terminated, by Amanda L. Davis, and In the Hall of the Dragon King, by Stephen R. Lawhead.

Looking at the titles, one would easily be able to tell that In the Hall of the Dragon King is Fantasy, and Precisely Terminated is science fiction or dystopian. If you tried to write a dystopian book with the title, In the Hall of the Dragon King, some people might be a little less than thrilled with your title choice.

Since the title of your novel is the first impression that people will get, make sure that it will be an accurate impression.

Title using the main plot of your novel as your inspiration.

Brian Jacques’ Castaways of the Flying Dutchman and The Angel’s Command are a good example of this. The first one is about castaways from the Flying Dutchman. That’s simple enough; the second is about the command of an angel. Again, that’s pretty straightforward.

Reference an important theme or sentence in your novel.

In Bryan Davis’s Tears of a Dragon, the title comes from a line in the novel, “How rare were the tears of a dragon!” (Paraphrased because I can’t seem to find that section in my flipping through of the novel) and then nearing the end, “The tears of a dragon were rare indeed, but I prefer the tears of a father.”

In my own novel, Joy of Stars, the title comes from a comment by one of the characters in reference to Psalm 147:4: “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” “And that,” he said, “is the joy of stars.”

Use Character Names or Titles

For example, John White’s, The Sword Bearer which uses the title of the main character, and I have seen books with the names of the characters as their title (forgive my bad memory; I cannot seem to be able to recall a single one of the specific titles of these books).

Keep it consistent with the other books in a series.

If you’re writing a series, this is an important one. It may make it harder to find a title, but it may also make it easier if it narrows down your choices.

In well-titled series’, the titles of the novels all match. Whether they follow a definite pattern, such as Donita K. Paul’s, DragonSpell, DragonKnight, DragonQuest, etc., or have the same feel to them, as in J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, titles in a series should fit together well. I should be able to line up the books in a series and not doubt whether or not the third one was supposed to be in the same series. 

But then, there really are no rules about naming your novels.

Go with what feels like your novel. There’s no formula for coming up with the perfect title, and sometimes you may have to compromise because of different views held by you and your publisher. You may never find a perfect title for you novels; and that’s okay. You’re not alone; most of us can’t find the perfect title, either—but we can try for as close to perfect as possible.

What is the title of your current work-in-progress? How do you come up with your titles?

WINNER of the Short Story Contest


WINNER of the Short Story Contest


For eleven days, O thou contestants, thou hast waited in anxiousness (or maybe not) to see the verdict of the voting.

Though thy stories were all excellent, wondrous, even, there could be but one winner (though there was very nearly five with how close the voting was).

Await no longer.

The winner of the short story contest is…


Winner of the Short Story Contest: Hannah

(And, Hannah, you can take this and put it somewhere if you want to. Or leave it here. Whichever.)


Every single one of the stories were excellent, and the voting grew incredibly close. Well done, to each of you!


Voting Period Extended

Voting Extended

About an hour ago, in preparation of the end of voting for the short stories at midnight tonight, I counted up the votes as they now stand.

And noticed something.

In the voting, we have a three way tie. 

Therefore, the voting has been extended. You may now vote all of tomorrow, too, and voting will end at midnight on January 11th. 

It’s not much of an extension, but I think—I hope—that it will be enough to break the current tie. Get friends and family to vote, share on Facebook, whatever you do. Share your stories!

Check out all the stories before you vote… Read about “Elves Don’t Carry Guns”

By T

By Esperanza 

By Faith Song

By Hannah

By Jessi L. Roberts

By Savannah

By Konstantinos Buttonwood

Email your votes to

Writing Prompt: 01-09-2015

Origin“I’ll Be Back…” by Richard Yang. I know neither this artist, nor his other work. If you decide to look him up, I would advice caution.

Feeling inspired? Write something from this prompt! You could leave a response in the comments, or more the prompt to your blog and leave a link in the comments. I can’t wait to see what you write!

NOTE: The voting for the short story contest ends tomorrow at midnight. If you plan on voting, please do so quickly!

[I really look forward to being able to read anything you write from this prompt, and I expect to enjoy it very much and for my readers to also enjoy it. That said, please keep everything as clean as it gets because otherwise I will delete the comment or link to your blog.”Only what is good for building up…” If in doubt, ask. My contact information is on the About page.]

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