Peg Herring's Blog – July 2009 Archive (21)

Books I Have Loved

Someone sent me one of those quizzes where you have to do something that reveals, at least theoretically, the sort of person you are. This one asked for 15 books that have stuck with me, and the instructions were to make a list quickly, without spending a lot of time thinking about it.

It was an interesting mix that emerged, but just as interesting is the residual effect, where other books crop up that might have been included. How did I fail to include any of James Michener's works?… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 31, 2009 at 9:54pm — No Comments

To Encourage or Not to Encourage: There's the Rub

I do a workshop for writers, and I'm afraid I'm too damned honest. People come hoping to be told that their writing sizzles, that their idea is just what a certain publisher (whose ear I happen to have, of course) is looking for, and that I'll be glad to set down what I'm working on right now to polish it up for them, just because it's so gosh-darned good.

I might book far more workshops if I played along. It's obvious that there are lots of people doing it. Just look at the "We Can… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 30, 2009 at 11:23pm — 3 Comments

How Many Characters Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?

Okay, to phrase it more clearly: how many characters in a book make too many characters in a book? Obviously if the book is epic in scope, it has to have a lot of people, but good authors help the reader keep track by gently reminding and clearly delineating. A simple statement like "Alex looked at Waverly, wondering what the detective was thinking" can keep a reader from losing track of who's who.

I learned early on that keeping the character list small at the beginning of a story… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 29, 2009 at 10:43pm — No Comments

Learning What You Don't Know

Writing, like other forms of self-employment, is tough because you can never say you're done. As a teacher I got a degree that said I was "ready" to teach, not that it was even close to the truth. In addition, I had a finite beginning and end to my work day and work year, not that the work really ended at 3:30 or June 1st. There was both a sense that I was on a schedule and a sense that I was qualified for the tasks involved.

Writing has neither clear qualifications nor a definite… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 28, 2009 at 9:56pm — 1 Comment

A Week of Doing Limbo

No, not THE Limbo. My back would never tolerate that. I've been IN limbo. Due to circumstances I ended up in a house far away from my home, waiting for its new occupants to arrive and take over. It was supposed to be a brief stay, but mechanical difficulties, too much to do in too little time, and even a wayward cat delayed them, and we were stuck for a full week. To top it off, they had all the furnishings: we had no TV, no phone, no Internet, no stove, and one of those dorm fridges that hold… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 27, 2009 at 11:14pm — No Comments

Where Do You Go to Think? (R)

I have two places conducive to thinking, and they are as different as can be. First, I think in the car, preferably on a long trip and preferably alone. The automatic process of driving seems to calm my conscious mind and let the deeper thoughts arrange themselves into viable plots and possible characters. I particularly like the drive across Michigan's Upper Peninsula, which is both beautiful and remote, allowing lots of time to work out plot knots. I carry a small recorder and talk to myself,… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 22, 2009 at 7:00am — 2 Comments

It's All My Mother's Fault (R)

Really. I mean, the woman started reading me Edgar Allen Poe when I was still too short to reach the kitchen faucet and get my own drink of water. She would often appear in our bedroom doorway with a book and share a snippet of poetry or prose that had grabbed her imagination, and it was usually something spooky. She talked about words and the usage of words, why things were better said this way than that. And she put into my hands at about age thirteen the most unlikely of English teacher… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 21, 2009 at 7:00am — No Comments

And There's the Contract

I posted last week about an editor who asked me to change two sentences, with the enticing, "Before I can offer you a contract..."

Well, I fixed 'em and she sent me the contract. Sometimes it happens just like that.

I should be cheering, but I think I'm still in shock: no year of waiting for an answer? No "We'll see what the sales department thinks of your chances?" That's cool.

Added by Peg Herring on July 20, 2009 at 9:28pm — 3 Comments

Dropping It Down a Tone or Two

They've taken over my brain again. Characters who I thought were going to be fun and entertaining as they romped through a murder have turned serious, and I can't stop them.

The problem is that I spoke about this book with an agent, and she liked the concept. Believe it or not, this agent actually asked what I was working on, not what I had finished. When I gave her two sketchy plots, she asked for samples of those. That sounded great at the time, an incentive to write the two ideas… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 17, 2009 at 10:04pm — 3 Comments

There Ain't No Good Guys/There Ain't No Bad Guys...

There's only you and me, and we just disagree. (Okay, now sing that one in your head for the rest of the day!)

Just finished a book where the guy the protagonist was trying to clear of murder charges turned out to really have done the crime, with no mitigating circumstances. He was a stone killer who used everyone, including the protag, and deserved no sympathy at all. In addition, the nasty psychopath who we all wanted to have done the crime did a "good deed" murder as a favor at… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 16, 2009 at 10:53pm — 2 Comments

"It Hit Me Like a Circus Train Full of Elephants"

There is nothing new to say. We all need to accept that. Every plot, every character, every phrase we use can be found somewhere else if we know where to look. George Carlin used to play around with concocting sentences no one had ever used before, like "Hand me that piano," and I guess there are exceptions of that type, but they're hardly useful in actually writing a story.

The problem, then, is that sometimes we reach too far in trying to come up with a new way of expressing… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 15, 2009 at 10:35pm — No Comments

"Before I Can Offer You a Contract..."

What lovely words! And the rest isn't bad, either. An editor wants me to change two sentences. Two. That's hardly worth pondering. Of course I can change two sentences. In fact, you can write them the way you want and I'll sign off on it.

I'm not the sort of author who thinks my work is immutable. I've learned over my lifetime that what I think I've said is often not what others comprehend, and it isn't anybody's fault. Communication is subjective, and what one person says in jest… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 14, 2009 at 9:46pm — 2 Comments


There's a scene in Anne Tyler's THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST where the protag, who's gone into safe mode after too much emotional pain, starts doing odd things to accomplish daily tasks. My favorite is that he washes his clothes as he bathes, throwing them on the shower floor and sloshing them around with his feet.

Of course there's Kramer on SEINFELD, who prepares salad in the shower as an efficiency task.

I fear that if I were alone very often or very long, I would become like… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 14, 2009 at 12:30am — 1 Comment

The Short Story: Part II

Yesterday I wrote about what writing short stories does for a writer's style. Today I'll focus on what it does for her career.

The word is EXPOSURE. I've written short stories in a dozen different places, and each one brings my name before readers. Readers can't decide they like your work until they hear of you. Hardly anyone goes into a bookstore and says, "I think I'll look for a book by someone I've never heard of."

So I put a short story on my website. I submitted some… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 10, 2009 at 7:30am — 1 Comment

The Short Story

First, I finally remembered to look at my interview, posted Tuesday, and it isn't too bad. Thanks to Sandra at Novel Journey ( for her attention.

Today and tomorrow I'd like to look at the short story as a device for novleists. Today I'll focus on what it does for the writer; tomorrow on what it can do for her career.

Short stories are of necessity short. That means that every word has to serve a purpose: no clever asides, no… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 9, 2009 at 10:37pm — 1 Comment

Authors: How Dare You?

I started RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE this morning, and it brought to mind a comment made by a reviewer of my book. She said she was at first appalled that someone had the nerve to put Macbeth into a novel. I think "chutzpah" was the word she used. She decided that I'd done all right with him, thank goodness.

The author's audacity thing interests me. Yes, it takes some nerve to say you'll become the storyteller for Rhett Butler or Jane Austen or Cleopatra. But it's a story, people. It's… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 9, 2009 at 1:28am — 3 Comments

Henry David Thoreau: Smart Guy

Yeah, he was weird, too. Kind of a mooch, kind of odd, kind of fanatic. But as I mature, I keep remembering ideas from Henry that remind me to slow down, to breathe, to observe. Remember the big walking eyeball?

There are things that are simply not worth the time and energy it takes to do them. Those things should be dumped before they mess up your head. "Simplify, simplify, simplify," Henry says, so I toss in the garbage that $20 gift certificate that I can't figure out how to… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 7, 2009 at 11:01pm — 1 Comment

On Interviews

I've received notification that I'm the interview subject on Novel Journey tomorrow, July 7th. It's a cool site, so I'm excited to be there, and you can see what I said at

I've done radio, Internet, video, and print interviews and have been lucky so far to have professional hosts who lead me along and don't throw in anything nasty. Still, book/author interviews are a bit static, and there are so many out there that I wonder if anyone really reads any of… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 6, 2009 at 10:53pm — 3 Comments

My Fourth of July

You gotta love the Fourth of July (at least if you're a USAer). My day begins early as I bake pies (two pumpkin, two peanut butter) for the church social. I deliver them around 10:00 and then my husband and I do the once-a-year walk. Our little town is only about six blocks long, and on the Fourth the main street is closed to cars and the sidewalks become jam-packed with people, many of them old friends who've returned for the festivities. We walk all the way down one side of the street and… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 3, 2009 at 10:50pm — No Comments

The Range of Writing

I'm a member of many writer-oriented groups, among them the Guppies, which is Sisters in Crime's subgroup for un-published writers. Quite a few of us stay on after we're published, and it's interesting to be reminded of what that pre-publication angst was comprised of. Of course, mid-list writers have to make sure the next book is good enough to get attention, because that section of writers has no guarantee of continued publication. And I read today that Anne Perry's editor is quite critical… Continue

Added by Peg Herring on July 2, 2009 at 10:29pm — 2 Comments

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