Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Back to School and Your Writing Schedule

Back to School and Your Writing Schedule

Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved

Back to school season is upon us and that means it’s time to get your writing schedule back on track now that the lazy days of summer are almost behind us.

Even if you don’t have kids going back to school, it’s a great time to get serious about your writing career so that the last two quarters of the year are productive.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Clean Up Your Work Area

Nothing puts the stops on motivation quicker than a messy work area. Clean out everything you don’t need to make room for all those exciting new projects you want to tackle.

Stock Up on Office Supplies

If you have a child going back to school you’re probably going to be visiting an office supply store anyway. Why not make a list of everything you need to stock up your home office for the next month or two? This will save you an additional trip to pick up envelopes etc when you’re ready to submit that next query.

And don’t forget to swing by the Post Office to buy stamps.

Create or Revise Your Contact List

Every writer needs to have one of these. Yes, it’s a time consuming task, but once it’s done all you have to do is add new contacts as you make them or update the information for your current contacts. I keep all my contacts in Microsoft Outlook. It sure beats looking for one business card in a pile of hundreds. And my contacts automatically feed into my electronic Address Book so I don’t waste time looking for a person’s email address when I need it. Just one click, and it’s done.

Now that you’re ready to start writing, here are a few ways to stick to your writing schedule:

Review Your Goals

Summer usually means we don’t set as many goals or try not to stress when we don’t meet them. It’s time to figure out what you’ve accomplished and what is still outstanding. Make a new to-do list and post it over your desk so you can keep it in plain sight.

Track Your Time

As a writer, you’re probably juggling multiple projects, performing research for assignments, and balancing all that with your home life.

Knowing where your time goes can help you accomplish more.

Whether you use a spreadsheet, time-tracking software, or a pencil and paper, record how you spend your day.

A sample of my day might look like this:

9 - 9:30AM: Answer/send emails
9:30 - 10AM: Eat breakfast
10 AM - 11AM: Marketing/Promotion
11 - 11:15AM: Short break
11:15AM - 12PM: Marketing/Promotion
12 - 1PM: Lunch and Laundry
1 - 1:30PM: Get Sarah down for a nap
1:30 - 2PM: Research Writer2Writer article
2 - 2:15PM: Short break
2:15 - 3PM: Begin first draft of Writer2Writer article
3 - 10PM: Family Time
10 PM - 12AM: Work on next chapter of memoir
12 - 12:30AM: Read books that need reviewing

Not only will this help you know where your times goes, it will help you get a handle on where time is wasted.

Write When You Feel Most Productive

I’m not a morning person. So, I don’t try to write in the morning. Ever!

If you look at my schedule above, you’ll notice that I do research and write for a short time in the early afternoon and then again late at night.

Each person has his/her own time of day when he/she is the most productive. That’s when you need to write. It might not always be possible, but do try to schedule your normal routine around your peak writing time if you can.

Take Breaks

It might feel right to forgo a break to get more work done, but it’s not a good idea.

Regular breaks are important to keep you focused and healthy. Our bodies simply aren’t meant to be sitting down for long periods of time. And a short break might help you figure out what role that secondary character plays in your latest novel.

Make this back to school season a time to commit to your writing. With these few simple steps you’ll be ready to make the most out of your writing time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Thoughts on Dark Fantasy by Janrae Frank

The definition of dark fantasy is still widely debated. The label is claimed by both fantasy authors and horror authors. Some horror authors perceive dark fantasy to be merely a way of side-stepping the horror label and the current industry prejudice against it. In a debate about the term, dark fantasy, on a messageboard called "the messageboard of the damned" several years ago, Nick Mamatas stated that dark fantasy is matter of ambiance.

Certainly Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series and her Merry Gentry series can be called dark fantasy. The former series is set on an alternate earth in which vampires have been given full civil rights and courses in magic are taught in colleges. The latter series involves a princess of Faery who is working as a private investigator. Most urban fantasies can be equally considered dark fantasies.

As more and more cross-genre works appear, with elements of both horror and fantasy, the classification is often left up to both the publishers and the distributors.
Please allow me a few personal anecdotes.

My ebooks that come out from Renaissance Ebooks (renebooks) are listed as dark fantasy at Fictionwise. There my works are a bit of an odd man. The vast majority of books listed under dark fantasy on that list involve vampires and werewolves. Often with a romantic element.
There is the connection for me. I write about vampires, wolfweres (which are often tossed in with werewolves by definition), and necromancers. Such things are staples of horror novels. However, because I am writing in an alternate world with a semi-medieval setting, my work is often classified as fantasy.

Wikipedia says that dark fantasy involves "a bleak pessimistic outlook … and moral ambiguity." It can also involve brutality.

Anne Bishop's Dark Jewels trilogy is extremely dark. Grey Keyes is another excellent example of dark fantasy, especially his series that begins with the Briar King. George R. R. Martin's "Swords of Fire and Ice" series has some of the most brutal, edgy dark fantasy out there.
All of those qualities mentioned in wikipedia are present in their novels.

They are also present in my own, up to a point. I believe in the triumph of the human spirit, that people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and overcome both their inner and outer challenges. Lyn McConchie says that what makes the darkness and despair in my novels work is that I "don't compromise with evil."

I have had horror authors who write about werewolves say that my work is fantasy and try to deny me a place at the table. I write about werewolves also. My first professional sale was "Wolves of Nakesht" (Amazons, edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, DAW 1979) that involved a woman and her children fleeing across the grasslands of an alternate world pursued by werewolves.

I have had fantasy authors tell me that I write horror because I have werewolves and vampires in my novels.

Only time will tell whether the label 'dark fantasy' becomes fully accepted by both the writers and the readers.

Discover Janrae's Serpent's Quest at Buzz the Book and then get your own copy.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Whereunto, Fantasy Genre by Danny Birt

The Lord of the Rings. The Chronicles of Narnia. The Golden Compass. Harry Potter. All of these titles are now common household names. The movies these titles describe have reached tens of millions of viewers, child and adult alike, capturing and enhancing those viewers’ imagination with a vivacity no other genre could manage to procure.

And yet, none of those movies could have come about were it not for books.

Yes, books. Virtually every fantasy-genre movie that has been produced in the last decade has been based off of a book in the same genre. Movie producers find a bestselling fantasy book, adapt a screenplay from it, then produce it. As a bonus, the movie has a preexisting audience of the book’s readers.

Part of the reason the production of fantasy movies has taken off recently is the advent of affordable computer graphics, which has made fantastic creatures and magical occurrences capable of being displayed on the big screen, rather than solely in the mind of a reader.

These movies have propelled the fantasy genre from relative obscurity in the back corners of bookstores to the New York Times bestseller list. The number of individuals who will readily admit to being fans of fantasy has never been higher. And yet, the fantasy genre has shown little adaptation to this sudden unexpected surge in popularity.

Consider: of all the fantasy works that are currently available for consumption in any format, what percentage of them is written on a child’s reading level?

Despite its popularity, the fantasy genre by and large remains considered immature. Yet, this creates a Catch-22: since fantasy is seen as being for children, most of the fantasy that is written is written for children.

Fantasy’s current surge in popularity is the genre’s best hope to spruce up its old image. Children who are currently growing up with fantasy in their lives will want to continue to read fantasy as adults – but only if there is a large selection of adult-level fantasy literature available for them to read. After all, who wants to remain stuck in childhood, reading the same old plotline?

The question remains of how those who create the works of the fantasy genre will deal with this brave new world. Will they create new, thought-filled fantasy literature for the discerning adult, or will they continue along in the old, proven rut?

Whereunto, my fellow fantasy authors?

Whereunto, fantasy genre?

You can find Danny Birt’s website at

Danny’s most recent work of fantasy literature, “Ending an Ending,” is available through Ancient Tomes Press at

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Journals & Forgiveness by Debbie Williamson

I started out keeping a journal. I was on my fourth year with this journal when I decided to make it a memoir. It wasn’t really my decision to write a book; it was a message from the other side. I had been ill and one evening while I was in bed, I was trying to finish my journals for my children. I wasn’t sure if I would be around much longer. I had a visit from my grandmother on the other side; she told me I was going to write a book. She told me to put my life stories along with hers and mom’s in a book. She said it would not only help my children, but it would help a lot of people understand what forgiveness really means. She said I was meant to do this and I needed to just believe in the message. My journals were much more personal and detailed then the book and they were also addressed to my children. So when I started to feel better I began the process of putting my words into a book. The chapters about my childhood were the most difficult part to write about. It is a part of my life that I am not fond of reliving and to write about it you relive it. This was never in detail in my journals and I ended up hiring a ghostwriter to interview me and help me transform my memories into words on paper. My journal entries about my adult life were in detail and it was not difficult to transform them into the book. It was actually healing to watch the book take form and realize with clarity what an incredible life I had. The gifts that I had been given I could now share with people and hope that the message of forgiveness would be understood. The dream of writing “Stand” was always about the message of forgiveness.

It took me a long time to convince my mother to help me with her part of the book. She wasn’t ready to share her personal life with the world and she had not even begun to heal from the abuse she had lived with. I told her about grandma coming to see me and it was months after that she told me she had prayed about the book and the answers she received were, to just do it. She finally agreed to write the book with me. We were going to interview her about her childhood because the memories were so very hurtful and this process helped me get through them. When it came time to start that process she passed away and left me with her journals. She also made me promise her that I would finish the book and not give up. She said she believed in my visit from grandma and she knew how important this book would be. I kept my promise and started the process of reading all her journals. She had always kept journals and they were in meticulous detail. She had about sixty journals that I read through looking for the information I needed. It was not an easy task for me, reading about my mother’s childhood horrors nearly took its toll on me. I came very close to giving up several times. I kept a clear focus on the message I had to share and when the first draft was done I sat alone in my office, and the impact of missing her finally set in. I was glad I kept my promise to her; somehow she knew that her journals would be devastating for me to read. The book was compiled from mine, my mother’s and a few of my grandmother’s journals. I have often thought about those journals and what to do with them. I decided to leave them for my grandchildren, and although some of them are heartbreaking, there is a lot of history in them.

The message of forgiveness has been misunderstood in the past and the impact it could have on our world is important.

I never understood how profound the meaning of forgiveness was until I went through it. Forgiveness can change the cycle of abuse and stop it from passing to future generations. I believe this with all my heart and I am proof that you can change your family and stop abuse from continuing on in its vicious cycle.

Healing yourself through forgiveness will change our world!

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Neglected Genre by Slawomir Rapala

Writing in a genre as unique as Fantasy is difficult because you don’t get a lot of credibility as a writer and as a result you must strive twice as hard to get your point across. Fantasy has always been a neglected genre, dismissed as frivolous at best and as down right offending at worst. The truth, however, is that the genre offers us, as writers, tools that our mainstream colleagues do not enjoy and which enable us to venture deeper both into the human psyche and the structure of the world around us. We enjoy worlds not constricted by the rules that govern everyday lives: neither the laws of physics and science, nor the social rules and norms that define cultures and societies around us.

Consequently, I feel, if used properly, Fantasy offers us an opportunity to create something unique and rein-free: a world and characters that are completely subjected to us, as creators. As writers, therefore, we can take what we observe around us and make a social commentary by superimposing these observations onto a world and characters unrestricted by rules. This, I believe, allows us to arrive at unique insights about the world and the people around us: sometimes scary, sometimes difficult to accept, but mostly, completely blunt and honest.

The beauty of Fantasy is that even when you take the social commentary away; in fact, even if it is not present at all in the work, it is still a thoroughly interesting and fascinating read, offering the common reader a form of escapism. Fantasy can be easy and fun to read, offering a glimpse of a world that’s borne out of the author’s imagination and even if the reader does not wish to involve himself in the social commentary that underlies most of Fantasy and would rather take the work solely at face value, he can still spend an enjoyable few hours that can be best described as carefree and pleasantly detached from the reality of everyday life.

Slawomir Rapala
Cambridge, June 1st

For more information about Slawomir and his new release, The Legend of Aezubah: The Crimson General, visit Bewildering Press.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Call for Submissions, Writing Challenge and Heroic Fantasy plus Free Poster

Discover author Slawomir Rapala at Bragging Rites and read the synopsis to his new release, The Legend of Aezubah: The Crimson General.

The Legend of Aezubah: The Crimson General is a sword and sorcery epic of human aspirations and tragedy. It shows how anyone can be both a villain and a hero and how even the smallest actions can change the world. You can order your copy from Bewildering Press.

Don't forget to check out the latest installment of The Marsh God by Bruce Durham. A new page of the comic is added each Thursday to the Flashing Swords website. If you haven't started reading with us yet, you can still catch up. All the pages are archived.

While you're at Flashing Swords, order your copy of the Special Summer Edition. It's stuffed full of stories, poems, articles and interviews. Plus, your copy will come with a free 11 x 17 poster by artist Johnney Perkins

Flashing Swords Press is now accepting submissions for their "Rage of the Behemoth" anthology. This Heroic Adventure Anthology will contain 21 stories about the biggest, baddest, boldest behemoths ever to roar across the pages of heroic adventure! You can find all the details and guidelines here.

Like a good writing challenge? Then you'll love this! You must use the prompt given but you can write in any genre you would like, even non-fiction. This is the perfect chance to try something new and flex those creative muscles. The deadline is July 25th, there's no entry fee and there's even a small cash prize.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Top Ten Ways to Break a Deal by David M. Pitchford

10. Deadline? There was a deadline? Follow up to be certain you've gotten ALL materials, drafts, etc. in to the publisher by the time stated in the contract.

9. You needed the contract back when? Camping out on a contract until your brother-in-law can fit it in for a gratis legal opinion can kill the deal. Contracts tend to be time-sensitive. If you have questions, ask them. But don't allow it to become an excuse for procrastination. There's far too much of that stuff (procrastination) in this whole process already.

8. But I don't like that advice. Once you have the contract, picking at nits with the publisher is not always in your best interest. Again, the edits and such are time-sensitive just as are contracts. With start-up publishers, this is even more important, as many small publishers have to push things through to achieve profitability before they go broke. Be sensible about the editing process, but refrain from being sensitive about it.

7. Oh, sorry, I forgot to tell you that story was picked up by Acme. The number one reason publishers don't want you to engage in simultaneous submissions is that too many authors ahead of you have forgotten to inform prospective publishers when a work is accepted elsewhere. Inform the publisher of previous acceptance of your work; this keeps them from sending a contract for first rights only to find out you've sold those rights already. Track your submissions assiduously.

6. No, really, it's a different story! Changing character and place names is rarely enough to make a new story out of a recycled one. If your current story won't go through a plagiarization filter against a story you've already published, you're treading dangerous ground. Recycling stories is not a bad strategy, in my opinion, but it is vital that the new story be *substantially* different. And it darn well should be better!

5. Oh, you wanted what you asked for in your guidelines? This is rather obvious, but I've actually seen rewrites go from following the guidelines to creation of a story that barely resembles the submitted works. What were they thinking? Most of the time I've seen this is in regard to writers who want to retro-fit their story to a series or pet world. Rarely is that acceptable to a publisher, and even more rarely when that retro-fit violates the guidelines to which you formerly adhered.

4. Can you pay me now? This is a serious contractual matter. If you've agreed to pay-on-publication, then you really don't have stable ground from which to request payment. To avoid the necessity of this, negotiate the contract up front. If the publisher doesn't have a 'kill clause' in the contract, then ask for one that guarantees something if the project is cancelled. Sometimes the small publishers can only promise a return of full rights. Ask up front. Negotiate before signing. Be very judicious about trying to renegotiate a contract after the fact, if at all.

3. What do you mean you couldn't reach me?! Yes. This is common sense. But common sense is where ninety percent of misunderstandings occur. If you relocate, or change *any* of your contact information, then contact the publisher - every publisher with whom you have any relationship - and ensure that they have your current information. I have actually made this mistake myself from both sides of the desk; it cost me a number of great stories as well as two publication credits. Notify. Notify. Notify.

2. But these edits violate my personal style; why are you cramping my artistic integrity? Whiners are just inconvenient. Very few of us like to deal with them in any capacity. Editors and publishers are people, too. Don't be a whiner. If you seriously cannot stomach criticism or editorial changes, then you're likely too early in your development as a writer to be publishing anyway. [I'm talking here about whining to the publisher/editor. Whine all you like to your friends, but do so *privately* and NEVER on an online forum.] Whining might not break the current deal, but it will likely break the next deal you might have made with this publisher.

1. What are you miscreants doing to MY story?! Worse than the whiner is the bitching Narcissist. Again, any given publisher might put up with the prima donna once, but they'll likely take a great deal more convincing for further projects once you've insulted them and thrown a tantrum over things that are likely far more trivial than they seem. This behavior tends to show not only an immaturity in the industry, but also a personal immaturity. This is, in my opinion, the number one way to break a deal: act like a brat. [Once you've signed the contract and cashed the check, your story is no longer *your* story. If you *have* to have creative input, consider strongly whether you're really ready to publish. If you decide you are, then be very certain of how the contract is written.]

Read more of David's writing in The Return of the Sword anthology. You can order your copy here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Be Unique

Stan took another manuscript from the top of the slush-pile and propped himself against the wall for a quick read. His eyes grew wider as they scanned down the page until finally he burst into uncontrollable laughter. “Hey Jill…take a look at this!”

His co-editor took the papers out of his hands, skimmed the text, and began to chuckle. She glanced at the author’s cover letter and gave a derisive snort. “I can’t believe she had the nerve to submit this garbage to us. Who does she think she is?”

Stan wiped streaming eyes and drew in a deep breath. “I know…and she works in a food store, for God’s sake…and imagines she’s a WRITER!” His fingers traced quote marks in the air. “She needs to stop daydreaming and do something she’s actually got talent for.”

Jill tossed the manuscript to her assistant. “Form rejection.”

If this little fantasy gives you goose-bumps and a cold shiver, then my words are aimed squarely at you! There’s a great deal of advice out there for short story writers who have already started submitting their work, but I want to address the rest of you. The writers who have dreamed of, but never achieved, that first step – and it is a huge step to some. Submission.

I understand the size of that step, believe me. It’s measured in fear – of rejection. Nobody likes to be rejected, but in some writers the fear can reach a level that seems insurmountable. I was a guest at a writers’ group one time and found, to my dismay, that most of the members had never submitted a piece of work for publication. The reason? Terror of receiving a rejection letter. It was clear that being turned down would be felt deeply and personally. When we write a story we are sharing – exposing – something deep within ourselves. When we offer it up for judgement, we are inviting judgement of ourselves. This may sound frightening, especially to us sensitive writer types, but I’m going to tell you that this is a Good Thing. Sharing something individual – a part of our creativity – is a vital step in becoming unique. There may not be an I in Team, but there is an I in Writer.

This is what makes your stories different from all those others – your own perspective, your own take on life. If you don’t make each story uniquely your own, then what is the point in writing? Hire a ghost writer instead.

Is it just a matter of finding the courage to submit a story? Essentially, yes. But that courage may be hard to come by. It will help if you understand that the fear comes partly from a misunderstanding of the nature of publishing and, in particular, rejections from editors.

Rejection is a fact of publishing – and of life itself. When you go to a restaurant, and read the menu, you engage in the act of rejecting most of what the chef has to offer. Yet neither you, nor the chef, take it personally, or expect anything else. The same is true of the publishing industry. When a publisher is handed a story, he or she must decide if the story is one that they can use. If not, they must refuse it. That means it’s still available to offer to others. Keep trying. If you want to be published, you must harden yourself to rejection. It’s how things work. There aren’t enough slots in all the magazines for all the stories that get sent out.

I want you to imagine you have at last gathered the courage to submit your best story to a fiction magazine. You’ve read the submission guidelines and formatted the manuscript correctly. You’ve done your utmost. You wait weeks, months, and then finally…exactly what you feared. A rejection. What next?

It’s easy to get so depressed that you don’t send the story out again. Surely if one editor didn’t want it then no-one is going to want it. Not true! There’s a whole catalogue of reasons why editors reject stories. There’s only so much space in each issue. This means that while an editor might like your story, he or she might not be able to use it. Sometimes it’s not quite right for their magazine. The wrong tone, or style, or subject perhaps, and sometimes they’ve just bought one almost exactly like yours. Had yours been in their hands first, they would have bought it and rejected the other one. Always remember, the editor is rejecting the story, not the author. It’s not personal (unless you get mad and fire off a nasty email – something that’s definitely not recommended).
You can improve your chances by targeting magazines carefully – be certain that they want what you are offering. Read several issues so you are familiar with what they have recently published. You should also expand your horizons. While it’s admirable to start at the top and submit to the leading magazines, don’t ignore the plethora of other print and online fiction magazines. For example: Bewildering stories, Flashing Swords, Residential Aliens,Fear and Trembling. Visit the markets site and check out all the places you can try. Although many of these ‘small’ magazines don’t pay for your story, they are often writer-friendly and will help you learn your craft and gain exposure.

Frequently, rejections are just a matter of the editor’s personal taste. It’s out of your control, so why beat yourself up about it? Just keep on trying and, in between those submissions, work on other stories, and polish them till they shine, and submit them and, before you know it, you’ll be acting like a professional.

Don’t imagine it all ends when you achieve publication. If you wind up with a review, you’ll find that reactions can vary from “love it” to “hate it”. As an example, my story “The Defenders”, which appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction and in The Year’s Best Science Fiction #22 gathered the following reviews:

“This is a great short story.”
“I didn't really care for "The Defenders."
“…complex and mystical vignette.”
“Stupid story.”
“…expertly dissects colonialism in quintessential science-fictional terms.”

Writers don’t all think alike. Neither do reviewers. So why should editors?

Think you can find the courage? Maybe it’s time to don your hard hat and bullet-proof vest. Time to get tough.

Time to be unique.

Colin P. Davies

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Niche Writing - The Opposing View by Emilio Corsetti

The general consensus in publishing today is that writers should create a niche for themselves and stick to writing what they know. This has certainly worked well for authors such as Steven King, Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham, and a long list of other bestselling authors. They are some of my favorite authors. But I am also a fan of Mark Bowden and Michael Crichton. Mark Bowden is the author of Black Hawk Down. He is also the author Killing Pablo, Guests of the Ayatollah and the upcoming book The Best Game Ever. The only thing these books have in common is that they are all nonfiction narratives. Some of Michael Crichton’s books include Jurassic Park, Congo, The Andromeda Strain, and Airframe. He has also written a number of screenplays. I don’t consider either of these two writers as niche writers.

Writers who stick to a niche often fall victim to repeating themselves and producing uninteresting books. To me, writing something to fit a perceived niche is like writing a story because some marketing guy says that’s what’s selling now. The end result is an uninspired, boring manuscript.

I don’t want to be pigeonholed into a niche. I want the freedom to pick and choose my projects based on how strongly I feel about the story. My latest project is a screenplay about patent medicine from the 1900s. It’s a comedy. It’s as far removed from a disaster story as you can get.

I used to describe myself in my bio as a professional pilot and aviation writer. My bio now says professional pilot and author. That’s how I want to be perceived.

Find out more about Emilio at his website.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Guest Post by Heidi Saxton

When I became a foster parent to a sibling group of three, it was soon obvious that many of the activities I had formerly enjoyed were going to have to go on the back burner, at least for now. I didn't mind -- I had always wanted to be a mom, and I looked forward to investing my time and energies into the lives of these children. But as time went on, the challenges I was facing became overwhelming ... and I longed for the simpler days of rejoining infinitives and weeding out extraneous modifiers. There was no way I could do this, of course. Sleep depravation and intensive ... togetherness ... had worked their magic; my highest aspiration each day was to get out of my pajamas and into the shower before it was time for bed again.

And yet, somehow I found time to journal. The time my husband coaxed Christopher out from under a table with a bowl of Cheetos. The time our foster son dealt a round-house blow into the midsection of our elderly priest ... right in the middle of Mass. One time, just for the fun of it, I took down a whole morning in ten-minute increments here:

Those moments at the keyboard, as it turned out, provided rich writing material for my subsequent books -- books written several years after these early motherhood experiences, such as my current book entitled Behold Your Mother: Mary Stories and Reflections from a Catholic Convert (

So now, when one of my writers at Canticle cries on my shoulder (either in person or online) about how she hasn't been able to string together two coherent sentences since the baby arrived, I offer the following pointers:

* Force yourself to pencil a few lines (or type them into a computer) every night. Create a habit you look forward to ... keep a pretty journal beside your bed, and write as you drink a soothing cup of herbal tea.
* Don't worry about creating something that future generations will consider profound or even coherent. Just jot down a few impressions, using all your senses. What did you see, hear, feel...?
* Skip the weather and the argument with your girlfriend over cloth vs. disposable. Concentrate on stories, discoveries, and miracles. What did your child teach you about yourself today?
* Parenthood is often a time when our spiritual side can blossom in new or unexpected ways. Try journaling in the form of a letter to God, or to your favorite saint. Use your journal time to record both your prayers ... and any answers you receive as well.
* As the children grow older and your writing projects become more ambitious, go back and read your journals. Mine them for memories and insights that have slipped your consciousness. As you read, other memories might surface ... be sure to record those as well. "Mommy Brain" can kick in at unexpected times; don't assume that something is so funny, startling, or momentous to forget. Put it down!
* When you are done recording your children's memories for them, begin working on family at the other end of the age spectrum. Record the stories of your parents and grandparents ... go through old photo albums and get them to talk about their own childhoods so those precious family memories are not lost.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Controversial Subjects by Peter Nennhaus

Suppose you wish to compose a writing on a contentious or controversial subject. Perhaps you have unconventional ideas in religion or about your own country, thoughts you know may be seen as offensive by some readers. How would you approach it?

First of all, you must be convinced of the correctness of your thesis and your right to express it. Next, it is helpful to be tactful about it and express your ideas the way a friend speaks, one who does neither lecture nor reprimand, but rather who gives advice to his brother and tries to convince rather than rebuke. Thirdly, do your research before you speak up. That would certainly include the honest assessment of your opponents’ views. If possible, seek to discuss the subject first with those who think differently, for a serious dialogue is likely to make you improve your own thoughts. I like such a discussion better than a debate, as a debate is dishonest. It is a one-upmanship type of contest aimed at finding not necessarily the truth but the winner, as we witness presently in the political debates in an election campaign. In other words, I personally prefer such a writing to be done in a spirit of honesty and goodwill. Not that such goodwill will forestall angry counter-attacks, for sure enough they will be launched at you. But, again like in political debates, it resembles the difference between a dirty campaign and a nasty campaign.

Being controversial will only rarely lead to universal acclaim, if ever, but fear not, you will have left a mark that others may carry further. Thinking outside the box may certainly lead to ridicule, but it is the basis for progress, too. Without it we would have never built a computer or walked on the moon.

For more info on Peter's book go to his website.

Story Behind the Stories – by Jason M. Waltz, Managing Editor, Flashing Swords Press

Just what did it take to find, bind, and mind the twenty-one entries that create The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure (RotS)? Nothing more than access to a remaining inventory of accepted stories, a couple years’ worth of reviewing and critiquing, a remembered blog post, and an expectant boss.

Did we have a theme in mind? Not from the start. The concept of publishing an anthology arose as a vehicle for returning to glory some stories accepted by the previous incarnation of Flashing Swords Magazine that had not received the attention they deserved. Once we agreed on this option, well, the anthology required a creator. As Managing Editor, Kelly chose me.

Doing so created our first dilemma. Or my first dilemma I should say. Though I eagerly accepted the role and the responsibility, I was the lone newbie in the group. The person with less than one year’s experience as an editor. The only person without a publishing history. Who was I to orchestrate this thing?

Simply the guy my exceptional boss allowed me to be.

The summary of what I went through to bring RotS to the masses is too long to recount here. Simply told, once assigned, I bent to my task with a passion. I tracked down authors with tales I’d read long ago and asked them for those titles. I recalled an accomplished author’s blogging wisdom and asked him for it. I learned a lot about editing and publishing, working with authors and artists, design and layout – and more design and layout! – before finally being content. Could I have done better? Absolutely – but I’m damn proud of the final result as it is.

Theme, you ask? Why, I only required each tale to rock me in some fashion and contain a figure heroic . . . or able to be heroic. All the RotS tales have a character filling that heroic role: some obviously, some by default, some in denial, and some not quite apparent – but still with that character who has the opportunity, no matter how slim, to be heroic.I wanted slam-bam adventure while simultaneously giving readers that heroic figure all of us look for. He didn’t have to be the biggest guy, the baddest guy, the smartest guy, or even a guy. I wanted, really, heroic attitude more than anything else, coupled with action-adventure that made readers sit up in their seats and pay attention.I think I captured what I sought. I don't think anyone can read this anthology lying in bed an evening. If you can, I didn't do my job.

Return now to the days of true adventure! Join fierce warriors in savage battles of survival and supremacy as they face hordes of vile foes, vie against inner demons, or struggle before onslaughts of both. Enter the halls of heroic fantasy in awe and marvel at the deeds of the mighty. Close upon the heels of Howard's Conan, Moorcock's Elric, and Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser come Ehart's Ninshi, Heath's Brom, and Hawkes' Kabar. Unsheathe your sword and follow in their steps if you dare!

Get your copy of this great anthology at The Return of the Sword

Friday, April 18, 2008

Establishing a Brand Name by Theresa Chaze

Most writers think their work is done once the manuscript has been sent to the printer; it is the reason that so many books fail to live up to their potential. Even with a PR team or a traditional publishing house working back up, the bulk of the marketing and promotions is still the writer's responsibility and obligation. No one else knows the book’s potential or the uniqueness of the work better than the writer does.

PR and publishing marketing teams divide their attention among all their clients. However, their limited time and resources are given first to those authors and books that show the most potential. Therefore, it is up to the author to establish a brand name with the primary target market that will be easily expandable into the general readership. In many ways, publishing is just like finding any other job--in order to get a job you have to have experience; in order to get experience you have to have a job. In publishing, in order to be successful you have to have readers; in order to gain a readership you have to be successful.

By definition, a brand name is the general field or focus the product. Who does the product appeal to and why? For writers, it would be the genre. Although genres are intertwined, most books are labeled with one primary. It is the core the author works from not only when writing, but also for the marketing plan. It is this structure that allows the readership to know what to expect when they open the book. Stephen King’s novels are primarily horror, while Stephen Hawking is non-fiction physics. If the branding is effective, it will not only creating a niche market for the work, but for the author as well.

A major mistake most authors make is limiting their promotions to just their work. By creating bridges to similar topics or causes, the author expands their target readership to those who have similar interests but who would not normally read the genre. By allow the reader to see the back story behind the development or to get to know the person behind the work, the author creates more of a buzz.

If the author's blog is solely focused on promoting the book, it will rapidly become boring and will loose readership. However, if it also includes posts about the author's activities and interests, it will diversify the SEO keywords and expand who will be drawn to the blog. A fiction author cannot only write about her or his specific genre, but she or he can also generalize about related topics. A science fiction author could very easily talk about new technologies, NASA, research projects or write reviews of other science fiction novels. In addition, if an author is involved with social issues or caused, writing about these topics will not only make the author a real person, but also catch the search engines attention on those topics as well.

Home sites are different. Although they can have the blog listed, most author's sites focus entirely on the author and her or his work. Stephen King's site contains:

His works
Future works
Message Board

The last two listings contain more diverse information that Stephen King fans would find interesting. His page is continually updated and expanded with new information. By keeping it fresh, it insures return visitors as well as new ones, which have found the site through the search engines. The message board makes the site interactive, giving the fans an active role. Readers and fans cannot only ask questions of King but each other as well, which once again increases the number of times individuals return to the site.

In order for a book to be successful, the marketing plan needs to be kept current. Stagnation on any level can cause a good book to become lost in the sea of new releases. To continue the analogy, promoting a book needs to be like waves rolling onto the coast; even during calm seas, one wave is always followed by another, which keeps the shore continually saturated. Book promotions are the same. In order to keep the interest of fans and expand the readership, promotional material must remain fresh and constant. One wave of press release or ads, no matter how effective, will soon dry up if it isn’t quickly followed up by another new wave.

From Blank Page to Book Shelves--How to Successfully Create and Market Your Book explains not only more about marketing and promotion, but also has tips about writing and publishing. Currently, my ebook is available as an Amazon Kindle or on my website, for $7.00. Copies bought on the author's site are accompanied by a 345 page listing of over 2000 independent bookstores.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Anatomy of a Cozy Mystery by Bernadette Steele

A cozy murder mystery is a story that features an amateur sleuth and that takes place in a narrow setting such as a house, building or small community. When I was a child, I discovered the cozy murder mystery by watching the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries on television. I have always enjoyed murder mystery books, movies and television shows of any kind but my favorite has always been the cozy murder mystery featuring an amateur sleuth because I could always relate to the character, and I was able to imagine myself in a similar situation.
Because some people in the literary world look down on the cozy mystery because it is the type of book that will never win a Pulitzer Prize, the level of detail and skill required to write a cozy is not appreciated.

Although there is no official format for a cozy mystery, there are several best practices that can be gleaned from past works, and they are:

· Decide on the title of your cozy mystery

A great title will compel readers to pick up your book. It will also provide you with direction during the writing process. It is easier to become attached to something that has an identity. Thus, when your cozy mystery has a title, it will become a living and breathing entity for you.

· Know the ending of your cozy mystery and who committed the crime

Knowing the ending and the culprit at the beginning will help you to develop the plot and the characters.

· Define your clues and where they will be placed in the story
· Decide what information will be foreshadowed, will serve as red herrings and constitute clues.
· Create a sleuth that is:
1. An amateur and not a professional crime solver
2. Has an interesting occupation
3. Has the ability to travel widely and meet a variety of people
4. Gets involved in complicated personal relationships
5. Humanized with faults that are socially acceptable and that she needs to struggle with internally

· Develop a plot that:

1. Contains a well-designed plot that presents an intellectual puzzle for the reader and that provides the answer at the end of the book
2. Has the sleuth uncover the criminal through the emotional or intellectual examination of the scene, suspects and clues
3. Takes place close to home or within a confined community in which the victim, suspects and sleuth all know one another
4. Discreetly depicts violence
5. Discreetly depicts sex in romantic entanglements
· Create supporting characters who are:
1. Motivated by human traits of greed, jealously or revenge
2. Eccentric, exasperating or entertaining

A cozy is not about murder but rather it is an examination of human frailty presented as a brain stimulating puzzle where in the end the main character and justice prevail.

You can visit Bernadette at her website to learn more about her and her writing.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Tips to Organize Your Poetic Writing Life by Charlotte Barnes

(1) Always keep paper or a tape recorder handy to capture inspiration. Many a grand idea has been lost in the dark of night!
(2) Simplify your life. Remove physical and emotional clutter.
(3) Set clear, specific goals, such as ten poems in ten days, etc.
(4) Listen to motivational CD’s to help counteract negativity.
(5) Reward yourself when milestones are reached.
(6) Set boundaries—say “no.”
(7) Have a writing area or room and make it known when you want no disturbances.
(8) Organize your poems into categories such as “Poems to Definitely Keep,” “Possibilities—Need Work,” or “Trash.”
(9) Use an accordion file or other filing system—just for poetry.
(10) Share your poetry with supportive friends.

You can visit her website at or her blog at

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

It's the Characters by David H. Brown

For us fiction writers our characters most often come from real life. So how do we fictionalize them? Much of my personal writing in HONOR DUE is autobiographical in nature and reflects the folks I've known who have made an impression on me. It sure helps to have lived a varied life and paid attention to the people in it.

From being the son of missionary parents with a lot of travel around the Ring of Fire parts of the world and with Uncle Sam-- all over Europe and the Middle East before 2 tours in Vietnam, I've been a jack of all trades in everything from day laborer hauling railroad ties off ship at Seward, Alaska to the Director of Security for Loomis when anti-hijacking measures went into effect back in '73. Also drove Armored Car, joined the Anchorage Police force and worked undercover for drugs and vice. The list goes on: Professional Trapper; Dog Sledder; Homesteader; Truck Driver; General Contractor; Minister; Editor; Writer; Speaker; Restaurateur; Movie Producer; Antique Restoration Specialist; Personal Care Worker (which my wife wrote about in her own book "STANDING THE WATCH: The Greatest Gift" which will be out in May); PC Repair Specialist; Computer Instructor; Book Reviewer; Webmaster and Web Designer.

Many of the editors and authors I've known over the years told me to write what I know. So I do. The rub is how to create fictional characters out of all that.

Sometimes it's easy. I start with the memory of a certain person. An image or caricature will appear in my mind's eye. Physical traits will be exaggerated or diminished. A voice softened or given more bluster. Eye color or motion is brought into focus. 'As his soft voice spoke those cruel words, his empty blue eyes flitted about like a termite taking wing on a hot summer day.' Voila! A character is born, needing only to be filled out. In most cases the original person wouldn't recognize themselves.

Other characters come from an amalgamation. If the character is to be strong, I pull those points from several people I remember place them into a setting and fit them together. Weak, then the opposite.

One thing I find tremendously helpful is opening a file on each character and spending time with them. Putting in a few hours or several days with each in the setting in which I wish to be. I build out their physical characteristics, language, type of work they do, who their family relations are, where they live, even to their clothes and the kind of food they like. I talk to them, make up regular conversations with them about their lives. (Pssst... never do this out loud.) I think of the process much like building an intelligence dossier on a subject. I do this until that character is as real to me as the family that lives down the road or the girl I've watched grow up who now works at the deli counter. When I reach the point where I'm going to put them in the story, I usually really like or detest them, in which case I kill them. Either way I know the reader is going to feel much the same way... at least I hope so.

Remember, it's fiction and we're all members in good standing in the Liars Club of Writing. However, much is real and believable, and that I try to always keep in mind.

Find out more about David and Honor Due at his website.

Monday, March 31, 2008

10 Guidelines for Aspiring Speculative Fiction Authors

This month I have the distinct honor of promoting The Return of the Sword, An Anthology of Heroic Adventure. This is such a great anthology and I've discovered several new favorite authors.

One of these new favorites is Robert Rhodes. Today, he shares some great tips that not only apply to aspiring speculative fiction authors of authors of any genre. Thanks so much!

10 Guidelines for Aspiring Speculative Fiction Authors by Robert Rhodes

1. Read. Read quality speculative and non-speculative fiction to know what has and hasn’t been done, to learn from others’ craftsmanship, and to be inspired.

2. Pay attention and take notes. Ideas may strike at any time. Have quick access to a notepad and pencil, and use them before the real world intrudes. (A draft message in an email account may also work.)

3. Master the basics. Understand the rules of composition. When necessary, consult a dictionary or manual such as The Elements of Style (Strunk & White), but only dust off a thesaurus as a last resort. Remember that spell-checking software can’t, for egg sample, bee trusted.

4. Create a complete, vivid story. Almost all good stories, speculative or not, integrate these elements: (1) a compelling character (2) in a fascinating setting (3) overcoming vast difficulties (4) by his or her own efforts and (5) achieving a worthwhile goal. (This guideline is a paraphrased summary of the excellent article “What Is A Short Story?” by Marion Zimmer Bradley, found on the website of her literary works trust: .)

5. Reach for the stars. Write one of the very best stories you’ve ever read. Even if the final work falls just short, it will still be outstanding (unless you just read junk).

6. Beware of infatuation. After initially completing a story, celebrate—then step away and go work on another story or in the real world. Once you stop wanting to admire your immortal prose, you may have the emotional distance needed to revise it mercilessly.

7. Be open to criticism. Identify a handful of skilled and honest proofreaders, and carefully consider their comments. At the same time, develop the craftsmanship, instinct, and confidence to be the best and final judge of your work.

8. Be—or pretend to be—a professional. Carefully identify viable markets for your story. (A good starting point is Follow submission guidelines to the letter. Understand standard manuscript format or the alternative requested. Proofread any cover letter, and keep it brief. Resist the temptations to brag to or flatter the editor or make the physical manuscript “stand out” (e.g., by using colored envelopes/paper/ink/font). The story will speak for itself; everything else should be black and white and clean to the point of starkness. Never reply to a rejection notice unless it was extremely gracious or helpful, in which case you may send a brief thank-you note.

9. Reward yourself. If your purpose is simply to write for yourself or your friends, fair enough. If your purpose is to be read widely, remember that money should always flow to authors in exchange for their difficult work. Accordingly, submit your work only to markets that pay real money. (Markets that only offer “exposure” don’t even offer that, as most readers use their time to read authors who are good enough to be paid, and no one is trolling those markets to discover new talent.) Avoid vanity presses and self-proclaimed agents who want money up front. Read contracts carefully, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

10. Never, never, never quit. The first story you write will probably not be the first story you publish. Keep reading, writing, and submitting. If you have a good story that’s “just not right” for one market, submit to another within three days. Publishers, editors, and agents don’t want to keep genius undiscovered; they want to sell as many books as possible and usually have a fair sense of what will sell. For better or worse, reading tastes are what they are, and the marketplace has never been more competitive. But if you write an incredible story, it will almost certainly sell. If it doesn’t, give the industry—not yourself—the benefit of the doubt, and keep reading, writing, and submitting until your art is too powerful to be ignored. Writing well is ridiculously difficult and demands talent and persistence. Between the two, persistence is arguably more important—and the trait everyone can have. Now go write.


Robert Rhodes is a book reviewer and author whose fiction has been accepted by markets including Black Gate and Flashing Swords Press. He is also a co-author of “The Sword in the Mirror: A Century of Sword & Sorcery”, forthcoming in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Contemporary Popular American Literature. He can be contacted by or on And be sure to check out his blog.

For more information about The Return of the Sword or to purchase click here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Advice for New Writers by Thomas Bounds

Do you have something to tell and even explain? Or an experience that you want to share?

The novice writer is the writer that writes his or her mind. So just sit down or stand up and write. Write what makes you feel good, write what makes you feel scared, write what makes you laugh or write what makes you cry. Write what your heart desires.

My advice is get comfortable and make sure your keyboard is a good one, so your hands and fingertips do not cramp up on you.

I sat down to write but was not sure how I was going to tackle it and before I knew it within a few hours I had completed my first draft. That was a step I never thought I could get to.

My mind kept telling me to do it, but my schedule kept showing me I could not. Well, once you figure out what time of the day you want to sit down to write, schedule it on your calendar and keep that appointment. It is one worth keeping. My time seems to fly by like nobody’s business but once you make that choice to do it, it feels good; and then it gets going and once you get to a point that it reads well it feels even better.

The more you write the more you care and it becomes a part of you. Take care of it and read it and read it again from the end to the beginning; it will help you spot errors.

Once you have done that, get your nerve up and send it to your parents or friends. They will always tell you the good things in a way they will help boost your efforts and make you feel that what you have written is worth it. Then once they have brought you back down make the changes they have brought to your attention and then take the next step and find an editor and listen to their advice. Remember, it is your story and you are telling it; but with good advice it can become a story that people read and like.

I wish you all the best in your efforts to write.

Have fun and share your mind.

In Christ,

Thomas Wade Bounds
Choices, My Secrets

Visit his website!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Writing Histoical Fiction by Catherine Delors

My first two novels, Mistress of the Revolution and For the King, are historicals. The third one, still in the works, will be as well.

Sarah Johnson, in an article posted in the website of the Historical Novel Society, points out that, in the eyes of some, historical fiction as a genre carries a stigma. Reviewers, she writes, whenever they happen upon a historical novel they love, hasten to shoehorn it into another category: literary fiction, women’s fiction, romance. Anything but historical fiction.

I am afraid Sarah is right. My publicist told me that there was little chance of the major metropolitan newspaper in my area ever reviewing Mistress of the Revolution, though I am a local writer. “It just doesn’t cover historical fiction in its book section,” she explained. Oh! Pardon me for asking.

So being a historical fiction author would be akin to some form of literary leprosy? I did not know that when I began writing Mistress of the Revolution, nor would it have stopped me. I was sure that my first novel had to be a historical. For one thing, I love history. The tremendous amount of research I - rightly – anticipated did not deter me. And indeed the research was half of the fun, and probably more than half of the work involved in writing the novel.

But there was another reason beyond my love for history. Writing historical fiction also helped me exorcise the past, my family’s and my own. My heroine, Gabrielle de Montserrat, is entirely fictional, but she could have been my distant ancestor. It was fascinating to try and imagine the challenges the women of my family faced, or could have faced in the 18th century.

A friend asked me the other day: “So when are you going to write something set in the present? Why do you hide behind history to say the things you want to say?” Well, novelists, unlike memoirists, always hide, even when they tell their own story. They hide behind fictional characters, behind the plot they weave. So what if it pleases them to add yet another layer of distance, a temporal one, to their books?

I would like to point out that, in Europe, a few scholars do write historical fiction. Chantal Thomas, a leading historian, wrote Farewell My Queen, a novel of Marie-Antoinette. Not only was she not disgraced within academia, but she went on to win one of France’s major literary prizes, the Prix Fémina, for that beautiful book. Likewise, Umberto Eco, medievalist, semiotician and philosopher, penned The Name of the Rose. Does it bother me to write in the same genre as these authors? Not a bit.

Find out more about Catherine and her work at her website.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Creating an Extreme Character in Fiction by Chris Hoare

Do you remember, not too long ago, when in fiction, on TV, and in movies a female character involved in dangerous action was portrayed as timid and terrified? Not universally, I admit, but that was generally the way that a woman in a dangerous situation was expected to be. What damned rot.

When the idea for the protagonist in my Iskander stories grew in my mind I decided that Gisel Matah would be as tough, as capable, and as reckless as any James Bond. Over the top? Perhaps, but she wasn’t going to back down to anyone – and she was never going to be patronized. Perhaps by other characters, males who were about to get their comeuppance, but never by the author.

She needed an appropriate history to justify these abilities – especially as in the start of the series she’s a sixteen-year-old starship brat. (No, you won’t have seen that in print yet. I rewrote the early stories and Arrival, the earliest in story chronology, is due out this July.) Gisel had a stormy upbringing in the last years of the 22nd century – child of an Anglo-Indian engineer (an egotistical man from a privileged background) and a Greek medical doctor (daughter of a UN trade commissioner and no slouch in the ego department either) – in Mumbai, the Peloponnese, and London.

The couple met in Mumbai, while Gina visited her parents in the city where her father was posted. After a short and stormy courtship the couple married, their first child, a son named Robert, was born just six months later. Gisel was the second child and soon after her birth the first rifts in the marriage began. Gisel was nearly five when Gina took off to practice medicine in a London hospital – the son went into the care of the Matah family in Mumbai, the little girl went to her Greek grandmother at Kalamata. Gisel’s ability with languages really began here, because by the time the Matah’s reconciled and she was moved back to Mumbai, now 9 years old, she could speak Greek, English and Hindi.

The private school she attended in Mumbai decided she needed an athletic discipline to tame her rebelliousness. They placed her in gymnastics competition and she won several team and individual medals. She became not only an accomplished gymnast but soon absorbed enough of the training and coaching that went with it she could later become the personal trainer aboard the starship Iskander.

When she was 13, her parents split again and Gisel went with her mother to London, where Gina became a resident at Guys Hospital. Gisel was developing into a young woman at this time, and so the growth spurt brought the end to her competition gymnastics. She joined a fencing club and by the time she left London to return to Mumbai she was short-listed as a junior for Olympic Team training.

Okay, you get the idea. These are background requirements that account for many of her accomplishments in the stories – her deadly swordfighting, her agility, and her proficiency with languages. I haven’t gone into as much depth with her psychological makeup, but her rebelliousness and mental toughness come from her parents’ provision of such a stormy home life. Somewhere along the way, Gisel found a spiritual mentor who taught her not only the power of meditation but the selflessness and calm courage of Eastern philosophy. When extreme action is called for she uses her own aikido method to enter ‘the warrior art of the sword’. The result of this training and less than ideal childhood is the Gisel Matah of “Deadly Enterprise” and “The Wildcat’s Victory” – a young woman who never backs down, and who is the equal of any man because she has to be twice as good.

The latest Gisel Matah story is The Wildcat’s Victory. On the Double Dragon website at --
and on Amazon as a POD paperback at –

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Writing for Teens by Richard Dudum

Richard Dudum, author of What Your Mother Never Told You is touring this month with Pump Up Your Books Promotion. When asked about writing for teens, here's what he had to say.
"Teenagers are full of life, unlimited energy, passion, and hope. They are also exceptionally intelligent. If given the proper tools, strategies, and encouragement they can accomplish almost anything they set their mind to accomplish.

Teens are also well aware when adults dodge, avoid, or talk around issues. They may find us amusing when we ignore or avoid sensitive topics. They also have no tolerance (and often no respect) for adults who talk down to them, dictate and/or are hypocrites and ask them to “do what I say, not what I do.”

In addition, teens are strong minded and often don’t appreciate being told what to do. If however, they are approached in the right way, at their level, on their terms, maybe even using a bit of their language, they may become open to our thoughts, suggestions and encouragement. And with that opening, we as parents can hope to make them more aware of themselves, their environment, who they are, and who they want to be. That is what I have tried to accomplish in “What Your Mother Never Told You: A Survival Guide For Teenage Girls.”
You can find more information about Richard and his book at his website.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ten Tips for Breaking into the Mystery Genre by Tinishi Johnson

I’ve always loved a good mystery, whether it be a book, a TV show or a movie. Here are ten tips I’ve found beneficial to breaking into the mystery genre.

1. Read mysteries, old and new. There are some wonderfully written mysteries out there. Read books from some of the greatest mystery authors. Some of my favorite mystery authors are Walter Mosley, Sandra Brown. I especially love John Grisham and James Peterson.

2. Associate yourself with other mystery authors. You could easily join a Yahoo group or find a book club, and get to know others who enjoy writing or reading mystery.

3. Watch mystery TV shows and movies. I love watching mysteries on television. One of my favorite TV shows are Law and Order, Monk and CSI. I also still watch the old Alfred Hitchcock shows.

4. Your plot is everything in a mystery. A mystery usually follows a certain type of structure. Think of it as figuring out how to piece together a puzzle. You’ll have clues, twists, crime, and the whodunit all wrapped together. You need to keep your reader interested and edging for more.

5. Take a tour at a police station, or better yet, interview a police officer or a detective. I have not personally done this, but am thinking about this for my next book. I have talked with authors who have interviewed a police officer to get some insight into piecing together a scene in their book.

6. Watch the mystery and crime shows of real life events – like on the Discovery channel. I really enjoy watching some of the real stories told of real life killers, murderers and so forth. And what I enjoy even more, is watching the police, detectives and Forensic Science piece together what happened and how the crime was solved. It would be worth while to check out the Discovery channel, both on TV and online

7. Why not play a game or two of Clue. I always enjoyed playing this game as a child. It really got your mind thinking, and you got better the more often you played.

8. To learn the basics of a mystery, you can always pick up a children’s mystery book. It could count as an easy, but interesting read.

9. Check out There are lots of resources - online mysteries, games, authors, books, shows, movies, etc.

10. And lastly, write everyday, or almost everyday. Your writing only gets better if you put pen to paper. Practice makes perfect.

Tinisha is the author of Searchable Whereabouts. You can find more about her and her writing at her website.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

History's Mysteries by Linda Kay Silva

I became interested in the idea of past lives after I had mine read on a whim. I never really believed in any of that so-called mumbo-jumbo, having been raised by Fundamentalist parents, so I wasn’t really expecting a complete conversion. I gave nothing away to the psychic as I sat down, but for the next 15 minutes, she said things about me that made me sit up and say, “Whoa.”

She said I had been a warrior in several lives (I have a warrior tattoo on my back.)

She said I spent most of my lives in Germany (I became fluent in German in high school after only two years…I found it really easy)

She said (and this one rocked me) the reason I hated the circus was because I died in a tragic fall.
(As it is, I have always hated the circus. I hate the smells, I hate clowns. I hate everything about them, but I’ve never been. When I was 8, my parents tried to take me, but I kicked and screamed and refused to go. I was afraid then. I still have never gone)

She said I have a hero complex and have lived 83 lives. She asked me if I had ever been in a profession like law enforcement or a fire department. (I was once a cop).

To say I was blown away would be an understatement. I was not, however, convinced. (Fundamentalist roots grow deeply). So, a few months, a different city, and a new psychic later, I went again. Only this time, I dressed in a manner to throw her off any visual cues. She didn’t need any. She, too, brought up the warrior and Germany. She said I had live d 82 lives, and that the reason I have an affinity for animals and nature was a druidic past. (I have this oddly natural ability to calm animals that won’t go near others).

I was convinced…and so I starting thinking…it made so much more sense to me that we are here, we learn something, we grow, and we take that knowledge with us to the next life, which, by the way, isn’t always forward. I know, I know, I sound like a crazy person, but did you know that DaVinci invented the parachute? Why on earth would a man invent something that wouldn’t really be needed for over 400 more years? Think of all the inventors and scientists who were so far ahead of their time. Think of history’s greatest artists; people who creating things or had ideas that were considered heretical. Where did they get those ideas?

In my novel, Across Time, I call those residual memories; memories from lives already lived. How else can we explain the 5 and 6 year old music prodigies who can play Bach and Beethoven? How else can we understand déjà vu, love at first sight, or the numerous coma patients who wake up speaking a foreign language they never studied? Residual memories…like those small pieces of dust you can see in a shaft of sunlight exist in all of us. Some of us are able to recall these, but most of us ignore them. We chalk them up to something, anything other than a past life memory. Unfortunately, in our society, what can’t be proven by science we call miracles. There’s nothing miraculous about residual memories. They’re there. We need only not discount them in order to learn from them.

Transformed, I started wondering what would happen if a character could go back to one of those times…not physically, of course, but with her soul. What would she learn? How would her soul assimilate into the individual from a certain time?

And that was when I knew I would be able to write a series that allowed me to play with my passion of history. What we have to remember is that the victorious are the ones who record history, not the vanquished. That means so much of what we have learned is skewed, slanted, and basically, not always a true account. So much of history is someone’s perceptions of what happened. Those perceptions (or misperceptions as they commonly are) are my wiggle room. I can slide Jessie into situations where she can be a player in history. She doesn’t actually change the future; she creates it by her involvement in the past.

According to historians, Queen Boudicca of the Iceni suddenly turned her army around. No one knows why. I can take liberties with this and GIVE the reason why: Jessie. There are so many gaps and holes in history, and that’s where Jessie makes the difference. The outcome remains the same, but HOW the outcome got there…well…that’s my playground. Those cracks are where my characters linger, creating the future. I can dabble in the historical arena and reach out and manipulate history’s mysteries without changing what we think we know.

Having my past lives read opened my mind to so many possibilities in my writing; and by opening my mind, my heart soon followed, and Jessie Ferguson, Cate McEwen, and Spencer Morgan arose from the depths in me to create characters I hope will enchant my readers and help them discover the lives they may have lead and the individuals they may have loved. When they finish the novel, I hope they have the answer to the question: If one of your past lives came to you for help in saving your soul mate, would you have the courage to go?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

10 Tips for Tapping Into Your Inner Muse

As I wrote in my InnerGoddess newsletter last week: There are several approaches you can take (to begin writing your life story), even if you don't consider yourself a "writer"... Herewith are 10 tips for tapping into your inner muse.

1. Write a short story about yourself in the third person, making yourself the heroine of the amazing adventure that has been your life so far;

2. Write short journal entries before you go to sleep every night, focussing on the "best thing that happened to me today";

3. Release any residual pain surrounding old injuries by rewriting the story with a new outcome;

4. Start a gratitude journal and record every little thing that makes you go mmmmmm;

5. Keep lists and add to them at random times during the day – the list of “things that go unnoticed”, for example, or “songs that remind me of a time and a place”;

6. Declare war… against clutter. Keep your desk clean and your space sacred. Same goes for your writing – there is as much satisfaction to be found in simplicity as there is in resolving complexity.

7. This is a tip from my next book, The Goddess Diet ( Manifest your Natural Healer – Sit and look into the mirror as though having a conversation with the person in the reflection. Actually have a conversation with that person via ESP.

8. This tip comes from Just like you'd develop a business plan … you might also see your Self as a self-contained and prosperous entity. Brainstorm such questions as: What do I stand for? What makes me happy? What makes me feel fulfilled? Where are my perfections? What strengths do I have to share? And so on. Think of your questions and answers as personal "rules of engagement" for becoming goddess.

9 Use affirmations regularly and with conviction. There are heaps of ideas to get you started at

10. This tip comes from Say Yeeee-haaaaaaaaaaaa… a lot. Screaming “yeeee-haaaaaaaaaaa” (Dukes of Hazzard style), helps lubricate your voice so that words can flow easier. It also helps get your car across impossible crevices and over unruly crates.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Tips on Writing Military Fiction by William Hay

Get to know your local library.

Research is key in writing fiction about the military. As you read on, the underlying notion in my list of tips is: research and more research. This is not a new notion for writers. Most ideas and plots tend to come from some personal experience or something we’ve watched or heard which has intrigued us so much a story emerges. When writing fiction about the military, particularly if you had no personal experience to dip into, and that would include pretty much all of us when the story takes on an historical venue, get used to research and become comfortable at your local library.

While writing or preparing to write my Historical Fiction, all of which have been about military conflict, I’ve utilized the Canadian War Museum’s website and searched the catalogues for books and/or documents. Anything was up for loan through my local library. It’s remarkable what you can find if you spend time search the resources your own nation offers via their Archives or other government agencies. Bureaucracy can be a wonderful thing if you let it work for you!

Know something about the military before writing about it.

Ever watch a television show or movie which involves subject matter to which you have thorough knowledge and say: “They’d never do that!” or “That’s not how it happens!” As a former police officer with sixteen years experience, five of which were in Crime Scene Investigation (yes, ‘CSI’), it happens to me ALL THE TIME!

The same problem persists in military fiction. If you’re writing about the military you have to get to know it. The best writers of military fiction are previous military personnel, because there’s a jargon; an additude among military men and women which is difficult to reproduce unless you’ve been part of it.

Few Hollywood movies have got it right, with the exception of a few, ‘Platoon’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ would be among them. In both cases the actors had to take several weeks of training and lived as a soldier for a time. This is hardly an option for most of us, so research is best. When in doubt, ask questions from military people; they are more than happy to steer you in the right direction.

Become intimate with the era you’re story takes place.

It’s not enough to grab a book or two about the Boer War; the American Civil War; the War of 1812 or what ever time period you’re novel takes place. As a writer, you need to look beyond the immediate subject and get to know the time in history it took place. You must get to know the era of which you are writing intimately. How did they talk; what kind of tobacco did they smoke; was beer the drink of choice or was whiskey?

I guarantee writers about the American Civil War are thoroughly versed on the era, as there is such a wealth of material on the subject and a steady flow of fiction writers on the horizon. This aspect of the subject is very important because adding small tidbits of information throughout your story, enriches it and aids you in developing your characters. Without the small historical details, your story will be like a shell of a building, without colour or decorations.

Research the weapons of the period.

This might seem a ‘no-brainer’, but remarkably, I’ve come across novels which fail to meet this all important criteria. Just as you spend time developing the story with your detailed knowledge of the era you’re writing about, as a military novel, you must also obtain proficient knowledge of the weapons of war being used by your characters.

To use a modern example, anyone of you unfortunate enough to have seen ‘Rambo’, (the original), will recall the last scene where Stallone acts dead in the pilot’s seat of the helicopter he and his freed captives are in. When the ‘bad guy’, lands his own helicopter to check out his kill, Stallone suddenly sits up and fires a bazooka at his enemy. This might not be a problem for some viewers, but for us military types, we expected to see the men behind him cooked, not to mention the rear of the helicopter blown away. A bazooka has a substantial blow-back radius with explosive consequences for anything and anyone behind it. Instead he turns and smiles at the men sitting in this blast radius, in perfect health incidentally and flies away in what should have been a crippled helicopter. By not doing your homework, such mistakes can ruin a story, (not that ‘Rambo’ needed much help).

As writers we see things visually and have been adulterated by what we’ve watched on movies or television, which, I hate to say, has perverted science in so many ways for the sake of eye-candy. It is for this reason, getting to know historic weapons can be an arduous task. For example, a building hit by a cannon ball, does not explode which I’ve often observed on depicted; cannon balls are solid metal and generally smash their targets. There are weapons from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century that do explode, but they could be unreliable and often very dangerous to use.

Use personal accounts as a starting point.

History tells us one thing about people: we don’t learn from our previous mistakes. Our politicians and generals prove this fact constantly. While writing military fiction, historical or not, search out publications or biographies detailing personal accounts from soldiers or persons in the war or military action you’re writing about.

While writing ‘The Originals’, a novel about Canadians in the First World War, I tapped into the wealth of personal accounts available to help me paint, in graphic detail, the scene of the battles the soldiers faced in Belgium and France. As a writer, I imagine my stories as a movie and make every attempt to describe the scene visually. There is a danger for an author if you only have modern movies and television as an example of military conflict. The best method of leaning what it’s like in an artillery barrage, perhaps on a warship during a sea battle or flying a bombing mission somewhere of Europe, is from those who actually did it.

They can be an excellent resource, because you will often find more from personal accounts than just description of battles. I find myself relying heavily on them to learn about the era, the additude of the soldiers and their officers. These accounts offer a window of this world your novel depicts the official reports are unable to provide. All of which you can use to further enrich the details of your novel.

Should you be true to reality or your story?

As writers we have to make a decision whether we are to be true to the story we are writing or to the reality of the subject matter the story is about. My friends and family can’t understand why I’ve not written crime fiction; given my past experience as a Police Officer and a Crime Scene Investigator. One such person is a friend of mine who is also an aspiring author of crime novels. He called me up one day and asked if I could review one such novel for technical accuracy. He asked questions like: “Can this happen?” or “Is this realistic?” My answer to him was the same I give to everyone who can’t get over why I haven’t dove into Crime writing. That is: “Reality is far less interesting than fiction.” I’ll argue that statement to my grave.

Frankly, I fear writing a crime novel, because I think it’ll stink. It would be a constant struggle for me since I know Police work is 98% boredom and 2% panic. No one wants to read about the boredom, so how do you write a whole novel about 2% of the job? Writing military fiction placed me in a similar quandary because I’m an avid historian and relish telling it, like-it-was. But I’m also a writer and want my novels to be page turners.

The truth is reality can be interesting if you know how to put a spin on it. With ‘The Originals’, I selected actual events which occurred to the Battalion I immediately identified as worthy for any story. Slowly I collected a list of events, in chronological order and used them as some of the high points that the reader experiences through the main character and generally avoided most of the low periods or “boring-stuff”. Have I compromised reality by doing this? No. What I’ve done is found that happy-place between fiction and reality we all strive toward. Each situation will differ, but by careful design, you can remain true to both reality and your story.

Thanks for reading! Take care and I look forward to seeing you in print!

William Hay

Friday, February 15, 2008

Questions at a Reading by Camille Marchetta

Recently, I did a reading of my novel, THE RIVER, BY MOONLIGHT, at a Barnes & Noble in Edgewater, N.J. It was a new experience for me. I've had cable and newspaper interviews in the past, made one speech years ago before a large group, and done several roundtable discussions with small ones. I've even appeared (briefly) in some documentaries to do with my work in television; but I'm always far more comfortable alone in my office, at my computer, than at a public event; and this was my first reading in a bookstore. I was a little apprehensive about it.

I prepared a few, a very few, introductory remarks, including all the necessary expressions of gratitude, the agenda (so that everyone would know what they were in for and for how long), a synopsis of the book, and lead-ins to each of the four excerpts. A friend had helped me select those, she opting for brevity and maximum drama, and I for sections that were self-contained, needing a minimum amount of explanation

There was a nice crowd present, larger than expected, in a small space, with some new faces among the familiar ones of family and friends who had come to offer support. But of course things didn't go exactly according to plan. The manager who had organized the event, and to whom I was enormously grateful, walked off before I could thank her and then returned after I had launched into the rest of my remarks, meaning I had to stop, say thanks, and then try to pick up where I'd left off. And as I'd earlier turned down a glass of water (what was I thinking?), I was plagued by a dry mouth through the entire event. Still, I managed to get through the readings, which I'd rehearsed endlessly, without any serious mishap. And when I finished, I asked for questions.

Because of my background in television, the majority of those I'm usually asked have to do with Dallas and Dynasty, with "Who Shot J.R.?" and the Moldavian Massacre (there's some wonderful footage of the latter on uTube), shows I worked on in one capacity or another. This time, however, possibly because my television history was not mentioned in the publicity for the event, all questions referred to my book.

THE RIVER, BY MOONLIGHT is set in New York City and the Hudson River Valley in 1917, just as the United States is about to enter the war in Europe. It deals with the death of a young woman, a talented artist, and the effect of it on her family and friends.

What had prompted me to set the book in that era? people wanted to know; which locations were real, which fictional? how much research had I done? how long had it taken to complete a first draft? that sort of thing; and, finally, because several people had read my previous novels, LOVERS AND FRIENDS and THE WIVES OF FRANKIE FERRARO, why was this new book so different from the preceding two?

Frankly, I don't think it is. Though my books always spring from specific characters and events, all of them revolve around ideas and issues and themes that matter to me, that I think are important, that I wish to explore. I never work from an outline. Once I know the beginning of the story, and its climax, once I find its "voice", I just start writing. Structure develops as I go along; characters put in an appearance as needed. From time to time, of course, I stop, take stock, and make corrections when things on rereading seem "wrong" somehow. But mostly I just keep going until I get to the end. Then, in subsequent drafts, I polish, and polish some more. And always I try, no matter how serious the issues involved, to make the book as easy a read as possible.

I'm willing to entertain the notion that at times I might do all this better than at others, but I'm not convinced of it. If my process is always the same, why wouldn't the results be? The "break-out book" we so often encounter, is it really better than the one that came before, or will come after? I'm not sure. But what I think is that readers' reactions have less to do with how skilful an author has been than with how meaningful the issues and themes of any given novel are to them. I think they respond first to what it's about and then to how it's written - it's structure, its style, its voice.

What I tried to explain at the reading is that, to my mind, a novel set in 1917 is of necessity going to sound quite different from one set in the 1960s, the period of my first two books; that the characters also dictate its tone; but that those differences seem to me to be quite superficial.

No no no, the questioners protested. That wasn't it. The differences, they insisted, went far deeper than that.

Well, never argue (or at least not for too long and only in fun) with your public, I always say. It's wonderful that they've taken the time to read your book, experience it, respond to it. If they see things in it that you don't, that's all to the good (except when it's to the bad – as with critics from time to time: but that's another story). What a reader brings to a novel can enrich and expand it in ways that an author can never anticipate. If people are certain this novel is so different from its predecessors, who am I to disagree?

Eventually, the bookstore manager reappeared and put an end to the discussion. My arguments had changed no minds. The audience went away convinced they were right. I came away wondering. And I still am.

Camille Marchetta

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Romance by LaConnie Taylor Jones

The word romance can be defined in several ways — a brief, intense love affair, the sexual love between two people, a fascination with something or even excitement. However, most people associate the term romance with the collection of love stories, the genre. There’s another definition that best describes how I define romance and the role it played in my road to publication — the spirit of adventure.

Aaah…the spirit of adventure! For me, this translates into heroic achievement because never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that combining two of my greatest passions in life would lead to the completion of two full-length novels. A challenge from my husband made me seize the opportunity to blend my enthusiasm for teaching health, social responsibility and social justice together with my love for reading the romance genre.

For over twenty-five years, I was content to be a reader. Then in the summer of 2003, something amazing happened. The enthusiasm for my career coupled with the experiences I’d gained over the years sparked a multitude of storylines and another romance began to blossom. I decided to test the waters to see if I could actually craft my skill as a health educator with my passion for reading. In the summer of 2003, I decided to roll the dice and become a romance writer and I’ve never looked back.

Is there a romance you long to embrace that’s lying dormant inside of you? I bet there is and would love for you to share it.

Remember, romance - it’s more than a genre.

Check out LaConnie’s website at to see how you can win a $100 gift certificate to!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tips for Writing a Mystery

First, you need to decide exactly what type mystery you are planning to write. Hopefully you’ve read enough crime novels (seems to be the preferred name for the genre these days) to know what kind of novel you are going to write. To name a few: the private eye novel, amateur detective, usually someone with an interesting or unusual profession, can be hard-boiled or a cozy, the police procedural, romantic suspense, woman in jeopardy (think Mary Higgins Clark),
historical mysteries–can be a combination of any of the above, thriller, when an innocent becomes involved, either by accident or coincidence, in dangerous events beyond his or her control (think Alfred Hitchcock movies), suspense, when the protagonist is in a constant and increasing state of danger.

Mysteries of earlier times were more interested in the hero solving the crime, now are as interested in the emotional impact of the crime of the hero and his or her private life. You have to create a credible protagonist to help the reader suspend disbelief. Though you must know the back story of your characters, you don’t necessarily have to tell it all. Bits and pieces should come out–maybe internally. Don’t lump it all together in one place. Don’t forget the villains–they should have history and issues also.

Here’s a check list of what you need to know about the book you’re going to write:
The Crime
Scene of the Crime
Suspects and Motives
Where everyone was at the time of the murder; alibis.
Conflict that led to the crime
Conflict that follows the crime and leads to the solution.
Climax, the emotional high point of the novel.
Solution or resolution

Remember it’s not necessary to only write about what you know, but what you don’t know, you need to find out about.

Use your imagination, create unusual characters and interesting settings, either real or ones you’ve made up.

Once you’ve finished, print the manuscript out and go over it carefully. Make sure you tied up the loose ends and things progress in a logical manner. After that, have someone else edited it for you, someone who knows how to edit–preferably someone who reads and understands the mystery genre.

And yes, you can do something different as long as it works. My latest book, Smell of Death, is a police procedural, but there are several crimes in the book that must be solved. In this particular series, I wanted to show how the job affects the family and family life affects the job.

Smell of Death is authored by F. M. Meredith, a.k.a. Marilyn Meredith, available at and

Friday, February 08, 2008

Loving the Love Scene by Ashlyn Chase

Erotic romance authors are often asked how they write hot love scenes. It ain’t easy! In fact, it’s one of the hardest things to write well. I happen to write erotic comedy but when it comes to sex, I’m deadly serious about it.

Here are a few tips to writing a convincing love scene. First of all, try to be sure your characters aren’t as shallow as this: “I like your body, let’s have sex.” It’s great to have sexual attraction between the hero and heroine from the get-go, but to make a love or sex scene convincing, we need do a little better than that.

I like to have one of them do something special for the other to show they care. That usually happens in real life. Dinner and a movie is classic but classic can be cliché. As imaginative writers, we can and should be inventive. Maybe he knows she likes puzzles so he pulls out a 1,000-piece puzzle and invites her over to put it together. That says a couple of things. One: I want to spend time with you—lots of time. And, two: I’m paying attention to your likes and dislikes—I’ll meet your needs.

Of course in an erotic romance, the couple won’t get beyond putting together the outer border before they wind up tangled in the sheets. In order for that to happen, especially in a short story, the writer often makes them familiar with each other beforehand from their workplace, mutual friends, or being stuck in a space capsule together for months. And, of course, they’ve been burning for each other too long as it is.

One of the hardest things for the erotic romance writer to do is make each encounter feel like it’s the best, most powerful, over-the-top sex your POV character has ever experienced. In order satisfy the avid erotic romance reader’s expectations, you have to get right into that character’s body and describe sensations that often defy description. You’ll find yourself typing words like: arching, moaning, clenching, whimpering, “Oh God, oh God!” pummeling, pounding, stiffening, exploding, convulsing, gasping, rasping “I can’t take anymore,” shuddering, fluttering, shivering, quivering, bucking, and… Well, you get the idea. The reader must be swept away, just like the character.

For the writer to put together a scene like that, and to make it different every time, may take a lot of thought and frequent ice water breaks. For a reader to consider it a successful scene, she must not be able to put the book down. Thus, it might take you all afternoon to write something the reader will devour in a couple of minutes.

Do you need to have a current love life to write erotic romance? No. I think it helps, but I know some single erotica writers who can make you want to wear oven mitts to turn the pages! I even know a virgin who won a contest with her love scene and subsequently published her story. But if you have a regular bed partner, take advantage of it. Tune out the noise in your head and concentrate on the moment. I can’t tell you how many erotic romance authors refer to their significant other as their “research assistant.”

In either case, I think the best way to write any romance is to read romance. To write hot romance, read hot romance. The next time someone implies that writing romance is easy, dare them to write a love scene—preferably one that makes you drool, sweat and attack your boy toy.

Visit Ash at her website or blog. And don't forget Ash will be stopping by StoryCrafters on the 13th to answer any questions you have.