Monday, September 29, 2014

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from September 22-26

5. "Strategies: 11 Tips for Freelance Success" on USA Today (Rhonda Abrams)


Freelancing is a tough gig. Anybody who's dabbled in the field knows that. Here are eleven lesser-known tips --- or tips you already knew; you just didn't really think about --- to get the most out of your decision to freelance. From pre-planning to specializing to getting out there on social media, this wisdom is invaluable.

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4. "Emma Thompson on Her Writing Process: A Yoga Mat, a Hoover, & Lots of Crying" on Deadline (Joe Utichi)


Screenwriter Emma Thompson talks about her writing process and what it takes to get a screenplay written realistically, all with trademark humor. It's possible to learn so much from author interviews, and even from interviews with other industry professionals --- take advantage.

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3. "Why Some Freelancers Fail at Social Media in 4 Lessons" on The Social Marketers (Susanna Gebauer)


Closely related to the article (see #5 above) I referenced earlier in this post is this article. Freelancers today need to be savvy with social media; it's that or never get your name out there to a waiting clientele. This article walks you through questions and considerations that will help you narrow down your efforts on social media to make it as helpful to you as possible.

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2. "Finding Your Blogging Voice" on Chris Lema


You subscribe to two or three different blogs, and you get two or three different voices, or tones/perspectives. Here's a quick guide to three ways that can help you find your own voice for your blog, so you stand out from the rest of the crowd.

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1. "Donald Maass Talks About How to Make Your Readers CARE About Your Characters on the First Page" on Karen Woodward


Donald Maass is indisputably one of my favorite authors to read about the craft of writing. His books --- The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, among others --- are just filled with excellent advice, practical directions, and insightful examples so you know what he's talking about. This article, about making readers CARE about your characters from page one, is one I bookmarked immediately for the depths of its usefulness.

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What did I miss out on this week? Which was your favorite, most helpful article? Why?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Conference Insights: What Would You Rather Do Than Write?

At the Writer's Digest Conference West this August, Dani Shapiro, author of Still Writing, Devotion, and Slow Motion, gave the Friday night keynote address to a ballroom full of conference attendees.

She talked about how writers have to give themselves permission to face a blank page, and all the fears and anxiety and devastation and joys that process can bring.

There's nearly nothing more important than a writer working through --- or, at the very least, setting aside --- his or her inner demons and critics to get to a place where they can write. It's almost about getting out of your own way to be able to create and imagine.

The Big Question for Writers

Here's the big question Shapiro asked the audience to consider: "What would I rather do than write?"

It looks like a simple question. All but one of the words are single-syllable words, after all. There's nothing complicated about the words.

It's the idea behind the words that's complicated.

What would I rather do than write?

Is there anything in my life that I enjoy more, or feel more obliged, or feel more driven to do than write?

Anything that draws my attention more completely, or distracts me more readily, than writing?

The question can become even more complex than you might think at first. For instance ...

Would I rather research an historical period than write the historical novel I set out to write?

Would I rather dream up three-dimensional characters and create lush, detailed back stories and personalities for each of them, than write a novel starring those characters?

Would I rather come up with ideas about which to write than write those ideas to completion?

The Natural Progression

Because here's the next natural step. If there's anything at all you'd rather do than write, you should be doing it, without question.

Writing is an impossible business. It's a hard industry to manage, with dozens of hoops to jump through and dozens of challenges to overcome. There aren't a lot of people who make it through all those obstacles.

If there's anything you'd rather be doing than writing, do it instead of writing. Even if it's performing exorcisms or taming lions, it'll be easier than writing ... 

... unless writing is something in your blood, something you have to do to keep breathing, something you'd find yourself doing even if you were forbidden not to do it anymore.

Then you can keep writing.

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What would you rather do than write?

Think about it. It's worth considering.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Book Review: "Drowning Ruth" (Christina Schwarz)

Having read more books than I can possibly review by posting reviews only on Wednesdays, I'm expanding the book review section on my blog. Wednesdays will be specifically requested reviews; Thursdays will be reviews of books that I've read just on my own.

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There's nothing more debilitating than a family secret, especially when only one or two people know the truth about what really happened. Skeletons in the proverbial closet eat away at sanity and transform reality into a nightmarish place where terrible things could happen to the secret-keepers if anyone found out.

Such is the life that Amanda Starkey lives in Christina Schwarz's psychological thriller, Drowning Ruth.

In 1919, Amanda comes home to Milwaukee to live with her sister Mathilda and Mathilda's daughter Ruth, three years old, while Mathilda's husband is away at war. Their idyllic home life together, much like the close one the sisters shared growing up, is shattered when Mathilda vanishes one night. Her body is discovered under the ice on a nearby lake.

No one knows what happened except Amanda, who is brittle and grimly determined not to tell anyone, and Ruth, who remembers the events of that night in glimpses and flashes. Amanda settles down to raise Ruth and to face Mathilda's husband when he returns home to find his wife missing.

Schwarz does a spectacular job building tension from the very first line: "Ruth remembered drowning." (Who wouldn't want to keep reading after that?)

Part of her strategy to maintain the tension and reader interest comes from her deft use of multiple points of view throughout the story, even mixing first-person perspectives with third-person perspectives to give several different angles on the same scene or event. Amanda's voice, for instance, is defensive and secretive as she fights to hide what she knows.

The historical setting is beautifully crafted. Dialogue between the characters is rich and realistic. And the growing sense the reader has of something having gone terribly, terribly wrong that one dark night is what kept me turning pages far into the few nights it took me to (ravenously) finish the book.

That final conclusion, the last revelation, is as satisfying an ending as is demanded by the first line of the entire novel.

Drowning Ruth, an Oprah's Book Club pick and #1 New York Times bestseller, is a thriller I can heartily and without hesitation recommend; its twists and turns will keep you guessing to the last page.

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Title: Drowning Ruth
Author: Christina Schwarz
ISBN: 978-0-345-43910-9
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Review: "How to Write 50,000 Words in 30 Days ..." (Mike Coville)

Ever heard of NaNoWriMo?

If you're a writer, and you don't mind working under pressure, and you like being challenged, it's time you heard about it.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). To acknowledge the month, and to encourage writers to get something written, there's a challenge: spend the 30 days in the month of November writing 50,000 words of a novel (or a 50,000-word novel, your choice).

Thousands of people have participated for years since the challenge's creation. Author Mike Coville, who participated in the NaNoWriMo 2013 challenge, is one among them.

After he survived his first NaNoWriMo experience, Coville wrote a brief handbook called How to Write 50,000 Words in 30 Days and Survive to Tell Your Story. It's written in an easy, conversational style; picture meeting Coville over a cup of coffee at your favorite local hangout to shoot the breeze for a couple of hours about his experience and what he wants to impart to you for yours.

That's really what his book is about: imparting encouragement, guidance, wisdom, and insider how-to tips for not only surviving but also truly thriving during the NaNoWriMo experience. He answers common questions --- "Do you have to write a novel during NaNoWriMo?" --- and offers advice on setting goals, who to deal with distractions, what comes after NaNoWriMo, and a hindsight-is-20/20 overview of each week of the challenge and what to expect.

Speaking as someone who has participated in NaNoWriMo or one of its offshoot Camp NaNoWriMo opportunities for a couple of years now, but never completed a work in its entirety or met my personal word count goal, I was cheered by the practical recommendations Coville provides, especially about setting goals.

For instance, Coville says, if every time you reach a certain number of words in your total word count, you reward yourself with something that you enjoy, then you'll have something to look forward to as you work. Anybody in business, who has ever been an employee or who has overseen employees, knows that incentives help drive performance. It's that simple.

My only critique of the work is that subsequent editions (in case Coville intends to reprint it in the future with more tips from any future NaNoWriMo experiences) need an extra proofread before publication. Misspelled words and misplaced commas made up the bulk of the errors, and while they weren't on every page, they were frequent enough to be a distraction in some chapters.

Coville's book is kind of a combination memoir (of his own experience) and how-to writing book (for readers interested in the challenge). I thoroughly enjoyed its contents, and would certainly recommend it without hesitation to anyone seriously considering NaNoWriMo.

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Title: How to Write 50,000 Words in 30 Days and Survive to Tell Your Story
Author: Mike Coville
ISBN: 978-1500565657
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received this book free from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from September 15-19

5. "10 Quotes on What Inspires Creativity, and What Most Definitely Does Not" on Huffington Post (Priscilla Frank)


A quick overview of inspirational quotes from creatives (authors, artists, comics, and more) like Sylvia Plath and Pablo Picasso. What they think inspires creativity is quite clear; what does not inspire creativity is left mostly to the reader's imagination, or perhaps to what the quotes don't say. See whether you agree.

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4. "Start a Digital Journaling Habit With a 30-Day Challenge" on Make Use Of (Bakari Chavanu)


This offering is less an article and more a reminder that writing every day is an excellent practice for authors, and, really, for people in any industry --- writing is an integral part of every career. Join the 30-day challenge (for most of the month of October) if you're up to it.

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3. "Interview With Barbara Donlon Bradley" on BTS eMag LLC / BTS Book Reviews Magazine


There's something inspirational and encouraging about reading interviews with successful published authors. Barbara Donlon Bradley is no exception. She talks about her books, her writing routine, the hardest part of writing, and whether writing can be a career.

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2. "5 Ways I Used a Reverse Book Club to Write a Bestseller" on (Diana Kander)


The author of this article invited friends to join her in a sort of reverse critique group to minimize what she saw as the biggest risk of writing a bestseller: ensuring that the content is good enough for publication. The insights she gained from the experience are applicable to all writers: support during the writing process is crucial.

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1. "Readings by Writers" on Northern Colorado Writers


A slightly shameless plug for anybody in the Northern Colorado area --- Bas Bleu Theater in Fort Collins, Colorado, is hosting an evening of writers giving readings of their works. Eight total readers (myself including) will be there, and there are still plenty of seats left for purchase. Tickets are a nominal $5 for the use of the space and the privilege of hearing some excellent writing. Join me there!

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Let me know what you think of this week's offerings, and whether I missed any I should have profiled!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Conference Insights: Questions Drive Pacing

This just in from the Writer's Digest Conference East in New York this past August, in a session about how to write a page turner.

Presenter Paula Munier, senior literary agent and content strategist at Talcott Notch Literary Services, contended that the best story is a long question-and-answer (Q&A) session, a dialogue between the author and the reader.

Let's break that down. What does that look like? What does it mean that questions drive the pacing of your novel?


Pacing in a novel is how quickly the story line moves forward. If your pacing is too slow, readers get bored and throw the book at the wall (or, if they're less mercurial than I am, just put it back on the shelf). Pacing has to be fast to keep readers engaged.

To maintain pacing, do one of two things. First, make things happen. Something must always be happening in your novel --- one something after another after another after another, from the very first line all the way to the conclusion.

The things that happen need to pertain to the overall story goal. If the story goal is, as in the Disney movie Frozen, for Anna and Kristoff to find Elsa and reverse the winter curse on the kingdom, then a scene in which Anna and Kristoff climb pine trees along the trail just for the heck of it doesn't move the story forward. That scene won't contribute to pacing in a good way --- it would slow down the overall story goal and risk boring the reader.

Second, to maintain pacing, lead your reader through the novel with questions, like a Q&A dialogue, a back-and-forth exchange all the way along that keeps the reader interested enough to keep turning pages.

Like this.

Stage a Q&A Session

From the first line, a novel needs to spark questions.

Here's the opening line from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (yes, even classic literary novels need pacing to keep the reader interested; it's not just something that thrillers and adventure stories need):

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

Immediately, the reader starts asking (or thinking) questions:

> Who actually believes that truth?
> What single man are we talking about?
> Are being single and possessing a "good fortune" the only two characteristics a man has to have in order to look for a wife?
> What constitutes a "good" fortune?
> Why must a rich single man want a wife?
> What kind of a wife would that kind of a man look for?
> Is this story going to be about the single man looking for a wife, or the prospective wife?

And so on.

The reader keeps reading to find the answers to his or her questions in the text. As the author, it's your job to lead the reader through with questions, and then satisfy reader curiosity by answering each question at the right time in the story line; spilling all the answers at once is called an information dump, and readers will hate you for it, but answers trickled out slowly, one by one, even as other questions arise and remain unanswered, will keep the reader turning pages.

Answering Story Questions

If there aren't any questions about what's happening in the story, the reader won't be interested enough to keep reading. Check the two examples below:

Example 1: "Gina sat at the dining room table, glancing from the front window to the microwave clock and back to the window. Her hands trembled, and her tongue was dry enough to sand wood."

Example 2: "Gina Stewart, wife and homemaker of seven years to her husband Matt, sat at the dining room table waiting for Matt to get back from work so she could give him the bad news about his sister Suzanne dying this morning. Gina looked from the window, which he'd pass by on his way to the front door, to the microwave clock because he was running late and he never ran late. Her hands trembled with nervousness. Her mouth was dry because she couldn't even bring herself to get up from the dining room table to pour a glass of water."

Granting that neither example is a spectacular sample of fine literature, which excerpt would you prefer to keep reading?

Example 1 leaves you with questions. Who is Gina? Why is she looking from the front window to the clock and back? Is she waiting for something? Or someone? Or a specific time? Or a phone call? Or a visit? Why are her hands trembling? Fear or anticipation? Anxiety or barely contained excitement? Why is her mouth so dry? Worry or a medical condition?

Example 2, on the other hand, gives you all the information. You don't have to ask any questions. You know who Gina is, who she's married to, how long they've been married, what Gina does for a living, why she's sitting at the table, what she has to tell her husband, and how she feels about it. There isn't much room for tension or interest to be sparked when the reader already knows everything.

Food for Thought

Do you have enough questions in your manuscript to keep your reader turning pages? Does your very first line introduce at least one (preferably more) question to make your reader turn the page? Does every scene leave the reader asking questions and turning to the next one? If you answer one story question, do you introduce two or three more to keep your reader guessing all the way through?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Review: "The Upshot" (Brad Spencer)

Never underestimate the power of a single incident to change the entire course of a life. In the same way, never underestimate the power of another incident to reset the same life in a different direction.

The suspense-slash-crime thriller The Upshot is about the intertwined lives of three friends: Sam McElroy, Jimmer Cuddy, and Holly Karlan. As children, they went to school together and played tricks on one another. Fell in love early and stayed in love forever.

And then something happened that changed the trajectory of their innocent friendship forever.

Cuddy becomes a drug dealer, beholden to his supplier for a near-endless supply of money and enough drugs to make the past fade in his memory. Sam marries a woman who treats him like a throw-rug, something to be stepped on and pushed around whenever she feels like it. And Holly turns out the worst of the three, as if fate had earmarked her all along to be the one to suffer the most unfairly.

Each of their lives also touches that of Rory James, another grade-school peer, whose decisions at a young age shaped his destiny as the ultimate womanizer, abuser, drug dealer, and criminal. Finally, years after Holly's too far gone (literally and figuratively) to help herself, Sam and Cuddy take matters into their own hands to exact revenge on Holly's behalf, and on behalf of the friendship they once shared with her.

The Upshot is author Brad Spencer's debut novel. Through the characters he carefully detailed into existence, so lifelike they threaten to dive off the page into reality, Spencer explores themes of guilt, love, sacrifice, loss, abuse, betrayal, friendship, vengeance, reconciliation, and the limits of human grief and pain that can turn to motives if left to fester long enough.

For instance, character Holly Karlan might well represent the "lost souls" to whom the novel is dedicated: someone of whom the world took advantage, and whose subsequent downfall was as spectacular as it was devastating, not only for Holly herself, but also for her closest friends, who were helpless to save her.

Spencer's writing is tight, for the most part, in his determination to maintain tension throughout multiple viewpoints from one chapter to another. Dialogue reads realistically, and the characters themselves are easy to picture, whether alone or interacting with one another.

Only two items detracted from the overall impact of the story for me.

First, the story is not told chronologically, and each chapter either jumps back in time to the past or stays in the present. I would have appreciated clearer indications (the headers at the beginning of each chapter in some books, including the year/date and place, may be cliched, but they are effective) as to where each chapter fell along the greater story line continuum.

Otherwise, I found myself confused by whether the events in one chapter had happened in the past or were happening in the present, and before/after which other events in other chapters they'd taken place. I like books that work to ground me immediately in the setting of the story (including era, year, time, and place).

Second, I struggled with what's called "head-hopping" in the trade. A chapter starts out in Character A's viewpoint, but partway through, the viewpoint leaves Character A and becomes that of Character B instead, without warning.

It's a jolt to the reader to be situated in one character's head, privy to just that character's thoughts, sensations, and observations, and then to suddenly find oneself dumped down into the head/perspective of a whole different character. I prefer that the viewpoint character stay entirely the same throughout each chapter/scene at a time; again, I prefer works that keep me grounded rather than keep me guessing.

Nevertheless, if crime, suspense, and thrillers are your genre of choice, The Upshot provides you with all the necessary components to immerse yourself in that world.

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Title: The Upshot
Author: Brad Spencer
ISBN: 978-0692220412
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received this book free from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from September 8-12

5. "The 12 Most Go-To Grammar Tips" on Ragan's PR Daily (Becky Gaylord)


This quick-and-easy article is perfect for those days when you can't remember the difference between "affect" and "effect," or whether to use "between" or "among" as you're writing along. And that whole "lay-versus-lie" question ... Gaylord tackles that with aplomb.

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4. "25 Ways to Tighten Your Writing" on Ragan's PR Daily (Betsy Mikel)


You know it's been a good week in the writing world when one site has two great articles on the topic. If you're like me and you tend to be verbose in your writing ... okay, okay, maybe everything you write rivals War and Peace ... look up this list of twenty-five specific things you can do differently to pare down an article, essay, or story to reach word count, or just to make sure that everything you wrote is absolutely necessary.

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3. "27 Writers on Whether or Not to Get Your MFA" on Flavorwire (Elisabeth Donnelly


A fascinating and controversial compilation of snapshot interviews with twenty-seven well-known writers, some of whom graduated with MFA degrees and some of whom did not; some of whom teach in MFA programs and some of whom do not; and some of whom believe in MFA programs and some of whom do not. Wherever you fall on the continuum, you'll find someone here with whom to agree, and everyone else's opinions are just as provocative.

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2. "How Stephen King Teaches Writing" on The Atlantic (Jessica Lahey)


Whether you've got a degree in writing or have taken classes or attended workshops or conferences or read books about it, or you just dove into the process on your own, Stephen King's wisdom to writers in this interview is timeless. My favorite comment has to do with why he bothers to teach students the different names of the parts of speech: "When we name the parts [of speech], we take away the mystery and turn writing into a problem that can be solved." And a problem that can be solved is perfectly achievable where it didn't used to be.

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1. "10 Books That Have Never Left You -- What Are Your 10?" on Writer's Digest (Brian A. Klems)


This contribution to the list this week is less an article and more something to really think about, especially as writers. Find some uninterrupted time to sit and think about the top ten books that have shown "staying power" (Klems's phrase) in your life. What lingers for you? What do you remember most vividly, most poignantly? What touched you most deeply? Give it some thought, and feel free to post in the comments here or at Klems's original post.

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Your thoughts on the articles this week? Find anything interesting that I didn't see? (It's always possible.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Viewpoint: A "Sex Sells" Hive Mind ... Er, Society

An article by Maggie Bullock on Elle's website caught my attention this week. It's titled "How Women Are Getting Rich By Writing Down Their Fantasies." Feel free to read the article here, in its entirety --- it's a long one.

Bullock summarizes the movement of women, beginning with and perhaps inspired by E.L. James and her success with the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, who have begun to write their own erotic romances and self-publish them, whether on Amazon or elsewhere.

There are even conventions where readers of that genre and its like can meet the authors, get their books signed, and trade personal stories of their experiences with what Bullock calls "unapologetically adult-rated tales in which the love story --- still an essential ingredient --- serves mostly as string on which to collect the real pearls: raunchy, graphic, exceedingly adventurous sex scenes."

And something about that angers me.

Sex in Fiction

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with sex in fiction.

I happen to be one of the small minority of authors who identify as Christian and still think it's okay to include sex in their books. There's nothing "un-Christian" about sex. There's nothing bad or evil about sex. Even Christians have sex. (That might come as a shock to some people.)

In this post, I'm not going to go into my definition of a sexual relationship, since I suspect I'll offend an assortment of readers if I do so.

I'm also not going to address the sexual content of the average erotic romance, insofar as it usually ventures outside the norms of what was once called "vanilla sex" and tries on sexuality under the guise of the BDSM-threesomes-group sex-voyeurism (and more) culture.

What I do want to discuss is the decline of literary standards in published books, directly affiliated with the impassioned determination of women who weren't previously writers to appropriate for themselves a slice of the same successful pie that E.L. James has been enjoying.

Literary Standards

Believe it or not, books used to sell because they were well-written and entertaining or informative, and because the author had slaved over six or ten or twenty-eight drafts and rewrites of the manuscript before getting it published, and because the author worked closely with an editor and a proofreader and perhaps an agent and a marketing person and everybody else at the publishing company to ensure that the book lived up to the standards of its predecessors.

Granted --- the publishing industry takes a while to work. From contracting a book to its publication can take months or years. The self-publishing industry is certainly (becoming) a viable option for authors to take matters into their own hands and get their works out to a waiting readership within mere hours of finishing the manuscript.

But I think we've sacrificed standards for content. In this case, that content happens to be hyper-sexual, which, in today's culture, should surprise exactly no one. Sex sells, and that's that, whether or not you think that's good for society (and I don't happen to).

That aside ... 

Against Literature

Some people will suggest that the standards of literature are outdated. (Sort of like the Bible.) Or that musical composers first learn the rules of seventeenth-century counterpoint according to Johann Sebastian Bach only just to be able to break those same rules in their own contemporary, atonal compositions.

Some people will probably say that nobody reads literature anymore, and that classics are boring, and that the only exposure Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Harper Lee, or Nathaniel Hawthorne (remember them?) have in today's society is to unsuspecting high school and college students who are required to slog through such dusty tomes to pass their respective English and literature classes and move on with life.

I won't argue that society's tastes have changed since the eighteen hundreds or nineteen hundreds. I also won't argue that not many people read literature anymore. And I won't argue that sometimes, it makes more sense to modernize things in order to keep new generations interested and entertained.

But what are we achieving as a society --- as a formerly literate and educated society, in particular --- when books written only with attention paid to the super-sexual content and no attention at all paid to grammar or punctuation are published and sold by the thousands?

Self-Published Erotic Romance

In her article, Bullock spoke with relatively new erotic romance author Alessandra Torre, who, by her own admission, knew absolutely nothing about writing when she started and only chose to become a writer in the first place because "'E.L. James was making a gazillion dollars, and I was like, "Well, shoot, if I get one percent of the sales she did, I'll make $10 million a year, so that's cool!"'" (Bullock).

Torre, author of Sex Love Repeat and the Innocence trilogy, among other works available from Amazon, found Stephen King's memoir and how-to writing book, On Writing. She read half its contents and set the book, and all other learning about writing, aside. In six weeks, she'd drafted the first book in her Innocence trilogy, and within another hour, the book was available on Amazon, having been "published" with the click of a mouse.

Authors who go the traditional route to get published, and even authors who self-publish but really take their time to get their works edited and proofread before publication, should be offended by the fact that Torre has been selling enough books to make $60,000 a month (Bullock) with just her first, unedited, un-revised novel.

What's the point of an author going the distance, writing and rewriting a dozen drafts of a work to get it to "just so" perfection for publication, when anybody at all can sit down, throw sex scenes together into a rough manuscript, upload it to Amazon, and sell thousands of copies?

Recent examples of erotic romance tend to be flat, with two-dimensional characters and no attention to setting or sensual description (except in bed ... or on the kitchen table ... or the living room floor ... or wherever else the characters happen to be having sex in this chapter). Many novels in the genre are filled with cliches, inconsistencies, awkward imagery, predictable story lines, and enough errors in grammar, punctuation, and syntax to rattle a reader's concentration.

Bullock acknowledges the loss of literary standards in her article: " ... the literary goalposts have been ripped out of the ground and replanted in a whole different part of the field. Stereotype, platitude, and cliche rule; formulaic and familiar sells."

Why is this okay?

Reader Response

Readers should also be highly offended that such self-publishing authors as these see no need to appeal to a reader intelligence level barely beyond that of your average animal with its mindless carnal desires.

The question is, why do readers continue to buy that kind of badly written nonsense? Millions of people purchased E.L. James's Fifty Shades trilogy. Why?

I read James's trilogy (checked out from the local library). There's nothing spectacular about any of them, and there's certainly nothing memorable about the characters, the setting, the subplots, the tone, the pacing, the dialogue, or any of the other elements of story a writer normally takes into consideration. (Remember the "inner goddess"?)

It's like people today look around at the average readership; see a bunch of sex-maniac suckers who will read the most poorly written excuse for "literature" in the world as long as Harry and Sally take 93% of the book to screw on every available surface, flat or not, within a ten-mile radius; decide to write that kind of a book; self-publish it without consulting an editor or publishing house or agent or beta reader or (God forbid) a proofreader; and then rinse and repeat the entire cycle.

Yes, readers should be grossly offended by the level to which literary standards have dropped to keep the masses happy.

Final Thoughts

It's truly an atrocity that we've reached a point at which a book is defined as successful by how many sex scenes it contains (and how graphically they are rendered) and not by whether it's well-written, entertaining (beyond the titillation factor of reading about sex every which way) and has been painstakingly edited and proofread prior to its publication.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Review: "The Revenant" (Elise Abram)

The paranormal YA novel The Revenant is a story peopled with an unexpected array of characters, from vigilante and outcast Zulu to empathetic Kat to Morgan, the Seer, to Morgan's brother Malchus, who has the power to raise the dead.

Told from the respective perspectives of each different character affected by the story line, the plot revolves around how to put a stop to Malchus's evil plans to raise an army of zombies to do his bidding and finally destroy his brother.

Author Elise Abram is to be commended for the forethought and planning that clearly went in to devising each of her characters, with their respective back stories and past wounds that motivate their current behaviors --- for instance, Kat's unstable relationship with her mother, or the contentious upbringing between Malchus and Morgan, twin brothers.

The tone of the story is suspense from beginning to end, and the tension is maintained by the careful use of cliffhangers --- each chapter written in a different character's perspective --- and of jumps from the present day story line to incidents in the past that directly affect the present.

Favorite, especially evocative lines include: "From his perch high up on the observation deck Zulu owned the pulse of the city" (pg. 11) and "There was no one on the bridge when they arrived" (pg. 56).

If I had two wishes for the novel's improvement, they would be these:

... first, that the book had been edited with greater care for errors in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, consistency, point of view, and syntax, all of which tended to distract me from the bigger picture elements; and

... second, that there had been a more clearly defined major plot line throughout, with the other story lines and character interactions lessened to sub-plot status, as I felt that each of the different lines was vying for the same amount of face time on the page and sometimes couldn't ascertain the overall objective, if you will, of the work.

All in all, an admirably crafted fantastical world.

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Title: The Revenant
Author: Elise Abram
ASIN: B00M4V19D0
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: I received this book free from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from September 1-5

5. "'Write What Terrifies You": An Interview with Celeste Ng" on HIPPO Reads (Jocelyn Eikenburg, interviewer)


Author interviews are almost always inspirational to read. Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You, talks about her inspiration, her novel, her research process, and the quote in the post title that drives what she chooses to write about. What if you wrote about what terrified you most? What would you write?

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4. "23 Writing Tips from Booker-Prize Winning Authors" on Aerogramme Writers' Studio


When in doubt, this post will at the least help you find some excellent new reading material, in case your bookshelves look bare. At its best, the article includes quotes from Yann Martel, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and Iris Murdoch, among others, on all different aspects of writing --- purpose, inspiration, motivation, message and theme, rules, wisdom, and encouragement. Well worth a read-through.

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3. "How to Intensify Conflict & Deepen Characters --- The Wound" on Kristen Lamb's Blog


You're working along, making sure that your characters are as three-dimensional and nuanced as possible ... and then you hit a wall. Why does your character act the way that he/she does? What's the back story that explains his/her actions? In this article, learn about character wounds, things from the past that justify their actions and choices in the present. Nobody takes action in a vacuum, unaffected by everything else.

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2. "Writing Into the Abyss, or Why Readers Don't Matter" on Ksenia Anske, Fantasy Writer


Following what apparently turned out to be a spirited debate on Twitter, this article is the author's further manifesto, settling her stance on the topic of whether you write to please your readers or yourself. The post provides an excellent rationale. Do you agree or not?

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1. "What Should Novelists Blog About? [Podcast]" on Novel Marketing (Thomas Umstattd)


To build a platform, writers often turn to a blog. However, nonfiction writers and fiction writers can't get away with writing about the same topics on their respective blogs. Nonfiction writers often have an easier time of it --- excerpts of their work-in-progress about the Civil War, for instance, or further research they conducted that just didn't make it into the book they eventually published. This podcast provides more than half a dozen ideas for fiction novelists and what to blog about to gain a following.

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What were your favorite articles this week? Did I miss anything that should have been highlighted? What were your least favorite articles this week?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Blood-Stained Chasm

Writers may be familiar with Chuck Wendig and his terribleminds blog. He's a fantastic writer, and I always learn something from his posts (which you can get delivered straight to your email inbox).


Every week, Chuck posts a flash fiction challenge. It's always due by Friday the following week by noon (EST).

And it's always something unusual that gets inspiration flowing (how, I have no idea, since if I sat around and dreamed up weird prompts like his, they wouldn't make sense to anybody and my brain would probably turn to mush from the process).

This week is no exception. Check out the prompt here. Below, you'll find my submission.

Feedback always appreciated!

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The Blood-Stained Chasm

Karen sat by the window with a magazine. It was too dark to read. She might as well have left it in the other room.

She stared out between the drapes, past the glass stained with five child-sized fingerprints she still couldn't bring herself to Windex away.

The street was empty. Her throat closed. Why couldn't he call to let her know he was safe?

The lights in the houses across the street had all flickered out, one by one, hours ago. No one stayed awake to acknowledge the passing of one day into another.

Except her. And the ghost upstairs.

A chill swept through her body. She shivered and pulled the afghan tighter around her shoulders.

Then headlights swept up the driveway.

She waited.

The garage door creaked open. The car door slammed, and the garage door lowered.

The kitchen door opened. A gust of cool autumn air, scented with wet leaves and wood smoke, flowed into the room. When the door closed again, the gust died.

She swallowed. "Michael."

The shapeless figure jerked upright. "What the hell?"

Karen reached for the lamp on the side table. She clicked it on and sent shadows dancing into the corners.

Michael, in a rumpled grey suit jacket and navy tie, shook his head against the glare. "What are you doing up?"

"Where were you?"

He dropped his briefcase on her rocking chair and set it moving. "Working."

"Until one in the morning?"

"There was a lot to do."

Back and forth, back and forth, the rocking chair swayed. Karen closed her magazine. "I was worried."

"Sorry I didn't call." He loosened his tie and left it hanging around his neck, the ends uneven.

Her hands clenched. "Didn't you have a minute to spare?"

Michael sighed. “I need some sleep."

"Of course you do." She stood. "It's exhausting, what you do every day."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Good night, Michael." She climbed the stairs. Hesitated at the second-floor landing. Exhaled and turned left into the guest bedroom, instead of right into the master suite, or straight ahead to the end room.

She leaned back against the closed door and clasped her icy hands together against her mouth.


The ghost joined them at breakfast the next morning. At the head of the table, Michael sat oblivious, head bent over a stack of documents he was perusing with a blue ball-point pen.

On his left, Karen stared across the table.

The ghost stared back.

A light touch glanced against the back of her neck. She got up and went to the stove for the coffee pot. "Another cup?"

"Thanks, honey." Michael marked something in the margin.

What gene did men come with, or without, to be so clueless? Karen refilled their mugs and took the pot back to the stove. She stood with her back to the table. "I've got some errands to run today."

"We could use more orange juice."

"It's on the list."

"And AA batteries."

She gritted her teeth. "I'll get them."

"Nothing else for me." Michael's chair scraped on the floor as he pushed away from the table and rustled the papers into his briefcase. "I've got a meeting." He kissed her the way he might kiss a stranger in a foreign country where kissing was the expected greeting. His breath was warm and moist.

"See you later."

When the garage door closed in the distance, Karen turned back toward the table.

The ghost was gone.


"It's only child-sized," Karen said at lunch as she trailed Eve through another clothing store.

"I knew you needed a break." Eve snatched a hanger off the nearest display and tipped her head. "Could I pull off that color?"

Karen glanced at the mustard yellow blouse, almost transparent. "You can pull off anything."

"Maybe with the right accessories."

"There were yellow and gold sandals in the shoe department."

"Now you're thinking." Eve reversed direction and stalked back the way they'd come.

A headache throbbed between Karen's temples, behind her left eye. She drifted along in Eve's wak as her friend caressed every new fabric she encountered.


Michael walked into the kitchen that evening and stopped. "What are you doing?"

"Defrosting the freezer." Karen took aim with a meat tenderizer. The smack inside the freezer sent a shower of ice crystals cascading down over them.


"It's got to be done." She sucked her lips between her teeth and swung the tenderizer again. Psychologists should recommend defrosting freezers as therapy.

"Okay." Michael squeezed past her, no longer interested. "What’s for dinner?"

"Casserole in the oven." She took aim again.

"I'll be in the ---"


Karen leaned out of the freezer. "What did you say?"

Michael shook his head. "I'll be upstairs."

She ducked out of sight. "Take Mickey with you."

There was a silence.

She stared at the frosty packages and bags she'd unearthed. Had he heard her? Or was he already gone from the room? Her breath came unevenly, wafting white in the chill.

Then his footfall came closer, and his voice, quiet, on the other side of the open freezer door. "What did you say?"


She drew a shuddering breath. "Mickey. Take him with you."

Another long silence.

Karen backed out of the freezer and closed the door with care. Her skin tingled in the sudden warmth.

Michael stared at her. "I --- I don't know what you mean."

"You haven't seen him?"

"Seen ---" Michael swallowed, his brows knitting together. "Do you feel okay?"

Her voice almost refused to work. "I haven't been okay for months."

His eyes lightened. "Were you upstairs today?"

"Where upstairs?"

"In M--- In the end room."

"You almost said it."

"Said what, Karen?"

"His name."

Michael made a ninety-degree turn and propped his hands on the counter, head down. "I told you I wouldn't be good at this."

"Good at what?" Her ears roared.

"This ---" He made a helpless gesture. "I don't know how to help you."

"Because you've never asked." She inhaled to steady herself. "You never asked how it felt when I went upstairs and found him."

"Karen ..."

"I should have known. I'm his mother." Tears pricked, burned. "I should have known."

"Nobody knew." Michael didn't look up.

"I should have." She stepped back, fetched up against the cupboards. "He's here."

"He's not here, Karen."

"I've seen him."

"Are you doing this because I wasn't here?"

A beat.

"What?" she said.

He straightened in a rush, swung to face her, eyes dilated. "I wasn't here for you. I wasn't here to help."

"You couldn't have fixed it." When she closed her eyes at night, Mickey's empty blue eyes, so like Michael's, accused her. Karen pressed the back of her hand against her mouth and sank down in a crouch. "I couldn't fix it."

Michael drew a deep breath. "Talk to me."

"What do you want me to say?"

"Just --- anything."

Thoughts flickered through her memory, some mercifully fast, others with agonizing slowness that laid open another wound somewhere in her belly. "The blood is what I can't forget."

"Jesus." Michael swung away again. His voice broke. "Jesus, Karen ---"

Her voice was steady. "And the gun, on the floor with him. Remember, he kept asking for a police officer's utility belt, and the gun that went with it. Remember?"

A beat. Then Michael nodded, facing away.

She cleared her throat. "I miss you."

"I'm here every day."

"Part of you is here."

He stiffened.

She pressed. "Part of you isn't here."

"You're not the only one who lost something that day."

"I know I'm not. But I feel like I lost both of you that day."

"What do you want me to do?"

She didn't say anything.

The silence deepened.

She looked past him. There, in the dining room, stood the ghost.

Karen pushed to her feet, crossed to Michael.

He raised his head to look down at her, and there were tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry."

"So am I." She held his gaze. "But I can't do this alone anymore."

"Do what?"


He tipped his head back, and a tear slid down his temple into his hair. He opened his arms, and she went into them, threaded her arms around his waist, and laid her head on his chest, eyes closed. His heartbeat pulsed under her cheek.

"I'll try," he whispered

"I know."

His arms tightened, and his lips brushed against her hair, just a wisp.

"Remember how he used to kiss the back of my neck when I was at the dining room table?" She choked back a laugh. "He saw you do it once."

Michael's hand came up and cradled her head. "I remember."

A sweet breath wafted past her face, like baby powder. Karen opened her eyes.

The ghost, frozen in time at seven years old, gazed at her with his daddy's blue eyes. Expression empty, he faded until he vanished altogether.

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