Thursday, December 31, 2015

The End and the Beginning

The year 2015 comes to a close in four and a half hours for me, from this writing. I expect 2016 will likely slip quietly into existence like the snowflakes that fell and dissolved the day before Christmas last week.

Image courtesy of noppasinw at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Some people believe in looking back, perhaps with their lists of goals or resolutions, upon the previous year, to set new goals, to identify patterns, to start new habits, to find closure.

Sometimes I'm like that.

And some people simply accept that one year is ending and another is beginning, and that the first day of a new year usually feels a lot like yesterday, and that looking back isn't always beneficial or to be recommended.

I can be that way, too.

You know best ... your year, your hopes, your dreams, your ups and downs, your challenges, your goals, yourself.

Will you take time tonight to reflect? To celebrate? To mourn? To remember?

Image courtesy of Pong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Tomorrow will be another new day in another new year in your life. A fresh chance. There are 86,400 seconds in one day.

From where I'm sitting, that doesn't seem like so very many.

Make them count.

Wishing you and yours a very happy New Year's!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from December 21-25

5. "Coincidences in Fiction: What You're Doing Wrong" on Helping Writers Become Authors (K.M. Weiland)

Link: http://bit.ly/1U075uG

Coincidence in life is one thing, and even we know that those don't happen very often. On the other hand, coincidences in fiction are an entirely different thing, and you'll want to avoid those as often as possible in your writing. Otherwise, you're letting your readers down. Avoid that error by starting with the tips in this post.

Read ruthlessly through your current work-in-progress (WIP) for coincidences. If you find one, apply (at least) one of Weiland's principles to correct it.

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4. "8 Tips to Writing Unreliable Narrators" on The Writer's Dig blog at WritersDigest.com (Deb Caletti, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1Pri92E

Anybody remember reading The Catcher in the Rye in high school or college, with Holden Caulfield walking you through his world? Then you're familiar with the unreliable narrator, which can be a unique approach to perspective in a work of fiction. Check out this how-to article with points to keep in mind as you craft your own unreliable narrator.

Could you make your narrator unreliable in just one way? Catch your reader, and yourself, off-guard at least once.

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3. "7 Keys to Irresistible Plots" on Fiction University (Laurence MacNaughton, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1mdvzGe

Think about a work of fiction that made a tremendous impact on you, one that you remember clearly even now. With that in mind, what about it had such an effect on you? If it was the plot, it's entirely plausible that these seven plot elements, or components, are present in that memorable book. MacNaughton even has a great acronym so you can remember the components for future reference.

Which of the seven plot elements will you try to incorporate into your WIP first?

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2. "Does Our Story Have Everything It Needs?" on Jami Gold

Link: http://bit.ly/1NJSXUD

You've got a draft of a story or novel completed, and now you're wondering what to do with it next. There are dozens of excellent writing craft books out there on the revision process, but if you'd like a really user-friendly overview, look no further than this article. Gold has compiled a list of thought-provoking questions under different categories to keep you and your story focused.

What's your favorite "first step" resource to revision?

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1. "15 Inspiring Writing Podcasts to Subscribe to Right Now" on The Write Life (Brianna Bell)

Link: http://bit.ly/1OgnSJJ

With New Year's approaching, you've probably got goals and resolutions on your mind for 2016. What better place to start than with a subscription (or two) to a podcast on an expert writing site for advice and wisdom? You can learn about blogging, grammar and revision, fiction, and much more, all just by listening for a few minutes per session.

How will you ring in the new year for your writing work?

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And that's the lineup for last week, on time this week, with my computer back up and functional again. Chime in with comments!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Meaning of the Season

I don't know about you, but the last couple of weeks have been, for me, some of the craziest in a while.

It hasn't just been the holiday concerts and family gatherings and cookie-baking (a ritual that starts the day after Thanksgiving in my family). It's also been the unexpected things ... the hospitalization of a relative after a health scare, the abrupt and irreversible (and expensive) death of my hard drive, the loss of a years-old friendship.

And it's only been today, on Christmas Eve, that I've had time to slow down and sit down and think about nothing.

And I find that when I'm thinking about nothing, I tend to remember the point.

Image courtesy of Supertrooper on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For me, the point is that my Savior who lived and died on this earth for me was born, tomorrow, a couple thousand years ago, and in spite of a broken laptop, lost files, cheerful choir concerts, and dozens of cookies, I'm loved, valuable, and so thankful to know that.

What do you know to be true this holiday season? If you stop moving for a few minutes and sit in silence, what resonates with you?

Give it a moment or two to sink in before you race back out to rescue the last batch of cookies from the oven.

Wishing you and yours a warm, cozy, cheerful, peaceful, and very happy Christmas.

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Note: There have been no book reviews the last couple of weeks, in part due to the seasonal insanity and in part due to my laptop's long hiatus. Book reviews will resume in earnest in January.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from December 14-18

5. "5 Lessons for Writers from Winter Solstice Celebrations" on Writer's Relief 

Link: http://bit.ly/1MyNQCC

Let it never be said that there is nothing writing-related to be learned from the world around you. This post proves that point precisely with quick, applicable writing tips gleaned from the holiday season in which we find ourselves.

What have you learned this holiday season that applies to your writing life?

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4. "8 Ways to Strengthen Your Freelance Writing Business Over the Holidays" on The Write Life (MaryBeth Matzek)

Link: http://bit.ly/22rfTjg

Don't think that just because the holidays are upon you, your freelancing business has to go by the wayside ... on the contrary! This excellent post details more than half a dozen different ways that you can rework important aspects of your business to ensure that you'll be that much readier for clients in January!

What are you doing for your freelancing business this holiday season?

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3. "How to Defeat Your Writer's Block" on Romance University (Ryan Lanz)

Link: http://bit.ly/1PmXrRv

Sixteen people coming for Christmas dinner, pipes frozen or bursting, obscure relatives in every corner of the house, and now your muse decides to take a vacation? Life's too short to let writer's block defeat you this time of year. Turn the tables on it with these great tips!

How do you defeat writer's block? What suggested method have you heard that has never worked for you?

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2. "Writers -- Give Yourselves a Break" on Fiction University (Janice Hardy)

Link: http://bit.ly/1YFcA37

It's the time of year when we start looking back over our accomplishments from the last few months. It's easy to get pretty negative or cynical, though, about goals that we haven't yet met, or intentions that we never got around to, or losses and disappointments we've experienced. Don't stay focused on the negative. This encouraging post will inspire you to look at your 2015 experience through different eyes.

What did you learn this year? What had to happen (be it a positive or negative experience) before you learned that?

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1. "A Step-by-Step Guide to Build Your Author Website" on The Writer's Dig blog at WritersDigest.com (Jane Friedman, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1NEZ7VZ

You're looking at making goals and resolutions for the new year. Maybe one of the things on your to-do list is to build yourself an author website, or to rebuild and revamp the one you've got. When in doubt, start here: a user-friendly post full of web design tips by an industry expert. Writer's Digest never disappoints!

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And there, FINALLY, is the lineup from last week, dreadfully tardy due to a hard drive problem with my computer nine (!) days ago. My most passionate apologies to my patient readers!

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from December 7-11

5. "Fran Wilde: Editorial Marks, Explained!" on terribleminds.com (Fran Wilde, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1Z4okhM

Send your completed manuscript away to an editor or proofreader, and you get back ... well, what is it, again? If the editor works the way a lot of us do (spoiler alert!) then it'll be a hard copy of the manuscript, double-spaced, perhaps with coffee ring stains on the dog-eared pages ... and packed with dozens of unintelligible editorial marks. Just what every author wants to take time to translate.

Fear no more! Expert Fran Wilde has the answers. What does the dot inside a circle mean every time it floats into view (in red pen, no less) on your abused ... I mean, edited ... manuscript pages? Now you'll know as you work through your revisions. (WARNING: Prepare for tongue-in-cheek humor and sarcasm.)

What editorial mark have you always wondered about? Where do you think the marks come from? (Be serious or not, as you like ...)

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4. "Character Lists: A Great Way to Coax Your Characters Out of Hiding" on How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book (Mary Carroll Moore)

Link: http://bit.ly/1NnQqNr

Maybe your fiction manuscript is humming along, and then your main character does something completely out of the ordinary. Now you're scratching your head. What the heck? Or perhaps you've got a plot idea, but your main character just won't manifest himself or herself in your conscious mind so you can actually get the story off the ground. What to do?

Try some free-form, stream-of-consciousness-style writing. This post recommends that you feel out your main character, so to speak, and perhaps even lesser characters too, by letting your imagination and creativity flow and writing down whatever comes to you. If there are conflicting ideas about the character ... so much the better! Real people are full of contradictions!

How do you best learn about your main character?

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3. "Author-Editor Collaboration: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" on The Book Designer (Corina Koch Macleod and Carla Douglas)

Link: http://bit.ly/1RbHNvy

What do you know about the author-to-editor relationship? What's normal? What's out of the ordinary? What can you expect or hope for? What would you be foolish to hope for because you'll be holding your breath forever and ever, ad infinitum?

Here are the answers you've been looking for. Macleod and Douglas have compiled all the need-to-know points about author-editor interactions and relationships so you have a thorough resource for future forays into that necessary (and only sometimes evil) happenstance in the publishing world.

What have you always wondered about the author-editor relationship? If you have an editor, how would you characterize your relationship? (No names, please!) If you're an editor, what's your biggest pet peeve about working with authors?

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2. "How to Write What You Know --- And Then Change the Story" on The Writer's Dig at WritersDigest.com (Sejal Badani, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1NnQZHg

A lot of industry experts say to write what you know. If you don't know anything about space travel, you'll have a harder time pulling together a science fiction novel set on another planet. (Though, of course, it can certainly be done, given enough research and passion.) But what if what you know is something everyone in your life will recognize? Or resent?

Try these seven user-friendly writing tips for how to "re-purpose" (Badani's word, not mine) familiar material, perhaps from your childhood or a past experience or a relative's often-told life story, in your work-in-progress.

Which tip leaps off the page at you as a way you could incorporate some of your own experiences into your writing?

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1. "Checklist: How to Write a Query Letter That Doesn't Suck" on The Write Life (Mridu Khullar Relph)

Link: http://bit.ly/1Q98lgW

Nothing like a very blunt headline to catch your attention. After all, who doesn't want to write the ideal query letter, the one that will net you an agent and/or an editor and/or a publisher and/or a publicist right off the bat?

Now you'll have all the tools you need to do just that. Follow the step-by-step advice in this article, which will take you from the subject line of your (probably emailed) query right down through your bio, and your query letters will go from mundane or just okay to well-written and attention-grabbing.

What's your preferred format for writing a query letter? What will you change about your query letter-writing process now that you've read this article?

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An excellent lineup from last week, I think, and lots of material for authors right now. With January and New Year's resolutions on the horizon, that's probably okay!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Review: "Instant Happy Journal" (Karen Salmansohn)

Weird is the new awesome.

Re-frame: make a mistake into an opportunity.

When everyone else is a jerk, stay courteous. Let the other person be a jerk.


If any of those lines resonates with you, or inspires you to creativity or list-making or poeming or writing or anything else, then I urge you to pick up a copy of the Instant Happy Journal: 365 Days of Inspiration, Gratitude, and Joy, by Karen Salmansohn.

Maybe you won't walk away from an encounter with the book "instantly happy," but I certainly put it down feeling a lot better about myself on more than one occasion. There's something about writing, long-hand, that makes you verbose, even positively poetic, as you plumb the depths of your unconscious and subconscious minds and get something down on paper.

And the prompts, which include quotes, words of the day, questions, and uplifting lines of encouragement and support, really lend themselves to applying a few minutes of your time to their suggestions.

After all, who couldn't stand to take five or ten minutes to list three things you like about yourself? (Have you really considered it?)

Or to write a letter to an ex who left you especially hurt? (What have you always wanted to say?)

Writing is therapeutic and enlightening. It can be artistic, imaginative, purposeful, exploratory, or inventive.

And if the reward is to get some of the clutter out of your head and onto a blank page where it can't stifle you any longer, so much the better.

Journaling, too, is becoming a bigger and bigger phenomenon, right up the same line as adult coloring books. It's an outlet that doesn't so much force you to think as it does invite you to exist, and to make a note of your existence, on whatever plane you prefer.

I, for one, have decided to buy spiral-bound notebooks in which to answer the daily writing prompts in the Instant Happy Journal so I can continue to use and reuse the book for years to come.

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Author: Karen Salmansohn
Title: Instant Happy Journal: 365 Days of Inspiration, Gratitude, and Joy
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 978-1-60774-824-3
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1NcATCo

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher via the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from November 30 - December 4

5. "Tracking Our Recurring Storylines" on Elizabeth Spann Craig

Link: http://bit.ly/1QbBUhP

If you write fiction, and especially if you write companion novels or a series, you've probably got what Elizabeth Spann Craig calls "recurring storylines." These are elements that keep coming back in each book because they're important things to note about the characters, or the setting.

For instance, in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, Stephanie is constantly (mis)managing her waistline. That's a recurring story element ... it might not play a huge part in the books, but if in Book 32 of the series (which doesn't exist yet, so don't panic) Stephanie was suddenly slim, trim, and craved nary a single doughnut, readers would wonder.

How do you keep track of those mercurial little recurring elements in your own writing?

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4. "Online Learning Tip: Make the Most of Learning On the Go" on The Christina Katz Writing & Publishing Studio (Christina Katz)

Link: http://bit.ly/1TVypdZ

Writers are always learning. We have to be curious and engaged in our world, or else we'll run out of material about which to write pretty quickly. But we're also always on the move, whether with the kids or friends or on assignment, overseas or stateside ... so how do we fit in time to coddle our need to know more (and more, and more, and ...)?

Check out this post for a couple of great suggestions from a seasoned author, whose tips are nothing if not practical and easily applied. Also, check out the app (and site) called Pocket, which I recently discovered; it enables you to save an article or blog post to read later, when you have time.

What method works best for you to keep feeding your desire for learning?

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3. "Actions vs. Choices: Crafting Better Plots" on Fiction University (Janice Hardy)

Link: http://bit.ly/1OeUShu

Actions versus choices. Seems like a pretty straightforward differentiation, right? Say you're writing fiction. Your protagonist does something because that's what needs to happen next. It's in your outline. (Or in the back of your head, if you're a pantser.)

But what if that makes the protagonist's moves too ... predictable? Fiction writers want anything but for their heroes or heroines to be predictable. Readers who can predict what's going to happen next will quickly get bored and close the book. So what does it take to put a twist on that character action to make it less of a sure thing? Janice Hardy has the answers.

Pick a chapter at random in your work in progress and see whether your protagonist has more actions (foregone conclusions) than choices. What did you find?

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2. "Writing Fiction? 10 Sneaky Overwriting Traps to Avoid" on The Write Life (Daniela McVicker)

Link: http://bit.ly/1OMqbF4

When does your story end? And ... are you sure?

Many writers of fiction actually tend to overwrite more than underwrite. You're worried about word count, so you spend a few extra hundred words here or there describing something in detail ... that doesn't actually need to be described because it isn't important to the plot. Things drag on for pages and pages beyond when the plot has been wrapped up. Overwriting is also called padding, and nine-point-nine times out of ten, you don't need it. Here's an in-depth post on what to watch for in your own writing, and how to correct your course.

Which of the ten overwriting traps is your nemesis?

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1. "9 Practical Tricks for Writing Your First Novel" on The Writer's Dig blog at WritersDigest.com (Jan Ellison, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1W3zeE1

Writing a novel? You and a lot of other people on the planet ... it seems like everybody wants (or intends) to write a book someday. But what is it that will set you apart from the rest? Here are ten lines of advice on the subject, and they don't just apply to writing your first novel. (Hey, if you've got one under your belt, why not make the second even better?)

Of course, Ellison's fantastic guidance begins with the real key that underlies everything else for a successful novelist: you must finish. That's first. Start with that.

Which practical trick for writing your novel had you heard before? Which hadn't you heard? Which did you need to hear today?

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That's the lineup for last week. This post is in a slightly different format than usual. I'm testing the theory of a little longer blurb about each article, plus questions to get you thinking. What do you think of the new format? Drop me a line and let me know!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Book Review: "Christmas Confessions and Cocktails" (Vicki Lesage)

Like your Christmas celebration centered around important relationships, light humor, and a snazzy collection of cocktail offerings?

Say no more!




Author Vicki Lesage, once American and now Parisian, has recently seen released her holiday memoir Christmas Confessions and Cocktails, written in much the same vein as her Confessions of a Paris Party Girl and her Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer memoirs.

With the holiday season descending rapidly upon us (just 22 days until Christmas as of this posting!) it may be that you're looking for a timeout from the insanity. Or perhaps you need a lighthearted gift for a book-loving friend or family member.

Lesage's memoir fits both bills beautifully.

Written with her trademark self-deprecating sense of humor, this collection of Christmas-themed personal essays hits all the right notes: witty, poignant, sweet, nostalgic. The writing is clean and streamlined, without a lot of fussy details to distract from the homey messages.

And who doesn't love cocktails? Each personal essay is followed by a quick, easy-to-make cocktail recipe, thematically appropriate to the story that preceded it. (You can enjoy the book without making the cocktails, of course, but even the recipes contain glimpses of Lesage's humor).

From celebrating Christmas with your pets to the importance of sharing the season with the people who matter most, and from more obscure family traditions to the laugh-out-loud entertainment of enjoying the holiday in an apartment the size of a postage stamp, the work will keep you chuckling, sighing, and loving your way through, cover to cover.


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Author: Vicki Lesage
Title: Christmas Confessions and Cocktails
ISBN: 978-1-51503-757-6
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1MZE9Ro

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Book Review: "Writing 21st Century Fiction" (Donald Maass)

What makes a work of fiction written in the modern day --- the twenty-first century, that is --- worth reading? What makes some novels instant bestsellers with tremendous followings, and others just "good" or "okay"?

Industry expert Donald Maass has studied the subject, being a writer and literary agent himself, and has answers to these questions.



You'll find those answers in his nonfiction book on the craft of Writing 21st Century Fiction from Writer's Digest Books, themselves an industry leader in all things related to writing.

I always learn something when I pick up a nonfiction writing craft book, whether about plotting or characters or dialogue or setting or description or comma placement (hey, it's happened before).

Rarely have I ever picked up a writing craft book that I so immediately and completely connected with and understood implicitly as being packed with guidance and wisdom absolutely crucial to improving my writing.

Writing 21st Century Fiction is an example of the latter.

I inhaled the book from cover to cover. Every chapter offers practical tips on how to transform your novel from good to breathtakingly compelling. To illustrate his points, Maass includes excerpts from actual novels, already on the market and spectacular in their own respective rights and categories, making it easy to comprehend what he recommends.

And he's quite forthright about his intentions. His suggestions are designed to help make authors' novels the best they can possibly be, but the tips are, in the end, just that: suggestions. He makes nothing a requirement or demand, and yet by the time I was finished reading, I saw the wisdom of nearly everything he recommended.

If you write fiction in any genre, whether commercial or literary, there are probably fewer than five writing craft books I would require you to read (on the off-chance that you were, say, a creative writing major in my graduate-level course on the subject). Writing 21st Century is one of the ones that makes the short list, in my admiring and enthusiastic opinion.

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Author: Donald Maass
Title: Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling
Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
ISBN: 978-1-59963-400-5
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1XIvJRm

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from November 23-27

5. "11 Websites That Pay Freelance Writers" on Work Awesome (Lynn Foster)

Link: http://bit.ly/1Teuecb

If you work as a blogger or freelancer (or both) then I invite you to visit this post for a detailed list of eleven different submission opportunities ... and these places pay. Not all of them do. And while a byline and shout-out is nice, the extra income might be even nicer with the holidays looming.

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4. "7 Productivity Tools to Help You Manage Your Freelance Writing Time" on The Write Life (Meryl Williams)

Link: http://bit.ly/1Iqppac

Now that you've got those eleven new submission opportunities (see #5 above) you'll need to find time in your schedule to write the article. Do you know where all of your time goes every day? (I sure don't.) Check out this list of tools that will definitely shed some light on how to spend the 86,400 seconds you have every day.

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3. "6 Ways to Stay Creative as a Writer (When You're a Parent)" on The Writer's Dig blog at Writer's Digest (Lisa Lepki, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1LFLdhT

Being a parent can sometimes feel like running from one crisis to another. You're bailing water, smothering flames, wiping up crumbs ... or maybe all three. When all of that everyday stuff gets in the way of your creativity, you sit down at your desk exhausted and dried up. Good news: you're not the only parent in this position. Here's a post by a mom and writer who speaks words of wisdom from long experience.

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2. "How to Level Up Your Writing Habit" on The Write Practice (Emily Wenstrom)

Link: http://bit.ly/1Hjc4p3

If you play or have ever played video games or computer games, you're familiar with the idea of "leveling up." You start a new game, and you're at level one, the bottom rung. You pass all the tests, defeat the gargoyles, and puzzle out the encrypted codes, and then you're on to level two. But you couldn't have gotten to level two without mastering level one first. What if it's the same way with your writing habit? Read this post for excellent advice.

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1. "Free Advice for Writers" on The Kill Zone (Joe Moore)

Link: http://bit.ly/1MLxudn

So you're a writer. You put words on a page, day after day, and revise them once, twice, again and again. Sometimes it's easy to get complacent. Here's a fabulous collection of expert writing tips from the best of the best in the industry. They're great reminders of what you probably know to be true ... but, hey, it never hurts to be reminded.

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What's the best writing advice you've ever received? What writing advice do you need to be reminded about?

At what "level" is your writing habit? What are you going to do to take it to the next level this week?

How productive are you? When are you most productive? What's your favorite method of staying on task?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

For What Are You Most Thankful This Year?

In lieu of my usual Thursday book review, I bow to the instance of one of my favorite holidays and allow it center-stage today.

I'd like to wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving, rife with excellent company, meaningful connections, good food, and time for rest, relaxation, entertainment, and fun.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And if you feel led, drop a line in the comments in answer to this question:

What's the one thing for which you are most thankful this year?

It does require taking time for an inventory, remembering everything that's happened over the last twelve months, thinking about everything you could write down in answer.

And I know how hard it is to settle on one thing, so if you have to fudge it, let's just say at least one thing and as many as three things for which you're thankful.

The one thing for which I am most thankful this year is my faith, which has carried me time and again back to the Cross through more challenges and over or around more obstacles than I would ever have chosen to experience on my own. It hasn't been pretty, but I'm still here, thanks to no effort of my own.

Your turn. What are you most thankful for this year?

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Review: "In Silent Graves" (Gary A. Braunbeck)

Suppose you had the ideal life: loving spouse, dream career, well-kept house. It's so easy, in that situation, to become complacent and think that nothing will ever change.

But, of course, something always does.

Here's the real question. What if nothing was as it seemed?




Author Gary A. Braunbeck explores just that situation, and that question, in his supernatural thriller, In Silent Graves, from his The Cedar Hills series.

The work has garnered dozens of admiring reviews. What I can provide here is a degree of admiration cloaked in something like overwhelmed confusion ... not quite to the point of throwing the book across the room in frustration, but I have to say that that thought crossed my mind more than once as I read.

The story is one of the most intricately woven and complicated I've ever read, and for maintaining all the plot threads and characters and keeping the timeline straight when it is far from chronological (or easily explained ...), I feel great admiration toward the author and his creative prowess. It takes a very gifted, precise mind to keep track of so much information.

I nearly classified In Silent Graves as literary fiction, actually, rather than the commercial-sounding "thriller." Reading it is like reading a work by Dickens, or Austen, or Bronte (pick one). Instead of the usual "Plot Point A to Plot Point B with Subplot Point AA interwoven and here comes Plot Point C with Subplot Point BB attached ..." that is so typical of thrillers and suspense novels, Braunbeck's writing is rich in descriptors, almost archaic in sentence structure (if you cringe over run-on sentences or paragraphs that take up pages and pages at a time, you may want to look elsewhere for entertainment).

At times, I felt thoroughly lost in all the lovely writing, perhaps wondering where the plot line had gone and how far back I'd have to retrace my steps until I picked it up again, and sometimes wondering whether all the literary "fluff" was really necessary for the story. Still, the style remains consistent throughout, and for that, I can express further admiration. The work is a long one.

In many ways, the novel is a kind of frame ... a story within a story (within a story, within a story, sometimes). Think the sick kid in bed whose grandfather reads him The Princess Bride one afternoon; that situation is the frame for the story about Buttercup and Westley and all the others in The Princess Bride.

There are a lot of stories related and pondered and withheld in In Silent Graves, making the feel of the work almost one of sitting around a campfire trading tale after tale with those around you. That the work remains consistent to its shocking conclusion in the face of so many components is, again, remarkable.

I suppose it's more in my nature to prefer a linear story line, rather than one that wanders all over creation (albeit with aplomb and great attention to detail). In that regard, I cannot say that I would reread Braunbeck's novel at a later time. If, however, the idea of a complex, thickly woven and -written literary thriller with supernatural elements appeals to you, than I can recommend no one better.


# # #

Author: Gary A. Braunbeck
Title: In Silent Graves
Series: The Cedar Hills Series
Publisher: JournalStone
ASIN: B00Y5RCPRK
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1kHDBGa

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher via Library Thing in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from November 16-20

5. "5 Strategies to Banish Creative Blocks" on Elephant Journal (Suzanne Chadwick)

Link: http://bit.ly/1LsYsCy

You're working along and you hit a block. You know that feeling: that hopeless obstacle where you can't get your creative mind working. We've all been there. What do you do to get moving? How about trying these five different strategies to get past that block, from asking questions to being patient with yourself?

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4. "Ideation Vacation: How to Come Up with New Article Ideas" on Writer's Digest's There Are No Rules (Zachary Petit, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1I3Isfx

Sometimes the well runs dry. Imagination sparks and spurts but refuses to take off. What do you do in those times, especially when you've got a publication to which to contribute articles? Remember to keep in mind Petit's writing tips. Take inventory of your own expertise. Read niche-specific articles. And many more.

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3. "Email Is the Best Way to Reach Millennials" on Harvard Business Review (Kristin Naragon)

Link: http://bit.ly/20PP73j

Almost every business today wants to reach that perfect target audience, always growing, always learning, technology-savvy: millennials. What's the best way to connect with that generation? The answer is email. Make sure you're doing your best to get your brand out there in front of your target audience.

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2. "Don't Scrimp on an Editor" on Writer's Digest's The Writer's Dig (Leslie Johansen Nack, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1S2l3va

Writing the book isn't enough. Finishing the book isn't enough. Celebrating isn't enough ... although that's an absolutely necessary step. No, you need an editor, and a professional, at that. Someone who can take the product of your imagination and your creativity, and transform it into a streamlined manuscript that represents and embodies all of your intentions. Here's a first-person testimonial to the importance of finding your perfect editor.

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1. "The Best Time of Day to Write --- According to Science" on Ragan's PR Daily (Kristin Piombino)

Link: http://bit.ly/1MmbDqH

Are you a morning person? Wake with the birds, mind buzzing with ideas, fingers itching to be productive? Or an evening person, after everybody else has gone to bed and you have the place to yourself? Or something in between? Do you know what science says about it? You might learn something. Check it out!

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That's the lineup for last week. When do you find that you focus best? What do you enjoy most about the writing process? What drives you crazy about it? Where do you get your ideas? (A question that is probably the bane of almost every author's existence.) How do you banish writer's block?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Book Review: "BOYSTOWN: Season Four" (Jake Biondi)

Things like love and lust, trust and betrayal, contentment and anger are sometimes so closely identified or intertwined that it's impossible to separate the individual strands.

Now, in BOYSTOWN: Season Four, the fourth installment of the BOYSTOWN series by author Jake Biondi, you too can read along in cinematic format the continuing story about the Ciancio and Mancini families and their feud, the terrible restaurant fire that destroyed so many lives and relationships, the various permutations of those relationships (most of them gay), and the new-and-improved evil force waiting in the shadows to unleash its full wrath.


Readers familiar with the first three seasons of the series will be gratified to find that the same minimalist style of writing --- akin to what you'd be watching were the series televised --- carries over to this most recent addition. Literary fiction, this is not ... it's more of a contemporary drama, bordering sometimes on the melodramatic, for genre.

And it makes tremendous sense that the author chooses to write with such spare, sparse prose. Otherwise, if there were flowery descriptions and long, thoughtful monologues or inner dialogues, it would be impossible to keep track of the dozens of different story lines at play here.

On occasion, it does feel next to impossible to follow the various relational amalgamations that take place: Person A who used to date Person B is now dating Person C but misses Person B enough to risk the current relationship with Person C, while Person C figures it out and runs to Person D about the possible betrayal, and Person D also happens to have once dated and slept with (or only one of the two) Person A and Person B ... 

Still, what makes for challenging reading on the page (one of these days, I'm going to make good on my threat to sit down and chart out a diagram or blueprint or family tree, of sorts, to track all the different failed, current, former, and potential relationships going on in the story) will no doubt make far more sense on screen at some point, with individuals given their own respective faces, styles, and gestures to differentiate.

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Author: Jake Biondi
Title: BOYSTOWN: Season Four
Series: BOYSTOWN
ASIN: B013WYKCYE
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1SEuiCD

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Book Review: "Aegis Incursion" (S.S. Segran)

Everybody keeps secrets. Some keep secrets by choice: things they don't want to discuss or even think about, let alone pass along. Some keep secrets accidentally, because they can't recollect what happened before.

And some are made to keep secrets, whether they know it or not. What happens when the secret knowledge that you carry makes you both the cure to an evil of international proportions, and the target of those propagating that evil?



Enter Aegis Incursion, the second book in the Aegis League series of action-adventure, apocalyptic science fiction novels by author S.S. Segran.

Yes, you read that genre correctly.

And yet, despite the apparent disparity of those sub-genres fitting together, Segran handles the crossovers seamlessly and with aplomb. I never got lost in the shuffle, never felt too jumbled to bother turning the page, never wondered what on earth I was actually reading.

That kind of precision is the mark of an expert author.

In the best tradition of action-adventure novels written for young adults, as are these, the protagonist isn't a single person: it's actually five (or more, depending on your point of view) young people, friends who have banded together and been bonded to one another through experiences you've only ever imagined sharing with your high school bests. Each of those characters is easy to like, sympathetic, and fascinating, with his or her respective abilities and personality, making for a compelling read from start to finish.

And you'll never be bored, on the off chance that the characters don't appeal to you (they will --- I promise). That's because the plot rivals those of most well-written contemporary thrillers and suspense novels I've had the pleasure of reading. There's always something happening. It's usually bad.

Nothing better to keep me entertained through the story.

And though the novels are written for young adults, don't hesitate to pick them up if you're "over age." I was riveted, captivated all the way through, and it's been a long time since anyone could categorize me as a "young adult."

I can't offer higher praise than that.

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Author: S.S. Segran
Title: Aegis Incursion
Series: Aegis League (#2)
ISBN: 978-0-99108-135-6
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1l9Ub22

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from November 9-13

5. "6 Ways Work Will Change in 2016" on Fast Company (Jared Lindzon)

Link: http://bit.ly/1HrPsTc

Do you know what work will look like in 2016? And, most importantly, do you know how those changes will affect you? Whether writer, freelancer, blogger, or beyond, you need to be prepared for how the work place and the work force will change in the coming months. Suddenly, mainstream may look more like remote workers, independent contractors, and the like. Are you ready?

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4. "Ten Top Tips for Writing a Novel" on Open.edu (Sally O'Reilly)

Link: http://bit.ly/1kdfGii

How about some unexpected writing tips for getting the novel in you ... on paper? With NaNoWriMo more than underway this month, I expect writers could use an extra dose of inspiration and motivation. Have you ever thought about getting a cat? Or what impact your diet could have on your productivity?

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3. "Keep Your Plot Threads Under Control" on The Writer (Erika Mailman)

Link: http://bit.ly/1WHsMQl

You've got a novel in the works, perhaps for NaNoWriMo. How many different plot threads does it take to pull together a complex, intriguing novel that keeps the reader's attention? The Writer magazine has an article on just that very topic: how to keep track of your plot threads and make sure they don't get so tangled up that you've got a hopeless mess instead of a well-written read at the conclusion.

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2. "8 Reasons Why Narrowing Your Blogging Niche Is SO Important" on Blogelina

Link: http://bit.ly/1MP7bjp

Sure, you can always blog about anything under the sun, and people will probably read it, if they can find you. You can even blog about everything related to one topic, like writing, or books, or marketing. But if you establish your focus in a much more narrow niche --- like a blog about writing romance novels, or a blog about marketing with LinkedIn, or a blog about contemporary haiku --- you may be doing yourself a far bigger favor. Check out this article to learn more.

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1. "This Tool Unlocks Your Writing Flow By Killing Your Inner Editor" on Make Use Of (Dave LeClair)

Link: http://bit.ly/1O94tJ6

The clock ticks away, one day at a time, on the NaNoWriMo challenge. You've committed to writing 50,000 words this month. (What were you thinking, again?) How do you make your inner critic shut up long enough to churn out 1,667 words a day? I just discovered this tool for upping your word count without letting your inner editor comment. Check it out!

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How is NaNoWriMo going for you? What's the most unusual thing you do that ups your creativity and inspiration to write? Which 2016 work change will affect you most, and are you prepared for it? How could you narrow your blog niche even just a fraction more?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Review: "Author Power" (Lynn Isenberg)

If you're a writer or author, blogger, freelancer, poet, or playwright, or anything related to the industry, you're concerned with marketing. You have to market yourself, your brand, your projects, your abilities, your know-how and experience, your expertise, your ideas.

In short, everything.

What if you had a book that would help you tackle all of that, and enable you to find ways to make money off your projects even before you'd actually published?



Allow me to introduce to you the nonfiction work Author Power: Profit Before You Publish, by Lynn Isenberg.

This tremendous resource incorporates Isenberg's own experience, suggestions, and personal anecdotes (both about what worked and what didn't work) to underscore eminently doable steps that any author (published or not) can take to get their book or project in front of an audience more quickly and effectively.

From making a profit on your project prior to its publication to carefully designing your personal brand to extending invitations for other organizations or businesses (or both!) to join you in your branding endeavors, Author Power is the kind of resource every industry professional needs on his or her reference shelf.

I guarantee you'll have at least one "I never thought of that before!" revelation moment while reading, and that Isenberg's reasonable, practical directions will help you apply that very idea to your own platform.

Being an author (blogger, poet, playwright) isn't easy. You've signed up for a lot of hard work, the kind that demands commitment, consistency, discipline, patience, and creativity. But doesn't it feel better to know that others have trodden the paths ahead of you and have advice to share?

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Author: Lynn Isenberg
Title: Author Power: Profit Before You Publish
ISBN: 978-0-99106-851-7
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1GNOnVK

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Book Review: "A New Day at Midnight" (Michelle Hiscox)

Picture this: your life is ruined. You'll never be the same, feel the same, look the same. Nothing will ever be the same. It's the fault of a single person, whom you never expect to see again.

And then, fate intervenes, and the life of that person lands in your hands.

What would you do?



Addressing that very question, among others, is the paranormal romance novel A New Day at Midnight, by author Michelle Hiscox.

Protagonist Hannah Worthington is one of the likeliest and most enjoyable heroines I've read in some time in the genre. She's a veritable collection of mismatched characteristics: strength and fear, determination and uncertainty, speech alternately tender and caustic. The dichotomies are so well-crafted that she might walk off the pages at any moment.

The work itself is written in more of a historic style, not quite so verbose as to be considered literary fiction, and yet not like the fast-paced stories so popular today. There's something unique and refreshing about that style, despite its look back to a bygone era of detailed descriptions and careful dialogue. I wished a few times for less wordy conversations between characters, but the form is consistent throughout.

Themes explored include love, betrayal, forgiveness, family, loyalty, friendship, bitterness and cynicism, lust, and more. Hiscox admirably combines elements of what would otherwise be a well-told historic romance with a significant dip into the paranormal realm, and readers may recognize the echo of a well-known fairy tale plot re-imagined in this highly entertaining offering.

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Author: Michelle Hiscox
Title: A New Day at Midnight
ISBN: 978-1-987913-00-2
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1Q7tpnt

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher via Library Thing in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.