Friday, January 30, 2015

Flash Fiction Challenge: Must Contain Three Things

Thanks, as always, to Chuck Wendig for his unique writing prompts. Always something inspirational there!

This week's prompt was about including three things (one from of each of three different lists, selected with a random number generator) in the story.

My numbers garnered me poison, true love, and resurrection to use.


# # #

Love Among Tomatoes


Lacy mixed arsenic with water and sprayed it over the tomato plants. “Worms,” she said, when Jack asked what she was doing.

He stared at one of the plants, with its shriveled yellow leaves. “Worms did that?”

“That’s what I said.” She sprayed the next plant.

He hesitated. “I have to get to a meeting, but I was going to ask if you wanted—”

“No thanks.”


She shrugged.


After a week, Jack found Lacy in the garden again, on her knees among the tomato plants. Her hands were caked with mulch. “They look greener,” he said.

She sat back on her heels and rested her hands on her thighs. “It’s a slow process.”

“Can I pick you up tonight?”

“What for?”

“I’m giving a presentation at the convention center.”

No thanks.” She went back to her mulch.


In another month, Lacy returned home from the grocery in the late morning. She climbed out of her car, loaded her arms with grocery bags, turned to go inside, and pulled up short.

Jack was squatting in her garden.

She pushed open the gate and went to stand over him.

“Hey, the shade feels good,” Jack said.

“What are you doing?”

“Weeding.” His hands were muddy, and there was a streak of dirt on his face.

“Oh.” Nonplussed, Lacy studied him, then the pile of weeds beside him.

“The tomatoes came back.” He ripped another trailing bindweed plant out of the ground and dropped it on the pile. “Got a minute?”

“I guess.”

In the span of her next breath, he knelt facing her, now with a blue velvet box in his smeared hands. “Marry me?”

She smiled. “Weed my garden?”

“Any time you need.”

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Review: "The Gift of Charms" (Julia Suzuki)

I rarely foray into the genre of fantasy. I'm not as familiar with the standards of the genre, or reader expectations, or the works that are already out there (aside from iconic ones like Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings).

But I was pleased to pick up The Gift of Charms by Julia Suzuki for review.

The work is the first book in The Land of Dragor series, and follows Yoshiko, a unique young dragon from the unusual circumstances of his birth to his redemption as a truly gifted creature, far beyond any hopes that his kin had for him. His journey is not a safe or easy one, as he is forced by one circumstance after another to face obstacles and even break the commandments that keep the dragons safe.

Well-written and engaging, The Gift of Charms is a testament to the fantasy genre in its beautifully written and carefully developed fantastical world, peopled with unlikely creatures. That Suzuki took a great deal of time in planning the work is evident simply from the vast amount of information she imparts (seamlessly, not in a dry lecture format) about her particular ilk of dragons, their tendencies, lives, likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses.

While the writing style and voice seem most conducive to a young adult audience, I won't hesitate to recommend the work to adults, as well, and even to preteens and kids, as it would make an excellent addition to the "bedtime story" bookshelf of the average child.

Indeed, anyone fascinated by other worlds, intriguing realms, and very different characters and creatures will doubtless be charmed by The Gift of Charms.

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Author: Julia Suzuki
Title: The Gift of Charms
Series: The Land of Dragor (#1)
ISBN: 978-1-78219-924-3
Purchase here:

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

Book Review: "Choice Pearls" (Jasmine Doster)

There are many books in the Christian market that deal with femininity, what it means to be a woman, and why, in today's society, women spend so much time compromising themselves, their standards, their purity, and their futures to gain fleeting happiness, contentment, or acceptance.

Choice Pearls: Rare, Preserved, Precious, Priceless by Jasmine Doster is one that desires to join the ranks of those aforementioned.

Doster writes from a place of personal experience, having been rejected and used before, having given herself away and compromised her standards and her faith. Most, if not all women, if we were honest with ourselves, can relate to the honesty with which Doster writes about her desperation and her longing to belong and to be valued.

Included are innumerable passages from the Old and New Testaments both in the Christian Bible, encouraging and eye-opening verses included to clarify the God-given path women can take to realize their priceless value to their Creator, which acknowledgment must come first, before any other earthly relationship or circumstance.

There is potential in the work to be something that would bridge a gap between where women are hurting and lonely, and where they might be, content with God regardless of their circumstances. However, much about the work makes me hesitate to recommend it very highly for reader consumption.

First, several of the Scripture passages parsed seem at odds with what the verses actually say or mean in their original context, which is the correct way to study and analyze the Bible for its applicable meaning. Scriptural exegesis is not an easy process, to be sure, and requires a great deal of careful scholarly study. There is some evidence of that in Choice Pearls, but not enough to warrant trusting only the author's perspective on what the various verses mean.

Second, much about the work reads as overly simplified and even disorganized and chaotic. It's impossible to doubt Doster's sincerity and her desire to reach other women in similar situations to hers, but her credibility as an author and expert in her subject is significantly lessened by the confusing (and sometimes erroneous) paths and conclusions in the work.

Third, and finally, the other aspect of asserting and maintaining author credibility comes from a well-edited manuscript. Numerous errors in punctuation and grammar kept me distracted from the message Doster hoped to convey.

While I agree that the message is one that never gets too familiar to share with women, the means of conveying that message, in this case, leaves something to be desired. I look forward to a future edition of the work with its accuracy and credibility firmly established.

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Author: Jasmine Doster
Title: Choice Pearls: Rare, Preserved, Precious, Priceless
Purchase here:

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, January 28, 2015

Book Review: "The Penthouse Prince" (Virginia Nelson)

Ever looked around at your mundane 9-to-5 office job and thought you might could be doing better? Ever wondered what it would take to spice up your boring world?

Ever been completely caught off-guard when something did happen to shake up your routine?

Then you know exactly how single mother Jeanie Long feels. She works in the call center of a large corporation owned by a mysterious, wealthy young man named Cameron James, who has been infamously called the "penthouse prince" for his exploits and escapades. Their lives are as far apart on the social ladder as they could possibly be.

Until the day that their worlds collide. Jeannie's just looking to report her immediate supervisor for misconduct when she finds herself caught up in one of Cameron's impulsive schemes. He contracts her to pretend to be his fiancee so he can keep the business and get his overbearing father off his back.

What Cameron doesn't know is that there is deception on both sides of the (church) aisle. Jeanie isn't telling him everything she knows about her young daughter or her past. And then, when the scheme turns into reality and demands that Cameron and Jeanie get married, Jeanie realizes she's fallen in love with a man who does not believe, even remotely, in love. Can their differences be reconciled?

The Penthouse Prince is a sexy romance by Virginia Nelson, published by Indulgence, an imprint of Entangled Publishing, and due out on February 9, 2015. Witty dialogue combined with a startling premise and fascinating characters --- Cameron, in particular, is a dizzying combination of wealth and need, impulsiveness and patience, thoughtfulness and thick-headed oblivion --- the work stands to be a contender among others of its kind.

Look for heavy sexual tension and several satisfying encounters between the leads, as well as a suspenseful growing romance between someone who has always longed to be swept off her feet and someone who has never, in his life, thought that love existed.

Even the other characters --- Jeanie's daughter, her neighbor friend Lori, Cameron's father and his close friend Lowe --- come with their own adverse circumstances, desires, and agendas, all of which combine into complex subplots that underscore and heighten the excellence of the main story line.

Like your contemporary romances somewhere between oh-so-subtly sensual and Fifty Shades of Grey-explicit? Look no further than The Penthouse Prince for a satisfying read.

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Author: Virginia Nelson
Title: The Penthouse Prince
Publisher: Indulgence (Entangled Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-63375-204-7
Purchase here:

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

Book Review: "One Real Man" (Coleen Kwan)

Sweet romances --- ones that don't contain graphic nudity or sexual content --- are pretty hard to find these days, given the recent success of extremely explicit works. However, I'll admit that I'm partial to romances with scenes that --- in what seems an almost nostalgic nod to romances of the past --- lead up to sexual content, and then very neatly close the bedroom door, so to speak.

If you find you're like that, as well, and you're just looking for a well-written, feel-good romance between two three-dimensional, realistic people, then I invite you to check out One Real Man by Coleen Kwan, presented by Bliss, an imprint of Entangled Publishing, scheduled for release on February 9, 2015.

Owen Bellamy used to work as a pool boy for the wealthy Kerrigan family, mocked and tormented by Paige Kerrigan, the spoiled daughter. Now an adult with a successful business, he rents the Kerrigan house, determined to come to terms with the childhood he spent there.

To his surprise, Paige herself unexpectedly returns home, knowing neither that Owen will be there nor that he is currently in charge of the household. She is flat broke, disgraced and ruined after a recent divorce and a widely known scandal. In what seems to Paige like cruel punishment, Owen hires her as his housekeeper for the duration of his time there. With no better prospects, Paige is forced into the same position she once lorded over Owen.

Imagine both their shock when they realize that each has something the other needs, and that they'll have to work together and set aside their differences to find happiness ... and maybe even love.

Kwan writes a quick-paced love story, genuine in its exploration of such themes as betrayal, distrust, class differences, selflessness, sacrifice, and forgiveness. As characters, Owen and Paige are as realistic as actual people, and the intriguing premise is one that begs to be written out with the kind of finesse Kwan possesses. The dialogue is snappy and reveals new dimensions to the characters with each conversation.

For all the other genre elements present --- the mystery surrounding the scandal that involved Paige, the suspense as to whether Owen's business deal will succeed --- the story is, at heart, about relationships and the broken people who come together to try to make one work. Who among us can't relate to that desire?

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Author: Coleen Kwan
Title: One Real Man
Publisher: Bliss (Entangled Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-63375-107-1
Purchase here:

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

Book Review: "Erika" (Ellynore Seybold-Smith)

Sigrit, the first book in this two-book series, is a documentary-style work of historical fiction --- think the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (Check out my review of Sigrit here.)

As it tends to be traditional with sequels or companion novels for the author to maintain the same genre and style across the series, I expected much the same in picking up the sequel, Erika, about Sigrit's aunt. The work is, indeed, historical, set mainly in the post-World War II United States and Germany, but there, the consistency ends.

Erika, by Ellynore Seybold-Smith, is almost a romantic suspense, given its intriguing premise: that Erika's first husband Rowald, declared MIA during the war and presumed dead, turns up alive and with revenge on his mind when he finds out that Erika is remarried with two children and a life of her own.

Readers who first picked up Sigrit will recognize with some fondness many of the characters that recur in Erika, from Sigrit and Erika themselves to many of their friends and family members. Another strength of the work is in historical details to set the scene, particularly with regard to the transportation methods and post-war cultural differences.

As in every book, there is room for improvement if a second edition should be released. First, the dialogue tends to fall flat and unbelievable, not as realistic as it might. Second, the plausibility of the situations in the work is often questionable --- character reactions, especially, don't seem genuine in relation to the circumstances they face or have faced. Third, an assortment of errors in punctuation and the like prove distractions from what otherwise is a relatively engaging story.

Of the two, Sigrit remains my favorite, but Seybold-Smith is to be commended for her foray into a whole new genre with this particular offering.

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Author: Ellynore Seybold-Smith
Title: Erika
ISBN: 9781495379543
Purchase here:

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, January 26, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from January 19-23

5. "The Secret Philosophy of Language: Searching for the Origins of Human Thought" on (Daniel Cloud)

Linguistics is a fascinating field of study, and delving into it, even with a few expert articles, provides all kinds of fodder for inspiration, conversation, discussion, and debate. This post brings to the table a historical context for the origin of words, including perspectives from philosophers as far back as Plato.

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4. "How to Blog If You Don't Have Time" on

Not every author these days is delighted with the prospect of social media and maintaining a platform (check out this insightful and thought-provoking post by Ksenia Anske on the topic) but for those who still hunger to grow an audience according to the traditionally espoused model, this post provides practical guidance.

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3. "Historical Thesaurus Reveals How 800,000 English Words Have Evolved" on (Victoria Woollaston)

Another foray into the world of linguistics. This post introduces an historical thesaurus that goes back in time to trace the etymology of hundreds of thousands of words in the English language. Ever heard of a "hoddypeak" or a "wattle-head"? Find out the meanings here!

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2. "7 Things Being an Editor Taught Me About Being an Author" on (Chris Pavone)

From editor to author is not so far a leap in the literary world, and when done correctly, the switch gives such authors an opportunity to put to work everything they learned when on the other side of the submission desk. Author Chris Pavone is no exception to the rule.

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1. "The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2015" on (Carrie Smith)

Looking for inspiration? Expert guidance? An online community? Freelancing resources? Look no further than this comprehensive list, updated annually. It's divided into convenient categories so you can go straight to what you need the most (although reading through the whole list once might open your eyes to resources you never realized you needed!).

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And there you have it: the lineup for last week. What sticks out to you? What's most helpful? What was most entertaining?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Book Review: "Five Minutes Alone" (Paul Cleave)

Imagine someone you love very deeply was attacked. Assaulted, raped, tortured, tormented, murdered.

What would you do in response?

How far would you go to exact revenge against the attackers?

Enter the premise for Paul Cleave's Five Minutes Alone, a psychological thriller and an Edgar Award finalist for good reason.

The story takes place six months after the conclusion to Cleave's book Joe Victim. Two characters from that book, Carl Schroder and Theodore (Theo) Tate are different than they were before the events of Joe Victim.

For one thing, Tate is back on the police force, albeit a bit reluctantly, and waiting on his wife Bridget nearly hand and foot, since the car accident that nearly left Tate a widower and left them both childless.

For another, and perhaps more ghoulishly, Schroder is off the police force, having been changed in a firefight by a bullet that remains lodged in his skull, in a place where his emotions once existed. Now, he feels nearly nothing, and doesn't know how to move forward ... until the night he recognizes a convicted rapist, recently released from prison, and follows the man to the home of the rapist's original victim.

In the ensuing aftermath, the rapist is dead, the victim is very much alive, and Schroder finds a new purpose to life. What if he became the person who could grant victims their "five minutes alone" with their attackers?

Meanwhile, Tate, working hard on the increasingly gruesome murders from his angle, has his own struggles to face and skeletons to hide.

Cleave writes in an intriguing style, from one character's viewpoint to another but in a way that increases the tension and reader fascination with the story line. The events never let up: there's always something going on, and a deadline to be met, or someone's life to save. He's also masterful with cliffhangers, making this work a difficult one to put down when you need to be doing something else.

While Tate is a well-rounded character, complete with a past he doesn't want anyone to know about, the revelation of which would even compromise his position in law enforcement, Schroder is the really fascinating person, from his sympathies for the victims of crimes he solved over the years, to his justification for allowing those victims their chance to take revenge on those who irreparably hurt them, to his increasingly warped way of thinking about life and relationships, trust and betrayal.

For a work that fits the cliche "page-turner," look no further than this one.

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Author: Paul Cleave
Title: Five Minutes Alone
ISBN: 978-1-4767-7915-7
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: "That's Paris!: An Anthology"

Ah, Paris.

Just the word evokes images that inspire the very essence of Europe, in all its splendor and insouciance, the laissez-faire lifestyle, the casual beauty, the easy unassuming atmosphere. From sunlit cafes to iconic architecture to some of the most unique social mores and some of the oddest laws in existence, the city of Paris is nothing if not wholly spectacular.

Welcome, then, to That's Paris: An Anthology of Life, Love and Sarcasm in the City of Light, to be released in Kindle edition on February 2 (print edition published just this month) by Velvet Morning Press.

Featuring essays, anecdotes, and personal stories, the anthology is an absolute triumph whose success lies in its ability to convey the dozens of facets that, together, comprise the sparkling gem that is the City of Light.

Some of the contributions are tongue-in-cheek, like "(Mis)Adventures at Sacre-Coeur" by Amy Lynne Hayes, who writes about the time she visited Paris with her ex and his new girlfriend (talk about awkward!).

Some contributions are self-deprecating, as are "The French Table, a Test of Mettle" by Audrey M. Chapuis (about her experience with French cuisine) and "Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs" by Vicki Lesage (a roll-on-the-floor-in-sympathetic-laughter treatise of an odder aspect of French culture).

Some of the writing represents the more ridiculous ("This One Time in Paris" by Sarah del Rio) and some of it, the miraculous ("Half Past Midnight" by Didier Quemener). Often, the works are both touching and heartbreaking ("A Scoop of Henry" by Cheryl McAlister, or "Love Unlocked" by Adria J. Cimino, or "Les Urgences" by David Whitehouse).

Regardless of perspective or style, however, all of the additions to the anthology (of which there are many more, by an array of gifted authors) are powerfully insightful and eye-opening. Picture Paris in a thousand different ways, through a thousand different lenses, and you have imagined what That's Paris! achieves in a microcosm.

I sighed, chuckled, cried, and laughed until I cried as I read my way through the collection, one story at a time like one bite after another of a superb multifaceted meal, brilliantly prepared and impeccably served.

You'll never look at Paris the same way again. I promise.

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Author: Various
Title: That's Paris!: An Anthology of Life, Love and Sarcasm in the City of Light
Publisher: Velvet Morning Press

ASIN: B00S684MJS (Kindle)
Purchase here:

ISBN: 978-0692340110 (print)
Purchase here:

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

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Book Review: "Birth of a Gypsy Queen" (Paul D. Swann)

Sometimes you pick up a book to read from a new author with whom you're unfamiliar, and when you read the book, you're intrigued or inspired enough to look for other works by the same author. Today, it's fairly common practice for authors to publish short stories, flash fiction, journals, or other snippets --- sort of like bonus content --- related to a larger story line.

Enter Birth of a Gypsy Queen: Three Short Stories, by Paul D. Swann.

The work seeks to set the stage for a particular character --- Talaitha, the gypsy queen --- who will star in a full-length project to come. As just a small taste of the genre, style, and character in question to entice reader interest, Birth of a Gypsy Queen doesn't disappoint.

In "Birth of a Gypsy Queen," the first short story, Talaitha is born amidst a fierce battle, perhaps medieval-era. Quick, cinematic cuts from character to character and perspective to perspective throughout the story serve to heighten tension and increase suspense. The cast of characters, including Talaitha's parents, bloodthirsty enemy fighters, and an array of selfless subjects to the gypsy royalty, is colorful and astoundingly differentiated (in the span of just a few pages) in their respective motives and desires.

The second short story, "Snake Eyes," reveals the extent of Talaitha's power. She has the ability to turn back time, in a way. The initial setting is the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 during World War II. A historical event so tremendous seems impersonal when discussed as from a distance, but Swann gives readers the scene from the eyes of a military member, Leo, gambling with his friend Bobby just prior to the attack. Bobby loses the last bet made and dies in the firefight. Leo survives, with frightening consequences later in life.

Finally, "Ghost of the Queen" enlightens readers to Talaitha's whereabouts in a still more modern setting. She inhabits a haunted house, and lures two young men to their destruction. Told from the laissez-faire viewpoint of one of the young men, the story is chilling in the extent to which it suggests the reality of ghosts and the reaches of revenge and hatred.

The trio of stories does what it was designed to do --- intrigue readers enough to invest in a full-length project centered around Talaitha, whose powers and background alone are fascinating enough to warrant further reading. A future edition of the stories would benefit very much from a final proofread to ensure that the occasional errors in punctuation don't trip up the otherwise engaged reader, but beyond that, the work merits serious attention.

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Author: Paul D. Swann
Title: Birth of a Gypsy Queen: Three Short Stories
Purchase here:

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, January 19, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from January 12-16

5. "Winter Wonderland Writing Prompts" on Writer's Relief

If you're a visual person, especially, someone who needs to see an image before you get inspired, check out these five photos and related questions to springboard your writing this week!

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4. "So You Want to Be a Full-Time Freelancer" on All Digitocracy (Tracie Powell)

I know, it's easy to beat to death the subject of what to do if you want to freelance on a full-time basis. However, this article --- a compilation of practical recommendations from several freelancers and writers --- is refreshingly thorough and neatly subdivided into categories of things to consider, from websites to experience to finances.

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3. "4 Harsh Truths That Will Help You Sell More Books [Updated]" on BooksGoSocial Book Marketing Blog (Laurence O'Bryan)

Everything you need to know, in quick summary format, about the reality of getting your book out there and seeing it sell to readers, including an eye-opening graphic that might help open up new marketing avenues for your work you never thought about before.

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2. "How to Write Better Content for Social Media" on Convince & Convert (Lesley Vos)

From the first line --- "What do you want from social media today?" --- Vos gets right to the heart of the issue. Consider, for instance, whether you're looking to get in touch with readers, or expand your platform to get your book noticed, or find out whether there's even a demographic for your planned project. Your motivation matters. Think about it.

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1. "10 Hidden Microsoft Word Features That Will Make Your Life Easier" on (Saikat Basu)

If you're anything like me, you spend a lot of time wondering whether the only things Microsoft Word can do for you are letting you type and save a document. This article is full of diagrams and other visuals to help you utilize ten lesser-known features of Microsoft Word that will, indeed, make life easier!

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There's the lineup for last week. Let me know what you liked, what you didn't like, and what you'd like to see more of in the future!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Conference Insights: Dangerous Settings

Expert writers talk about all kinds of ways to maintain suspense and tension in your manuscript. It's common to hear everything from "Use short sentences" to "Don't spend much time describing anything." And those are excellent suggestions.

Here's one more, from author Jane Cleland in her presentation on techniques to create suspense, from the 2014 Writer's Digest Conference East:

Pick a dangerous setting.

Do what?

I'm glad you asked.

Tone and Feel

Cleland referenced three examples in her discussion.

1. The Everglades are scarier than a beach.
2. A bayou is scarier than a lake.
3. A mountaintop in a blizzard is scarier than a meadow.

It's almost like the connotations of certain words, how they strike some people as scarier or harsher than others.

Uprising has a different tone and feel to it than rebellion or revolution.

A thug is a different person than a hoodlum or a sidekick or a henchman.

Picking just the right word is critical to transfer the correct tone to the reader. In the same way, picking the right setting for each scene can add to the tension the reader feels, or detract from it.

Picture This

Imagine a fight to the death ... on a children's playground.

Now imagine the same fight to the death ... but with the two characters trapped in a rowboat in the middle of a swamp.

It's not that you couldn't write a fight-to-the-death scene at a playground, and maybe after dark, when the place is abandoned and there's a lot of nooks and crannies in which to hide, even that playground could be a potentially dangerous setting.


Now, not every setting for every scene needs to feel life-or-death dangerous, of course, and restrictions do apply given different expectations for different genres.

Still, though, each setting should add something to the scene, or underscore the tone that the scene already has, or reveal something about the character.

For instance, a deep sea diver would feel completely at home in a wet suit in the open ocean. There could be nothing dangerous or scary about that scenario. But to a character who nearly drowned as a child and for whom water causes all kinds of horrific flashbacks, being trapped in the middle of the open ocean would be a nightmare.

And even the perspective of the character has an impact on the setting, and how that setting is conveyed.

If your character, Celia, is an incoming high school senior who is the captain of the cheerleading squad this year and has a stellar GPA and a full-ride scholarship to Harvard, she'll enter the first day of high school in a positive frame of mind, and probably notice things like giggling friends grouped in the halls, the energizing hustle and bustle, the cute new guy sitting next to her in English class.

But if your character is an exchange student from another culture who is completely unfamiliar with the social norms and mores of an American high school, or a rebellious wild-child young woman with a chip on her shoulder and a head full of conspiracy theories about authority figures, the same high school setting could be frightening or even dangerous.

In some ways, it's all about your perspective.


Certain plot points lend themselves to more dangerous and exotic settings than others. The biggest one, of course, is the climax --- that pinnacle point at which all the stress and tension and every obstacle and impossibility converge to make life seem as hopeless as possible for your characters.

You can write a climax anywhere, again in keeping with the standards for your particular genre.

But what if you chose to set your climactic scene in a particularly dangerous or creepy or unexpected setting?

You're writing a medieval-era romance. Set your climactic scene in the castle dungeon or the highest tower (and plant the seed earlier that your heroine is deathly afraid of heights).

You're writing science fiction set in outer space. Plan for your climax to take place on the OUTSIDE of the space ship, instead of somewhere on the inside. Or set the climax in the most dangerous part of the ship --- the engine room, the trash compactor (Star Wars Episode IV, anyone?).

If your climax on a nice neighborhood street in broad daylight with a dozen people around is a five out of ten on the suspense scale, how much more suspense could you wring from the scene if you set it in an abandoned street at midnight in the wrong end of town? or in an empty warehouse? or a dark gymnasium after hours?

Play with the possibilities.

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Where in your manuscript are scenes set in just okay settings? What could you do to ramp up the tension? Is there a creepier setting you could use?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: "Ten Tiny Breaths" (K.A. Tucker)

The new New Adult genre is quickly growing to become a very popular fiction subset, and with good reason. There's an entire generation of readers (ages 18-25 going through all their first experiences in school, career, independence, and relationships) hungry for writing that speaks directly to them.

Enter Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker.

Kacey Cleary moves with her younger sister Livie to an apartment in Miami to start over after their parents and Kacey's best friend and boyfriend are killed in a horrific car accident that left Kacey scarred and scared. She's determined not to lose Livie and to do everything possible to make their new life work, despite her inexperience on her own.

Despite her reticence, Kacey finds herself warming up to several of the other tenants: kindhearted single-mother stripper and her young daughter; the unconventional but surprisingly helpful landlord; and the sexy, secretive guy in the apartment next door. When Trent Emerson reveals a terrible secret to her, Kacey's world comes apart once again, and this time, she might not have enough strength to rebuild it a second time.

Ten Tiny Breaths features all the hallmarks of the New Adult genre: young protagonist, without a lot of worldly experience, trying out independence for the first time, redefining family and love and trust on her own. Kacey is a bitter, cynical, negative person with what she'd probably call a realistic outlook on life, and yet her love for her sister Livie, the only important person in her life she didn't lose in the car accident, softens her rough edges and makes her really easy to relate to.

Meanwhile, the three-dimensional cast of unique, contrary secondary characters --- from Storm, the sweet single mother who works as a stripper to take care of her enchanting daughter Mia, to Trent, Kacey's love interest from the next apartment, who vacillates between tender consideration and innuendo-filled comments that set her blood boiling (with desire, not anger) --- rounds out an intriguing premise and plot. You won't find any conventional stereotypes here.

But if you're looking for a real-life look from a new adult's perspective on life, love, betrayal, trust, and healing, I'd like to recommend Ten Tiny Breaths very highly. You won't be disappointed.

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Author: K.A. Tucker
Title: Ten Tiny Breaths
ISBN: 978-1-4767-4032-4
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Review: "Gethsemane" (R. Douglas Jacobs)

To undertake the writing of an epic poem in the tradition of Homer, Virgil, or Dante is one so daunting that most of us --- poets and prose writers alike --- won't even consider it. Simply too many components to consider: length, syllable count, stanzas, tone, symbolism, rhyme scheme, structure ... and good luck finding worthy subject matter for such an undertaking.

Which is what makes a beautifully composed modern epic poem both refreshing and age-old, life-giving and breathtaking.

Indeed, Gethsemane: An Epic Poem About Us, is a complex conundrum of opposites, unexpected juxtapositions: poignant and incisive, recognizable and utterly different, powerful and simple.

Poet R. Douglas Jacobs writes an eloquent, eye-opening allegory of the fall (or Fall, if you're of that particular ilk) of humankind, in three parts. The first part will be familiar to some readers, based on the traditional account of the fall of Adam and Eve given in the Hebrew Torah and the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Meanwhile, the second and third parts part from that traditional scriptural account quite dramatically, revealing a depth of emotion and imagination not normally associated with this sort of spiritual subject.

Yet there is nothing traditional about Jacobs's poem.

The reverence and care with which he conveys the saga he has devised, combined with tender empathy and stunning creativity, come together to immerse the reader in the gravity and immensity of the message and the overarching themes of betrayal and redemption.

Similarly unexpected is the way the poem diverges from the scriptural narrative, seamlessly within the context of the work itself and yet very clearly demarcated from the original account, as its content attempts a fictitious means with which to reconcile Lucifer back into the heavenly fold. For that reason, and because of some graphic sexual content, staunch believers (Jewish or Christian alike) looking for a straightforward retelling of scripture will be surprised and perhaps disillusioned.

Reader expectations aside, though, the hours of labor and artistry --- evident in the style, the interlocked internal and end rhyme schemes, the painstaking attention to diction, the extensive breadth of vocabulary --- are astounding, and the result is a beautiful, shattering, epic take on one of the oldest accounts of humanity and redemption in existence.

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Author: R. Douglas Jacobs
Title: Gethsemane: An Epic Poem About Us
ISBN: 9781463525163
Purchase here:

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, January 12, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from January 3-9

5. "SEO: The Must-Dos That You Just Can't Miss" on ProBlogger (Rand FishkinStacey Roberts)


Everybody's talking about SEO and whether your platform has enough of it. Finally, check out a systematic breakdown of steps you can take to ensure that your posts and content will garner the audience you're looking for, and give them something valuable in exchange for their time.

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4. "Plot Is Your Character's Want" on Ksenia Anske, Fantasy Writer


The title of the post is short, sweet, and direct. The post itself is an in-depth unpacking of what Anske means by her statement. Truly, maybe we don't have to spend so much time worrying about whether our story has the requisite three acts. Maybe we just need to tie everything back to what the character wants, and let that be enough. See what you think.

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3. "Why We Write, Why We Stop, and How We Can Possibly Restart and Keep Going" on Writer Unboxed (Julianna Baggott)


A heartfelt treatise on the aforementioned subjects. Ask a dozen writers who desperately want to be writing but can't seem to do so why they're not writing, and you'll probably get a dozen different answers ... except that when you dig deeply enough, maybe they're all really saying the same one or two or three things.

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2. "30 Prompts to Reflect On In the New Year" on Psych Central (Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.)


For some of us, writing is the medium with which we make the world make sense. If that's the case, take a look at this list of thoughtful prompts to help you process the start of the new year, and the ending of 2014. You might be surprised what the process of processing brings to light.

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1. "10 Famous Poems Recited by Famous Actors" on Book Riot (Cassandra Neace)


Just for the sake of entertainment, and inspiration, check out these quick videos of famous actors (from Glenn Close to Bill Murray) reading famous poems. Most are incredibly poignant, and might help you see poetry, or these poems in particular, or the actors themselves, in a whole different light.

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And so ends the lineup for last week. What did you like? What didn't you like? What helped most? What does your current work-in-progress require?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Viewpoint: New Year's Resolutions and Why They Never Work

Happy New Year! Welcome to the ninth day of the year 2015, and know that this year, anything is possible.

To an extent.

I'll get something straight from the very beginning. I have the kind of personality that means New Year's resolutions really appeal to me. I like things predictable, structured, organized, and achievable.

In other words, I make plans; I execute the plans; I return victorious.

Except that when it came to New Year's resolutions, it didn't work. I made the plans. I tried to execute the plans, and sometimes succeeded for an hour, or a couple of days, or a few weeks, or even a few months. And then I failed.

What's the deal with New Year's resolutions? What's the appeal, anyway? And why, when we're so determined that our best intentions will be good enough this year, do we seem incapable of actually succeeding at the goals we set?

There's something refreshing about starting the year anew. It's like a chance to start over, or start something for the very first time. You're (relatively) well-rested after the holidays. You've (willingly or reluctantly) enjoyed time with your family and friends. You've spent too much money and eaten too much food, and now, you're motivated by not only the freshness of the new year but also by a healthy dose of guilt to make changes.

Where to start? What do you change first?

Best Intentions

My initial New Year's resolutions lists included a lot of things to do. In fact, they almost read like an adventurous bucket list: "Read two hundred (200) books this year" and "Write 5,000 words per day" and "Get up at 5:30 every morning to be productive before breakfast."

How many people reading this post know that those things somehow just never happened?

It's a case of that whole "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" idea.

Good intentions ... meaning to do well, planning to succeed, trying to achieve ... won't get you anywhere, sorry to say. I can resolve and resolve and resolve as hard as possible to make a million dollars in the first week of the new year, but given my current circumstances and my past, it isn't going to happen.

Resolutions vs. Goals

So I changed it up. What if I didn't focus on resolutions? What if I focused on goals instead?

Goals is a different word. It's less threatening, for one thing. It doesn't sound quite so ... I'm-dedicating-myself-and-my-sanity-to-die-on-this-particular-mountain-for-the-next-365-days committed.

All kinds of people make goals, right? Bill Gates probably has goals. Barack Obama has goals. Steve Jobs has goals.

Goals are manageable. They're break-down-able (I know it's not a word, but work with me here). You make a major goal, and break it down into manageable parts called objectives, things you can actually do that will move you that much closer to actually achieving your goal.

Say your goal is to lose fifty pounds in 2015.

That's a great goal. But if you wake up every morning and say to yourself, "This year, my goal is to lose fifty pounds!" you probably won't lose any weight. It's going to require more than that.

Like objectives.

If the goal to lose weight is Point 1 on the page, then your objectives will be sub-points: 1A, 1B, 1C, and so on.

Maybe Sub-Point 1A is to take a walk every day during your lunch break.

That's a tangible, measurable thing to do, and it will get you closer to achieving your goal.

Then Sub-Point 1B could be to eat a whole fruit (or protein, or both) each morning with breakfast.

There's another tangible, measurable thing you can do that will get you closer to success.

So, for the writers out there, your goal is to write a novel this year. 2015 will be the year of the novel. You've made the decision. You've resolved it. It's your goal.

What measurable objectives can you break that goal down into in order to achieve it?

Maybe things like ...

> Write 100 words in a notebook with a pen or pencil (I know, I know, almost going back to the Dark Ages here) before you get out of bed in the morning.

> Refuse to check email or social media platforms before noon.

> Write ten sentences before you sit down to breakfast.

> Start a spiral-bound notebook in which to write all the things you need to research for your novel so you don't have to interrupt yourself and get online (wasting precious time, energy, and focus) to find the answer right then. Keep it right with your writing notebook or laptop.

> Brainstorm character names or deep secrets while you work out each morning before work or class.

Measurable. Tangible. Things that will net you immediate results and get you closer to your goal.


One step further is to take your resolutions or goals and break them down into objectives that you can turn into habits. Consistency will be key, as will piggy-backing new habits on top of old ones.

Say you wake up every morning for work at 5:45 a.m. You don't have to get up until 6 a.m., but you like to hit the snooze button several times first.

Instead of hitting snooze when your alarm goes off at 5:45 a.m., take fifteen minutes to write. Pull a journal or notebook off your bedside table and just write something. Anything. Just to get yourself creating, first thing in the morning.

Enough mornings in a row, and that time becomes a habit. If you sleep in, get up late, or skip the writing and hit snooze again, you won't feel quite right.

That's because you've started a habit.

Or what if you always eat lunch at your desk every weekday and find yourself browsing Facebook or Twitter automatically?

Not that those are bad things, but what if you changed it up?

The moment you get back to your desk for your lunch break, turn off your computer. Seriously, all the way off. Or at least disable the Internet. Just for the lunch break. I know it'll be a challenge. (Believe me, do I ever know.) But without the Internet (or a computer) available, you'll have to do something, right?

Read a craft book on writing. Try something by James Scott Bell or Donald Maass, for starters, or anything published by Writer's Digest, the undisputed leader in the writing industry.

Or grab a notebook and write while you eat. Even 200 words during your lunch hour nets you 1,000 words per week (five work days a week x 200 words per day). Fifty weeks in a year times 1,000 words per week nets you 50,000 words, which is a perfectly acceptable first draft of a novel.

It's possible.

The Year 2015 and How It Will Be Different

 Make a habit. Commit to a habit. Start with just one. Tend it for a month or two, until it's ingrained, until you feel strange if you try to skip a day.

Then commit to another.

See where the baby steps take you.

After all, it's a new year. Anything is possible.

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What's your top goal for the year? Break that goal down into measurable objectives. Then, take each objective and find a way to turn it into a habit-forming behavior. What did you come up with?