Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Insecure Writer and Having to Make A Living By Writing

Today is December's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month?

Because I may turn out to be a full time writer, whether I want to or not.

My company is currently undergoing a significant downsizing, and no one here knows what their future is, including me. When I took this job three years ago, I thought my future was golden.  The company had already downsized to a profitable state before I arrived, and they appeared to be ready for the next economic downturn. And most importantly, the project I was hired into looked as though it would be a top priority for the company and thus well-funded for years to come.  But right now, no one feels safe, and only time will tell who survives the next several months.

I’ve fantasized about what it might be like to be a full-time writer, and while it sounds kind of romantic, I’ve never really considered it much of a possibility, at least not until after I retire.  Even if I had all day to write, I still don’t think I’d be able to write more than one book a year (if that) and I doubt that’s enough to support myself and my family. Perhaps if I had a sizable backlist it would work, but even under the best of scenarios, it would be years before I could build up a stable of books.

We’ll just have to see what the future brings. Too bad I can’t simply write my own ending like I do in my stories.  

This month's question:
What five items would you find in my writing space?

Not counting the normal writing items, computer, pens, and paper, you’d find:
1. Patchouli incense sticks. (For the ambiance)
2. Candles, usually lit. (Also for the ambiance)
3. Tons of reference books for writing.
4. Alchemical paraphernalia and Harry Potter related items. (They put me in the mood to write fantasy)
5. Empty soda cans.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Insecure Writer and Keeping To Your Schedule

Today is November's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month?

Because I’m only four weeks into uploading my story to Wattpad and I already feel as though I’m falling behind. 

My plan was to upload one chapter a week, and so far it’s worked out pretty well. The early chapters were already in pretty good shape, needing only my critique partners to add the final polish. But the later chapters require significantly more editing and that’s what worries me the most. I planned on using the months of October and November to whip them into shape, but life stepped in and made a mess of those plans. 

Three days before I uploaded the first chapter, my ninety-two year old father-in-law was admitted to the hospital. Six days later, he passed away. A week later, I flew down to Missouri to help my mom move to an assisted living center up here in Michigan. And all this happened after my wife and I had recently started taking turns spending evenings with an elderly neighbor with health issues. As you can imagine, the stress on the family has been enormous, and my writing related endeavors have fallen to the wayside. 

Only time will tell if I’ll be able to keep up with my one chapter a week schedule by the time the new year rolls around. 

On to this week’s question: 
How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing? 

To be honest, it’s probably gone down. I need all my creative energies for my stories now and I’m loathe to spend it on anything else. That’s probably a shame, but it’ll most likely remain that way until I finish my first publishable story. 

Don’t forget to stop by and thank this month's co-hosts: Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Ann V. Friend, JQ Rose, and Elizabeth Seckman


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Never Dismiss Your Critique Partners Suggestions Out Of Hand

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

Seven years ago, I hooked up with my very first critique partner. Her name is Sheryl Hart, and I met her through a critique partner match-up sponsored by Janice Hardy, who runs the Fiction University website. (An excellent source for writers, BTW!) Back then, my only story was my Hogwarts fanfiction, and it took me months to gather the nerve to ask a stranger to critique my fan fiction (as opposed to a “real” story). But she loved Harry Potter and was more than willing to read over the stuff I sent her, even though my writing was awful and I didn’t have a clue how to write fiction yet. 

She’s since moved on to other pursuits, but we exchanged a lot of chapters over those first couple of years, and my writing is much the better for it. And if you happened to have read the third chapter of my story (which I recently uploaded to Wattpad), you have Sheryl to thank for it. 

You see, that chapter was meant to be a scene where the reader learned some of the main character’s backstory, including hints as to why he’s afraid to return to Hogwarts. In the original version, he was just sitting on a bench at King’s Cross station, waiting for the Hogwarts Express, and thinking about all this stuff. Important information to be sure, but delivered in a rather mundane way. 

When I received the critique of this chapter from Sheryl, she’d highlighted one of my sentences, which read something like: He’d gone to St Mungo’s several times before, but after much poking and prodding, the healers had sent him home, saying there was nothing wrong with him. Her comment was simply: “I want to see this!” In other words, she wanted to see that scene played out instead of me simply telling the reader what had happened. 

My first response was to ignore her advice. Although I could see the entertainment value in such a scene, I thought the story setup was already running too long, and I was loath to make it even longer. Fortunately, I didn’t dismiss the idea entirely, and after a few days of mulling the idea over, it occurred to me that the required backstory could be delivered just as easily at St. Mungo’s as it had been in the train station. And with the added bonus of more conflict. So if you liked that chapter, Sheryl is the one to thank. 

The lesson is: never immediately dismiss any suggestion your critique partners give you. Even if it doesn’t seem right for your story, consider the idea with an open mind. It might just lead you to something even better.

Hogwarts and the New Headmaster

Friday, October 19, 2018

Distant versus Close POV in Fan Fiction

Decisions, decisions

One of the decisions I had to make when writing Hogwarts and the New Headmaster was the choice of voice. When I first started this project ten years ago, I scarcely knew what voice was, let alone what mine sounded like. It wasn't until I had written off and on for a year or two before I discovered my voice. It was then that I made the decision to try and match Rowling’s voice to the best of my ability, partly because I had discovered my natural voice was similar to that of Rowling’s (although not nearly as polished) and partly because fanfiction doesn’t feel real to me if doesn’t sound as if the original author wrote it. 

Once this initial decision was made, however, there were still more questions to answer. For example, Rowling’s style changed noticeably over the course of seven books, and I had to choose which book’s style I should emulate. 

Rowling wrote with a distant, at times almost omniscient, point of view. She would often describe things from the narrator’s POV as opposed to Harry’s. She’d tell us things Harry couldn’t know unless he was a mind-reader, she’d hint at future events, and occasionally come right out and say something that was obviously her speaking directly to the reader. I personally had no problem with this. I thought it was one of the more endearing aspects of the Harry Potter books, and from what I understand, the use of a distant voice was the norm for British middle grade books. 

As the series progressed, however, she began moving away from this style a little (at her editors’ suggestions?). She still maintained a distant third person POV, but she cut back on the author intrusions. And instead of telling us things Harry couldn’t really know, she resorted to the use of filter words like “seemed” and “appeared” to tell the reader what she wanted them to know. 

For example, instead of writing:

Firenze turned his head very slowly to face Dean, who realized at once that he had said something very offensive.”

which suggests Harry must have read Dean’s mind in order to know what he had realized, she would now write:

Firenze turned his head very slowly to face Dean, who seemed to realize at once that he had said something very offensive.” 

The addition of “seemed to” makes it sound more like Harry’s guess as opposed to actual knowledge. It wasn’t a perfect solution—“seemed” and “appeared” began popping up everywhere in her later books—but it did the job. 

I eventually chose the fourth book as the style to match. It bridged the gap between her earlier middle grade style and her later urban fantasy voice. I thought that would be the end of my decision-making, but it wasn’t. While I was in the process of learning about how to write fiction, it seemed every article I came across on POV insisted that today’s readers wanted a close POV. The closer the better. Distant POV was so last millennium, they said. They even went so far as to say that the Harry Potter books, if released today, wouldn’t do nearly as well. 

I never quite believed that. As I’ve already said, I thought her storyteller voice was one of the charms of her books. But after hearing the same advice spouted over and over again, I began to believe it. And over time, I began moving Hogwarts and the New Headmaster toward a closer POV, assuming that’s what the readers would want. 

Now I’m not so sure. 

My critique partners and I have debated the question of whether I should stay with Rowling’s distant style or tighten it up for today’s audiences. I don’t think we’ve come to a firm answer yet, but I find myself leaning toward the conclusion that readers who enjoy reading Harry Potter fan fiction might prefer the original distant POV. 

So what do you think? Should I stay with the distant POV of Rowling or shift it to close POV for today's readers?


BTW, the second chapter of Hogwarts and the New Headmaster is now up on Wattpad.

Friday, October 12, 2018

On Wattpad and Book Covers


Today, after working on the story for the last ten years, I uploaded the first chapter of my Hogwarts fanfic to Wattpad.  Here's the link if you're interested in reading it. This is the first and only story I’ve ever finished, so this is a big deal for me. Uploading my words to the world is a big step, so I want to get it right the first time. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks tweaking this chapter, mostly in response to my critique partners’ suggestions. I’ve done so much tweaking that it’s probably a good thing I set a hard deadline for uploading. Otherwise, I’d tweak the darn thing forever. 

A couple of weeks ago, I figured uploading to Wattpad would be easy. I already had an account. All I had to do was upload my words, right? 

Wrong. Turns out I needed a story description, a bio, and a cover. The description and bio didn’t take long, but the cover was another matter. Now even though this story is fan fiction, I’d always planned to get a cover. My diabolical plan, once the entire story had been uploaded, was to combine the chapters into an ebook (good practice for when I eventually publish my urban fantasy), but for that you need a cover. Heck, I’ll probably make a print version at some point too, just so I can print a few copies to stick on my bookshelves. Hey, I slaved over this story for ten years. I deserve some sort of memento. 

But it never occurred to me that I’d need a cover for uploading to Wattpad. To be honest, it isn’t required, but everything I’ve read suggests that more people will read your story if you have one. I contacted a local illustrator that I’d met many years ago at a SCBWI function, but she has since become successful enough her prices were more than my wife I was willing to spend on a fan fiction story. 

My wife searched the internet for inexpensive covers and she found a great premade one that I ended up purchasing. So now I get to do something I’ve been watching you guys do for years. A cover reveal! 

Ta Daaa!
Cover Design by Consuelo Parra

There’s still a lot of work to do over the coming months. The book has thirty chapters and they all need more work before they’re of uploadable quality, but it’ll be an exciting time. I may find myself hard pressed to keep up with submitting my “real” story to my critique groups, but that’s a small price to pay for being able to write “The End” on this one. 

Ten years is a long time to work on a story. I hope my next story doesn’t take nearly as long.

Hogwarts and the New Headmaster

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Insecure Writer and Releasing My Very First Story Into the Wild

Today is October's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month?

Because in nine days, I’ll begin uploading my Hogwarts fan fiction story to Wattpad, one chapter at a time. 

This day has been a long time coming. Ten years ago, I finished the seventh and last Harry Potter book and wondered how Rowling might go about writing another series in her universe. Ideas kept popping into my head, so many that I knew if I didn’t jot them down on paper I’d forget them. Sentences turned into paragraphs, which turned into pages, which turned into chapters. And suddenly, a guy who’d avoided writing most of his life discovered that writing fiction could be fun. 

So here I am today, after learning the rules of writing, after countless rewrites where I applied those rules of writing to the dreck I first scrawled on paper, after participating in multiple critique groups, after beta reading for countless other authors, after giving several presentations on story structure to local writing groups, after being a part of IWSG for years (#17 on the list and eyeing #16 – sorry Michelle), after watching everyone else turn out book after book, I’m finally ready to write “The End” and release my words into the wild. 

Technically, the story isn’t quite finished. I’m in the middle of revisions, and the early chapters are still being critiqued by a few writer friends, so I may be hard pressed to keep up with the one chapter a week schedule I'm setting myself, but I’ve set a date for the 12th and I’m sticking to it. 

You might wonder why I’m not pushing the launch date back a month or two in order to finish polishing the story. The short answer is that ten years is long enough. If I don’t push myself now, I’ll never finish it. Besides, the 12th is my birthday and uploading the first chapter of my story on that day seems like the perfect way to celebrate. 

So if any of you enjoy Harry Potter fan fiction and don’t mind all new characters, hop on over to Wattpad next weekend and check out Hogwarts and the New Headmaster. Comments and suggestions will be most welcome. Remember, this story has been and will continue to be a learning experience for me.

I’ll still be working on my urban fantasy in the meantime, of course, but my main focus will be on the fanfic. This is the story that got me into writing in the first place. This is the story that taught me about writing.  

And you never forget your first story. 

Don’t forget to stop by the other co-hosts this month: Dolorah@Book Lover, Christopher D. Votey, and Tanya Miranda


Friday, September 28, 2018

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 191

This Week's Writing Links
Photo Courtesy of Visual Hunt

The revisions to my recently completed fan fiction story are progressing nicely, thanks in part to the wonderful writers who volunteered to critique my chapters: Marirose Sanborn, Dawne Weber, and IWSG's very own, Loni Townsend.  Thanks so much!

Maybe this is a common occurrence during the editing process, but I find myself alternating between being pleasantly surprised by my words and wanting to burn them before anyone else sees them.

Fall has finally arrived and I'm stoked.  The cool weather always stirs my creative juices, which is good since I have another submission due to my critique group in a couple of days.

Enjoy the weather and this week's writing links! 


Then What Happened? 8 Things We Learned Writing Our First Sequel

How to Write a Novel Synopsis

9 Pieces of Bad Publishing Advice New Writers Should Ignore

Meet the Super Fan … the Secret Sauce Authors Want

Adding a Video to Your Book’s Amazon Sales Page

Five Edits to Strengthen Your Writing, Right Now

Author Advertising: Stacking Ads to Maximize Promotional Dollars

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Give Your Fight Scenes Meaning

Photo Courtesy of Visual Hunt

I’ve been stalled on one of my chapters for the last several months, much to the chagrin of my critique group. The reasons for this delay are many, but one of the biggest has to do with the action scene that occurs halfway through the chapter. My character has to fight her way out of the antagonist’s hideout and choreographing the sequence of events hasn’t been easy. What makes this especially difficult is that she has no real fighting experience. She’s taken a few martial arts classes, but she’s never been in a real fight before and I’m struggling with how to make her escape believable.

But this post isn’t about my writing dilemmas. I’ll figure the scene out eventually. But while studying other books and their fight scenes for inspiration, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Many of the fights scenes I’ve read lately seem rather superfluous. They don’t advance the story. The character doesn’t do anything differently than they did in previous fights. The reader learns nothing new from the battle. It’s as if the author simply decided it was time to amp up the excitement and threw in a gratuitous fight scene.

I’m still a newbie at this writing stuff, but it seems to me that every fight scene in a story should bring something new to the table. Perhaps the character comes up with a clever way of using their special talents to overcome the odds. Or maybe they use recently gained knowledge to defeat the antagonist in an unexpected manner. Or perhaps the character takes advantage of the setting in a new and novel way.

Brandon Sanderson does a great job of this in his book, Alloy of Law. Although the hero fights the same enemies several times throughout the book, each fight feels different, and the reader learns quite a bit about the protagonist and his special abilities through his choice of tactics.

To be honest, fight scenes that are little more than a stream of punches and kicks bore me, and I usually skim over them. What looks exciting on the screen can be dreadfully boring when put into words on a page. It’s the little details that are revealed during the fight that makes them entertaining. If your fight scenes are so generic you could switch their order of occurrence without messing up the story, then you definitely have a problem. In the same way that a story's pinch points pinch  are there to demonstrate the character’s growth over the course of a story, fight scenes should be used to show the character improving in some way. 

That’s my rant for the day.


BTW, another pet peeve of mine is when the author sets up and describes an upcoming battle as being nearly impossible for the MC to win, and then has the character win the fight using standard tactics and without breaking a sweat. WTH?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Insecure Writer and Social Media

Today is September's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month?

Because I haven’t spent as much time on social media as I should, especially at this point in my writing career.  

I haven’t finished my first book yet, but this is the time I should be ramping up my social media presence.  If I wait until the book is ready to be published, I’ve waited too long.  In keeping with my New Year’s resolutions, I reached out and connected with other authors in my genre, but upon reflection, I haven’t done nearly enough to facilitate those connections. I read their posts and tweets, but don’t respond or retweet as often as I should. I need to develop a strategy and stick with it.  

Moving on to this month's question: 
What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

I suspect I will probably self-publish. Not that I have anything against trad publishing, but the time frame for finding an agent and/or a publisher seems rather daunting. Not to mention that finding an agent and publisher strikes me as a crapshoot at best. And even were I to make it past these hurdles, it would still be years before the book was published. 

Marketing considerations: Whichever route I choose, I’ll still be the person responsible for most of the book marketing, so that’s a wash, but with everything I’ve read on the subject, one of the most important tools at a writer’s disposal is flexibility.  Flexibility to change e-book prices at a moment’s notice, the ability to give books away at strategic times. Deciding when to stay in Kindle Unlimited and when to go wide. I suspect publishers aren’t going to give me that kind of flexibility. Besides, I think most of my sales will come from ebooks, and most big publishers these days price ebooks higher so as not to cut into their print book business.

Cover design:  My book isn’t finished yet, but I already have a pretty good idea of what the cover will be.  I don’t pretend to be an expert on cover designs, so I’ll be hiring a cover designer who knows the fantasy genre and can guide me in the right direction. But if I were to go trad publishing, I wouldn't have much of a say on the cover.   Since this will be the first of hopefully many books, it's important to get the branding correct from the very beginning. 

Have a great IWSG Wednesday and be sure to stop by this month's co-hosts: Toi Thomas, T. Powell Coltrin, M.J. Fifield, and Tara Tyler!


Friday, August 31, 2018

Gently Guiding the Reader Through Your Story

Photo Courtesy of VisualHunt

I was watching TV the other night when I was reminded how useful character behavior is for guiding viewers (or readers) down the path of the author’s choosing. The show was Suits, and the scene involved two characters talking. One of them (Lewis) was suffering from the psychological effects of having been mugged a few days earlier, and the other (Samantha) was helping him deal with it, revealing that she had also been mugged at some time in the past (apparently before she arrived as a character on the show). They both share the same boss (Robert). Here’s the relevant snippet of dialogue: 

Samantha: The same thing that happened to you, happened to me. And when it did, Robert was there for me. And I'm going to be there for you.
Lewis (confused): I'm sorry. What do you mean, he was there for you?
Samantha: It's not important. The important thing is that you’re going to learn self-defense. And I’m going to teach you.

Now what's so significant about this exchange, you ask? It was Lewis's response. You see, the audience (and Lewis) already knew Samantha had been working with, and been friends with, her boss for years before she arrived on this show, so the idea that Robert had been “there for her" made perfect sense. Nothing out of the ordinary. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but then Lewis challenged her on that point, and suddenly I wondered if there was some hidden meaning in her words, something that might surface again in a later episode. Of course, I could be totally off on this, but I doubt it. The show’s writers are good, and having a character question something is a common trick for signaling viewers/readers that they should be questioning it too.

But this trick isn’t limited to foreshadowing. It’s an excellent way of allowing the writer to lead the reader down the desired emotional path. Showing the POV character’s response to an event is the writer’s way of telling the reader how they should respond. If something happens that causes your MC to be sad, for example, then you must show them being sad, either through their actions or via internal thoughts. Don’t just set up the situation and expect the reader to figure it out on their own. Even if you’re absolutely, totally, positively sure the reader would know the character is sad, show it anyway. Trust me, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my critique group, it’s to never underestimate a reader’s ability to come up with alternative explanations for story events when left to their own devices. These days, readers are so accustomed to having the character’s actions and interior thoughts guide them down the appropriate story path that when the author skimps on them, the readers become lost.

How many times have you seen a movie character notice, or begin to question, some small detail, but before they have a chance to follow up, something distracts them and they forget all about that detail, which later turns out to have been an important clue. The purpose of that scene wasn’t to show the character failing to figure out the answer, it a signal to the viewer as to where they should be paying attention. Of course, writers sometimes use this trick to deliberately misdirect the reader away from the real clue, but that’s a topic for another discussion.

It’s a dirty little secret, but good writers lead their readers by the nose all the way through a story. The trick is to do it subtly enough the readers’ noses aren’t sore by the time they reach the final page.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 190

This Week's Writing Links
Photo Courtesy of Visual Hunt

I'm slowly working my way back into a regular blogging schedule. Too be honest, it's been harder to do than I expected.  It's not like I don't want to blog or that I don't have a list of things to blog about, but free time is still a precious commodity at the moment, and I'd rather work on my story than blog. If it makes you feel any better, I do feel guilty when I miss a post.

In other news, the family and I visited the Grand Canyon a couple of weeks ago and managed to hike down the Bright Angel trail for about 1.5 miles. That works out to about a quarter mile straight down, so we were plenty tired by the time we climbed back out again. (Okay, maybe our son wasn't that tired). The arrows show how far we traveled.  

It scarcely seems possible that I hiked all the way down to the bottom and back (about 20 miles) in a single day back when I was a college student. I guess if I can do that, finishing a damn book should be a piece of cake.

Enjoy this week's writing links! 


What are good character traits? 7 helpful attributes

Book Reviews: Can You Quote Me on That?

An Easy Tip for Developing Story Ideas

What’s Going On With CreateSpace and KDP Print?

Getting the Big Picture Across in Your Scenes

How to Create an Unforgettable Author Visit

Book Title Generator at Reedsy

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Planning For the Next Book In Your Series

Photo courtesy of Visual Hunt

One of the advantages of being a slow writer is that I have plenty of time to contemplate the chapters I’ve already written. It’s not at all uncommon for me to be in the middle of one chapter and suddenly think of something that should have been added to an earlier one. In fact, this happens so often, and my stories have become so much better because of these additions, that I’m almost grateful for being a slow writer. 


But all this time for reflection doesn’t just apply to the past. Looking forward can be just as important. Sometimes, during those quiet times when I’m not writing, I think about the next book in the series. Now it might seem that plotting the next book is kind of silly when I’m still plodding along with the first one, but successful writers need to think ahead. And some of the ideas I’ve developed for book two has led to a richer plot in book one. 

Knowing what the next book will be about allows a writer to know the kinds of things that should be added to the first book in order to make the transition between books easier. For example, are you going to need a new villain in book two? Then maybe we should meet them in book one, even if it’s only a cameo appearance. 

Here are some of the aspects I’ve focused on as of late. 

Future relationships: When I began my current WIP, I wasn’t planning on any sort of romance, but part way through it occurred to me the MC might be attracted to one of the characters she meets. Sparks won’t fly in this book, but who knows about the next one? I might as well plan for it now. To that end, I’ve given both characters traits that will tend to derail any lasting relationship in the future. Will they be able to overcome these problems? I don’t know, but thanks to a little forethought, the potential for conflict is now in place. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Hallmark Channel, it’s that no conflict is too big for love to overcome. 

Characters traits: I hate it when a character acts differently in the second book of a series simply because the plot requires it. Make sure you’ve already foreshadowed the reason for this behavior in book one. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone, we learn that Hagrid isn’t supposed to do magic, although we don't learn why until the second book, where it turns out to be a part of the plot. It wasn’t a huge deal, but foreshadowing these things not only makes the series seem richer, but it makes the story world seem more real to the reader. At least it does for me. 

Future goals of both the protagonists and the antagonists: Planning now can help keep you from wrapping the storyline up too quickly. In my current WIP, my original idea was to have the bad guy’s big bad plan be completely spoiled by the MC’s actions during book one. I have since made the plan more comprehensive, so that now the MC’s actions only lead to a setback, not a complete defeat. Luke may have blown up the Death Star, but that didn’t mean the Empire was finished. 

You don’t have to know every detail of your next book before you finish your first one, but a little forethought can go a long way to keeping you from painting yourself into a corner. And in my opinion, there’s no better inspiration for finishing a book than having the next book in the series demanding to be written.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Insecure Writer and Jumping Back Into the Saddle Again

Today is August's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month?

Because I worry that after being away from writing for so long, I may never feel the urge to jump back into it again. 

Okay, perhaps I’m being a bit melodramatic. There’s no way I’m ever giving up on writing, but it’s been so long since I’ve had the time to sit down and write, I wonder how hard it will be to start up again once my schedule finally settles down. 

This has easily been the most unproductive summer of writing I’ve ever experienced. Work has been crazy and home projects have eaten up all my spare time. Throw in graduation parties, a bevy of sick cats, a road trip to Missouri to visit family, a trip out to the west coast for my niece’s wedding, and... you get the picture. I haven’t touched my WIP in a couple of months and my blog posting has been sporadic at best. 

I know many of you have even busier schedules, so I’m not complaining. Life gets in the way sometimes, and my schedule should definitely be easing up starting next week, but I’ve never gone more than a few days without writing before, so I’m approaching uncharted waters. 

By the way, I’ll be hiking on Wednesday, so I may not be able to respond to your comments and or visit your websites for a couple of days. In the meantime, can any of you guess where I am? 

Not enough for you? How about this?

Still not enough? Okay, Here's one last hint!

Have a great IWSG Wednesday!


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 189

This Week's Writing Links
Photo Courtesy of Visual Hunt

In case anyone has been wondering, this blog is not going away. Yes, I realize my blogging output has been sporadic the last couple of months, but that's been the result of a combination of things--busy personal life, busy work life, and dedicating every second I have left revising my fanfiction story in preparation for uploading to Wattpad. I've even ignored my own urban fantasy for the last month or so, much to the dismay of my critique group. 

Heck, I even forgot July's IWSG post. Admittedly, I was on vacation, but that's not much of an excuse. 

So bear with me until I get my writing life back under control. In the meantime, enjoy this week's writing links! 


Missed Connections: How Characterization Creates Chemistry

How To Write Evocative Characters Through Action And Strong Language

Writing Extreme Characteristics

6 Ways to Manipulate Time in Fiction

How To Write Bad Characters

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Writing Critique Groups

Working with Multiple Plot Lines--Is There a Specific Way?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 188

This Week's Writing Links
Photo Courtesy of Visual Hunt

I’ve kept myself busy over the last week editing the first draft of the fanfic I mentioned in my last IWSG post. So far, the chapters have been in pretty good shape, mostly only needing a bit of tightening here and there. I guess this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise considering I’ve probably gone back over these early chapters about 10,000 times over the past ten years. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as I move deeper into the book.

However, it seems that every chapter contains one section that needs major work. These passages are only about a page or two in length, but they’re filled with paragraph after paragraph of incoherent words, multiple versions of sentences, logic problems, and notes to myself, all color coded to help me keep track of the mess. 

These sections have plagued me for years, some of them almost from the beginning. It’s not like I haven’t worked on them during previous edits, but I found them so difficult I eventually gave up and told myself that I’d come back to them "later."  Over and over and over again. 

Well, I've finally arrived at "later" and I can no longer put them off. I need to make the hard decisions and fix these pages. I’ll be taking a long bus ride this weekend and my plan is to fix these problems before the ride is over. Wish me luck! .

Enjoy the writing links! 


8 Common Pacing Problems

Wax On, Wax Off: 5 Areas To Polish Before Submitting A Manuscript

What's a piece of writing advice that you completely ignore?

How to Motivate the Writer Inside of You

How Structure Affects Pacing

What to Do When Your Critique Feedback Gets Ignored

Create Drama with Your Character’s Desire

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Born In A Treacherous Time, A New Book by Jacqui Murray.

Well, what do you know? Two Wednesday posts in a row.  Will wonders never cease? 

Of course, the reason for my sudden surge in output has more to do with the work ethic of other, more prolific writers.  Last week's post was about Chrys Fey's new book, Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publicationand this week I'm happy to announce Jacqui Murray's new book, Born In A Treacherous TimeHere's the book blurb:

Born in the harsh world of East Africa 1.8 million years ago, where hunger, death, and predation are a normal part of daily life, Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive. It is a time in history when they are relentlessly annihilated by predators, nature, their own people, and the next iteration of man. To make it worse, Lucy’s band hates her. She is their leader’s new mate and they don’t understand her odd actions, don’t like her strange looks, and don’t trust her past. To survive, she cobbles together an unusual alliance with an orphaned child, a beleaguered protodog who’s lost his pack, and a man who was supposed to be dead.

Born in a Treacherous Time is prehistoric fiction written in the spirit of Jean Auel. Lucy is tenacious and inventive no matter the danger, unrelenting in her stubbornness to provide a future for her child, with a foresight you wouldn’t think existed in earliest man. You’ll close this book understanding why man not only survived our wild beginnings but thrived, ultimately to become who we are today.

This is a spin-off of To Hunt a Sub’s Lucy (the ancient female who mentored Kali Delamagente, the female protagonist). 


Jacqui gave me a chance to ask her one question about her book, so here it is: "It's hard enough to get your books noticed these days as it is. Why did you write a book in such a tiny niche?" 

Jacqui's answer:

Born in a Treacherous Time is written in the sub-genre of historic fiction called prehistoric fiction, a time before recorded history. There aren’t a lot of readers in this genre but they are devoted! Because the only records are rocks, world building has proven difficult but Lucy (the heroine) really didn’t give me a choice. She nagged me to tell her story from my first page twenty years ago to my final draft.

Now maybe Lucy will leave me alone! 

Somehow I doubt it, Jacqui.  Mark my words.  Lucy will demand a sequel.

Anyway, if you guys find this concept intriguing, be sure to check out the sample chapter below.  Thanks again, Jacqui!

Now available in ebook form at: Amazon


Kirkus Reviews says:

“Murray’s lean prose is steeped in the characters’ brutal worldview, which lends a delightful otherness to the narration …The book’s plot is similar in key ways to other works in the genre, particularly Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear. However, Murray weaves a taut, compelling narrative, building her story on timeless human concerns of survival, acceptance, and fear of the unknown. Even if readers have a general sense of where the plot is going, they’ll still find the specific twists and revelations to be highly entertaining throughout.

A well-executed tale of early man.”

Click here for the entire review

About Jacqui
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Wild seriesShe is also the author of over a hundred books on integrating technology into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.


Sample chapter:
Lucy Leaves Her Homeland
The scene replayed in Lucy’s mind, an endless loop haunting her days and nights. The clear sun-soaked field, the dying Mammoth, the hunters waiting hungrily for its last breath before scavenging the meat, tendons, internal organs, fat, and anything else consumable—food that would nourish the Group for a long time.
But something went horribly wrong. Krp blamed Lucy and soon, so too did Feq.
Why did Ghael stand up?  He had to know it would mean his death.
Lucy wanted to escape, go where no one knew what she’d done, but Feq would starve without her. He didn’t know how to hunt, couldn’t even tolerate the sight of blood. For him, she stayed, hunting, scavenging, and outwitting predators, exhausting herself in a hopeless effort to feed the remaining Group members. But one after another, they fell to Snarling-dog, Panther, Long-tooth Cat, Megantereon, and a litany of other predators. When the strangers arrived, Feq let them take her.
By this time, Lucy felt numb, as much from the death of her Group as the loss of Garv. Garv, her forever pairmate, was as much a part of her as the lush forests, Sun’s warmth, and Snarling-dog’s guidance. Now, with all the other deaths, she could leave his memory behind.

Forests gave way to bushlands. The prickly stalks scratched her skin right through the thick fur that layered her arms and legs. The glare of Sun, stark and white without the jungle to soften it, blinded her. One step forward became another and another, into a timeless void where nothing mattered but the swish of feet, the hot breeze on her face, and her own musty scent.
Neither male—not the one who called himself Raza nor the one called Baad—had spoken to her since leaving. They didn’t tell her their destination and she didn’t ask, not that she could decipher their intricate hand gestures and odd body movements. She studied them as they talked to each other, slowly piecing together what the twist of a hand and the twitch of a head meant. She would understand it all by the time they reached wherever they headed.
It was clear they expected her to follow. No one traveled this wild land alone but her reasons for joining them, submissively, had nothing to do with fear. Wherever the strangers took her would be better than where she’d been.

Lucy usually loved running through the mosaic of grass and forest that bled one into another. Today, instead of joy, she felt worry for her future and relief that her past was past. She effortlessly matched Raza’s tread, running in his steps at his pace. Baad did the same but not without a struggle. His sweat, an equal mix of old and stale from the long trip to find her and fresh from trying to keep up, blossomed into a ripe bouquet that wafted over her. She found comfort in knowing this strong, tough male traveled with her.
Vulture cawed overhead, eagerly anticipating a meal. From the size of his flock, the scavenge must be an adult Okapi or Giraffe. Even after the predator who claimed the kill—Lucy guessed it to be Megantereon or Snarling-dog—took what it needed, there would be plenty left. She often hunted with Vulture. It might find carrion first but she could drive it away by brandishing a branch and howling. While it circled overhead, awaiting a return to his meal, she grabbed what she wanted and escaped.
Feq must smell the blood but he had never been brave enough to chase Vulture away.  He would wait until the raptor finished, as well as Snarling-dog and whoever else showed up at the banquet, and then take what remained which wouldn’t be enough to live on.

Sun descended toward the horizon as they entered a dense thicket. They stuck to a narrow lightly-used animal trail bordered by heavy-trunked trees. Cousin Chimp scuffled as he brachiated through the understory, no doubt upset by the intruders. Only once, when a brightly-colored snake slithered across her path, did Lucy hesitate. The vibrant colors always meant deadly venom and she didn’t carry the right herbs to counter the poison. Baad grumbled when her thud reverberated out of sync with Raza’s, and Cousin Chimp cried a warning.
Finally, they broke free of the shadows and flew through waist-high grass, past trees laden with fruit, and around the termite mound where Cousin Chimp would gorge on white grubs—if Cheetah wasn’t sleeping on top of it.
I haven’t been back here since that day…
She flicked her eyes to the spot where her life had changed. Everything looked so calm, painted in vibrant colors scented with a heady mix of grass, water, and carrion. A family of Hipparion raised their heads but found nothing menacing so turned back to their banquet of new buds.
As though nothing happened…
Lucy sprinted. Her vision blurred and her head throbbed as she raced flat out, desperate to outdistance the memories. Her legs churned, arms pumped, and her feet sprang off the hard earth. Each step propelled her farther away. Her breathing heaved in rhythm with her steps. The sack around her neck smacked comfortingly against her body. Her sweat left a potent scent trail any predator could follow but Lucy didn’t care.
Someone far behind shouted her call sign but she only slowed when the thump in her chest outstripped her ability to breathe. She fell forward, arms outstretched, and gasped the damp air into her tortured lungs. Steps thumped louder, approaching, but she kept her eyes closed. A hand yanked her head back, forcing her to look up.
Despite the strangeness of Raza’s language, this she did understand: Never do that again.

Feq followed until Lucy had reached the edge of her—Feq’s—territory. Here, he must let her go. Without Feq, the Group’s few children and remaining female would die. She threw a last look at her brother’s forlorn face, drawn and tired, shoulders slumped, eyes tight with resolution. Lucy dipped her head and turned from her beleaguered past.

Maybe the language difference made Raza ignore Lucy’s every question though she tried an endless variety of vocalizations, gestures, and grunts. Something made him jumpy, constantly, but Lucy sniffed nothing other than the fragrant scrub, a family of chimps, and the ever-present Fire Mountain. Nor did she see any shift in the distant shadows to signal danger.
Still, his edginess made her anxious.
What is he hiding? Why does he never relax?
She turned toward the horizon hoping whatever connected sky to earth held firm, preventing danger from escaping and finding her. Garv credited Spider’s web with that task, said if it could capture Fly, it could connect those forces. Why it didn’t always work, Garv couldn’t explain. Herds and dust, sometimes fire, leaked through, as did Sun at the end of every day.  Lucy tried to reach that place from many different directions but it moved away faster than she could run.
Another truth Lucy knew: Only in Sun’s absence did the clouds crack and send bolts of fire to burn the ground and flash floods to storm through the canyons. Sun’s caring presence kept these at bay.
A grunt startled her back to the monotony of the grassland. At the rear of their column, Baad rubbed his wrists, already swollen to the thickness of his arm. When she dropped back to ask if she could help, his face hardened but not before she saw the anguish in the set of his mouth and the squint of his eyes. The elders of her Group suffered too from gnarled hands. A common root, found everywhere, dulled the ache.
Why bring a male as old and worn as Baad without that root?
Lucy guessed he had been handsome in his youth with his commanding size, densely-haired body, and brawny chest. Now, the hair hung gray and ragged and a white line as thick as Lucy’s finger cut his face from temple to ear. In his eyes smoldered lingering anger, maybe from the shattered tooth that peeked through his parted lips.
Was that why he didn’t try to rut with her? Or did he consider her pairmated to Raza? 
“Baad,” she bleated, mimicking the call sign Raza used. “This will help your wrist,” and handed him a root bundle from her neck sack. “Crack it open and swallow the juice.”
Baad sniffed the bulb, bit it, and slurped up the liquid. His jaw relaxed and the tension drained from his face, completely gone by the time they passed the hillock that had been on the horizon when Lucy first gave him the root.
“How did you know this would work?” Baad motioned as he watched her face.
Why didn’t he know was a better question. Lucy observed animals as they cared for their injuries. If Gazelle had a scrape on her flank, she bumped against a tree that wept sap so why shouldn’t Lucy rub the thick mucus on her own cut to heal it? If swallowing certain leaves rid Cousin Chimp of the white worms, why wouldn’t it do the same for Lucy? Over time, she’d collected the roots, blades, stems, bark, flowers, and other plant parts she and her Group came to rely on when sick.
But she didn’t know enough of Baad’s words to explain this so she shrugged. “I just knew.”
Baad remained at her side as though he wanted to talk more. 
Lucy took the opportunity. “Baad. Why did you and Raza come for me?”
He made her repeat the question as he watched her hands, body movements, and face, and then answered, “Sahn sent us.”
His movement for ‘sent’ was odd. One finger grazed the side of his palm and pointed toward his body—the backtrail, the opposite direction of the forward trail.
“Sent you?”
“Because of the deaths.”
Memories washed across his face like molten lava down the slopes of Fire Mountain. His hand motions shouted a rage she never associated with death. Predators killed to feed their families or protect their territory, as they must. Why did that anger Baad?
“Can you repeat that? The deaths?”
This time, the closest she could interpret was ‘deaths without reason’ which made no sense. Death was never without reason. Though he must have noticed she didn’t understand, he moved on to a portrayal of the world she would soon live within. His location descriptions were clear. In fact, her Group also labeled places by their surroundings and what happened there—stream-where-hunters-drink, mountains-that-burn-at-night, and mound-with-trees. Locations were meaningless without those identifications. Who could find them if not for their surroundings?
His next question surprised her.
“Why did you come?”
Bile welled in Lucy’s throat. She couldn’t tell him how she failed everyone in her Group or explain that she wanted a better life for the child she carried. Instead, she grunted and pretended she misunderstood.

That night, Lucy slept fitfully, curled under a shallow overhang without the usual protection of a bramble bush barrier or a tree nest. Every time she awoke, Raza and Baad were staring into the dark night, faces tight and anxious, muscles primed.
When Sun reappeared to begin its journey across the sky, the group set out, Lucy again between Raza and Baad. She shadowed the monotonous bounce of Raza’s head, comforted by the muted slap of her feet, the thump in her chest, and the stench of her own unwashed body. As they trotted ever onward, she became increasingly nervous. Though everything from the berries to the vegetation, animals, and baobab trees reminded her of home, this territory belonged to another group of Man-who-makes-tools. Before today, she would no sooner enter or cross it as they would hers. But Raza neither slowed nor changed direction so all she could do to respect this land-not-hers was to move through without picking a stalk of grass, eating a single berry, or swallowing any of the many grubs and insects available. Here and there, Lucy caught glimpses of the Group that called this territory theirs as they floated in the periphery of her sight. She smelled their anger and fear, heard them rustling as they watched her pass, reminding her she had no right to be here. Raza and Baad didn’t seem to care or notice. Did they not control territories where they lived?
Before she could ponder this any further, she snorted in a fragrance that made her gasp and turn. There on the crest of a berm across the savanna, outlined against the blue of the sky, stood a lone figure, hair puffed out by the hot breeze, gaze on her.
“Garv!” Lucy mouthed before she could stop herself. He’s dead. I saw it.
No arm waved and no voice howled the agony of separation.
“Raza!” Baad jerked his head toward the berm.
“Man-who-preys?” Raza asked with a rigid parallel gesture.
Lucy’s throat tightened at the hand movement for danger.
“Who is Man-who-preys?” Lucy labored with the call sign. “We don’t prey. We are prey.” Why did this confuse Raza?
Raza dropped back and motioned, “I refer to the one called Man-who-preys—upright like us but tall and skinny.” He described the creature’s footprints with the distinctive rounded top connected to the bottom by a narrow bridge. She knew every print of every animal in her homeland. These didn’t exist.
“No. I’ve never seen those prints.”
He paused and watched her face. “You’re sure Mammoth slaughtered your males?  Could it have been this animal?”
“No. I was there. I would have seen this stranger.”
Raza dropped back to talk to Baad. She tried to hear their conversation but they must have used hand motions. Who was this Man-who-preys and why did Raza think they caused the death of her Group’s males? Worse, if they followed Raza from his homeland, did that bring trouble to Feq?

Lucy easily kept up with Raza, her hand tight around an obsidian scraper as sharp and sturdy as the one the males gripped. Her wrist cords bulged like the roots of an old baobab, familiar with and accustomed to heavy loads and strenuous work. Both males remained edgy and tense, often running beside each other and sharing urgent hand motions. After one such exchange, Raza diverted from the route they had been following since morning to one less trodden. It’s what Lucy would do if worried about being tracked by a predator or to avoid a group of Man-who-makes-tools. They maintained a quicker-than-normal pace well past the edge of her world. That suited her fine though she doubted that Man-who-preys could be more perilous than what preyed in her mind.