SWAT Academy

Welcome back to the blog! I have Livia Quinn talking about SWAT Academy. Love the idea and I would love to attend one of these years.

Here’s Livia.

Lira Messina copyright Olivia Rigal

Lira Messina copyright Olivia Rigal

On a foggy Louisiana morning near Baton Rouge law enforcement professionals and writers gathered at the Joint Emergency Services Taskforce Center for SWAT academy. NYT best-selling author Liliana Hart and her husband, former SWAT, former chief of police, and PhD., Scott Silverii, created this all inclusive 4 day event with top professionals in various law enforcement fields – police, bomb and explosive, K-9, firefighting, arson, crime scene investigation, Louisiana State police, drug enforcement, SWAT, martial arts, LA search and rescue – instructing in shooting, SWAT techniques, self-defense, crime scenes, bomb and explosive detection, homicide and fire investigations, and pursuit driving.

It bears mentioning that this facility is one of three in the world and never had they allowed civilians on the premises before for a purpose such as this so we were honored to get this opportunity.

swat2016Writers and some spouses were divided into three teams, Alpha, Bravo and Charlie for a series of hour and twenty minute rotations. Each day consisted of rising in time to have homemade brekkie with the group in the cafeteria followed by a bus trip to an outdoor venue in one of the activities above. Then the bus picked us up and carted us back to HQ to attend one of our chosen classes.

Classes included CSI, science of forensics, fast paced suspense, serial killers, thriller writing by the author who now writes Tom Clancy novels, social media, marketing, branding, self-publishing, small town cops, firefighting, homicide, cop culture and more. Instructors also included writers, Liliana Hart, Susie Ivy, Grant Blackwood, AJ Scudiere, and Rachel Melancon. Then it was back to the field (and rinse and repeat) with lunch and dinner in between and a nightly presentation. A super packed weekend of activity, networking and on hands education in the subjects we write about.

img_1572Spouses were invited to not only come along but participate and that added a special element to the activities, as you can imagine. One of the spouses getting his diploma from Scott and Liliana.

All in all it was an exhilarating, action charged time in great company, unbelievably engaging instructors, well worth the fee for all inclusive activities, meals and boarding. There were writers and spouses from Paris, Spain, Canada, the UK and I’m probably missing somewhere else besides the US.

I only wish it had been longer so I could have gotten to know some of these fabulous writers and instructors from the different genres and walks of life. I didn’t spend a dime except for my gas to and from… it was more than worth the cost of registration. I’m already planning my return October 19th, 2017.

Registration will be opening before long so clear your calendar. It’s a one of a kind experience. And if you’ve never been to Louisiana, come on down…


Livia Quinn is a DC native living on the bayou in Louisiana. Both her Southern paranormal cozy series and her contemporary romance books are centered around heroes in law enforcement and separated military. Livia’s hero in her new release, Take These Broken Wings, is a former Navy pilot turned sheriff turned…dragon… yeah, the weather isn’t the only wild element in Louisiana. Her books are available on bookstore sites everywhere.


Strap in, ‘cause it’s a wild ride through Destiny, or should I say Middle Earth…

Five months ago, Sheriff Jack Lang would have sworn there were no such things as vampires, tempestaeries, djinn or dragons. That was before he met Tempest Pomeroy, trouble magnet and sexy redheaded mail lady. He’d fallen for her before he found out about her “special abilities”. But that wasn’t what turned his life upside down. No, to say Jack’s world had gone FUBAR was like saying Wolverine’s fingernails were long enough for a manicure.

Tempe had been afraid her supernatural nature would be a problem for Jack, who’d mistaken Destiny for a “Mayberry-like” small town, but that didn’t explain why he’d left her in favor of haunting the highest levees in the parish. She knew he’d received a shock, but what was it going to take to get him to return to his life and to her? A stubborn man is one thing; a grumpy, depressed twenty-ton dragon is a bit more of a challenge.

Take These Broken Wings is Book 5 in the Destiny Paramortals, a southern urban fantasy paranormal cozy and the completion of Jack and Tempe’s coming of age arc, with an epiphany of sorts, but the story continues…

Visit her website at http://liviaquinn.com
Signup for her newsletter http://eepurl.com/W94bb (and get a free book)
Facebook http://facebook.com/liviaquinnauthor
Twitter http://twitter.com/liviaquinn
Instagram http://instagram.com/liviaquinn
Pinterest http://pinterest.com/liviaquinn

Cindy here again.

I took Citizens Police Academy and that was amazing. I would love to do this SWAT Academy. Think how great the research in my books could be if I did that.

Happy writing!

How to Develop a Gripping Character

Welcome back to the blog! Today I have Laurel S. Peterson talking about creating characters.

Here’s Laurel!

Copyright Ute-Christin Cowan www.utechristinphotography.com

Copyright Ute-Christin Cowan www.utechristinphotography.com

Many ways exist to develop a good character, and I imagine each of you has your own favorite way. I like to start with an exercise I got from Elizabeth Eslami, the author of the short story collection Hibernate and the novel Bone Worship. Liz suggests writing for twenty minutes, beginning with All s/he wanted was….

This opens up an initial character desire—chocolate ice cream, maybe, or a new Porsche, or a trip to the Seychelles. Then, Liz says to write for an additional twenty minutes to figure out where that desire originates. Did chocolate ice cream remind the character of the last day he spent with his mother before she died, when they watched the ducks and he bought her a chocolate ice cream that dripped down the front of her blouse? Or maybe the new Porsche would finally make him a viable candidate for marriage in the eyes of his socialite girlfriend.

Everything in the story can connect to that desire. Desire propels us to action; if he wants a Porsche to get the girl, then he needs a good job. What skills or evil manipulation should he employ to get that job? Who stands in his way? Why doesn’t that person, maybe the son of his employer, want him to have the girl, the job, the car? Does he want the job for himself, so he can become company president? Does he also want the girlfriend—because she is beautiful? Because she is perfectly placed in society to advance his own plans for… a house in the Seychelles? Because what he really wants is to sell this company and retire early to play professional tennis?

This set of conflicting desires leads to theme. Does greed drive both these men? If so, how can the writer develop that theme? Maybe the girlfriend is also driven by greed, but greed for attention or beauty products or a personal shopper at Bloomingdale’s. Can the writer portray the setting—Wall Street, Montana oil country, Hollywood—in such a way that the reader sees greed everywhere: in the contrast between chauffeur-driven cars and guys with pedi-cabs, between women buying farmer’s market vegetables and men diving for food in dumpsters. All elements of a story can be used to reinforce a character’s internal state.

My protagonist Clara Montague, from my new book Shadow Notes, is driven by her need to understand the origins of her psychic gift. To do that, she needs to understand her mother, a mother who has always shut Clara out. But now, there’s been a murder, and if Clara can’t get her mother to talk to her, they may both end up dead. Greed definitely informs my book; prying into someone else’s griefs and past can be greedy, and Clara’s determination to own that information about her mother is mirrored in other’s characters’ greed for power and information.

We are driven by needs and desires. Why are so many of us sitting in front of our computers writing novels? What do we want that to bring us? Is it money? friends? a sense of competence or success? We can’t always name those motivations clearly for ourselves, but when it comes to our characters, the better we know what’s going on under the surface, the more we can employ those motivations to make our characters come alive on the page. What tools do you use to bring your characters’ motivations to life?

I’d love to hear from you, and good luck!

Shadow Notes will be released by Barking Rain Press on May 17!

Find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurel.peterson.33
Check out her website: www.laurelpeterson.com

Cindy here again!

Thanks for this suggestion. I like the exercise and will try it with my next story.

Happy writing!


Welcome back to the blog. Today I’ve got author Kimbra Kasch talking about how reading/writing is a lot like cooking.

Here’s Kimbra!

Maybe you’ve never thought about it before but reading is a lot like cooking. Sometimes we want something sweet like a slice of cake or a piece of pie.


And there are days when all we want is something savory or spicy – like Cajun rubbed Pork chops with salsa


or chicken or thyme roasted chicken.


And there are days when all we want is a quick little beach read like Dewey the Small Town Library Cat but there are other days when we want to get immersed in a mystery…like Gone Girl.

But whether we are baking or reading or even writing we need to consider a few important things:

  1. The Ingredients.

When we’re talking food, we’re talking about the appropriate spices and articles to make sure we have on hand, like thyme, chicken, lemon, limes, etc.

And when we’re talking about reading or writing, we want to make sure we have the characters who can provide enough sweetness to whet our appetites for more. We have to have a reason to care about the characters we’re reading about, or we’ll be tempted to go back out into the kitchen for that second piece of cake or another slice of sweet juicy pie.

But then, we also need the character to have something he/she is fighting for, whether it’s survival or that first loving kiss. And it has to be savory enough to leave us feeling satisfied at the end of the chapter or we won’t want to turn the page to find out what happens next.

  1. Instructions: Baking Time.

When we are cooking, we have to know how long we have to bake the pie or cook that chicken and it’s the same with reading or writing. We don’t want to have everything finished too soon or we will close the book before we even finish the story…maybe even the first chapter. The writer has to leave the reader wanting to go on…

  1. Optional Seasonings.

A chef or even a good home cook knows how much seasoning to add to the pot of soup or to rub on the roasted chicken. Too much salt can ruin a good stew. And it’s just the same with a good book. If there isn’t a good balance of sweet to spicy we can feel overwhelmed with syrupy sugar or we can be searching the table for a cold glass of milk to quench the hot spice burning our mouths. Cooks often ask others to “take a taste. And this is where critique partners come into play. A good writer always has a couple “readers” take a “taste” of the story and give their opinion whether it is sweet enough or spicy enough to hold their interest.

  1. Proper Serving.

It is often said that we taste first with our eyes…so with a book is that the cover? 😀

Well, the truth is, it usually isn’t difficult to find people willing to take a beautiful piece of pie off your hands but it isn’t always so easy to find readers willing to take a chance with an unknown author. This is where marketing comes into play…but that’s an entirely different post. . .

I hope I’ve whet your appetite for another post on marketing and perhaps Mouthwatering Mussels or should that be muscles . . . ?





CatsOfCullabyCreekCoverWhen Savannah meets Kyle, its love at first sight. And why wouldn’t it be? He’s perfect, as far as she can tell. But when she starts finding dead animals in her yard and hears something scratching at her window at night, she starts to worry. What’s worse? Kyle appears whenever things go wrong. Maybe he isn’t everything she thought he was. It’s a complete mystery until she discovers the water in Cullaby Creek is being bottled and sold as vitamin “infused” water. Mistic Water promises the impossible. And then, like a magical elixir, it delivers. People who drink it feel younger, smarter, faster…healthier. But it doesn’t take long before side effects hit. Everyone begins to change or “tate”. Some are becoming dangerous animals. Literally. And the secret to what they are tating into has to be in the water…or is it something more?











And join me on Twitter or stop by and see what I’m pinning on  Pinterest and, if you’ve read one of my books and have a question or simply want to share a comment, please feel free to send me an email. I love connecting with readers.

Find Kimbra on Facebook

Check out Kimbra’s  Website

Cindy here again

I’ve never looked at it this way. Very interesting.

Happy writing!

Life and loving in remote Vietnam

Hi everyone. Welcome back to the blog. Dusting things off around here I see it’s been a while since my last post. I’m going to fix that with regular (I hope) Wednesday guest posts. First up we have author Adam Mann talking about writing romance.

Here’s Adam:

Hi, my name’s Adam Mann and I live and write in a mountainous area in the north of Viet Nam.

Why Viet Nam, I hear you ask?

I came to work here in 1997, and I’ve been here ever since apart from some short inputs in Cambodia and Malaysia. Before that I had worked in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa for more years than I care to record. My work was always with low income families in villages in remote areas, and basically I had to try to develop some sort of sustainability within their livelihoods, so that they didn’t always have to live from hand to mouth.

I retired four years ago and started to write romance novels.

Why romance novels, you frowned at me.

Well I’ve always enjoyed my family life, in spite of dislocations and difficulties. As you can imagine working in remote areas, with limited electric power, and very limited communications is not for everybody, especially wives and families. The result was I’ve been married four times – the first ended with three children and unfortunately I became a widow; the next produced another child but the remoteness ended that in a divorce. The third was quite humorous; I met a devastatingly beautiful lady from the Gujarat. We found we liked one another, and that like became love and marriage until one day her first husband turned up! Really not joking! She told me that she thought she was divorced, but her family explained to me that a divorce from an arranged marriage is very complicated, and that marriage had to be dissolved.

In Viet Nam I tried to learn the language! I employed a young lady as a teacher, and she complained to me that I never had a social life outside my work. She started to introduce me to her friends, and I’m a sucker for drop dead gorgeous, especially dark haired beautiful widows, so she brought with her three teenage children, and now between us we have seven adult children, and four grandchildren.

Now you ask again why romance novels? After four wives, not to mention the ladies in between that I can’t mention, I think that I do know a thing or two about love, passion and marriage, in detail.

Most of the time I dream up stories whilst I am supposed to be sleeping, and I get up and write down the outline of the plot often in the middle of the night. When I start writing in the morning the actual details may change a bit, and sometimes that is decided by my characters in the story! I have to keep a careful track of my characters’ names, and I try not to duplicate them.

Now my books, I know you’ve been dying to ask me.

I only write Happy Ever After endings, but of course with some complications and problems in the story, but I find that I couldn’t write sloppy sex; it just wasn’t real – it takes more than a kiss to cement a relationship.

What I don’t like is four letter words, and my reason for that is a bit strange, but many of those four letter words actually mean something quite different in another language, and I know because I’ve worked there. I’m not a prude, and I do use these words when I get attacked by a rose bush or a bee, or I drop something heavy on my toe!

Please have a look at my website: www.adammannauthor.com and you can also find me on Twitter @adammannauthor and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/adammannauthor

The Showers by Adam Mann
Published by Global Publications Group LLC.


The Showers Front CoverBill Harrison meets Helen Roberts, a lovely farmer’s ex-wife at a farmhouse in the West Yorkshire Dales, as he guides a group of guests on a pony trekking holiday.

Helen decides to take the lead and actually joins James in the shower! He soon finds himself helping out on more than a holiday romance, but also some of the guests looking for ancestors in a local church registry; a young student couple running into their own romantic problems; and Amanda, her teenage daughter, who wants to learn to drive.

In the midst of all this the wife’s belligerent former husband, Harry, turns up who had abandoned her and her unborn child nearly twenty years earlier. Harry Townsend is being pursued by the local constabulary on a murder enquiry, and might have been looking for a place to hide out, and reluctantly accepts a small cash handout from Bill.

Then Helen finds that some elements of local society have a memory longer than the twenty years since she divorced her first husband for desertion, and the most spiteful can still remember his name.

The police catch Harry; they overcome local spite and gossip, and Bill and Helen live happily ever after.

This book is sexually explicit and is designed for adults and the over 18’s.

Adam Mann’s Bio:

Adam 200Adam Mann has written twenty-four romance books all based in parts of the world where he has lived and worked. As a result five are in sub-Saharan Africa, eleven are in South or East Asia, and only seven based in the UK. One based in war torn Eastern Sri Lanka is still in draft form.

Adam has been married four times. His first wife died, the second divorced him, the third marriage was annulled as that wife had forgotten to get divorced, and the fourth wife is fit and well. They have between them seven children and four grandchildren. As a result Adam thinks he knows a bit about life and loving.

Adam has lived and worked in Vietnam since 1997, where he lives in a provincial city with his wife, and has a constant stream of visitors from the families of their seven adult children.

Cindy here again.

Thanks for stopping by. Be sure to check in every Wednesday to see what talented author we have talking about writing.

Keep writing

Zoology and writing

ZWelcome back to the blog! Can you believe this is the last day of the A to Z Blogging challenge? I can’t believe I made it! Today on the blog I’ve got Zrinka Jelic talking about zoology.

Here’s Zrinka.

Zoology, or animal biology, is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct, and how they interact with their ecosystems.

All veterinary students are required to write a dissertation on this topic. But, today I’ll talk about creative writing and zoology.

Those authors who write children’s stories and use animals for their character, whether they mingle with humans or all characters in the book are animals, and other authors who use animals in their writing, e.g. a paranormal shape shifters most popular werewolf.

No matter what genre we are writing in, if we use animals in our stories, whether they assume animal shape at will, or are animals from the beginning to the end of the book, we need to describe them as such. From their movements, sounds, hunting habits, fur or scales or even feathers, these characters must be authentic to their species. Of course anything goes in paranormal, the werewolves can walk on their hind legs and half human-ish  characteristics or once they shift into wolves they are wolves, who may still think as humans, but are unable to articulate their thoughts. That is why we study animal behaviour, maybe even pick up a few clues from our fur-babies.

The way the dog licks his nuzzle, staring at you while you’re eating that juicy steak. Or a cat pops its head into your plate to see if there’s anything yummy on there. Then there are sounds, like a low whine or a loud meow, alerting you “hey, have you forgotten about me?”

The way they greet you (or not) at the door: tails wagging, pink tongues lolling, loud panting and circling you, and let’s not forget sniffling to make sure you still smell like you. Or perhaps to check that you didn’t pick up smells from some other clan.

So when writing about animals or as I like to call it in general, zoology, research is of essence. Years ago, unless you grew up on the farm or were a veterinarian, you wouldn’t know much about farm animals. Similarly, unless you go on a safari, you wouldn’t see a lion in its natural habitat. Thankfully, today information is at our fingertips and we can watch shows at our leisure from our own sofas and as often as we need to, to capture an animal’s character just right and pass those characteristics onto our heroes and heroines in the books. It’s fine to say that a wolf howled, but if that wolf is your main character, it’s important to know why wolves howl. Usually, to communicate with the wolves from the neighboring territories. Their howl can carry up to 50 kilometres. So if in your story wolves are used instead of human characters, but your animals act so but think and have human’s problems, the way they communicate across the distances must be true to their species. They can’t very well text each other.

Well, that’s it from me on this topic. Hope it gave you a glimpse into much larger theme which is characterization. Only in zoology, we take an animal’s characteristics and apply them to our characters.

RoseofCrimson_MEDMy 5th novel is titled Rose of Crimson and it was released by Secret Cravings Publishing on December 23rd, 2014. This is a prequel to Bonded by Crimson which was published on January 15th, 2012. I’ve started working on the prequel the day I was offered a publishing contract for Bonded by Crimson. Then it got pushed to the back burner while I worked on other projects. Since then I’ve written and published Treasured Chest, a pirate romance, Love Remains, a time travel romance and Deck the Halls, a Christmas novella.


KATE ROKOV‘s grades are plummeting. She needs to get the voice out of her head or she will flunk her finals.

MATTHIAS ZRIN, a three centuries old immortal, born into an aristocratic family as Miles Rušinić, is enthralled with Kate. It is his voice preventing Kate from sleeping and her ignorance is testing his limits. He wants her to write down his story to settle his wife’s earthbound spirit. His tragic love story has become Kate’s obsession since fifth grade during her summer trip to Rušinić castle.

Their coming together settles the old spirit and breaks an ancient curse, and in doing so, a flame spanning over three centuries reignites and burns with wild desire. In this tale of two life times and desire versus emotional need, both know some dreams will have to wait for the right time, but the magic between them is impossible to withstand.

You can pick up a copy for your

Find Zrinka on: Amazon  Facebook   Twitter
Visit her  Blog

Cindy here again.

Interesting topic. I want to start a shifter series and will think more in depth now about how they act in human and wolf form.

Keep writing.


York has a festival

YWelcome back to the blog! We’re so close to the end. Today I have Amos Cassidy talking about the Festival of York.

Here’s Amos.

Hi, we’re Richard Amos and Debbie Cassidy and we write as Amos Cassidy, and we love being indie authors. The best thing about Indie is the control over what you write, how you package it, where you sell it and when you release it. Being Indie is great, however, last year we began to think that it would be nice to have our fingers in the traditional publishing pie, so we signed up to attend the huge Festival of Writing event in York last September.  So what happened? Well we made some fab author friends, got to ask a bunch of burning questions to people who worked in the industry and attended a load of workshops that opened our eyes to several errors we were making – not only in our writing, but in our approach to traditional publishing.

We had our one-to-one sessions with agents and received some very positive feedback. By the end of the stay we had received four requests for full manuscripts.

We have since learned that an agent requesting a full manuscript does not guarantee an offer of representation. Having done some research, we found that on average an agent could request 100 – 200 full manuscripts a year. Out of this number maybe 5-10 will be selected for representation. Smaller agencies will have smaller numbers. So, as you can imagine, any manuscript would have to not only be exceptionally written, but also excite the agent on a personal level.

We have yet to receive that call. Until then, we continue to write; both for the self publishing market and other projects aimed more at traditional publishing.  We have learned so much over the past 6 months and we would like to share a few tips that may help if you decide to poke a finger in the traditional publishing pie.


  1. Don’t just write for the market– The market is ever changing; even the publishers don’t know what will be hot next. You need to write what excites you. If you struggle to get into the story then how do you expect your readers to feel?
  2. Do not underestimate the importance of a solid covering letter – This is your first impression. If you are sloppy here then the agent will assume that your submission is sloppy. A lot of submissions are simply rejected because of a sloppy or untidy covering letter. Agents get hundreds of submissions; make sure you follow the guidelines so you don’t get added to the trash. Remember to address your letter to the agent personally and tell them why you have chosen them. Don’t go on and on about yourself unless the information is relevant to what you have written. For example, if you have written a Psychological Suspense and are a psychiatrist or have a MA in Psychology then by all means let them know. Otherwise, there is no need to go into detail. At this stage the agent simply wants to know about your novel and any writing history – publication in journals, magazines etc…
  3. Make your manuscript sparkle– Ideally you should stick your first draft in a drawer for a few weeks and come back to it. Go over it with a critical eye, self-editing it as you go. If you are unsure about grammar and punctuation there are loads of books and online tools on how to get to grips with it. Also, you can get it professionally edited. Otherwise, you can get it proof-read. Beta readers are always a good idea, they will look for plot holes and inconsistencies. A great resource of information is the ‘Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook Guide to Getting Published by Harry Bingham’
  4. Do your research– Agents are people too, they have likes and dislikes, they are not generic representation machines. What excites one agent may put another to sleep. Read their bio’s, do a little Twitter stalking and check out Writer’s Digest online. All invaluable in helping you make the decision about which agents to approach. Remember that an agent-author relationship is just that, a relationship, and it won’t work if you don’t have anything in common.
  5. Do make multiple submissions– You can submit to more than one agency at a time, but check their submission requirements as some like to be informed if you are doing this.
  6. Be patient– It can take on average up to 8 weeks to get a response to a submission, and if they request a full manuscript then there is another wait, anything from 1 month to 3. Every agency has their own guidelines as to times and acknowledgements, which is why submitting to more than one agent is a good idea.
  7. Never give up – Keep going. If you want to write then write and keep on doing it. We know what it’s like to feel down at times, but we can’t stop. Writing is in our blood. Never try and shut down that feeling of the love of telling a story as it will never go away. Embrace it and soldier on!


There are plenty of online resources with tips on how to formulate that perfect covering letter and how to format your completed manuscript. You are not alone. Having done a ton of research ourselves, we are happy to answer any questions you may have on the subject.

Writing Festivals and workshops are fantastic for making connections with like-minded people, picking up tips and expanding your mind. If you are serious about traditional publishing, and can afford to go, then we would highly recommend attending one.

Cindy here again.

This makes me want to go to a writing festival. Good thing they have one around here every year.

Keep writing.

Xenogenesis: On the art of creation

XWelcome back to the blog! For the A to Z Blogging challenge today I’ve got Amber Butler talking about Xenogenesis.

Here’s Amber.

Xenogenesis is the laboratory creation of an organism that is completely different from either of its parents.

This, I feel, is fantastically relevant to writing.

Our books and stories are organisms. We breathe life into them and birth them and let them wander our world like toddling children, and they may be the class clown or the class bully or the kid who sits under the window and eats paint and they may make friends or they may make enemies but they are alive and apart from us and once we have sent them into the world they grow without us tending them.

Our stories are sometimes created organically, from the fusion of multiple ideas. You may wake up one morning and find a character has walked through your dreams and whispered his story to you and you are merely the caretaker and must tend to the story and feed it and nurture it and kiss its knee when it falls off its bike and eventually let it go.

And these stories are good. They are necessary and cherished but are not what this blog post is about. This post is about the willful creation of things unlike other things. This post is about taking your writing down new and previously unforged paths.

It is, in short, how to intentionally design your stories to be organisms completely different from the things you’ve done before.


  1. Read outside your genre

This age-old bit of wisdom never rings truer than when you are trying to create something unique. Go to your local bookstore and wander into a corner you’ve never wandered into before. Pick up a book that looks like something that wouldn’t interest you if the apocalypse had destroyed all other books and this was your last hope for any reading material until the end of time. Reading outside your genre will stretch you as an author in ways that will lend remarkable authenticity to your story. Only write YA dystopian? Read a (good) romance novel. Even if your main character only has one scene where his/her heart pounds after the boy/girl in gym class, that wisdom you’ve stored up from extragenre reading will make your readers’ hearts pound, too. Only write romance novels? Read a good mystery. You get the idea.


  1. Write outside your genre.

I don’t mean whole novels. If you asked me to write a romance novel I’d put the characters in a spaceship fleeing a ravaged post-World War III earth and make a love triangle with an alien, a robot, and a sentient, formless being made of light. I’m a scifi/fantasy geek at heart and you can’t remove that part of me. However, short stories and flash fictions are the way to practice your writing chops in areas where you don’t have any. There are tons of places to find writing prompts (the sub-Reddits “Writing Prompts” and “Prompt of the Day” happen to be my favorites) and make yourself write in a genre you wouldn’t normally write in. For instance, I found a prompt that was an image of a storm in a sky and immediately wrote a story about a woman who collected weather patterns and kept them in mason jars in her closet. If I were practicing extragenre discourse, I would have written about wandering a well-worn path pining for a lost love, or combing the beaches to find pieces of a missing body, or fighting the battle of Gettysburg under a dark sky.

  1. Write a sentence. Erase it. Write the opposite.

Sometimes sentences and characters and plots are born from that organic merging of other sentences and characters and plots and are beautiful in their own right. But when you are trying to create something that is genuinely unique, you may have to go against the instincts of your own brain, which tends toward the familiar in almost all things.

“So, how’s the weather?”

I grimaced. I hate making small talk. Small talk and people and weather are tedious and boring and make me want to drink a cup of coffee still steaming, make me want to throw that coffee in other people’s faces.

I grinned. I love making small talk. Small talk and people and weather are fascinating and infinite and make me want to share a steaming cup of coffee with them, find out how many creamers they take, listen to every story they have to tell.

I watched her. She would never pay attention to me, the weird boy with the cartoon hair and the lisp. I watched the way her blond curls bounced when she jumped and the way her lips opened too wide on the right when she laughed and the way she wiped the mud from playing in the creek bed off on her pants.

I watched him. He would never pay attention to me, the weird boy with the cartoon hair and the lisp. I watched the way his blond curls bounced when he jumped and the way his lips opened too wide on the right when he laughed and the way he wiped the mud from playing in the creek bed off on his pants.

Notice there is nothing wrong with the crossed out version. It is simply what came to my mind first. I erased it, then wrote something else. In this way you can create characters that are different from the characters your brain is used to reading and writing. Your stories will have a surprising bit of nuance and depth and take you places you never thought you could go.


  1. Make a Random Character Chart

As you are creating your characters and deciding on their motivations and loves and hates and how they act in the plot, this idea may help if your creativity seems to be stuck. Make a character list, but don’t name your characters or define them in any way other than their emotional and mental attributes. Your list may look something like this:

Character 1                                Character 2

Abandoned at birth                  Abandoned at birth

Grew up in orphanage             Best friends with Character 1

Kind hearted and generous     Kind but selfish

Loyal                                           Wants what is best for Character 2

In love with Character 2          In love with Character 3

Then make several lists defining characteristics such as physical appearance and sexual orientation.

Tall/Short/Average Height/Etc

Chiseled Jaw/Pock-faced/Beard/Etc


White/Black/Asian/Middle Eastern/Etc




You get the idea.

Next, get the dice.

You see where this is going.

Roll dice to match each character with their traits. Obviously you are the artist and can veto whatever you want, but this will help put a large distance between you and the awkward-but-adorably-clumsy teenage girl who is different because she likes to read books, the ruggedly-handsome-but-ultimately-wild-and-dangerous boy she is in love with, and the nerdy-and-goofy-but-equally-adorable boy she is also in love with.

  1. Read the Greats

You probably have this one covered, but in case you don’t, do it. A good rule of thumb: If anyone ever says, “Your book reminded me of ____,” read that book.

If you write mystery or horror, read King. If you write fantasy, read Gaiman. If you write speculative or dystopian fiction, read Atwood. If you write sci fi satire, read Pratchett and Adams. If you write YA lit, read Green. Is this an exhaustive list? Obviously not, but you get the idea.

11167433_10106473932933384_763294257_oRead them slowly. Don’t rush. Savor the words, like a warm, juicy, red steak, let the prose dissolve on your tongue and trickle down your throat and fill up your stomach and you will find your own words and worlds enhanced. There is nothing wrong with reading authors who are not considered “great” or who are not well known–in fact, I highly recommend it as there are some breathtaking hidden gems out there. But too frequently authors don’t read the ones who others consider to be the peak of their genre, sometimes out of moral repugnancy (“I refuse to bow to the whims of publishing companies!”) sometimes out of ignorance (“Levithan who?”) but it never bodes well and almost always ends in subpar prose and rehashed plot lines and stale characters and awkward dialogue. Read much, and read often, and always, always, read the greats.

Bio: A K Butler publishes a blog where you can read her short stories and flash fictions for free. She has written a YA science fiction novel, The Burning of Cherry Hill, which is available on Amazon. She is frequently found on Twitter fangirling over books she loves, Firefly, and Doctor Who. You can also find her on Facebook.

Cindy here again.

Great tips. I do try to read outside my favourite genres and I challenge myself to write things I wouldn’t normally write.

Keep writing.

W is for writer

WWelcome back to the blog! We’re in the home stretch for the A to Z Challenge. Today I have Joanne Guidoccio talking about being a writer.

Here’s Joanne.

W is For Writer Or…

Fellow GWIN member Lisa Ivaldi asked, “Do you want me to add Writer or Author to your profile?

My heart beat faster as I considered the implications of both titles.

According to the dictionary, a writer “expresses ideas in writing” or “is engaged in literary work” while an author is an “originator or creator of written work.”

The definitions appear similar, but there is a definite difference, one clearly articulated by many English teachers: “You become an author when your books are published, but if your writings never publish, you remain a writer.”

Best-selling author  Dean Wesley Smith  has a different take on it.

He strongly believes that “a writer is a person who writes; an author is a person who has written.” According to Smith, writers focus on the process of writing and as soon as they publish one book they’re onto the next. On the other hand, authors devote their energies to promoting their book instead of writing the next one.

Having written more than 100 novels and 200 short stories, it is no surprise that Smith considers himself a writer. And his final advice is sound: “Authors are missing the best promotion tool there is for their old books. Their next book.”

While I agree with Smith’s advice, I tend to gravitate toward the more traditional definition of an author. The word has a more professional ring to it, declaring a writer is finally taking her craft seriously.

A fact that wasn’t so apparent when I first launched my second act as a writer.

For three years, I dabbled. Travel writing. Business articles. Blogging, Poetry. Cozy mysteries. Angel stories. Memoirs.  Fantasy. Depending on which online course or workshop I attended, I immediately embraced the new genre and tried my hand at it.

I met with modest success and enjoyed seeing my articles, book reviews and short stories appear in newspapers, magazines and online. Interestingly enough, most editors included the following short bio: “Joanne Guidoccio is a Guelph writer.”

But with three novels—Between Land and Sea, A Season for Killing Blondes, The Coming of Arabella— completed and contracted, I feel confident and ready to call myself an Author.

Guidoccio 001Bio:

In high school, Joanne dabbled in poetry, but it would be over three decades before she entertained the idea of writing as a career. She listened to her practical Italian side and earned degrees in mathematics and education. She experienced many fulfilling moments as she watched her students develop an appreciation (and sometimes, love) of mathematics. Later, she obtained a post-graduate diploma as a career development practitioner and put that skill set to use in the co-operative education classroom. She welcomed this opportunity to help her students experience personal growth and acquire career direction through their placements.

In 2008, she took advantage of early retirement and decided to launch a second career that would tap into her creative side and utilize her well-honed organizational skills. Slowly, a writing practice emerged. Her articles and book reviews were published in newspapers, magazines, and online. When she tried her hand at fiction, she made reinvention a recurring theme in her novels and short stories. A member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne writes paranormal romance, cozy mysteries, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.


Website:   http://joanneguidoccio.com/
Twitter:   https://twitter.com/joanneguidoccio
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/authorjoanneguidoccio
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanneguidoccio
Pinterest:   http://pinterest.com/jguidoccio/
Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7277706.Joanne_Guidoccio
Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Between-Land-Sea-Joanne-Guidoccio-ebook/dp/B00F9U5Q50

Cindy here again.

Interesting thoughts on the writer versus author question.

Keep writing.

S is for Scout

SWelcome to the blog! Today I’ve got Jim Jackson talking about Scout, Kindle Scout.

Here’s Jim.

Amazon brings American Idol to the writing community with its Kindle Scout program.

Whether you like Amazon or hate it, you’ll probably agree that it has materially changed the publishing business. It has changed how we buy books (frequently online), how much we pay for books (generally less), and how we read books (often electronically). For authors, Amazon has altered who is published by allowing authors an easy mechanism for self-publishing. Furthermore, they have created their own publishing company with myriad imprints.

Starting November 2014 through the Kindle Scout program, Amazon is “outsourcing” to readers selection of which Kindle books they will publish; hence the American Idol meets the writing community line at the head of the blog.

The Basics

Authors submit their books for consideration and Amazon determines which ones enter the program. Readers (“Scouts” in Amazon-speak) have thirty days to nominate books (only once, not like “Chicago voting,” where early and often are acceptable). Based on how many nominations a book receives and other considerations Amazon chooses not to reveal, Amazon makes the final decision about which books they’ll offer publishing contracts.

Anyone who has nominated a successful book receives a free Kindle version of the book once it is published. As of mid-March, Amazon had chosen thirty-one books for publication.

What Authors and Books Qualify?

You can find the current Kindle Scout rules online. It is only open to authors over age eighteen with a U.S. bank account and either a Social Security Number or Tax Identification Number. Manuscripts with more than one author need not apply. Amazon only accepts fiction. The program started with three genres and in January expanded to loosely cover all fiction, probably excluding young kids books. Make sure to check their current rules since the program has already expanded once.

The book must not have been for sale anywhere, anytime. However, it could have been available for free, say on Wattpad or a personal website or blog. Your book must be in English and complete with at least 50,000 words. You’ll need to have an original book cover.

You do not need a synopsis, but you will need to develop a blurb (less than 500 characters) and pitch line (maximum 45 characters). You’ll need a picture of yourself along with a bio, which is also 500 characters or less.

What’s in the Contract?

The disclaimer. I am not a lawyer, and you should not consider my summary in any way to be legal advice. Furthermore, I am only discussing some of the provisions. If you are interested in the Kindle Scout program, make sure to read the contract thoroughly and seek legal counsel if you wish.

Exclusive Period: Should you submit to the program, you give Amazon a 45-day exclusive on your book. You allow them to use all the material you send them and post a portion of your book for Scouts to review. Once the period is over, Amazon will remove the material from their site if they do not select your book for publication.

But heck, you’ve written a great novel, people are going to love it. Let’s look at the terms when they sign you up.

Rights Granted: Essentially all ebook and audio rights worldwide in all languages.

Reversion: (1) After five years if you have not earned at least $25,000 in royalties, you may request your rights back; otherwise the term is extended for another five years. (2) If Kindle Press did not publish the work within six months of accepting it, all rights revert. (3) If after two years there is any consecutive twelve-month period in which you do not earn at least $500 in royalties, you may request rights reversion. (4) You may request reversion of audio rights and any foreign language rights if they have not been published/sold after two years.

Advance: US$1,500, payable within thirty days of their final acceptance of your manuscript and when you provide necessary tax and banking information.


ebook: 50% of Net Revenue;

audio: 25% of Net Revenue;

foreign: 20% of Net Revenue

Editing: Kindle Press may, but is not required to, provide editing.

Ant Farm CoverThe Process (How my submission went)

Day 1: I submitted ANT FARM, which is a prequel to the Seamus McCree mystery series, to the Kindle Scout program on Friday, January 23, 2015.

Day 4: They accepted it for the program on Monday (the next business day) and let me know Ant Farm’s nomination period would start that Wednesday.

Day 6: Ant Farm went live on Wednesday, January 28.

Day 35: Last day of nomination process, which was Thursday, February 26.

Day 40: Monday, March 2 @ 12:17 a.m. I received an email that notified me Kindle Press would publish Ant Farm (2nd business day after the nominations closed). Someone clearly made the decision the day after the nomination process closed and set up an automatic notification process.

Day 40: Monday, March 2 @ 12:18 a.m. everyone who nominated Ant Farm received an email letting them know Kindle Press will publish Ant Farm. The email congratulated Scouts on their good taste and reminded them they would receive a free Kindle version of the book when it was available.

Day 41: After I told them there were no changes I needed to make to either the cover or the manuscript, they notified me they had accepted the manuscript. The publication clock starts ticking. I received instructions for providing tax and banking information.

Day 54: Monday, March 16 I spoke with my Kindle Press contact. Estimated publication date is April 28 plus or minus a week. They plan to do copy editing and I should shortly hear from the copy editor.

Because of my travel schedule, almost four weeks will have passed between my writing this blog and its publication. I’ll provide a status update in the comments section of this blog.

~ Jim


james-m-jacksonBrief Bio:

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. ANT FARM (Spring 2015), a prequel to BAD POLICY (2013) and CABIN FEVER (2014), recently won a Kindle Scout nomination. Ebook published by Kindle Press; print from Wolf’s Echo Press. BAD POLICY won the Evan Marshall Fiction Makeover Contest whose criteria were the freshness and commerciality of the story and quality of the writing. Jim has published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, ONE TRICK AT A TIME: How to Start Winning at Bridge (Master Point Press 2012), as well as numerous short stories and essays.

His website is http://jamesmjackson.com where you can learn more about him, his books and click on convenient buttons to follow him on various social media.

Cindy here again.

Great information about the Scout program. Hopefully they will open it up to people who aren’t in the U.S.

Keep writing.

Ruthless Revision

RWelcome back to the blog! For R I’ve got Bonnie Stevens talking about revisions.

Here’s Bonnie.

“Murder your darlings”—that may be the most famous piece of advice about revision, one that’s been attributed to just about everybody but really, apparently, originated with Arthur Quiller-Couch, a British writer and critic born in 1863. I think it became famous partly because it so vividly sums up two facts almost all writers instantly recognize as true:

• Revision is mandatory.
• Revision hurts like hell.

We labor so hard to bring our words into this world—sending any of them back into the void feels wrong. It feels like murder. And according to Quiller-Couch, the words we labor over the hardest, the ones we love the best, are usually the ones we most need to obliterate. How can we force ourselves to be as ruthless as we know we need to be? Is there any way to make the process less painful?

A few years ago, I read two essays that transformed the way I revise. Both had been around for decades, but I hadn’t encountered them before. And while both contain many valuable insights about writing, these essays made a difference for me primarily because each recommends one specific technique that has helped me murder my darlings more efficiently.

The first essay is Donald M. Murray’s “The Maker’s Eye: Revising Your Own Manuscripts,” published in 1973. Murray has many perceptive things to say about the early stages of revision when most writers, he says, focus on “the larger problems of subject and form.” Then he moves on to the stage when writers move “closer and closer to the page,” working through the manuscript sentence by sentence, sweating to make every word right. At this stage, Murray finds it best to work “in short runs, no more than fifteen or twenty minutes at a stretch.” If he tries to keep going longer than that, he says, “I become too kind with myself. I begin to see what I hope is on the page, not what is actually on the page.”

At first, this approach sounded strange to me—it seemed too fragmented—but I gave it a try. It works. I set a timer for twenty minutes (or usually, to be honest, thirty) and start working. I’m alert, I’m focused on revision, and I’m determined to find ways to make improvements. When the timer goes off, I take a ten-minute break. I put in a load of laundry or do some other household chore, I respond to an e-mail or two, or I read a chapter of somebody else’s book. Sometimes, I exercise (I should do that more often) or fix a snack (I should do that less often). When the break is over, I attack the manuscript with renewed alertness, focus, and determination.

I think this approach helps me revise more thoroughly, and I know it makes me more ruthless. When I try to revise without taking breaks, it’s too easy to slip out of revising mode and into reading mode. I start enjoying the characters and admiring the plot. After all, these are my darlings—I created them, so it’s natural for me to love them. But if I want other people to love them, too, I can’t afford to go easy on them. I have to scrutinize them critically and be prepared to murder them if necessary. Revising in short runs helps.

The other essay is William Zinsser’s “The Act of Writing: One Man’s Method,” written in 1983 (if he’d written it more recently, he probably would have said “one person’s method”). Again, there’s lots of good advice about revision in general, one specific technique that stands out for me. When he was teaching writing at Yale, Zinsser says, he would read through students’ essays and “put brackets around every component . . . that I didn’t think was doing some kind of work.” The “component” might be a single word, such as “the adverb whose meaning is already in the verb (blare loudly, clench tightly),” or it might be an entire sentence that “essentially repeats what the previous sentence has said.” “Most people’s writing,” Zinsser says, “is littered with phrases that do no work whatever. Most first drafts, in fact, can be cut by fifty percent without losing anything organic.”

I don’t know exactly why the brackets work so well, but believe me—they do. When I’m reasonably satisfied with the content and organization of a manuscript, I print a hard copy and go through it again, looking for words, phrases, sentences, and—who knows?—whole paragraphs I might be able to cut. Sometimes, I can cross things out immediately, confident they aren’t “doing some kind of work” and will never be missed. Often, though, I hesitate. Okay, so maybe that phrase isn’t strictly necessary, but I like it—it’s a darling—and I hate to cut it. So I put it in brackets and move on, postponing the final, painful decision. Later, when I go back and see a page studded with half a dozen or more bracketed words, phrases, or sentences, I realize how much tighter and sharper the page could be if I find the courage to make the cuts. Usually, I grit my teeth and cross out everything in brackets, and the page snaps into shape.

Maybe it’s easier to murder our darlings if we do it in stages—we put a component on trial by bracketing it, we later weigh all the evidence about the page or the chapter as a whole before reaching a verdict, and only then do we convict and execute. And when I look back at a page and see only a few brackets, I know I’ve slipped into reading mode and haven’t been ruthless enough. It’s time to take a break, and to come back in ten minutes determined to find more suspects to put on trial.

For me, Zinsser’s method works best when I print a hard copy and bracket in pencil. You could also, I’m sure, type the brackets, or highlight possibly superfluous components, or find some other way of using this technique without printing a hard copy. For me, though, for revision, a hard copy works best. Maybe that’s because I’m a dinosaur who wrote her first manuscripts on yellow pads and typewriters. Or maybe there’s a real advantage to getting physically closer to our manuscripts during the last stages of writing, to having our hands travel over our words as we make our final decisions about their fates—which ones to keep, which ones to change, which ones to murder.

I do know these two techniques have made a difference for me, and that’s taught me another lesson. Before I read these essays, I’d been writing for decades, teaching writing for decades. I considered myself an expert on the writing process, and I thought my own process was set. These essays proved me wrong. We never know enough about writing. No matter how experienced we are, we can still learn from what other writers have to say. Some of the books and essays we read will simply repeat things we already know, and some we’ll reject as just plain wrong. Once in a while, though, if we keep reading, we’ll find new, valuable insights, ones that might even make us revise our approaches to revision.

About B.K. Stevens

B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens has published almost fifty short stories, most in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Her stories have won a Derringer and been nominated for Agatha and Macavity awards. Her first novel, Interpretation of Murder, published by Black Opal Books in April, 2015, is a traditional whodunit that offers readers glimpses into deaf culture and sign-language interpreting. Fighting Chance, a martial arts mystery for teens, will be published by The Poisoned Pencil / Poisoned Pen Press. B.K. and her husband, Dennis, live in Virginia. They have two grown daughters and an assertive cat. www.bkstevensmysteries.com.

Front Cover (2)About Interpretation of Murder

As an American Sign Language interpreter, Jane Ciardi stands off to the side. Her life changes when she takes a job from a Cleveland private detective. Now Jane’s at the center of things, keeping tabs on a deaf African-American teenager whose odd behavior alarms her wealthy father. Jane also needs to discover the truth behind two murders—including the murder of the first interpreter the detective hired.

To get closer to the teenager, Jane joins a fitness center owned by a family that brings new meaning to the word “dysfunctional.” Jane can’t help feeling attracted to the family’s youngest son, a cheerfully amoral charmer who seems equally drawn to her. But he’s keeping secrets, and so are others at the fitness center. The more Jane learns about the center, the more she suspects some people go there to get more than a workout. The more she learns, the more she becomes the target of attacks that force her to use her martial arts skills to defend herself.

Somehow, Jane realizes, the fitness center’s connected to the two murders and to the deaf teenager’s odd behavior. Jane’s struggle to unravel all the secrets tests her resourcefulness, her loyalties, and her courage.

Cindy here again.

Great post. I like the brackets idea. I’l have to use that.

Keep writing.

Follow Us!

Subscribe via RSS


This site uses cookies. Find out more about this site’s cookies.