Kris Bock on Voice

VWelcome back to the blog! Today for the A to Z Blogging Challenge I’ve got Kris Bock talking about voice. A strong voice is something writers are told they need but a lot of them have no idea what it is.

Here’s Kris.

There’s nothing like having your own “slush pile” to give insight into what editors see. I’ve judged or critiqued several writing contests and critiqued conference manuscripts. Some of the entries were fairly advanced, but only a couple were publishable. I saw many of the same problems over and over.

The better novels had an interesting character and plot (at least so far as I could judge based on the 10-20 pages I had). The weakness was typically in the voice. Voice can be one of those hard-to-define, “I’ll know it when I see it” things. It’s also often viewed as something instinctive, almost magical. Perhaps for those reasons, many people don’t try to learn voice.

But “voice” really just means style, and of course there are many techniques you can learn to improve your style. Some are simple, some more complex and harder to master. That’s a good thing, as we can keep learning, step-by-step.

Steps in Dialogue

For example, dialogue attributions must, at a minimum, be clear, so the reader is never confused about who is speaking. But even clear attributions can make the dialogue either flow smoothly or sound clunky. For strong dialogue, first you might learn to use “said” rather than fancy alternatives that call attention to themselves and look amateurish, such as demanded, inquired, responded, suggested, etc.

Next you might learn that you don’t have to identify the speaker with every line, if the speaker is clear from the conversational pattern. You can start cutting a few of those repetitive saids.

Then you might learn that you can often identify the speaker with an action or gesture, and cut the dialogue attribution altogether. (Ironically, now you’re removing nearly all of those saids that you included in the first step.) Not only does this make the dialogue smoother, but it helps keep readers grounded in the scene because they can picture the characters as they move, gesture, and change expression.

Other areas where voice comes into play are pacing, close point of view, and showing rather than telling. I don’t have time to explore all that here, but once again those are areas where you can make small steps toward ultimately strong writing.

Is a strong voice the key to writing success? Not necessarily. Some published works get by with weak voice because of a marketable hook, a dramatic plot, or the author’s fame. And voice alone won’t interest editors or readers unless you have the concept, character, and plot to support the voice. But improving your writing style bit by bit can make the difference between almost-there and success.

So how do you learn these lessons? Fortunately, you have lots of options!

Keep Learning

  • Courses through correspondence schools, or local classes, workshops and conferences with a craft focus.


  • Books on the craft of writing. My book Advanced Plotting covers pacing, with articles on how to build a scene and writing cliffhanger chapter endings. I like Scene and Sequence, by Jack Bickham, Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon, and my favorite for style, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. I’ve been hearing good things about The Emotion Thesaurus


  • Blogs are a great not only because they are free, but because you can learn a little bit every week or every day. Besides this one, check out Fiction Universityby Janice Hardy, and Jodie Renner Editing. And you’ll find my blog, with lots of information on showing versus telling, pacing, and more, at Write like a Pro! Scroll down to the labels on the right to see past topics.


  • Critique groups and other beta readers are also a big help. If you don’t have experienced critique partners, cultivate some. Some regional writing groups help match up critique partners. Listserves or discussion boards are another way to connect with people.


  • Finally, unless your critique partners are all professional writers and editors, chances are eventually you will go as far as you can with their help. Then it may be time to hire a professional editor, or at least get a critique at a conference. Many well-published writers and writing teachers can be hired for private critiques (myself included; see rates and recommendations on my blog). You can even hire some well-known former editors from traditional publishing houses. In addition, some agents and editors occasionally give free critique feedback on their blogs, typically of query letters or first pages.


It’s easy to feel impatient and want publication now. It’s tempting to believe that since you took one course or read a couple of books on writing, you’re ready to submit your work. But learning to write well is a long, ongoing process. I’ve been writing for over 20 years and teaching for 10. I have about 30 traditionally published children’s books as well as self published novels for children (written as Chris Eboch) and adults (written as Kris Bock). And I keep learning. The market is harder than ever, so give yourself every advantage. Who doesn’t want a few new tools in their bag of tricks?

Besides, the journey is half the fun! We can’t control the end result, so we might as well enjoy and grow from the process.

Happy writing,


Kris Bock writes romantic adventures involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure and The Dead Man’s Treasure follow treasure hunts in the New Mexico desert; Whispers in the Dark involves archaeology and intrigue among ancient ruins; and in Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Visit or sign up for Kris Bock newsletter.

Kris writes for children under the name Chris Eboch. Her novels for ages nine and up include Bandits Peak, a survival thriller; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Cindy here again.

Great tips about voice. I will have to check out some of those books.

Keep writing.

U is for Unorthodox

UHiya, there! My name is Rachael Kosinski. I’m twenty years old, tower over most girls my age, and juggle writing with going to college. I am NOT Cindy Carroll, as you may guess as you read down this post, but I WILL continue her A to Z April Challenge with the letter “U.” I didn’t have time to do a challenge of my own, and am very grateful I got the chance to jump in on someone else’s. “U” is for unorthodox. Not the opposite of a usually Greek or Russian religion—no. I mean unusual, nonconformist, or something you probably just shouldn’t do.

Which brings me to the time I cased a local art exhibit while researching my latest story.

Writers, if you think about it, are the most unorthodox people out there. They make a point of making things up for a living and frequently hold conversations in their minds with people who don’t physically exist. Research, more specifically, can take them down very strange and twisted paths. Recently I’ve been drafting a story that involves art forgeries and a girl who can hear memories on paintings. Which means I needed to know about art crime, and the inner details of certain artworks: what they’re made of, how big they are, where they’re located and when they’ve traveled. In a single afternoon I crawled through the FBI’s article collections of forgery rings and Ponzi schemes and reached pages that were password protected. Searches on Interpol, Monet ID numbers, layouts of museums and searches on certain types of dueling guns more than likely put me on a government watch list. Then, of course, I actually cased a place.

I didn’t even mean to. My museum studies class (I’m an art history major) attended an exhibition opening for one of the professors. Thirty years’ worth of artwork hung on the walls in watercolor and egg tempura. There were abstract pieces and religious reworking, but he’d gone through a multicolor phase and there was this large painting that I adored so much I almost asked him if I could buy it. About maybe three by five feet, a nude woman stood with a forest as backdrop, only none of the colors were normal. Shades hung in blue, highlights in orange or red. It was gorgeous. While he gave a speech on how and when he made the works, my mind wandered. Really, the exhibit was in our arts building, which was open late into the night. Squinting at the ceiling, I saw no security cameras. The only problem would be figuring out the punch code to the room’s door, but I was an art history student and knew the curator; maybe I could lie my way into her giving me the code…? The plan didn’t take me any farther than lifting the painting from the wall and stashing it under my bed in my dorm room, but it had taken place in my head. I had really examined a situation and hypothetically laid groundwork for an art theft. And it was kind of thrilling. Hypothetically, of course! 🙂

Disclaimer: I promise I would never really steal anything; I’d feel way too guilty. But it raised lots of questions for me: what’s the craziest thing you’ve done for research? I always get into the mindset of my characters so I can try to see things the way they do; hence theoretically attempting to steal a professor’s painting. Are you all note-taking or do you try to do the things your characters do, just to be able to describe them more realistically? It could be anything; taking a jujitsu class because your protagonist is a master at it, peeking into the kitchen of a fancy restaurant because your villain daylights as a sous chef, or going spelunking because your pirate’s treasure lies in a cave and you want to write the subterranean atmosphere like a pro.

X, Rachael


The Christmas Lights FINALBlurb:

“Where do Christmas lights come from?”
Those tiny bulbs of color that burn on a Christmas tree,
Or outside a house to shine in the night.
Does anyone really know where they originate?
What if someone told you
They weren’t intended for Christmas at all,
But really for a miracle?
That they were for love, a desperate idea, to light a boy’s way home?
In that case, you must have some questions. What boy? What love?
Have a seat. Allow me to tell you a story.


Buy Links:

Visit Rachel’s website:

Cindy here!

Interesting post! The craziest thing (so far) that I’ve done is attend Citizens’ Police Academy to get a better idea of how my officers would do their job.

Keep writing.

T is for Time: Writing Time

TWelcome back to the blog! Today I’ve got Andrea Cooper talking about time. Writing time. Something writers say they never have enough of.

Here’s Andrea.

One thing I’ve heard many writers complain about (including me) is not having time to write. Between family, work, and other obligations chipping away at the day, little is left over for writing.

Here are some ideas that have helped me find more writing time:

  • TV/Movies – I record my favorite shows and watch them later while folding laundry. I’m multi-tasking and can skip the commercials or put the clothes away during them. And some shows that I used to watch, just to see the results and new products, like SharkTank, I just look online for the summary. As far as movies, I am picky about what I will watch in the theatres – usually go the DVD route so I can skip previews.
    • Potential time saved: 15 mins – 40 mins
  • Cooking – I make at least one crockpot recipe instead of cooking and every other week, we have frozen pizza. Kids and/or hubby can help too.
    • Potential time saved: 30 – 50 mins
  • Kid’s Bath time – If possible, my husband and I trade off bathing the kids, helping them brush their teeth, and putting PJ’s on. While my husband baths the kids, I write.
    • Potential time saved: 15 – 30 mins
  • Lunch – a few times a week, lunch can be eaten at your desk (or with a laptop at a park, coffee shop, or restaurant) and type during your lunchtime.
    • Potential time saved: 30 mins to 1 hour
      • If you get ‘smoke’ breaks, use the 5-15mins (however much time your company/boss allows) and write – even if it’s just 5 mins twice a week, it will add up.
    • Miscellaneous tips:
      • Take a shower instead of a bath
      • Instead of hopping on Facebook or Twitter, use that time to write. (time for these and marketing can be done at other points in the day, like when waiting in line, on the phone while on hold, in the doctor/dentist office, etc.)
      • Set a timer for 15-20 mins and write as fast as you can without stopping or thinking.
      • Have kids/hubby help with cleaning: putting away dishes, taking out trash, vacuuming, sweeping/moping, putting their clothes away, etc. My kids like to help with chores, because I don’t make it a chore or burden. It’s okay that they can’t/don’t clean as well as an adult. Being excited about helping mom and giving them praise is a great way to bond.
      • Take the bus to/from work – use the time to brainstorm, write if you can (depends on if you write long-hand or have a small enough laptop that won’t crowd the person you sit next to. Leave for work 20-30 mins early and miss traffic and use that saved time to write.
      • Try a speech-to-text software program (warning – this costs money!) and ‘talk’ your story while you cook, clean, etc.

Not all of these need to be used at the same time. They can be combined, alternated throughout the week, etc. Experiment.

Do you have any tips on saving/making time for writing?

AndreaCooperAndrea’s Bio: Andrea has always created characters and stories. But it wasn’t until she was in her late twenties that she started writing novels.

What happened that ignited the writing flame in her fingers? Divorced, and disillusioned by love songs and stories. They exaggerate. She thought. Love and Romance are not like that in the real world. Then she met her husband and realized, yes love and romance are exactly like the songs and stories say. She is now a happy wife, and a mom to three kids (two boys and a girl).

Andrea writes fantasy, paranormal, historical, and contemporary romance suspense. When not writing or reading, one may find Andrea dancing in Zumba or chasing her two youngest through the park.

She believes in the power of change and counting each moment as a blessing. But most importantly, she believes in love.



Author Website:

Cindy here again.

Great tips. We record our shows and I use a timer!

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 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.

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.

Questions Lead To Quests

QWelcome back to the blog! Today for the A to Z Blogging Challenge I have Caroline Gill with a piece posing a lot of questions.

Here’s Caroline.

There are always ways to improve writing. A new idea can transform whole genres.

What drives those transformative ideas, those break-the-world-open novels?

Questions. Life-changing, perspective-altering questions.

That’s why we write.

We are all in search of answers to rejection and hardship in our personal lives. Sometimes, most times, those visceral wounds can overpower us. In real life, in real minutes, days and hours are spent with staggering pain so deep we forget to breathe.

Many of us who love books cling to them like the shipwrecked survivors of the “Raft of the Medusa.” In the Louvre Museum, Paris, there is a vibrant red wall taken up entirely by this epic painting. It was a transformative artwork memorializing a horrific shipwreck that really happened two hundred years ago.

One hundred and forty seven people initially survived. Thirteen days of misery passed while they were stranded on the open ocean. The survivors floated on bits of debris for days while sharks circled, feasting. In the lightless dark of nightfall, companions vanished, swallowed by the sea.

The moment Gericault depicted was ten long days into the drift – ten days into hell.

In the distance, in the background of the painting, the remaining few survivors see the white of a sail. Lunging for anything to attract the attention of the vessel, the painted men lift each other up, waving fragments of clothing, anything they could use to attract attention. The painting by Gericault captures that moment of hope, that intense belief we have that rescue will come. Unfortunately, in reality, that tiny spot of white in the distance did not see them, sailing on across the vast horizon, unaware of their tragedy. The rescue that could have saved precious lives never happened on the tenth day, not even when the survivors hoped so fervently for relief.

Thirteen days after the ship ran aground, fifteen people were finally rescued by a different passing ship. Their horrific stories of cannibals, sharks, pitch black nights, death, rotting corpses, and vanished loved ones haunted all of France. That painting is a pure reflection of the struggles of authors and readers.

We are on that raft.

We live in that moment, holding our breath, waiting for the rescue. Again and again, we create our work, trying to save ourselves, trying to catch the attention of distant travelers. Often we fail. Sharks get some of us, pulled down by natural circumstances. Still, we hope.

After thirteen desperate days, the shipwrecked people ate anything or anyone they could find.

When there was no nourishment, people turned on themselves to feed the emptiness, destroying their values, traditions and minds. That is true of the hunger of imagination, too. In that moment of fear, when survival is all that matters, we are indeed capable of anything. Acting in a moral manner has huge costs, when there is no law, no rule, only anarchy.

Cannibals live amongst us. Creative cannibals that eat us from within: doubt, uncertainty, low self-confidence. Crazy and selfish people live in the internet world as well, stabbing at the light they desperately crave.

We learn that same truth every day: we get up, get dressed and live amongst the monsters. Sometimes just using that much effort is the whole battlefield. Still, we get up and we try again. Because of the possibility that perhaps tomorrow will be better. Rescue might happen.

Inside of all of us, there is this unquenchable fire. Poets have tried to describe it, but it remains elusive. Hope and determination cannot ever be adequately depicted or contained in words. That limitless fire burns us all the same.

The struggle we face daily is real. Life is unfair. Hope is often unanswered.

But every day we write, we read, we try again.

Because we know this simple thing: We are on the raft, desperate and wild, lawless and terrified. But we are also the captain of the distant sailboat, just near the vast horizon, waiting to find the brilliant light of a survivor’s torch, the mad wave of a shipwrecked man’s handkerchief.

And when that call comes, will you rise above your own pain? Can you travel out of your own journey long enough to help another?

We are the raft. We are the rescuers.

You want to write a breakthrough novel? Find a new way to get us home.

Cindy here again.

Loved this Caroline. It got me asking questions that led to a story idea.

Keep writing.


Proofreading is a msut

PWelcome back to the blog today. For the A to Z Challenge I’ve got Joanne Guidoccio talking about proofreading.

Here’s Joanne.

Mark Twain said it best: “You think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes and vacancies but you don’t know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along.”

It is so tempting to skim that manuscript and send it off to agents and editors. Especially if you have devoted months—maybe even years—to its completion. Instead, pause and consider the following tips:

• Set the manuscript aside for several days. If possible, wait until you fall out of love with your work. Only then can you be objective and approach it with fresh eyes.

• Perform a spelling and grammar check using the appropriate feature on your word processing program. Be aware that your spell checker can tell you only if a word exists, not if it’s the right word. If you are uncertain, refer to a dictionary.

• Use the Search and Replace function to find and eliminate repetitive words and extra spaces. To cut back on the number of adverbs, search for “ly” and replace with “LY.” As you approach each highlighted section, decide whether to keep the adverb, eliminate it, or replace it with an appropriate action tag.

• Double-check all facts, figures and proper names. This is important if you write nonfiction or historical fiction.

• Print out your text and review it line by line. Use a ruler or a blank sheet of paper to keep your focus on one line at a time.

• Read your text aloud. This will help catch missing prepositions, repetition, run on sentences, and awkward phrasing.

• Read your text backward, from right to left, starting with the last word. While I have never used this particular tip, several English teachers recommend this method for anyone struggling with spelling.

• Ask a friend or fellow author to proofread your text. And offer to return the favor.

Any other tips to share…

About Joanne

Guidoccio 001In 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.









Cindy here again.

Thanks for the great post, Joanne. Loved the tips. Proofreading is very important and I get as many people to read my stuff as possible. I always miss stuff.

Keep writing.

O for the love of writing

OWelcome back to the blog! Today we’ve got Ella Reece talking about the outline.

Here’s Ella.

Writing for me is full of “O”s.  Through the span of time I’ve been writing I have taken every OPPORTUNITY to learn and grow as a writer.  I’ve had some times when the outlook was not bright but with the indie revolution I am full of OPTIMISM, and continue to write my prose to feel OPPULENT – princes and billionaires – the joys of genre fiction.  Today however, I bring you ORGANIZATION with my favourite tool, the OUTLINE.

For everything I write I have to have an outline, no matter how brief or rough, so I make sure I hit all the key points.  For my fiction I have started to refer to this outline as beats, as it is the pulse of the work.  I have never been a plotter, when I pants it is only a scene or two, to find a story.  When I try and pants the whole thing, I invariably get lost.   This costs me in wasted time as I meander through a rosy world with nothing going on; more importantly it costs me words.  I abhor cutting words, but I like rabbit holes even less, having the signposts along the way stops most of that.  When I have an outline I know what I am doing at that writing session and where the work is heading, this optimizes my writing time allowing me to maximize my word count and get to a finished product more efficiently.

I also have a habit of telling my stories out of sequence if I am missing details or a particular character is begging for attention, I can move through my outline to that segment and work on that without having to go back and retrofit a whole new story line after the work is complete.  That is not to say I don’t learn things along the way, but the things I discover as I go through the actual writing, I simply jot it into my outline.   This allows me to carry the forward momentum that you need to actually finish a manuscript.   Further benefits to working with an outline include ensuring my scenes and chapters hit all the requirements to satisfy a reader and the story with hooks and red herrings, depending on the story.

I use an outline as part of my revision as well, so I know where the holes and gaps are.  Ideally my edits start with the most problematic and down to the smallest issues instead of trying to go from start to finish.  This way I am not going through and fixing the fixes repeatedly and getting bogged down.  Fixing the big stuff first will cause ripples through the entire manuscript and you can then go through the outline noting where those ripples are in concentric and lessening degrees.  You still need to do the edit, re-read and re-evaluate to make sure the story has the continuity and crispness required before going to your editor, but using the trusty outline certainly makes that process easier.

This is a recurring theme in many blog posts and podcasts relating to the craft and business of writing over the last few years.  You can read titles like from 2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron, or Write. Publish. Repeat. and Fiction Unboxed by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant and David Wright, and those guys write between 1.5 and 2 million words each year.  Let’s face it, to earn a living with writing it is a numbers game, you must produce a large volume of quality work.  That isn’t going to happen if you sit down each day not being sure where you are going and how you are going to get there.

I leave you there my friend as I go and discover the new map of my next world.

Blessed be,



Ella Reece is the author of historical and paranormal romance stories. She lives in a small haunted town almost a half an hour past nowhere, where her imagination allows her to roam history and other planes. A strong belief in happily ever after, she shares her life with Darling her hero and their 2 pixies. During the week she handles corporate escalations for a computer manufacturer allowing her to explore the psyche of a wide range of individuals which help to give depth to the people in he landscape of her mind.

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Blurb for Masquerade:

MasqueradeV4finalMysteries abound at the Vatican. Marcello Di Amante has been summoned to uncover who has been stealing relics from the Vatican. His reputation as a sleuth is put to the test when two murders are discovered on the day of his meeting with Pope Pius III. Marcello vows to bring the culprits to justice. His investigation brings him to England where he meets Sandrina.

Death haunts Sandrina MacPhearson, who believes her relationships are built on a foundation of fear and dishonesty. Duncan Langstaff, her betrothed, disappeared on the day of her wedding. Every night her dreams are haunted by images of a dead woman, in a pool of blood, with Duncan towering over her. Sandrina becomes entangled with Marcello’s investigation and finds herself in danger in Italy.

Intrigue is afoot at the masquerade at the Doge’s Palace in Venice, a city of secrets. What should lead to the unmasking of a murderer, instead sees the headstrong Sandrina kidnapped and Marcello must find her before any harm befalls her.

Buy on Amazon:

Cindy here again.

Good points on using an outline. I’ve started doing that more and find the writing goes much faster.

Keep writing.


No – say it and mean it

NWelcome back to the blog! Today for the A to Z Blogging Challenge I’ve got Beth Barany sharing about the word No and how it relates to getting your writing done.

Here’s Beth Barany!

Hello everyone! Thank you so much, Cindy, for allowing me to be blogging about the letter N.

I want to talk about Saying No and Protecting Your Creative Self.

No is a magical word as a novelist, though a difficult one.

On the one hand, we want to be open to the muses to write. So we say yes to our stories, and yes to our characters talking to us, and yes to the writing flow.

But to do this, I don’t know about you, I have to say, “No” to everything else that isn’t working on my story.

Right now I’m working on preparing the next three paranormal romance novellas in my Touchstone series: another Christmas Elf story; and two more Fairytale romances.

As I sit down to work each day, or nearly every day, I open to the muse and open to the meanderings of my spirit to prepare these stories.

But I have to say no to everything else. I say no to the day job, no to checking email, no talking to strangers (since I often work at cafes), no to the internal doubt, no to the worry about the story, and especially no to concerns of it being good or perfect, especially at the planning and drafting stages.

Some tools I use to help me say yes to the writing and no to everything else:

  • A spreadsheet to track my writing
  • A timer to keep me honest
  • A clear focus of the day’s writing focus
  • A clear deadline for the overall project, for the current stage
  • Trust in my ability to put words to page
  • Scrivener


What can you say No to so you can sit down and write? What tools do you use to stay on task? I’m curious to hear!

Brought to you by the letter N…

(BTW, I use my own curriculum to prepare my novels and novellas. I offer a home-study self-paced version of my course, “30-Day Writing Challenge to Prepare Your Novel” here:

Beth.Barany_MG_6971_500x500ABOUT BETH BARANY

Award-winning author, Beth Barany has been making up fantasy and adventure stories all her life. She writes in two genres: young adult fantasy and sweet paranormal romance. She loves creating magical tales of romance and adventure to transport readers to new worlds where anything is possible.

Also a Creativity Coach, teacher & speaker and NLP Practitioner, Beth is passionate about helping authors get their message out into the world, gain confidence in their self-expression, and discover how they can get noticed and sell novels to their readers.

In her off hours, Beth enjoys capoeira, reading and watching movies, and traveling, with her husband, author and singer/song writer Ezra Barany.

Beth Barany lives in Oakland, California with her husband, two cats, and over 1,000 books.

You can connect with Beth at her site: or on Twitter and Facebook

ABOUT HER LATEST BOOK: Touchstone Series: Romance Novella Books 1-4, plus a bonus short story

Travel to worlds where anything is possible—time travel to Medieval France; a cute Santa’s elf hiding in plain sight in San Francisco; a mystery under the city of Paris that only love can unlock; and, love, destiny, and a labyrinth.

Four romance novellas and bonus short story in the TOUCHSTONE series, by award-winning novelist, Beth Barany.

A time-travel romance. When a thunderstorm transports software expert Rose Waldman to thirteenth century France, she meets hunky stonemason Julien, who is secretly creating a gargoyle in defiance of his master mason. Can independent gadget loving Rose trust her life and heart to Julien, and can she really never go home again?

 – A Christmas Elf romance. What if falling in love put the life you cherished in jeopardy?

Dahlia, a Santa’s Elf, has 21 days left before Christmas to create the best toy in the world without using magic or revealing her true identity. Stuck on how to complete the prototype, and working as a temp in San Francisco’s financial district with no time for love, will her Christmas fling get her unstuck, or will she turn her back on her beloved career for her heart?

Liam, an up-and-coming financial analyst, swore off women after getting dumped by the love of his life. He just found out his ex is going to the company Christmas party with his rival Michael Hendricks. Up for promotion against Hendricks, Liam has to win the favor of his boss. His best bet is to invite the vivacious secretary Dahlia to the party. Will Dahlia be a welcome distraction, or will she turn his life upside down?

A Fairy Tale romance. Sarah Redman, a bank project manager, wants adventure in her life. Trainer extraordinaire, Josh Kleine, needs to pull off a successful presentation at a Paris conference to land more clients and save his company. Together they may hold the key to the strange disasters striking the City of Lights. Can Sarah unravel the secrets of the city and of her heart in time to save them all?

 – A Fairy Tale romance. What if what you wanted got in the way of your destiny? French MBA grad Lili Grenault needs to succeed at her last pitch meeting to fund her international green tech business. But her grandmother tells her to drop everything, find her one true love, and embrace her magical legacy by Beltane, in one week, or chaos and failure in her life will ensue.

San Francisco investor Brett Barnaby wants to find his great-grandfather’s gravesite in Amiens, France, one of the primary battle sites of World War I. Family legend says that purpose, greater mission, and perhaps even untold riches, will be unlocked when he finds that grave. But his search in Amiens brings up fear, anger, and dire warnings about some wild Green Man. He turns to local Lily Grenault for help.

Can these two independent freethinkers work together to prevent chaos from triumphing and find love in time in the labyrinth of roses?

 – A time-travel-esque romance. Sexy Medieval stonemason Julien has to rely on his fiancé. Rose to adapt to a 21st century life, to learn English, and find his place in a modern world. Software expert Rose has no time to spare with two jobs to support her and her fiancé Julien in expensive San Francisco. Will a weekend getaway rekindle the spark so these two time-crossed lovers can fall in love again?



Cindy here again.

Great reminder about learning to say no. I need to do that more often.

Keep writing.

Men: Beyond Alpha and Beta

MWelcome back to the blog! For M on the A to Z Blogging Challenge I’ve got Jessica Cale talking about writing men.

Here’s Jessica.

The term “alpha male” gets thrown around a lot when talking about romance. Even writing guides tend to divide men into two categories: alpha males are strong and have few qualms about going after what they want (see trembling heroine), while the beta males are their more emotionally clued-in counterparts. Alpha males are the more traditional romantic heroes, and you still hear people raving about how much they prefer this kind of character.

But why does he have to be either?

Real men rarely fall into either camp. Most men are strong in one way or another, and have redeeming features other than borderline sociopathic confidence and a rockin’ six pack. They might not be pack leaders, but we love them anyway. In fact, if most people met some of these alphas on the street in real life, they’d probably run away.

When writing your male characters, try to take a step back from the Fabios of yesteryear, and challenge yourself to write a real man. Put yourself in his shoes/moccasins/riding boots: he’s going to have a real past, a family, embarrassments, traumas, and ambitions of his own. Add depth to your character by asking yourself questions about him: what does he like to do on the weekends? What’s important to him? What are his views on politics/poverty/religion/the world in general? He should have real weaknesses more significant than “he’s too punctual”.

Don’t be afraid to make him real. He doesn’t have to be an ideal to be loved; some of our best-loved heroes from literature weren’t perfect, but we still see them that way. Mr. Darcy was a bit chilly and awkward, but that doesn’t stop us using his name as a by-word for the perfect man. He wasn’t a traditional alpha, but he was absolutely devastating.

The next time you write a hero, don’t try to write someone you think your readers will love; write a real man and try to show your readers why they should love him.

virtuesladyMark, the hero of my new release, Virtue’s Lady, is very imperfect, but when he appeared in Tyburn for the first time, he stole the show. Sure, he’s strong in more than one sense – he’s a carpenter, so he’s buff as all get out, and he takes care of his community. But he’s not perfect: he’s been to prison a few times, he makes light of everything, he has a pathological hatred of rich girls, and he has some serious past traumas that affect his judgment. He’s not even classically handsome, but like all really attractive men, it’s not his face so much as his presence that makes an impression. He’s not lovable because he’s perfect; Jane loves him because he’s not.

I fell hard for Mark, and I hope you will, too. Thanks for reading!

Jessica Cale


Virtue’s Lady

Author: Jessica Cale

Publisher: Liquid Silver

Release Date: April 13th


From toiling for pennies to bare-knuckle boxing, a lady is prepared for every eventuality.


Lady Jane Ramsey is young, beautiful, and ruined.

After being rescued from her kidnapping by a handsome highwayman, she returns home only to find her marriage prospects drastically reduced. Her father expects her to marry the repulsive Lord Lewes, but Jane has other plans. All she can think about is her highwayman, and she is determined to find him again.

Mark Virtue is trying to go straight. After years of robbing coaches and surviving on his wits, he knows it’s time to hang up his pistol and become the carpenter he was trained to be. He busies himself with finding work for his neighbors and improving his corner of Southwark as he tries to forget the girl who haunts his dreams. As a carpenter struggling to stay in work in the aftermath of The Fire, he knows Jane is unfathomably far beyond his reach, and there’s no use wishing for the impossible.

When Jane turns up in Southwark, Mark is furious. She has no way of understanding just how much danger she has put them in by running away. In spite of his growing feelings for her, he knows that Southwark is no place for a lady. Jane must set aside her lessons to learn a new set of rules if she is to make a life for herself in the crime-ridden slum. She will fight for her freedom and her life if that’s what it takes to prove to Mark—and to herself—that there’s more to her than meets the eye.


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Author Bio

Jessica Cale is a historical romance author and journalist based in North Carolina. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in a place where no one understands his accent. You can visit her at

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Amazon Author Page:

Goodreads Author Page:

Cindy here again.

Great tips for creating real men. I’ll have to go back to my story and make sure my male characters ring true.

Keep writing.

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