Monday, September 28, 2015

A Writer's Cat To Remember

A Post By Jonathan

Unfortunately my wife and I had to bid our dear cat, Charlie, a final farewell yesterday, after 14 fun-filled years together, so I wanted to use my blog post to thank him for being such a great companion and writing partner. He really was a special animal, and a huge part of our family-- you will be missed!

While I have many great memories of "Chuck" --like the time he caught himself on fire jumping into a candle, or when he got his collar stuck in his mouth while it was still on him, or the endless stuffed animals, towels and blankets I would find laying around the house after he had "had his way with them"-- the best ones center around the time when I first started writing. My wife and I had just graduated from graduate school (in nothing writing related) and, after a really tough time finding employment, we ended up getting jobs three states away from each other. She ended up living with her parents in Michigan while I lived with Charlie the Cat in Virginia.

Finding my evenings rather free all of a sudden, I decided to take a crack at writing a book. The most I had written up to that point was a term paper or two, so I had quite a lot to learn. I wish I had read some books on writing (or at least knew something about story structure) before sitting down at the computer, but then again, I had all the time in the world. And writing was just a hobby at that point. So I wrote-- and Charlie the Cat was with me every step of the way.

Eventually, the two of us settled into a pretty good routine. I would come home from work, feed him, then head up stairs to the computer. I would write while he purred on my lap, then after that I would take him for about a mile walk around the neighborhood. Yes, Charlie walked on a leash like a dog (sometimes better). I mostly walked him at night so people wouldn't see me walking a cat, but I think he liked the dark better too...

It was great, but it was also really hard at times (my wife and I had only been married for about a year and a half at this point...). I remember one night when I was especially down in the dumps and Charlie jumped right up in my lap, rubbed his cheek up against me, and I suddenly didn't feel so alone. Cats take a lot of crap for being unfeeling creatures at times, but they seem to know exactly how you're feeling-- and exactly when you need them. I don't think it was a coincidence that Ernest Hemingway spent his time writing around all those six-toed cats down in Key West (of course I'd write surrounded by skunks if it meant I could live in Key West...). There's just something about their sleepy manner and that purr, purr, purr that put you in the writing zone.

Anyway, I could go on all day about the greatest feline in the world, but I'll just leave it at this: Thank you, my friend. And thank you, dear reader, for listening. Charlie truly was a writer's cat to remember.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Few "Novel" Opportunities (Ha!)

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Well, hey there, kids!  I usually try not to be thoroughly self-serving in my ATB posts, but every once in a while a little bit of self-promotion is good, especially when it's for something as interesting as this.

Have you ever reached the end of a novel and wished you could stay in that world?  I think it's happened to all of us at one time or another.  And an enterprising new company out in San Francisco called RPGlory is trying to make that possible for those of us authors who aren't quite on the level of having a theme park or haunted house built in their honor.

To that end, I'm very excited to announce that you (yes, you) could become a part of the world of my own debut novel, BRAINEATER JONES.  All you have to do is be one of the 5 lucky people to claim the perq in RPGlory's Indiegogo campaign.  Then, on October 4, we'll be playing a super-newbie-friendly role-playing game online where you'll get to delve into the world of Ganesh City and meet all your favorite characters like the Old Man, Lazar, and even Braineater himself, as played by me.

Love the idea but hate me?  Well, not to fear!  Other authors are doing the same thing, including T.M. Williams, S.G. Browne, and the legendary Craig DiLouie.

Oh, what about immersing even deeper?  Would you like to be a named character in one of my future novels?  Or even an original character in one of my future novels?  Those are also perqs.  So, long story short, make sure to check it out!  Here's a video telling you a little bit more:

Interested?  Click here.

Monday, September 21, 2015


A post by Mary Fan
Eeeeeeeek! My turn! *bites nails* The pages I'm putting up for critique are from a book I'm co-writing with Dean Lombardo. They're the first ones by me, but not the first ones in the book. The book, currently titled The Cave Artist, is MG historical fiction... actually, prehistorical fiction, if that's a thing. It takes place 30,000 years ago and tells the story of 14-year-old Cor, the last Neanderthal in Gibraltar (on the coast of Spain), and 12-year-old Maysa, a member of a Homo Sapiens tribe. After her husband, the ruthless hunter Balt, leads the human warriors in an attack that wipes out the rest of Cor's clan, Cor must run for his life while Maysa, who never fit in with her people, wrestles with guilt over her husband's deed.

This story has been a unique challenge for me because it's so, so, SO different from what I'm used to writing. It's my first foray into MG, and there's no spaceships, no magic, no monsters...

Anyway, Dean is writing Cor and Balt's POV chapters while I'm writing Maysa's. The pages below are the first 3 pages of  Chapter 3, which is Maysa's first POV chapter. Tell me what you think!

Chapter 3

The sun had arced past its midday blaze, but the shades of twilight were still several hours away. Gazing at the rock gilded by the afternoon light, Maysa imagined the forest beyond and wondered how long her cruel husband would pursue the poor savage.
Husband. The word felt so wrong, even in her head, she wanted to spit it out, like she would a toxic berry. For the other women in her tribe, the word “husband” was a source of joy, of endearment, of pride. They’d speak it with their chins uplifted and their lips tilted with fondness—for having found a companion—or vanity, for having snared a worthy mate.  That was because they’d discovered the matches they desired and imagined everyone else had as well. But Maysa saw things differently. While they believed she had the most enviable match of all, she would have given anything to be rid of the wicked man she’d been forced to marry.
A powerful gale blew her long, dark locks across her face, but she’d long ago grown accustomed to the feeling and did not bother with brushing them away. She could not have, in any case, since her basket, filled with dull gray stones, required both arms to hold. A sudden instinct urged her to run into the sea and hurl the basket’s contents into the ever moving surf. Though they were simple rocks at the moment, they would soon be fashioned bringers of death and pain. Worse, she would have to join the other women in shaping them into such.
“Maysa!” The shrill voice of her mother, Noma, rang in her ears. Maysa turned toward the sound. Noma stood in the entrance of the cave, waving her arm in impatience. Upon meeting Maysa’s gaze, the older woman, whose once rich brown hair was now dusted with age, pulled her lips into a deep frown. “What has been keeping you? I did not think stones were so hard to find!”
“Sorry, Mother.” Maysa walked toward the cave, the basket heavy in her hands, and joined the others inside. Near the entrance, where the light was best, a group of five women sat on the ground, each with a basket like Maysa’s beside her. The light of the fire they surrounded glinted off their brown and black hair. They had apparently been at their task—knocking a hard pounding stone into the unshaped rocks to form blades and spear points—for some time. They glistened with sweat from their labor. Ordinarily, such tasks would be performed outdoors. Today, the women had preferred to work inside their new home, as if their prolonged presence would solidify their ownership.
But to Maysa, the cave still felt stolen, which was why she had volunteered to gather more rocks. The very air seemed to accuse her of entering a space that wasn’t hers, and she could almost hear the ghosts of the fallen savages asking how she dared trespass. She tried to ignore the other women’s disapproving look as she sat down beside her mother and placed her basket to the side.
“You must stop letting your head wander into the clouds, Maysa.” Noma sighed. “Losing focus on the present creates space in your mind, which allows demons to slip in. I hope you were not indulging in more foolish daydreams about wildcats.”
A flurry of snickers rippled through the small crowd of women, and Maysa felt her ears go hot. She would always regret the day she let her words get the better of her and shared her dream of leaving the tribe to wander alone in the wilderness, like the stealthy lynx. Oh, how she longed to be free like the bright-eyed predator, and not confined by the laws of her kind! But, as her companions were quick to point out, she would not survive for long if she left. And Gotan had reprimanded her sharply for entertaining such selfish thoughts. The tribe was good to her, he’d said. They provided her with food and shelter and security. What right had she to wish them gone from her life?
Raifa, the medicine woman, repeated Gotan’s question now.  From her position across from Maysa, she seemed to accuse with her sharp eyes, which sat above powerful cheekbones. She was not crafting blades like the others. A woman in her position did not conduct these sorts of rough tasks. Instead, she was using a stone pestle to mix a reddish paste inside a small bowl. It looked like paint, though Maysa couldn’t tell for sure.
Maysa avoided the older woman’s gaze, choosing not to answer. Raifa was supposed to be the wisest of all, wiser even the Gotan, who often sought her counsel. But though she was skilled with herbs and attuned to the ways of the gods, she knew nothing of Maysa’s heart.
Maysa sifted absently through the basket of rocks beside her, loathing the idea of turning the innocent little objects into murderers. That one of her creations might have killed a helpless savage child this very morning made her sick to the stomach. And she was forever bound to a monster who had taken pleasure in the attack.
Had she remained as ugly in womanhood as she had been as a child, she might have been spared the young hunter’s lusty eye. But though Balt had mocked her mercilessly when she’d been a spindly, flat-faced girl whose chin jutted too far, his constant staring had taken on a different meaning once her body had matured to match her long limbs, and her cheekbones had sharpened to offset her angular features in a regal manner. He’d once made fish faces in her presence, taunting her for her full lips, but now his dark eyes sparkled hungrily whenever he laid eyes on them.
Her beauty was her curse, for it had spurred Balt to demand her as his wife. He’d declared that as the tribe’s greatest hunter, he deserved its most beautiful woman. Gotan had been happy to grant his wish, especially after a beaming Noma had wept with joy at having her daughter, whom she’d feared unmarriageable for so long, at last be called beautiful.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The problem with self-imposed deadlines is they're self-imposed

I think the headline of this blog post says it all, don't you?

If you don't know me, then you wouldn't know I am a procrastinator. When I was a kid, my mom used to plunk my butt down in a chair to work on a book report for a book I hadn't read -- that was due the next day.

Well, now I'm an adult who indie publishes and it's like I'm nine years old again, sitting at the dining room table at 7pm, overwhelmed, cranky and trying to skim a paperback novel in order to write a cohesive summary. Except, that I'm the author of the book and it's not finished yet (Is this metaphor working? I can't tell).

Anyhoo, I gave myself a deadline of July 1st and guess what? Mama's not done. It's the middle of September and my mystery novel is still being drafted. I was so confident that I would meet my self-imposed deadline this summer that I contracted my cover art early (although, that was smart thinking) and put a deposit down on my editor. Meanwhile, I have several more scenes to write, edits to make, beta readers to hit up, and revisions to tackle before the editor even sees the damn thing. When I look at a calendar, I don't see time leisurely spread out before me. I see minutes and days ticking away and I'm still not finished.

See that deadline, Kim? *whoosh* You missed it.

Indie authors need to be disciplined. There is no big publisher breathing down our necks to finish our work. No agent to whip us into shape. If we don't write and publish, we don't make money. There are lessons to be learned here and I am learning them.
1. Set a reasonable goal. With a toddler at home, it's not easy for me to always hit those daily word counts. So aim for 1k words a day. Totally manageable.

2. Have a detailed story plan. The reason I'm struggling now is because I veered from my outline and changed the plot. A detailed outline is my best friend and makes for quick drafts. I need the outline finalized before I venture on.

3. Remove distractions. Translation: Get off the freakin' internet. Specifically: Facebook.

4. Carve out time. I sit down to write when my daughter is napping. It's sacred time. I do nothing else. No laundry. No dishes. No phone calls. I just write.

5. Hold myself accountable. Or have my husband use guilt as a way to hurry things along. "The longer it takes you to finish your book, the longer it takes to earn money for the family." Well played, dear.

So there ya have it. My next book will go a lot smoother -- hopefully.

How do you stay focused on your writing projects? Do you hit your deadlines?


Monday, September 14, 2015

How do you Pinterest?

When I first learned of Pinterest’s existence many years ago, I thought I had stumbled into the most amazing on-line world ever created. I love just about anything crafty, and I was shocked that I hadn’t discovered it sooner. Despite this, I never really embraced Pinterest. Most of you probably don’t know me well enough to understand how truly shocking this was.

I loved Pinterest, but for me it seemed like a never ending rabbit hole of inefficiency. I only created about three boards, and I only had a handful of pins in each board. Feeling disappointed in myself for not becoming an instant Pinterest success, I just stayed off it most of the time. I logged in when looking for something specific, but that’s about it.

Over the last few months, I’ve seen a few blog articles about how authors should be using Pinterest to promote their books. It made sense—it’s an easy site to use and not having a presence eliminates one of the paths for an author to connect with readers. I decided to do a bit of research (because deep down I’m still a data-geek) and see what authors were on Pinterest. Since I didn’t want to fall too deep down the rabbit hole, I decided to take a systematic approach. I opened Goodreads and pulled up the list of books I’ve read. Using that list, I searched for some of the authors on Pinterest. I looked up about 70 authors. Only about 27% were on Pinterest.

The fact that not many authors are using Pinterest to promote could be either a good thing or bad thing. The low percentage could be because it’s not an effective marketing tool, and in that case I shouldn’t waste my time. Or it could mean that it’s an underutilized tool and getting in before it becomes over used could play to my advantage. Since I already had an account, I decided to give it a shot. Over the summer I tackled the task of revamping my Pinterest account, and I’ve outlined my steps here in case you are looking to do the same.

Establish Your Account
OK, so this seems ridiculous to point out, but I’m a fan of complete checklists (so that means including the obvious). If you already have an account set up, then you need to ensure it’s set up to support your business.
  • Are you using your name or a nickname?
  • Is your website information listed?
  • Does the ‘about you’ section talk about your books/writing?

As in many things, research is an important step that’s often overlooked. Set aside some time to go out and look at the Pinterest accounts of other authors. You definitely want to look at authors in your genre, but don’t forget to look at a few outside of it also. You can gain some great ideas for boards.

Determine Strategy
Once your account is set-up, you’ll need to determine what you want the public to see. Here’s where you need to consider the branding you’ve been trying to establish and be consistent. You also want to consider if you want to have boards on your books/writing only, or also include boards that give readers a glimpse into your personal life. Colleen Oaks is a good example of an author who has boards on both her writing and personal life. 

Set Up Your Boards
With a solid strategy in place, it’s time to start creating your boards. I decided to remove my old boards, but you don’t have to. That’s part of your strategy planning. You can create a board for anything. For example, one of the unique boards I’ve come across that I love is by James Patterson. He has a board titled, “My Characters’ Favorite Ice Cream Flavors” What a fun idea! I might have to steal, er borrow, this board idea. Here’s a snapshot of my boards to give you an idea of things you can include. This is just a start for me, and I’ll likely add more as I become more comfortable with the possibilities.

Here are a few things I learned as I worked through the process:
  • I started all my boards as ‘secret’. This meant I had time to make sure everything was the way I wanted it before anyone could see the boards. It kind of took the pressure off!
  • Make sure you have solid names for each of your boards. Each board should have a theme, and the title should make it clear what that is. Rachel Hollis is a great example for how boards can be organized. I admit I kinda fell in love with her organization while I was poking around her site!
  • Make sure you have a good description for each board. You also need to select the appropriate category for what kind of pins will be in that board.
  • If you are a new author, you may want to consider having at least one ‘general’ board. Good examples of this are motivational quotes, recipes, recommended reading, etc. These usually contain pins that others like to repin. The more people repin from your boards, the higher chance people will start to follow your boards—and hopefully that will translate into future readers. The goal for a general board is visibility.
  • Once you’ve decided on all your boards, you can go into ‘edit’ mode and move them around to put them in the order you want them.

Start Pinning
Now that you have boards, you need pins. You can repin from within Pinterest, pin from other sites on the Internet, or you can upload images from your computer/device. A few things to note:
  • If you don’t like the image from a pin through a web link, you can create your own and manually upload. Just don’t forget to add in the web link in the details! I did this for my book review links. When I pinned directly from the review site, the image was usually my book cover. That’s great, but suddenly I had a bunch of pins that looked exactly the same. I created a new image with the cover and reviewing blog’s logo for each and then used that.
  • Make sure you go into the ‘edit’ feature and add a description for each pin. Be thoughtful here—you don’t want it to be too long, yet detailed enough to make people want to click on it. The picture above shows an example of this as well where I quoted part of the review for the pin description.
  • Each new pin you add is placed before the previous pin. Unlike the boards, you cannot reposition your pins within the boards. In some cases this won’t matter, but in some cases it might (such as if you’re pinning blog posts and you want them to appear in chronological order). If order is important, pin the oldest things first.
  • Include some pins with information that your readers won’t be able to find on any of your other sites. For example, in some of my boards I’ve included links to the real life locations that inspired certain parts of the book. Give them a reason to visit your Pinterest site.

Congratulations, you now have a Pinterest account specific to your books/writing! Now it’s time to let people know about it. Besides sharing the news on your social media site and newsletters, dont forget to include a link to your Pinterest account from your website. Oh, and don’t forget to make your boards public if you took my approach and started all your boards as ‘secret’.

As with any online presence, it’s important that you have a plan to remain active in Pinterest. Set aside some time to add new pins to your boards. Have a look at what pins are getting repined the most. And most importantly, have fun!

Are you on Pinterest? Have you seen a clever idea for a board from another author? If you’re not on Pinterest (either as an author or as a reader), why?

Feel free check out (and follow) my boards, and if you’re on Pinterest let me know how I can find you!

*Note: If you are not using Pinterest and want to but don’t have the time/knowledge to put into creating it, check out the options offered by independent services such as Inkstone Strategies.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Breaking The Rules

Happy Labor Day, Americans! If my telepathic powers are working as they should, you're waking up late, planning (or attending) a barbecue later on today, and putting away your white trousers. Am I right?

Or, are you bucking the antiquated fashion rules and keeping your whites out? I hear it's still 90 degrees in New York. Sounds like summer to me. Or climate change, but that's another conversation altogether. Either way, "white after Labor Day" isn't really a thing anymore and when I see David Gandy in a white suit, I'm glad. (Google, my friend. Trust me on this.)

Which brings me to the topic of today's post -- writing rules that have gone the way of white-after-Labor-Day. (See what I did there? Or have I lost you to Google?) Some of my personal favorites:

  1. Never End a Sentence With a Preposition. Can you imagine writing dialogue with your main character saying, "About what are you talking?" Um, no.
  2. Proper Use of Who and Whom: I sort of pride myself on proper grammar, but never in conversation do I say "whom." Combine rules #1 and 2 -- the proper sentence would be, "About whom are you talking?" What everyone who's not from 19th century England would say, "Who are you talking about?"
  3. No Sentence Fragments. I love sentence fragments. Probably a little too much. 
  4. Starting a Sentence with a Conjunction. Ah, the power of "But"... In dialogue, especially, starting a sentence with "but" or "and" feels more authentic.
And then there's this. It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but, yeah, I'm "guilty" of most of these. What about you? What are your favorite grammar rules to break?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hester Prynne, Jay Gatsby, Ethan Frome. Oh My!

Ahh yes. September. It’s time to go back to school! Fresh pencils, crisp loose leaf paper, immaculate folders and binders, and of course… new books! I’m sure many kids (current and former) had a love/hate relationship with back-to-school time like I did. You get to see all your friends, but you have homework, you aren’t bored, but you do have to sit through that one class where you don’t know anyone, you get to goof off in study hall, but you have to run laps for gym class. Summer reading was behind you… and a whole year of new reading material was ahead… wait. Who am I kidding? I LOVED both of those things!

While many of my classmates were still recovering from the near fatal speed-reading of the summer reading selection I was eager to crack open the first book of the school year, whether it was a novel or a textbook, it didn’t matter to me!

Each year there was always something I was looking forward to reading.
My biology textbook (yes, I was THAT nerd).
The Scarlet Letter.
The Great Gatsby.
Ethan Frome. ….What the eff?

Because of my epic nerdiness I never truly understood why many of my classmates hated school reading. But then I was forced to read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton in 10th grade English. Oh. My. Gosh. All I could think about during class discussions was “What have I done to deserve this?” And if I was struggling with boredom how were my normally bored classmates still breathing?  Why would anyone think it was a good idea to make teenagers read this book in high school? Not only that but the teacher dragged it out for two weeks! I’m pretty sure we watched a movie adaptation starring Liam Neeson, but the details are fuzzy...

Thankfully To Kill A Mockingbird was next…

Which required reading books did you love? Hate? Which ones did you just totally skip out on? Have you gone back to reread any of them to see if they were really as good/bad as you remember?
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