Thursday, June 22, 2017

Submitting to Smaller Markets

Often novice writers focus all their energy on the big event -- the manuscript -- with the dream of landing an agent, and subsequently, a publishing deal. And sure, there is no better trial by fire than writing your first book. But writers would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t consider submitting to smaller markets in the interim. What I mean by that is -- write a damn short story.

 I love writing short stories. They give me the luxury of experimenting with genre and narrative style without committing a lot of time to a manuscript. As a mystery writer, the short story can be especially useful in playing around with mood, tension, foreshadowing, red herrings, and suspense. For Brave New Girls, I tried my hand at developing an unreliable narrator, something I had never attempted before. Last summer, I wrote a 9,000-word story about a girl who gets murdered at her own Sweet Sixteen, solely so I could explore a darker side to my storytelling.

This last weekend, I finished a story about a teen girl who finds the dead body of her tormentor in the deer path between their houses. I was aiming for subtle clues with a twisty ending which, if my early readers are being forthright, paid off. My goal is to submit this story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, a highly competitive (and paying!) market who publishes mystery tycoons like Megan Abbott and Lawrence Block. 

The money isn't the draw, although I do believe writers should be paid for their work. But to get published in EQMM is major street cred -- something my agent can slap onto my submissions. Not to mention, it would get me active member status at Mystery Writers of America, which is something I'm gunning for. 

So, how do you go about submitting to smaller markets? Well, for starters, you need to find the markets. Your best bet is to subscribe to Duotrope for $5 a month. There, you'll have access to market listings and reports, plus a handy way to keep track of your submissions. A friend told me about The (Submission) Grinder, a free site that lists markets and submission statistics, but I have yet to use it so I can't comment on its effectiveness.

And with everything, research! Read the markets, triple check the submission guidelines. Make sure that what you write is a good fit for their market. And make sure they're legit. 

Do you often submit short stories and poetry to small markets? Do you have any to recommend?  Sound off belooooooooow.

Monday, June 19, 2017

5 Archenemies of Writers

The archenemy is a critical character in many fictional stories. Most often they are defeated in the end, but not until they give the hero a good sound kick in the ass a few times. In addition, the hero usually has to survive a vigorous test to their moral character to gain the ability to conquer their archenemy. Well, I’m here to tell you that our fictional characters are not the only ones who are subjected to the evil ways of an archenemy. We writers have some difficult ones to overcome ourselves.

Sally Squirrel
Little Sally Squirrel seems too cute and tiny to cause any real trouble, but that’s why her weapon of distraction is so effective at taking down writers. We don’t see her coming, and once we do catch sight of her, we simply smile and say, ‘Aw, she’s so cute.’ Next thing we know—POOF—we’ve been sucked into her tornado of distraction and missed our window of hitting our daily word count. It’s difficult to battle Sally since she can morph into many forms: social media, kids, pets, non-writer responsibilities, and on and on and on . . .

Time Swift
Please note that Time Swift should not be confused with Taylor Swift. While Taylor can spin a wicked pop tune, Time wickedly spins the hands of time. When we begin our new project, that deadline (whether official or self-imposed) seems obtainable. We have plenty of time to reach it, so we go to bed intending to start fresh the next day. Only once we awake it’s as though time has disappeared and we’re scrambling to get everything done in time. Seconds pass quickly to hours to weeks to months, and we’re sitting here staring at the start of the next NaNoWriMo like WTF?!?

Professor Imposter
“What makes you think you can write?”
“You call that a novel? {insert sinister laugh}”
“My five year old has better grammar than you.”
“Please, step out of the way and let the real writers go past.”

These are just a few of the sweet nothings Professor Imposter likes to whisper in our ears. Her only objective is to make us believe we are not worthy of the title ‘writer’. She’s a professor, after all, so she would know. Right?

The F-Bombinator
This archenemy throws F-bombs that are more devastating than the one that rhymes with truck. I’m talking about that evil 7 letter word: Failure. The F-Bombinator tosses out the failure bombs more rapidly than a batting cage stuck in hyperdrive. The bombs hit their target, and we’re convinced we’re going to fail. We won’t get that manuscript done in time. We’ll never hit the publish button or get an agent. We’ll never sell any books. We’ll never be as good as author-fancy-pants. We try to regain control, but mostly all we can do is sit back and watch all our writerly hopes go up in flames—BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! It should also be noted that The F-Bombinator is even more effective after we’ve gone a few rounds with Professor Imposter.

Mr. Rainmaker
Mr. Rainmaker is difficult to defeat as he can possess the body of anyone around you. He’s that reviewer who craps all over your book. He’s your family member who wants to know why it’s taking you so long to write your book. He’s the many agents/publishers who shoot you down before you can even say, “Hi, my name is—” He’s the editor who just doesn’t get your vision. Even on a perfectly sunny day, Mr. Rainmaker is there, bringing you down by raining on your happy parade.

So how do we stay strong and continue to defeat all of these archenemies?

The first two, Sally Squirrel and Time Swift, require diligence and organization. Put Sally in a cage and only let her out at pre-scheduled times. Time is best defeated with obtainable goals that we keep visible.

Professor Imposter, The F-Bombinator, and Mr. Rainmaker require a different strategy. Luckily, it can be done in three easy steps:
  1. dig deep
  2. grab the hilt of your self-worth sword
  3. swing with all your might

Simple, right?

If you feel you’ve lost your self-worth sword, or don’t feel strong enough to unsheathe it, then it’s time to turn to your side-kick. Every good superhero has someone who can back them up, so should every superwriter. They can help you find your self-worth sword, or even lend you theirs in desperate times. If you don’t have a side-kick, let me know and I’ll be happy to stand by you!


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Don't Compare Yourself To Other Writers

A Post By Jonathan

This post is mostly for newbie writers, so you more seasoned folks (who have learned to avoid the majority of writing's many mental pitfalls) can tune this one out. I bet this isn't the first time you've heard this, but I think it's something that cannot be understated.

Teddy Roosevelt said that "Comparison is the thief of joy." And I wholeheartedly believe it. You can easily apply his quote to the writing life as well. Comparison can take the joy out of writing too, if you let it. I think being a successful/prolific writer is just as much about the mental approach to our craft as the actual act. You may have the natural or accumulated talent to be an amazing writer, but if you can't get out of your own head/your own way long enough to figure that out then you may never know.

I am saying this to myself just as much as anyone else. Maybe it's because I have been watching a lot of Ekhart Tolle videos lately. He's basically a western guru, and talks a lot about mindfulness, the inner critic (also known as the inner-editor) and other things that we writers should be thinking (or at least know) about. Here are his thoughts on comparison and how to relate to yourself and other human beings. I would recommend his videos on mindfulness and moving away from negative thoughts as well.

While this next example isn't really writing related, it is definitely comparison-related. I have this friend who is a real super star in my field. He's about my age, and just got promoted to a VP position at his place of work. I, meanwhile, just took a pay cut and a step back at mine. Not comparing myself to him is hard, but I have done a lot in my career that he hasn't. And we're just in different situations. My wife is actually the riser in our family-- and I have had to make a lot of sacrifices to support her career. I am happy for my friend, but what I should really be focusing on is myself and my own accomplishments.

That's typically the way it is in the writing industry. I have author friends who are tearing it up! Some are a part of this blog-- and I'm so lucky to be associated with them. But I'm me and they are them. Some people are slow starters and some people are quick to rise. But we all have different life situations that either allow us more time to write and focus on our craft and some are in a different season. All we can do, newbie writers, is focus on ourselves and what we can achieve.

Are you with me? Keep your heads down and don't bring them up until you're done writing!

Monday, June 12, 2017

I'm Sitting in Her Place

By Cheryl Oreglia

This morning I am sitting in my mother's place. It's early morning at the lake, the weather is as off as my mood, foggy, cool, placid. There is movement on the water, always movement, flowing north. Early morning is the best time at the lake. It is quiet and peaceful. Sleep still has me in it's grasp but the day is gently pulling me away. My thoughts last night, this morning, tomorrow are focused on Mom. I wish she were here, sitting in her spot at the end of the long green couch, the part of the couch that forms a lounge chair, feet up, covered with a brown furry blanket, gazing at the lake, sipping warm coffee, just as I am now.

"You want to come up to the lake?" This is the one question I always got a "yes" from mom, even when we have fallen to the ground in the poring rain, and hit rock bottom. She loved being up here as much as I do and this does not surprise me because so much of who I am is wrapped up in her. When I was young I fought against our similarities, the last thing I wanted to be was my mother, now it is all I want. 

I want to know who she thinks will win the bachelor next season, I want to watch her play Safeway monopoly, exclaiming over a free donut, I want to share coupons, exchange recipes, walk to the clubhouse, sit in the sun. I want to know how she got the stains out of the carpet, the orchid to survive, I want to enjoy a glass of wine with her after five, with ice, and only one. I want to go bra shopping for my birthday, I want to know what she's reading, I want grab a bite at the Outback. I want to have her like she had me and I want her sitting in her place. 

I want her laughing at my stories. I want to see her silly comments on my blog. I want to know what to plant in the full sun and under the arbor. I want someone to remember me at five, sixteen, thirty-one, forty-nine, and fifty-seven. I want the woman who loves my imperfections and knows how to vanish my fears. I want to talk with her about my dad because she loved him the most. I want her to help me organize my hall closet and pick out bath towels. I want her to watch my grandchildren grow. I want her to ask me about my day, my students, my lesson plans. I want her memories, her love, her seasons. 

I had the gift of my mom this mother's day. I don't know if I'll have her next time this day comes around so maybe it's time to start acting as if every day is her day. She is sick and has been for almost a year. It's a gift but one that comes with many obligations. I see her often, her spirit is there, but the woman who raised me is missing. She is so soft, small, quiet. She is doing the work of the dying. This is as laborious as birth, just as important, just as painful. 

Helen Keller says, "Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see." I think this is true for all of us or at least I hope so. Sometimes death comes out of nowhere and there is no time to process, appreciate, prepare. But the gifts we leave behind are always available. The way a person makes you feel, allows you to be yourself, honors your journey by their very involvement in your life. That is a choice and that is the gift. Stay present, stay in, this is the only way to leave behind the gift of you. 

I remember when one of my children came down with a strange illness the doctors could not diagnose. I was a mother of four children and I knew he was really sick. I would lay next to him in bed for hours, offering water, because he was too weak to hold the glass. I would memorize every aspect of his face. I lived in fear that I would lose him. I counted the freckles on his perfect nose, the thick eye lashes slightly crusted with sleep, the shape of his lips. I noted the brow line, the soft blond hair that framed his face. The perfect ears so evenly spaced. The pink cheeks I kissed repeatedly. He survived and the memory of him at six is etched in my brain forever.

My girlfriend Deborah recently lost her mom and she instinctively did the same thing. She memorized aspects of her mom to keep with her forever. I remember doing this with my Dad but that backfired a bit because I couldn't move past the last embrace, the last time we made eye contact, the last kiss good-bye. My lovely therapist/best friend Christine warned me not to stay in the last moments, to move back to the memories, the gifts that we get to keep. 

I know I am nearing the end of my time with mom so I going to memorize her face, the arthritic hands marked with age spots, the farmers legs I massage with lotion, but mostly the moments when I get to see her smile. I won't stay here too long. Her real gifts are so connected to who I am and I'll carry those with me into this wild wonderful life. The love of libraries and reading, antique stores and strolling, soup and egg sandwiches, dogs and cats, planting in the spring. I'm sitting in her place literally and figuratively because that is what I have of her, the present, and the future she gave me as my mother. 

"It began in mystery and it will end in mystery, but what a rare and beautiful country lies in between." Diane Ackerman

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Get That Shit Writ

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey kids!  I know you were expecting a post from Cheryl today, but unfortunately she had a family emergency, so we'll be switching slots this month.

Cheryl's situation, and my own (right now, I'm sitting at my day job, barely able to keep my eyes open, staring at a blank blog entry) have got me thinking of all the things that come between a writer and his craft.

Family is an obvious one.  I don't have kids myself, but I know that kids are just a great big existential time suck.  (I'd say "present company excluded," but, sorry, kids, you are.)  But you don't need the daily humdrum of getting kids dressed, bathed, schooled, etc. to be distracted by family.  Emergencies can come up that force you to leave the soothing warm light of the computer screen.  Sometimes I'm dealing with various grudges and fights that keep me distracted and not really in a good mood for writing.  And all this is not even to bear in mind the simple pleasures of spending time with your loved ones.

I already mentioned the big one: the eight hours a day I have to spend working a real job to support my writing habit.  Sometimes you can sneak some writing in during the slow times of the work day, but it's not exactly the optimal time and place for creation, unless you have a very laissez-faire boss.

But aside from the usual rhythm of daily life, for a writer there's a lot of what I'd call "writing adjacent activities."  For instance, editing.  As important as editing is to the process, well, it's not really creating a new work, is it?  And then there's research.  I spent three hours yesterday afternoon in a coffeeshop interviewing a psychic medium about the supernatural world.  (No, I'm not kidding.)  That, at least, has the sheen of legitimate research, which is more than I can say about all the time I spend googling things like "when was the matchstick invented?"  How about marketing?  How much time do I spend buying and placing ads, or attending events and giving speeches?  Quite a bit, actually.  Signing books sure seems like an authorly thing to do, but it ain't authoring.

Writing adjacent activities also devolve from the very legitimate stuff described in the last pargraph to the more...tenuous.  I'm talking about Facebook.  I'm talking about Twitter.  I'm talking about reading industry blogs like this one.  You need to respond to your fans, or they'll stop reading you.  You need to reach out to your fanbase, or you won't have one.  You need to stay abreast of the publishing world or you won't have a place in it.  But does that article I read last night about the 22 Weirdest Things Wonder Woman Ever Did really contribute to my writing?  Eh...not so much.  But I did see it on Facebook.  There's a gray area, or perhaps I should say a blurring of the lines, between actively marketing yourself on social media and just fucking around on social media.

So how does one push aside all the stuff that gets in the way and actually ever get anything written?  Here are a few ideas:

1.)  Set Aside a Time Every Day To Write

I don't do this.  I won't lie.  I just don't.  But, I have heard that it helps to set up a routine and stick to it.  Lord knows you probably follow your routine every day, even if you don't know you do.  Some people swear by waking up an hour early to just write.  (It also helps that the kids are still abed, nasty little buggers.)  Others want to wait until the end of the night when they can relax for an hour.  I've heard it said that the best thing you do all day is the first thing you do, and things get gradually worse as you go.  But I also tend more toward the writing at night thing.  Other people just have to pick out a certain time - 5pm after the whistle blows, or maybe during their lunch hour, or what-have-you.

2.)  Set a Daily Word Count For Yourself

Now, this I have done, and, even if I do say so myself, it worked like a charm.  First let me emphasize: your daily word count needs to be peanuts.  If you set it at a thousand or two thousand words, you're just going to fail every day and feel terrible about yourself and exacerbate the whole not writing issue.  I once set my daily word count at three hundred words and it was absolutely perfect.  No matter how criminally sick or overworked I feel, I can steal the odd half-hour over the course of the day to write three hundred words.  And three hundred is just low enough that once I actually write that many, I almost always feel like I have to keep going.  And that meant I was doubling, tripling, even quintupling my word goal on good days, and I felt awesome about myself.  On crumbum days I just had to meet it, and that was always possible.  I met my word count goal every single day until I finished an entire novel.

3.)  Use "Cookie Scenes"

One thing that I find discourages me from writing is the long swathes of crap work you have to do to actually get a novel written.  Create a character.  Create a world.  Make him walk from point A to point B.  Have this vital plot point.  Drop this vital clue.  A lot of it is necessary, but dull.  Usually, though, all the table-setting is a means to a feast.  You have that one kick-ass action scene in mind.  You've been dying to write this steamy sex scene.  There's a big reveal where the villain admits he was the one who drained the lake.  These are the parts that are fun and exciting and genuinely electrifying to write.  I call these "cookie scenes."  They're like a little treat you get after you've done your homework and eaten your vegetables.  Well, guess what?  If you're excited to write a cookie scene, go write it!  It's better to be excited about your writing (although don't worry too much about always being excited about it - writing is writing, whether you're digging it or not, your audience won't care.)  So write that cookie scene while you're all hot and bothered about it.  It's better to write it now rather than do all the heavy lifting and suddenyl realize that your excitement for the big climactic duel has cooled.  You'll even find, I think, that as you write cookie scenes you'll start to realize all the stuff you needed to include before to serve as connective tissue between cookie scenes.  Then go back and fill in that stuff later.  You may even feel more motivated to do so now that you see how that backstory or whatever connects to the fun bits.

What about you?  How do you get your butt in the chair to cut through all the daily distractions of life?  Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

COVER REVEAL: Starswept / Mary Fan

Hey everyone! Mary Fan here! Crashing the blog on an off day because it's COVER REVEAL DAY for my YA sci-fi romance, STARSWEPT! Coming August 29 from Snowy Wings Publishing :-) The cover features photography by Roberto Falck, with graphic design by Streetlight Graphics. And without further ado, here it is!

Title: Starswept
Author: Mary Fan
Release Date: August 29, 2017
Publisher: Snowy Wings Publishing

Some melodies reach across the stars.

In 2157, the Adryil—an advanced race of telepathic humanoids—contacted Earth. A century later, 15-year-old violist Iris Lei considers herself lucky to attend Papilio, a prestigious performing arts school powered by their technology. Born penniless, Iris’s one shot at a better life is to attract an Adryil patron. But only the best get hired, and competition is fierce.

A sudden encounter with an Adryil boy upends her world. Iris longs to learn about him and his faraway realm, but after the authorities arrest him for trespassing, the only evidence she has of his existence is the mysterious alien device he slipped to her.

When she starts hearing his voice in her head, she wonders if her world of backstabbing artists and pressure for perfection is driving her insane. Then, she discovers that her visions of him are real—by way of telepathy—and soon finds herself lost in the kind of impossible love she depicts in her music.

But even as their bond deepens, Iris realizes that he’s hiding something from her—and it’s dangerous. Her quest for answers leads her past her sheltered world to a strange planet lightyears away, where she uncovers secrets about Earth’s alien allies that shatter everything she knows.

Preorder the hardback on Amazon
Preorder the e-book on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Kobo, or iBooks

Add it on Goodreads


Mary Fan is a hopeless dreamer, whose mind insists on spinning tales of “what if.” As a music major in college, she told those stories through compositions. Now, she tells them through books. She is the author of the Jane Colt space opera trilogy, the Firedragon YA dystopia/fantasy novellas, and the Fated Stars YA high fantasy novellas. She's also the co-editor of the Brave New Girls YA sci-fi anthologies, which are dedicated to encouraging girls to enter STEM careers and raising money for the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund.

Find her online at

Twitter: @astralcolt
Instagram: @astralcolt

Monday, June 5, 2017

Google Search: Let Me Explain!

Hey guys!  My turn to do a Google search post.  Let's delve into the fetid moist swamp of my previous Google searches, then I'll try to justify each recent horror!


Yikes.  First I'm going to explain the peripheral items.  When I started brainstorming this article, I wanted to write a fresh random search.  This made me think of Ouija boards, as a Google search string based on a few very generic words like "will I ever" is very much like asking for answers from the spirit world.  As a longtime (oooooo, hoooo) Witchay Woman, I love Ouija boards.  I just bought my oldest son Eli, a budding preteen potential goth, a Ouija board for his upcoming 12th birthday.  Perfect time to start messing with the spirit world.  Poltergeists love puberty!  Anyway, trying to use Google as a Ouija board was on point in that it turned up very Ouija-like questions, but was sort of a bust in that these questions are not all that conducive to entertaining discussion but rather just sort of depressing:

"Will I ever see my mother smile?"  Jeez Louise!

So that explains the web address in the address bar, as "are Ouija boards real" was a remnant of that Ouija train of thought.  Let's go to the first tab I had open.  This was another attempt at a new vague Google search, this time delving into a more mature form of curious anxiety:

Perhaps the invasive nature of these tests led to me deciding to digitally probe my own search history.
The next tab on my screen was this very blog, where I am currently writing this article, followed by the Google search I had open.

The final tab, reading "Another 'Teen Mom 2' D" was to a favorite blog of mine, The Ashley's Reality Roundup, where I go to get all the important news about reality TV stars, mostly "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" people but also folks in the Duggar-sphere.  Why do I like watching people unwisely popping out babies then living their baby-filled lives?  Maybe because my entire twenties was that?  Anyway, Leah Messer's sister is getting a divorce.  You're welcome.

On to the actual search.  Let's break it down by search term:

"discover" "cox" "cox pay" - payin' mah bills, forgetting the websites on which I do that and the user names and passwords, just like I do every month.

"doug hutchison" - So I was reading the aforementioned Reality Roundup and something came up about Courtney Stodden.  Courtney is one of the many pseudo-celebs with whom I am vaguely familiar due to my pop culture compulsion.  I knew she married an old D-list celeb when she was sixteen and he was fifty, and then I knew a bunch of TMI about her marriage, and now she's getting a divorce.  I thought her soon-to-be-ex was famous for playing one of the brothers on the original "Brady Bunch," but I guess he married some other too-young chick, because it turns out Doug Hutchison is known for playing dickish supporting characters in movies like "The Green Mile."  So that was like twenty minutes of my life that I'll never get back.

"attorney disciplinary board" - checking someone's status doesn't just mean STDs down here in the land of shady lawyers, aight?

"diarrhea medicine" - The obvious crown jewel of this Google search history.  There was this silly map of the US thing going around on Facebook showing the words each state most commonly Googles to check their spelling.  Here is the article on NPR.  Apparently it was in honor of the National Spelling Bee.  Anyway, I was about to visit family in New Hampshire for the first time, so I saw that New Hampshire's most frequently Googled word for spelling was "diarrhea."  I wanted to make a joke about this to my New Hampshire family, but couldn't think of the most common diarrhea medicine, hence the search.

And now I have to cut this short and go to the bathroom.  Unrelated.  Shut up!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

BJHJ: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN(wreck that is her life)

It's time for another installment of Book Jacket Hack Job where we provide our own take on the book jacket copy from some of our recent (or not so recent) reads.

Today I'm taking a stab at THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. (Get it? "Stab" at? Ha.) Disclaimer: I read this book, and found it really disturbing. Not for the plot -- which I expected to be unsettling based on the whole psychological thriller tagline -- but because all of the characters were such a...train wreck.

I'm on a roll here with the innuendos, yes? The book is still insanely popular and ICYMI somehow is also a film with Emily Blunt and Justin Theroux. I haven't seen the film, although I will say that commuting from NYC to Westchester a la the setting of the film is VERY different from commuting into London and it makes me wonder how true to the book the film really is. (That's not why I haven't seen it. I haven't seen the movie because I hate creepy movies.)

Anyway, without further ado...

Rachel takes the same commuter train morning and night. Often she is drunk, thinking about being drunk or planning on getting drunk. Sometimes she blames this on her ex-husband who had an affair and left her and sometimes she blames it on herself. She is full of self-loathing and wishes she could change. Her friends and family also wish she could change, but despite the self-loathing bit, she's not ready/willing/able. The portrayal of her addiction feels very genuine. And sad. Made sadder by the fact that she fixates on a couple she sees from the train window every morning (who live two doors down from the house she once shared with her husband. Coincidence? I think not.). She makes up an entire life for them that may or may not be real.

Then one day, Rachel sees something disturbing through the train window and goes to the police. She becomes embroiled in the investigation, but she's an unreliable witness and lines between what's real and not become so blurred, no one knows what to believe. Including Rachel, herself.

A GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a psychological thriller and a study in dysfunctional relationships. The characters are seldom sympathetic, but they are compelling, which keeps you turning the pages long after you should've gone to bed. When you close the book on the final page, you have the satisfaction of being able to say, "God, I am SO normal by comparison." Hopefully.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Hangin' out with fellow authors!

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! This is gonna be a quick one because I just got back from an epic roadtrip down to
North Carolina for Red Adept Publishing's annual party :-) For context, I live in Jersey City... an 8-hour drive... except even more thanks to traffic. I'm pretty sure I spent more time in the car than actually hanging out in NC. But that's okay because I was listening to Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton biography on audio... yes, I've joined the Hamilton crowd :-P

Anyway, we kicked things off with some readings/signings in a local Garner, NC coffee shop, and it was loads of fun hearing a dozen fellow Red Adept authors talk about their books! Red Adept publishes pretty much all genres, so we had a wide range of books... fantasy, women's fic, thrillers, romance... and of course, I was there representing Team Sci-Fi :-)

We're such a fun little publishing family :-)

And then we went over to the house of Lynn McNamee, owner/publisher/editor/guru-of-all-things for Red Adept Publishing. There were cupcakes with pictures of our books as toppers!

And then we all had a wackadoo good time :-D

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Do you need a mothereffin A (MFA)?

Today, I watched my husband receive his doctoral diploma in Civil Security Studies from NJCU. Not to sound like a braggart, but I already have two master's degrees. Yes, two. I'm over-educated and not employed. But watching my husband in his doctoral regalia made me envious, and I momentarily considered an MFA program in Creative Writing. Momentarily. Because again, I already have two advanced degrees. And I just paid one of those off. Ten years later.

There's debate on whether a) one needs an MFA and b) is it worth the cost? Some writers emphatically say no. You don't need a master's degree to become a published author. And that is very true. Craft is something that can definitely be self-taught. I consider myself to be one of these students. I've read tons of books on storytelling, process, genre, and self-editing. I've taken some cheap online classes in mystery writing, and revision. I absorb everything an editor tells me I'm doing wrong. I listen to podcasts specifically geared toward readers and writers. I'm a perpetual student.

And considering many MFA programs cost $40K, you're never likely to recoup that tuition. 

However, there are plenty of authors who would disagree with me. I met one, in fact, at a writers and readers festival where I opened my big, fat mouth to declare MFA programs a waste of money. She respectfully countered. She loved the challenge of elevating her work to a level she felt she couldn't master alone. She enjoyed the mentorship, and camaraderie of her writing peers. Writing is a lonely gig. Who wouldn't want to commiserate and share one's work with like-minded authors? Also, the MFA would allow her to teach in colleges and universities. And let's be real, writing pays crap so one needs to supplement the art.

So, there ya have it. Do you do the MFA or not? Well, it really depends on the author. Good news, there are some programs that fully find MFA students. I found this awesome link with a list of programs. They're competitive, but rightfully so.

What say you? Do you have an MFA? Would you want one? (I would, if I could swing the tuition.) Sound off in the comments, beloooooooow.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Determining a Book Title

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I took a very systematic approach to figuring out her name. We independently came up with a list of names, and then narrowed it down to our top 10. We then compared our top 10s and prepared for discussion. We hadn’t expected both of us to have Julia in our top 2 names. Despite neither of us talking about that name before, it felt right. It was not an unusual name, yet it wasn’t wildly popular in the US at that time. There was no fear of her being one of five kids with the name Julia in her class, nor was she in jeopardy of never finding her name on those fun vanity souvenirs.

I’ve taken a similar approach to the titles of my books. I don’t make a list or anything, but I do look for what feels right and then I check to make sure there aren’t several other books out there with the same name. I like book titles that are short and punchy—one to three words. I personally find them easier to remember.

The title for my first book, Kingston’s Project, popped into my head as soon as I started writing. Kingston is the last name of one of the primary characters, and his ‘project’ drives the majority of the plot. When I decided to write a sequel, at first I wasn’t sure what the title would be. I knew I wanted it to also start with Kingston, but I wasn’t sure beyond that. I stared at the title page for a bit when suddenly my fingers replaced Project with Promise. I didn’t know at the time what the ‘promise’ would be about, but I knew it felt right. (A little behind the scenes knowledge—I didn’t figure out the full meaning of the promise until I was almost finished writing the book, and it was perfect). I was just as lucky with my third book, Shattered Angel, and the tile was there from the start.

Now I’m a little more than halfway through my current WIP. Based on past experience, I’ve figured I needed a name right from the start. And I have one. It’s just that now I’m not sure if it’s right.

The story is about a fifteen-year-old boy who is angry, mostly because his parents got divorced and his mom moved him and his sister to live with their grandparents in Indiana. It’s mostly about his journey as he learns to control his feelings. It’s also about how or feelings and beliefs about people can change depending on the perspective we use to view them. One of the people who helps him through this transition is a girl he meets one day when he climbs a tree. I want to keep the reader wondering if the girl is real, a figment of Ben’s imagination, or a ghost. The title I’ve been using so far is The Tree Sprite. Ben’s little sister is obsessed with sprites, and when they first think they hear someone up in the tree she suggests it’s a sprite. I like the sound of the name, the relative uniqueness of it, and how it hints to a key setting of the book (the tree). However, I don’t want readers to assume it’s a fantasy book or heavy on the magical realism.

I’ve also started to wonder if it places too much emphasis on the girl. While she is a critical character in the book, it’s not her story. When I first started to draft out the storyline, I did think I’d get more into the mystery of her background. I write organically, and it’s turned out that the story took me slightly away from that. I may still include some of it, but it hasn’t been a primary plot driver of the story as I first thought it would.

Now I feel a bit stuck. I’ve been trying to think of other titles, but nothing comes to mind. I know there is still the possibility I’ll be struck with a lightning bolt in the last half of the book, but I’m feeling anxious. I’d like to start promotions before I finish completely, but I need a solid title for that.

How do you come up with your book titles? I’d love any advice you can throw my way!

~ Carrie

Thursday, May 18, 2017


A Post By Jonathan

Hi Ya'll! We kind of retired our reoccurring EEK! PUT SOME PAGES UP FOR CRITEEK! post, but I wanted to bring it back just this once so that I could get your thoughts on this piece I've been working on for a while. It's about a middle-aged guy down on his luck whose about to go gas station postal.
Hope you enjoy and please let me know what you think!

                                                                            Phil ‘Er Up

The Go-Mart down on Route 13 is the only gas station in town. You can’t miss it. It’s right across from the only stoplight.

Phil’s been workin’ there since ’83, after he barely graduated from Millbrook High—Home of the Millworkers. A lot of the men still work at the mill, but not Phil. He has an even worse job. Pumpin’ gas. There are a lot of shitty things about workin’ at the Go-Mart (the smell being only one of them), but they get even shittier when your name is Phil.

“Fill ‘er up Phil,” the customers are always sayin’.

“Go Phuck yourselves,” Phil wanted to say.

But the boss wouldn’t like that— same boss that made him wear an f’in’ nametag every day. That didn’t stop Phil from saying it under his breath a couple hundred times, especially when those preppy ass college kids came passin’ through. They were the worst, with their “this university” and “that college” stickers all over the fancy cars their mommies and daddies buy them. Spoiled brats. They never worked a day in their lives, none of ‘em.

Pretty soon they’ll start comin’ through Millbrook again. After the big winter break they’re always talkin’ about. Must be nice. Phil never got a break.

He didn’t mind spring break so much. The girls, the good looking ones at least, were always friendlier that time a year. Their blond hair flowing this way and that, their tan skin, their perfect, white teeth. Maybe if Phil cut it down to a pack a day he could get white teeth and land one of them college girls for himself. The thought made him laugh a raspy laugh.

He started to think about it a little more when the damn bell rang, which meant he had a customer. Phil was holed up in the store like always. It was just big enough for him, the smokes, the beer, and about one other person. He looked out at the pump through grease-covered windows and recognized the car immediately. It was Daryl Sands in his big ass pickup truck.

Phil sighed. “Shit.”

Like most people in Millbrook, Daryl Sands was an asshole. Phil went to school with his brother Billy, who, believe it or not, was an even bigger asshole. Billy was on disability now, so Phil didn’t see him much. But Daryl was always out and about.

Phil lumbered off his stool, slow as he could. One of the biggest parts of his job Phil hated was having to pump everyone’s gas.

A few years ago, a bunch a people kept stealing petrol and so the boss had come up with a new “full serve” policy to keep people from running. Phil had tried to tell him that there were pumps out there that took credit cards, helping stations deal with things like that. But the boss wouldn’t listen. Even though people stopped stealing gas, the policy never ended. So now, even though it’s below freezing outside, Phil still has to go out there and serve the customer. Bullshit.

Daryl honked his horn and Phil started yelling. Too bad Daryl’s stereo was blaring so loud he never heard him. Phil’s neck hurt just looking at the truck. It was jacked up so high that Phil swore every time Daryl came into get gas he was going to take the roof off the whole damn station. 

The tinted window came down to reveal Daryl smiling his crocked, cocky smile. Smoke rolled out of the window and there was a woman’s laughter inside. Judging by the smell, someone was smokin’ a joint.

“Fill ‘er up Phil,” said Daryl. “Eighty-seven.”

Before Phil could tell him to go to hell, Daryl rolls his window up. Phil has to actually reach up to pop the gas cap. The pump is freezing, even through his gloves. After a few gallons, Phil hears the passenger side door open up and sees someone get out. It’s Toni Baker, wearing high heels and an even higher skirt.

When did Toni and Daryl start runnin’ together? Phil wondered.

He watched her all the way to the bathroom. She was obviously drunk by the way she was walkin’. Damn. Phil had been wanting to make it with her since middle school, but even back then she never gave him the time of day. Sometimes you get loser stink on you and you can never wash it off. Daryl wasn’t much better. He’d won some money in an asbestos settlement, and the last Phil had heard he’d nearly spent it all. Half of it probably went to his damn truck, and the other half to the tires.

The pump clicked off. Finally. Phil walked over to the window and gave Daryl the roll-it-down sign. When nothing happened, Phil reached up and tapped on the window. Daryl finally rolled it down. The music was still blaring.

“That’ll be $75.23,” said Phil.

Daryl handed him a wad of cash. “Here’s $80.00. I need a pack a Marlboro Lights too.”

“Well you’ll have to get ‘em yourself. I only pump the gas.”

“What was that?” said Daryl, turning down the music. “I didn’t hear ya.”

“I said I only pump the gas,” said Phil.

“The sign says full service,” said Daryl. “Serve me.”

Phil was about to go off on Daryl when Toni came back, fussing with her leather jacket.

“Hey Phil,” she said with a wave.

Phil looked to Daryl, then back to Toni. “Hey Toni…”

Toni was too busy climbing back up into the truck to respond.

“Phil was just getting those smokes you wanted,” said Daryl, when Toni finally made it in the cab. “Weren’t ya Phil?”

There was a long pause, then Phil nodded. “Yep. Yep I was.”

“Aww thanks Phil,” said Toni, leaning over Daryl so that her tits nearly fell out of her top. “You’re so sweet. Could you get me a bag of Fritos too? I’m hungry...”

“Yeah Phil,” said Daryl. “Throw some Fritos on there too.”

Phil knew Daryl didn’t have enough for the smokes, the Fritos and the gas, just as much as Daryl did, but what could he do?

Back in the store, Phil grabbed the Fritos, rang up the gas, and snagged a pack of Marlboro Lights off the rack behind the checkout counter. Daryl was at least two dollars short, but Phil wasn’t about to ask him for more. Instead, he opened the cigarettes, took three out for himself, closed the pack and put the plastic wrapper back on.

“Shipping and handling,” Phil muttered to himself. Daryl will never know the difference.

When Phil got back outside, Daryl and Toni were all over each other. Phil had to cough to get them to split up.

“What?” said Daryl.

Phil handed him the cigs and Fritos. “Here ya go.”

“Oh, thanks,” said Daryl, like he’d forgotten he’d order ‘em.

Phil turned, but then he heard Daryl say, “Hey wait a second!”

Shit, thought Phil. “What is it?”

“Where’s my change?”

Phil turned back around slowly. “Your change?”

He was tempted to give it to him, in the form of buckshot all over his pretty little truck. It was full up too. One shot at the gas tank, and Daryl, Toni and the Chevy would go up like the Fourth of July.

Instead, he said, “You didn’t have none.”

“What do you mean?” said Daryl, lookin’ around the cab. “I gave you at least a hundred bucks.”

“You never did learn how to count, did ya Daryl?” said Phil.

“What did you say?” said Daryl, looking pissed.

It could’ve gotten ugly then, but another car pulled into the gas station. It was black and white and had sirens on the roof. Daryl gave it a once over in the rearview mirror, then started to roll up his window. He stopped long enough to say, “You better have my change when I come back,” then he barreled out of the Go-Mart, gray snow hitting his mud flaps as he went.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Swimming With Sharks

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

If there's one thing that shows like "House of Cards" has taught me, it's that politics is a dog-eat-dog world.  Just one viewing of "Full Metal Jacket" is enough to know that the military is not for the faint of heart - and not just because the enemy is shooting at you.  Pop culture even warns us in the guise of "Wall Street," "The Social Network," and so forth that business is a cut-throat world where your best friend will betray you for a bigger slice of the pie.

One thing I've rarely seen depicted, though, is the dangers of the publishing world.  When I think of movies about writers - and there aren't very many, and most of those are not very interesting - it usually amounts to someone writing a brilliant manuscript, and with very little foreplay they are suddenly a bestselling author.  Everyone is very happy for them, and...scene!

From time to time I've considered writing about the drama of the publishing world, though that may end up being a novel for when I'm older and have more experience.  But right now I can already tell you there is enough betrayal and turmoil to make Shakespeare blush.  When I was a teenager, I thought becoming a writer would mostly consist of writing, then being published, then making tons of money and fending off fans.  Nobody ever told me I'd be swimming with sharks.  So consider yourself fairly warned, young neophyte, if ye be reading this: you're about to plunge into the deep end of the shark tank.

A few of the species of sharks you will encounter in your journey towards fame and fortune include:

1.)  Schmagents and Schmublishers

I believe we've gone over this before, but to recap: there is no test, badge, or vetting process for calling yourself an agent or a publisher.  If you get pulled over by somebody pretending to be a cop, well, that's illegal and they can get arrested.  If you sell your manuscript to some idiot with a mimeograph machine in his basement calling himself a publisher, well, basically there's nothing you can do about it.

There are people in this business who are outright hucksters (Publish America, anyone?) who simply wish to prey upon innocent writers and essentially fleece them for their money.  Again, there's nothing illegal about this.  It's a universal rule that there's more money to be made off of aspiring writers than there is to be made off of readers.  But the government can't really stop anyone from giving bad advice (if they could, Deepak Chopra would be Public Enemy #1) or utilizing bad business practices (hell, that seems to get rewarded with the highest political office in the land these days.)

But somewhat adjacent to more-or-less unprosecuted con men are what we call "schmagents."  They're not an agent with beaucoup sales.  But they're also not not an agent.  They're probably just someone too dumb to know what they don't know.  They're probably some guy in Flint, Michigan or West Texas who assumes that with a little elbow grease they can sell just as well as any snooty New York agency with millions of dollars worth of sales to their name.  These people probably aren't out to fleece you, they're just a bit delusional, like the forty-five year old couch potato with a midlife crisis who decides with enough gumption he can get into the Olympics. 

Ditto the schmublisher.  They may have good intentions, but if they're essentially just a step between you and Amazon, what are they doing for you that you couldn't do on your own by self-publishing?

2.)  The Next Stephen King

Most of the authors I've met have a hard-earned, wholly realistic grasp of where, exactly, they fit into the publishing totem pole.  After just a few years of looking at your sales and banging your head against the wall, you usually can get a pretty good grasp of where you stand.  I might call myself reasonably well-known in the horror literature community, the kind of guy that four horror readers out of ten would say, "Oh, yeah, I've heard of him but haven't read any of his stuff."  But that's about it.  And I have no illusions about who I am.

Some authors, though, are hopelessly delusional.  They think they deserve a higher station than they've earned.  How does this affect you?  Well, for one thing, prepare for a veritable vineyard of sour grapes.  If you're the sort of person who can let complaining roll off your back, great.  But I think even the best of us can be brought low by ten or twenty doses of negativity a day.

And if he doesn't just mope about, The Next Stephen King may be a rager.  Nothing makes sense like getting angry about a book, right?  They may hate another author's success.  Hell, they may resent your success, young upstart.  When you bypass them along the road to Writer Valhalla (and you will) they may start chucking bombs along after you.

3.)  Trolls

I don't mind a one-star review now and then.  In fact, I prefer it.  It means my work is getting read widely enough that it's reaching the sorts of people who don't dig it. 

Let me reiterate: bad reviews are fine.  What's not fine is personal attacks.  What's not fine is doxxing a writer.  What's not fine is starting a flamewar encouraging twits on Reddit to down vote all your books or leave bad reviews.  What's not fine is conservatives leaving bad reviews on a book they've never read by a liberal (or vice versa.)  What's not fine is threatening to blow up an author's child's school (yes, that really happened.)

The internet is full of morons and trolls.  Your average person can just avoid them.  Authors, however, like any public figures, are going to attract their fair share of loonies.

4.  Buffoons

And finally, where would we be if not for well-meaning idiots?  It's hard to get angry at morons, but it doesn't make their behavior any less dangerous.  The buffoon may just be full of terrible, terrible advice.  They may direct you towards schmagents, schmublishers, and trolls.  They may worship The Next Stephen King, making it that much harder to forget about him.

A buffoon may be a terrible editor who takes your money anyway.  He may be convinced he's the next Picasso, but produces a cover in MS Paint (and charges you anyway.)  He may be a publicist who turns off every reviewer and blogger he contacts, making him worse than useless (oh, and a big old drain on your wallet.) 

He might come to one of your convention panels and try to hijack it with terrible ideas.  He could be a jerk, but he could also be perfectly nice, and just terrible at the whole writing and marketing thing.  In which case, he's probably going to offer you a review-for-review trade of his terrible book like an earnest puppy, and you feel terrible giving it a bad review.

Buffoons, like trolls, are also not unique to the writing world, but, again, since you're a public figure, they'll become more difficult to ignore (and especially difficult to tell off.)


So, fairly warned.  If you want to run with the big dogs, you're going to be running with some that are happy to maul you.  Some are malicious, many more are just wrong-headed, and a whole bevy of them just don't know any better.

But what can you do to avoid the sharks?  Well, lucky for you I've got a few shots of good old-fashioned Bat-Shark-Repellant here to take the nasty taste out of your mouth from reading the rest of this article:

- Look before you leap.  If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  If someone's offering you something that you don't feel like you've earned yet, ask yourself why.  Maybe you've had good fortune.  Or maybe you've run into a shark.  Never sign a contract the day you receive it.  Never agree to anything the instant the offer is made.  Hard thinking and intuition will help you steer clear of most chondrichthian encounters.

- Research widely.  Sure, I highly recommend Across the Board.  But you should also be regularly reading Author Beware, Terrible Minds, Scalzi's Whatever, Publisher's Marketplace, and as many industry blogs and sites as you can find.  Terrible advice is rampant, but you can always triangulate the truth by ingesting as much data as you can, seeing what jibes, and rejecting the junk.

- Learn who to trust.  The best defense fish have against sharks is swimming in schools.  I can think of seven people right off the top of my head who will have my back and help me avoid the sharks, and you know each and every one of them: Jonathan, Mary, Carrie, Abby, Kim, Brenda, and Cheryl.  They're not the entirety of my Tribe of Righteousness and Truth, but they represent a good cross-section of them.

So, what do you think?  Have you come across any sub-class of authorial sharks I haven't mentioned?  Come up with any ways of avoiding their predations?  Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Final Approach

By Cheryl Oreglia

I've been learning about growing old for so long I failed to realize I'm approaching the runway myself. 

When I was young I didn't give aging a thought until my grandfather had a stroke. I spent a lot of time with him in recovery, after his brain had changed, and he no longer had access to his short term memory. This only left the present available to him but I noticed how a lifetime of experience filtered into his wisdom. I believe this is what we revere most about the elderly. I remember asking for advice one morning about my future. He was quiet, I waited, and finally he said, "Do what makes you happy. That's all that matters." It would be our last conversation. 
"Along with aging comes life experience, so in every way that is consistent with even being human, Leia has changed." Carrie Fisher
I remember the first time I watched a grown man cry. He was mourning the loss of his only brother. A death that happened nearly twenty years ago. He came home from high school to a distraught mother, and the only thing she told him was his brother had died, much later he would learn it was suicide. He never got to say good-bye. Out of shame his parents did not hold a memorial and they rarely spoke of him, "it was as if he never existed." I believe "he thought he could not go any closer to grief without dying, [then] he went closer, and did not die," Mary Oliver (adapted). I learned that grief must be given its time, as a way of honoring life, or we are left clinging to it's fleeting presence. 
"Grief doesn't have a plot. It isn't smooth. There is no beginning and middle and end." Ann Hood
The most important lessons I learned from my dad had to do with fishing. He was formed from a generation of hard workers, which gave his life purpose, but at his core he was a fisherman. Fishing requires patience, persistence, intuition, and knowing your limits. This tells you a lot about my Dad. (I think he was an extraordinary catch.) When his health began to fail my sister Nancy and I spent as much time as possible in the Northwest. I remember the day he told the doctors he was done, "I want to go home, I can't take any more treatments, I'm tired." Oh how we wanted him to press forward, to never give up, to live in the worst kind of agony because we were not ready to let him go. But he was a fisherman, he lived on his own terms, and he knew his limits. I learned about courage from my Dad, the importance of catch and release, and now his 'sole' lives on in me. 
"Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength." Betty Friedan
In a recent dream I stood mesmerized by a younger version of my Mom, sitting cross-legged on the floor, laughing with a child. When I woke up there was moisture in my eyes. I was crying in my sleep. I miss her youthful vibrancy as much as I miss my own. She is in a challenging bout with cancer and has decided to stay in the fight even though the risk of permanent injury is likely. She has not become a shell of her former self, she has become a new creation, and I now realize this stage of life is as important as the rest. She is a fighter and from her I've learned "impossible is nothing." I believe her final achievement will be defending her journey's end.  
“We’re not the Faster-than-the-Speed-of-Light Generation anymore. We’re not even the Next-New-Thing Generation. We’re the Soon-to-Be-Obsolete Kids, and we’ve crowded in here to hide from the future and the past. We know what’s up – the future looms straight ahead like a black wrought-iron gate and the past is charging after us like a badass Doberman, only this one doesn’t have any letup in him.” Tim Tharp
My priorities have drastically changed at this elevation, I might be in a slow descent, but I have a ways to go before the lights of the runway guide me home. The things I thought were so important in my youth are of no interest to me today. The paint on my core is fading, but the structure is sound, and still a worthy of flight. I think less about what you think of me and more about what I think of myself. Soaring above the clouds, searching for something new each day is now my goal, and I can still manage a loop-de-loop when need be. 
"There are 30,000 days in your life. When I was 24, I realized I'm almost 9,000 days down. There are no warm-ups, no practice rounds, no reset buttons. Your biggest risk isn't failing, it's getting too comfortable. Every day, we're writing a few more words of a story. I wanted my story to be an adventure and that's made all the difference." Drew Houston

I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime. 
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