Thursday, June 29, 2017

I'm Not Going to Bed Until I finish writing this book -- and other questionable decisions

I'm really NOT going to bed until I finish writing this draft of my book. I was supposed to finish it yesterday and then today, and I can't put it off for another day. So, somewhere along the line I decided I'd pull an old school all nighter if necessary.

I had a 4pm coffee and some chocolate just now, so I should be good, right? Except I haven't pulled an all nighter in a LONG time. Even when I worked mad hours at the day job, I'd only stay up until 2am or so. Since I've started writing and working for myself, I've been a lot more, shall we say...lax?, about the hours I keep. I work the hours The Boy is in school, but I walk the dogs every day for at least an hour in there and my social media habit is strong!

But it's time to crack down! I have exactly 9 days to get this draft in good enough shape to send to my editor and that means writing the ending sooner than later. From a curiosity perspective, I'm treating this like an experiment. Again, I have only day job experience as reference, but I was capable of PowerPoint and Excel, even at 2am. Am I capable of creativity after being awake for 20 hours? I don't know! I've led myself to believe I'm not. In fact, I seldom write at night, claiming it "doesn't work well for me." But I don't actually know

So, I'm going in. It's 10:20pm where I live and I have at least a chapter and a half to eke out. If I'm going to do the story justice, it's probably more like two and a half. I'm not a fast writer normally, although recent days and deadline pressure have also made me question whether this is another lie I tell myself. I suspect it might be -- just like I suspect there's a whole psychology around why that I'll delve into when I'm not trying to make a deadline.

For now, I'd love to hear your strategies for a) making your deadlines and b) pushing yourself beyond the preconceived notions you have about your capabilities. As for me, I'll be the one over here typing madly. Or falling asleep with my face on the keyboard. I'll let you know how it turns out!

Monday, June 26, 2017

How the Starswept Cover Came To Be

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! As some of you might recall, I had a cover reveal for my YA sci-fi novel, , here a few weeks back. Today, I'm gonna take y'all behind the scenes of how it came to be.

STARSWEPT is, at its core, a romance. It's the story of a teen viola player, Iris, who's grown up surrounded by classical music and dance, who's been so immersed in the glittering dramas and fairy tales of the stage that she wants nothing more to be a part of it all. Though she lives in a sci-fi future--the story takes place about 200 years in Earth's future--she's an old-fashioned romantic. And she soon finds herself lost in the kind of hopeless love she depicts in her music after an unexpected encounter with a mysterious alien boy... who ends up revealing information that shatters everything she thought she knew about the world she lives in. Her journey eventually takes her to an alien planet lightyears away.

So I needed the cover to convey both the romantic tone of the story and Iris's voice and something that spoke of galaxy-spanning sci-fi. Also, something that fit in the young adult category. In addition, it was super important to me that Iris herself be pictured on the cover. Even though there's been a trend lately of YA covers not depicting people. But here's the thing: Iris is Asian American. There are not a lot of Asian Americans (or Asians in general) on book covers. Especially in sci-fi/fantasy.

Anyone who says they don't like seeing characters on book covers likely hasn't grown up feeling invisible because they've never seen anyone who looks like them on book covers. I remember wandering the rows of bookstores and libraries, seeing white face after white face depicted as the heroines of countless stories, be it contemporary or speculative. This is beautiful, they said. This is normal. This is what a heroine looks like.

This is not you.

Unless it was a specifically Asian-centric story focusing specifically on Asian-ness--think Joy Luck Club or Dragonwings--Asians were literally invisible in fiction. They were not pictured. They weren't intrepid warriors or quirky sleuths or determined underdogs. Or romance novel heroines. They didn't get to wear the pretty ball gown under the swirly title, didn't get to narrate the story, didn't get to catch the eye of the handsome stranger.

Asian girls can be heroines too.
With Iris, I was determined to take one step more toward changing all that. She was going to be front-and-center on the cover of a sci-fi romance, telling young Asian girls that yes, you are beautiful. You are normal--and you are more than just your Asian-ness. You are what a heroine looks like.

Anyway, those of you who read a lot of YA may have noticed that girls in ball gowns is a common theme on covers, and the concept fit Iris's story perfectly. Not only does it scream "romance"--signaling to romance readers that this is their kind of book--but it brings in that old-fashioned romanticism that's so integral to Iris's character. Plus, she literally attends a ball at one point.

To add in the element of sci-fi, I decided she'd be pictured against a space background--a galaxy or nebula. And holding her instrument, since it's such a core part of both her character and the story.

I briefly considered going the old-fashioned route and searching stock photo libraries for a suitable model, but quickly abandoned the idea. First of all, stock photo libraries are overwhelmingly white... there just weren't a lot of options. And secondly, I've been around stock photo libraries and book covers long enough to have seen the same faces on different covers multiple times. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with this, but it began to bug me a bit (I've seen the characters on my other covers on several other books, and it weirds me out a bit every time).

Angel Fan, about to dive in for the shoot
Next, I went about arranging a photo shoot... and decided it should be underwater. I've always loved underwater photography for the otherworldly, ethereal look it gives its subjects. And it was perfect for my pretty little romance novel. Also, the weightlessness of being underwater translated perfectly to the weightlessness of being in outer space.

Finding a model was easy: my kid sister, Angel, was eager to volunteer. And it just so happened that she was uniquely qualified for the gig. Not only did she have the right look, but she's a dancer and an experienced swimmer (a trained diver, in fact!) who wasn't afraid of spending long periods of time in the water. And she actually plays viola. As a string player myself (violinist), it always bothered the heck out of me to see unqualified models atrociously clutching and
One of Roberto's gorgeous photos.
clawing at their instruments. Even when they weren't "playing," the way they held the instruments made it obvious that they didn't know what they were doing. Even if Iris wasn't going to be playing her viola on the cover, whoever portrayed her sure as heck had to know how to handle one. And Angel did.

So I had the concept, and I had the model. Next thing I needed: A photographer experienced in underwater photography. Lucky for me, I live in the NYC area, and finding one was a simple matter of Googling. I came across Roberto Falck's website and immediately fell in love with his portfolio. This was my guy.

Next task: obtaining props and wardrobe. Since I wanted a viola to be depicted in the shoot and knew that whatever unfortunate instrument I used would be totally ruined, I went online and sought out the cheapest instrument I could find. Thank goodness for eBay. I also had to find a suitable ball gown for Angel to wear. I ended up finding two that I liked. The first one was a slender pink dress with butterfly sleeves I absolutely adored. However, one of the best things about underwater photography is the floaty-ness it adds to fabric, and I was hoping to find something with a lot of skirt. So I found a
Angel doing her make-up before the shoot
second dress--a white one--that had a train. I loved everything about it, but was worried it might be too heavy and pose a safety risk. So I obtained both dresses and decided to see the day of which one worked.

Then there are all the little things that pop up. For instance: what to do about hair and makeup? Well, hair, I decided, was easy: She'd just wear her natural long hair down and let the water play with it. For makeup, I went online to mermaid forums (as in, forums for professional underwater performers) to gather tips. Still, I wanted Iris's look to be as natural as possible... "no make-up make-up," if you will. Essentially, I wanted Iris to be all about natural beauty. So I ended up finding a waterproof tattoo cover-up recommended by several professional mermaids that would serve as foundation (and cover Angel's wrist tattoo). And that was the only make-up we ended up using. Also, it occurred to me to obtain a two-piece swimsuit to serve as underwear and pack some towels and Angel's bathrobe so she wouldn't have to wander around in a soaking dress when she got out of the water. Finally, Roberto suggested trying a few shots of Angel seated, so I found a short stool that would be heavy enough to sink (in other words, no wood).

We rented out the pool at a Long Island diving school for the shoot. Roberto and his crew arrived the evening before to set up--the lights, the backdrop, etc.--and conduct a few test shots on a different model (an acquaintance on his).

Angel, Roberto, and Frank in the pool
Angel and I arrived the next morning. Besides Roberto, there were six other crewmembers: Ed (the producer), Frank (underwater support), Jeff, Jesse, and Maha (the latter three performed miscellaneous support tasks... adjusting the equipment, previewing the photos on a computer, running errands, etc.)

The pool room was super hot and humid, since the water had to be kept pretty warm (no hypothermia!). We started with the pink dress, since it was lighter and would be easier for Angel. Roberto and Frank were in the pool with her--Roberto in his wetsuit photographing her, and Frank providing miscellaneous underwater support, which included fluffing up Angel's hair and skirt to give it more movement. I spent the whole time crouched by the pool's edge, watching everything from above.

Roberto would tell Angel what poses to try, and Angel would oblige (as a dancer with ballet training, she's really good at posing). Each time, he'd give a count, and then they'd submerge (one... two... three... hold your breath and go down!). They'd stay down for about a minute, then come up. Roberto would review a few shots and give Angel feedback. I also got to get a peek at some of them in case I wanted to give feedback, but I really didn't have anything to say other than, "That's beautiful!"

Le broken viola. I ended up using this shot for a chapter spread.
Of course, something had to go wrong. About an hour into the shoot, the viola broke. The neck
snapped clean off the body. Apparently it was because the waterlogged wood expanded and softened, and the tension of the strings pulled it apart. We'd barely begun... we were scheduled to go all through the afternoon.

Fortunately, Frank was super handy, and I know a thing or two about string instruments. He pointed out that he could screw the neck back on if we could get the strings off. So I unstrung the instrument, and Maha ran out to the nearest hardware store to get some screws. It was a good time for Angel to take a break, too (and she was really glad that bathrobe was there!). After Frank got the neck back on, I restrung the instrument, being mindful to keep the strings looser this time (the hardest part was getting the bridge to stay up, since that's held up by the string tension alone, without letting the strings get too tight).

After that, fortunately, it was pretty much smooth sailing. After another hour of shooting, Angel changed into the white dress. And, it turned out, it wasn't too heavy at all! And the train looked fantastic underwater... the skirt was a lot more dynamic than the pink one was. Angel tried a bunch of different poses... in the end, we ended up with more than 400 shots.

Here's a behind-the-scenes video Roberto made...

Now, I had been in contact with a cover artist since before the photo shoot, and when I last heard from her, she was ready and eager to do the design, just waiting on the photos. Once the photos were available, I contacted her again, and... crickets. For more than a month.

So I contacted Streetlight Graphics (whom I'd worked with in the past and totally love--the only reason I was trying a different artist this time was for variety) in a panic, since I had to have the cover done by a certain date if I was to have hardcovers printed in time for Gen Con, a huge convention I exhibit at every year. Thankfully, Glendon (owner/artist extraordinaire) was able to accommodate the hastened timeframe.

From a graphic design standpoint, I only had two instructions, really: That the background be some kind of pretty galaxy/nebula, and that there be some kind of frame. Because I was determined to have silver foil for this cover and thought it'd be cool to have a silver frame (as well as the title and author name being in foil). I was thrilled with the end result... it's everything I wanted. Some have pointed out that it's a little old-fashioned looking. Considering it's about a classical musician, I say that's all the better.

When I finally got my hardback production sample in my hands, with that photo and those shiny foil letters... well, let's just say I needed a tissue ;-)

Clockwise from top left: Shot as seen from above the water, un-retouched shot, cover as hardback, cover as e-book
STARSWEPT will be released on August 29 from Snowy Wings Publishing!




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.

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