Friday, February 14, 2020

#FridayReads Authors of Africa - #BlackHistoryMonth2020

Looking for a good book to curl up with this weekend? Here are four brilliant authors from Africa to add to your bookshelf, ranging from the rising star to the well-established novelist.

NoViolet Bulawayo

NoViolet Bulawayo
by EuphoricOrca - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

At just 38 years of age, Zimbabwean-born NoViolet Bulawayo is definitely a name to watch. In 2013 her debut novel, We Need New Names, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, making NoViolet the first Zimbabwean and first indigenous African woman to do so.

We Need New Names tells the story of ten-year-old Darling beginning with her escapades in a Zimbabwean shantytown after the destruction of her home and school by the paramilitary police, and following her to suburban America where new challenges abound.

Author website:
Facebook: NoViolet Bulawayo

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
by Slowking - Own work, GFDL 1.2, Link

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2004 and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book in 2005. Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, performed even better, taking the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Her third novel, Americanah, was selected by The New York Times as one of "The 10 Best Books of 2013". Do yourself a favour – don’t try to choose; get hold of all three of Ms Adichie’s novels and read them in one go.

Author website:
Facebook: Chimamanda Adichie
Twitter: Chimamanda Real

Sefi Atta

Sefi Atta
Image via

Nigerian author Sefi Atta has been the winner of the Wo̩lé S̩óyinká Prize for Literature and the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. Her production company Atta Girl supports Care to Read, a program she initiated to fund charities through staged readings.

Her most notable work is Everything Good Will Come, and her latest novel is The Bead Collector.

Author website:
Facebook: Sefi Atta

Tsitsi Dangarembga

Tsitsi Dangarembga
photo by David Clarke, Ayebia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Tsitsi Dangarembga is a world renowned author and filmmaker in the Zimbabwean film industry. She is one of the founders of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa. Ms Dangarembga was the first indigenous Zimbabwean woman to publish a novel written in English – an accomplishment that was probably not surprising given that her mother, Susan Dangarembga, was the first black woman to graduate university in Zimbabwe.

Tsitsi Dangarembga’s debut novel, Nervous Conditions, was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and more recently voted one of the top 100 books that have changed the world by the BBC. Nervous Conditions is the story of young Shona woman, Tambu, who is granted her brother’s place at a school following his unexpected death. The Book of Not continues Tambu’s story after she is awarded a scholarship to study further.

Twitter: Tsitsi Dangarembga (@efie41209591)

List compiled by Elle Carter Neal

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Ten Tips for Successful Collaboration

Other than parenting, I can’t think of anything else that is more difficult for two people to share than one writing project.  But when it’s done right, when everything works, the results are amazing. I've had the pleasure of collaborating with several other writers over the years, mostly on screenplays but also on a couple of books, and they have all been satisfying experiences.

Craig Wargo was the first writer I worked with on screenplays, and we wrote several during the years we worked together. In the course of our writing partnership, we came up with these tips for a successful collaborative effort as a handout for a workshop we presented at a film conference.

  • While writing fiction, both writers must have an equal understanding of the plot, the characters, and the character arc. That will avoid costly mistakes later. 
  • Both writers must have the same vision for the direction of the story. Otherwise it would be like two people trying to get to a destination while following two different maps.  
  • One writer should not object to a scene, character, or the way something is written without first being able to clarify why they object, and secondly having an alternative ready to offer. This ensures careful, well thought out criticism. 
  • Don't count words or pages, or try to measure individual input in concrete terms. You could destroy the partnership by trying to keep all things equal. 
  • Be flexible, frank, yet kind. Respect each other's talents and feelings. 
  • To get the most out of brainstorming sessions, don't stop to evaluate as you go along  - just keep the ideas flowing.   
  • Decide with each new project who is going to have the final say if you reach an impasse on a major decision. 
  • Have periodic reviews of the state of the project, as well as the partnership in general. 
  • Always let your partner know if something is coming up in your personal or business life that is going to affect the partnership. 
  • Relax, laugh a lot, and have a good time.

I continued to keep those in mind as I worked on a few screenplays, "Holding Point," "Bunker Knows," and "Broadway's Finest" with Stephen Marro, a producer/director in New York, and again when I collaborated with Gary Martin on "The Benign," a ghost story set in East Texas. The guidelines served us well, as all of those efforts were mutually pleasant and creatively satisfying.

Going into my first collaboration on a novel, the guidelines were again most helpful. When I first met Margaret Sutton and we decided to write a book together, all I could think of was “The Odd Couple.” Not that either of us matched the personality types of Felix and Oscar, but we certainly were as opposite as opposite could get. How could a humor columnist, who was known as the Erma Bombeck of Plano, Texas, and an entrepreneur whose writing credentials included invoices, business letters, and a single sale to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine turn out anything even remotely appealing to fans of hard-boiled crime fiction?

Finding our way from that awkward beginning to the publication of Doubletake, a police procedural featuring a female homicide detective, was a most interesting journey. I juggled five young children and a weekly deadline at a newspaper, as well as numerous freelance writing gigs. Margaret juggled a manufacturing business and a busy social life.

I had no social life. I had five kids. :-)

But somehow we made it, mainly because we were able to put ego aside and focus on the story.

A writing partnership that is a complement of talents is a real gift. In the two years we worked on Doubletake, I noticed that Margaret’s strengths bolstered my weaknesses and my strengths bolstered hers. Each of us brought something unique and special to the process and, now, reading through the book, I’m never sure where one of us left off writing and the other began. I couldn’t look at a chapter and tell you specifically who wrote which section. I may know who started a chapter. Margaret does have a wonderful way of setting up memorable secondary characters - the introduction of the irascible Dr. Davis is uniquely hers - but beyond that, the lines blur; which is a very good thing. Even though quilts play a central part in the plot, I’d hate to think the book resembled one.

That balance/blend of writing strengths was very evident in my other partnerships, as well. Craig was a master of characterization. Stephen was a master at unique storylines, and Gary was a master at setting a scene. One of my greatest strengths as a writer is writing good dialogue, followed closely by my ability to set up good pacing. All of these strengths coming together to create a story was an awesome experience.

I've worked on two other books with another writer, the nonfiction history books about Winnsboro, TX that I wrote with the Winnsboro Historian, Bill Jones; Images of America: Winnsboro and Reflections of Winnsboro. That process was much different from writing fiction, so we didn't need all those guidelines, but we did establish early on that we should have mutual respect. Not that it needed to be said or put on paper.

It was a given.

I've had the greatest respect for Bill and his long career as a historian and journalist, and he has had the same kind of respect for my somewhat shorter career as a journalist. Plus we can laugh a lot when working together. He does like to tell a good joke.

What about you? Have you collaborated with another writer? Was is a good or not-so-good experience? If you haven't worked with another, would you consider doing so?

Posted by Maryann Miller  You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page, read her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Best Critique Partners

I have been fortunate in my writing life to have the support of two wonderful groups and other brilliant individuals.

The first group came at a very difficult time in my life when I was searching for answers. I found my first writing home on Thursday nights at an organization called Women Writing for A Change in Cincinnati. I spent several happy years there communing with other writers and finding my voice.

Then I moved and it took several more years for me to get out and meet other local writers. I had several writing partners and finally found a steady group we called the Ladyscribes made up of several members over time: Sharon Pielemeier, Susan Hoskins Miller, Tracy Richardson, Janet Koberna Skoog, Cameron Steiman, Kathie Huddleston, Rita Woods and Cynthia Adams. I met most of my tribe through the Midwest Writers Workshops at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana. I have also had the pleasure of working with authors Nicole Amsler and Jennifer Jensen.

There is nothing more affirming than finding your tribe. I learned so much from them all and could not have written my four book young adult series, Mythikas Island, without their collective wisdom and encouragement.

Critiquing other writers' work helps you improve you own writing in unique ways. Every scene read is filtered through multiple lenses and points of view. You can't buy that kind of feedback, even with a developmental editor.

While I went the self-publishing route, Rita Woods  met a terrific agent at the MWW in 2009. Rita writes some of the richest prose I've ever read. Her characters, settings, and dialogue dance on the page. I have read thousands of books, and place Rita in the top ten authors list - and that would be true even if I had never met her.

It has taken many years to bring her first project to fruition (the start of I am certain many many more). Most agents would have given up, but #Diversity and #OwnVoices changed the fabric of the traditional publishing field and I am thrilled to announce the release of her first book #Remembrance , a fantasy take on the underground railroad, published by Forge Books and released on January 21, 2020.

Remembrance…It’s a rumor, a whisper passed in the fields and veiled behind sheets of laundry. A hidden stop on the underground road to freedom, a safe haven protected by more than secrecy…if you can make it there.

Ohio, present day. An elderly woman who is more than she seems warns against rising racism as a young nurse grapples with her life.
Haiti, 1791, on the brink of revolution. When the slave Abigail is forced from her children to take her mistress to safety, she discovers New Orleans has its own powers.
1857 New Orleansa city of unrest: Following tragedy, house girl Margot is sold just before her promised freedom. Desperate, she escapes and chases a whisper.... Remembrance.

Another benefit of finding your tribe is having a support group to get you through the hard times and cheerleaders to celebrate your success!

Further Reading:

Ten Tips for Finding Your Writing Tribe

The Benefits of Genre Associations

Five Kinds of Critique Groups

Ten Tips for a Successful Critique Group

What Type of Writer Are You Part 1

What Type of Writer Are You Part 2

What Type of Writer Are You Part 3

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Best Writer’s Critique Group Ever!

One of the things that will make this an awesome writing year for me: I belong to the best writer’s critique group ever. My group is called Raintree Writers and currently has seven members, three women and four men. How this group evolved from its 2003 all female beginnings to 2020 is a long story, but we’ll leave that for another time. For this post, I’ll focus on the high points for the best ways to find or create a group that works for you, what makes a successful critique group, and how to be the best critique group member ever.

Finding or Forming a Critique Group


Back in 2003, I took a well-attended novel-writing class here in Northern Colorado from author Brian Kaufman. After the class ended, a couple of the women proactively invited several classmates to form a new critique group to keep each other writing and to help with “eyes-on” submission evaluations.

In my opinion, this is the best way to find an existing group, find a critique partner, or form a new band of writers. Attending a class, even a one-day experience that one might find in a conference master class or a local organization’s monthly educational event, gives the writer an opportunity to meet new people over a period of hours or days and evaluate whether personalities and writing level are a good fit.

Writer contacts through a website or “speed dating” events do not give writers the time needed to get to know each other before the first meeting and does invite hurt feelings if that first meeting does not go well.

What Makes a Group Successful?

One person must be the go-to leader for scheduling and overall decisions. The meeting leader may be rotated, as Raintree Writers has done over time by making the meeting host the meeting leader.

A regular schedule with assigned dates for each member to submit their work is helpful. This avoids the meeting when no one brings new work. Having an assigned submission date is a very nice motivator as well. Raintree Writers meets every two weeks with three submissions scheduled for one meeting and four the next. We allow up to 20 pages for each writer.

Set rules for attendance and for submissions. We allow only new writing or substantially revised chapters to avoid a member submitting work multiple times with only minor changes. If a member is to be absent from a meeting, the member must still do the critiques for others. Members may give up a submission spot or trade a spot when needed.

Becoming a Great Critique Group Member


First, I highly recommend developing a crocodile hide, well-oiled so that constructive criticism does not penetrate like a knife but rolls into a helpful pool of suggestions the member can use to improve plot, characters, etc. And if you don't already have a well developed sense of humor, work on that as well. In Raintree Writers, we call a big goof an “outrage” and delight in being the one to catch a big error with a “zing.” The ability to take that kind of teasing with laughter is learned over time, however, and is not recommended when a new group is forming.

Members must learn to be respectful when critiquing, comment on the good points as well as the points that need work, and always frame an alternative idea as a suggestion with no implication that the critiquer is “right” and the critiqued member “wrong.”

Recognize that the member being critiqued owns the piece and may not follow every one of your suggestions, or even any of your suggestions. That’s okay. We don't want members to "write to the group" because that seriously tampers with members' ability to develop an individual voice as well as each character's voice.

Be aware that you may ignore or only partially use suggestions other members offer. That’s okay as well, but pay close attention if more than one member offers the same advice. They may be onto something good.


You can find the best writing critique group ever, or even the best critique partnership ever, if you find and become active in a writers’ organization, meet lots of other writers and get to know them, and take that first step to ask the question: Would you like to help me form a new (best ever) writer’s critique group?

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is also now available in a large print edition. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” appears in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

2020 Will Be the Best Writing Year Ever Because…

I will finish some books I’ve been working on intermittently for years.

Why years? you ask.

Book #1—I borrowed part of it for another book. Also, I started the book so long ago that the male character’s mother survived the Holocaust as a child. She’d be waaay too old now so I’d have to rewrite it to be a deceased grandparent and tell the story through the mother. That’s what I get for taking from Peter without having any idea how to pay Paul. Title: Achilles’ Heel―354 pages without revisions.

Book #2—I got distracted writing my series and left it. I’ve gone back to it lately and haven’t caught up to where I left off. Being of a certain age, I’ve forgotten what I had in mind. I’m hoping it will come to me when I get to where I stopped. Title: Breaking Point―125 pages.

Book #3—Mid-grade―only 12 pages, but I might go back to it because it could be fun. No Title

Book #4—Have no idea why I stopped writing it. I’ll put it down to distraction, but it sounds like it just might not be any good. Plain Jane ― 132 pages.

Screenplay #5
—I’ve written the screenplay of Hooked because I thought it would make a good movie. It’s funny, sexy, and has a story I like. I entered it in a playwriting contest and got nowhere. I might try it again with more research on how to construct it better. I have a couple of free codes for the audio, if anyone would like to listen to it and you’re not easily offended. The narrator is terrific.

Book #6—I’ll publish this book next. It’s not quite finished, and it’s a departure from what I usually write because it’s political—not US politics either. I kept putting it aside because I expected the situation in that country to change. I’ve come to the conclusion that it probably never will, so I picked it up again and forged ahead. Title: none yet. I’m hoping to have a brainstorm during edits. Right now it’s at 95,000 words and 358 pages. It’a a big complicated story about right and wrong and the gray area in between, about dedication and service, about love and loyalty. Unfortunately, it's also about blinding hate and revenge. Hopefully, I can pull it off.

I have a lot to do in 2020 if I intend to finish at least two of these books. Achilles’ Heel was written two computers ago, so there’s lots of editing to do once I figure out how to rewrite the part I excised. Hopefully, I’ve learned a few things since then.

Wish me luck.

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Best Writing Year Ever, With Less Stress

I have to say, my year is starting off well, with MORTAL MUSIC (the 7th in my Silver Rush series) released on January 27. What a way to ring in 2020!

But that one is now written and done. What would make this the "best writing year ever" for me is to figure out how to write Book #8 with less stress.

For some time, I've joked that what propels me to write is deadlines and panic. But there's more truth than fiction in that statement.

Adrenaline drives me and makes me productive in my writing life, but that sort of propulsion eventually takes its toll. One day I realized that when I begin to feel stressed and panicked, my right knee starts to buckle. When writing deadlines loom, the right side of my neck, and my right wrist and shoulder stiffen and ache to the point where it's difficult to go to sleep, much less spend hours at the keyboard.

Stress! (There's gotta be a better way to write.)
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

So, for me, if 2020 is to be the "best writing year ever," I need to get serious about handling stress. WebMD offers a number of general suggestions for managing stress, including:
  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control. 
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques; try meditation, yoga, or tai-chi. 
  • Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit. 
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. 
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively. 
  • Set limits appropriately and say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life. 
  • Make time for hobbies and interests.
It's all good, practical, real-world advice. But somehow when I'm running around in circles like a chicken with its head chopped off, it's a little hard to, for instance, "make time for hobbies and interests." I have a deadline! I've got to make that deadline or else, or else... (else being some undefined awful state in which my world implodes).

Digging a little deeper, I uncovered the article "How to Prevent Writing-Related Stress from Eating You Alive" on the site Writing and Wellness. This post also provided some good suggestions, including:
  • Identify what's stressing you out, and look for solutions.
  • Increase your stress-management activities (exercise, yoga, deep breathing, gardening, etc.) and schedule it into your calendar. 
  • Realize when you're distracting yourself (whether with brownies or wine or binge-watching or binge-reading, for that matter!)
  • Focus on the work (just you and your story... set aside the rest)
I plan on incorporating some of this advice in the coming year, and we'll see how it goes. I'm hoping the words will flow more freely when panic is replaced by calm.

Might less stress lead to the best writing year ever?
Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

What about you? Do you have any favorite techniques or tips to share? Any suggestions that will help make 2020 the best, least-stressful writing year ever?

Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press, an imprint of Sourcebooks. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer. Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit for more information.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Best Ever Excuses for Not Writing

The plaque at the former Nicholson's Cafe in Edinburgh, Scotland, where, in 1993,  J. K. Rowling wrote much of her first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, in longhand on paper tablets.

If you're going to make 2020 your best writing year ever, first there's something you'll have to do. You'll have to overcome all those excuses you come up with every year to explain why you're not writing.

Every writer knows the drill. You've got the perfect writing day planned—snack stash full, hubby on a weekend fishing trip with his Dad and brother, children on an overnight playdate with their cousins. You're going to make that deadline, or you're going to start your novel or at least get a couple of thousand words written. You're going to make forward progress.

And then the cat throws up on your grandmother's Oriental rug, the kid across the street hits a home run that comes sailing through one of your windows, a closed window of course, and your power goes off during a freak thunderstorm. And you're left shaking your head and wondering why these things never happen on a non-writing day.

When I first thought of writing about the excuses we give ourselves and others to explain why we're not productive, I initially came up with only smart-alecky ideas.

I can't write because:

• A meteor landed on the hood of my car

• My hands are sore from washing too many dishes

• My computer, tablet, cell phone, typewriter, pens, pencils, chalkboard, and pads of paper are all in the shop, so how can I write?

These are lame excuses but are they any flimsier than the lame excuses we make for ourselves when we won't or don't write? Let's look at some of the most common reasons people lean on to explain their lack of writing productivity.

The Myth of the Perfect Writing Sanctuary

A lot of would-be writers convince themselves they cannot truly hope to reach their writing goals unless they have a perfect, quiet, cozy, comfortable sanctuary where their words will flow like water from a natural spring. Such dreamlike places exist in a soundproof bubble where time is suspended, no bills need paying and no household chores are calling or children crying.

In reality, people who truly have an unquenchable writing fire burning in their guts will write anytime, anywhere, anyhow they can get a few words down on paper. J. K. Rowling famously wrote her first Harry Potter novel in longhand at Nicholson's Cafe in Edinburgh, Scotland, while rocking her infant daughter's pram with her foot. Her beloved mother had just died, her marriage had just dissolved, she was on welfare and under treatment for depression, but she still managed to find a way to write her book a few sentences at a time in various cafes in Edinburgh. Today, she writes in a lovely writing room in her private garden, but that's not where she started her writing journey. She earned that lovely retreat by doggedly writing in cafes until she sold her first Harry Potter book to Bloomsbury.

Moral of the story: If you really want to write, you can do it under any conditions using whatever tools are at your disposal. The sooner you let go of the idea that you must create the perfect writing haven before you can put words on paper, the sooner you'll be able to devote all that wasted time and energy to actual writing.

The Myth of Perfect Preparation

Some of my friends who are aspiring writers have spent 10, 20, or even 30 years reading everything they can get their hands on about the writing process, taking master classes, attending writers' conventions, talking to other writers, studying the marketplace, and endlessly researching literary agents and the best way to write a query letter and synopsis. The only thing they don't do much of is actual writing. They spend so much time preparing to write that they have no time or mental and emotional energy to get any words down.

Moral of the story: Stop "preparing" and start writing!

The Myth of Exhaustion

Let's face it. We're all overworked and underpaid and have too damned many plates spinning. And yes, we're all exhausted. But writing is actually a wonderful thing to do when you're exhausted.

Writers are readers first. You know why you love reading. There's transformative magic in books...they have a unique ability to make you forget your troubles, forget the moment you are living in, forget everything but the characters and the stories that have enthralled you. But what many writers never realize is that the act of writing has that same transformative magic. You start by writing a few sentences and the next thing you know, you're in another world, seeing through your character's eyes, feeling through their hearts...with your worries left far behind.

Moral of the story: Writing when you are exhausted is actually a good way to take the edge off that exhaustion. Even if you can only write for five or 10 minutes, you'll find that within that short time, you will feel calmer and more at peace with the world and yourself, and you'll feel the lovely, restorative glow of accomplishment, which is the best-known antidote for exhaustion.

So, no more excuses. Just write.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.