Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Writer’s Conundrum: How Much Online Time is Too Much?

Recent studies tell us most Americans are spending too much time with their computers, smartphones, and other devices. At the beginning, writers tended to follow the advice of agents and editors who felt that platform was all important, and platform had to include a website, blog, and a strong social media presence.

That was the trap no one anticipated. Do the sites help authors and their publishers sell books? I’m guessing not too many. At least, not enough to warrant spending more than a few minutes a day updating, reading, and/or tweeting/retweeting.

Image via Pixabay

Facebook, more than Twitter, is also a hotbed of bandwagons, started by goodness knows who and jumped on by everyone who can’t resist being part of the latest groupthink, hivemind, lemmings-jumping-off-the-cliff fad. I don't believe that sells books either.

The part of my online activities that keeps me in touch with family and friends is not all bad. Believing that being online more than a few minutes a day is necessary for writers, however, is something we need to get over. For some writers, smartphones and their apps, including all social media, are stealing time from writing, editing, and submitting. We need to take hours back for alone time (no phone, no earbuds, no interruptions) to think and create.

There are a lot of resources with good information about technology overload. The first book I read on the subject was Jedediah Bila’s #DoNotDisturb: How I Ghosted My Cell Phone to Take Back My Life. It was interesting, though I’ve never been addicted to my flip phone and had no desire to get a smartphone and be trapped into total availability via texts. Watching other people glued to their screens, even while jaywalking across a street in front of my car, made me wonder whether the internet and smartphone were messing with people’s brains.

The answer might be yes.

Diane Sawyer’s recent ABC two-hour special called Screentime about technology and humans was very revealing. Go to abc.com to learn more.

I’m currently reading Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport (author of another book I recommend called Deep Work). Our brains on smartphones and social media are probably not as bad as our brains on drugs (fried), but the activity is still not healthy when taken to excess. Newport offers suggestions on how to figure out what’s truly important and how to jettison the parts that don’t offer a real return on our time investment. De-cluttering our lives doesn’t just refer to the stack of paper in our offices and our clothes closet.

Newport also suggests an alternative site for reading news and analysis that offers more than one  point of view and saves us wandering through multiple biased news sites trying to find the truth. Check it out at AllSides.com

There are two more non-fiction books on my reading list that I’ll get to soon. One is Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe by Roger McNamee. The other is Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris.


How many times a day do you check your email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other sites? Is social media helpful for the things you care about most in your life? Do you sacrifice writing time in favor of online activities?


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.

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 recently interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The tragic life of May Boatwright and other tidbits from The Secret Life of Bees


At night, the bees circle Lily Owen's room like airplanes in a holding pattern above a busy airport, their wings shiny bits of glitter in the darkness. During the day, she hears them tunnel endlessly inside her bedroom walls. Fascinated by their industriousness and behavior, she watches and listens with both fascination and delight.

So begins The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. The story goes on when 14-year-old Lily runs away from her abusive father. She's accompanied by her black nanny Rosaleen, who has just been assaulted by racist white men incensed by the escalating Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Looking for work and lodging, they ultimately arrive at the home of the Boatwright sisters, well-to-do beekeepers who operate a successful honey business despite being African Americans in the South. 

This book, the author's first novel, introduces us to both memorable characters and the strengths and frailties of human behavior, as do many other stories (including our own).

Let's consider May, the Boatwright sister named for this month. One of the so-called Calendar Sisters, she, June, and August live comfortably on income from the family honey business. Born a twin with sister April, May is the most fragile of the girls. Still despondent years after April's suicide in her mid-teens, she keeps a record of all the incidents that distress her, writing them on bits of paper and stuffing them into the rock wailing wall she builds along the edge of the driveway. Any emotional upset sends her into a tailspin until the final event that drives her to follow her twin in death. 

June, ardently pursued by love-interest Neil, refuses to marry. More of an activist than her sisters, she clearly expresses her displeasure about the intrusion of 14-year-old Lily, a white girl, and her nanny, into their lives. The development of June's character and her evolution into the woman she really is in her heart add depth and power to the story.

August Boatwright displays no prejudice against the teenager and even teaches her the finer points of beekeeping. Brilliantly portrayed in the movie by Queen Latifah, August embodies dignity, modesty, and a stunning lack of racism, especially considering the area and time in which she lives. Even-tempered and soft-spoken, she leads her family of sisters and young Lily with a strong but loving hand and even invites Rosaleen to take over the room vacated by May's death.

Is this a true story? Not likely. Is it a story of hope? Absolutely. Does it accurately depict some of the best and worst of human behavior? Yes. The book's message, for me at least, is that skin color does not make one good or bad, superior or inferior, right or wrong. Attitude, words, actions, and a host of other qualities define who people are. Young children display no prejudice. However, all that happens between toddlerhood and adulthood shapes a person—or a character. Whether or not The Secret Life of Bees depicts reality as it existed in the South during the 1960s, it absolutely depicts the reality that we can be shining examples of good or glaring examples of bad, no matter what our racial or ethnic background. The characters in our stories, of course, do the same.

An interesting side point that hit home with me: My great-aunt, one of a set of twin girls born in the late 1800s, was always a sourpuss. When asked why she displayed that attitude, she replied,"How would you feel if your twin died when you were a little girl? Her sister, also named May, had died of diphtheria when the girls were five years old.

Do you have a favorite book that relates in some way to "May"?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven and are not restricted by fiction-writing rules. However, their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and romance. You can contact her at websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

What You Can Learn Listening to Audio Books

During April and May, I’ve been doing a lot of driving. I rented audio books from the library by authors I like. I got two at a time for the two round trips in case I didn’t like one or the other.

Book number one, written in first person, droned on about the main characters inner feelings. Now don’t get me wrong, I like digging deep into a character. It’s a way for the reader to get inside his head (the character was male) and feel what he’s thinking. It’s also a way for a writer to become that character and express more precisely how he thinks about a situation. One of the problems with that process is when the introspection goes on so long that the character seems self-absorbed. Lordy, lordy, I couldn’t get through the second disc. This was from a very popular author, male, and it reminded me why I stopped reading him years ago. I always felt he was writing for women by pushing the sensitive side of the characters. Now again, don’t get me wrong, I like sensitive as long as the sensitivity isn’t manipulative.

Book two, which I had to listen to at home in order to finish the story, kept me engrossed. It was one of those women abducted stories written long before it became the theme of too many other books. Early on, the woman finds her revenge when she kills the abductor, who was a very bad man. Off she goes home to her parents, maimed and suffering from PTSD and memory loss. As if this poor woman hasn’t suffered enough, our author resurrects a ten-year old crime in which our main character's best friend had disappeared, never to resurface. Will our heroine remember something that might expose the killer? I figured out who done it early on, but the author, female, did a great job keeping the suspense going by having the wrong person accused before the puzzle pieces begin to fit and our heroine's life in danger every minute. This book so riveted me that I followed the car in front of me onto the wrong highway and didn’t realize it for eighteen miles. I paid more attention on the next trip.

The third book was written by an even more popular author. First disc was the set-up. I liked it. Okay, move on. Nope. Second disc was more set-up, more of the same. The book claimed to be a romantic suspense, but through half of the second disc, I found neither romance nor suspense, and if I listened to any more of it, I might drive into a tree when I fell asleep. That was the end of that.

I haven’t finished the fourth book, but I will on my next trip in a couple of weeks if I don’t finish it before then going back and forth to the grocery store. The subject matter was more to my taste: corruption, cults, murder. The only problem was the male narrator had two voices: one male voice for all male characters, and the same voice just a little softer for all the female characters. This required a lot of “character said” to explain who was speaking. Also, the announcement at the end of the disc that usually tells the listener to change discs was non-existent. So I’d be driving along thinking the words sounded familiar. They were, because the disc had started over. Very annoying, but I’m anxious to see what happens.

One thing about listening to audios is, if you’re a writer, you somehow hear all the repetitive words or phrases that you don’t notice on the written page. My pet annoyance is adding an adverb to the word “said.” She said slowly, he said grumpily, she said…well, you get the point. Listening to these minor irritations is also an excellent way for writers to learn what to avoid in our own books.

I’ve had four audio books made from my books: Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Hooked, and Murder Déjà Vu. If anyone would like a free code for an Audible download, contact me here or at PollyIyer AT gmail.com

I was pleased with all of them, she said objectively.

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.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

New Book Blooms in May

As we are well into spring in most parts of the United States and Canada, our thoughts turn to gardens and lawns and flowers that bloom in May. I remember early May was the time for me to plant pansies for my mother as a Mother's Day present.
Photo by Maryann Miller
She loved those little "people" flowers with the smile she always saw in them. The smile that would elicit one from her, even during the most difficult times of our lives. And there were plenty of difficult times.

It was an annual event - this gifting of pansies - and the flower soon became a binding force between us and my sister. Today, as we look ahead to Mother's Day - our 5th without her - my sister and I will think of pansies and cardinals - the two things from nature that Mother most loved - and that will bring us comfort.

For many years, I wanted to write a book about my mother, who came out of a horrible childhood and challenging adulthood to become one of the strongest women I've ever known. Mainly because when she was left as a woman alone to raise two young daughters, she didn't ever give up on us. Even though she was less than an ideal mother, she didn't go the route her own mother had.

I tried many times to start that book about my mother. First thinking biography - but then who would read it? She wasn't a famous person, so reader interest would be limited. Then I tried approaching the story as straight fiction, but no matter how many times I tried to start the book, I could never get past about twenty handwritten pages - all starting with different scenarios and characters and none of them working past those twenty pages.

I don't know what the problem was, but that stalemate between desire and writer continued for a long time.

Then one day it changed. It was a few months after my mother died, and my muse, or my mother's ghost, started talking to me. I mean really talking and pushing me to my office and my computer. Maybe the story had to wait until then to take shape. I don't know. I just know that the words started flowing and the book developed as a story of real life - part fact and part fiction.

Evelyn Evolving will release as an e-book on May 19th from Creativia Publishing and has been available for pre-order at Amazon for a couple of weeks. The paperback edition is available now.  It has flirted with a #number one new release designation in several categories off and on in the weeks it became available for pre-order, and I am thrilled. As writers, we love all of our books. That's natural. But sometimes there's one that is closer to our heart than others. Evelyn Evolving is that book for me, which is why I didn't give up on the writing this time, even when I wasn't sure what I was doing.

So what's the take-away from all this for other writers - other than the opportunity to pre-order a terrific story at a discount price? :-) There are a few things I've learned in this process that might be of help to you:

  • First, never give up on a story that you know you have to write. Even if it takes years to come to fruition.
  • Don't be afraid to step out of your writing comfort zone. I'd never written a book in the style of Evelyn Evolving and I was terrified through much of the process. "Do Not Be Afraid."
  • Seek professional help when needed. About half-way through the initial writing, I was lost. I doubted whether the writing was any good and was worried that I was fooling myself about whether this book should be written at all. That's when I hired Kathryn Craft, a writer, developmental editor, and former BRP contributor. Even with the professional-courtesy discount, the fees were hefty, especially since I went back to her twice, but I'm glad I did. 
  • Invest in yourself and your books, especially when self-publishing. I didn't self-publish Evelyn Evolving but had I, I would have gone beyond that first step of hiring Kathryn.  I would've hired a copy editor. There are many good ones right here at BRP. Same for a cover artist and someone to format the book.
  • Spend whatever time it takes to write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite until you have the best story possible. When trying a new genre, that is especially important.
So what about you? Have you written out of your comfort zone? Do you feel like a new part of your creativity is blooming when you do? 
Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She won her first writing award at age twelve with a short story in the Detroit News Scholastic Writing Awards Contest and continues to garner recognition for her short stories, books, and screenplays. You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Pageread 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

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Cut and Paste Thief and What To Do If You've Been Plagiarized

As Maryann Miller detailed in her March post, recently a hack named Cristiane Serruya came up with what she thought was a clever scheme. She trimmed paragraphs from multiple books, quilted them together, then published them as her own work. She changed the titles, character names, and a word here or there. The results were a bit like Frankenstein's monster, but she got away with it, for a while.

A fan of romance writer Courtney Milan's books noticed something odd when reading Ms. Serruya's book. The passages seemed a little too familiar to Milan's The Duchess War. She put the pieces together and sent an email to Ms. Milan. When contacted, the thief at first denied then deflected, blaming "ghostwriters" she hired for the crime. The battle went viral on Twitter with the hashtag #CopyPasteCris.

Once the scam was revealed, a deeper dive showed Ms. Serruya had stolen from over forty authors, including Romance legend Nora Roberts. The affected authors might not have had the resources to go after the plagiarist, but you don't mess with Nora:  “So this plagiarist lifted lines, bits, chunks big and small, from a slew of authors and books, mashed them together then hired ghosts off a cheap labor site to cobble them into a book,” Roberts wrote. “I do not, never have, never will comprehend how someone can feel any pride claiming a book they didn’t write.” The collective rage of the Romance community forced the thief into hiding and Ms. Roberts released the legal Kraken.

While it is impossible to prevent a determined thief from cloning your work, there are a few things you can do. You have the burden of proof. Get it before you alert the thief that you are on to them.

1. According to http://www.plagiarism.org/, you should not run your writing through an unverified plagiarism detection service. Some of them are warehouses for thieves. Due diligence is needed in locating a valid plagiarism search service.

You can copy and paste paragraphs of your work into a search engine such as Google. It doesn't hurt to search for your title, some thieves are too stupid to change it. Your character names, fictional locations, and worldbuilding specifics are also good search terms.

Google Books has a plagiarism search tool: http://plagiarisma.net/books.php

Set up Google Alerts to email you whenever your name, title, phrases, etc. appear online. Avoid generic terms or your inbox will be flooded with useless notifications.

2. Registering your copyright is essential if the matter turns to litigation. While your work is deemed your intellectual property the minute you create it, mailing it to yourself won't hold up in court. You must submit a completed application form and a nonreturnable copy or copies of the work to be registered and pay the fee. You can register and pay online, but must submit a hard copy of your work. Go to https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-register.html.

3. Keep track of where and when you submitted your work to an editor, agent, contest, anthology, website publishing forum, etc. Screenplays have been crafted from unpublished books. Print out, grab screen shots, or photograph emails, letters, responses, texts, and notes about telephone calls (if not recordings). You need dates, places, people, documents submitted etc.

4. If your published (traditional or independent) book has been plagiarized, document the theft with printouts, screenshots, URLS (web addresses), covers, the thief's public profiles, where they are selling and promoting their work, and comparisons of text. Document their publisher if they have one. If you self-published, document information from your upload platforms such as Amazon, Nook Press, Smashwords, etc. You should take screenshots of date of upload and proof you've been earning royalties for it.

5. If the plagiarist is selling from their own site, or a pirating site, do a "WhoIs" search to find out who owns the domain. Chances are they have more than one site and pen name. Search Amazon for their profile page and list of titles. Then save a copy of their photo and do an image search. They may use the same or similar photo for the different identities. If they have a Facebook or other social media account, check out their photos. They might list or accidentally leave clues as to alternative identities. Check out their friends list too. Document what you find.

6. Contact the domain owners, publishers, etc. Notify them of the plagiarism, with proof, and a cease and desist letter with specifics as to what you wish them to do such as remove content, remove from sale, public apology, links to your work etc. You maintain the right to sue even if they comply. Send it by certified mail signature required. Only contact the plagiarist if they are self-publishing your work from their own website and after you have reported them. Gather evidence before they have a chance to take it down.

7. Report them to Amazon, Smashwords, Barns & Noble, etc.

They all have some version of a copyright infringement policy: "If you believe in good faith that materials hosted by us infringes your copyrights, you may send us a notice requesting that the material be removed or access to it blocked. The notice must include the following information: (i) a physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed; (ii) identification of the work claimed to have been infringed (or if multiple works are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works); (iii) identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or the subject of infringing activity reasonably sufficient to enable us to locate the material; (iv) your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address; (v) a statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the rights-holder, its agent or representative or the law; and (vi) a statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed. If you are seeking to send us such a notice with respect to a non-exclusive right, you must comply with the foregoing sections (i)-(vi), but in addition provide evidence to us on what basis you have the right to allege infringement and make a complaint."

Email Amazon at copyright@amazon.com. Provide a description of your book, link to the plagiarized version, contact information, a digital signature, proof that you are the copyright holder.

Email Nook Press at DMCANotice@barnesandnoble.com

Contact Smashwords through their website at https://www.smashwords.com/about/contact.

Contact Google through this link: https://support.google.com/legal/troubleshooter/1114905?hl=en

8. Contact search engine providers and request the removal of your stolen property.

Google https://support.google.com/legal/answer/1120734

Yahoo https://ipr.yahoo.com/copyright?.lang=en-US

Internet Explorer https://www.thewindowsclub.com/check-report-unsafe-websites-internet-explorer

9. Consult a lawyer if needed. You have to determine if the cost is worth the benefit. You can't get blood from a turnip or damages from a broke plagiarist. If the plagiarism is serious enough, as in the cut and paste thief who claims to have been an attorney, it may be worth pursuing. If you are backed by a large organization such as Romance Writers of America, you have more leverage. If the individual(s) are operating from a foreign country, you have little recourse other than the above tips for reporting them. Taking down outfits dedicated to scams is like playing whack-a-mole. Shut down one, another pops up in its place.

10. Enlist your posse. As a group, you have more influence. Twitter campaigns have taken down legitimate authors. This is the time to use social media to your benefit. As word spreads, other people may realize they've been victimized too. Being called out may not stop the plagiarist but they may move on to other victims.

This should go without saying, but never, ever fake a plagiarism scandal for attention. It has happened and the results will not be what you hoped for, especially if you mess with Nora.


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 DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Learning How To Write

As a student of Spanish, my goal was to think in Spanish. Skip the word-by-word translation so I'd have the necessary speed to speak and listen. I know words in Spanish that I'd be hard pressed to translate. Usually profanity, I confess. Chingow!

Back when I taught English in China, my students studied grammar for years, and knew it better than you or I. They read. They wrote. But speaking involves moving faster than that. In conversation, we don't have time to write it first and make sure it's all grammatically flawless, then read it aloud, perhaps after a bit of rehearsal.

So, I tried to give them a chance to practice putting words together on the fly, rules be damned. The rules they'd internalized would kick in and keep them comprehensible, which would build their confidence in their ability to keep creating conversation that way.

This is not unlike what we go through as authors. First we study rulebooks, perhaps take some classes, and conclude just about everything we're doing is wrong. So many rules to memorize. We might dread sitting down to write with all those constraints.

But, really, it's not about memorizing rules at all. It's about internalizing the rules, following them (or not, if you prefer) without being consciously aware of what they are. They're there, but in the background.

The story's what matters. You're supposed to be having fun, not "working." At least not during the creation phase.

We don't always take the time to say, "I've written ten active sentences in a row so maybe I'll whip in a passive one now" or "I need a beat for every X lines of dialogue." I published four novels and edited dozens more before I learned what a beat was. (It's a pause so the reader can catch his/her breath.)

And, of course, since it is writing and not speaking, we can always go back and revise later. Then rely on editors to catch what we missed, or at least make us wonder why we wrote it this way instead of that way.

Some authors aren't even consciously aware of "the rules." They've never taken a class, never read a book about writing. They're simply avid readers who one day decided to write. But they've internalized the rules. It comes from reading.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you want to write, you must read. If you don't like reading, maybe writing isn't for you. It's not about writing because you want to say, "I am a writer." It's about writing because you enjoy writing.

And, it's really nice when you've been writing for a long time to go back and read a book about how to write. You might find one or two things to tweak in your technique, as opposed to a daunting laundry list of flaws. It's much easier to internalize one or two new rules than 50 or 100.

Michael LaRocca has been paid to edit since 1991 and still loves it, which has made people question his sanity (but they were doing that before he started editing). Michael got serious about writing in 1978. Although he’s retired more times than Brett Favre, Michael is writing his 19th book. Learn more about him at MichaelEdits.com, GoodReads, or Amazon.

Image: "Rules" by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Writers Gotta Read, Right? (No foolin'!)

The many faces of April, from April Fool's Day to Easter to "April showers bring May flowers."
Claude Shafer  (The Tacoma Times), Public Domain 
As we close in on the end of April, I figure we can't turn our backs on the month without a quick look at what books might be out there with an April Fool's theme.

Let's start with mysteries. (After all, mysteries are basically designed to mess with readers' minds, and then jump out, shouting "Fooled you!" at the end.)
Moving away from murder and mayhem...
  • The blog Borrow.Read.Repeat. offers "Laugh-out-loud reads" for April Fool's Day.
  • Listopia has Hoover Library's Insatiable Reads' April Fools (It's Always Good to Laugh) list, including Howl: A collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit and Henri, le Chat Noir: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat, as well as I Was Told There'd Be Cake and Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong.
Of course, April is far more than just the first day of the month. There's Tax Day (U.S.), Passover, Easter, and more. So I'll throw in a few more lists for good measure.
 Finally, if you want to broaden your reading to encompass the entire month, there's Listopia's Books to Read Some April.

If you have any April faves, be sure and let us know!


Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for "editor/writer"). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit AnnParker.net for more information.