Friday, January 29, 2016

Adventures in Audio, Part 2 : Tag-Team Writing

Image by Alan Levine, via Flickr
Writing novels tends, on the whole, to be a solitary occupation. Novelists will occasionally team up to produce a jointly-authored book (Katherine Kurtz and I have written 7 books together), but such projects tend to be the exceptions rather than the rule.

This isn’t necessarily so in other realms of creative writing. When it comes to writing TV and/or radio scripts – especially comedies – a good many famous works in the genre are the fruit of teamwork involving two or more writers.

For example, in the late 1930’s, the celebrated comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello hired vaudeville aficionado John Grant to help them script their material, collectively producing classic routines like Who’s On First? Similarly, Jack Benny’s reputation as a radio comedian was build on gags he scripted with the aid of behind-the-scene writers like Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin.

More recent examples of comedy-by-collaboration can be found in the British SF comedy series Red Dwarf, the brainchild of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor and the American hit comedy The Big Bang Theory, which has no fewer than 15 writers on its scripting roster.

So what’s it like being part of a comedy team? My November posting featured an article on my husband Bob’s newly-launched SF radio pod cast Watch the Skies1, written and produced in tandem with his longtime friend Alan McFadzean. This month, I assumed the persona of an investigative reporter and interviewed Bob about the various aspects of collaborative script writing.

The Interview

Q: When you’re writing comedy, what difference does it make to have a collaborator to work with?

A: It’s very easy to write down something that you think is funny and assume that the rest of the world will share the joke. This personal assumption can be totally wrong, which is why there is a lot of depressingly unfunny comedy out there. Alan and I constantly push each other to improve the plots and dialogue to the point where they make us both laugh.

Q: What were the first lessons you learned about this sort of writing?

A: Our initial script for The Queen’s Heid was picked up by the BBC, but they had us rework it almost entirely. Firstly, we had far too many characters. It’s difficult for listeners to identify so many voices in the space of 25 minutes. Secondly, our tangle of interweaving plots was too complex for that format and amount of time.

Q: So do you have some rules you follow now?

A: We find that a sitcom works best with 3-4 central characters and one ’wild card’ character. The central characters are defined by their relations with each other, while the ’wild card’ character is an outsider who can pop in seemingly at random to jazz things up. In Seinfeld, for example, Kramer is the ’wild card’, always crashing in through the door while the other three are having a conversation.

Q: And plots?

A: Alan and I like to have two plots running in an episode which we bring together at the climax. Between us, we can identify any potential weak links in one or another of our story lines, and fix them before these weaknesses can undermine the comic effect of the episode over all.

This interview will continue in next month’s post, focusing on the technical challenges and advantages of audio writing.

1 Watch The Skies! is available absolutely free at Quantum Fridge.

You can Like it on Facebook at the Watch The Skies Comedy page.

You can also follow on Twitter @QuantumFridge

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Risks and Benefits of Unusual Characters

Emotionless, by Timie, via Flickr
When I created a homicide detective in my first Jackson book (which has now been translated into six languages!), I purposefully made him a good guy, a family man, someone everyone could relate to. I knew, even back then, that I might spend years with him, writing from his perspective over and over, and I didn’t want to get burnt out on his character flaws.

But I throw that caution out the window when I write standalones. I haven’t yet written a protagonist that disgusts me, but I certainly have created some unusual characters. In the Jackson series (#8, Rules of Crime), I introduced Carla River, a transgender FBI agent, who underwent a change from male to female while working for the bureau. All that’s in her past, and I don’t focus on her sexuality, but still, her nature surprised some readers. I created this character four years ago—long before Caitlyn Jenner became a household name.

My current thriller, Point of Control, features an FBI agent who happens to be sociopathic. Why? I read an autobiography of a high-functioning sociopath and was fascinated by how her mind worked. Further research revealed that four percent of the population is sociopathic. The most interesting aspect, though, was that those with the disorder fall along a continuum of behavior. Many aren’t dangerous, or even destructive. They just don’t empathize with other people—which allows them to make decisions based on need and logic rather than emotion. They feel some emotions (but never guilt)—and none to the same degree as most people. If emotions were colors, their world would be black and white.

Guess what? Some of the most successful people in the world are sociopathic, because it’s hard to get to the top without stepping on a few competitors. Surgeons, lawyers, CEOs, and politicians—we’ve seen them in news stories about their misdeeds. So why not an FBI agent? What better place than the bureau for a self-aware, high-functioning sociopath to use her brilliant mind while keeping herself out of trouble? Thus, Agent Andra Bailey came into being.

I enjoyed the research, and I loved crafting a plot that involved disappearing scientists and a rare-earth metal shortage. But writing from her perspective was challenging. I’m the opposite of Bailey—a total empath. I feel everyone’s pain, and I make emotional decisions every day. So I had to keep stopping to back up and rewrite her thoughts to keep them accurate.

But I think I pulled it off. Many readers have commented on the character and how fascinating she is, as well as praised how I handled the POV. Publishers Weekly called Bailey a “deeply flawed, but sympathetic lead.” Other readers have not been so endeared. That’s the risk of writing peculiar characters. Some readers simply won’t relate to or like the protagonist. They may finish the book if the story is compelling, but they won’t leave a five-star review.

I can live with that. I love to explore all the rich possibilities of the human race. There are so many kinds of people in this world that I refuse to limit myself to writing about good-guy cops or the girl next door.

In fact, the standalone thriller I’m working on now features a protagonist who works in a morgue and is gender fluid. But again, I don’t focus on that aspect of his/her/their life. The story is fast-paced, speculative, and intended to keep readers on the edge of their seats. IF it also happens to expose them to new ideas and new types of people, then all the better.

Does the idea of a sociopathic protagonist turn you off to the story? Would the term gender-fluid in a book jacket make you pass on the novel? Tell me what you think.

L.J. Sellers writes the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/thriller series—a four-time winner of the Readers Favorite Awards. She also pens the high-octane Agent Dallas series and provocative standalone thrillers. Her 17 novels have been highly praised by reviewers, and she’s one of the highest-rated crime fiction authors on Amazon.

L.J. resides in Eugene, Oregon where many of her novels are set, and she’s an award-winning journalist who earned the Grand Neal. When not plotting murders, she enjoys standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes and hurtle down zip-lines.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Amazon Giveaways : An Experiment

Last year, I released a book. It’s a fantasy novel 160,000 words, part one of a series. That’s a tough way to start a career as a novelist – people don’t want to risk twenty bucks on a huge tome. But it gives us a good zero point.

Nobody really knows who I am. Everything I do for promotion is essentially starting from nothing. So when something works, we can see the effects really clearly. When I did the giveaway, I committed to keeping good data in the hopes it would be useful to others. So, here goes.

This isn’t the book I experimented with, but the photo below shows what your options are. You choose how many books you want to give away. Bear in mind you have to buy these through Amazon at list price rather than at cost. Then you choose one of these three options:

Jason Dias Amazon Giveaway Screencap
Click to enlarge

Random: Set the odds of winning.

Lucky Number: every nth participant wins.

First come, first served: give away books to the first entrants to ask for them.

I used the first option. Hard to build up any buzz with the last option: ten people get a free book then the whole thing is over. This might work better for you if you have a large number of books to give away. The second option might have results basically identical to the first but eliminates the element of chance from your end. I’m reminded of a giveaway contest for charity in which a donor supplied a car and said they’d give it away to the first person to roll all sixes on six dice – and the very first person to lay down their two dollar entry fee rolled all sixes and took the prize.

At the bottom of the screen capture, you can see your next choice is what you want your contest entrants to do. They can follow you on Amazon or Twitter or you can have them watch a short video. Advertisers might like the last option. I used the Twitter option to boost my following there. If you want to use this to build your contact lists, though, be aware a lot of the Twitter accounts are fake – used expressly for marketing and contest entries. Amazon will ship prizes directly, so you won’t get an email address or a street address or any information at all, except first and last names. For my second giveaway, with these lessons learned, I asked people to follow my Amazon page. When I update something there, they will get an email about it.

There is a fourth option: to require nothing of entrants. Just send out your books and hope for reviews, ratings, or chatter.

Next, you get to enter your credit card information. You buy all the prizes and estimated shipping up front. You might not give all your books away: if you set the odds to high and don’t get enough entrants, for example. In such a case, unawarded prizes are refunded pretty fast. The bad news is that you pay retail. The good news is you get some of that back in royalties and it does count towards your total book sales for rankings.

I set the odds of winning to 1:500, hoping to get around 5000 entrants. That was wildly optimistic. I ended up with 522 entrants and a corresponding number of new Twitter followers, mostly accounts that only post product review and random retweets. But it wasn’t all bad.

I ended up giving away only two copies of my book. However, nine people who discovered the book through the contest decided to just buy it. The product I listed is a hard sell: a massive fantasy novel, part one in a series that hasn’t been written yet. 9 sales for 2 giveaways seems pretty good to me but you will have to do your own math. The total cost of the giveaway was $48. My total earnings from new sales was $45. The contest essentially paid for itself, and got my book into the hands of strangers.

Nobody has yet posted a review or a star rating. It is not inconceivable that someone still will. They have only had the book for a month or so and it is 160,000 words. Also to consider: I am a complete unknown. I had next to no help sharing the entry link and no interested fan base. It is hard to say how these results might scale without more data; the sample size is just too small.

I hope this helps you make your decision whether or not to engage in an Amazon Giveaway.

Jason Dias is a novelist and a doctor of psychology. He writes incessantly, mostly for Find his novels at Amazon. They’re good. Really.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The times, they are a-changin’...

Crystal Palace view from Water Temple
Crystal Palace, view from Water Temple
If you remember Bob Dylan’s song coming out, your age is probably pretty close to mine. I turn 70 this year and, in some ways more significantly, 70 1/2. According to IRS rules, this means that instead of socking spare cash away in an IRA, I have to start taking money out. And I have to start taking Social Security.

For the first time in 25 years, I’m going to have a regular income. To tell the truth, I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with it. I suppose I’ll have to learn to budget, instead of saving as much as possible and hoping more will come in before I run out. It’s going to be interesting!

To complicate matters, I can go on stashing pre-tax money in my SIMPLE IRA and post-tax money in a Roth IRA as long as I’m writing and earning.

And I am still writing, with plenty going on in the coming year.

I’ve just started on the 23rd Daisy Dalrymple mystery (I had to go to my website and count the list). Working title is The Corpse at the Crystal Palace. Three older Daisy books will be added to the audio list shortly: Rattle His Bones on Feb. 16th, To Davy Jones Below on March 8th, and The Case of the Murdered Muckraker (the only book I’ve ever set in the US) on April 12th.

The paperback of Superfluous Women is due in September.

Buried in the Country, the fourth Cornish mystery, is due out in December.

And of course all the Daisy series, all the Cornish series, and all my Regencies are available as ebooks, presumably forever. So I guess I’ll be filing Schedule C for the rest of my life, "retired" or not.

Old writers never retire; they carry on to The End.

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.

Friday, January 22, 2016

New Year, New Rules?

Hello, dearies! It's that time again. Off with the old, on with the new, and adjust everything in between. I must confess to lagging a bit behind in the Great Closet Sweep, but I have managed to rid myself of several "church socks."

If you're like many people, the breath of fresh air that is seasonal style change can feel more like an arctic blast, chilling you to the bone and shoving you in directions that you'd rather not go. Fortunately, there is a safe harbor for the steadfast soul: the Chicago Manual of Style.

From its humble beginning in 1891 as a single-page in-house style sheet for the University of Chicago Press, the CMOS has slowly grown into a behemoth volume of more than one thousand pages. Now in its sixteenth edition (2010), the CMOS is considered "the industry leader on style matters."

To keep pace with expanding knowledge, perspectives, and vocabulary within the publishing industry, the CMOS editorial staff utilizes an advisory board composed of authors, scholars, and publishing and business professionals. Users of the Manual have also provided input, making the current edition and its online counterpart the most up-to-date and comprehensive style guide available.

While trends may sizzle, shizzle, and quickly fizzle, the rules of written style are never swayed by the fickle winds of fashion. If stability is what you seek, the Chicago Manual of Style is your cornerstone.

Until next time, duckies; bundle up, buckle down, and remember---a well-turned phrase is always in style!

As snow continues to fall, the Style Maven considers starting the fashion of wearing multiple layers of quilts while burrowing under wool blankets. You can read about her adventures as The Procraftinator at

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How Not to Be a Failure

So we’ve all made New Year’s resolutions, right?

My big one this year was to write two thousand words a day. Okay, one thousand. Then family matters caused me to skip a day. I promised myself to get back to my work in progress the next morning. Right? Right.

Um, not so fast.
I found out friends from out of town were coming. I had to clean the house. You know, that house I’ve overlooked for way too long. Good thing I had the week to do the cleaning because, boy, what a mess. Oh, and all the mail I needed to shred. Bags of it with my name, credit card numbers, bank numbers. Half a day’s worth of shredding mail. The daily junk mail goes in the recycle barrel, so at least I don’t have to shred that.

Good. I was on a roll.

Uh, oh. I forgot about the critique. My critique partner and I rarely miss our twenty pages, give or take, every two weeks. I wasn’t ready. Now, where was I? Because, you know, with all the family matters, house cleaning, and visitors, I had no time to think about where my characters are, let alone where they’re going.
I needed to sit down and seriously write those twenty pages. At least I could count them in my daily projection. Twenty pages at two hundred fifty words a page equals five thousand words--five days of writing. Yes!

Then my son called and asked if I would help out with the grandbaby for a few days while he and his wife go out of town? Oh, and the three dogs, four counting mine. Sure, happy to, son. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, I could get something done when the angel was sleeping. Did I mention the sweet thing, not even two, naps for about ten minutes, and that’s on a good day? I’d write after she has her bath and goes to bed for the night. She’s finally sleeping through, mostly. I opened my computer in the silence of the house—no Mickey Mouse or Curious George or Nick Jr—and started to work.

Wait! What? How could I have fallen asleep? I was determined to write my pages. They’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

A day later: I’ve given up on writing. Angel is too much fun, and I don’t want to miss this precious time. I’ll write when I get home.

Back home at my desk, I’m determined to get my thousand words in. Darn, I forgot about the blog post I need to write for The Blood Red Pencil. Better get that out of the way or it will weigh on my mind.

Lunch with my writing friends. We don’t do it often, but it’s a whole day’s worth because four of us are in South Carolina, another is in Georgia. We met halfway.
That was three hours of driving for me, but it was worth it. We laughed, caught up on what we’ve been doing (I didn’t mention the book I’m not writing), and we ate. I did a little grocery shopping on the way home.

Now it’s Laundry Day, I tweeted to my Twitter friends in between, then walked my dog, Bogie. I realized he stinks. Better wash him. He’s matted, and I needed to get those uglies out. I have a podcast with another writer next week. Have no idea what he’ll ask me. I hope he doesn’t ask me about New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve decided I’m not going to make New Year’s resolutions anymore. I’m just not disciplined enough to keep them, and it’s a sure route to failure. Instead, I’ll sit down and write what I can each day, “each day” being the operative words. I might write fifty words, I might write three thousand, depending on the fluidity of both my mind and the story. But I will write something, and that’s the important thing.

Meanwhile, my alter ego―she writes erotic romance―just got back the rights to her last sexy novel. I redid the cover, changed a few things in the edit, and now it’s up and ready.

Maybe I’m not such a failure after all.

Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. 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.

Monday, January 18, 2016

My Sabbatical Year


I’ve been a ghostwriter for 17 years now. It’s been a wild wonderful ride filled with the most amazing stories. I was privileged to hear them first and help get them out into the world.

I’ve blogged before about the joys of ghostwriting and how much it has given me. I’ve been fairly successful. I’ve been involved – mostly as a ghostwriter, sometimes as a content editor – in nearly 50 books in those 17 years. In 2015 alone, I ghostwrote and finished three books (the last one just last month).

But there are some downsides to ghostwriting. The biggest one is that I’ve been so busy writing other people’s stories that I’ve neglected my own. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t written my own books – I have. Over ten of them, in fact – fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Nearly all of them published before 2010.

But for the last five years or so, as my ghostwriting business has grown, my own work has languished in drawers or my laptop file folders. I had and have plenty of great ideas, and have worked on most of them sporadically, some more than others. Over time, this list of “almost finished” and “just starting” books has grown. Right now I have thirteen books in various stages of completion. Some are just notes and plans, others are halfway done, a few are mostly done, and one is completely done but is just sitting there in my files waiting for me to submit it for publication.

As the time has gone by, guess what else happened? I got older! I started to fear that if I didn’t get moving on my works-in-progress, I would die before those wonderful ideas could be born.

Battling with this fear of never getting around to my own work was the fear of stopping ghostwriting altogether. On the most practical level, could I afford to? If I ran out of money or ideas, what if I never get another ghostwriting job? What if the “book biz” people I know stop referring potential clients to me? What if the reputation I worked so hard to build will go down the drain? I love ghostwriting! I don’t want to never ghostwrite again.

I was moaning about this battle of fears to a friend of mine, when she said something wise. “You don’t have to quit ghostwriting – why not take a sabbatical instead?”

Ah, the power of words. Sabbatical sounds so much less threatening than quitting. I could write my guts out this year on the thirteen book ideas, and perhaps I might finish one or two of them. Then I could make another decision. It’s not all or nothing!

So as 2015 was ending and I was finishing up my ghostwriting projects, I started refusing new ones. That was so hard! I am such a sucker for good stories. Have you ever noticed that when you make a bold declaration of intent, suddenly offers or situations arise that challenge that intent? Almost like the mysterious Universe is saying, “Oh yeah? Do you really mean it?”

Nevertheless, my plan for 2016 is this: I am taking a sabbatical from ghostwriting for one year. In the months to come I’ll let you know how it’s going, and perhaps even give glimpses into those thirteen wonderful ideas that are itching to be born.

I hope the Universe will wait until 2017 to tantalize me with new ghostwriting opportunities. Are you listening, Universe?

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 10 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Friday, January 15, 2016

Writing Resolutions

There could be two interpretations for this title; how to write a resolution, or resolutions about writing. In honour of this new shiny year, I’ve tried to embrace both.

10. Phrase your intention in a positive way. Don’t say ‘I will lose weight’; say ‘I will have a 30 inch waist’.

9. Make it Achievable. To reach the top of the mountain you have to climb for days. It’s not a journey completed in one step. Neither is writing a book or a play or whatever your project may be. 

8. Resolve to do something that makes you smile. If thinking about it makes you happy, you’ve got a better chance of following through. If your first thought is “Oh crap” (or something less G-rated), I’d wager you have a smaller chance of success.

7. Keep it Simple.

6. Privacy is Good. No one needs to know your resolutions…unless you need peer pressure to keep them. On the one hand, I understand this. On the other hand, it mades me nervous for your success.

5. Just Do It. Nike is right.

4. Don’t make too many resolutions. How many balls can you juggle? Most people can manage two. Therefore, I suggest making two resolutions.

3. Make the resolution for yourself, not for others. Be honest. Let’s face it. It’s usually harder to impress yourself than impress others (or at least, that’s the way it is for me). Not that I impress others often, but you hopefully get my point.

2. Don’t beat yourself up if you fail the first time. There are 365 days in a year (actually 366 this year). Each day is a fresh beginning. Forgive and move on.

1. Remember, you can’t move forward by looking back. Well, you can, but you’ll bump into things. Don’t.

From me to you, have a wonderful Leap Year. Leap into it!

Elspeth Futcher is an author and playwright. Thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by Her A Fatal Fairy Tale, Deadly Ever After and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the Internet.  Elspeth's newest game, The Great British Bump Off is now available from her UK publisher, Red Herring Games, as is her Once Upon a Murder. Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

New Year, Final Draft

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee

I suspect that fellow writers will appreciate the idea of starting a New Year not with a goal to start something new but to finish something old. I’ve been writing a novel for several years. No matter how diligently I move forward, something always needs fixing. I’m not talking about some phony excuse to procrastinate, but actual problems: a conflict falls flat, a character feels one-dimensional, dialogue is missing, dialogue is redundant, internal life is absent, internal life is excessive and now momentum is absent...another draft, and another

A couple of months ago, I took a painting class with my sister. We each created our own interpretation of the instructor’s sample creation: a moon shining through flowering branches. At one point, while I tried to create a tunnel-like sensation of moonlight, I kept going over one section that wasn’t quite working. The teacher took one look and said, “Stop. You’re going to ruin it.” I knew what she meant. I was never going to achieve what I sought. Sometimes “good enough” is not a cop-out but the recognition that art can be too perfect, and then it’s no longer art. Sometimes smoothing out rough edges is not an act of creation but of destruction.

I’ve received plenty of education on novel-writing in general and a lot of feedback on my novel in particular: from conferences, workshops, writing groups, beta readers, and more. Despite all that, I never seem to reach the book’s potential. Still, the other day a colleague, who is doing a dummy-check of part one, wrote me a note that included the phrase, “thanks for the good cry, by the way.” That was my first hint that it’s time to wind this up, even though she also suggested the work is flabby in places. I’ll cut as much flab as I can, but, like me, my book might never lose those last five pounds. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t dress up and go out.

The same friend advised me that the new year was a perfect time to email an update to an agent who invited me to send her my manuscript when I’m finished. I felt leery, always nervous about the fine line between persistent and pest. But I knew she was right. It was time for me to make a promise I cannot take back, to commit to a deadline to be finished even if I’m not finished. I emailed the agent, saying I had hoped to send her my manuscript at the New Year, but “I now know that I will send it in February.”

Now that I’ve written that, I do know it, because I’m a woman of my word. She thanked me for the update and told me, “Keep writing.” I will, till next month. It won’t be perfect, but it will be my creation and it will be complete.

Fellow writers and I often discuss the “one more improvement” our manuscripts need. I recently moved cross-country, and it has slowed my progress a bit: a month prepping our old house to sell, a month closing, a month house-hunting, and so on. Yet moving to a new place, where few people know me or my book, has helped me avoid those conversations with fellow writers that might make me second-guess my decision to wrap this up—because my book really could use one more improvement, or ten.

How do I know it’s time to finish? The way I did in painting class. I looked at the section I was working on, relatively close to the end, and a gut instinct told me if I applied one more dab of paint, I would go too far…or worse, never stop.

How do you know when you’re done?

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Connotation PressRivet Journal, and Pangyrus. She’s a book editor and writing coach. She was a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Ventura, California.

Monday, January 11, 2016

New Year, New Writing: Resolutions and Declarations

In 2010 (a | b), 2011, 2013, and 2015, we at BRP wrote posts on writing resolutions. I even wrote a piece in 2010 on envisioning your writing career by making resolutions.

Parts of Happy New Year 2016 image by IceHawk33 at Free Digital Photos used

’Tis the season to make resolutions, yes? A new year often begets new goals, new resolutions. Unfortunately, by the end of January, many of those resolutions are left in the far, dark recesses of our mind.

One reason resolutions often fail is we resolve to do something, but we don’t set out a strategy to actually complete the task.

Whether you use the term “resolution” or “declaration,” it’s important for you to understand what you are resolving or declaring in your writing goals, and developing the structure to bring your goals to fruition.

Let’s think about resolutions for a minute.

Merriam-Webster defines “resolution” in the following ways:
  1. the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc. : the act of resolving something
  2. an answer or solution to something
  3. ability of a device to show an image clearly and with a lot of detail
In these definitions, we see “finding an answer or solution.” So, this means there is a problem that needs a solution. And in your resolve, you find the answer to the problem, solve it, and fix the issue.

The top resolution of every new year is “I will lose weight.” The problem with that resolution is there is no ACTION to it. The real problem is the person more than likely feels fat and doesn't like it, so the obvious answer/solution is to lose weight. But what does “lose weight” look like? It would be better to say the problem is losing weight, and then the resolution would include the ACTION to actually lose the weight (i.e., eating certain amount of calories a day, exercising X amount of times a week, etc.).

The same goes for our writing resolutions. Yes, you want to write, but that’s too broad. Yes, you might want to write two novels and half a dozen short stories, but again, that’s too broad. The HOW of getting this writing done should be a part of your resolution. Doing this allows you to activate your goals in words, and then ultimately, in your actions.

Years ago, I stopped making resolutions—not because resolutions were bad but because (at the time) I didn’t realize that I was making the wrong resolutions. My resolutions were actually the problems I needed solutions to.

I moved from resolutions to declarations because, for me, a declaration hits me in a way that sticks to my mind and my spirit and my desire to want to complete the task. defines “declare” in the following ways:
  1. make known or state clearly, esp. in explicit or formal terms
  2. announce officially; proclaim: to declare a state of emergency
  3. state emphatically: He declared that the allegation was a lie
  4. manifest; reveal; show
There is an urgency to a declaration. There is this feeling that once you make it known, it is OUT THERE, and people know, and now you need to show up and show out. Once we make something “official,” there is a legitimacy to it. It matters. And because it is stated clearly in explicit or formal terms, there is a sense of structure, as if by declaring, you are thinking beyond “the declaration” to the actual progression to completion.

Now, what does all of this have to do with writing?

Simply this, it doesn’t matter if you make writing resolutions or writing declarations, but whichever you choose, you want to make sure you think about the following things:
  1. Be specific with your resolution/declaration. What will you actually DO?
  2. Envision the HOW. It’s nice to have a list of to-dos, but if you don’t have a plan as to HOW you will complete the list, you will fail at resolving and declaring.
  3. Set goals. So, you know what you will DO, and you know HOW you will do these things. Now, set goals, that is set deadlines along the way that confirm your progress and your forward march toward completion.
  4. Reward self. Yes, you deserve pats on the back for completing tasks. These pats allow us to feel good about ourselves and keep on, keeping’ on.
  5. Repeat.
Resolution. Declaration. Pota(y)to. Pota(h)to. Don’t call the writing goals off.

Just envision your goals, the paths to completing your goals, and the rewards for the progress.

What resolutions/declarations are you making for 2016? Do you have a plan set up to complete them?

Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website.

Friday, January 8, 2016

To Drone or not to Drone

I remember the word, drone, when it was a verb or, at best, an inglorious adjective, certainly not a hip noun. Drone used to mean going on and on about monotonous stuff that no one cared about. My, how times have changed!

Multirotors, nicknamed drones, are sweeping the country in more ways than one. Drones are often employed by the government in military operations, but also perform such mundane tasks as delivering library books for universities. Once cleared, Amazon plans to use them for thirty minute package deliveries.

This drone had been used at a local concert for aerial shots.
I was surprised to learn how accessible drones are, and in many cases, inexpensive.They're so popular that they now need to be registered with the FAA for $5.00, if they're over 0.55 pounds after the batteries, propellers,and camera are loaded.

They come in various prices, shapes, sizes, and capabilities. I've seen ads from reputable companies, such as Dell, listing sale prices of less than $100.00. Dell even offers a free drone with the purchase of a qualified computer.

Depending on the model, owners can maneuver a drone fast or slowly, near or far, and zoom in or out, take videos, aerial photos, even do 3-D. Speed, battery power, and storage differ, depending on the model.

Here's one website describing drones for sale and their capabilities.

Already, lawsuits have sprung up over drones. One person lost and must pay an $850.00 fine for shooting down a drone flying over his property.

Valid concerns are also raised about the loss of privacy from drone use, as well as safety issues.

Outside of the obvious military use, I wonder if any authors have included a drone yet in a book. Seems like a novel way to advance a plot. Do you know of any? What do you think of the idea?

Experience Morgan Mandel's diversity and versatility. Check Out Her Standalone Romantic Comedy,  Girl of My Dreams, the romantic comedy series, Her Handyman, and A Perfect Angel. For Mystery/Suspense, try Killer Career or Two Wrongs. For the small town of Deerview series: Hailey's Chance: Will Baby Make 3? and Christmas   Carol.Websites:Morgan Mandel.Com Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com. Twitter:@MorganMandel

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Day, New Year, New Goals

A recent online article noted that e-book sales declined last year and suggested this trend would likely continue, based on quarterly sales reports by the big five publishing houses. Whether or not that’s so in the long run, e-books still appear to be a viable industry, one that invites us to reach out to the myriad readers who use electronic devices to read. The author also stated that a large number of downloaded e-books go unread, in part or in whole, but that plot-driven novels are more likely to be read than ones driven by characters; young adult sales reportedly plummeted by almost half last year.

Gabor from Hungary
Will this article deter me? No. Why? First, it’s based on the big five. The other side of that coin is small houses and independent publishers that abound throughout the country; no practical way I know of exists right now to bring them into this equation. Instead of succumbing to doubt, I am venturing into the e-book arena for the first time, beginning this month — in addition to hard copy, of course. It’s upward and onward with the new year plans.

Considering my shortcomings in the world of technology, I rely on others to format my completed manuscript for the various small screens (Kindles, iPads, tablets, phones, etc.). Because quality must prevail no matter the format, I’ve brought an experienced formatter onto my team, one whose presence, I believe, equals that of beta readers, cover/book designers, and editors in importance.

Secondly, I have come out of my short-lived retirement to resume editing on a part-time basis. Interacting with fellow writers always brought joy and satisfaction when the job was completed and they were ecstatic with the finished product. I’ve missed that connection so much since retiring. My years of editing produced friendships I never expected and writers who stay in touch long after their books have gone to market. I really like this wonderful side benefit.

Dodgerton Skillhause
An exciting new goal is releasing my books in audio. This has been lurking in the back of my mind for some time, and its day has finally arrived. Offering readers three choices — hard copies, e-books, and audio books — maximizes potential for sales.

Adding a marketer to my team is also on the agenda. I write out of a love for reading, an interest in people, and headful of stories. Books have carried me to faraway places, given me perspective where I had none, and helped me view numerous situations in a new light. They’ve created joy, insight, and wonder. However, the business side of writing — selling my stories to potential readers — has long been neglected. That’s over. The year of marketing, 2016, has begun.

A final goal involves finishing several books started over the years and relegated to the archives of projects past. They still beckon me to take their characters out of limbo so those souls can get on with their lives. Also, the story that has been rattling around in my head for years should finally find expression on paper (or hard drive). It promises to be a busy year, and I’ve already started.

What are your plans for the new year? Are you delving into unfinished projects? Do you have a hot, new novel sizzling on the burner? Are you researching information for a historical tale, a nonfiction piece, a medical or legal story? Have you ventured into the e-book world or do you plan to do so soon? Will the reported downward trend of the e-book market change your new year strategies? What will make 2016 a memorable writing year for you?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year's Resolutions

After the whirlwind of Christmas has passed in a blur, we stare at the bright start of the New Year and with it comes the practice of making resolutions.

Resolutions should be good. They should act as that little push to make Sally, Dick, and Jane do those healthy/productive/necessary things they should have been doing all along.

On the flip side, Dick’s good resolution may turn out to be Jane’s nightmare. What if Dick’s resolution is to spend more time with his family, so he takes a job that will allow him to do so. The catch is: they have to move to California. Jane and kids must leave their friends and community for this to happen. That is a major conflict of interest. How will the situation be resolved? Will they overcome the inciting incident and end up a stronger couple or will the added pressure of constant togetherness in a place where no one feels at home make them realize they were never truly compatible? Will Jane and the kids stay or go back? Will Dick give up his high-paying job to return with them and live a simpler life? Will their shift in circumstances change the balance of the things and people they left behind?

Sally’s desire to fulfill her resolution may complicate Jane’s life considerably. Sally has been running along in the same old groove for too long, so she decides to shake it up and move to London for a year. Jane is going through a terrible divorce and needs her sister Sally more than ever. Sally’s desertion will compound Jane’s loneliness and grief. Jane is not only losing her husband, she is losing her best friend and sister. Life is so unfair! What will the grief and loneliness cause Jane to do? Will she withdraw from the world around her? Will she become self-destructive? Or will she pack her bags and move to London too?

Jane’s resolution to follow her sister might not turn out to be a good idea after all. She follows Sally to London and feels lost in the big city. She has a hard time understanding the language. She isn’t familiar with the currency or the driving rules. And she finds out Sally has been turned into a vampire, thus her desire to join other vampires in London. Now Jane has massive conflict. She loves her sister, but she isn’t willing to become a vampire too. Will she hook up with a hunky vampire slayer? Or succumb to the dark side so she never has to be parted from her sister? Is she strong enough to put a stake through Sally’s heart? Has she found her true love in the hunky vampire slayer at the cost of her sister’s life?

Every story problem sets off a chain of actions and decisions. Your protagonist must resolve to do something to solve the story problem and right the story world balance. Every scene or chapter has an obstacle for your character to overcome. Those obstacles result in new mini-resolutions. If Dick is a sleuth, he will uncover a crime in Chapter One and resolve to catch the criminal. He will follow a lead in Chapter Two. That lead will not pan out. He will resolve to follow a new lead. He spends the next three chapters evaluating possible motives. Each motive he uncovers will move him either closer to or further away from the truth and result in new mini-resolutions. He will resolve to track down a suspect or look for new evidence.

How do your characters’ resolutions drive your story along? How do friends and foes complicate Dick’s progress with their own resolutions?

To learn more about motivating your characters, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict available in paperback or E-book and Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook, also available in paperback or E-book.

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.

Friday, January 1, 2016

What's New?

Out with the old, in with the new! This month, our theme is everything new including new gadgets, new projects, new books, new habits, new goals... anything the team dreams up. Join us as we return to our weekly blogging schedule after our December hiatus. It's good to be back.

Tell us what's new in your life for 2016! Happy New Year!