Thursday, May 26, 2016

BELVA PLAIN: She Dared to Change the Face of Jewish Novels

In recognition of Jewish American Heritage Month, I want to share the incredible literary journey of third-generation Jewish American author, Belva Plain (1915-2010). Ms. Plain has been quoted as saying she wrote her first novel, Evergreen, because she’d had her fill of stereotypical Jewish characters who failed to reflect the reality of Jewish life. Published when she was 62, Evergreen became a New York Times bestseller and remained at the top of that coveted list for 41 weeks. During the balance of her 95 years, she penned 22 more novels, all written in longhand, 20 of which also became NYT bestsellers. More than 30 million of them were in print in 22 languages when she died.

Belva Plain graduated with a degree in history from Barnard College and had her first short story published in Cosmopolitan shortly thereafter. She continued to write and submit short pieces to help support her husband's ophthalmology studies until the birth of her three children, after which she devoted her time and energy to raising her family. Only when they had grown and had children of their own did she return to her pen and pad and begin her career as a novelist.

Her books covered a gamut of subjects. Some were historical; Crescent City, for example, takes place in New Orleans during the Civil War years. Others depicted the lives of Jewish people in Europe during the 1930s and 40s. A number of them, however, were contemporary in nature. The 5-book saga of the Werner family is both historical and contemporary; Evergreen, Golden Cup, Tapestry, Harvest, and Heartwood delve deeply into the multigenerational lives, relationships, and secrets of husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, and others of the Werner clan.

Ms. Plain was a master at creating well-rounded characters of depth, characters as noble and as imperfect as we all are, characters who make good decisions and bad—exploring their lives and relationships with a powerful magnifying glass not often utilized by modern authors. She also
tackled sensitive topics that touch many today: Blessings – adoption, Promises – divorce, The Carousel – sexual abuse of children. In all of them, passion abounds; but she steered away from graphic sex scenes.

Her last book, Heartwood, was published after her death. Fittingly, it comes full circle, closing her prolific writing career with the final chapters of the Werner family saga.
Belva Plain was the first author whose books inspired me to write. I loved her feisty characters who rose up from the pages of her stories and invited me into their world. They were so real, so human that I could relate to them as though they were my friends and neighbors.

Do you have a favorite author who inspired you to write? If so, please share with us.

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

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Things I Didn't Know on My Way to Publication

I wrote my very first book in the year 2000. I had never written anything before other than ad copy for fashion layouts. My spring chicken days had already sprung, and I was a few years away from the age when many people retire. I wrote the book because I read one I thought was terrible. I challenged myself to do a better job almost as a lark, never expecting I’d complete a novel or that writing would become my fourth career.

I thought my story was good, but I knew enough to realize that my technical knowledge, the nuts and bolts of writing, was severely lacking. I sent the book to an editor I found online. His credentials said he’d written forty-two books, and he had, as a ghostwriter for some famous people. His wife was his editor, and she also edited my pages. I got two for the price of one, and they were great. His first email to me after reading the first forty-nine pages of my manuscript was: The story is fantastic; the writing needs work. I was filled with mixed emotions.

So I have the beginnings of a good story, but I can’t write worth … well, you know. The edit they sent me was a primer on not only how to write a novel but how to write. Comments on sentence structure, passive voice, repetition, telling not showing, and backstory filled the margins. They edited that book three times, all for the quoted price. I hired them for three books in total and learned more each time.

Meanwhile, I kept writing my stories, getting older.

After the third edit, I felt like that first book was as good as it could be, so I did what all writers do with dreams of publication: I searched for an agent. And searched. And wrote query letters. Collected rejections, which for some reason I still have.

Back then, a lot of querying was done by post with a self-addressed stamped envelope for their response. Then it changed to email. That made it a lot easier for writers, but it also made it easier for agents to send an automated rejection form or for them to ignore you completely. This went on for six or seven years.

Meanwhile, I kept writing my stories, getting older.

Then a friend called me and told me a writing group called Sisters in Crime was meeting in a city about twenty-five miles from my home.

I went, sat, and listened. Can’t remember if I said anything, but knowing me I probably did. I went again the next month, and two writers, Ellis Vidler and Linda Lovely, asked me if I wanted to critique with them. I was beside myself thrilled. They were real pros and taught me so much, especially the one thing that my editor didn't know because he wrote non-fiction: point of view. In other words, head hopping. I remember Ellis and Linda explaining point of view to me at one of our many lunches. It took me a while to comprehend it. I’m surprised they didn’t give up on me.

I finally got an agent who loved everything I wrote. She sent my manuscripts out to publishers, received more rejections. And more. This went on for a couple of years.

Meanwhile, I kept writing my stories, getting older.

In hindsight, one thing I would do differently is write and pitch a series first. (Who knew?) Mind Games, the first book in my Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, was my third or fourth book. Until that time, I was querying stand-alones, which I believe are harder to sell because there's no follow-up to keep a reader reading or gain author loyalty. Maybe if I were Gillian Flynn or Megan Abbott the story would be different, but of course I’m not.

Impatient, I thought the best way to get published was to write an erotic romance for an ebook publisher. Guess what? It worked.

I wrote three, got all three published writing under a pseudonym, and now have the rights back to all of them. During that time, I saw some writer friends signing contracts, some with small presses, some with the big five—at that time six. Publication date, two years in the future.

Two years is a long time. Have I mentioned that by this time I was old?

So I said the hell with it. If no one wants to publish my books, I’ll do it myself. So that’s what I did. I had learned how to use Photoshop during my third career creating brochures for my business, and my first career was as an illustrator. Surely I could create my own covers. Another learning curve, but I managed to do it. Then with the help of one of my Sisters in Crime mentors, Ellis Vidler, who’s also a dynamite editor, I learned how to format my novels for both ebooks and print. The beauty of that is once you’re ready, Amazon is ready for you. No two-year wait.

Eight suspense novels and three erotic romances later, I’m still here and still writing my stories. I wonder if I’d have been as prolific if I'd gotten a traditional publishing contract. I do know that deadlines and the constant requirement to produce would have made me a nervous wreck. Writing at my own pace, answering only to myself, works for me. By the way, the first book I wrote was one of the last books I published, thirteen years later.

I wrote and rewrote Threads, never feeling it was good enough, until I did.

What other profession lets you to work in your pajamas if you want, without makeup, without the perfect hairdo, and have your dog or cat on your lap? It’s been and still is a great ride.

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.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Taking Ownership

Photo credit: Owen Moore
Ownership manifests itself in many ways.

Take for instance a cold. Not long ago, someone I knew had one. When speaking about it, I referred to it as her cold. Then, when I soon caught the germ, my husband actually called it my cold. Hearing him say that at first seemed strange, until I realized the cold's ownership had now been transferred to me, along with the responsibilities of trying to get better and not sharing the germ with others.

Here are a few examples of how a writer can take ownership:
  • A writer needs to own up to mistakes. It would be wonderful to believe every word we write is perfect, but, actually, that's not really the case. We need to own up to our mistakes, learn from them, and polish our prose. We can do this by either hiring an editor, or at least by submitting our work to some darn good beta writers.
  • Okay, the book is done. Before it's released, although in the U.S. original works have been automatically copyrighted since 1978, it doesn't hurt to also take ownership of your printed and/or electronic book by placing the copyright symbol on one of its first pages to tell the world you own the rights to the amazing words you've written. To see some exceptions, check Wikipedia.
  • Be careful not to be too exclusive. The strange thing about taking ownership of our books is that often in order to do so, we need to share blurbs, descriptions, and excerpts with others in order to entice readers to read our books. Sometimes, it may even mean giving away free copies for advertisement purposes.
    My thriller, Two Wrongs, is currently perma-free, and you're welcome to nab your free copy.
Can you think of other ways authors take ownership, or maybe you'd like to expand on something I've mentioned.

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.ComTwitter:@MorganMandel

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Writers Write

SHEEP #1: Is that you?

WRITER: Are you talking to me?

SHEEP #1: Yes.

SHEEP #2: Where have you been?

SHEEP #1: You’re rather late.


SHEEP #2: Time to write!


SHEEP #1: But what?

SHEEP #2: You're not a goat. Stop butting.

WRITER: Writing is hard.

SHEEP#2: Are you a writer?


SHEEP #2:  Then write.

WRITER: It’s not that easy.

 SHEEP #3: Yes, it is. Write.

 SHEEP #2: It doesn’t have to be perfect.

 SHEEP #1: Let’s be honest, it won’t be perfect. It will never be perfect.

 SHEEP #2: But it will be words. You can work with words.

 SHEEP # 1: As a wise sheep once said, you can’t edit an empty page. 

SHEEP #2: Who said that?

WRITER: Wasn’t it you?

SHEEP #2: It probably was. I’m very wise.

SHEEP #1: And humble.

SHEEP #2: Yes. Yes, this is true.

WRITER: But I want it to be perfect. So I write the same paragraph over and over. I never get beyond Chapter One.

SHEEP #2: That isn’t writing. That’s going around in circles. You’ll get dizzy.

SHEEP #1: Writing moves forward. As a wise king once said “Start at the beginning, go on until you come to the end, and then stop.”

SHEEP #2: Who said that?

SHEEP #1: I just did.

WRITER: But who was the wise king?

SHEEP #2: It may have been the King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. 

WRITER: I love that book. 

SHEEP #1: Yes. It made us look at white rabbits a whole new way.

SHEEP #2: It also proved our theory that white animals are wise. 

SHEEP #1: And that they can talk.

WRITER: You had a theory that animals could talk?

SHEEP #1: That’s not the point.

WRITER: What’s the point?

SHEEP #2: That writers write.

SHEEP #1: Go and write. Rejoice in the words. They don’t have to be good words. They just have to be words.

SHEEP #3: Spill them onto the page. Be reckless.

WRITER: Really?

SHEEP #2: It’s spring. It’s the time for planting. How can you harvest anything if you don’t plant? 

SHEEP #3: Start at the beginning, continue on to the end, and then stop.

SHEEP #1: Or start at the end.

SHEEP #2: Or start in the middle.

ALL THE SHEEP: But start.

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, Nice But Naughty is now available from her UK publisher, Red Herring Games, as is her Great British Bump Off and 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.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

In Case of Emergency

There is no warning bell before your ride on the rollercoaster of life takes a dramatic turn or ends abruptly.

No one likes to ponder their disability or demise, but I believe in being prepared.

As a writer there are certain steps you should take now, just in case.

1. Firstly, you need a "person" or "persons" you can trust to assist. It may be your spouse, relative, child, best friend, or someone else to take care of all the nitty-gritty details, preferably someone organized and efficient. Make sure several people (attorney, accountant, business manager, family friend) know where to find your important documents in case there are multiple casualties.

2. Appoint someone to take charge of the business end of your writing and give them legal power of attorney to do so in case you are disabled temporarily or permanently.

3. Draw up a will. Copyrights are intellectual property and are treated the same as any other personal property. They can be left to an heir via a will. Designate the person you want to receive future royalties and who will own the copyrights. If you self-publish, make it clear whether you want your work taken down or to continue to be for sale and where. Make sure they want to take on the responsibility. Leave thorough instructions on how to do so.

For more information visit, or the US copyright office.

What if your publisher dies or sells his business?

What about rights to electronic publications?

Can you stop film or other adaptations?

4. Create a list of important publishing contacts, their phone numbers, emails, etc., that need to be notified or dealt with. Keep a master list regarding your submissions, contracts, etc., with copies of the works involved and make sure your person knows where to find them.

5. Create a master list of all of your published titles and anthology pieces, the venues, ISBN numbers, and whether they are currently on promotion. Provide contact information and steps that need to be taken.

6. Make a list of business banking account numbers, credit card numbers, and the location of physical checks and bank statements. Give someone access to the bank account where the direct deposits are made. It is important for your trusted person to have account sign-ons and passwords so they can change the bank account direct deposit information if necessary.

7. Make sure your articles of corporation, sales tax data, accounting paperwork, tax returns, etc., are easily available.  Provide a list of accounts, contacts, and instructions about what needs to be done when. Does a corporation need to be dissolved? Leave instructions. Do you need to close out your accounts and pay final taxes, etc.? Leave instructions.

8. Do you have a blog or website? Do you want them to continue to be available? Do you want them taken down? Leave instructions as well as sign-ons and passwords to access them and any other useful information. If you have a hosting service, make sure you leave their contact information, especially if your sites and domains are automatically renewed.

9. Make a list of all of your writing-related online accounts (social media, Goodreads, Amazon, etc.) with sign-ons, passwords, and any fees associated with them.

Consider whether you have any writing accounts or memberships that also charge, especially if they automatically renew. Leave contact information for all of them. They will have to be notified.

Note: This is important for everyone, whether you are a writer or not. Someone needs to clean up your web presence and cancel your memberships after you pass. Someone may need to take over for you if you are temporarily sidelined. Make your wishes known as to the accounts you want shut down if you die. If you want any of them to continue, make sure you have someone willing to take on the responsibility.

10. Consider purchasing a special fire-proof lockbox, file cabinet, safe deposit box, or home safe for your important papers and give someone else access (a key, a combination, location information, etc.).

I prepared useful forms for organizing your information (finances, personal information, health information, insurance, business, etc.) for a rare disease website for Stiff Person Syndrome. You can visit the Tin Man site and download the PDF forms for your use.

Expect the unexpected.

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.