Thursday, July 28, 2022

Writers Supporting Writers—Are We Competitors?

How do you feel about supporting other authors? There are a lot of us fiction writers around, and we all have stories to tell. Will all of us be successful? In part, that depends on our definition of success. If that definition relies solely on book sales, developing a huge fan base, and making enough money to live the "good life," we might not succeed. 

On the other hand, if our goal is to write a great book that appeals to a variety of readers; if our stories touch the hearts of those who are struggling with a contentious mate or rebellious children; if they provide a rest stop for a weary traveler who is overwhelmed by the potholes she (or he) faces on life's road; if our characters are fighting similar battles against those our reader encounters; or if the reader has lost a dear friend or loved one in death, we may indeed succeed.

Of course, our genre(s) of choice will likely have a significant impact on the scenarios listed above, which is only a short list of the numerous possibilities. Also, our writing style plays a role in the effectiveness of our messages—and yes, many stories contain messages, whether they are subtle or overt. 

Intent, too, affects the presentation of our story, as does the response of the reader. Do we write a lighthearted book intended to entertain the reader, or have we broached a serious topic that has tainted the lives of many people today? Are we taking a side on an issue that affects s significant number of the reading public? Are we striving to create one of the first stories that brings solace to many victims of a recent catastrophe—hurricanes, tornados, school shootings, acts of war, etc.? If so, does this make us competitors?

If we are entering a writing contest, we are definitely competing with fellow authors. Is the same true if we write a story about, say, child abuse and scores of others are writing or have written similar stories? Are we competing with them? Not necessarily. We all bring something different to a tale about sexually abused children. Our characters typically are unique to us, and the way we present the story will likely be equally unique. 

Let's consider for a moment The Carousel by Belva Plain. First published in 1995, the book was described by the Kirkus Review as "bound for the winner's circle." A selection of the Literary Guild and the Doubleday Book Club, the story tackles the sensitive and often hidden subject of sexual child abuse. In its pages, Oliver Grey appears to be a candidate for father of the year, a respected businessman, and an outstanding humanitarian. Behind closed doors, however, he is a pedophile. 

The number of children who have endured this horrendous type of assault is mind-boggling, and the number of its victims seems to grow every year. Does this make it a good topic for a serious novel? Obviously, it can be, but the topic must be handled with the proverbial kid gloves. 

Would an author who chooses to tackle the subject be competing with every other writer who has written on it? No. Each story is different just as each victim is different. Would it be appropriate to support a writer of such a novel? That's a personal choice, but the writer would likely appreciate the encouragement, especially if personal experience is the impetus behind its writing.

What do you think? Are we competitors? Or are we part of a cheering section? Are we comfortable enough in our skill as a writer not to be intimidated by another storyteller? 

Writing is a solitary profession, and interaction among those similarly inclined can be the encouragement one or more of us need to carry on—or lack of it can be the final nail in the coffin of our literary dreams. Who knows? One of us just may be the one to produce a bestseller. 

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while still doing occasional editing. Her character-driven novels, although somewhat literary in nature, remind the reader of genre fiction because of their quick pace. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thrillers. You can contact her through her website: 

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

A long road to publication

Amanda Blackwood at her recent book signing at Barnes & Noble, Westminster, CO

When I first started this journey I had no idea where it would take me. I knew I had to tell my story of surviving human trafficking but I had no idea how it would turn out.

I started telling pieces of my story many years ago on a blog of my own. Eventually some of the more involved, lengthy stories were taken down from the blog and turned into small books. That was the start of everything for me. I’d always wanted to write a book but never saw it as being a possibility. The very idea of writing an entire book seemed so daunting and overwhelming. When I took down a couple of continuation blogs and put them into a single document, I discovered that not only had I already accomplished one of my bucket list items, but that I had something I was proud of.

At first I did try to seek out traditional publishing. I had an acquaintance with connections in the publishing industry and I almost got a foot in the door, until one day things went sideways. My acquaintance informed me that unless I quit my job and moved to Texas to be his wife he would no longer help me with chasing my dreams. I was crushed! More determined than ever, I started looking into and researching the self-publishing route. Without asking for help from anyone, and without knowing where to turn for resources, I dove in head first and figured it out as I went along. The idea of “Mandolin Publishing” was born as I sipped my raspberry tea overlooking the Pacific ocean, less than 2 hours after that fateful blow. That was ten books ago.

I knew my first book would likely flop. People wouldn’t care. They’d never want to read it. But I put it out there anyway in hopes that someone would. Now, no matter how good or bad that book did, I can’t ever regret it. The book is what helped introduce me to my now best friend and launched my entire side gig as a published author. As I learned the ins and outs of it all, I started helping others to follow their passions, too. Several of my dear friends have decided to write books now, based on the encouragement and truth that I’ve shared with them. To see the excitement in their faces when they talk about their works in progress has been tremendously rewarding for me. My best friend has even fashioned a character in her novel based on me (though the character in the book sounds much more elegant and beautiful than I could ever aspire to be) and I couldn’t be more humbled. That character is the main supporting character and she’s awesome. I've promised to help her navigate the world of self publishing if she goes that route once she's completed her manuscript. Knowing she has options available to her has given her more of a drive to complete this adventurous story she thought up over a decade ago.

It’s been quite a journey, learning how to do it all on my own. Eventually I wrote my full autobiography as a survivor of human trafficking and published Custom Justice last year. 

 I have been able to accomplish incredible things since then as a result. After spending two decades wondering if I’d ever find love, I finally found what I wanted most. In January of this year I married an amazing guy and we merged our families into one big, happy home. I’ve walked my own path for a long time but this was a healing journey nobody could predict. The ability to express and discuss what happened to me in the world of abuse and trauma has not only healed me, but helped others.

I’ve finally branched out away from writing just about my own experiences. On June 30th of this year I released my latest book The Road We Left Behind as a tribute to my grandmother. It takes place in the 1930s and 1940s, spanning Prohibition, the Great Depression, and World War II. My grandmother and her first boyfriend, Arthur, had some pretty fantastic adventures together. The book was inspired by her true story. 

This September I have the third book in a Science Fiction post-apocalyptic trilogy being released. The series tells of a group of unlikely survivors trying to flee Los Angeles after an apocalyptic event occurs and society turns on itself. Having lived in Los Angeles myself for fourteen years in my past, and having lived through what I’ve lived through, I often tell people that I feel quite qualified to tell the story. Who better to predict the end of the world than someone who's already lived through it?

For the first time in my life, I have the freedom to chase my dreams. I’m doing what I love. I wake up in the morning, EXCITED to work for twelve hours a day. Thanks to the loving support of my amazing husband, I am now a full-time author and I’m watching my dreams all come true.

In preparation for my book signing tour here in Colorado, my husband and I got a six-foot banner made to display at the table, and it has this massive image of my face on it. At first I saw it and thought “people will think I’m narcissistic.” Now I look at it and think “people will think I’m a professional author.” Because I am. 

This is a proud moment for me. I’ve come a long way from the damaged, abused, sheltered little girl hiding from her own shadow.

I am not a former victim.

I am not just a survivor of trafficking.

I am not what my past said I was.

I am not unworthy of love.

I can follow my dreams.

I am a professional, PUBLISHED author.

(Ten times and counting!)

Photo by Rustic Knot Photography

Amanda Blackwood is a survivor of human trafficking. A portion of every book sale goes to help fight human trafficking and to help those still being trafficked. Amanda lives in Denver, Colorado with her rescue cats and supportive husband who keep her sane.

Visit Amanda's website at

Follow Amanda on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Interview: Writer Jack Castle on Giving Back to the Writing Community

I have taken the path in recent years of helping others achieve their dreams. I find it more rewarding than my own writing and have met many wonderful people along the way who also generously give back to the writing community.

It has been one of my greatest pleasures to meet and now work with writer Jack Castle on his upcoming series. Jack Castle's thriller novels were traditionally published but he decided to self-publish his Sci-Fi/Fantasy series Stranger World. He has learned the ins and out of both paths and spends his spare time giving lectures to groups across the country on writing and publishing.

Jack Castle has had a fascinating varied career. He started out as a stuntman hand selected by George Lucas to play a Han Solo look-a-like for Disney's Hollywood Studios. While living in Alaska, he worked as a tour guide, police officer, and Response Team Commander on a remote island in the Aleutian Islands. And in Idaho he created thrilling and award-winning rides and shows for the Pacific Northwest’s Silverwood Theme Park. For nearly a decade he guided millions of guests through his beloved and popular live adventure stories.

Recently, he returned home to Central Florida to get back to his roots and write full time. When he isn’t writing, or going on adventures with his family to fuel his next book, he enjoys helping others get published by teaching literary workshops at local colleges.

First, can you tell us how you got traditionally published?

Any writer who has been traditionally published will tell you that writing a book is one thing but getting picked up by a traditional publisher is way harder.

Before I sent my manuscript to a publisher, I remember thinking I was going to research getting published with the same tenacity, arduous research, and methodology I had used as a police officer and as an investigator. 

The first thing I discovered was how most authors of the “How to Get Published” books had never actually been published before. So instead of reading books written by people who had never succeeded in what I was attempting, I decided to go straight to the source. Using my law enforcement interview skills, I started calling and talking to real, honest-to-goodness agents, acquisition editors, and publishers over the phone. I would cyberstalk them on Facebook and read, watch, and listen to every interview they ever did. That was only the beginning.

Your research must have paid off because your first query for Europa Journal was picked up by Edge, one of the largest publishers of SciFi and Fantasy in North America. And on the first day of its release, Europa Journal became the #1 bestselling book on Amazon.

No one is more shocked by any of that than me. I continued to publish with Edge with two more titles. It was a valuable learning experience. With Stranger World, our vision didn't mesh, so I decided to self-publish the series. That was another deep learning curve. I learned there are two people worth paying: a great editor and a great cover designer. Then it is all about marketing. I managed to get a Barnes & Noble book tour for Stranger World which resulted in growing a fan base that included cosplayers and inspired fan art and a few plushies.

What got you into teaching and helping others?

Mostly I think it had to do with Vanity Presses passing themselves off as traditional publishers. I was getting tired of hearing about friends and friends of friends who were paying vanity presses $3,000 to $20,000 dollars to essentially upload their book on Amazon, something they could do themselves for free on KDP (Kindle direct publishing) and other self-publishing platforms.

Back in 2016, a local college in Idaho asked me to fill in for a teacher who had a personal tragedy in her life and couldn’t finish her course. So, with less than four hours notice, I gathered my notes and gave my first class. It was so successful, and the college got so many requests for another one, that I’ve been teaching literary workshops at colleges ever since.

You’ve written How to Get Published: A True Story. What made you decide to write it?

I’ve been teaching literary workshops at colleges, libraries and at book stores for nearly a decade now. Every time we advertise one of these things, I would get messages and emails from friends and readers of my books saying how they’d love to go the classes but they were either too far away or couldn’t afford the class. Also, the classes are great, but there’s only so much time to cover everything. This book is everything I have learned over the last decade about being a bestselling, traditionally published and self-published author. It is everything I would tell my best friend.

You can check out his upcoming events on his website:

What is next for you?

I think the thing I am most excited about is on August 15th, on the 5 year anniversary of the first Stranger World book, we are releasing a Stranger World omnibus e-book that will include all five books. The new cover is fantastic, and my new editor/formatter is unparalleled. There are so many little additional Easter eggs I’ve been inserting over the years that this edition is like the Zack Snyder cut of Stranger World. If you’ve ever wanted to visit, I can’t think of a better time.


Thank you for helping others achieve their goals. I think it is one of the best things writers can do to further their careers as well as support the dreams of other writers. Stranger World has become one of my all time favorite series. It is about a soldier who is blown up  in Afghanistan and wakes up in a dystopian full-immersion worldwide theme park where the attractions run the show and the humans are the entertainment. With Disney starting to offer full-immersion experiences, the topic has never been more relevant. I highly recommend the series. You can check out all of Jack's books  on his author page on Amazon Castle/e/B01068ZUPA.

You can pick up a copy of his "how to" book here:

My own passion for sharing my research and resources turned into a 20 book Story Building Blocks series. The majority of the information is also available on my blog and website for free. Here are the links to the blog topics and free information on my website. I am always open for questions and happy to assist. You can find me on Facebook and can email me at

Posted by Diana Hurwitz, 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.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Writer Be Aware

The title for this post that first came to mind when I decided on a topic was "Writer Beware." Then after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that awareness of simple mistakes we all make at one time or another was more apt. 

Ever since a writer friend posted a comment on Twitter that maybe characters in our stories don’t need to nod all the time I’ve become super-sensitive to that movement. In a book I’m currently reading there’s a lot of nodding going on, and I have to wonder if I would’ve noticed that before the Twitter posting.

In reply to his tweet I commented that when we have a character nod, we don't have to say “nodded his or her head,” pointing out that there really isn’t another part of the body that one would nod. Of course, if we write sci-fi and have an alien species without a head, that character might nod an elbow or a knee, but for those of us who people our books with humans, we do know what part of the body is used for nodding.

Many of the other comments on his original Tweet made it clear that a lot of people were now becoming more aware of how often they were having a character nod. A few of the responders even left a smiley-face emoji, admitting that they always write “nodded his head.” 

Within a few minutes of reading that Tweet, and a few of the comments, I closed down Twitter to try to be a bit more productive that day. I opened the file for my current WIP, and what to my wondering eye should appear but a whole lot of nodding. 

Thankfully, I didn't often make the mistake that I call the “double assent.” It goes something like this: You have a character nod “in assent” or acknowledgment of something, and then follow that with wordage such as: Sarah nodded, “I agree,” she said. However, I cringed when I did find a few of those.

Writers shared many comments on that Tweet about their chagrin upon discovering gestures that they tend to use a way too much in their stories. Some examples of those pesky repetitive movements: Rubbing a hand through his thick hair, wiping a hand across the bristles of his cheek, sucking in a breath, and one that drove me absolutely nuts when I first started reading Faye Kellerman’s wonderful mysteries was “blowing out a breath.” It seemed like every time her detective reacted to something he would blow out a breath. Thankfully she dropped that after a few books and gave Decker a whole lot of other movements and gestures to use as he reacted to things.

I’ll admit that I have a few gestures that I overuse in my first drafts. That is to be expected in that first step of the writing when we're just trying to get the story down because we all write what is most familiar in terms of language and phraseology, awkward gestures and wordage repeats included. In the rewrite, we can change all those worn-out movements into something fresh.

The same goes for words that are overused and could do with a bit of a refresh. Just one example is the word “amazing.” If everything is amazing, then nothing is. Save the word for great vistas, or works of art, or surprising revelations from a character. The word loses its potency when ascribed to a yummy desert in one chapter, then used in response to seeing Mt. Everest for the first time.  Likewise, “beautiful” and “great” are words that lose their power when used too often in too many instances.

While doing a Google search for more information on overused words, I came across this fun post at Buzzfeed where authors share some of their realizations about some of their bloopers. Here are just a couple of the comments, and I hope you check out the article to read them all. It's a quick read and worth a chuckle or two.

"Mine are shrugging, raising their eyebrows, running a hand through their hair or shifting their weight. It’s like bloody am-dram." Jodie Chapman  author of  Another Life

"My characters have scrunched their eyes in confusion so often they look like Zelda from Terrahawks.

I also keep deleting "indeed" as a condescending response, which leaves just a hundred or so in my portfolio 😂"  John Drake  author of Zoomers

Now I must be off to do some more editing to find the rest of my bloopers. If you care to share some of yours, please do in the comments.

Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor, and sometimes an actress. She's written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Seasons Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website.


Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Interview: How a business coach can write and publish a book quickly


Elle Carter Neal interviewed by Angela Sedran of Heads Over Heels, talking about how business coaches, public speakers, or small business owners can learn to write and publish a book on their topics of expertise - even if they don't consider themselves "writers". Elle shares tips for pulling together content quickly and (relatively) painlessly, and discusses the three main considerations to take into account when deciding between traditional- and self-publishing.

Learn more at Fully Booked Author, and subscribe to the FBA Vault for access to a new free guidebook, checklist, or video tip each week.