September 27, 2016

What is the Bane of Your Writing Existence?

The things that make them want to pull their hair out and wish for another career. Instead, they’ll say what fun it is to create worlds and people and stories. And, yes, that’s fun. But there are things that might be called the bane of a writer’s existence. Otherwise wouldn’t even more people be writing books?

So, what is the bane of your writing existence?

Here are some things that I’ve found more troublesome:Man Looking At Computer In Desperation

First and foremost the marketing that goes with writing and producing a book. Talk about bane of existence! It’s not only frustrating but it can be very expensive. A publicist could cost as much as $8000 a month! Imagine that for books that sell for $2.99 or less.

Second is hearing your friends say something like, “Did you notice on page 29 you left out ‘and’?” or “I wrote down all the typos I found for you.” Geez. Can anyone possibly think this kind of feedback is helpful? If you are a Beta reader and  asked to pick out errors, yes. But, after the book is out there either in print or as an ebook, please do not tell me about the errors you found.

Third is writing the full scene when the characters want to go off and do something else. This happens more frequently than readers might imagine. We are not finished with a scene, but the characters are done. Writers must pull the characters back and force them to finish that scene before we move to the next. For me, this seems stiff and it’s hard.

Those are three things I find troubling as a writer.

Calling all Readers!! How Do You Find Your Next Book to Read?

As a writer I’m curious. As a reader I wonder if you can give me some ideas. I have found some ways to select books, but I’m sure you can share others. Please visit here and let me know.

Here are some ways I select books:

  • I ask my reading friends what they’re reading. Well, I don’t always ask. They often tell me. Often my reading friends have some great ideas of books to share.
  • Author interviews on public radio give me some direction. I hear the authors talk about their books. That can be intriguing. Two programs I particularly like is the New York Times Book Review podcast and Fresh Air podcast. Both offer in-depth looks at the Vector businessman series - blank setnewest books.
  • Goodreads. Sometimes My Goodreads friends suggest a book to me. They pay attention to the kinds of books I read, and they make a recommendation. I don’t simply go with their recommendation, I study the book and its author first.
  • Amazon suggestions. Amazon likes to try and figure out what I like to read. They send me all sorts of suggestions. Unfortunately, I often purchase books for other readers–like my husband–whose tastes are very different. This messes up Amazon’s logarithm. Nonetheless they sometimes have a good suggestion that fits my reading tastes.
  • My book club. I belong to a very relaxed book club. We don’t require everyone to read the suggested books. But, if a book intrigues me, I do read it, and it’s often something I would never have heard of otherwise.
  • Book reviews. Before I hit the purchase button on Amazon or B&N, I look over the reviews. I study the good and bad ones. The best leads are often in the 3 and 4 star reviews. The 5 star reviews love everything about the book. They are blinded by their adoration. The 1-2 star reviews are blinded by their dislike of the book. But, the 3-4 star reviews can give you a good idea about the book and whether it might suit you.
  • Get a sample of the book before you actually hit the purchase button . If I know nothing about the book or the writer (even if my book club recommends the book), I get a sample. If I hate the book in the first few chapters, I know not to order it.

These are some ways I find books. How about you?

If you’re looking for a good new mystery series, try the Jenna Scali mysteries. Here’s the book trailer for Book One.

Do You Read in Your Comfort Zone?

Do you read mostly for pleasure, escape, learning or a combination of all three? At one of my recent book clubs a colleague said, she makes herself read one book out of her comfort zone during the summer. What does she mean out of her comfort zone?Leaving Comfort Zone words on a barrier or sign to encourage you

That made me wonder what out of my comfort zone meant. Book clubs often suggest books I would not ordinarily select on my own. Are these books out of my comfort zone? What books are in my comfort zone and what books are not?

Take a look at these questions.

  1. Do you read the in same genre most of the time?
  2. Are the books listed on your Amazon suggestion list, relevant to your reading? In other words, have you been so consistent in your selections, that Amazon can figure out what you should read next?
  3. When you go to a book store, do you tend to drift to the same shelves. Those for mystery or fantasy or sci-fi or historical fiction?
  4. Are you an expert in a genre? Do you know most of the writers for that genre? Have you read all the series of books by the same author?
  5. If a friend loans you a book that is not your typical read, do you put it aside for that rainy day that never seems to come?
  6. Do you belong to book clubs that focus on one genre, be it fiction or non-fiction?

Answering yes to four of these six questions suggest you like to read in your comfort zone. We don’t know what that zone is, but that’s where you are.

So, why venture out? Why does my colleague challenge herself each summer?

It’s not just learning something new, it’s reading something she thought she wouldn’t enjoy.

Whether you read in your comfort zone or not, it’s important to keep reading. When we stretch, our minds grow. Think about ways your can grow your interests.

Share your thoughts and your answers to the questions above.

My Review– Longbourn by Jo Baker 4 Stars

It takes you back through the story of the Bennett sisters from behind the scenes. Instead of fretting over whether or not Mr. Darcy and Lizzy will become engaged, you’ll fret over the trials and tribulations of the maid servant, Sarah. When the girls go to a ball, the below-the-stairs staff are all in a flutter, getting just the perfect shoe roses and lace. It’s a different and fully engaging world.

Perhaps Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, was mentioned in Pride and Prejudice, but if she was, I don’t remember. Surely the maid servants were never called by name, and I don’t remember a butler or a footman. Baker clearly did a lot of research to learn how a typical household of Longbourn size would operate. How many staff it would take to keep it going. She never took us out of the time period. Never having had to experience laundry day in fiction or real-life, I was aching with Sarah as she scrubbed out stains. The chilblains and open soars on her hands bled with real intensity. Readers felt the drudgery of it all while the upstairs staff glittered.

The story of Pride and Prejudice happens without us being privy to it. As you read Longbourn, you’ll become less concerned about the goings-on upstairs. The downstairs characters take on a life that keeps you reading and worrying about them. Certain ettiquete keep the two worlds separate even when they have collided in the past. For me, I kept hoping the Lizzy I admired in Pride and Prejudice would


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notice Sarah’s distress. But she was completely lost in her world. The servants remained invisible until they were needed. Baker did a good job of keeping everyone in character and not stepping past those boundaries.

My only complaint with the book was the point-of-view changes. The author bounced from one one point-of-view to another and sometimes gave the impression of omnipresence. This troubled me, but I kept reading because the story and the character were so well written. Perhaps Baker chose this point-of-view to match that of Austen?

If you are a Jane Austen fan, you will love this book. I suggest reading Pride and Prejudice first to fully enjoy both worlds. But, Longbourn can be read separately. Definitely worth all four stars and is a must read!


How Do You Treat Yourself?

The utmost luxury is to have a few hours alone with my book, my cat, and maybe a cup of tea or coffee. Once I’ve accomplished all my work goals, all my home goals ,and all my other self-imposed goals, I give myself this treat. Unfortunately since I work on my own–don’t have a 9-5 job–that time gets more and more infrequent. When I worked for someone else, I had time during the weekends to luxuriate with my book. No more. Weekends mean more work than ever!



Nonetheless, I do strive for the time to read. That’s my treat to myself. What about you? Do you treat yourself? Some people find gardening a treat. It’s that time for them to relax and get their hands dirty. For them digging in the yard for a couple of hours is the ultimate treat. Other people say going to a movie or out to dinner is the best treat. Some people go shopping. We all have different ideas of what the treat to ourselves is. My guess is we just don’t take those treats often enough. We respond to the demands of our bosses, our spouses, our kids, our pets and ourselves.

Give yourself a treat. It will re-juveninte your battery. You’ll be more productive at whatever else you do.

What Hooks You?

Is it the characters? The plot? Unanswered questions? What kinds of things hook you and keep you reading? For me the characters are what keep me turning the pages. Some of the books I read have little plot, not much action, but I get attached to the character. Even in mysteries, I love knowing more about the primary detective or his/her side-kick. Martha Grimes created such an amazing detective with Richard Jury and his side-kick, Melrose Plant. Even though the plots were pretty formulaic, I read every book because I loved characters and how they interacted with one another.

Take this short quiz and see if you can nail that illusive thing that keeps you nailed to your book:

  1. Do you read ahead to see what is going to happen next. Even if it means skimming pages?
  2. Do you worry about the characters and what events will cause them trouble?
  3. Are you more interested in the main character’s life than the mystery at hand?
  4. Do you skim through the action in order to discover if the character will survive?
  5. Do you tire of reading about the main character’s problems and more interested in how the action will play out?

If you answered yes to questions 1 and 5, you tend to be a plot driven reader who gets hooked by the action and the mystery at hand. If you answered yes to numbers 2, 3, and 4, you are more character driven and tend to read even if the action is stale. If you have a mixture of answers, you read for both character and action. You could be hooked by either one, depending on the story.

So, how did you do? What hooks you?

My Favorite Reading Quote

This is one of my favorite reading quotes. I’m sure there are a zillion more. Why not share yours?


Tips for Coming Up with the Perfect Title

For some reason it’s not jumping off the page. But then again, now that I think about it, I’ve never had a book title jump off the page. I usually agonize over various versions before I settle on  that perfect title. Someone suggested I crowd source it and see what my network comes up with. That sounds fun. So, I’m going to give you some of the titles I’m toying with and see what you think.Share Your Story Flat Illustration

Meantime, here are some tips for coming up with the perfect title.

Nonfiction books have titles and subtitles. For example The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. Isn’t that a great title? But, if you’re writing a thriller, you’d better not use so many words. Most thrillers have one or two words. Cozy mysteries have soft titles like, Murder at the Bookstore or the Cupcake Killer.

What is the theme? My WIP theme is betrayal. But, I’ve toyed with that word and it really doesn’t capture the essence of the book. What is the inciting incident? What starts the book rolling? That might be a better place to look. Again, a lot depends on your genre. If I was writing a thriller, my title Betrayal would be perfect. But, a glance on Amazon tells me there are a bunch of books with that name.

When I was trying to think of a title for e-Murderer, I wrote, Internet, Murder, e-Mail, Death, Campus. After a bit more brainstorming, I landed on e-Murderer which together captured the theme and inciting incident. That was one lucky title idea!

Or, share your title ideas with your early readers. Often they will tell you if the title rings true for the book. Recently I read a book titled And After the Fire. I read the entire book waiting for the fire. It never happened. As a reader, I felt betrayed. We can’t title a book with words we happen to like or we feel are catchy. The title must reflect the story.

Short and crisp is the name of the game. Even the happiness book I referenced earlier uses few words that capture a lot of information. Okay so there are lots of words, but they are well-chosen. Here’s a great title, MJ LaBeff’s Mind Games. That title not only is short but it also captures the storyline perfectly.

If you’re writing a steamy romance, you must use words like love or attraction in your title. Wasn’t Fatal Attraction a great title? If you’re writing a mystery, you have to use words like, Murder, Death, Killing, Blood.

What tips do you have for coming up with a great title?

Here are the title ideas for my WIP:

The Case of the Missing Painting

A Painting to Die For

The Art of Murder

Murder and the Masterpiece

Take a look at this book trailer. Does the title capture the suspense?

Free At Last–Flash Fiction

Perhaps it will touch your heart. Enjoy a taste of flash fiction.DSC02093


The face in the sun, which looks like the man in the moon, grins at me through the window. I burrow deeper under my covers so I won’t see him.

“It’s up time, Joanie,” Mama hollers from the staircase. I put the pillow over my head, hoping to disappear.

Hands lift the covers off me and rub my arms. “C’mon, Joanie, get up. You need to get dressed for school.”

“No, mama, please don’t make me go.”

“But you have to. You’ll have fun. Let’s get you dressed in something special. Let’s see…” She pulls out the crimson, taffeta dress, the one the other kids laugh at, the one she made for me. “You haven’t worn this in a while.”

She slips it over my head. It crinkles every time I move. I can’t tell her I don’t want to wear it. I used to like this dress. When Mama was making it, I begged and begged to try it on. The first time I wore it, I practically danced to school.

But then Herman pulled on my hem and said, “Sounds like a Christmas present.” The other boys started tugging at me. After a bit I got so upset, I peed in my panties. I have not done that since I was a real little kid.

Mama buckles my shoes over my socks. “We’ll braid your hair later. Get on downstairs and eat breakfast with your sisters.”

I trudge down the stairs, looking for a place to escape.

Grandma is at the table with my sisters. She gets up when I enter the kitchen.

I plop down next to Lottie who was eating a disgusting bowl of Graham crackers and milk. The smell makes my stomach turn.

“I don’t want that,” I say, pointing to the mush Lottie is putting in her mouth. Lottie grins at me with brown flakes in her teeth. Ellen is at the other end of the table with her elbows firmly in place and shoving cereal in her mouth. She barely looks up when I sit down.

Grandma puts a bowl in front of me. “How about some Rice Krispies?”

I eat as slowly as I can, counting to ten before I take a bite. Maybe I’ll miss school.

Mama comes in and braids my hair as I eat. She pulls it too hard and I whimper. “Sorry, sweetheart,” she says.

Ellen walks me to school even though I know the way. I memorized the path the first time so I could come home. I did that until Mama got real mad at me and told Ellen to make sure to hand me over to the teacher.

Ellen doesn’t take my hand but she pushes me as we make our way to the school. I want to run away, but she keeps giving me a nudge. Finally we are at the door to my classroom. She shoves me toward the teacher and says, “Get lost.” Then she disappears in the crowd of kids.

The one thing that keeps me coming back to school is Rosie. She’s my favorite doll. They keep her in a big chest with other toys. The second day of school I found her tossed in the box with big trucks and other heavy tractors on top of her. I pulled her out, rescuing her from that awful place.

As soon as I get in the classroom, I go to the chest and dig for Rosie. Someone shoved her way down in the dark. I twist her out. Her legs are bent. I can’t straighten them. Some of her hair is missing. I tip her back and one of the eyes closes, but the other stays open and stares at me.

The teacher calls us to our seats. I take Rosie. When it’s time to go home, I keep Rosie tucked under my arm. I don’t want to put her back in the box where it’s dark and where she’ll get hurt.

On the way out, the teacher says to me, “You need to return the doll to the toy chest. You can’t take her home. She belongs here.”

A tear rolls down my cheek, but the teacher grabs Rosie from my grasp. “The toys are for all the children. Not just for you.”

The rest of the school year drags like waiting for Daddy to come home or for Christmas to come. I ask the teacher to let me stay inside during play period. I don’t want to go out in the cold with the other kids. The boys hit me with a ball, and I don’t want to play with them. She makes me go until I pee on my dress.

“Why didn’t you say you needed to use the bathroom,” the teacher says. Her face is red with anger. I didn’t know I needed to use the bathroom until I got scared. I try to tell her, but she just thrusts me in the bathroom and closes the door. I cry for long enough to miss play period.

Finally when the last day of school comes, I tuck Rosie under my sweater. I can’t leave her here in this awful place, alone, cold, and with no one to love her. I hide her, and I walk slowly so no one will see.

We are nearly home when Ellen tugs on my arm and Rosie nearly falls out on the pavement, but I catch her. “What’s that?” she asks.

“The teacher said I could have her,” I lie. I don’t usually lie but this was a special situation. I had to save Rosie. Free her.

Ellen doesn’t care. She slams the backdoor entering the house. Grandma says, “What have you got there?”

Getting better at lying now, I tell her, “It was a prize. I won it for being good.”

“How nice. Let’s get her cleaned up.” My grandmother takes her and cleans her face and brushes her hair. Now I can see Rosie’s cheeks and her lips.

That night I take Rosie to bed. Just before Mama turns off the light, I look at Rosie. She’s lying next to me with one eye open and the other closed. It’s as if she’s winking at me. She knows my secret.

I freed her and she’ll never tell.


If you enjoyed this story, you might enjoy my other writing. Check out the book trailer for e-Murderer.

What Are Beta Readers and How to Find Them?

Book WomanOkay, so you’ve finished your first draft. You’ve done everything you can with it. You’ve read it and re-read it to the point of total exhaustion. In fact you’ve gone over it so many times, that you’re not sure you’re reading the words on the page or if you have the pages memorized. What’s next?

These are people willing to read your manuscript and give you honest, constructive criticism. They are not people who will read your manuscript and say, “It’s wonderful,” without elaboration. Of course it’s wonderful. You’ve been working on it for months. You need to know more than a gut reaction to your story.

Betas are tests–trying out a test product, for example. The product is tested before going to market. Your book is no different. These are the things Beta readers can help you with:

  1. Does the story make sense. Is the plot clear? Or are you jumping around?
  2. What did you leave out? Maybe you forgot that you told a character you’d call him in an hour. Things happened and you forgot all about it. Your readers won’t. Beta readers catch these kinds of slip-ups.
  3. Does the reader feel in the place. In other words, have you created a believable setting?
  4. Are your characters acting “in character”? You haven’t had your shy character do something bold without good reason.
  5. Obvious typos that you’ve read over a million times.
  6. Timeframe. Could something happen within this time period. Did you mess up the timeframe? Maybe the story began on a Tuesday. How many days later did things happen? Is it still Tuesday?
  7. Are there too many characters? Have you introduced the people in your story well enough for your readers to keep them straight?
  8. Does the story grab the reader? If so, when? The first page, the second chapter?
  9. Is the ending satisfactory? Did you tie everything together?

They are reading to help you tweak and polish your story. Finding people willing to read a 300+ manuscript and answer all these kinds of questions isn’t easy. Here are some tips for finding Beta readers:

Tip #1: Other writers. We depend on each other. Each reads the other’s works. It’s a trade-off.

Tip #2: Find people who you trust will give you constructive criticism. They are not afraid of hurting your feelings. You want tough Beta readers.

Tip #3: Good editors make good Beta readers. If you know someone who edits other things, articles, nonfiction works, academic theses, these people often enjoy reading a novel as a change of pace and would welcome being one of your Beta readers.

Tip #4: Don’t rely on one reader. You need at least two and possibly three Beta readers. Too many will confuse you. Everyone has an opinion and often those opinions vary. But, if three readers tell you the same thing, that is something you should note.

Tip #5: If you don’t pay your Beta readers (there are some people who charge a small fee), then do something nice for them. Take them to coffee or out for a glass of wine to show your appreciation.

Tip #6: Acknowledge your Beta readers in your Acknowledgements in your final book. People love to see their name in print. Give them that bit of glory for all their hard work.

These are my tips for finding Beta readers. What are some of yours? Do you have Beta readers?

My newest book Murder on Moonshine Hill releases in one month. Check out the latest reviews here. I thanked my three Beta readers in the Acknowledgements. I couldn’t have written such a polished finished product without their help.