Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books of the Year ~ Gold Medal Winner

Drum roll. Cymbal crash. Hushed silence waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting for the
big gold medal reveal. One more cymbal crash just because I love the noise.


My favorite book of 2014 is BORN OF PERSUASION by Jessica Dotta.

The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.


All right. I’ll admit it. I LOVE the villain in Born of Persuasion. Mr. Macy is the most suave and endearing creepy character I’ve ever met…hence my honorary title of President of the Macy Fan Club. No, really. When you’ve finished reading the book, check the acknowledgements.

Author Jessica Dotta has penned quite a memorable novel debut—not a light and fluffy read. The writing is exquisite, with danger and intrigue shadowing every scene. A strong undercurrent of who to believe and what to believe runs throughout. This is the kind of book to curl up with on a dark, windy evening with a cup of tea and candlelight.

Julia is the heroine. Sometimes you’ll ache for her, other times you’ll want to shake some sense into her. Either way, she will evoke emotion in you. Hers is a haunting story, sad and forlorn, yet glimpses of love and hope are sprinkled in at times.

Other characters step directly off the pages of an Austen novel or appear to be from Downton Abbey. Nancy, the say-it-like-it-is lady’s maid. Mrs. Windham, a Mrs. Bennett wannabe. Lady Foxmore, conniving and underhanded. All of them are an unforgettable cast. The settings are just as spectacular, think Bleak House mixed with Jane Eyre.

Do not expect all your questions to be satisfactorily answered by the end of this first book. In fact, you’ll likely have just as many questions as when you start—which will make it all the more exciting to devour books 2 and 3 when they come out. This is a series that has earned a permanent place on my bookshelves. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Books of the Year ~ Silver Medal Winner

The Secret of Pembrooke Park
By Julie Klassen

Abigail Foster fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry to improve her charms and the one man she thought might marry her--a longtime friend--has fallen for her younger, prettier sister. 

When financial problems force her family to sell their London home, a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll's house left mid-play . . .

The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem to know something about the manor's past, the only information they offer Abigail is a warning: Beware trespassers who may be drawn by rumors that Pembrooke contains a secret room filled with treasure.

Hoping to improve her family's financial situation, Abigail surreptitiously searches for the hidden room, but the arrival of anonymous letters addressed to her, with clues about the room and the past, bring discoveries even more startling. As secrets come to light, will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?


Warning: stock your freezer with frozen pizzas because you won’t be feeding your family until you’ve finished this book.

THE SECRET OF PEMBROOKE PARK is by far the finest to date of author Julie Klassen’s novels. Danger. Love. Intrigue. A mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end. You’ll find all the ingredients of a historical romance with a gothic flair in this latest release.

Heroine Abigail Foster struggles with feelings of self-worth, magnified by her younger sister’s beauty. When an opportunity presents itself for her to depart from family for awhile and prepare a country home for their residence, she jumps on it. In the process, she discovers a house full of mystery. . . and a very handsome curate to help the solve the puzzle.

William Chapman is everything a hero should be. Compassionate. Trustworthy. Big biceps. More than that, though, he truly cares about the souls of his parish, Abigail’s included.

Which makes it even harder for Abigail to choose when the former love of her life shows up. Don’t worry. I won’t give anything away. You’ll have to wonder like I did until nearly the end of the story.

PEMBROOKE PARK is a fantastic tale, sure to make you drop all your responsibilities and hole up on the couch for a few days. Plan ahead and have plenty of tea and scones available, because seriously, you will NOT put this one down.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Books of the Year ~ Bronze Medal Winner

It's that list time of year. You know the routine. What was worst or best in 2014, yada, yada. Here at Writer Off the Leash it's my tradition to share the top 3 books I read in the past year, shining the ol' spotlight on some great fiction you might not have heard of. Today we'll cover the bronze medal winner. Drum roll, please . . .

Edge of Freedom ~ Book #3
By Elizabeth Ludwig

Dreaming of a better life, Tillie McGrath leaves Ireland behind and, with her beloved fiance by her side, sets sail for America. But when illness robs her of the man she holds dear, she's left alone with only a handful of tattered memories. While forging on proves difficult, Tillie soon finds some new friends at her New York boardinghouse, and begins pursuing a new dream--to open a home for orphaned children.

Despite two years passing, Captain Keondric Morgan has never forgotten the lass who left his ship so heartbroken. When a crewman's deathbed confession reveals her fiance's demise was the result of murder, the captain knows he must try to contact her. But his attention draws the notice of others as well--dangerous men who believe Tillie has in her possession something that could expose their crimes. And to their way of thinking, the best way to prevent such an outcome is to seize the evidence and then hand Tillie the same fate as her naive fiance.

My Review:

Looking for a historical romance that will keep you on the edge of your seat from page 1 until the very end? Tide and Tempest is the book for you!

This is book 3 in the Edge of Freedom series, but don't worry if you haven't picked up the first 2 yet (you will, though, once you've finished this read). The story makes sense on its own all while wrapping up a very satisfying ending to the first two books.

My favorite character? Captain Keondric Morgan is a hubba-hubba kind of hero. Not that he's perfect, mind you, but that just makes him all the more real.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Who Can Understand These Things?

Servant King
virgin birth
Human God

Pick one item on the list. Just one. 
Ponder it until you have an explanation.

Good thing you've got eternity to do so.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Birthday Hero

Most heroes are too good to be true. I like to dress mine in unpredictability. Someone who’s not necessarily safe to be around but always has his loved one’s best interests at heart and will put his head on the chopping block to save them if need be. This reminding you of anyone? 

The same could be said for Jesus. I hope readers make that connection, subconsciously at least. Heroes are not always what we expect them to look like on the outside.

As you swig back the ol' egg nog and stagger around on a sugar high, don't forget to take a moment to remember the hero that the celebration is all about. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

5 Books Releasing as Movies in 2015

Besides cramming my mouth with Christmas cookies pretty much the entire weekend, it's been movie-fest-a-palooza around here with family and friends. I've seen The Hobbit A Christmas Story and on Christmas Day will go see Unbroken.

Want to know what my favorite thing is about going to a movie? Well yeah, the popcorn, that's a given, but actually I was going to say previews. I love me some great previews, and I've seen quite a few. Here are some upcoming flicks in 2015 that look fantastic and are based on books . . .

In the Heart of the Sea
By Nathaniel Philbrick
Release Date: March 13, 2015
This is the true story that follows the annals of the Essex, a whale ship that left Nantucket for the South Pacific in 1918. On the way, it was attacked and sunk by an 80' sperm whale. Yep. You read that correctly. What the heck? What follows is 90 days of torture as the crew drifts aimlessly in 3 small whaleboats, suffering from hunger, disease, and . . . wait for it . . . that doggone stupid whale! Even if Chris Hemsworth weren't starring in this, I'd still go see it.

By Veronica Roth
Release Date: March 20, 2015
I'm super excited for this one, so I'd better get reading, eh? This is book 2 in the Divergent series, which is a young adult dystopian series. In this book, heroine Tris Prior and her buddies fight a war between the factions for independence from the oppressive state.

Far From the Madding Crowd
By Thomas Hardy
Release Date: May 1, 2015
Romance. English countryside. A dashing young soldier. Win, win win! This is quite the love story. A beautiful, independent woman (Everdene) is pursued by 3 different men: a poor shepherd, a rich and handsome gentleman, and a sergeant in royal army.

By Mary Shelley
Release Date: October 2, 2015
Oh, stop it. I know exactly what you're thinking. This is NOT a Mel Brooks movie. Sheesh. Throw out all your misconceptions and prejudices concerning this book and just read the dang thing. It's more than just a monster book. It raises huge questions about the creator and the created and is honestly one of my top 10 favorite books because it has some deeply spiritual parallels. This movie will be told from the perspective of the young assistant, Igor. I'm not sure that Hollywood can pull this off without either crossing into the typical dark horror side of things or veering off into the cheesy. At any rate, whether or not the movie is good, the book is.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
By Seth Grahame-Smith
HAHAHAHA! There's not even a release date yet, but should you read it and/or see it? Personally, I won't be wasting my money.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Pride . . . the Ugly Wart on a Writer's Soul

I'm often asked how to publish a book.
Short answer: write one. Longer answer: write a well-written, carefully thought out, doggone great story, then edit it.

And re-edit.

And re-edit.

Oh yeah, did I mention edit the merciless sucking bejeebers out of it?

I'm not just beating a dead horse here. The thing I see most often in newbie writers is them stiff-arming the editing process, as if their words had been handed down to them from the heavens.

Self-publishing has made it super easy for newbies to fling a book out on the market. But just because something is easy doesn't mean that it's good. Great writing takes time and humility. Want to know what makes a great writer?

A teachable spirit.

If you fearlessly and fiercely think you're ready to be published, then you're most likely not.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Don't Judge a Book By its Chapters

Most people measure books by chapters, which is a curious way to deem a book worthy of reading. There's some kind of cosmic expectation that the more chapters, the better the book.

The second most common question I'm asked is how many chapters are in my current work? To which I answer . . . uh . . . blink, blink . . . I don't know. Not because I'm a drooling idiot who can't count past ten because that's how many fingers and toes I own. The thing is that X amount of chapters is not my goal. There is no magic number of chapters that makes a book great.


Because chapters are subjective.

Some are short. Others enormous. It all has to do with the cadence of the story. Each chapter needs to launch the plot forward and is kind of like a story within a story. However many words it takes to do that is the sweet spot. Once that launching purpose is served the chapter needs to be cut off.

A better way to measure the length of the book is by word count. 90k is the goal I shoot for, regardless of how that breaks down into chapters. That's roughly around 350 pages.

So let's stop the judgmental attitudes out there about the perfect book being 30 chapters. I know haters gotta hate, but honestly, let's put that hatred onto things worth hating, like sauerkraut for example.

Oh yeah. I suppose you're wondering what the number one question is that I'm usually asked. It's how much money do I make at writing. Why do people feel the need to ask that? Is it because they secretly yearn to quit their day job and write stories in their jammies?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Books That Change Your Behavior

As I was walking my devil dog through the neighborhood today, I saw several leftover pumpkins, weeping their carcasses over the edge of a porch. Looked like a slow suicide. What a way to go. I semi-wished I had a notebook to scratch down a few thoughts about such a death -- only semi because I would've frostbit my fingertips, and then who would do all the Christmas baking?

Disclaimer: this is one dilly of a meandering segue so don't strain too hard because I won't be held responsible for pulled muscles.

Back to the notebook thingee . . . the idea yanked something out of my trashcan (Griep talk for a forgotten memory). Way back when I was a young reader, I devoured the book Harriet the Spy, so much so that I toodled around the neighborhood taking notes while eating a tomato sandwich just to be like the main character . . . which didn't work out so well because I almost threw up and the only thing even mildly interesting in the neighborhood was the corner house because it smelled like an open can of tuna.

All that to say (and BTW, I'm very proud of you for hanging with me around those tight curves) some books are much more than entertainment. They can be life changing in tangible ways. More examples:

Little House on the Prairie
The phrase "and Laura thought this great fun" got me through the first few lessons of downhill skiing. I repeated them over and over as I somersaulted down the slopes.

Streiker's Bride
The heroine made a pan of brownies. Need I say more?

The teenage hero takes the heroine to a Chinese restaurant and encourages her to try new foods even though they were foreign to her. You wouldn't believe the weird things I've put into my mouth at a Chinese restaurant since.

And those are just a few. What books have you read that have altered your behavior in some way?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top 5 Traits of a Great Writer

Nobody's perfect. There's not a writer on this planet who doesn't have any wiggle room left for growth. The best writers realize that and work hard to tweak their craft. What's that? You want to be one of the best? Then work on acquiring these traits . . .

Every writer has a big invisible zipper on their soul that opens wide when they put out a story, allowing the world to read their collection of words. It takes guts to do that. Writing with wild abandon even when you're afraid to do so creates fresh prose.

Rotten reviews. Sales that tank. A papercut right where the fingernail meets flesh. These roadblocks don't stop a true writer. In fact, writing in the midst of adversity makes for a story and characters with more depth.

What are you writing for? Creation? Fame? Fortune? To stand on a soapbox and deliver a message? Pinpointing your mission statement as an author will hone your writing to a sharp edge. Great writers know why they write, even if it's something as simple as they'll die if they don't.

Finish what you start. Don't get caught in the crazy spin cycle of editing and re-working and second-guessing your plot. Just finish the dang thing. Then you can go back and tidy up the messy bits.

Words are a writer's business. Know what's out there on the market. Learn and be inspired by other writers. We don't live in a vacuum. Glean what you can from the best of the best.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Random Book Signing Thoughts

I went to Julie Klassen's book signing at LifeWay books this weekend. She's pretty much a rockstar of historical fiction and I am but a plebian, but she let me stand next to her table while she signed, kind of like a pathetic little puppy. But hey, I never claimed to have any shame whatsoever and I managed enough self-control to not pee on her shoes.

Here's the super cool thing...see that picture? Check it out, dudes and dudettes. That's little ol' moi's poster right smack next to el rockstar. Somebody slap me because I think I may be dreaming. Or I might be living in an alternate universe, not sure which. At any rate, I'm thrilled to pieces.

While I was worshipping at church later that evening--hang with me here because it really does tie in--I got to thinking about attending Julie's book signing. It was super easy for me to attract possible customers over to her table, telling them about how great her books are and what a sweet deal they'd get by buying a copy right then. But, if I'd been the one signing, I'd never call people over to my table. What's up with that? Why is it so easy for me to draw attention to someone else? To "sing the praises" of one of my favorite authors?

Because we were created for worship. No, not of authors. Sheesh. My theology isn't that far off center, and yes, this is a lame analogy. But the point I'm making is that it's natural to draw others to something that's beautiful, whether in a small way like sharing about a great book, or in an eternal way like sharing about Jesus. And what better time of year than Christmas to spread the great news of God coming down to Earth?

2 Corinthians 9:15
Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Okay, so I may be a little late getting to this party, but wowzer! Slap a lampshade on my head and twirl me around. BookBub is the hip-hop happening place where every book lover should shake their booty. In plain English: it's a daily email that notifies you about free or deeply discounted ebooks. Here's how it works . . .

  1. Type in your email address.
  2. Choose which genres you love. I ticked off the Christian fiction box.
  3. Sit back and wait for a notice in your inbox that tells you what books are currently free or uber-freaking cheap.
  4. Download the book(s) you want, but you have to act quickly. Most are only free/cheap for a limited number of days.

That's it. That easy. You can even select authors you like to follow and when one of their books comes up for a deal, you'll be sure to know about it.

Now. If I can just find the time to read

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Choosing Rest

Dang. I wish I looked this good when I plop on the bed.
It's that time of year. Shopping. Parties. Caroling, cooking, decorating, wrapping and--ACK! Stop the merry-go-round. I want to get off. How about you? Are you ready to stop the holiday madness? Do you even know how to stop the madness?

Choose rest.

No, seriously, choose rest. Pencil it down on your To Do list. Write it on your calendar. Every day, set aside fifteen minutes of absolute down time. I'm not talking sit down on your fanny and whip out your iPhone so you can check your email for a quarter hour. I'm saying put your feet up and unplug completely, in a quiet room. Alone. Just you and your thoughts. Why?

Because creative people must have time to be mentally recharged. Downtime is essential to the mental process. Sound scientificky? It is, and if you'd like more technical details, read this article over at Scientific American.

Rest is too important to leave to chance, and at this time of year, that chance is miniscule non-existent. So just do it. Plan some quiet into your daily routine. Don't make me come over there.

I need to go put up my feet.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Failure is Not a Four-Letter Word

Newsflash: you are going to fail.

Some way, some how, you will fall and bloody your writerly knees, possibly your chin, and maybe even knock a few teeth out in the process. It can happen in many ways. A Tommy gun of a review will pepper your soul with bullet holes, or you find a piece of your writing used as a birdcage liner at your Great Aunt Nina's house. Maybe you just can't sell your manuscript because the writing is crappy.

Whatever mask failure parades around in, it's a guarantee that it will find you like a creepy stalker. Wearing a clown costume. And smelling of beer and gorgonzola.

So the question I pose to you today isn't what will happen if you fail, it's what will happen when you fail? Will you:

  • Wail like a three-year-old on an all-day crying jag?
  • Take out your angst on the dog, cat, chameleon or your mother?
  • Quit writing? Just take your ball and go home?

How you handle failure exposes what's on the inside of you and how you view the world. My kids hate it when I say this, but you're not one of my offspring so I can stand on top of the table and shout:
"Failure is an opportunity. 
It's a gift-wrapped chance to go back to the drawing board and re-create."

If you change your mindset about failure, take away all of it's negative power and infuse it with positive, then you will eventually be a winner. Why? Because you won't have quit.

Failure is part of a writer's life. If you can't deal with that, then maybe you're not a writer. Yeah, that's an ugly-butt statement, but perseverance and determination are the two qualities every successful writer owns.

So go out there and fail, little writers. Wait a minute. Fail is a four-letter word. Gah! I technically failed with my title. Hmm. Is that opportunity I hear knocking?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Doubt is a Good Thing
Doubt is the fat stepkid that everyone loves to kidney punch when no one's looking. It's negative. A downer. No one wants to embrace doubt.

But as a writer, creating doubt in a reader is your job. 

In order to keep a reader engaged, you've got to make them wonder how in the world you're going to pull off an amazing yet believable ending. Doubts such as:

  • There's no way the hero will be able to save the girl who's tied onto the railroad tracks with a bullet train due in 5 seconds. How can he possibly pull off a rescue?
  • The heroine just ate a poisoned apple, making her swoon, and oops...she's falling off the edge of a cliff. How will she live through the ordeal?
  • Wearing a suicide vest, the villain races into the middle of a Vikings/Packer game and threatens to self-destruct unless he's given a bajillion dollars in gold. Will the game continue, and more importantly, will the Vikings win?

If you don't create doubt in a reader's mind, they're going to tune out, which is death to a novel. Up the stakes. Drop anvils on the heads of your characters until your reader wonders how they'll ever escape brain damage.

Just be sure when you scheme up your catastrophes that you also have plausible solutions for them. The victory doesn't need to be clearly predicted, but it does need to be clearly dealt with.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Fun Friday History Lesson: Bridgnorth and Henry I

Note to self: hold the dang camera horizontally next time.
Note to viewers: oops!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Do You Have to Write What You Know?

Write what you know. You've all heard it. Those four words are embedded like nasty bits of shrapnel under the skin of every writer. The thing is, though, that if everyone took that advice to heart, how many books do you think would get written?

Probably two. Maybe three. There just aren't that many geniuses around who know everything about everything.

And if you did write about what you know, would people really want to delve deep into a story about the proper way to insert an Eggo into a toaster?

Instead, I propose that you write what you're passionate about. What causes your heart to make huge brontosaurus stompy sounds? Knights and castles? Rock badgers? Googly-eyed buck-naked aliens toting balloons? Whatever. As a writer, you need to write the story that captures your attention or you're just not going to hold a reader's interest.

Writing a novel doesn't have to be rocket science...unless, of course, you're penning a speculative thriller involving a rocket scientist. Fiction is A MADE UP STORY, for crying out loud. Don't get all bent out of shape just because you don't know the details of a particular era or setting. Yeah, you'll have to do some research and include little nuggets of truth and trivia, but first capture the essence of your story in a rough draft.

There. I've unleashed you. Run free and write wild . . . just don't do it with scissors in your hands. I won't be held legally responsible for that.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Heaven On Earth For Readers

Bookstore. How does that word make you feel? Relaxed? Warm and fuzzy? Like you want to tear over to the nearest bookstore and lose yourself in the stacks? Amazon may be king of the bookselling world, but brick and mortar shops win hands-down when competing on a sensory field. The smell of new novels. The sight of row upon row of book covers lined up like little soldiers. The hushed conversations contemplating which books to buy.

But not all bookstores are equal. I found some interesting shops that are destination points . . .

Ever had the urge to browse through a bookstore at two in the morning? You can, if you happen to live in Taiwan. The Eslite is a twenty-four hour bookstore that caters to bibliophiles, claiming to "have more night owl visitors than most Western bookstores could dream of during their daytime hours."

This bookstore in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is pretty much made out of books. The walls are floor to ceiling with books. The front doors are functioning bookshelves. In fact, everywhere you look, there are books, even in holes in the ceiling.

Imagine a bookstore created by Dr. Seuss and you'll have a mind picture of what this place looks like. There are rainbow rivers, book mountains, and hidey holes to read in. What kid (or adult) wouldn't love to visit a bookstore like this? It's kind of a long drive, though. It's in Beijing.

Not only can you sit with your feet dangling into a Venice canal in this bookstore, but you can also climb a stairway made of old encyclopedias.

Want to sip lemonade in an outdoor courtyard surrounded by books? At Bart's Books, you can, because it's an outdoor bookstore.

The most unique bookstore in Minneapolis that I used to bring my kids to is Wild Rumpus. There are chickens and cats roaming the aisles, and one spot, the floorboards are replaced with plexiglass where a pet rat's cage lies beneath. Super cool, even though I hate rats. Yes, I am a hater. Don't judge me.

So . . . what's the most interesting bookstore you've ever visited?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Quote Generators

Here are some of the easiest yet great quality sites to create quotes with graphics . . .

I could play on this site for hours, there are that many sweet pix to choose from. It's also very intuitive to navigate, so no technical savvy involved. Here's what I made:

This site is the easiest ever to use. Just enter your copy and who the quote is by (even if it's yourself), then click on the Go button. Then it pulls up a bunch of different options with your quote printed on it and you choose which one you like best. Here's one I made:

Recite This
This site is my go to when I need to make a quickie graphic, like this:

And if those three aren't enough for you, here are a few more that have a wealth of options on them:






Monday, December 1, 2014

Fiction Readers Trump Non-Fiction Readers

Hold on. Lest you think I'm going to completely diss non-fiction readers, put your pitchforks down. That's not what this is about. A palm-stinging high-five to anyone who reads. Period.

That being said, fiction readers trump those of the non-fiction persuasion when it comes to compassion. Science says those who stick their noses into the fictional realm are more empathetic. In a recent study at Emory University, neuroscientist Gregory Berns says:
"We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically."
Without going all Einstein on you, the shortened version is that researchers found what we all knew anyway . . . when you envision yourself as a character in a book, you take on the emotions that character is feeling. Chalk this up to your central sulcus in your brain. This carries over to real relationships as well, making those who read fiction more aware of other's emotions.

Moral of the story? Choose a fiction reader as your BFF.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Plaid Friday

Disclaimer: The formatting on the video is a little wonky. Oops.

UPDATE: Guess what? We made the Plaid Friday & Ace Hardware Facebook Pages. I hope all this fame doesn't change us as human beings.

THE SHOPPERS: Mariah Griep, Linda Ahlmann, Joshua Griep, Erna Ahlmann, Yours Truly, Samantha Anderson

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Writer's Thanksgiving Menu

All around the country today, millions of Americans will belly up to the dining room table and scarf down gallons of gravy and tons of stuffing. But these common holiday foods have a double meaning to writers . . .

Royalty checks.

The first draft of a novel.

What all the ideas for a story look and feel like inside an author's brain.

A returned critique of a manuscript if the editor used a red pen.

What an author would like to do with all the 1-star reviews on Amazon--stuff them in the trash.

When a writer misses a deadline.

Typing "The End."

A fan letter from a reader.

Happy Thanksgiving from me to you!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Stump the Chump: How Do You Wrangle An Epic Story Onto Paper?


"My story ideas always seem so different (better) in my mind. How do you get a story from your head to paper without having it freak out and become something totally different?"


You don't.


Don't panic because of the short answer. I hate to be the pin holder bursting your authorly balloon into flying shreds of latex, but honestly, there's no way you'll ever capture the Cinemagraphic story in your head so that readers see exactly what you do . . . but that is the inherent beauty of every story. Just because it changes and comes out differently doesn't mean that it's bad.

But sometimes it is. Just today I read a Facebook status from one of my favorite authors, Travis Thrasher. He said:
"Hello, Solitary Tales fans. I wanted to let you know about this particular title that I had planned on releasing before the end of the year. Well, that plan changed, not because of busyness but because the story went places that I didn't want it to go. Actually, Chris Buckley (that's his main character) said that it was unbelievable. He told me he'd never do that stuff. He said that readers would be confused if I went in this direction. So yeah . . . I stopped writing and am now figuring out how to tell this story."
Writers at every stage of the game continually wrestle with the beast of wrangling a story into words. At times it can be downright discouraging.

All that being said, though, I'm still of the belief that change is good, and here's why . . . even if you wrote exactly the story you wanted to tell, every reader who picks that book up will experience it in a different way than you intended. Why? Because readers come to the table with different baggage, a plethora of backgrounds, and assumptions galore.

Writing is art, and art is like that. For all we know, daVinci had a blonde-haired, blue-eyed vixen with a toothy grin in mind when he painted the Mona Lisa, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a beloved masterpiece.

Go forth fearlessly, little writers, and pen your masterpieces. Embrace change. And it never hurts to eat much chocolate along the way.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stump the Chump: How Do You Hold a Reader's Attention?

Today's question comes from a young writer who no doubt will become a superstar author one day. How do I know? Am I some kind of prophet? Do I read tea leaves? Did I get a screaming hot deal on a crystal ball at Woot? Nah. Nothing like that. I'm confident she'll succeed because the girl has a hunger to learn the craft. Here's her question:

"My story is long. How do I keep a reader's attention?"

The answer to that question is to raise a question. At the end of every scene, leave the reader wondering about something. . . 

Will the heroine give in to the temptation to eat a slab of chocolate cake and ruin her chances of fitting into her wedding dress next week? 

How is the hero going to escape the clutches of the ninety-seven-year-old granny who's stalking him? 

Where in the world is the villain's rubber ducky--the one that fell off the back of the pickup truck and is filled with C-4?

Not every scene has to end with a helicopter crash, but there does need to be some hook to make the reader turn the page instead of setting down the book. And that's accomplished by raising a question in the reader's mind.

Apparently I'm on a Dear Abby roll, so if there are any other questions you'd like to stump the authorly chump with, leave them in the comment section.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dickens Meets Sherlock Holmes

What do you get when you mix a shade of the darker side of Regency London with a quick-witted lawman? Nicholas Brentwood—a hero who’s a little rough around the edges, colorful as a Dickens character, and observant enough to be a forerunner of Sherlock. But he’s not just any lawman.

He’s a Bow Street Runner.

Traditionally, male householders in London were expected to police the streets in their neighborhood, and every citizen was to report anyone they witnessed committing a crime. This changed in the eighteenth century because of increasing concerns about the threat of dangerous criminals who were attracted by the growing wealth of London’s middle class.

Prompted by a post-war crime wave in 1749, Magistrate Henry Fielding hired a small group of men to locate and arrest serious offenders. He operated out of No. 4 Bow Street, hence the name “Bow Street Runners.”

Fielding petitioned the government and received funding, but even so, he soon ran out of money to pay these men a worthy salary. Still, the runners were committed to justice, so they took on odd jobs such as watchmen or detectives for hire or even—as in the case of Nicholas Brentwood—guarding people or treasures.

What attracted my interest as an author was an old newspaper advertisement put out by Fielding. It encouraged the public to send a note to Bow Street as soon as any serious crime occurred so that “a set of brave fellows could immediately be dispatched in pursuit of the villains.” I wondered about those “brave fellows” and what kind of villains they might come up against, and thus was born Nicholas Brentwood.

Despite Bow Street’s efforts, most Londoners were opposed to the development of an organized police force. The English tradition of local government was ingrained deep, and they feared the loss of individual liberty. So, as gallant as the Runners were in tracking down criminals, the general public did not always view them in a positive light. Even the nickname given them by the public—Bow Street Runners—was considered derogatory and was a title the officers never used to refer to themselves.

Bow Street eventually gave way to the Metropolitan Police, and by 1839, the Runners were completely disbanded. But that doesn’t mean they don’t live on in the fictional realm. See if you can match wits with an experienced lawman as he tracks down a dangerous criminal in BRENTWOOD’S WARD.

There’s none better than NICHOLAS BRENTWOOD at catching the felons who ravage London’s streets, and there’s nothing he loves more than seeing justice carried out—but this time he’s met his match. Beautiful and beguiling EMILY PAYNE is more treacherous than a city full of miscreants and thugs, for she’s a thief of the highest order…she’s stolen his heart.

Available now as a pre-order in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine booksellers.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stump the Chump: Book Reviews From Hell


"What should be avoided when writing a book review?"

Every author's had at least one . . . a kidney-punch of a review that sucks the creative juices from his body and leaves him whimpering in the corner for his mommy. Those are the absolute worst. But what exactly is it that makes for a bad review?

Expecting more than what the story promises.

Before you haul off and whack an author over the head for handing you a plate of literary lasagne when you wanted a steak and potato novel, how about this: read the freaking back cover copy. If the blurb gives off a dark tone, don't expect bunnies and lollipops. Or if it reads lightheartedly, then the novel is probably not going to delve into deep topics. Be realistic.

The spelling and grammar of a three-year-old.

Really? Do I have to mention this. Yep, I do. Bad reviews almost always include typos and grammar that's worthy of a felony. If you're going to rag on an author's writing then yours better be impeccable.

Dishing out judgment as if you're God.

I understand that everyone has different worldviews and morals. Newsflash: books do too, because they're written by humans. So if sex outside of marriage pushes your buttons, don't buy 50 Shades of Grey and go on a rant about promiscuity. Instead of writing a review condemning the author to hell, I suggest that your time would be better spent praying for the poor slob.

Spewing pride poison.

Oh, so you think you can write a better book? Go for it. Writing a novel is stinking hard work, I don't care how bad you think the writing is. Because of that, do not -- read my lips here -- do NOT attack the author's work ethic. The novel may not be Steinbeck quality but I guarantee you the writer put in as much effort as Steinbeck would have.

Those are my top 4. What else do you think should be left out of a book review? Leave your ideas in the comment section and your name will be tossed in the Tupperware for tomorrow's big drawing. You could win the Gannah book of your choice!
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