Wednesday, September 30, 2015

5 Books Banned For Stupid Reasons

So, for legit reasons or not, yesterday's post dealt with the current spate of banned books. Should they be banned? I'm of the Libertarian persuasion (not to be confused with a Persian cat or a Libyan) and think people should be allowed to decide to read what they want to . . . or don't want to. But not everyone is of the same mindset. Some books have been banned for some wingdinger reasons.

BANNED: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
STUPID REASON: In 2006, some parents in a Kansas school district decided that talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural; passages about the spider dying were also criticized as being ‘inappropriate subject matter for a children’s book.’

BANNED: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
STUPID REASON: A boy throwing a tantrum was considered dangerous behavior and Sendak was accused of glorifying Max’s anger, prompting psychologists to condemn it as ‘too dark and frightening.’ In a March, 1969 column for Ladies’ Home Journal, child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim called the book psychologically damaging for 3- and 4-year-olds.

BANNED: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
STUPID REASON: It has been challenged on sexual grounds, and has been called ‘pornographic’ and ‘obscene’. It should be noted, however, that there are no sex scenes at all in the book, and no sexual language.

BANNED: A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
STUPID REASON: In 1985, challengers at Cunningham Elementary School in Beloit, Wisconsin, said that A Light in the Attic ‘encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.’

BANNED: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
STUPID REASON: Challenged in the Vernon Verona Sherill, NY, School District (1980) as a ‘filthy, trashy novel.’ Also banned from the Lindale, TX, advanced placement English reading list (1996) because the book ‘conflicted with the values of the community.’

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Happy Banned Books Week

Rebel that I am, since it's National Banned Books Week, I thought we should celebrate by reading the first paragraphs of the Top 5 Most Frequently Banned Library Books of 2015.

#1. The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I was born with water on the brain.

Okay, so that's not exactly true. I was actually born with too much cerebral spinal fluid inside my skull. But cerebral spinal fluid is just the doctors' fancy way of saying brain grease. And brain grease works inside the lobes like car grease works inside an engine. It keeps things running smooth and fast. But weirdo me, I was born with too much grease inside my skull, and it got all thick and muddy and disgusting, and it only mucked up the works. My thinking and breathing and living engine slowed down and flooded.

My brain was drowning in grease.

#2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This book is actually a graphic novel, so the following is dialogue . . .

"Oh shit! They've occupied the U.S. Embassy!!"
"Who's 'they'?"
"Who do you think? The fundamentalist students have taken the American's hostage!!"
"They call it a 'nest of spies.' Ha ha! You'd think it was a James Bond movie."

#3. The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison

And the years folded up like pocket handkerchiefs. Sammy left town long ago; Cholly died in the workhouse; Mrs. Breedlove still does housework. And Pecola is somewhere in that little brown house she and her mother moved to on the edge of town, where you can see her even now, once in a while. The birdlike gestures are worn away to a mere picking and plucking her way between the tire rims and the sunflowers, between Coke bottles and milkweed, among all the waste and beauty of the world--which is what she herself was. All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us--all who knew her--felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used--to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.

#4. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years. 

#5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

August 25, 1991 Dear friend,
I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. Please don't try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don't want you to do that. I will call people by different names or generic names because I don't want you to find me. I didn't enclose a return address for the same reason. I mean nothing bad by this. Honest.

Did any of those pique your interest? I think I'll snatch me up a copy of The Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Two Demons of Despair

post by Michelle Griep
You're writing along, la-de-da-de-dah, all happiness and sunshine. Life is good. Unicorns are romping. Your manuscript is quite possibly one of the best you've ever written.

Then you get an email from an author buddy. They just landed a $20k book deal. At first you're high-fivin' and fist-bumpin' and even tossing in a hip-check for congratulations.

But after the celebratory pat on the back for your buddy, two ugly demons perch on each side, right there on your shoulders, talons drawing blood . . . jealousy and doubt.


Sure, you're truly delighted your buddy met with success . . . for like five minutes. That feeling quickly morphs into "Hey! Why don't I get a contract like that?" and suddenly you're not just a pretty shade of spring green, you're drowning in nasty pea-soup sludge of envy. I don't care how righteous you are. You will always feel at least a twinge of why-wasn't-it-me syndrome.

But here's the deal . . . open up your hands and let it go as quickly as it came. You can't help being tempted by jealousy but you can help wallowing in it. I've met some bitter writers in my time, and not one of them has moved on to bigger writing contracts because they've not moved past the jealousy.


Shortly following envy, another poisonous gas fills your nostrils. Doubt. You wonder if your writing is a heap of literary hoo-haw. You wonder if you should just quit. You wonder if you shouldn't just take a nap on the nearest railroad tracks and end it all. Okay, so maybe not that drastic, but you do begin to think your writing must not be as good as Author X's because clearly he landed a contract with his sweet writing skills and you didn't.

But here's the deal . . . first, acknowledge that this feeling is completely and totally normal, and that it's okay. This is what keeps a writer humble. But going overboard and berating yourself, your heritage, doubting whether you can even pen a proper suicide note and end it all is NOT okay. You write like you. You do not write like Author X. If X is what the market happens to be buying currently, guess what? That will change. Maybe not next year, or maybe even in five, but it will change. And that will give you the time you need to bone up on your writerly skills and kick your writing up a notch.

So go ahead and Snoopy dance with your writerly buddies, own the negative feelings that are sure to follow, then kick jealousy and doubt to the curb and get back to honing your skills.

Friday, September 25, 2015

When the Going Gets Tough

I'm about 2/3 of the way finished with my latest book. You know what that means? Yep. You got it. I'm wasting a lot of time on stupid websites because I'm at the point where I think the whole thing is a big glop of literary nuclear waste. Yes indeedy, when the going gets tough, the tough go to stupid websites . . .

3 Weird Yet Wonderful Websites

Love squirrels? Love laser guns? How do you feel about jet packs? If that just sent a thrill up your leg, then this is the site for you. And even if not and you just want to annoy someone in the room with you, pop on over and shoot a few laser beams.

Too broke to go on a vacation? Check out MapCrunch. It's kind of like StumbleUpon but with street view maps. Just click on Go and you'll get a street view of some random street anywhere in the world. It could be a shack on a dirt road in the middle of Africa to a chateau in France.
You know those design sites where you can draw squiggly pretty pictures? This one does that but with words. You can enter your own text or have it choose text for you.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

And You Thought Zombies Were Bad

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single writer in possession of a good idea 
must be in want of a publisher."
~ Michelle Griep

And what better idea than to spin off yet another ridiculous version of Pride & Prejudice with . . . wait for it . . . drum roll, please . . . guinea pigs! Yeah. I'm not making this stuff up. There is seriously a new release this October titled A Guinea Pig Pride & Prejudice. Here's the trailer . . .

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Social Media Tweaks

post by Michelle Griep
I don't spend a great deal of time on social media, but when I do, there are a few things that set my teeth on edge. After pondering these peeves, I came up with a few tweaks that ought to make the world a better place . . .

Thumbs-Down Facebook Icon
Every shlub in the universe can leave horrific book reviews in minute detail on Amazon, so why not share the hate and give readers a thumbs down opportunity on Facebook?

Twitter Dunk Tank
For every book promo tweeted, the tweeter should have to sit on a virtual dunk tank while readers get three free-throws to dampen their narcissistic marketing binges.

Kumbaya Club at Goodreads
There are a lot of drive-by commenters on Goodreads. How about we start a Kumbaya Club over there and spread some some joy and peace?

Linked In Shock Collar
Why would Mbwantano Ngli endorse me for my sweet marine biology skills? I live in the freaking Midwest! False endorsements need a zap of electricity. Just sayin'.

Instagram Blow-Up-Your-Computer Virus
Every time you post a cat picture, your computer should blow up.

There you have it. Got any better ideas? Share them in the comment section. Come on. Be brave. Your ideas seriously can not be any stranger than mine.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Causes and Cures of Writer's Block

Feel free to steal this and slap it up on your blog or website or Pinterest or even make a freaking bumper sticker out of the dang thing if you like. Yep. You're welcome.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Writerly Lessons from Person of Interest

post by Michelle Griep
My name is Michelle, and I am a binge-watcher. There. I said it. Out loud even. And if there is a ten-step program for this addiction, forget about it. Admitting my addiction is as far as I'm willing to go.

My latest binge was Person of Interest season 4. Mmm-mmm-mmm. That is some fine drama, if you don't mind violence. And if you do, don't worry. I've fallen on the sword for you by watching it in your stead. Oops. I suppose that's a little violent as well. But never fear. I've created a handy-dandy list of takeaways from POI to kick your writing up a notch . . .

Writerly Tips From Person of Interest

Take Risks
A few of the shows in this season took some fantastic plot risks that really paid off. Here's an example . . . one of the shows put the characters into what looked to be an impossible situation, then played out a possible solution to that situation. One of the main characters ended up getting killed. Then it rewound and replayed the same situation with a different solution--and one of the other main characters got killed. It replayed again, and again, until the end turned out to be satisfactory.

Leave 'em Hanging
One thing the writers of this show really nail is cliffhangers. Is Shaw dead? Will the machine survive? Are Reese and the psychologist going to have a relationship or not? Yeah, every writer knows you need to keep the reader guessing, but you don't always have to accomplish that via physical or tangible means. Emotional or relational cliffhangers are just as powerful.

Keep Your Villains Complex
Bad guys can't be all bad. Elias (kingpin crime lord in New York) was a despicable fella, but doggone if you don't root for him when Dominic (another crime lord) goes after him. Why? Because Elias wasn't only evil. He had good points about him too, such as keeping boundaries, maintaining a relationship with the good guys, even playing chess with Harold. There's got to be something human, a basic connection with the villain, to make him believable.

Make 'em Think
One of the main characters in Person of Interest isn't a person. It's a machine. It's all knowledgeable, is benevolent, and orchestrates the things of the world to do it's bidding. Kind of like God, eh? No, the analogy isn't perfect, but there's enough of a similarity to make a person think . . . and that's the point.

Watching movies or shows isn't always a waste of time, especially if you look for techniques to apply to your own writing.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


See that I am God.
See that I am in everything.
See that I do everything.
See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall,
See that I lead everything on to the conclusion I ordained
before time began,
by the same power, wisdom and love with which I made it.

How can anything be amiss?

~ Julian of Norwich

Friday, September 18, 2015

Passwords: The Bane of Humanity

post by Michelle Griep
Usually I love to write. It's my happy place. All unicorns and rainbows and flying puppies and such. Until someone asks me to write a password. Then the unicorn is beheaded. The rainbows drain into raw sewage. And all the puppies are tossed into a sack and drowned.

Yep. That drastic. Want to know how I really feel about stupid passwords?

I thought I'd solved my dilemma by just using the same dang word for everything. Uhh, don't try that at home, kids. Bad idea. All it took was one little hacker sitting in a shack in Siberia to bust that code. So now I've got a bazillion different passwords, but how do I know if they're any good? How do you know if yours are any good? Never fear . . . of course I've researched out a handy dandy list for you and for me.

How To Concoct An Awesome Password

Believe it or not, long or complex passwords don't offer better protection. Why? Because passwords are usually captured through phishing or malware, and with those attacks it doesn't matter how long or complex your password is. The best piece of advice I saw was stick to 12-14 characters.

Use a mix of upper and lower letters, and numbers and symbols. But don't be obvious, like substituting a zero for the letter O. Yeah. I found that out the hard way.

Real words, or dictionary words, are frowned upon. Instead, go random. Here's how . . .
Come up with a sentence that you can remember, like My first house was at 4233 Ottawa and I paid $72,000. That would translate into:

But if that still seems like too much work for you, then hop on over to Diceware Passphrase and just "roll the dice" to figure out some newbies.

Once you've devised your fantastic plethora of passwords, you can store them at sites like Last Pass, or just go old school like me. I've got them written down on a piece of paper. Yeah. Take that, Russian hackers. 

Dang. They just might.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Making the Most of A Writers' Conference

post by Michelle Griep
Authors Elizabeth Ludwig and
Ane Mulligan
It's that conference time of year. The big daddy of the Christian writing market is this week (the ACFW Conference), and I'm wearing my mopey face because I'm not there. Lots of my writerly buddies are attending, like the hooligans in the picture, and they promised they'd wreak a little havoc for me. I have, however, been around the conference block or two, and if you happen to be going to one, here's a handy dandy list you might want to consider . . .

3 Tips for Making the Most of Your Conference Experience

1. Lighten Up
Yeah, I know. You spent some cold hard cash to attend. You ate nothing but edamame for the past month to lose ten pounds. You sweat like a pig in the August sun over your keyboard to prepare a proposal to pitch. Read my lips . . . I get it! Really. But here's something you must get, a conference is just that. A conference. Your next breath doesn't hinge on whether you meet with Mr. Agent or make Miss Editor laugh. Remind yourself that these publishing professionals are just people. Don't put too much seriousness into the event or you'll end up crying in your hotel room. Trust me. I speak from experience.

2. Network
There will likely be some big name authors or publishers on the grounds. Talk to them. Not like all up in their business, burst into an established conversation, or or stalk them into the bathroom. I'm talking notice if there's some faculty hanging out, and if they appear to be non-engaged, be the engager. Don't go all Rambo-hard-sell on them. Instead, ask questions. You're there to learn, right? Maybe ask them for one piece of advice, or one of the most common mistakes they see, or even who their favorite authors are.

3. Downtime is Essential
Newsflash: You are not the Energizer Bunny. Sure it's a hoot to hang with friends until the wee hours of the morning, but you'll pay for it the next afternoon when you can't keep your eyes open at a session. You'll be cramming a lot of information to the nooks and crannies of your grey matter. Go ahead and take a long lunch, or even slip out of the hotel and take a walk.

Conferences aren't just about selling your book. They're about relationships and education. Keep that in mind and you will get the most out of your conference experience.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


post by Michelle Griep
Not only do I teach a high school creative writing class but people crawl out of the woodwork to ask me to read their work. It's pretty rare I get handed a spectacular piece of writing, more common that it's meh, and unfortunately, all too often it's horrible.

Turns out I'm not the only one reading horrific first lines. There's an entire hashtag dedicated to it over at Twitter. Here's a sampling . . .

Earlier, before the explosion that killed everyone, we find our hero...

This is all about how I met your mother's parole officer.

My bowels released like a fiery inferno from the gates of hell

Remember when your goldfish died, and we flushed him down the toilet? Your grandma doesnt fit in the toilet, but . . .

Call me Ishmael, but whatever do you, don't call me late for dinner! Wakawaka!

'What do you mean 'No WiFi for 30 miles?' trembled the blogger.

So if you like looking at train wrecks, pop on over to #HorribleWaysToStartAStory for some spectacular crash and burns.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What Should You Write?

post by Michelle Griep
"No one knows the right answer, 
no one knows precisely what will happen, 
no one can produce the desired future, on demand.
Some people are better at guessing than others, but not by much.
The people who are supposed to know rejected Harry Potter, Tracy Chapman and the Beatles."

I've come to the conclusion that nobody knows anything, especially when it comes to publishing. What will the next big bestseller be? What genre is going to take off in the next year? Should you write young adult or romantic suspense? Nobody knows. And if anyone tells you they do, they're lying.

I've got a writerly buddy who was told not to submit anything to any publisher because her sales numbers were less than a bajillion and no one will look at it. It took the wind right out of her writerly sails, needlessly, I say. Who the heck knows if a publisher will base their decision on sales numbers?  Sure, sales could play into the decision, but if the story is a killer, those numbers won't mean squat.

So here's the deal . . . write your best, your most passionate, pour your heart and soul into the story that you want to write. Will it sell? Who knows. But you'll have created some art that's uniquely you no matter what others may say.

Besides, the only people that really know what will sell is readers, because they're the ones coughing up the cash . . . and they aren't giving any hints.

Monday, September 14, 2015

What's the Last Book You Checked Out of the Library?

posted by Michelle Griep
I came across an interesting infographic over at It lists the current most popular books checked out of libraries from around the country. I couldn't steal the graphic because, well, that's like a crime and I've got better things to do than commit a felony. So I did the next best thing.

I stole the information.

Here's the list if you're curious as to what others are reading. And even if you don't care, you might find a book that piques your interest.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
This is by far the most popular, topping the check-outs in: New York, DC, Jacksonville, Dallas, San Diego, and San Jose. Here's a blurb . . .
The “girl on the train” is Rachel, who commutes into London and back each day, rolling past the backyard of a happy-looking couple she names Jess and Jason. Then one day Rachel sees “Jess” kissing another man. The day after that, Jess goes missing. The story is told from three character’s not-to-be-trusted perspectives: Rachel, who mourns the loss of her former life with the help of canned gin and tonics; Megan (aka Jess); and Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s wife, who happens to be Jess/Megan’s neighbor. Rachel’s voyeuristic yearning for the seemingly idyllic life of Jess and Jason lures her closer and closer to the investigation into Jess/Megan’s disappearance, and closer to a deeper understanding of who she really is. And who she isn’t.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
This is what people are reading in: Seattle, Baltimore, Phoenix. Here's a blurb . . .
Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—"Scout"—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one's own conscience.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is the most frequently checked out book in Memphis.
Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus--three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up.

Truth or Die by James Patterson
Houston is loving this one.
After a serious professional stumble, attorney Trevor Mann may have finally hit his stride. He's found happiness with his girlfriend Claire Parker, a beautiful, ambitious journalist always on the hunt for a scoop. But when Claire's newest story leads to a violent confrontation, Trevor's newly peaceful life is shattered as he tries to find out why.
Chasing Claire's leads, Trevor unearths evidence of a shocking secret that—if it actually exists—every government and terrorist organization around the world would do anything to possess. Suddenly it's up to Trevor, along with a teenage genius who gives new meaning to the phrase "too smart for his own good," to make sure that secret doesn't fall into the wrong hands. But Trevor is about to discover that good and evil can look a lot alike, and nothing is ever black and white: not even the truth.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
If you live in Denver, this will probably be a tough book for you to check out -- because everyone else is.
Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Los Angeles, this is the book you're reading like crazy.
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Wicked Charms by Janet Evanovich
The favorite at the Indianapolis public library.
Murdered and mummified nearly a century ago, notorious bootlegger Collier “Peg Leg” Dazzle discovered and re-hid a famous pirate’s treasure somewhere along the coast of New England. A vast collection of gold and silver coins and precious gems, the bounty also contains the Stone of Avarice—the very item reluctant treasure seeker Lizzy Tucker and her partner, Diesel, have been enlisted to find. While Lizzy would just like to live a quiet, semi-normal life, Diesel is all about the hunt. And this hunt is going to require a genuine treasure map and a ship worthy of sailing the seven seas . . . or at least getting them from Salem Harbor to Maine.
Greed is eternal and insatiable, and Lizzy and Diesel aren’t the only ones searching for the lost pirate’s chest. People who have dedicated their entire lives to finding it are willing to commit murder or make a deal with the devil just to hold the fortune in their hands. One of those people may even be Wulf, Diesel’s deceptively charming and enigmatic cousin. Wulf desires the Stone of Avarice. He also desires Lizzy. It’s hard to say how far he’s willing to go to gain either one.

There you have it. Which one sounds the most interesting? Honestly, I've only read one in the bunch (To Kill a Mockingbird).

Friday, September 11, 2015

Pen Names: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

One of the sweet perks of being an author is that you can make up a name and use it, just like that. 
Shazam! New person.

Stephen King used the name Richard Bachmann instead of his own, curiously because it was the 70's and he was hoping to attract Bachman-Turner Overdrive fans. Yeah, the dude should've stuck with his real name, right?

J.K. Rowling wrote under the name Robert Galbraith to "escape her fans." Sheesh. Most authors I know are trying like crazy to gather fans.

So why do authors use pen names? The prevailing wisdom is that if you're going to write in more than one genre that you should use a different name so as not to confuse your loyal readers . . . or annoy them. But how exactly does one go about choosing an alias? 

Things to Consider When Selecting a Pen Name

1. Don't go for horning in on a famous person's name.
Just because you spell the first name Steven instead of Stephen does not mean you should use King as a last name. Don't be leeching off a fellow human's fame and fortune.

2. Check to see if it's available.
When you think you've created the best name ever, Google it. You don't want to accidentally take on the moniker of an axe murderer. Then pop over to Amazon and try it there as well. If there are fifteen other authors with that name, you might want to rethink it.

3. Is the name compatible with the genre?
Susie Sunshineface would be a horrible name for a horror writer. If you're marketing to a younger crowd, initials work well. If older, then use a name from a bygone era.

4. Keep it simple.
Clever spelling or going for a name that ties the tongue into knots should be avoided.

5. Try it on for size before you go all public with it.
There's wisdom in the counsel of many. Ask your friends and family members for their input.

And if you need a little more help than that in coming up with an alter ego, check out the FAKE NAME GENERATOR. Even if you're not on the lookout for a pen name, it's a fun site to play on.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Nixing the Blank Page Jitters

post by Michelle Griep
Once you've figured out your plot, what's the next step? Like what do you do when you sit down, open a Word file, and the white page is taunting you, the curser flashing like a flipping neon laser beam, burning out the heart and soul of your creativity. All you're left with is a puff of smoke. Yeah. What do you do when that happens?

Write dialogue, of course. Rip the duct tape off your characters' mouths and let them talk. Will you use all that conversation? Maybe not. Maybe you will. It's as certain as the zombie apocalypse. Hey, you don't know, not really.

Anyway, the point here is that the act of unleashing your characters to engage in conversation gets words down on the paper, and that drop-kicks your mind into Storyville, and voila. End of blank page jitters.

I'm not completely dissing setting and description, mind you, but dialogue is one of the best ways to connect with your reader. Who doesn't like to be an eavesdropper?

So next time you're stuck, listen to the voices in your head. Just don't tell anyone you actually hear voices.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Vending Machines and Writer's Conferences

post by Michelle Griep
Writers struggle with all kinds of things, so if you're an inventor on the lookout for the next great selling gadget, have I got an idea for you. Why not invent a writerly vending machine? Here are some ideas for what it could vend . . .
  • Plots
  • Character sketches
  • Chocolate
  • Submission guidelines and contact information
  • Fill-in-the-blank synopses forms
  • Chocolate
  • Best-selling back cover copy
But really, what every writer wants is just a chance to be heard. An opportunity to pitch an idea. Editors and agents crammed behind the glass, all for the taking with one little coin.

And that, my friends, is what writer's conferences are all about. No, not the dang vending machines. I'm talking about the opportunity to meet up-close-and-personal with an agent or editor. Sure, it will cost you more than a few coins, but trust me . . . it's totally worth it. Even if you get rejected, the experience is valuable. You gain confidence, find out what publishers are looking for, and hopefully make a connection that will last a lifetime.

So if you can swing it financially, find a conference that works into your schedule and go. And if not, then start saving your pennies instead of wasting them on vending machines.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Permission to Say No

post by Michelle Griep

“Say no to everything, so you can say yes to the one thing.” 

When life throws a monkey wrench at your schedule, fling it right back. Sounds a little violent, but sometimes drastic measures must be taken. How does one do this? One little word.


Oh, I hear you. I know all the excuses for not turning down a request on your time . . .

  • Good people don't say no. Only mean people do.
  • Saying no might hurt someone's feelings.
  • There's already too much negativity in the world.
  • It's probably a sin.
  • It's harsh. It's rude. And doggone it, it's stinking hard to say!

But here's the deal, folks, if you have a goal that you want to achieve, you'll never attain it unless you work at it, and that requires time. So here is your permission slip, your get of jail free card, your Michelle-said-I-can-say-no validation. Just do it.

Unless, of course, it's me hitting you up for twenty bucks. Then say yes.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Which Authors Rake in the Biggest Bucks?

While I have yet to quit my day job, I admit I've made a few pennies off of writing books. Not that I'll be vacationing on Martha's Vineyard any time soon, but there are several authors who could. If you're as nosy as I am, I bet you're wondering who and how much, eh?

James Patterson
This is the top dog. $94 million, baby. Can you imagine?

Stephen King
You knew he'd be on the list, right? He comes in at a cool $39 million.

Janet Evanovich
$33 million. I know, right?

John Grisham = $26 million

Jeff Kinney = $25 million

Bill O'Reilly = $24 million

Nora Roberts = $23 million

Danielle Steel = $23 million

Suzanne Collins = $20 million

And last, but certainly I wouldn't mind being the least like Dean Koontz . . . $19 million.

So on this Labor Day, consider how hard these poor shlubs work. Okay. Don't. Go ahead and eat a brat. It might make you feel better.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Writing on Demand

post by Michelle Griep
I'm operating under a deadline. There's a reason for the negativity of that word, because it's freaking killing me. Okay, so maybe not all that dramatic, like I'm not currently bleeding out on the kitchen floor or anything. But being on a deadline means I have to write every day whether I feel like it or not. Most often I do, but some days, sheesh, I tell ya . . .

So for my sanity -- and yours -- here is a handy dandy list of ideas to keep you on the writing track, or whatever track it is that you're currently running on.

5 Techniques to Keep the Writing Juices Flowing

1. Find your happy writing place and go there. 
For me, it's a coffee shop. But not just any. Not the ones where I hang out with friends. There are a few select shops that once I walk through the door, I know I've got to yank out my computer and get down to business. If your happy place is a library, fine. A nearby park. Great. Wherever you can be most productive is where you need to be.

2. Make it a priority.
Morning is best. Your mind is the freshest. You haven't had a crappy day yet. This is the time to crank out your most work and don't let anything get in the way of that.

3. Stretch out the creative muscles before starting.
Read some great writing before you start your own writing. Or listen to some inspirational music. Or view some awesome pictures that make you wonder. Sometimes your creative battery needs a jump start.

4. Reward yourself.
If a triple mocha with whipped cream and an espresso bean on top is what it takes to make you feel like a little champion, then get one. Better your pants dig in at the waist a bit and you conquer the world than you feel like a loser and lose your motivation.

5. Don't overthink it.
Just do it. Don't worry if what you're putting out is perfection. Chances are it's not. At least you'll have something to work with later on, right?

Your ability to write does not depend on your muse riding up on a unicorn and sweeping you off your feet. All it takes is for you to park your rear in a chair long enough to force out some words. Inspiration and motivation are lovely to have, but if you're going to make it in the writerly world, you'll have to suck it up and write whether you feel like it or not.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

3 Ways to Keep the Reader Guessing

There's a fine line between trust and mistrust. It's the author's job to keep the reader teetering on that line. Force their little readerly arms to flail about like windmills. Never -- ever -- hand them the entire story on a platter, all served up with au jus pooling about. Keep them guessing if the author will be able to pull off tying up all the ends of the story by the finish. How do you do that?

Keep the story on shaky ground. This is done in several ways.

How To Keep a Reader Guessing

1. Raise questions.
Make your reader ask who was responsible for a particular event. Or maybe cause a reader to wonder what did a particular character did on such-and-such a night. Raising questions causes your reader to turn the page. Just make sure to answer them all by the end, because this technique can also make a reader want to punch you in the head.

2. Provide possibilities.
Life rarely presents one option. Neither should your story. Open up a can of worms in your reader's mind (I know . . . eww, right?) and create plausible alternatives for a plot turn. They won't know which one you'll choose, and then to really up the tension, write something that you didn't hint at in the first place (but that is totally logical, or again, you'll get punched).

3. Use backstory like salt.
A little backstory goes a long way. Drop unsettling clues about skeletons in a character's closet, but just a bone at a time. Keep the reader wondering if they really can trust the character or not.

A great story is built on shaky ground -- but connected to a rock solid foundation. Think earthquake resistant housing. Keep the story rattling around but with an ultimate unveiling of the foundation beneath.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

3 Takeaways From The War Room

And now for something completely different . . . drum roll, please . . .  excessively loud cymbal crash . . . ta da!

A movie review.

Tonight the hubs and I snagged a mongo bucket of buttered popcorn, a Hi-C icee, and parked our heinies in an air conditioned movie theater. Hey, cut me some slack. It's like Africa hot around here.

Anyways, we went to see The War Room, a Kendrick Brothers movie. They're the dudes who did Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous. Their skills keep getting refined. This one was probably their best to date, acting and cinemagraphic-wise. Okay, so that's not really a word, but what I'm saying is the camera shots were great as were the actors who played the main characters. I particularly fell in love with Karen Abercrombie who played Miss Clara. Awesome job.

But besides the setting and acting, there were several other takeaways . . .

Spiritual Takeaway Value
Prayer rocks. No, really. Prayer is an essential part of a Christian's life. It's non-negotiable and changes everything.

Writerly Takeaway Value
One of the best things about this movie is the little details that all get wrapped up by the end of the story. I don't want to give any spoilers, so you'll have to trust me on this one, but this technique endears a reader and/or viewer to any story.

Inspirational Takeaway Value
Not to be confused with the spiritual, mind you. In this instance, I'm talking about two brothers, the Kendricks, who had a dream to make movies with solid moral lessons. They didn't just talk smack about it. They got off their butts and made it happen. That, my friends, is inspiration.

If you get a chance to go see this movie, do it, and do it soon. I'm not sure how much longer it will be at theaters. Go support wholesome movies and get yourself a tub of popcorn while you're at it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

New Words

Hold on to your spellcheck, kids, because Oxford Dictionary is adding 1,000 new words to their English dictionary. Curious about what they're adding? That's what I'm here for. Here's a sampling . . .

A charge made by a restaurant for serving a cake that they have not supplied themselves.

To steal a car.

Relating to, or characteristic of, a chef.

A place where cider is made.

To fund (a project or venture) by raising money from a large number of people, each of whom contributes a relatively small amount, typically via the Internet.

A bakery that specializes in cupcakes.

A proprietary name for tight-fitting stretch leggings for women, styled to resemble a pair of denim jeans.

Melting or partially melted.

Extremely, definitely, absolutely.

A type of dancing which emphasizes the performer's posterior.

New words are tracked as they come into usage. When there is evidence that a new term is being used in a variety of different sources, then it becomes a candidate for inclusion in the dictionary. Recent terms are assessed and then judged as to which are the most significant or important and those that are thought to stand the test of time. In other words, no flash-in-the-pans. Hmm. I wonder it that's in there?
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