Saturday, January 9, 2021

Mix it Up—genre blending/ignorance is not bliss.

You can most certainly mix genres—and yes I consider literary a genre. Come on—it appeals to a certain audience and that audience has expectations when they read. It's a genre. Two general things before I give my specific example: you should be aware of the expectations of a reader of urban fantasy or literary or science fiction or YA or whatever and know that you'll need to fulfill some of those expectations to connect with your reader. However, the ways you fulfill some of those expectations can be completely new and different and surprising. In fact, I believe some genre readers will love your story for these creative directions. People do like to be surprised. That's one thing. Another is you can blend genres in ways that give your writing a distinct whatever—tone, set of characters, setting, language, story...You can also play against genre once you know what the expectations are—though obviously you have to take care with this. All I'm really saying is something pretty simple: knowing and understanding what the expectations are of the genre you are writing in gives you a better understanding of yourself as a writer. Break any rule you like. But knowing when you're breaking one seems a better strategy than settling for ignorance is bliss. It so often isn't. Think Custer's Last Stand. Just saying.

A little on my first novel in series: A True Story from a Parallel Universe

Setting a novel in a parallel universe sounds like the story is bound for science fiction but if it is bound that way it takes a hard right long before it gets there and heads straight for urban fantasy. And when I say straight I mean in a typical (for me) zig and zag. Did I know this at conception? Can’t remember. Let’s say yes though just to make it sound better, which writers do a lot.


Honestly, I’m never satisfied with writing in only one genre. This first novel in the series, A True story from A Parallel Universe, isn’t really just urban fantasy though it does have a lot of urban fantasy to it. It has a few other elements that zig and zag in the direction of other genres though. In fact, it does actually have a little science fiction—a bit of the old alien coming on down for a little visit to our earth.( By the by, I am always looking for the hardest readers in the world to find, those special ones who read in many genres—though tend toward the speculative—who enjoy a good play on words now and then and other elements of humorous writing. Maverick readers who go their own way—like you. Thankfully, there are a few.)


What I don’t explain directly but do get into a bit  in book 2 of my series is that most of the Supernaturals, that is the creatures and humans with magical abilities, are descendants of gods who have since mostly disappeared. These gods will be recognizable:  Greek , Norse, and Egyptian mostly in origin. They mated with humans and the mix of god and human is what created this race of Supernaturals. The gods came to earth in a very large ship. Did someone say Chariot of the Gods? Never. That cheese is long spoiled. But I will say there will be some interesting backstory that takes center stage in one of the series’ novels down the road.


P.S. If you haven't read my first novel in the series I am giving it away for free on Amazon, January 10.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

 My top bits of advice off the top of my head to new and old writers. Of course writers are so different that only some of these will be applicable to you, but take what helps and leave the rest. 

1. Get a dog (talked about this one before; it is so helpful to walk and think about what you're writing on and dogs are excellent listeners and generous toward any manuscript you provide, especially if you give them treats.)

2. Write every day you can, even if it's only for thirty minutes. Every day you don't write, it's harder to get back to writing. Every day you leave a manuscript, it will take you longer to get back to it.

3. A bit of planning can help you a lot. I've always been a discovery writer but I do a short bit of outlining--like one day before I jump into writing a manuscript. What's my premise. Who's my main character and what does she want and need. What are some scenes? Brainstorm anything and then try to order them just a bit:

What is life like before inciting incident

What is part one of my story? Going after problem.

What is part two of my story? More focused on problem and going after problem

Part four—how's it all come out?

4. Conflict is essential. If you don't have conflict, you won't have a story. Conflict can be internal or external, between characters or character and environment or character and ? But YOU need it. You need it to show and develop your character and so show and develop your story.

5. Have a story. What is your story? Think of it apart from everything else to get a clear idea of what you're trying to tell.

6. Your story has to be about something. I guess I'm talking about theme here. 

7. Revising is vastly different from your first drafts. There's so much about revising: write an outline of each chapter, just two or three sentences. Write character arcs for main characters. When you are revising knowing theme, knowing what your story is about will help you understand what to cut out because it doesn't add to your true story.

8. For me, the focus is always character, language, plot, and setting...and though there are plenty of other areas to deal with I think character is the most important of all—if the reader doesn't care about your character, they don't care about your novel.

I've just uncovered the tip of the iceberg here but maybe it will give you a little something to think about. Write on.

 And more personally, I'm launching my second novel in the series this week. It's on sale for the low, low price of 99¢ today and tomorrow, Jan 1, 2021. Check it out if you are so inclined:

Happy New Year and hope the next year is better for us all.


Thursday, November 5, 2020

(bigger picture on website—

 Here is my cover (I’m really happy with the way it came out) for the second novel in the The Poe Detective Agency series. The novel will be out in December. 


This new novel takes up about six months after the first and it jumps right into a case Detective Romeo Moon is assigned. In this one The Fates, Greek goddesses who determine or transcribe the future, are kidnapped. This is the idea I had and what I started writing. I thought it would be a novella, somewhere between 70 and 90 pages about the kidnapping of the goddesses by another well-known character, Lucifer. I thought it would play with ideas about free will and fate. 


But something happened.


The biggest thing I didn’t see was how important the relationship between Romeo (Poe detective) and Julia (villain) was going to be to the story. At the end of the first novel the two fell in love—that big love with a capital L. They became boyfriend and girlfriend. 


When the second novel begins, they’re in a relationship and have moved in together. I wanted to explore how two people genuinely in love whose lives and occupations were diametrically opposed (one wants to uphold the law and one wants to break it) could survive (or not) in such an environment. The struggle was what interested me. That part of the novel kept growing. I connected that story to the first story and those 70 pages swelled to around 250. The novella grew into a novel.


The title of the novel became The Detective and the Villain in Love because the emotional plot of the novel comes from their relationship and the struggle to save it. It’s the heart of the story. Meanwhile, the case of the kidnapping and Romeo’s and the devil’s battle (the devil wants to change the future and kidnapped the Fates to do so) creates much of the external conflict and action. The two stories eventually intersect.


So first the story started off as a novella. Then the plot divided into two plots that seemed to fit together even though they didn’t, on the surface, seem like they should fit together. This has happened to me before-- two stories work their way into a narrative and the friction  and dynamic between two very different stories merges in an interesting way that drives and deepens the narrative.


I love it when it all comes together. It’s the greatest feeling. 


Friday, October 23, 2020

Story: Narrative Current


Narrative current helps hold a story together. Many stories do a lot of things well but then struggle with just one or two major things that drag the manuscript down. Story is, unfortunately, one of those major things that writers struggle with. 


I want to focus on one important aspect of story, narrative current—that is making  the reader want to keep turning the page because they feel like the elements of the novel are all leading somewhere. SO IMPORTANT! Say a writer writes well and has interesting characters and many wonderful scenes BUT somehow they don’t feel like they fit together. They aren’t connecting and, perhaps even more important, the story doesn’t feel like it is going anywhere; it feels a bit stagnant. What makes a story feel active is a sense of narrative current.


Narrative current demands that the reader feels a sense that the whole narrative is taking the reader someplace. The scenes in the story have to be constructed in such a way that the reader feels compelled to find out where this current is carrying them and not just what the scene is about. Connections between scenes are essential. The writer chooses the right details because he or she finds this current and so it puts them in the right place when they’re creating narrative. 


A strategy to give your writing narrative current is the following: understand what your narratives are. NOT just what the story is ABOUT but what happens because of what the story is about. For example, say one aspect of the story is that it’s a love story or a relationship story. Figure out where this aspect of the story ends in your novel. Then look in your novel for the progression of the love story from beginning to end…what happens in each scene. Build from scene to scene with an eye on making each active and making each move the story forward.  If your characters get married, then every scene about their relationship should be leading the reader to that—although obviously there will be setbacks and struggles along the way. If they break up in the end then you design your scenes with this in mind. Of course your characters will face all kinds of problems. When I say there is a progression, I don’t mean a straight line. There will be ups and downs. But if you know where the end destination is you can design these fails to give the reader an even stronger feeling that the journey is leading to your ending.

This might all sound like plot and it certainly is plot but plot is too narrow of a description. It’s not just about what happens in each scene. The evolution of a relationship  has to do with how characters feel and how they react to their feelings and about how these translate into actions. It is also about what happens within the story. Narrative current is an important aspect of making your story a story and not just a collection of episodes.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Plot and Character: the good kind of codependency

Henry James said, “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”


You go Henry.


 I suppose I had vague notions of the connection between plot and character not long after I began writing. John Gardner tried to tell me in his books on writing—classics often used in writing classes and used in one I took in college-- and I’m sure others did too, including myself.  Maybe I even understood, on an intellectual level, that there needed to be a connection.


But it was Robert Olen Butler that really got through to me with his talk about a character’s desire driving the plot of a novel or story. It made me think of character in a different way. Yes you had to develop the layers of a character, her history, her inner-life, attitudes, relationships to others, their world, their wants, their needs and desires (especially as relates to the story they’re in) and more. BUT this idea that plot and character were entwined was crucial to my development  as a writer.


But here’s my crucial point—one that was a big part of my pushing forward as a writer. Character is not separate from plot. What a character does, she does because of who she is—how she sees herself & her world and what she wants and what she needs-- and what she does as a result of these desires causes things to happen to her and creates story.  She’s acting because she wants something or wants to avoid something BADLY (you need the badly; you need it to matter. If it does, then it will matter to the reader.).


The interplay between these two—character and narrative drive—in both small and large ways builds both character and story.


TAKEAWAY--You build character in many ways but one way helps you build story as well. What does your character want, desire, need? What gets in the way? That friction develops character and creates conflict which drives plot.


Thanks for reading. Also, I’m giving away my latest novel—A True Story from a Parallel Universe—on amazon on Wednesday, September 30. If you’d like a free copy on that day only—

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Publishing A True Story from a Parallel Universe, publishing adventure month 1, launch advice


MY FIRST MONTH. I independently published for the first time about a month ago. How did it go? What is my most important piece of advice to someone who is launching their book?


Highlights of my first month: *A small audio publisher offered me a contract (with advance) to record and sell my novel. So, my audio will be published by them. I didn’t think I would have an audio so that’s pretty cool. *I decided (so much fun to say that because in traditional publishing you don’t get to decide much about publishing decisions) to have three free days during my launch when I gave away my novel and these got my novel on the Amazon bestseller free list--#40 overall & #1 on several special lists like Humorous Fantasy. *I gave away over 4500 copies in three days—which gave me a lot of exposure* I already have ten reviews on amazon—good reviews mostly, 4.4/5 avg. The bump of free giveaways seems to have helped me keep weeks of steady sales. Nothing spectacular but I went from no sales for the first few days before launch (no one knew the novel was there) to big launch numbers and steady sales since . Kindle reads have also been good, which helps because the subscription service pays by page reads. So overall it was a successful month. I was happy with my start.


There is a ton of things to learn about self-publishing and I’ve only been at it for a few months. I’ve used a lot of online free sources and several free short courses (meant to lure you in to pay for the longer and expensive—to me—courses). So far I haven’t paid for any courses but the five sources I’ve used most all offer courses and I imagine I will take one when I feel grounded in the basics of publishing. And if pushed, I might advise the new independent writer to wait, learn from the wealth of free materials online and get the publishing vocabulary down before you decide which course or courses to invest in. I say this, in part, because none of them are particularly cheap. The following are the sources I’ve used the most: Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn, David Gaughran, Nick Stephenson, and Dave Chesson. I’m sure there are many more but these have educated me a lot on the  business and art of independent publication. These all have many podcasts, youtubes, and books as well as courses.


One of the big problems every new author faces is how to get readers to know your book even exists. If you just publish it without any strategy you may end up with a launch no one attends—even if you do offer your book for free. We’re talking launch ghost town here. So my advice is that you get eyes on your book so it has a chance to be read. How do you do that?


There are various possibilities. But if, like me, you don’t have an email list or much of a platform and if you are new to all this, my advice is you try email subscribers. Putting your book up for free helps get you traffic. However you won’t have downloads if people can’t see your book. Email subscribers are most helpful when you offer your book for free or a deep discount—0.99 cents. These lists send out emails to their subscribers—tens of thousands or in the case of the best one, Bookbub, millions. They send them to specific readers that have filled out forms saying which genres of books they like to read, so in most cases you can hit your target audience. You pay to be on their lists, though I believe there are a few free ones. Some are more expensive than others. Bookbub—the largest charges the most and has the most subscribers and is difficult to get a place on but also can have great benefits.


Here are some others. The first three on this list  below are larger. They range from about $30-$80, depending on your genre, to get on their lists. The five after are cheaper-- $10-25 to get on their lists. These are only a few of the lists. There are many more. Look around online. 


I used the lists below in my launch and was able to get a lot downloads. One thing to remember—your cover has to be good, your blurb interesting and enticing, and the book itself well-written or exposure won’t help. But assuming these are all good, then these sites can be a good way to get some eyes on your book and get some readers who, in turn, will leave reviews and help you get more readers.

§ and EreaderIQ,  BookRaidEbookSoda Ebook Betty 


I know—believe me---it’s hard to give your book away after you’ve slaved over writing it for many months or years. But if no one can find your book then no one will see it. I wanted readers. Your goals may be different and you might use a different strategy, but if you want to find readers the combination of offering a free book and email subscriptions can be a good way to go.


Hope this helps you get started! 


Good writing…and publishing

Friday, August 21, 2020




Tip number one is that you can’t really see your manuscript problems without distance. So after you have a solid first draft it’s helpful to get some perspective. Put it away. Take at least a week off  but a few weeks or a month might be better. You need the time so when you come back you have distance.


Tip two is a tip I read in Rachel Aaron’s 2K-10K. It’s about approach and it’s really been a big help to me. Work through the manuscript focusing on different problems. Start with the big problems. Like, for example, the motivation of a character is weak or the progression of a plot point isn’t clear or maybe not fully developed or an element of setting isn’t believable.  You identify these big problem. THEN---and this is the R. Aaron idea that was really helpful to me—you work on each problem separately. You don’t work through the manuscript in a linear way. You try to really focus on one problem at a time. Say you work on the motivation of one character. You work through chapter 1, 8, 19, 22 etc.… if that is where the character’s POV is or where the characters main scenes are. You just focus on this problem and then you go onto the next one. Like mentioned in an earlier post, I suggest you write out a bit of thinking (freewriting) on the scene you’re working on before you start it. This will really help you hit the main problems in a way that will keep you focused and engaged.


Tip three—focus on other aspects of the manuscript that you know need work but didn’t address in the previous big picture work. Maybe tightening dialogue or some aspect of setting you know isn’t quite right or description that needs more or less. Some writers overwrite. If you’re this kind of writer, maybe you go through one time just looking for places where you can cut. Some writers underwrite. If you’re this kind of writer maybe you go through one time just looking for windows—places where you can add to a scene or description. AGAIN –don’t force yourself to revise in a linear way. Work on whatever interests and excites you that day.


Tip four---change font. Print out a copy. This will help you keep a fresh look at the work. Now work through the manuscript in a linear way..



Tip five—Go through at least once looking for ways to improve language and whatever you can catch. This will probably be several passes. In the last one try to work on grammar.


Tip six--Give it to someone else—maybe several people---to get feedback. You’ll need it. Rework after considering feedback.


Revision is a gift. We can’t revise our lives in this way, but luckily we can revise our stories. 

Keep writing.