You’re Invited!

panel-flyer-facebook-1-31-17How Many Writers Does it Take…

I’ll be in wonderful author company on Saturday, February 11, 2017, when six of us are featured on an author panel entitled, “Love to Write, Write to Love.” The event takes place at the Massanutten Regional Library, 174 S. Main St., Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm. We’ll discuss our love of writing and our various paths to publication. After Q&A from the audience, we’ll be selling and signing our books.

The event is free to the public–gotta love those public libraries–and if you’re in the Harrisonburg, Virginia, area, here’s your chance to meet some great authors.

Who are These People?

I’m privileged to know everyone on the panel and have read their work–except for Taryn Kloeden, but that’s because her book won’t be published until spring.

Mollie Cox Bryan is the author of cookbooks, historical fiction, romance, and cozy mysteries. I write historical thrillers and speculative fiction. Taryn Kloeden writes dark fantasy. Margaret Locke is a romance novelist extraordinaire–she has to be to get me to read romance! Judith Lucci is an award-winning author of mysteries with a medical backdrop. Tamara Shoemaker writes incredibly visual YA fantasy–and dragons.

Stop by and See Us

This should be a great event. Writers talking about writing. Doesn’t get much better than that! Come hear what we have to say. Who knows? Something one of us says might get you started on your first novel!

Getting Your Name Out There

Haiku 366-191 to -208 will come soon, but today I thought I’d get back to a post about fiction and the struggle of every indie author–getting people to give your books a chance.

I’ve ranted before about the quality of some indie publishing, but as I’ve read more and more of it, I’m finding the truly awful (i.e., unedited, misspelled, and grammatically deficient) is fast becoming a minority. Add in Barnes and Noble, that behemoth of traditional publishing, will allow indie published work in its stores (at last), and the writer, who decides to forego the traditional and often demoralizing hunt for an agent and a publisher, is getting R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This is especially heartening for those who took the time and effort to publish a polished product and who didn’t succumb to the coveted “published author” title at all costs.

So, before this becomes a rant: join a critique group, hire a professional editor (for all stages of editing), design or purchase a professional cover, hire a proofreader, and, if you’re not familiar with a book’s interior design, hire someone who is.

Now, onto “getting your name out there.”

An Unexpected Find

I’ve always believed my books about my spy characters would be successful if I could “get them out there” where people could see the depth of the characters, the timeliness of the subject matter, and the pains I’ve gone to for an intriguing story. I’ve done the bookmark thing, the postcard thing, the purchase-an-ad thing, the book signing thing, the open mic thing, but what more could I do without bankrupting myself?

At Virginia Festival of the Book this past spring, I came across a local fantasy writer who’d purchased a table at the book fair. I almost walked past because I’m not much of a fantasy reader. However, on one corner of her table were several small (as in thin) books with a sign that said “Free.”

“Free?” I asked the author.

“They’re short stories featuring my characters and aspects of the mythology I’ve built,” was the reply.

“And you give them away?”

“Bookmarks and postcards get thrown away. When someone’s done with one of these, they won’t throw them away. They’ll give them to a library or a used book store, and that’s exposure. Hell, maybe they’ll even keep them.”

I must have stood there gaping with the shock of “why hadn’t I thought of that” because she picked up two of the “booklets” and handed them to me. “Enjoy,” she said.

Back home when I unpacked my goodie bag from the festival, I came across the two booklets and sat right down to read them. The author was right. They were engaging, a quick read, but complete, well-crafted short stories and certainly piqued my interest for her longer works.

But life moves on, and I put them aside and forgot about this unique marketing idea.

Imitation and Flattery

After polishing off the edits on a couple of draft novels, which I hope to have ready for the demoralizing agent hunt (Yes, the dream is still alive in my head.) later this year, I decided I wanted to go back to writing some short stories, not the flash fiction I’ve been delving into for years, but a true short story of 7,000 to 8,000 words. I’d come across an article in The Washington Post about Russian security services allegedly harassing diplomats in Europe and Moscow–juvenile pranks mostly, but they were escalating. The Russian government, of course, disavowed any participation on its part, but those of us who’ve studied that country throughout its iterations knew better.

The result: a 7,500-word short story called, “Spymaster.”

And the booklets from the Festival of the Book came back to mind. What if (a writer’s favorite question) I used CreateSpace to make that short story into a booklet to give away at book signings and over events. At CreateSpace, it’s free to publish, and the size of the booklet means ordering copies for my personal use will be a minimal investment.

Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery.

The story is with a beta reader/editor right now, but while I’m waiting for the feedback, I went ahead and designed a couple of cover possibilities.

If you’ve never heard of Canva, it’s a great online tool for designing a number of graphic art pieces, from Facebook page headers (go to and have a look at one I did for my author page using Canva) to Instagram posts. Canva has templates for ebook covers, including Smashwords and Kindle. Most of their artwork is free, but even the ones you pay for start at a dollar a piece. Unlike another good resource for professional covers,, where once you buy a cover, it’s taken down and not sold to anyone else, with Canva you risk having the cover you choose used by someone else. Of course you can customize it. I remove all the sample text on the Canva cover, download it as a .jpeg, and further customize it in Photoshop. Canva’s selection of free graphics is limited compared to SelfPubBookCovers, but I managed to find a few that appealed to me and fit the theme of the story, “Spymaster.”

“Spymaster” Cover #1

SPYMASTERThis cover appealed to me because one of the critical scenes takes place in a forest in Eastern Europe. What it’s lacking is color. The story has dark elements, but not quite this dark.

It fits the story but to me has limited appeal in getting someone to pick it up and look at it.






“Spymaster” Cover #2

SPYMASTER3This cover also appealed to me because of a specific theme in the story. Again, it’s black and white. While it’s certainly intriguing and I know people who would pick up a book with a cover like this, it lacks color. I experimented with other fonts and putting the type in different colors, but that didn’t quite work either.






“Spymaster” Cover #3

Spymaster 2The final choice appeals to me visually, has excellent color, and is very evocative. It doesn’t directly relate to a scene in the book, but it screams “intrigue” and “mystery.” I know I’d pick up a book, even a free one, with this cover. Of the three choices, this is certainly the one I’m leaning toward.






But what do you think? Which cover appeals to you and why? Let me know in the comments below.

G&P They Ain’t So Bad

I learned grammar and punctuation a couple of generations ago from teachers who’d learned them a couple of generations before that. My approach to both, then, tends to be on the old-fashioned side; some might say pedantic. I even learned how to diagram sentences–not that I ever used it after that classroom exercise in 9th Grade.

As a result, I’m not forgiving of “experimental writing styles” and just see that as an excuse poor writers use when it’s obvious they haven’t taken the time to proofread and correct glaring errors. “A good story will shine through,” others like to say. Well, not if you can’t see the forest for the trees of bad grammar and incorrect punctuation.

If this all sounds familiar, I’ve beat this drum before, especially regarding indie or self-published authors. You can’t succumb to the lure of instant publishing and slap up a story scribbled in your journal on Amazon then wonder why you get one-star reviews for the mess. Worse than that is when friends give you five stars because they’re your friends and not necessarily editors. That fools people into buying the mess, and where that might get you a check from Amazon, I think it’s deceptive.

The counter argument comes: Oh, I’ve seen typos and grammatical errors in traditionally published works, and they still sell.

Yes, I’ll concede that–one or two per book; I’ve spotted them myself. That’s not in the league of ten or twelve per paragraph, as I’ve seen in some Indie books I’ve read.

Of course, grammar and punctuation go out the window in dialogue, especially if that fits the character. If you’re writing in first person from the point of view of an uneducated person, then precise grammar doesn’t ring true for that character.

I recently wrote a story I submitted to a contest that is all dialogue, but without quotation marks and dialogue tags. I know my 9th Grade English teacher is spinning in her grave, but for this story, it worked. And it’s grammatically correct and properly punctuated otherwise. That’s about as experimental as I get.

Grammar and punctuation don’t stifle your writerly voice. They’re icing on the cake. They make what you’ve written “look pretty” and, more importantly, read sensibly. They make you, the author, appear to readers as a true writer, someone who has taken the time to do it properly. If that makes me pedantic, so be it.

Don’t forget, go to Saturday’s post and vote for the cover of my new e-book.

Deciding Not to Review

Because I’ve given the author of a book I was supposed to review the option of my not reviewing it, I won’t be mentioning the book or the author in this post.

I’ve always been a bit quixotic–I voted for George McGovern in 1972, after all. Lately, I feel as if I’m single-handedly tilting at the windmill of “not self-publishing before you proofread.” I don’t want to be like some writers and disdain other writers who have “indie published,” or self-published, if you will. If a writer comes to the decision that self-publishing is for him or her, I respect that decision, and I try not to be judgemental about it. My collection of short stories, Rarely Well-Behaved, technically, was self-published. I won the contract in a short story contest, so I like to think that the merit of the story got the contract. Even up against a submission deadline, I read each story over and over, trying to make the manuscript as perfect as possible. Of course, after the book came out, I found typos.

In a post earlier this month–“Put That First Draft Aside“–I wrote about what I think is the major pitfall of self-publishing, that you can write something and publish it almost immediately. Some indie writers want to skip the editor for fear that will change their work too much. The least you could do, then, as an indie author is not skip the proofreading. If you do it yourself, you have to put the work aside so it’s not so fresh you don’t spot obvious errors. The best proofreading is done by someone who has never seen the work before.

The book I was to review, requested by the author as a result of a guest blog-post I did, is a perfect example of lack of proofreading. The mistakes are all what I call elementary school grammar goofs, i.e., they are diversions from basic, not advanced, grammatical norms. Enclosing dialogue in quotation marks, comma usage, and subject-verb agreement are examples. In the first two paragraphs of this book, I found eleven punctuation, grammar, and usage errors, including using the word “hallow” when it was supposed to be “hollow.” Throughout the work, quotation marks are missing, as are dialogue tags, commas, and contractions, among others. When I read a sentence about a bodily function that was anatomically impossible, I gave up and e-mailed the author to explain why I couldn’t finish the book and didn’t want to review it.

Sounds like a cop-out, I know, but I was pretty frank, and detailed, in the e-mail; merely, I didn’t want to blast the book in a review, which, as an honest reviewer, I would have had to do. I could have done that, and the author would have received a nasty surprise. I’d rather explain, privately, why I couldn’t do the review, and treat the book as if I’d never read it.

All of which is a shame, because I could see glimmers of a thoughtful story. It’s too bad the barbed wire tangle of basic, grammatical goofs hid it.

Indie authors, I cannot say this enough: You can’t do a brain dump and immediately slap it up on Amazon or Smashwords and call yourself a professional writer. Writing is writing and rewriting and revising and rewriting and proofreading, then rewriting and revising all over again. Tedious, yes. Instant gratification, no, but with writing, that’s a good thing.

Set That First Draft Aside

I’ve been doing a lot of reading of indie published books lately (or, if you’re a stickler for terminology, self-published books, but terminology adapts, by the way). I have a list of eight of them I’m going to review, and, unfortunately, it’s been a mixed bag of quality. Oh, the stories have been decent; getting to the story through the morass of bad grammar and punctuation has been the hard part. Part of the problem is I’ve been both an English teacher and a magazine editor. What, to some apparently, may be unimportant details, to me are essentials of language. If those fine details–commas, word usage, grammar–aren’t present, I get distracted–and frustrated–by what I consider elementary school-level errors.

It’s too easy to attribute this to lack of education, but the authors involved–on their blogs or on social media–seem to have had a decent education. Then, it hit me, as I was helping a friend with a manuscript, these works read as if the authors had published their first drafts.

That’s the seduction of indie publishing. It is very empowering, on one level, to eliminate all those filters (agents, editors) who don’t get your fiction, who don’t see you as a money-maker, who have to take a cut of your royalties, etc. I believe publishing is evolving, but for indie publishing to get any sort of professional acknowledgement from traditionally published authors, you can’t publish your first draft.

First drafts, of course, are necessary. First drafts are the place where you finally get on the page that story that’s been rattling around in your head for a long time. It is an accomplishment in and of itself to do that–one of the reasons I like National Novel Writing Month. I can come up with something completely new at least once a year. Have I published any of the manuscripts I wrote the past four Novembers? No. They’re first drafts of what will be good works later. After proofreading and editing. When I finish a NaNoWriMo project, I set that draft aside for a good six months or more before I pick it up again. In the meantime, it’s never far from my thoughts, but I’d never, ever see the holes in the plot or the un-obvious typos if I started the edit immediately after finishing the first draft.

Whether you’re pursuing traditional publishing or indie publishing, the process is to set the first draft aside for the amount of time it takes to make it fresh when you look at it again. When you publish your first draft and start seeing those five stars on Amazon (which your mother and all her friends have put there) and read the comments like, “We need more of [insert character name here]!” resist the temptation to write a sequel in a weekend and publish it raw.

Cultivate a friendship with a local high school English teacher or newspaper editor or even a friend from school you know got good grades in English. Let them proofread your work for the typos, punctuation problems, grammar, etc. You can accomplish some of this yourself by reading your work out loud–at home, preferably, unless you like people at Starbucks staring at you and wondering if they should call the cops. (In reading this post aloud, to this point I’ve found a half dozen typos, now fixed.) But nothing beats a “fresh” set of eyes.

Then–and this has been something hard for a lot of indie authors to accept–hire a developmental editor. Yes, you get a higher percentage of royalties if you self-publish without all that traditional publishing detritus, but you’ll get better reviews and more sales if a reader/reviewer can’t tell the difference between your book and a traditionally published one. That takes work. That takes commitment not just to telling a good story but presenting a good story.

I have an indie writer friend who consistently produces a good first draft–in the sense of proper punctuation, grammar, and usage–and the story is decent as well. Recently, she sent a copy of her first draft of a new novel to her editor, and now she’s in the midst of a total rewrite. You may say, “See, that’s what’s wrong with editors, and that’s why I don’t want one.” However, this writer understands the editor’s purpose–to make it better–and she’s excited about the major revision because she knows she’ll have something beyond a good, first draft. She’ll have an outstanding novel.

So, set that first draft aside for a while. Resist the temptation to publish it until it’s polished. Get a tougher skin when your proofreader/editor suggests changes (being part of a critique group helps with this). Don’t be suckered in by seeing your words in print until what you’re trying to say is in its best shape.

Be a writer, not a hack.

I set out my writerly resolutions for the new year in a recent post: So, periodically, I’ll provide an update because I know you’re just dying to know.

Writer Work Schedule Update:

  • Sunday: Started reading one book to review (which inspired this post) and finished another
  • Monday morning: Blogged on writing (see above)
  • To do Monday afternoon: Edit/Revise a review of Linkage: The Narrows of Time Series (Volume 1) by Jay J. Falconer and get it ready for submission to eFiction Magazine

Book Review – WEIMAR VIBES

In his novel Weimar Vibes (228 pp, $0.99 from Amazon) Phil Rowan has written a topical story about a frightening near-future that we, here across the Pond, see reflected in the campaign slogans of politicians who have misappropriated the term “Tea Party.” In the England of Weimar Vibes, rising unemployment and falling economies turn many people away from the usual political parties toward someone who can restore order, address moral failings, and make Britain great again. Sound familiar? It should. Rowan, who knows his history, reflects Weimar Germany in his title on purpose.
Into this power gap comes a neo-Nazi named Oskar Kerner, who exploits peoples’ fears and innate biases. Again, sound familiar? His followers call him “Der Fuhrer,” and instead of being repulsed by his skinhead acolytes, the average Briton begins to think order of any kind may be acceptable.
Kerner’s following in the U.K. piques the interest of the Home Office, who seek some way to discredit him. To do this, they recruit, improbably, a near-alcoholic, down-on-his-luck journalist named Rudi Flynn.
Drink and a failed marriage (his ex-wife is in a mental institution in Alabama) have wrecked Flynn’s career, and the only place he can find employment is on a Murdoch-like tabloid. The Home Office convince him to pretend to espouse Kerner’s beliefs (Flynn and Kerner were college classmates), get into Kerner’s organization, then discredit him. This is the stuff of many an espionage novel, and, since that’s what I write, I was eager to read Weimar Vibes.
However, rather than using Flynn to discredit Kerner, the Home Office people decide Flynn can be a more moderate alternative to Kerner. They begin to dictate his articles, script his appearances on talk shows, write his speeches, and develop his PowerPoint presentations. What doesn’t come across well is why Flynn, who has liberal leanings, agrees to act the part of a reactionary. None of the typical counterintelligence reasons are there—money, blackmail, a cleared criminal record, family held hostage, etc. The only possible reason is that Flynn’s motivation is patriotic, but Flynn’s behavior doesn’t convince me of that.
As a result of the Home Office’s manipulation of him, misadventure follows Flynn everywhere. His house gets fire-bombed. He’s blown-up, but survives, during an appearance on British TV where a trio of lefties do nothing but call him a Nazi. Indeed, the extreme right wingers come across in Weimar Vibes as having more depth than the leftists, who, in Rowan’s tale, are no more than name-calling, establishment toadies.
Flynn also elicits the worst from women—they either seduce him or attack him, sometimes both, which makes the women characters in this story shallow. It seems Flynn believes women universally use false rape charges against men they disagree with. Flynn fears this from almost every woman of opposing views he encounters, and the one woman who articulates the false charge, he did assault, though not sexually, by shoving her head in a toilet. Yet, somehow, we’re supposed to believe her actions were worse than Flynn’s.
Though he claims to still love his mental-case ex, Flynn is in love with a friend’s wife. That doesn’t stop him from having anger sex with a house guest or fantasizing about then sleeping with his Home Office handler. When Flynn finally consummates his lust for his friend’s wife, the language is that of an adolescent male: “I’m on the carpet and Julia’s smiling down at me. [sic] Her glorious breasts descend like archangels from paradise.” Yeah, had to read that a couple of times to make sure that’s what it said.
Up to the point of Flynn’s recruitment and infiltration of Kerner’s inner circle, I found this a mis-punctuated but believable story. Then, all of a sudden, Flynn is in demand, advising Prime Ministers and Presidents. That was too much of a leap. Then, there were a couple of other things that didn’t sit well with me.
For example, Flynn’s therapist is named McVeigh. An American audience won’t be able to accept a therapist whose name is the same as the worst American domestic terrorist in history. I flinched every time I read the name. Also, after the bomb attack at the British TV studio, Flynn is guarded by a “cop with an AK-47.” I wondered about that choice of weapon by the British police, so I Googled “weapons used by the British police.” They prefer H&K carbines and automatic rifles (as do many American and European police forces). All right, I’ll concede, perhaps, Home Office had hired a “security consultant” whose weapon of choice was an AK-47 or Flynn didn’t know a Kalashnikov from a Heckler and Koch. But still.
Rowan wrote Weimar Vibes in first person present, which I find hard to sustain (as a writer or reader) through a novel-length work. Rowan mixes his tenses on occasion, and Flynn’s point of view sometimes becomes too omniscient—especially where women’s lustful thoughts about him are concerned. Also, at times you just can’t tell whether Flynn is thinking or speaking, since Rowan frequently misses an open or close quote.
I eventually got over the missing Oxford commas (aka Harvard commas, aka serial commas) in Weimar Vibesbecause Rowan is British. Oddly enough, the Oxford comma isn’t standard usage in the U.K. However, a comma before the “and” connecting two, independent clauses is. Mr. Rowan leaves that out, also, as he does the periods after Mr. and Mrs. or quotation marks on numerous occasions. Then, there were the single ‘quotes’ instead of the proper double “quotes” around dialogue. For a former editor, such things detract from the appreciation of the story.
All of which is too bad, because Weimar Vibes is, as I said, a story that can serve as a warning to those who think the extreme right wing anywhere has a point. An editor or, at the least, a copyeditor would have made this good story a great one. Rowan’s writing is very visual, and he can incorporate or extrapolate both history and current events into his story seamlessly. His just-in-the-future Britain was spot-on reminiscent of Weimar Germany, and the parallel continues throughout the novel to the very end.
Yet, as England is crumbling around him, Flynn has dinner with his lover Julia, and they talk about whether to go to the Caribbean or India. I wanted to like Rudi Flynn, but, after a while, I couldn’t sympathize with him. Whether it was his narrow-minded view of women or his inability to stand up to his capricious Home Office handlers, I don’t know. I felt he—and Rowan—had something important to say, but I grew tired of supplying the proper punctuation in my head.
Some indie authors think a good story will shine through bad grammar or lack of proper punctuation, but that’s a pipe dream. Even if you’re not a former editor, a reader wants a packaged story—both well-written andaesthetically pleasing. If indie authors want to have their work appreciated by a mainstream audience, then that work has to be in a state where the audience can’t tell whether it was indie or traditionally published.
So, if lack of punctuation or “loosing their jobs” doesn’t bother you (but I hope they do), you’ll probably findWeimar Vibes a less frustrating read than I did.