Anne Rice and Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins


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Something AMAZING happened this week. Something I will never forget EVER in my entire life. But, if I never ventured out of my writing shell, it never would have been a possibility.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but for a long time, I never told anyone about my book. Three people knew about it: my husband, my sister, and my mom. As many creatives seem to be, I am a fiercely self-conscious person. The thought of even telling people about Old Souls petrified me.

Since I stepped out of my comfort zone and started talking about it, some pretty amazing things have happened. I found a critique group which I love, where other writers take time out of their day, accumulating to NINETY-FIVE hours so far, to help make my book even better. (Because it’s already pretty awesome.)

2012-b2-e1440533608939In that critique group, I met Dan Alatorre, who wrote and self-published a plethora of books you can find here and quickly skyrocketed to best-selling author success. My regular blog followers see him around here all the time. It’s because he’s awesome. And, not just because he says he loves my book. He’s my “work buddy.” His ambition is contagious. When I started a Facebook Author Page, he sent people over to like it. When I started Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, he ran a new author profile on me and linked it to my blog. He’s critiqued every one of my chapters, and it’s his critiques I look forward to the MOST.

And if it comes to pass one day that I can’t find an agent, he promised me to help get the damn thing published.

He introduced me to Allison Maruska. 61pd2mBesmL__UX250_I recently discovered Allison is probably one of the funniest people I know, along with being another, wait for it, best-selling author. On Wednesday night, Dan and Allison invited me to ref their Facebook Chat (drunk debate) on the virtues of plotting vs. pantsing. We never came to a real conclusion, seeing as we never really got around to talking about plotting vs. pantsing. Instead, we talked about Canadian Tire, trampolines, and . . . something else . . . which I can’t really remember right now, ’cause I was a (little) drunkskie. Which probably speaks to the benefits of PLOTTING, y’all.

untitledHe also introduced me to C. J. Andrews, who, like me, is still wrestling with her first book. Having read most of it, I can tell you, her work is incredible. Like, ‘I can’t wait for her to finish it, so I can find out what happens’ incredible. And, even though she doesn’t like fantasies, she critiques my work and gives me the props I need to keep going. (I should probably mention she likes my book. ‘Cause it’s awesome, remember?)

Building a support network, a group of “work buddies” is one of the smartest things a budding author can do. But, in order to do that we have to come out of our shells. That way, when something amazing, fantastic, life-altering, and MIND BLOWING happens, we can celebrate it together.

Like when Anne Rice shares your blog on her Facebook Page. Which just happened to me.anne

Anne Rice read, enjoyed, and shared my blog, and (incidentally) a snippet of my upcoming book! How many people can say that? I have never been so amped to keep on going. It’s time to get this puppy finished so I can keep my promise to give the very first copy to the QUEEN of Horror herself.
If you aren’t already, YOU need to follow my blog. Be a part of the support network. It’s getting real, kids. Boom.

The Basic Framework of Your Book


An old friend of mine recently decided to tackle a book he talked about writing ever since we met, almost fifteen years ago. We had been out of touch a long time, but when I started my Facebook Page he sent me a quick message. Then he emailed me some of the snippets he’s been collecting for his book through the years. In seconds, I was laughing so hard I was almost crying.

il_570xN_766195741_2hwxHis writing voice is so distinct I felt as if he was sitting across the table, telling me the story himself. That “voice” is something many would argue can’t be taught. And, it’s why I believe his book is going to go so FAR.

When I collected myself from the teary puddle of laughter heaving on the floor, I was so excited about his book that I offered some snippets of what I’ve learned about writing so far . . . which definitely can be taught. As a psychologist who authored countless papers over the years, he already knew many of these tidbits. But, when I started writing, these were the tricks of the trade I had to learn.


Use Single Spaces After Periods: Okay, this one is easy, but when I attended school (back in the 80’s and 90’s) I was taught to use two spaces after a period. The two space rule was a remnant from the age of the typewriter. Now that computers have been around a while the rule is obsolete, as sentences are spaced automatically.

Don’t be Wordy: Words are money. Spend them where it’s important, and save them where you can. Readers will skim those extra words. Direct them to what you want them to see by writing EXACTLY what you want them to see.


Which do you prefer?

  • Sarah had been walking slowly down the sidewalk. But, when she had seen Tommy coming up quickly behind her, she had sped up.

k,sjdhbcOR:

  • Sarah sped up when she spotted Tommy behind her.

See what I mean? Cut those extra words and get to the point.


Vary Sentence and Paragraph Rhythm: A series of long sentences and/or paragraphs will tire your reader. Conversely, a series of short sentences and paragraphs are boring.

You Don’t Need Dialogue Tags: Editors prefer showing over telling. Although usually unaware of it, readers prefer it, too. Dialogue tags are telling. Take a look at these two examples:

  • “Get it through your head,” Sarah said. “I don’t want to date you.”
  • “Get it through your head.” Sarah threw the bouquet at Tommy’s chest. “I don’t want to date you.”

The action beat, Sarah threw the bouquet at Tommy’s chest, says everything the reader needs to know and MORE. No longer am I merely suggesting that she said it, now I am showing you what she did while she said it. Allowing action beats to stand in place of dialogue tags can also be great for cutting out those pesky extra words:

  • Tommy laughed. “The flowers are for your sister,” he said.
  • Tommy laughed. “The flowers are for your sister.”

Those two extra words, he said, may not seem like a lot here, but consider how many of those he said, she saids might pile up in an entire book!

quotescover-JPG-98If You Decide You NEED Dialogue Tags, (which you don’t): Writing a variety of dialogue tags, such as: he shouted, she cried, he lamented, and she murmured, will only serve to distract your reader from what your characters are saying. Don’t bother. Use “said,” almost every time.

Another Quick Word About Tags: Adverbs don’t belong on the tail end of tags. If Prince William Fancypants is saying his sentence lovingly, have the DIALOGUE relay that tone. If you have to tack on the adverb, your dialogue is probably garbage. It’s true, J. K. Rowling didn’t care much for this particular rule while writing Harry Potter. But, unless you ARE J. K. Rowling, your editor will tell you to stick those adverbs where the sun doesn’t shine. 


While many writers attack their work in different ways, when I read a book that doesn’t abide by these simple rules, nine times out of ten, I’ll put it right back where I found it. What puts YOU off from reading certain books? Join the conversation. Leave me a comment in the comment section!

Making Time


People sometimes ask me why I bother. Writing is hard. Authors spend hours upon hours upon hours of their time working on stories that people . . . might not love. But, if you want to succeed, you have to work hard. It’s something that’s becoming more apparent the older I get.

fcb12d570308966fad02806598a14f75Yes, spending time with family is important. If you have children, they’re only going to be young once, and no one can ever get that time back. But, that doesn’t mean you have to stop being you. It doesn’t mean that your needs are no longer important.

I started my family when I was fairly young. Having children young comes with many pros and cons. Even though my hellions are growing older, running farther, and playing harder, it’s still easy for me to find the energy to keep up. And, while many of my friends are dealing with diapers and night feedings, these days I sleep pretty well. My husband and I are enjoying some great years right now: the years between babyhood and the teenage terrors, the years when our kids still want to play with us.

FB-Meme-Inspire-DreamBut, when our first hellion came along, like most new mommacitas, I was completely unprepared. I became a stay-at-home parent. I went from being an incredibly social, outgoing 22-year-old to becoming an introvert at 23. For a long time I obsessed over being perfect. I (stupidly) thought I could fix the “mistakes” of my own upbringing by getting everything right.

A funny thing began to happen as my kids grew older. I matured, too. My outlook changed completely. I realized that my parents never made mistakes with me, not really. Because parents are people. Most of us are just trying to do the best we can. When I realized that, I felt like I could breathe again. I didn’t have to be perfect. I just had to do the best I could.

I have two kind, smart, incredible stepdaughters and three funny, witty, intelligent kids, who need help with homework, who need to be loved, who need my attention. But, on the flip side of that coin, a parent should never become so wrapped up in their children that they lose sight of their own dreams and aspirations. It’s not healthy for the parent, and it’s not healthy for the child. One day, my kids are going to move out. I want to lead them by example. I want them to know that I worked hard on my dream so that they’ll work hard on theirs.

hard-work-beats-talentSo, I woke up at 4am to write this morning. I tried to get my five hundred words in . . . but ended up hitting that delete key more times than I care to admit. Tonight, I’ll have to try again. Some people think of that as torture. But, I’m going to do my best to become my best. No one is going to write my book for me. No one is going to make sure I get the time I need to write but ME. Unlike the characters in my book, we only get one life, and I would hate to look back on mine one day and think, “If only I’d tried just a little bit harder . . . .”

Scheduling


Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. Some people use their time better than others. For instance, now that I’m back at work, on Mondays I’m greeted with a barrage of stories of how people spent their weekends. Sometimes these stories drive me . . . nuts. Lets just say it. People without kids should not be allowed to talk about “everything” they have to do. Like laundry. For themselves. They also should not be allowed to talk about naps.

quotescover-JPG-30If I could have anything in the world, it would be more time. As a mom of a young family, wife of a (recovering) workaholic, a freelance writer, and an aspiring AUTHOR (with a day job), I find extra time is about as hard to come by as extra Jimmy Choos.

I have one author friend who never ceases to amaze me. He writes faster than Hugh Howey on steroids, returns AWESOME, detailed critiques, writes intelligent daily blog posts, and dominates social media. But this is the age of Author Swagger, and these are the things writers need to stay on top of if they want to succeed in today’s market. So, if anyone’s going to make it, it’s him.

And I’m not jealous. Well, Maybe I am a little jealous, but mostly, I’m just inspired. How does he manage his time so effectively? How am I going to do it? My writing is coming out slower than molasses in January, (in CANADA) never mind daily blog posts and social whatsitnow.

quotescover-JPG-13In the past, when I woke up in the morning to write, I might have wasted up to a half-hour in bed reading and commenting on blogs, and replying to messages on Twitter. Falling into the social media trap first thing in the morning is dangerous. Writing is hard. Hanging out with people on Twitter is fun. Checking out videos of dogs in spider costumes on Facebook? Also fun. Checking blog stats? Well, sometimes that’s more fun than others. But, I have come to realize that writing HAS to come first. Without the actual writing of the book, there is no need for the social media. This week, I’m waking up early, making a coffee, and switching on my computer. This week I’m sticking to a schedule to finally try and rebuild the writing muscles that atrophied all summer. This morning, I woke up at 4:30am and wrote. Before my kids got up at 7 and discovered the SNOW outside, I had almost completed my 500 words.


Now, I’m not opposed to a light dusting of snow necessarily . . .

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But here in PEI, we’re still a little traumatized from last year’s horror show.


After sending the hellions off to school, I sat down to finish this blog post and fire off a few tweets. Next, I go to work. When I get home, I’ll sneak in time for those the social media stuff I ignored this morning, and then comes the usual family rigmarole: dinner, homework, beating the children, (the little one doesn’t like to be tickled, but he LOVES a good beating) and finally bedtime, which I personally believe is the reason wine was invented.

And, while my husband watches the Blue Jays tonight, (because the Blue Jays are KILLING it this year) I will be reviewing stories for my critique group.

Hopefully, this new schedule will ensure my book get finished sometime before hell freezes over. Because, what sufferer of Maritime winters doesn’t enjoy the odd daydream of a million dollar book deal, and Jamaican vacations, the minute that snow begins to fly?


Most authors I know have day jobs and families too. How do you schedule your time? Leave a comment in the comment section!


Achievable Goals


Completing the first draft of Old Souls took me years. Years. Right now I’m revising chapter nineteen, and soon, I’ll only have four chapters to go before my second draft is complete. Sounds easy, right? I should be finished writing my book in no time . . . right?

Except when you consider that I’ve botched every goal I’ve set for the completion of this book. My biggest deadline, to have my novel ready for submission to agents by the time all three of my hellions were old enough for school, passed two months ago when this guy began kindergarten.quotescover-JPG-47

So, why has it taken me so long to get this story out of my head and onto the keyboard? I started my book shortly after I read the work of an author who wrote her first book in three months. THREE MONTHS. Like me, this mere mortal had three sons, a husband and a life. She made writing look so effortless that I said to myself, “Hey, I can do that.”

*Bangs head on desk*

It turns out: writing is hard.

In fact, I’ve learned so much in the past year alone that I’m no longer working from my first draft. It is serving as an outline. I often say that learning to write well is like learning another language: the language of saying exactly what you mean. When an author dives into the writing world, the first thing they’ll realize is that there are way more rules than the average reader ever notices. Don’t believe me?  quotescover-JPG-50


Use shorter words, sentences and paragraphs at points of complexity, do not repeat a distinctive word unless you intend a specific effect, choose words the average writer avoids but the average reader understands, interesting names attract the writer and the reader, seek original images, reject clichés and first-level creativity, make word lists, free-associate, be surprised by language, set the pace with sentence length, when the topic is most serious, understate; when least serious, exaggerate, learn when to show, when to tell, and when to do both, read drafts aloud . . . and finally:  listen to your inner voice and IGNORE ALL THE RULES.


In all honesty, I’m not sure I would have started this journey if I knew just how hard writing is. But then, I’m not sure I would have started a family if I knew how hard THAT was, and of course, I’m so glad I did. If you think about it, the two endeavors, producing a book and raising a family, are comparable . . if you squint just right.

When someone tells me they’re thinking of writing a book, I react almost the same as when someone tells me they’re thinking of tossing a bun in the oven. kjhfjkGoosebumps, excitement, and the sick satisfaction of knowing that these people have no IDEA of what they’re getting themselves into. The late nights and early mornings, the blood, sweat, and tears, and the criticisms from others that you’re doing it all wrong.

I doubt I will ever be able to complete a book in three months. It took three months to pop out my last 8,000 words. This morning, I woke up at 4am to attack one of the more difficult scenes in my book. I wanted to write 1,200 words before my boys woke up for breakfast. Instead, I stared at my blinking cursor for about half an hour, then googled searches like: how to write a battle scene, how to increase tension in key chapters, how to increase blog traffic, and finally, how to clean red dirt off of wooden banisters.

I have come to the conclusion that not only am I a slow writer, but I am slowing down. Actually, I am stuck.

But, I want to get unstuck.quotescover-JPG-97

I want to finish this RIDICULOUS book if it’s the last GOD-FORSAKEN thing I do. And, I want to do it in a reasonable timeframe. Because no matter how hard writing is, it shouldn’t take this long. Maybe D. M. Miller is right, and I’m paying too much attention to the rules. At the end of the day, my book is my baby, and I want to get it out.

In the past I’ve set ambitious goals with the best of intentions, and then become frustrated when they never amounted to more than a few crumbled papers. I have a friend, (incidentally the fastest writer I know) who runs a mile a day. Jokingly, I’ve said to him, “A mile? That’s not very far. Why bother putting your shoes on?” To which he replied, “I ran seven miles this week. How about you?”

So today, I’m putting my shoes on. I’m setting achievable goals. Goals that I’m going to blog about every day this week, partly to hold myself accountable, and partly because I know some of you are facing the same writing struggles as me. My goal for the week is to write 500 words every day. If I do it, I’ll have written 3,500 hundred words by next Sunday.


If you’re struggling, I encourage you to join me! Comment in the comment section, or leave a link to your blog posts about your writing endeavors this week. How do you deal with getting stuck? What are your writing goals? What are the best ways to tackle a battle scene, and how the HELL do you clean red dirt off wooden bannisters anyway?


Kiss of the Servant


This morning my power went out, so I didn’t get a chance to post my submission to Dan Alatorre’s Flash Fiction Challenge in time for the deadline. BUT, I’m throwing caution to the wind and submitting it anyway, because I’ve always enjoyed life on the edge. 😉

The Rules: Use this name generating website to create a title and write a story in a thousand words or less. Feel free to check out the “official rules” on his website and find other authors’ submissions there.


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“You have to stop this.” Belut’s small voice cracked behind me as she wiped the blood from my back with a cool, damp cloth. “The soldiers will kill you the next time you try to escape.”

Tears blurred my vision as I stared at the clothes laying on the stone floor, stained red, and ripped by the lash. I swallowed. “I can’t stay here. I know there are others like me out there somewhere. They’re looking for me.”

She dropped the cloth into the cracked bowl and knelt by my feet. In the candlelight, she appeared even younger than her sixteen years let on. A tangle of long black hair fell over her shoulders as she peered up into my face. “No one is looking for you, Iris. You were born a servant, and you’ll die a servant. There’s no use pretending any different.”

I’d only been gone a day before the soldiers found me, but my sudden disappearance had scared her. I forced a smile, and softly tucked my friend’s hair behind her ear. “I was born a servant in this life, sweet Belut, but you must believe me when I say I have known more lives than this.”

“Stop.” She waved my hand aside. “The others are beginning to talk.”

“What do you mean?”

Eyes narrowed, she stood and paced across the room, the soiled fabric of her one-shouldered dress fluttering between her sandled feet. “All this nonsense is catching up to you.” Her fists tightened. “We only get one life. This one. You’re going to waste it trying to run to a people who are nothing more than a, a figment of your imagination.”

I stood too, wincing as I wrapped myself in a tattered shawl and the fabric landed across the open wounds on my back. “The others are real. My husba–” The word died on my tongue as Belut rolled her eyes. “He’s real. He’s looking for me.” I pointed in the direction of the mountains to the North, invisible through the wall. “We promised to find each other when we passed into the next life. He’s waiting for me on the other side of the mountains.”

She sighed. “You know no one has ever been to the other side of the mountains.” Her eyes trailed up my form, taking in the full scope of my height. “You’ve always been different, Iris. And, not just because you’re tall. You need to accept the fact that this is all there is. Find . . . some kind of happiness.”

Footsteps sounded in the hall. Belut straightened, suddenly pale in spite of the orange candlelight.

Our door swung in, revealing a bare-chested man on the other side, a copper knife strapped around the kilt at his waist. His warm, dark eyes landed on mine. “King Arua demands you come.”

“Why?” I stepped back.

The guard rubbed his neck. “He heard about your escape.”

“But, the soldiers already punished her.” Belut stepped toward me, accidentally grazing the bowl with her toe. Water, red with my blood, spilled across the floor. Her eyes trailed up from the mess to the guard. “What does he want with her?”

He hesitated. “The King believes her attempts to escape are making him look weak. Since the boy broke free two moons past. . . he’s afraid more servants will follow.” His eyes locked with mine. “There’s nothing I can do.”

Outside the confines of our room, I limped down the narrow, shadowed hall hanging on to the guard’s extended arm. Some of the other servants reached from their doorways to touch the fringe of my blood-soaked shawl, whispering prayers as I passed.

Just as we neared the heavy doors at the end of the corridor, a child called my name. Standing uncertainly in his doorway, he bore a keen resemblance to the boy who escaped. “My brother, he told me you’d understand . . . ,” he scuttled forward, covering his mouth from the guard’s view, “the message you wanted delivered to the other side of the mountains. He did it.”

My heart tightened. “And?”

His voice so low I barely heard it, the boy answered. “They’re coming.”

The glare of the midday sun burned my eyes as I was escorted from the building. A pair of soldiers opened the entrance of the surrounding gate, allowing the guard and me to pass into the city. While we walked the narrow, dust ridden roads between connecting one and two story clay-bricked homes, my eyes remained fixed to the mountains.

By the time we trudged to the bridge leading to Arua’s palace, my lips had cracked under the relentless heat of the sun. Sweat stung the torn flesh of my back. A host of men and women, adorned in richly colored fabrics and gleaming copper jewelry waited for us in the bordering gardens. I climbed the steps of Arua’s grand stage and faced him, ignoring the required ceremonial bow completely when a reflection of light in the mountains caught my eye.

The King sat on a stone carved chair upon a raised platform. A blue and carnelian headdress shielded the glare of the sun from his shaved scalp. “Will you not bow to your King, servant?”

Behind his back, a cloud of dust moved down along the mountain. I straightened, drawing myself to my full height. “You are not my King.”

He laughed. But, staring into the audience, his face remained tight. “Just as I suspected. The girl has learned nothing from the lash. By defying our rules, she defies our gods, and the gods won’t suffer her life any longer.” He descended the steps of his platform, pulling a long dagger from the strap at his hip.

A horde of soldiers became visible below the furious cloud in the distance. A woman in the crowd noticed. She pointed, whispering to the man beside her. Standing in front of me, Arua glanced over his shoulder. His mouth fell open, eyes wide. Horns sounded from the palace, raising an alarm.

I leaned down to whisper in the King’s ear, my cracked lips just grazing his skin. “My people come for you, Arua. My people will make you pay.”

Swagger in the Age of the Author Brand


I recently read a blog post that completely changed my approach to my work. The author focused on gender, and how female writers can be reluctant to form a brand and promote their books. She went on to say that when men begin to write, they’re far more likely to call themselves an author instead of an aspiring author. They’ll develop a business plan, buy business cards, hire a PR person, and generally plan for success.

I-remember-tellingI don’t know whether or not gender defines this drive as much as a writer’s personal tendencies, but I’ll definitely raise my hand in the air and say even after writing my book for years, I NEVER talked about it. I never told anyone I was an aspiring author, never mind an author, full-stop. In fact, it wasn’t until my work was validated by an accomplished fellow writer that I began to come out of my shell.

Old Souls is close to being finished. So close I can taste it. Once completed, I’ll submit the book to agents for a period hovering around a couple of months. And, if no one bites, I’m going to publish the damn thing myself. The stigma behind self-published books is ebbing. We now live in the age of Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, and Amanda Hocking. But, when an author takes on the task of publishing their work themselves, they must begin to look at their book(s) as a business.

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In today’s changing market, no longer are authors merely responsible for writing, we are responsible for tweeting, blogging, facebooking, advertising, and endless-self promotions.


Today, the person who shouts the loudest often gets the prize. This is the age of swagger, my friends. It’s the age of the author brand. So, it’s time to tweet, blog, Facebook, and promote. Does it matter if your book is not yet published? Movie trailers can be released years before the actual movie comes out. No one cares. No one says, isn’t that cute, Stephen Spielberg thinks he might make another movie. He just does it.

Think of the most powerful brands you know. Off the top of my head, I think of Coke, Johnson & Johnson, Crest, and Bounty. Coke was at the top of my list. This is a soft drink that can clean the un-cleanable gunk off of pennies. It’s a product that causes diabetes in children. And yet, many authors are afraid to build a brand out of their name, for their book, which they actually believe in?!

 I spent a huge portion of my life in the hospitality industry, and mucked up more orders than I care to admit, but I still called myself a waitress.A fear of failure, of “looking bad” and making mistakes, is probably the number one reason so many authors fail in today’s market.  But, as Kristen said in the blog linked above, “If you don’t make mistakes you probably aren’t doing anything interesting.” Mistakes are how we learn. A friend of mine messaged me the other day in CAPS to tell me to fix a glaring error on my blog, and my critique group is currently tearing my last submission to smithereens. These things would have horrified me a few months ago, but today, I’m taking it in stride. Because I am an author.

I wake up early in the morning to write. I spend at least an hour on social media every day building my brand. I take time out of my schedule to offer critiques to my partners, hoping they will take time out of their schedules to return the favor. Because, I am an author. I’ve spent a huge portion of my life in the hospitality industry, and mucked up more orders than I care to admit, but I still called myself a waitress. The time has come to talk about it. If you’re an aspiring author, own it. At first, you may cringe as the words tumble awkwardly from your mouth, but that’s okay. The first time a butterfly takes flight, their wing-strokes aren’t perfect, either.

In today’s market, you can’t afford to do things halfway. Write your book. Tell people it’s awesome. If you look back on your novel one day and realize it was awful, you will still have climbed the mountain of writing it, and that’s pretty awesome.