About J. A. Allen

J. A. Allen, author of the upcoming contemporary fantasy, Old Souls: When a woman claiming to know him from a life ten thousand years before asks Lucien Navarro to return to their great family, he abandons his antipsychotics to uncover the truth. His soul is immortal. Once the leader of three hundred beings who’ve incarnated over and over through the ages, Lucien must unite his kind again to rise up against a cult set on their destruction, take a stand in a war which has raged behind the veil of human awareness for millennia, and fight for a love that defies the boundaries of time.

#SSC 11/ May 21- 28th


For a limited run of six weeks only, the challenge you love is back.


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It starts with a writing prompt issued every Sunday. The responses need only be short and sweet. Or short and scary. Or, short and funny. The point is, the challenge will always require short replies on purpose . . . so YOU have no excuses. Many of the prompts will limit submissions to a simple paragraph. Some, to ONE SENTENCE.

The challenge is meant for writers at every stage–newbies and old hats alike. Writing can be a solitary endeavor; this challenge is specifically designed to lure writers out of their comfort zone for figurative a drink by the water cooler. Participants are encouraged to COMMENT and VOTE on each other’s submissions.


The prize?


Each week a challenge winner will be invited to write a GUEST POST on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins with LINKS to their own work.


network-2155198_960_720THIS WEEK’S prompt is inspired by last night’s triple birthday celebration with my niece and stepdaughters.

Charlottetown is largely a tourist destination in summer. That means many restaurants in the city are only open from April to October. Last night we went to one of our favorite spots, having recently re-opened after the winter hiatus. My niece ordered a fishbowl, a massive drink with gummy worms swimming along the bottom. Stepdaughter #1 ordered a murky concoction similar to a Mexican Bulldog. Stepdaughter #2 shared a pitcher of Sangria with yours truly. And, in standard form, my husband ordered a beer.

After my niece excused herself to use the washroom we noticed the table was unsteady. She had been leaning on the corner, holding the top in place. Likely, the table had been put together haphazardly after its stint in storage, so I felt around for some screws to tighten underneath.

I didn’t find any screws.

But I did get a giant fistful of spider webs.

And yes, I am an arachnophobe.


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Luckily we had only planned to stay at the restaurant for one drink before moving on. I couldn’t get comfortable after that. Visions of what had become of the building after business had closed for winter ran amok in my mind. Had the interior been completely overrun by spiders? Were they in the floorboards? Were they nesting inside the table legs, waiting to crawl up my pants and into my nose to lay tiny baby spider eggs inside my brain the VERY MOMENT I STOPPED PAYING ATTENTION?

And yes, I am aware these thoughts are slightly outrageous. But, I can’t stop myself from having them. As I said: arachnophobe.


If you’re waiting on bated breath to find out how the story ended, we successfully moved on to another restaurant. As far as I know, none of us have tiny spider babies developing in our brains. It doesn’t really matter though, because as I write this, I’ve convinced myself I can feel them crawling in my hair.


So what does this mean in context to your prompt?


The 11th Sunday Scribble Challenge is all about:

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Your character is trying unsuccessfully to HIDE their PHOBIA.

You have one paragraph to show it.

When the challenge closes on Saturday, May 28th, voters will be asked to select a winner based on the response that resonates best with them.


RULES:

  1. Participants have until Saturday, May 27th at noon, Eastern standard time to post ONE response to the prompt in the comment section of THIS POST.
  2. ENCOURAGE other scribblers. Try to comment (reply) to at least three other submissions during the week.
  3. After the Saturday deadline, players have a week to VOTE for their favorite submission by emailing: Sundayscribblechallenge@gmail.com. Place the lucky author’s name in the HEADER of your email.

And, as always:


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The responses to last week’s challenge were amazing! Thanks to everyone who participated. The Sunday Scribbles Challenge’s primary focus is helping authors forge connections in the writing community. So, if you decide to dive in to this week’s challenge, please remember to comment (reply) to at least three other entries before voting opens on Saturday, May 27.


 

#SSC 10/May 14-20th


For a limited run of six weeks only, the challenge you love is back!


fhfdhrsfd.pngIt starts with a writing prompt issued every Sunday. The responses need only be short and sweet. Or short and scary. Or, short and funny. The point is, the challenge will always require short replies on purpose . . . so YOU have no excuses. Many of the challenges will limit submissions to a simple paragraph. Some, to ONE SENTENCE.

The challenge is meant for writers at every stage–newbies and old hats alike. Writing can be a solitary endeavor; this challenge is specifically designed to lure writers out of their comfort zone for figurative a drink by the water cooler. Participants are encouraged to COMMENT and VOTE on each other’s submissions.

The prize?


Each week a challenge winner will be invited to write a GUEST POST on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins with LINKS to their own work.


Last year on Mother’s Day, scribblers were challenged to Show a Mother’s Love. This year? We’re going to change things up.

Earlier this week I saw something I can’t get out of my mind. I was in the mall when I heard shouting. A woman was leading a man toward the exit screaming obscenities. At first, I assumed the man to be her husband. In between the open doors she stopped to yell, “You’re fucking useless. You can’t do anything right.” It was raining. The man stopped to place his coffee on the floor so he could zip his coat, and the woman yelled again and kicked it against the wall.

three-monkeys-1212616_960_720I am a person who doesn’t sit back and watch this kind of thing, for better or worse. My husband knows it all too well.

So, I marched to the exit to stare the woman down, who was likely twice my age. “What’s going on here?”

She stared right back, seething. She motioned to the man between the doors. “That’s my son!”

She said it as if it justified her tirade. She said it as if she expected me to sympathize with her. She said it as if I would understand how she could treat this human being how I wouldn’t treat a dog.

I asked him if he was all right. He was close to middle age, but he couldn’t meet my eye. And then, he apologized. To me. For her.

They left.

It was heartbreaking. It was one of those scenes you watch unfold only to replay twenty times over in your mind.  Since it happened, I thought of a million things I SHOULD have said. I couldn’t believe the man apologized to me.

ukycluycIt led me to think about the lasting impact a mother can have on the psyche of her child. It’s a mother’s job to love; to make her child grow up feeling confident, and prepare them for the world. But sometimes, a mother does the opposite. Sometimes, a mother can raise a child totally unequipped for life outside her door, who is eternally dependent, and who apologetically endures scenes like the one I just witnessed in between the double doors of a mall.

All the things I should have said aside, what does this encounter mean in context to your challenge?

Well, this week on the RETURN of the Sunday Scribble Challenge, your mission is to show:quotescover-JPG-47.jpg

Your response to the prompt can be as long or short as you like. Do what you have to do. Take any approach you like. Your response could be written in the form of a diary entry, a poem, a random snippet of conversation,  or a simple sentence. Pull some heartstrings. Raise some hair along the back of your reader’s neck. Voters will be asked to select a winner based on the response that resonates best with them.

Take your time. There are five days to ruminate . . .  IF you need them. If you’re stuck, try checking out some of the entries to last year’s challenge


RULES:

  1. Participants have until Saturday, May 20th at noon, Eastern standard time to post ONE response to the prompt in the comment section of THIS POST.
  2. ENCOURAGE other scribblers. Try to comment (reply) to at least three other submissions during the week.
  3. After the Saturday deadline, players have a week to VOTE for their favorite submission by emailing: Sundayscribblechallenge@gmail.com. Place the lucky author’s name in the HEADER of your email.

And, as always:


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Interview with Dan Alatorre

danLongtime followers of Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins will recognize this face. Dan Alatorre has been a great friend to the site from day one. Dan and I first “met” in June, 2015. I use the term met loosely, because we didn’t actually meet face-to-face until a year later, when he invited me to attend the Florida Writers Conference with fellow out-of-towner, Allison Maruska.

Our paths first crossed in an online critique group. At the time, he was looking for feedback on his WIP, Poggibonsi. What the hell is a Poggibonsi, you may ask? It’s the name of a city in Central Italy. It’s also the title of Dan Alatorre’s incredibly funny, sexy, and surprisingly heart-warming novel.

Dan’s book pulled me in the moment I opened chapter one. It’s about a man who takes his family on a work trip to Italy where things go terribly wrong. And, while it would be fair to categorize the book as a romantic comedy, the story is so much more than that. It made me laugh out loud. It made me cry. And sometimes . . . it made me really, really mad. Just like in life, Dan’s characters aren’t perfect. They’re crafted with flaws. They make bad decisions—intentionally and unintentionally—that sometimes lead to comedic disaster, and eventually end up at a deeper understanding of the oftentimes fickle glue needed to bind relationships together.

Having followed the journey of this novel from first draft to completion, I am especially excited to interview my good friend and critique partner Dan Alatorre here, and share his novel with all of you.

Hi Dan! Welcome to Scribbles.

Good grief, after a buildup like that, I can only fuck things up. We should end here. Thanks! Goodnight!

Umm, get back here. You live in Florida, right? How did you get the idea to write a novel set in Europe?

We were going to Italy on a vacation and I kept thinking, wow, this is such a great opportunity! Who gets to sit among the hills of Tuscany on the piazza of a beautiful Tuscan villa and write while gazing over fields of lavender and grapes and olive trees? People dream about that but nobody gets to do it, right? So I was going around Tuscany (I’m gonna drop the word “Tuscany” in as much as possible because Tuscany is amazing and I was in Tuscany) and we went to Rome and Venice, and I kept thinking, “There’s a story here, there’s a story here…” But I was forcing it, you know? I was trying to find a perfect, gift-wrapped box of inspiration instead of letting it find me, letting it come to me. And after the two weeks, I was a little sad because lightning didn’t strike and plop the Great American Novel – already written – into my hands. Dammit. I was gonna have to work for it.

You were on vacation with your family? Does anyone ever ask you if the story parallels your real-life experiences? The main character’s immediate family members both have names similar to your own family’s names.

We were on vacation and we had at that time a four-year-old (who’s now seven), so a lot of the stuff that happens to the family in the story actually happened to us. There are a few scenes like when the wife tries to start a romantic fire in the fireplace and gets soot all over herself, but looks cute because it’s on her nose – that happened. Filling the villa full of smoke because we didn’t get the flue open, that happened.

dan 2So there are a few real things because sometimes using real things makes the story more real. Other things didn’t happen. The cheating DID NOT happen, of course, and one other important distinction: the wife in the story starts out as a busy professional and kinda becomes pretty unlikable. My wife is a sweetheart. (She has to be if she puts up with me, right? We’ve been happily married for almost 25 years for a reason.) People should not think what the wife in the story does is anything my wife would do. I even put in a note – a disclaimer, probably – that whatever a situation called for, I thought about what my wife would do and had the wife in the story do the opposite. I used names that were similar to ours, but the similarities end there. The story is fiction. Hope I’m not bursting any bubbles by saying that. I don’t think people think Stephen King is a psychopath when he writes about one. But he is kinda creepy, so maybe he is a psycho…

Anyway, one thing to guard against – here’s a tip, new authors: “real” is also kinda dull. When you only write what really happened, it tends to reads as a bit on the boring side because most of us aren’t leading Indiana Jones type lifestyles. Readers want an escape, so you must give them one. You can draw on your experiences, but you must amplify the drama for some real life situation to make it into your story.

How would you describe the main character, Mike?

* Mike is a smart, hard working guy who land a dream assignment that might make him a partner in the firm. He’s been successful and he plays by the rules. He loves his family. But things get away from him and he ends up waaayyyyy over his head, and from there Mr. Cool becomes Mr. Bean.

I’ve heard it said that a good writer puts a little of themselves into every character. Did you find this was the case while writing Poggibonsi?

Well, if you write about stuff you have no clue about, you’ll sound like an idiot to people who do know. It’d be hard for me to write about being a teenage girl right now, right? But ask me in a few years and maybe I could tell you, because my daughter will be a teenager then. By taking real bits and pieces of real people – a lot of characters are amalgams, you know – you can come up with something really great.

Here’s an example. Sam in Poggibonsi is the MC’s assistant in the story. She is smart and witty and sarcastic. She teases her boss mercilessly but has his back 24/7. They are friends. Who wouldn’t want a relationship with their boss like that? As a result, she can say and do stuff that a real office co-worker can’t. But we’ve all had that funny co-worker, so by drawing on our real life experiences, we can take our real friend and make a great character.

So Sam is based on a few people. She’s got bits of former co-workers that went into her (gosh it sounds like I’m building a robot – the Sam 2000) and she’s got bits of personality from friends. She – because we writers get to stew over a great comeback or insult – she delivers punchlines in a staccato style we all wish we could do. And she’s vulnerable. She’s also me, to a degree. I can be a smart ass, so Sam is often that side of me. Mike is the more serious side of me. Maybe that’s why they get along so well. But make no mistake, Sam is also based on some real life friends.

I don’t think a writer can not put parts of themselves into their characters. You have to be able to write 3-dimensional characters, so you have to understand them; how do you understand them if you aren’t connecting and identifying? In Poggi, I have the 4-year-old daughter say and do things that readers totally believe and love, because I had a four-year-old and I knew what they were capable of. But it’s still my interpretation of what she was doing, with select moments pulled out and heightened and dramatized so she’s completely adorable.

Sam’s one-liners could make a grown man blush. How did you come up the stuff that comes out of her mouth? She had me on the floor.

As an author you get to set up the joke and deliver the punch line, and then you get to rewrite it if it doesn’t work. Real life people rarely get that opportunity if they aren’t stand up comedians. We had Sam make one joke that was hilarious, followed by another that was mediocre. The author gets to rearrange them so they build on each other and get funnier; the real life person doesn’t – so it’s partly in the editing and the setting of the stage.

Sam always knew her boss Mike respected and trusted her, so she said what most people would think, and she did it fearlessly.

The key word is fearless. She doesn’t hold back.

For example, to take the overseas flight, Mike had to get a physical, and the doctor did blood work and everything else, then left the test results on Mike’s answering machine. Because he heard the phone and internet connections were lousy in parts of central Italy, he gave Sam access to his voicemail and emails – figuring she’d keep him apprised of business stuff.

And of course, she gets the medical test results, and conveys them to him, Sam style:


“Hey, congratulations, Mike!

“What, that we made it to Italy in one piece?”

“No, that according to your doctor, your testosterone level is normal.”

“What?” I pressed the phone to my ear, lowering my voice. “How the hell would you know that?”

“You told me to check your voicemail for you, you told your doctor to leave your test results on your voicemail for you, and so I found that out. And now I’m telling you, which you also told me to do.”

I put my free hand to my forehead. “Well, that’s . . . none of your business.”

“I didn’t say it was. I’m just saying congratulations, you’re normal. Don’t they do testosterone tests when a guy has heart issues? Is there something you want tell me? Because if I need to start shopping for a new boss, I want a heads up.”

“Your job is safe. I am not having heart issues.” On the boat loading platform, I watched Mattie swipe her credit card through the ticket machine.

“Oh, man issues, huh?”

“What? No. That’s not even a thing.”

“Well, I figure if there are women issues there might be man issues. Other than addiction to ESPN and The Three Stooges.”

Mattie stared at the machine. No tickets came out.

“Sam, nobody older than the age of ten, or younger than the age of eighty, likes the Stooges. I think ‘man issues’ is a fancy way of saying ‘midlife crisis’ for bozos who can’t cut the mustard.”

“Well, I’m gonna defer to you on that chief. But . . .”

“But? What? Was there more to the message?”

Mattie pounded on the ticket machine with both hands. A small crowd began to gather.

“Well,” Sam cleared her throat. “The doctor also asked if you wanted a Viagra prescription sent over to supplement the samples. So I am relaying that to you as well.”

“Oh, God.” I closed my eyes.

That fucking Jan.

“I’m sorry, Mike. I really didn’t want to know these things. Well, maybe a little.” She giggled. “Is there trouble in paradise? No lead in the pencil? Overcooked the spaghetti? But you’re in good shape. You run. Why can’t you raise the drawbridge?”

A few bus-boat employees rescued their ticket machine from my wife’s karate kicks. I turned around and hunched over the phone. “There’s nothing to know! There’s nothing wrong in, you know, that department!”

“Okay, okay. Don’t protest too much, Hamlet.”

“That’s . . .” I took a deep breath. “Listen, my doctor is crazy. She thought those pills might be necessary. But they’re not.”

“I completely believe you.”

From the dock, Mattie waved at me, tickets in hand, and the scheduled water taxi approaching. “The boat’s here. I have to go in a sec. Do I have any other messages that are of any importance?”

“Strangely, no. After that one I kinda lost interest. I haven’t gotten into your emails, though. Can’t wait to see what’s hiding in there. I’m thinking Swedish vacuum pump, gerbils . . . ”


So what’s the key to it? Finding something funny, and just pushing it as far as you can. Plus, listening to your friends who read it. Somebody else suggested gerbils and the Swedish vacuum pump, but it was funny so I added it. They get the assist.

She makes appearances in one or two of your other works, is that right? Did you have a hard time saying goodbye?

I am a big believer in No Sequels. Ideally, I want to do new things, not do the same thing over and over.

However, that doesn’t mean a character that audiences love shouldn’t make a reappearance. Sam steals the show in Poggibonsi, so I added her to the next story I was writing, The Water Castle. Because she’s away from her work environment, she’s even less restrained. I also have a story for her where she ends up being chased by the FBI in a case of mistaken identity, but that’s still in the kicking around stages right now.

dan 6I always have a hard time saying goodbye to characters. If they are written well, that should be the case. But it turns out that every time I open Poggibonsi, there she is. So I don’t have to say goodbye, I just have to open the book again.

Now, here’s a dilemma. If I change Sam’s name in The Water Castle to, say, Sara – it’s not Sam anymore, and it’s a new character. I think readers would say Sara’s a lot like Sam, and feel a little ripped off that it’s NOT Sam. On the other hand, if I don’t write Sam exactly as readers want Sam to be, I alienate them. The solution would be Sara, right? Then everybody wins. And maybe not have her name start with an S. Then I’d be praised for always writing these smart, funny women – when really they’re kinda the same one – and I could evolve and not worry about hurting readers feelings for making Sam different somehow.

There’s one part in Poggibonsi—I think you know which part I’m talking about—that had me laughing so hard I was crying. Was there ever any worry that you were going too far? I mean . . . really. Mike had a pretty rough night. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to give him a hug or a slap.

Oh, I ABSOLUTELY was worried I was going too far. Lots of time.

First, you have to take risks as a writer. Safe sucks. Safe is boring.

Second, although it’s just you at the keyboard, I wanted input from a few people to make sure that scene wasn’t too much. Without giving it away, Mike and his wife have a squabble, and when he tries to get romantic, she tells him to take care of it himself. Okay, so if we all understand what we’re talking about here, he takes things in hand and a funny scene happens.

I thought it was really funny, but I worried it might be offensive to readers. What do do?

Ask some other authors. Specifically, women, since odds are 80% of the time a romance is going to read by a woman, and that was the audience of Poggibonsi. Now, you can’t just email a friend and say hey, THIS happens – what do you think? They will think you’re crude and disgusting. They will stay away from you from then on and not return your calls.

Unless they are writers.

We writer types have to research all sorts of stuff. What color blood appears in the moonlight, how to dispose of a body in west Texas… all kinds of things. So we are used to people grabbing us on Messenger and saying, “Would you say decapitating another human being feels like slicing a gristly piece of ham?” We talk about that stuff. So when I had that scene in Poggi, I asked a few writer friends – ladies, specifically – and I set it up and asked if it was too much.

Bottom line: if it’s funny enough, you can do anything.

So the scene was a hit. And that became a governing rule. Another is, if it feels real enough and you put the emotion in, readers will willingly go along for the ride. They will laugh with your characters and cry with them, and thank you afterward. But it’s a lot of effort, and you really have to put your bare soul on the page. That’s another tip. Go there. Great writing isn’t safe.

The scene where Mike first meets Julietta takes up a whole chapter of the book. She and Mike don’t say a word to one another, but the sexual tension is off the charts.

This is a place where everyone has been in this situation and everyone can relate. Mike sees a pretty young lady on a train and he’s kinda checking her out, and she of course has no idea. But he’s not being rude, he’s a little mesmerized. And because we’ve all had a crush, we understand it. He takes in her every detail – but if she looks in his direction, he looks away. Out the window, oh what’s that on my phone – he can’t make eye contact.

We’ve all done that, but usually in grade school or just for a quick moment as adults. Here, he’s stuck on a train with her for a few hours, strangers in a cabin section, and he just can’t look away. He even feels bad about it. When she gets off the train and another guy checks her out, he feels ashamed about doing it himself.

Because we’ve all been there, we understand. But great stories are built on tension. I make him keep looking even though he knows he shouldn’t, and he keeps falling deeper and deeper into a trance over her, wondering all sorts of things about her like where she lives and what she does for a living – all over a stranger.

It’s a chance for any of us to be honest about having had a moment like that, and under the circumstances, he’s surprised he did. That’s a lot of tension.

Sorry that wasn’t really a question. I was just taking a moment to relive it.

It’s one of my favorite scenes.

*Clears throat* What was one of the hardest parts of writing the book? I remember talking to you about the scene where Mike has to explain to his daughter the reason why Mattie doesn’t want him at their home anymore.

Mike cheats on his wife and eventually she takes him back. The hardest part was figuring out why she’d do that. I was stumped. For two weeks, I was writing other scenes while trying to think of a reason for her to take him back. I wouldn’t. Nobody would!

Except… People do. Occasionally in the world, a spouse will cheat and the other one may take them back. Not always, but occasionally. So I knew it had happened; I just couldn’t find a way for my characters to get there – and they needed to. I wanted that happy ending. I watched Oprah episodes and Dr. Phil, and finally came up with a solution. That was the absolute hardest part of the book to write – as far as a plot problem.

dan5As far as difficult scenes to write, it was when he has to explain to his daughter what he did. That scene, I cried into the keyboard imagining me having to explain something like that to my four-year-old daughter, and the kid not understanding, so he has to explain more but doesn’t really want to say what happened, and his little girl is sobbing and says, “Did you say you’re sorry? You always say we should apologize when we hurt somebody.” – stuff like that (I’m tearing up as I write this, dammit) having the Dad lessons thrown back in his face from his child, and realizing that he not only hurt his wife but his daughter, that was a biggie. That was hard to write. Painful to imagine.

I cry every time I read that scene. Every time.

I’ve had guys write me and say that was the hardest scene in the book to read because it was the most realistic.

As I mentioned above, we met when you recruited me to give feedback on Poggi while in its early stages. That was almost two years ago. What took so long to get the story to fans?

I had written a few books and published them, but as I worked with you and other writers I saw the need for my writing abilities to improve. I wanted to be a better writer, so I took the time to learn how to do that, to improve my craft.

The story is the same, but it’s much richer and much more immersing. Totally worth it. Poggi is the best story I have written, without a doubt. I’m a much better writer for having spent that time improving my skills.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Can we expect any more releases from you?

Nope, I’m kicking back and goofing off.

Seriously (because I know you’re laughing at that answer) I’m trying to finish An Angel On Her Shoulder, a paranormal thriller, which is with beta readers right now, and also The Water Castle, a romance. Both are slated for release in 2017. Angel kicks ass. It’s really good – that was also revised during my Improve The Skills phase, and it is an amazing read now.

The Water Castle is gonna have them crying by the boatload. It’s a romance for the ages. Pretty unforgettable.

I also have a Christmas story I need to finish, and an illustrated children’s book that’s ready. Plus I host a the Word Weaver Writing Contest where I personally give feedback to writers who enter a 3000 word submission in hope of getting big prizes, so there’ll be two more of those in 2017, and the start of the second year of Young Author’s Club at a nearby grade school.

Oh, and mowing the lawn. Gotta do that a few times, too.

Um… yeah, that’s about it.

That’s ambitious! Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins is a website geared largely to writers. What advice would you give fledgling word-slingers about to publish their first book?

What I usually see in new authors is a fear of being interesting.

They might make the bad guy and good guy have a sword fight, but they forget to feel the jolt of the metal-on-metal impact that sends a painful shock wave up your arm as the blades clash. They want to write a romance but they don’t explain the deep, black, bottomless abyss of pain that comes when she breaks his heart, and how it feels like the sun will never shine again even though it’s a crystal clear day outside.

They fear risking putting raw, real emotions on the page because of what someone might think.

All that stuff, that’s the interesting stuff readers are coming to the story to find. Give it to them, and be brave enough to write in a way that scares you a little.

Writers, find good writing partners (like I found in you), who’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t, and who are amazing writers in their own respect, but who will tell you the truth even if it’s hard to hear. That’s a real friend and co-conspirator, and they are worth their weight in gold. It has been my pleasure to get to know you, and I feel humbled to have been praised so highly be you so often. I feel like I have to go save people from burning buildings now, to be worthy of such adulation.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you, Dan. Getting to know you and seeing your story move from its infancy stages to final copy has been a nothing short of an absolute privilege. I am lucky to have met you, lucky to be part of Poggibonsi’s journey, and lucky to be seeing you again as PRESENTERS, in less than six months at this year’s Florida Writers Conference.

Can you believe we get to do this? I’m stoked. What a blast it’s gonna be!

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Dan Alatorre is dedicated to helping other authors learn and grow in their craft. His website, DanAlatorre.com, is packed with tips and tricks for writing killer stories and building a strong social media presence. My advice to you? SUBSCRIBE. Sign up for his newsletters. Dan is a natural teacher who cares about making fledgling writers AUTHORS.


Praise for Poggibonsi:

“Outrageously funny”

Poggibonsi is disarmingly charming; a laugh-out-loud, bumbling romp through lust and love in central Italy. Alatorre captures the breathtaking romance of the novel’s namesake perfectly, peeling back each layer of story until all that remains is genuine, raw emotion. An outrageously funny, guilty pleasure of a read.

– J. A. Allen, Old Souls

“Funny, Sexy, Heartbreaking, Hilarious”

In Poggibonsi, Dan Alatorre tells a compelling and hilarious story while giving its serious and heartfelt themes fair treatment. Protagonist Mike Torino is a hard-working family man who is struggling in his marriage, and when temptation looms on a business trip in Italy, he can’t help but indulge. His winding and sometimes bumbling misadventure leads him on a journey that ends only when he discovers what is truly important to him.

Funny, sexy, and at times heartbreaking, Poggibonsi is much more than a riotous romp. It’s an exploration into what makes us human and drives us through life.

– Allison Maruska, The Fourth Descendant and Project Renovatio trilogy

“A well-written, imaginative treasure!”

Your “misadventures” were effectively showcased via humor. The sequence at (CAN’T TELL YOU) where Mike (ALSO CAN’T SAY) and the later sequence with (SORRY) was brilliantly inspired! Overall a well-written, imaginative treasure.

Tracy Miller

“Many will go back and read it again simply because they enjoy smiling.”

This was fun. You have something very special here. I know that your audience will love it and many will go back and read it again simply because they enjoy smiling. A most entertaining experience.

– Annette Rochelle Aben, GO YOU


Purchase Poggibonsi, or check out some of Dan’s other books, here.


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Announcing the Return of the SUNDAY SCRIBBLE CHALLENGE!!


It’s been nearly a year since Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins hosted a Sunday Scribble Challenge. That, friends, is far too long. So, for a limited run of six weeks only, the challenge is back.


What is a Sunday Scribble Challenge?

fIt starts with a writing prompt issued every Sunday. The responses need only be short and sweet. Or short and scary. Or, short and funny. The point is, the challenge will always require short replies on purpose . . . so YOU have no excuses. Many of the challenges will limit submissions to a simple paragraph. Some, to ONE SENTENCE. The challenge is meant for writers at every stage–newbies and old hats alike.

It’s something fun to encourage creative juices to flow. But, more than that, it gives participants a chance to reach out to the writing community and interact with peers. Writing can be a solitary endeavor. This challenge is specifically designed to lure writers out of their comfort zone for figurative a drink by the water cooler. Participants are encouraged to COMMENT and VOTE on each other’s submissions.

The prize?


Each week, the challenge winner is invited to write a guest post on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins with links to their own work!


RULES:

  1. The prompt will be posted every Sunday: beginning this week, on Sunday May 14th. 
  2. Participants have until the following Saturday, May 20th at noon, Eastern standard time to post ONE response to the prompt in the comment section of the post.
  3. Encourage other scribblers. Try to comment (reply) to at least three other submissions during the week.
  4. After the Saturday deadline, VOTE for your favorite submission by emailing: Sundayscribblechallenge@gmail.com. Place the lucky author’s name in the HEADER of your email.

This is a repeat endeavor for the blog, but even so, there may be some kinks in the matrix. Feel free to offer suggestions for the challenge in the comment section of THIS POST.

And, just like before:


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Where I Came From

Once when I was young we drove to the farm to show my grandpa our new camper. He jumped from the combine, waving when we turned onto the long driveway. As we came closer my sister, brother, and I noticed something was wrong. He wasn’t waving anymore. He was stooped over, groaning.

Dad’s truck skidded to a stop on the gravel, sending up a swirl of dust. He told us to wait in the camper and ran across the field. Pain sounded in Grandpa’s voice through the screened windows. The men staggered to the truck and Grandpa sat across the table, rocking, clutching a paper towel to soak up the blood. He’d cut a chunk from his hand when climbing down from the tractor.

It was the only time I recall seeing him hurt. And for some reason, it was all I could think of the moment I hung up the phone with my dad, taking the time to allow the word “tumor” solidify in my mind.

My flight out of Charlottetown was quiet. The snow had melted from the hills below to reveal red patches of field checker-boarding across Prince Edward Island. I toyed with my seatbelt, hoping my husband would enjoy a week alone with the kids.  I landed in Toronto only to take off an hour later. Winnipeg greeted me in darkness.

“You’re at your mom’s?” His voice was deep as ever, the Frisian accent thick and endearing. “Well, shoot. That’s great. I didn’t know you were coming home.”

“I just . . . thought I should.” For months I’d ignored the urge to plan a trip back home. But, two of my cousins had scheduled their weddings within a week of each other. One of my best friends was about to have her second baby. My grandpa has a tumor. I wrapped the phone cord around my finger. “Can I come over?”

In twenty minutes I was out of the city and on the highway. I loathed the desolate landscape when I left Manitoba fifteen years before. But now, the drive to the farm was beautiful.  The prairies were my home. The place where I came from. I stared out at the open sky and turned up Wheat Kings the moment it hit the radio. My hands tightened on the steering wheel as I passed the penitentiary on the hill. Grandpa had retired from thirty-two years as a correctional officer long before– without taking a single sick day. At the end of his last shift, each and every inmate inside had lined up to shake his hand.

My sister’s van was parked in front of his barn, the Alberta license plate still dirty from the drive. Grandpa stood waiting for me in front of the shed. His shoulders were hunched, his shock of white hair thinner than I remembered. But, he was as handsome as ever. I rose to my tiptoes, hugging him tighter than I should.

“Well, look at you!” He laughed, stepping back to examine me, lines crinkling around sharp blue eyes. “You look good.” He winked. “Even if you are a little thin.”

We sat in the sunroom while my sister’s kids examined the toys we’d played with almost three decades before. I was next to Grandpa, resting my head on his shoulder as the sun danced between looming branches outside.

“I’m thinking of having the operation,” Grandpa said. His arm was around my neck, his hand engulfing my shoulder. He’d immigrated to Canada sixty-five years before. A Dutch giant, scooping up a piece of prairie farmland after the war. He was just eighteen then, a year younger than I was, when I left home.

“It sounds like you should,” said my sister.

I agreed without thinking of the implications–without entertaining the possibility he might never recover.

“It’s funny,” Grandpa said. “I never thought about dying before.”

My chest tightened. “No?”

“Oh you know, not really. I feel the same as I did before. It seems soon.”

The days were a blur of family visits, driving back and forth along the impossibly flat landscape. My friend’s house rose like a fortress in the woods on the outskirts of bear country. She was beautiful, pregnant and perfect. The first wedding began without me: the tendency to be late a family trait. Grandpa arrived a half-hour later.

The second wedding rounded off the very end of my trip, held at my old church: the sanctuary untouched by time. When the guests stood for a hymn Grandpa’s voice boomed over all of the others, fervent and on key: just like every Sunday of my childhood. I fell silent, listening, unable to sing anymore.

Grandpa chatted with each and every guest at the reception. I stole quick glances from across the room, fighting a lump in my throat. It was late by the time he arrived at our table. We talked for a long time, joking and exchanging stories while my sister and I dabbed Kleenex at our red-rimmed eyes.

Midnight descended on the reception too soon, a member of staff announcing it was time to leave. I had to fight the overwhelming urge to beg her to let us stay, noting the tired lines under Grandpa’s eyes. We’d kept him far too long already. I stood on my tiptoes,  hugging him tighter than I should, staining the lapel of his new suit with a few rogue tears.

And then I let him go one last time, the man where I came from.
On the third anniversary of the day he moved on, May 4, 2015.

How to close a killer deal – how I got tricked by a 5-year-old

I follow quite a few blogs…
And without question, Allie Potts writes one of my favorites!
Thought I’d share this little snippet to tickle your funny bone. Her little guy is clearly an evil genius.

Allie Potts Writes

How to close a potentially killer deal - www.alliepottswrites.com #salestips“If you lost all your skin …, would you die?”

Up until that moment, I’d been enjoying a few minutes of downtime with some light reading after a long work day. LT’s latest five-year-old pondering caught me off guard. He had to be asking someone else.

Putting down my magazine, I looked around the room, attempting to locate any other member of my family LT could be addressing. Of course, neither my husband nor my eldest son made eye contact. It would appear I was on my own. “Er … um … as in, if I lost all of it? All at once?”

He nodded.

“Then, yes,” I answered with caution, somewhat worried about what must be going through LT’s head to prompt such a random question.

“Why?” LT asked, elongating the word as only kids can as he took a step closer, eliminating any chance for my escape.

Once again…

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8 Things You Must Do BEFORE Buckling Down to Write that Novel


It happens all the time. People read a crappy novel and think, hey, I can do better than that. A fraction of those people have an idea for a plot that potential readers might find interesting—if it’s raining. And a Tuesday. Because people love reading on Tuesdays, especially if it’s less than seventy degrees and the wind is coming from due north.

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A fraction of that fraction of would-be authors decide to sit down and plot the idea out. A fraction of that fraction of that fraction is able to fend off the inevitable self-doubt monsters whispering that the book is going to suck, and churn out a reasonable first draft. And, a fraction of that fraction of that fraction, of THAT fraction is able to outlast the procrastinatory distractions offered by the interwebs, members of their real-life family, and pesky employment obligations to COMPLETE a (somewhat) viable book.

1nv0qjIf that book happens to be bumped into on Amazon or *gasp* picked up by someone in a bookstore, it has a one in one hundred (okay, thousand) shot at being purchased, and even less of a chance of being enjoyed . . . by anyone. Because you know, how often does the wind come in from the north while the skies unleash a bit of rain on a Tuesday?

Having nearly accomplished the arduous task of completing a novel myself, I have compiled a list of the top 8 things you should do BEFORE buckling down to write your first book.


And hey, in advance, you are welcome.


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1)     Write your idea down on paper with a new, freshly sharpened pencil. It doesn’t matter it is has an eraser, because your idea is golden manna from heaven. You will make no mistakes here, friend. Be as vague or specific as you like. Already know how the book is going to end? Great. Write that down too. Look closely at your work. See the idea before you in all its splendor. Imagine the feelings of pride and accomplishment you will experience when you see this glorious idea come to light in the form of a book with your name on it.

2)     Make five copies. Smell the paper. Repeat the words, I am an author, over and over in your mind. Own that shit.

3)     Lift the first copy of your beautiful idea from the others, and crumple the paper into a ball. paper-1484048_960_720Listen to the sound of the paper crunching in your fist. Now, go outside. Light a match. And set your idea on fire.

4)    Drive the second copy of your idea to a farm. A hog farm is ideal. Rip your idea up into little tiny pieces. Rub the fragments of your idea all over your hair and your face. Take a deep breath. Inhale the scent of manure around you, and drop the idea into the slop pale to be consumed by the pigs.

5)      Rip the third copy of your idea into five perfectly even parts and mail a piece to Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Mary Poppins, and just for kicks, one to Satan himself. Never check your mailbox again in case the idea is accidentally sent back.

6)     Pack a bag. Do not tell anyone where you are going in case they (foolishly) try to stop you. Go for a walk. Do not stop until you come to a volcano. Drop the fourth copy in.nuclear-2123685_960_720

7)       Take the fifth copy to the ocean. If you live somewhere like Manitoba (as I once did), a lake will do. If you live in the Sahara, have someone Fedex you a f^%@ing conch shell, all right? The point is to listen to the sound of the water. Be at one with the liquid around you.  Tune yourself into the miraculous substance that first birthed life onto our planet. Now, fold your idea into a paper boat, whisper, “It’s not f&@!ng worth it,” and set your idea free.


8)     IF at the end of all of this, you find the desire to flesh out your idea in the form of a book is still too impossible to ignore, take the original piece of paper on which you wrote your perfect, unspoiled, pristine, theoretically block-busting idea and look at it closely. Bask in the perfection of your penmanship and the wisdom behind your prose. Tape it to your computer. KNOW THAT COMPLETING YOR BOOK WILL NOT BE EASY.  But, you are a rockstar, on the cusp of greatness. Because, even if your novel does suck, it never sells, and people leave their homes in droves for the sole purpose of making fun of you, when you finish you will have accomplished something that only a very small percentage of humans on earth have done. Writing a book.

And that’s pretty fucking awesome.

May the Gods be with you.