Top 10 Gifts for Writers



It’s Christmas and you have one of those weird creatures to buy for – the ever elusive writer. Whatever to do?

Despite our strange habits, oddities and general mayhem there’s one thing that writers covet above all others – books! Yup. All sorts. Big ones, small ones, snazzy ones, raggy ones. Doesn’t matter, they each contain the stuff our dreams are made of.

Chances are, your writer has a Wish List of books in their favorite genres that could encompass several known worlds and perhaps a few that have yet to be discovered. By all means, please gift them! But if you also want to show support for their chosen insanity career, please consider these. I own each of them and can vouch for their awesomeness, it’s true. See. They’re right behind me.

Listed in no particular order:




Finding Your Voice is one of my all-time favorites to recommend. It helps break the shackles of vanilla and thrust writers into the realm of the unique. Also check out Les’ Hooked: Write Fiction that Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go




The Fire in Fiction does exactly what it promises by lighting a fire in the writer’s creative soul to push their craft to the next level. You can also pre-order Donald’s newest book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, which releases on December 30th.




Writing Monsters  is an invaluable resource that teaches writers how to create believable monsters of all sorts to terrify their readers. If your writer is into Fantasy &/or Sci Fi, also check out The Guide to Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing & Publishing Your Bestseller! 




Conflict, Action & Suspense ah the very core of what makes fiction exciting! Without which, we’d be left with ever-so-dull drudgery. A must have for every writer’s shelf.




Spunk & Bite  puts the snap in fiction. Knowing the rules is great, but knowing when and how to break them is the thing bestsellers are made of.




The Art of War for Writers is filled with easy to read, easy to digest tips on writing that can instantly help any writer – fledgling or advanced. I’d also recommend all of James’ books. Yup. All of them. Go on, get them. They’re all stellar. Including another of my personal favorites, The Mental Game of Writing: How to Overcome Obstacles, Stay Creative and Productive, and Free Your Mind for Success





Bullies, Bastards, & Bitches are at the very center of chaos and destruction in fiction. Villany, oh foul Villany, where would we be without you?




Plot Perfect is an all-around inspiring book on creating novels worthy of the eyes of readers. I’d also suggest another one of Paula’s goodies Writing with Quiet Hands: How to Shape Your Writing to Resonate with Readers.




Dynamic Characters are the creatures through which our victims readers experience the story, view the world, experience the thrills, chills and terrors. Along the same line is Nancy’s Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints.




Make a Scene and they will come 🙂  Seriously though, this is pretty close to being THE book on creating vivid scenes that thrust the story forward and for creating multiple layers within your scenes to keep the readers buckled in until the very end.

And this very post is proof that we writers are obsessive about books. Couldn’t even stick to the 10 promised in the title. Tisk. Ah well, there’s worse addictions.

Have a Creative Christmas!

9 Tips for Surviving NaNoWriMo



Ah yes, tis that time of year when social media is inundated with posts on how many words your friends have written in a day, laments on not hitting word count goals, celebrations on exceeding goals etc. Truly it’d make one think that all writers are engrossed in this strange NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) tradition in which writers scramble to splatter 50k words on their pages during the month of November.

This is the time of year when some writers are at optimum stress levels, their emotions swinging wildly hither and yon depending on if they hit their daily word count or not. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are 9 tips to put NaNo in perspective and keep a modicum of sanity:

1. Contrary to what social media posts would have you believe NaNo is not something all writers participate in. Many authors write year round, not just November, so this is just another month in our writing calendars. Don’t let social pressure or other writers guilt you into participating if you don’t want to or don’t feel it’d be productive for your writing. The most important thing is to write in a way that fits YOU, in a way that allows you to create your best work. If NaNo fits, use it. If it doesn’t, dump it.

2. If you do choose to participate, knowing that, besides the YA market, 50k words is not a novel can take pressure off. Most adult genres require 70-110k to be considered novel length, which means that 50k is a rough draft. So relax, all first drafts suck. Embrace the suck. Love the suck. You can always fix it once the heat of NaNo wears off.

3. Or not…I hear from many writers who are discouraged by NaNo because what they’re left with at the end is 50k of…well…mess. So focused were they on puking those words on the page that they left no time to make sure that those words were making sense. That the plot worked. That the characters shined. So come December, they’re staring at a monstrosity that would take months to re-do or might not be salvageable. If you find this happening, forget the word count. If you end up with 10-15k of good, solid writing at the end of the month then you’ve won.

4. NaNo is really about inspiring you to write. If you write each day, you’re a winner whether or not you hit the 50k mark. Enjoy the process. Don’t stress it. After all, stress is one of the most diabolical murderers of creativity.

5. Take time off. That’s right, procrastinate. Some of our best ideas are born of, as Stephen King puts it, the boys in the basement.

6. When you say no, mean no. Turn off the phone, keep it off. Turn off emails, keep it off. If you decline a dinner request, movie, hangout with friends don’t let them weasel you into changing your mind. Your writing time is precious and if you don’t treat it that way, no one will.

7. Celebrate your accomplishments. Even if you didn’t hit your daily word count goal, chances are that you wrote something or learned something about your story or writing habits that is worthy of celebrating or at least a mental pat on the back.

8. Keep reassessing. Yeah, this will likely cut into your time but it’s worth it. By always assessing if the story, plot, characters are on the right path, if you can add more trouble, throw more blockades up or go deeper – and taking the time to change it now – it not only makes for a better story but also eliminates a lot of time-devouring revisions later.

9. Remember, the pinnacle of success for an author isn’t churning out word count, it’s creating stories that delight, engage and enthrall the reader. If you’ve done that, it’s a win no matter how many or how few words you put on the page this month.

The Road to Hell is Paved With 3x5s




Hell for your characters that is 🙂

Those seemingly benign lined cards are a perfect tool of torment! Wield them right and the characters will writhe until the very end and with them the most precious of all tormentees – the reader.

Just how do you use these office supplies for creating doom? Why, any way that’s effective for you as an author. Here’s how I use them.

Once the main forces of my novel are set in my head and I have a solid grasp of the characters, plot and The End, I unsheath the Sharpies and haul out the cards. Then it’s time to plot out the gritty and the nitty for the battle plan! Each card represents a scene and each Sharpie color represents a character VP (View Point) so they can be easily tracked on the field. As scenes are written, it becomes clear which are essential, which can be combined and which are not necessary. There’s something strangely satisfying in wadding up a 3×5 whilst proclaiming “Haha! Your redundancy is futile!”

Then, I spread them out on the battle field, check for any gaps and create new scenes to strengthen the whole. This gives me a broad view to assess any weaknesses, where the story might lag, where it needs more speed, less speed, and balance the Force of tension and release.

Once their formation is complete and I’m satisfied with their placement it’s time to pile them up in order and take them to the computer. As powerful as 3x5s are they’re too small to contain exact marching orders, so these are plugged into the manuscript and include everything that the scene is supposed to accomplish – the emotions, the character innards and outters, foreshadows, clues, twists and troubles. As the scenes are briefed, they’re allotted into chapters.

And then…it’s time to write!

Let the games begin! Muahahahah!

The Best Way to Endure Submission Hell



Those of you with submissions out to agents/editors know of what I speak. That indeterminable, roasting hell of waiting for responses that might come right as you’re reading this, or tonight while you dream, or tomorrow, or next week, or next month or next year or the year after that. The query process is bad enough, but when you’re awaiting news on partials and fulls – that’s a whole new breed of purgatory.

It can vex your brain!

So, what can be done to retain what little sanity exists in our writerly worlds?


Yes indeed, that cure to all woes – the pen or keyboard as it were.

While Kranken Gears (fantasy) has been in submissions, I plotted, wrote and revised an urban fantasy novel, Ashes & Bone. It kept me sane during the arduous wait and kept me from incessantly checking my emails for word on the partials and fulls of Kranken Gears that are out. A few agents who have the full of Kranken Gears asked if I have other projects so spending that time writing Ashes & Bone gave me the opportunity to answer them with actual pages instead of some nebulous thoughts on a next project.

So unless you find an agent that’s Hermes fast you can and should complete an entire novel whilst waiting for answers on the first. That’s a win/win if ever there was.

What do you do if you’ve completed that second novel and are still waiting on agents/editors for the first?


Told you it was a cure-all 😉

3 Tips to Picking the Perfect Agent



So, your manuscript is spit-shined, polished, gleaming, ready to be presented to agents. But, where should you send it? Why, to the right agent of course! Finding this special someone who’ll love your brain child and stand beside you, cutting through the red-tape infested world of publishing isn’t difficult it just takes a tad of time, just like finding the right anything.

Here’s three tips that’ll help you start your journey to discovering the perfect agent for you.

1.) Don’t use a 3rd party to submit. To date, I’ve never heard an agent say “Wow! A 3rd party submission! I feel so special and so confident that the writer submitting did their research!” And it’s unlikely they will ever utter those words. The writer/agent relationship is supposed to be a long-term thing that takes thought, research, personal choices that only the author/agent can make on their own and a magic clicky juju that generates when two minds are in sync. Kinda like the Vulcan mind meld.

2.) Research. Not just on Writer’s Market or Publisher’s Market Place, nope, though useful tools to finding general info you want to dig deeper. Utilize that ever-so-powerful oracle of Google. Read articles about the agent, interviews, everything you possibly can to make sure that they’ll be a great fit. Why when WM lists what they like all in one page? Because an agent might list Fantasy as a genre of interest but what they might really want is only selective types of Fantasy. Some like high, others low, some like epic some romantic, and so on down the various flavors within any given genre. Knowing an agent’s specific tastes will save both of you time and frustration.

3.) Stalk them. Not in real life, that’ll end with a restraining order or death depending on the agent’s mood. However, stalking on Twitter, Facebook or wherever the agent is most active is an acceptable method of getting to know them. This clues you in to the agent’s current MSWL (aka Manuscript Wish List, search it on Twitter) and some agents post spiffy things like tenqueries or even 500queries where they post what sort of query they received, their general thoughts on it and whether they passed or requested – valuable insights to be had! It’s also a window into their personality, which is important because, as stated in #1, the author/agent relationship is long-term and you must have confidence that you can work with this person through the hills and valleys of the publishing world.

Wishing you the best of luck out there! And remember, the old adage is true – having a bad agent is worse than having no agent so take your time and know who you’re signing with.