Writing, promotion, tips, and opinion. Pour a cuppa your favorite poison and join in.

Friday, February 28, 2014

10 Best Things About Being An Author from

If you're getting ready to query Beth Fred is teaching a query workshop/crash course in plotting here beginning March 3rd. Only two slots left, so sign up here. Beth used this method to query with a 50% full request rate before signing with Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyons Literary Agency.

Today author Anna Silver is here to tell us about the perks of being an author. Take it away, Anna.

I’ve been a writer a long time, though I’ve been a published author only for a short while. The OTHERBORN series has been such a blessing in my life and writing is what I love to do. It has its benefits and its drawbacks, but here are just a few, in no certain order, of the things I love about being an author most.

1. Speaking your truth
Even if you write fiction, there is a little heart and soul in every word, and a little piece of you embedded in every character. Every book is an opportunity to speak your truth, to share some part of yourself or your experience with the world at large. And there is nothing like the feeling of being vividly, fundamentally who you are. It’s terrifying, it’s exhilarating, and it’s something I live every day.

2. Imagination
I think this supremely important faculty is sadly underrated in our world. I tell my children, imagination is the hallmark of true genius. Nothing happens in this world—art, music, or invention—that wasn’t imagined first. If we have a divine link, it’s our imagination, because it is our creative heritage. As a writer, I get to tap into this magic daily as part of my job. It’s become expected of me, and I love doing it.

3. Pajamas
This may seem superficial, but try it and you’ll understand. No pantyhose. No uptight, starchy business suits. No teetering heels. Just me, a cup of coffee, my favorite yoga pants, and a giant t-shirt. That’s my uniform. Comfort cannot be overrated.

4. Being your own boss
Author aren’t 100% their own boss. We do have people we have to answer to—agents, editors, readers. But ultimately, we get to call a lot of the shots. And certainly, we never have to deal with someone trying to micromanage us. There is nothing I hate worse than someone coming between me and my work, telling me how to do it. So, I love this perk. If I want to write from midnight to 3:00 a.m.—I can. If I want to take a nap in the middle of my work day and catch up later—I can. Most of the time, I get to be my own boss, and I’m pretty awesome to work for.

5. Reading
I don’t know a writer who didn’t fall in love with reading first. Imagine taking your favorite leisure activity and making it your job. Basically, I can’t write if I’m not reading. At least not well. So, that makes reading a genuine part of my job. If I want to write well, I must be reading. Nobody chastises me for having my nose stuck in a book anymore. In fact, they want it there. Sheer awesome.

6. Readers
There’s this whole aspect of being an author nobody tells you about until you get your first book deal, and it’s called promo. It boils down to promoting your own work. Which, for many of us, isn’t what we want to be doing. I’m an introvert, so social gatherings aren’t my favorite thing. But the cool part is that when I do signings or cons or something of the like, I get to hang with the best people on earth: readers. I heart readers, big time. They’re my peeps. It’s made promo one of the best parts of my job instead of one of the worst.

7. Catharsis
What’s that saying? Physician, heal thyself? Well, writing is a serious self-help method. I am an HSP, highly sensitive person (it’s a real thing, look it up). That means I get all the feels, all the time, in a big way. It kind of sucked when I was growing up. I didn’t always have the words for what I was going through, and I was often misunderstood. Plus, it was constant upkeep to hold the emotional tide in. Writing is an awesome release. I get to pour my guts onto the page and let it go. Probably, without writing, I would have ended up as something tragic—like a sociopath or a street vendor.

8. Tax write-offs
This one sounds lame. I know. But whoever told you all writers were independently wealthy was either lying or delusional. This is one of those jobs that often pays you in a lot of other ways besides money, like validation and creative expression. Unfortunately, my mortgage company doesn’t accept creative expression. So, I have discovered the beauty of the tax write-off. I save receipts the way hoarders save old newspapers. Hopefully, I don’t get audited after this guest post!

9. Expression
Self expression is one of those things I value highly. I’ve tried to work places where I wasn’t allowed to really be myself and was expected to conform to a mold. They make me insane. Literally. I can’t do it. Remember I mentioned being HSP? Yeah, well I need to let my geek flag fly high, or else I spontaneously combust. I have to embrace the things that inspire me to keep creating. As an author, I’m not only allowed to be as eccentric as I want to be, it’s kind of expected.

10. Did I mention imagination???
I know I already said this one, but it bears repeating. When I go to work, I go to some magical place in my head where anything is possible and everyone does what I want them to. If I didn’t have this job, they’d probably lock me in a padded cell. The best part is, everyone else really wants to go to that place too, but most people are too afraid or they’ve been taught that it’s childish and silly. The truth is, it’s available to all, and it’s absolutely critical to our development individually and collectively. There is no quality more valuable, to my way of thinking, than an active, exercised imagination. No matter who you are or what you do.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lisa Gus on When And How to Query

Lisa Gus, owner and publisher of Curiosity Quills, is with us today. She has some thoughts on the process of getting published. Take it away, Lisa.

Curiosity Quills was launched in mid-2011 as a way of showcasing the work of my husband and writing partner, Eugene Teplitsky, and myself. We wanted to wow the world, the internet... and, at the very least, a reader here and there.

We certainly hope we did just that - except through the writing of others, of those authors who have trusted us to act as their publisher and help them accomplish what we have only dreamed of. Which is to say, putting out a finished, edited, polished work for the masses to love, hate, recommend, or boo at will.

Because as for us, personally - we are yet to feel that we are ready.

And for those who are ready? Those who are sending their work to us and other publishers and agents (or readers - if opting for the self-published route)? Kudos to you!

You have done the brunt of the work. You are finished. You have let it stew. You have edited it. You have shown it to your beta readers and your crit group. You have edited it some more. And now, you're prepared to let it take flight.

You HAVE done all that stuff, right? If you didn't... I can guarantee you, your MS might stand out, just not for the reasons you want it to.

If, however, all those pre-flight steps are complete, if the manuscript is clean, cohesive, doesn't overuse purple prose and is not so spare that it's one big dialogue, then you really have done all that you can, and the next is up to the individual tastes and finickiness of your intended audience.

Some, after all, may want more romance, some - more action, and yet others are looking for multicultural fare.

But what is important is to properly categorize it so that whether you are self-publishing it or sending it to the industry professional, the work will get to the people most likely to appreciate it. Do not send a spy thriller to a publisher specializing in Inspirational fiction, and do not pick Erotica as one of your Amazon genres just because 50 Shades of Gray has blown some publishing conventions to smithereens.

Simple enough?

Then let's move on to the blurb and / or query letter. Tell your reader what it is they will find in the story - but do not give them a Cliff's Notes version right off the bat. If you do, what is left to lure them into reading your masterpiece? Show us just enough of what to expect from the work and from you, as the writer, and leave us breathless and checking our kindles and mailboxes for more.

And if all of that is in the bag - then just stop worrying. If you are passionate, and if you have followed the literary conventions well (or have found ways to creatively circumvent them), someone - or ideally, quite a few someones out there - will read the full, love it, and become your fan and cheerleader for life. After all, isn't that what you are doing this for in the first place?

PS. And now, I will try to find a moment to get back to my writing. I, too, want someone out there to see in our work exactly what we intended it to be all those years ago. And if that means quitting obsessing over every little detail and letting it speak for itself.... Then just very possibly, this may be the very thing a manuscript might need.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Agent Sarah Nego on Queries!

Agent Sarah Negovetich of Covisiero Literary Agency is with us today to talk about query letters. And if you still want more help with queries I'm (Beth Fred) teaching a class on the subject. There is still limited availability so sign up now!  Okay, take it away Sarah!

Let’s talk about the query. It’s the magic letter that distills your amazing novel down into a few paragraphs and makes agents leap from their chairs in excitement. Write a great one and your inbox will flood with requests. Miss the mark and you’ve got a future filled with form rejections. That’s a lot of pressure for 250 words. The only thing writers hate more than these one-page torture devices is their two-page cousin, the synopsis.
It’s no wonder querying hopefuls want to know exactly what it is that agents are looking for when they open their inbox. So here’s my not-so-secret insider tip. The number one reason I pass on queries is:

All signs point to a premise novel.

A premise novel has a great set-up, interesting world building, fascinating characters, and a lot going on…without really leading toward anything. These novels often resolve with a big battle scene, even though the rest of the novel isn’t driving toward a battle. This isn’t good.

Your query needs to hit on several key aspects if you want to make it clear that you have a fully fleshed novel with a well-developed plot.

1.       A protagonist: This may sound silly, but I see a lot of queries that list several characters without making it clear who the main character is. Your query should focus on your protagonist and every aspect of the plot should impact him or her. Also, give me more than just gender and age. An adopted teen cyborg, despised by the mother who never wanted her in the first place.

2.       Goal: What does your protagonist want to achieve? What is the goal driving each of his/her actions throughout the story? Be specific here. Saving the world is not specific. Stopping the bad guy from building a Death Star battle ship threatening to blow up an entire planet is specific.

3.       Obstacles to the Goal: What is stopping your protagonist from achieving their goal? Again, be specific. Trials, tribulations and difficult choices are about as general as they come and could be applied to any novel. A family of knucklehead mobsters with guns chasing you through hidden tunnels and “booty” traps laid by a long dead, paranoid pirate are very specific obstacles.

4.       Stakes: What happens if your main character fails? Spoiler Alert, these should also be specific. The end of the world as he/she knows it isn’t going to cut it. If your character can’t figure out a way to stop the curse and avoid being claimed by the dark casters, every light caster in her family will die. Hello, specific.
Bonus Points: Make me care about the stakes. If your character manages to be claimed by the light, every dark caster, including her surrogate sister and the only father she’s known, will die. Hello, heartstrings.

When I finish reading your query, I should be able to tick off these aspects of your story without thinking too hard about it. By keeping the details specific you set your novel apart from the hundreds that land in my inbox each month. 

Need further proof of how important these details are? See if you can name each of the books or movies I used as examples for the four crucial elements of a query. Even though I only used a line or two from each example, I bet you can do it. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fountain of Youth Drabble Contest Coming in March!

I'm going to sneak in and give you a heads up on the next UB Blogfest/Contest, and to remind you that we now have a Facebook page where announcements and events are easily accessed.

What is a drabble you ask?

A drabble is a complete story in only 100 words. For our contest I'm going to give you some specific words that you MUST use in that story. Here are the rules:
  • Advertise the contest if you like on your blog, twitter, facebook, wherever.
  • Grab the button from the sidebar if you like.
  • Email your drabble to unicornbellsubmissions @ gmail (dot) com with the subject line: Drabble Contest before March 10th.
  • Your story must contain the words: fountain of youth, boots, triangle, nest, plethora 
I will post the entries on Monday, March 10th for comments and voting. The first and second place winners will get to pick between a query critique or first chapter critique!

Still not sure what a drabble might look and sound like? Here's one I did for Rachel Harrie's Campaign a few years back. (I don't remember what all the words were, but goldfish was one)


The goldfish bowl teetered on the edge of God’s knee. 
A shiny blue and white marble floated inside the blackness within the bowl. Billions lived their lives on the spinning orb unaware of those who watched. 
They toiled, strained and reached for more. There must be more. 
As their numbers strained the planet’s resources they ventured outward—out into the black void. 
And His kitty’s tail twitched. 
“Trust me, little humans. It’s much safer in there than out here.” He gently pushed the tiny space ship off the lip of the bowl and watched it fall back to earth.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Disciple Half-Omnibus Edition

Another of our fine moderators, L. Blankenship, is here to tell us about the release of the half-omnibus edition of Disciple. Make sure to get on her mailing list so you can snap that up as soon as it comes out. But first, some questions from me...

Where did the initial idea for Disciple come from?

The romance part of the story grew out of an online discussion about Titanic. Someone argued that if Rose had been poor and Jack rich, she would've been a gold-digger and he would've been a jerk slumming for tail. Making a romance out of that would've been ridiculous. So I took up the challenge.

Which part of the publishing process was the most surprising?

I was surprised to learn that ebooks are really just a particular type of web page that’s been packaged up for viewing in a specific way. Ebooks are created using HTML/CSS and there’s nothing cryptic or terribly difficult about that.

Despite that, I still managed to hit half a dozen technical snags the first time around. There’s a bit of a learning curve.

If you could give yourself any piece of advice before you started writing, what would it be?

Don’t let what that professor said sophomore year stop you. Well, to be less specific, I’d tell myself that the best way to figure out what makes people tick is to get out there and meet them -- but like a lot of writers, I’m shy and that has never come easy. I've been trying to make up for lost time lately, when it comes to meeting people.

Plotter or panster?

Plotter. I outline everything, from the overall story to the individual scenes. I write reams of notes about world-building and character motivation. But inside of all that I try to leave room for spontaneous developments. When my characters disagree with me or make suggestions, I listen because they are usually right.

Quiet room or noisy room when you're writing? How quiet do you need it? What sort of noise?

I need music when I'm writing, and minimal distractions. My iTunes library is carefully organized into various lists to suit various moods and I mix those lists to fit the day’s writing. Then I have to shut down as much of the internet as possible so that it doesn't distract me but I can still check details as needed. That can be a little tricky.

Your writing area/desk: a place for everything and everything in its place or if anyone ever straightened it, you'd never find a thing?

Everything in its place. I've recently discovered that I’m a more tidy person than I thought I was. My desk is fairly clean and organized. It needs to have enough space for the cats to sprawl without getting in the computer’s way, you see...

What is your current pop culture obsession (book, TV show, movie, webcomic…)? What are the rest of us missing?

It’s more like what am I missing that you all know about, lol. I am so far behind on reading and watching things that it’s ridiculous. Writing and self-publishing chews up a lot of time! I've been watching Breaking Bad and Continuum lately, and reading some of the steampunk wave that happened a few years back.

collects the first three parts of DISCIPLE 
a gritty fantasy romance series

Back cover
War is coming. Kate Carpenter is only a peasant girl, but she’s determined to help defend the kingdom and its bound saints against the invading empire. Her healing magic earned her a coveted apprenticeship with the master healer; now she must prove herself ready to stand in the front lines and save lives.

She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though. This is no time to be distracted by romance — the empire’s monstrous army will tear through anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical founts. All disciples must put aside their tangled feelings and stand in the homeland’s defense.

Samples at my book blog: Part IPart IIPart III

DISCIPLE, PART IV arrives on March 10th!

Or try out PART I for free!

FREE at SmashwordsAllRomance
and sometimes at Amazon -- working on that…

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, February 20, 2014

West of Paradise Cover Reveal

Our very own Marcy Hatch has her first book coming out March 25th...

Katherine Kennedy has it all; she’s beautiful, she’s wealthy, and she’s engaged to the perfect man: Antonio D'Salvatore. There’s just one problem. She can’t marry him. Worse yet, she has no idea why. All she knows is there is suddenly nothing she wants, not Antonio, or any of the other hundred thousand things money can buy.

Jack McCabe comes home from the war with a pretty medal and a lot of ugly pictures in his head. He has little in the way of possessions, less in the way of wealth, nowhere to go and no one to go anywhere with. All he has is a vague sense of discontent, a restlessness that will not abate.

Separately, they are drawn to Paradise Tours on the privately owned Cristobel Island. There they meet Louis Cade, a man who offers them the unimaginable, something neither can quite believe until they actually find themselves over 125 years in the past, 1881 to be exact.

For Jack McCabe it’s the adventure he always dreamed of – until he meets a beautiful but deadly train robber. Katherine can't believe an ignorant bounty hunter has mistaken her for a criminal – until she sees the picture, which looks exactly like her.

Set in the old west, this is a tale of mistaken identity, romance, and murder.

You can preorder it now over on Amazon...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


T.L. Bodine joins us today. You may remember her query from our Query Con (here it is to refresh your memory). Now her book is out. She was game enough to answer a few of my random questions:

Where did the initial idea for Tagestraum come from?

It started as a Nanowrimo project in 2009 with the single thought, "What if a child were kidnapped by his imaginary friend, who thought he was doing the right thing?" The original concept was much different from what ended up on the page. I'd initially thought that it was much more of a Peter Pan story about unwanted children.  When I started writing, though, my main character took over the helm. As I got to know Adrian, I realized that this story was deeply personal for him, and the plot took a pretty dramatic turn.

Which part of the publishing process was the most surprising?

After carefully considering my options and pursuing both paths for a while, I ultimately decided to go indie. Being an author-publisher, basically everything has been a learning experience. The surprising thing: It's a tremendous amount of fun. Having total control is daunting, but it's also exhilarating, and it forces you to become a problem solver. If something isn't working out the way you want, it's up to you to figure out why and fix it. That's strangely empowering. Also, hands-down the most fun aspect of publishing has been collaborating with artists for cover designs. I've done it three times now, and seeing the cover come to life is always magical.

If you could give yourself any piece of advice before you started writing, what would it be?

"Finish your drafts." When I was first getting started, I had a tendency to start a project, lose steam, and abandon it. Or I'd spend years picking at a book one piece at a time, never really getting anywhere. The day I learned to sit down and finish a draft before trying to edit or tweak it was huge for me. You can't edit a story that isn't finished, and you learn more about storytelling from actually finishing a narrative than you do from starting a half dozen others.

Plotter or panster?

A little bit of both. I used to be a hardcore panster, but I'd often get lost in the middle. But outlines are a little too stifling because I need time to experience the story as the characters do. So instead I write a "zero draft," which is an incredibly loose narrative -- somewhere between an uber-rough draft and a very detailed outline. I usually write this by hand, and what will become an entire chapter might take up just a few paragraphs of text as I describe what needs to happen next.; I flesh it out as I type it and by the time it's transcribed I have a decent working first draft.

Quiet room or noisy room when you're writing? How quiet do you need it? What sort of noise?

It's never quiet in my house, so I have to learn to work with distractions or nothing gets done. I really enjoy writing with music, though. As part of the preparation phase of a new project, I'll always put together a playlist to act as a soundtrack and try to listen to it whenever I sit down to write. It triggers my memory about how certain things are supposed to look, feel, sound etc. and helps get me in the mood. You can actually listen to the Tagestraum soundtrack if you're interested.

Your writing area/desk: a place for everything and everything in its place or if anyone ever straightened it, you'd never find a thing?

I'm probably the least organized person on this earth. On my desk right now I have a stack of unsorted mail, a bottle of nail polish, several video game cases, some receipts from god-knows-what, and a cat.

What is your current pop culture obsession (book, TV show, movie, webcomic…)? What are the rest of us missing?

I'm a late adopter of pretty much everything.; I mean, I only started watching Doctor Who last month. I'm always like, "Oh my god, you totally need to check out this new thing!" and then realize it's been out for years.

Your "zero draft" sounds a lot like my "short draft". Funny how we all do things so differently and yet the same.

Anyone have any other questions?

Some relevant links:
My site

Working as a child welfare agent, Adrian has seen a lot of disturbing things. Nathaniel Weaver isn't the first kid in the city who’s ever gone missing, but his disappearance haunts Adrian in a way he cannot entirely explain. Maybe it’s because the child looks so eerily similar to himself. Maybe it’s the drawing that Nathaniel gave to him the last time they met: a cloaked nightmarish figure that Adrian recognizes from his own dreams.

When Adrian returns once more to the scene of the disappearance, he finds a doorway leading to another world: Tagestraum, a bizarre and often treacherous faerie realm powered by human dreams. The world itself threatens the safety and sanity of any human that crosses into it, and several of its denizens are eager to harvest errant humans for a little raw energy.

Adrian knows that he’s the only person who can find Nathaniel – but to do it, he must battle both dangerous inhabitants and his own worst nightmares, and each night that passes brings Adrian closer to losing himself completely.

Author Bio:

T.L. Bodine spent most of her childhood traveling with her blue collar family and living in the sort of small towns where horror movies are set. She received a bachelor's degree in English from New Mexico State University in 2007 and briefly pursued an MFA in creative writing before realizing that she was better suited to writing than talking about it.

She currently lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico with her boyfriend David and a small zoo of rescued animals including a toothless chihuahua, two cats, and several geriatric rats.

Make sure to enter the drawing...
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Life After Book Deal: What Changes (and What Doesn't) Once Your Book is Sold

A guest post from Jen McConnel

Hey everyone! I'm thrilled to be here talking with you today, and I thought for this guest post I'd share my thoughts on what happens after you get the phone call or email that sends you over the moon; what is life like after your book deal?

If you're anything like me, you might have expected that everything would be different once you sell your first book, and in some ways, it is, but in other ways, it’s not. I don’t say that to be a downer; things do change after you've sold your first book, but they may not be the things you'd think. Let’s take a look at a few of them.


What changes: I go through a lull in my writing whenever I sell a book. I don't know; maybe I get complacent, or maybe my brain is just busy readjusting to my new reality, but I've found that the weeks after a book sale pull me out of my writing routine, and when I get back to it, it isn't the same as it was before. It takes some time to adjust to the new normal, especially if the book you sell is part of a series (now you’re more self-conscious about your story, whereas before, you may have just been happily flinging words onto the page.)

What doesn’t change: Sitting down to write is still the highlight of my day. I love every part of the process (revisions included), and I hope that never goes away.


What changes: You're no longer faced with this giant task alone! Once you sell your book, you’ll have support from your editor as you start polishing the book to make it the best it will be. You might not always like the changes that your editor wants, but now there’s someone to have a dialogue with as you try to make the book better. It can be challenging and liberating at the same time to move from whatever your solitary revision process is into the tandem efforts of working with an editor, but the bottom line is, you're not alone in your editing cave anymore.

What doesn't change: It’s still editing, folks. It still takes time and effort, and some days the process might make you want to tear your hair out, but it’s still there. It’s vital!

Social Media

What changes: After I sold my first book, I started expanding and deepening my social media circles. I'd always worked to make connections with other writers, but now I started seeking out authors who are releasing in the same year, publish the same genre, or are my publishing house siblings. The World Wide Web suddenly got both a lot bigger and a lot more intimate.

What doesn’t change: I still waste spend way too much time playing on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. Nope. I'm no better at managing my time now than I was two years ago.


What changes: The boost you get from landing your first (or second, or third) book deal is immense. Suddenly, the world is your oyster, and for a day or maybe a week, pride and excitement push all your fears to one side. You, my friend, have arrived: you're on the road to success! Unfortunately, once the sparkle wears off, your fear comes rushing back, only now it’s bigger and scarier. Added to your earlier fears is the knowledge that PEOPLE WILL ACTUALLY READ YOUR BOOK SOON, and that can be exhilarating and terrifying. I try to focus on the exhilarating part, but some days, fear wins.

What doesn’t change: Your fears won't melt away forever, and the things that make you insecure about your writing and your path will continue to poke at you. The good news? If you can acknowledge your fears, they can be managed. Eventually, they are familiar little niggles that can (mostly) be ignored.

What I've learned:

Through the ups and downs of writing, selling a book, and seeing it come into the world, the biggest thing I've learned is that things will change. Some days, I’ll be afraid, and others, I'll be on top of the world. The way I write is changing, and that’s a good thing. Change is growth.

But one thing I hope never changes for you (or for me) is our deep love of storytelling. After all, that’s why we're on this crazy roller coaster, right?

Daughter of Chaos by Jen McConnel

Nothing is more terrifying than the witch who wields red magic.

There comes a time in every witch's life when she must choose her path. Darlena's friends have already chosen, so why is it so hard for her to make up her mind? Now, Darlena is out of time. Under pressure from Hecate, the Queen of all witches, Darlena makes a rash decision to choose Red magic, a path no witch in her right mind would dare take. As a Red witch, she will be responsible for chaos and mayhem, drawing her deep into darkness. Will the power of Red magic prove too much for Darlena, or will she learn to control it before it's too late?

Learn More

Month9Books | Goodreads |


| Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | iBooks |

About Jen McConnel

Jen McConnel first began writing poetry as a child. A Michigander by birth, she now lives and writes in the beautiful state of North Carolina. A graduate of Western Michigan University, she also holds a MS in Library Science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. When she isn't crafting worlds of fiction, she teaches college writing composition and yoga. Once upon a time, she was a middle school teacher, a librarian, and a bookseller, but those are stories for another time. Visit http://www.jenmcconnel.com to learn more.

Connect With Jen

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Radio Hope

Sean McLachlan joins us today to tell us about a little about himself and show off his novel: Radio Hope. He was game to answer my random questions:

Where did the initial idea for Radio Hope come from?

I have no clear idea where any of my ideas come from. I've wanted to write a post-apocalyptic story for some time now, and I've always been intrigued with pirate radio, so it just sort of gelled. Oddly, the original kernel of my story ended up as the very first line: “The old man dove right into that punch.” That could have been the lead into any sort of novel, but it ended up as the first line of Radio Hope.

Which part of the publishing process was the most surprising?

I've indie published a previous novel, a novella, and a short story collection so there were no real surprises. One thing that was a bit of a wakeup call, however, was that I did this for National Novel Writing Month. I've been meaning to try NaNo but never had the time, then just before November 2013, I lost my travel blogging job so I said, “What the hell?”

I’m glad I did. There’s nothing like unemployment to boost your word count. I wrote the entire 71,000 word first draft in a month and spent the next two months editing, reworking, and considering the feedback of a dozen beta readers. Three months to the day after I wrote down that first line, I clicked publish. Many of my readers say it’s my best work so far. Now I really understand how all those old-school writers managed to write so much yet not sacrifice quality. Just focus on the work and don’t stop!

If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice before you started writing, what would it be?

Persistence is the key to everything. Also, don’t get trapped in the writers’ ghetto. Of course you need to interact with other writers to learn the craft, keep up with industry news, network, etc., but you’re writing for readers, not other writers. Radio Hope was the first book where a significant number of my beta readers were not writers, and they came at it with a totally fresh perspective you don’t get with fellow writers. While writers are better at helping you with technical matters, readers are much more insightful when it comes to story, since that’s all they're looking at.

Plotter or pantser?

I tend to start with fragments of scenes, a sense of the overall mood, and a fairly detailed setting, and then I just wing it. It’s best not to get too strict with where you’re going otherwise it takes much of the fun out of writing.

Quiet room or noisy room when you're writing?

Quiet, or with music that either has no words or none in a language I understand. Even Arabic music distracts me because as bad as my Arabic is, my ears will perk up and my mind will get distracted trying to catch the few words I know.

That said, I learned to write in a newsroom with dozens of people babbling and phones ringing all around me. I can shut out noise when I have to, but I prefer a quiet workspace. Luckily I have a home office overlooking the bay of Santander in northern Spain, and I have it all to myself until I have to pick up my kid from school.

Your writing area/desk: a place for everything and everything in its place or if anyone ever straightened it, you'd never find a thing?

My wife learned very, very early on not to touch anything on my desk. Even my eight-year-old knows this. I have a system of controlled chaos, with books, pictures, notes, scattered all about. I can find anything I want quite quickly. No really, I can. Really! Well, most of the time.

What is your current pop culture obsession (book, TV show, movie, webcomic…)?

Plants vs. Zombies and Kingdom Rush. Damn those are addictive games! Great way to bond with my son too. Oh, and I'm watching Sherlock right now, a fun BBC miniseries that takes Holmes and Watson into the modern-day world of CSI.

What are the rest of us missing?

If you’re talking about my book, most people haven't figured out what real-life location the setting is based on, and no one has picked up on the scene that’s an homage to a certain B movie starring Ray Liotta.

If you’re talking about life in general, I can't say without it sounding judgmental. Here’s some advice, though—do something that frightens you on a regular basis. I took up rock climbing to cure my acrophobia (didn't work) and I went on vacation to Iraq (survived). Two of the best things I've ever done.

Now that we've whetted your appetite, here's Radio Hope...

In a world shattered by war, pollution and disease. . .
A gunslinging mother longs to find a safe refuge for her son.
A frustrated revolutionary delivers water to villagers living on a toxic waste dump.
The assistant mayor of humanity's last city hopes he will never have to take command.
One thing gives them the promise of a better future--Radio Hope, a mysterious station that broadcasts vital information about surviving in a blighted world. But when a mad prophet and his army of fanatics march out of the wildlands on a crusade to purify the land with blood and fire, all three will find their lives intertwining, and changing forever.

Sean McLachlan is an archaeologist turned writer who is the author of several books of fiction and history. Check him out on his blog Midlist Writer.


Thursday, February 13, 2014


 This is a science fantasy WIP. Author's questions:
1. Please highlight where its still "telly" so I can dig deeper.
2. Is there too much backstory this early on? I'm struggling with knowing what to tie into the first book and what can just start fresh here without referencing past events.

Landry Sutton stood near a precipice staring up into the night sky. Orek was out there among the stars blocked by the light of Sendek’s three moons. It waited for him, unseen and yet hauntingly familiar. A breeze chilled him as he struggled to separate his own thoughts from the memories of a dead mage. >>ok, whoa.... who/what is Orek, is Sendek the planet we're on, and what does the "it" refer to? The light of the moons?<<

That distant planet had been Jaron’s home world. He was the mage that had taught Landry and Talia about magic. Well, he introduced them to its possibilities. The most useful thing he had done before he died was press his memories into Landry’s mind by a bonding trick, but even that had side effects. Thinking about Orek opened memories for Landry that at times felt more real than his own life. He could close his eyes and get lost in them.

Jaron’s home world included mountains and wild lands just like Sendek. In the memory currently playing out in his mind, Jaron sat throwing rocks into a stream with his small son. The boy couldn’t even talk, but he laughed every time the stone hit the water with a plop and a splash. Landry’s heart ached for the loss of the boy that felt like his own flesh and blood.

He tossed a stone over the edge of his cliff. The soft swish of it bouncing through the brush brought him comfort. Jaron was with his son now, and one day he and Talia would have their own family. Jaron’s memories might carry unwanted emotional baggage, but they would be useful on this mission. >>this "he" currently refers to Jaron.<<

If only he and Talia could go to Orek alone. >>none of the above told me that we have to go to Orek, so this feels like a non sequitor and/or the above is not relevant.<<

There was the rub that kept him awake at night. Stefan swore he trusted them, but he gave in to the committee. Two people of non-magical abilities had been assigned to the expedition. The process of choosing who had delayed the mission and could only be seen as another sign of the unrest boiling under the surface of the tenuous peace since the Dragumon’s defeat. Could it only be two months since the dragon-human hybrid had returned from exile to attack the planet? >>so... there are four people on this upcoming trip?<<

It had all happened so fast that even now Landry had a hard time wondering if it had been real. However, the massive starship in orbit around his planet couldn’t be ignored. Especially when Talia begged to go there daily.


A small smile turned up Landry’s lips, and he turned to the path that would lead him back to the cave retreat and his new wife. Two months ago he never dreamed he would marry, much less a feisty scientist mage with a penchant for dreaming about the future. He had kissed her for the first time here at this cave after barely escaping death together. She slept there now, warm and waiting for him. His nerves about the trip settled. At least they would be together. That’s all that really mattered.

He pushed back a thick covering of vines by the hillside to reveal the massive steel door with keypad lock. It slid back with ease, and he stepped into the warmth of the cave.

The main room was dimly lit and looked much the same as it always had. Small kitchenette along one wall, food locker and storage cabinet along another. There was a large fire pit in the middle of the oddly shaped room with enough wood piled in the shadows to last weeks. The only difference was in the back of the cave. He had another room carved out and a real bedroom added. Cots had been fine that first night Talia stayed here, but that would never do now they were married.

“No!” Talia’s scream shattered the silence of the cave, and sent Landry running for the bedroom.

“Lights on!” He called and the computer immediately complied.

Talia remained fast asleep, but she tossed and turned in the bed, sobs punctuating her ragged breathing. She muttered something, but Landry couldn’t hear it clearly. He moved to her side and shook her shoulder.

“Talia, wake up.” Another shake and then Landry lifted her up to slide beneath her. “Come on, wake up for me.”

Talia opened her eyes with a groan and a shutter. “What…” >>shudder?<<

Her entire body went rigid and her eyes opened wide. For a moment she stopped breathing.


She gasped for air and her body convulsed in his arms. Landry loosened his grip while still keeping her safely on the bed. One tremor lifted her out of his arms before she collapsed again. Her eyes rolled back in her head, but the trembling lessened. He tried to enter her mind. Images and words sped through their shared space, but nothing made sense. With nothing to focus on he pulled back out. After another minute, the shaking had subsided to shivering as the sweat cooled on her forehead.

Talia’s eyes fluttered open, but she lay listless in his arms. “What happened?”

“You were dreaming and I woke you up.” Landry rocked back and forth, scared to let her go. >>show me that he's scared -- or just drop it, people rock when they're scared...<<

“I don’t remember anything.” She struggled to sit up and push the tangled sheets off of her legs. “How do you know I was dreaming?”

“You called out. I couldn’t enter your mind.”

Goosebumps broke out on Talia’s arms and her teeth chattered as she shivered. This was more like the normal aftermath of her dreams and something they could deal with. Landry carefully reached outward with his mind until he slipped easily into Talia’s. Inside their shared space they could communicate freely.

If this is the aftermath, what were the seizures you had moments ago?

Don’t know. Her fear permeated both of their minds.

Shhh. We’ll figure it out, but from now on I’m not waking you when you dream.

I think that’s a good idea. Talia switched back to vocal communication, “The timing on this is horrible. What if the dream was about our trip to Orek? We’ll be walking into the situation blind now.” >>Since she never indicates that she even remembers the dream, the last two sentences seem a bit rhetorical.<<

“We’re going in blind no matter what. Even Jaron’s memories are no longer an accurate picture of what we’ll find. It’s not too late to change your mind.”

Talia sank back against his chest. “It’s our only chance of learning how to train these new mages.”

“Then we go. Dream or no dream.”

She inched closer and Landry draped one arm around her waist. His other hand absent-mindedly stroked her hair. He listened until her breathing fell into an even rhythm.

“Landry?” She whispered.

“Hmm? I thought you were asleep.”

“I’m scared.”

Landry’s hand stilled.

“Me too.”

“Why are you scared?” She asked.

His hand moved on its own again in an attempt to comfort both of them. Talia slid her hand from his chest and around his side, squeezing him tighter. Did she really want him to answer? A brief touch of her emotions and he knew the answer.

“I had hoped you wouldn’t dream again after the Dragumon were defeated.”

Talia sighed and buried her face in the side of his neck. “Me too.”

Landry shifted until he cradled her side by side. As tough as Talia appeared to everyone else, she was still the little girl looking for protection from her nightmares. That hidden need in her was what had first drawn him in. Even now she clung to him, scared of the unknown dream and something else. He gently probed her mind and emotions.

I’m never going to get used to this. Talia’s thoughts drifted by, not really connected to him, but present all the same.

Used to dreaming?

Talia reached up to hold his face in her hands. “No, needing you.”

She tugged his lips towards hers and he obliged. That familiar electricity coursing through both of them heightened every sensation.

“I’ll always be here.” Landry whispered against her neck. “Just tell me what you need.”

“Make me forget everything but you.”

>>I don't think it's too much backstory. It's a gentle start but it could work. More drama in the next scene? :) <<

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Critting THE FALL OF ASTRALIS: detachment

THE FALL OF ASTRALIS is a YA SciFi Adventure. 

Chapter 1

The explosion was enormous, lighting up the night with a fiery radiance that nearly blinded him. Paul was 200 feet below the blast and felt none of its force but fell back in spite of himself, tripping over the uneven, rocky ground at the base of the cliff. >>Spell out numbers.<<

Stephanie, he thought immediately. She’s in the building.

Spellbound by the violent majesty of it all, he watched in horror as Dr. Abrams and Natasha were engulfed in flame. He pulled himself to his knees, intent on getting to the two of them as quickly as he was able but fell back again as chunks of concrete the size of small cars blasted outward over the lip of the cliff and began to rain down around him. >>He's 200 feet below at the bottom of a cliff. How can he see anything up there? Plus, if chunks that big are flying now, there must have been a second explosion.<<

Scrambling backward, spider-like, he clambered to his feet and began looking for a route away from the fallout. He knew he couldn’t be permanently harmed but he was still scared to death. It would hurt like hell if he were struck by any of the falling pieces and if he were crushed or pinned by one, there would be no chance of him being able to help anyone until sunrise. >>Green = bad verbs. You're diluting down the action with non-specific verbs and conjugating unnecessary tenses. You've also not filled in the background picture: as far as I know, by the end of this, Astralis consists of a concrete wall and a cliff.<<

Steeling himself, he gathered his courage and forced his feet to begin moving toward the rise leading back to Astralis but only made it a single step as another explosion rocked the earth, forcing his eyes upward. Against the glowing backdrop of the raging inferno that was now Astralis’ western wall, he saw the black silhouette of a body fly out over the precipice, arms and legs akimbo, like a ragdoll that had been tossed aside. The body passed the horizon that was the top of the cliff and disappeared into blackness. >>You insinuated that a building is what blew up. Be consistent.<<

“Nooooo!” Paul barely recognized the raw, anguished voice as his own. Please don’t let it be Dr. Abrams, please don’t let it be Dr. Abrams, he thought desperately. Changing course, he lurched in the direction of where the body should have landed. >>Dr. Abrams already caught fire. I'd think falling to his death would be a mercy.<<

Debris continued to rain down around him, the pieces smaller now, like giant hailstones. Small rumblings could still be heard from above, which may just be chunks of Astralis’ wall falling away or could be more, smaller explosions. Paul had no idea, so he moved carefully but quickly across a ground now littered with smoking and still-flaming pieces of concrete. >>Concrete doesn't burn.<<

He searched frantically, desperately, scanning for any sign of movement, but his field of vision was obscured by the amount of debris cluttering the ground. The sound of falling rock and raging fire was deafening. Whatever had been used as the component for the bomb was still burning strong. Fighting back an overwhelming desire to flee the hellish landscape, he fought back panic and continued searching the rubble for a body.

Like the sound of a bullet whizzing through the air, he only heard it for a split second before sudden, blinding pain lanced through him as a fist-sized chunk of rock slammed into his right shoulder and knocked him to the ground. He cried out in agony, half-mad from the pain.

“Paul!” he heard someone calling, but was still reeling from the impact. “Paul!” The voice came again. James. The deep southern drawl in James’ voice was unmistakable. Paul was pulled into a sitting position before he realized he’d been found.

James crouched in front of him, snapping his fingers in front of Paul’s eyes. “We got to get up there!” James shouted. “We got to see if anyone is hurt! You can help them!” James squinted into Paul’s eyes. “Come on, man! You can do this!”

Paul didn’t answer at first, still mentally catching up with everything that had happened in the last 60 seconds. Where was everyone else? Was everyone else okay? >>You've told me Paul's thoughts before. Why not do it here?<<


“I saw someone fall,” Paul finally said. “Off the cliff. I think—” Paul’s eyes widened, focusing just past James’ shoulder. Was that a hand? He couldn’t tell. There was a boulder blocking most of his view. >>Be clearer about where the hand is.<<

“You think what?” James demanded, mistaking Paul’s lack of finishing his sentence for shock. “Was it Abrams?”

Paul tried to get up but stumbled on the loose rock underfoot. He tried again, but fell right away and had to settle for a cross between walking, falling, and crawling toward what he was now sure was a hand.

Rounding the boulder with James right behind him, Paul was brought up short by the sight of the blackened husk of a body lying pinned by a small chunk of concrete. The concrete still burned, illuminating the corpse with a flickering, unholy light. It lay with its face turned away from him, all the hair singed from its skull. It could be anyone.

He could feel James’ presence beside him, recognizing from the way James stood motionlessly that he saw it too. Heart in his throat, Paul took a few quick, shallow breaths and forced himself to move.

His first glimpse of Natasha’s face caused him to turn away and retch. It was a reflex and he knew it, but he couldn’t stop it. In the dream, there was nothing to cough up except emotion. >>what dream?<<

“Oh, God,” James intoned softly, sadly.

Her face was recognizable, but only barely. Her eyes were empty sockets, presumably melted from the intense heat. Her face was scorched, blackened into a dreadful, hardened mask of torment personifying her last, horrible moments of life. >>Eyes don't melt, AFAIK. They burn.<<

Paul felt a shameful relief. Relief that it wasn’t Dr. Abrams lying before him, and shame that he’d feel anything but remorse for the loss of someone he’d known and cared for. He continued to stare, focusing on the sight of this dead woman until he felt the first stirrings of anger.

“Paul,” James said in a low tone, but Paul didn’t answer. He stared into Natasha’s empty eyes, searing the image of her burnt-out husk into his memory. Stoll. Dittrich. This was what men like them did to other people who didn’t bend to their will. This was why Paul would never allow them to take control of Astralis. Anger and fear blended together, threatening to overtake his senses. “Paul!” James said again, louder and more insistent. “She’s gone,” he said. “There is nothing we can do for her.”

James was right—there might be others injured they could still help. After seeing Natasha’s body he couldn’t imagine that Dr. Abrams could possibly be alive, but he had to hold on to hope.

Grimly, Paul turned his gaze upward to Astralis where the fires still burned. Had the explosion reached the guest rooms? Was Stephanie okay?

>>Language is getting in your way here. A lot of the descriptions in this scene are very detached from the situation. It's a combination of vague verbs, lack of setting, and unneeded details like how Paul can't be hurt or wondering what the rumblings are. Tell us the important things -- and only the important things -- about why what's happening is important, scary, what Paul's feeling... The action here could be a lot more compact, and structured to show the reader more of what's going on.<<

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Critting UNLIKELY MAGE: implausible setting

UNLIKELY MAGE is a speculative fiction WIP. Apologies for the late post!

The motor-drone sound didn’t bother Bert Reese. He could snooze through any commotion. Especially the lecture in his psychology class.

Sleep provided an escape from Mr. Butreil who taught class like a man whose sphincter muscles never relaxed. And Bert was performing his usual shut-eye admirably. Then a word broke his sleep pattern.


Bert raised his head and fixed a hard-eyed look on the teacher. Butreil caught the movement and scrunched his face like a man eating a lemon. Or maybe his sphincter had ratcheted up a degree.

Around him, the other students showed the same lack of enthusiasm as he had. One boy with spots was combing through his lank hair with his fingers and gathering the dandruff into lines of dingy white. A girl openly read from a novel with the cover of a bare-chested man while another doodled with a broken eraser pushing it with a long finger. Behind him, Bert heard a feminine sigh. Bert straightened in his too-small chair. >>I had assumed this was a college course -- now I'm guessing it's high school BUT... got to ask for a reality check here. I took Psych in high school. It was strictly an AP/college-prep level course and therefore everyone in the class wanted to be there. We were all alert and well behaved. I can't imagine that a school with this kind of behavioral problems in its students would have the resources to offer Psych, let alone foist it onto unwilling students.<<

“You said wizards are historical figures?” Bert said. Around him, students looked up. The girl closed her book, the kid pocketed the eraser, and Dandruff-Head swept the junk onto the floor. A sound of feminine disgust came from behind Bert. >>Why is a psychology class talking about wizards? Nothing that gets talked about in this scene has anything to do with psychology...<<

 Butreil gripped the pencil he held and released a breath. Bert hadn’t bothered to raise his hand.

“You say they use fake crap to do their tricks, make elephants disappear, whatever. But you don’t know that.”

“Bert.” His voice held a warning.

Like I care. Bert flipped a negligent hand. “You can’t explain all of it.”

“Show me proof it exists, then.”

“Man, that’s like saying, ‘prove your innocence’.”

Someone snickered and the teacher narrowed his eyes

“Bert, the science is incontrovertible. The physics alone make it impossible—”

“Sez who?”

Red crept up the teacher’s neck and face earning Bert’s interest. >>And my disinterest. Teacher's incompetent and Bert isn't making a point, he's being an ass. Why should I keep reading?<<

Definitely an eight on the scale of Pissed Off. 

Once again, a feminine laugh came from behind his chair. >>and she's an ass too<<

Butreil ground his teeth. Bert wondered if he’d see the teacher’s fillings ping out of his mouth like bumper cars. He was disappointed when Butreil ignored the question and turned back to his study guide.

“The history of wizards goes back to biblical times,” he said, reading from an open textbook. “Shamans and druids made their own magic, formulating legends and myths about…What?”

This time, his anger wasn’t directed at Bert but to a point over his shoulder.

“How did they make their own magic?” said the light feminine voice.

Red crept up Butreil’s neck giving it the appearance of a turkey’s wattle. The look he usually reserved for Bert, the I-know-better-and-you-are-stupid, formed on his face.

Butreil threw a hand out, gesturing. “People they called oracles hid behind screens. Read entrails. They interpreted natural phenomenon like a meteorites going across the sky and said, ‘Lo and behold, it’s a sign’. Anything handy, anything not readily explained.”

The teacher snorted and had a half-smirk on his face. “They sure didn’t pull it from the air, that’s for sure.”

Snickers came from every corner of the room. Bert opened his mouth to snarl something but the girl beat him.

“You are wrong to make a broad assumption that cannot be proven.”

“I don’t have to prove it, missy, all I have to do is use common sense and intelligence.”

“And there you go, putting those personality traits together when you have so little of either.”

When the teacher’s mouth dropped open, Bert could see the guy still had all his fillings. Even in the back teeth. He snapped his jaw shut and pointed one bony finger.

 “You. Now. Office.”

Another soft chuckle from behind. “I apologize, sir.”

At that, Bert turned. The girl was off to one side and her crooked smile was for the teacher but at his movement, her brown eyes flicked to him and then back to the front of the room. A new girl.

Not that he cared enough to know who she was. Not after seeing what flicked around her like so many fireflies.

Why bother.

He turned back to Butreil who must be about apoplectic by now.

But the teacher’s face seemed flat lined, emotionless. Then he shrugged and turned back to the textbook spread in front of him.

Bert narrowed his eyes and felt his skin crawl. When he saw his doubled fists on the desk, he leaned back and put his hands out of sight on his lap.

“Magic is performed for entertainment, illusions made and practiced by those skilled at nimble tricks…”

Butreil droned on, reading the book while his class slept. After hazarding a glance at the teacher two girls passed a magazine back and forth. A boy with a nasty pimple on the back of his neck was stealthily texting. Another kid with stringy blond hair had his head back and mouth open to the ceiling. His guttural snores caused a few in the room to snicker but Butreil was oblivious.

“…when the tricks are performed at high speed, it is seamless and creates the impression that fire has appeared out of nowhere. Live audiences do not have the convenience of high-speed cameras that slow the action, enabling the exposure of the illusion. And in today’s technology, some magic still cannot be explained…”

The bell rang but Butreil continued talking his head bent and eyes on the words of his study guide. Someone poked the snorer who jerked and coughed as the herd rose and made for the classroom door. Bert let the mob go ahead of him.

He turned at the door to stare at the teacher, still speaking without any tone his focus on the book.

The new girl didn’t seem to be in any hurry to join the mayhem in the hallway either but gathered her books slowly, her eyes narrowed at the still muttering Butreil. >>Teacher told her to go to the office. Why didn't she?<<

The teacher jerked and grunted, then looked around confused at his nearly empty classroom. The girl hugged her books to her chest and slipped between the desks to the front. Her eyes flicked briefly to Bert then she was out the door.

Butreil sat back in his chair in a seriously major funk. >>POV slip? Did you mean for the narration to be omni?<<

Bert shrugged and joined the exodus to the doors. The embodiment of “never waste time on Fridays” was the motto of every person at high school. He made it to the hallway leading to the outside doors without touching anyone. Or talking.

Avoiding people worked both ways. His friends knew better than to stop Bert especially after school and he didn’t want to talk to any of them on the best of days anyway. And this wasn’t even close to a good day. He walked unmolested down the hall and parted the crowd of yapping idiots. Only the propped-open doors to freedom held his attention.


He heard someone call his name but didn’t stop, pretending the voice was an annoying insect. The coach pushed ahead of the escaping students and blocked him. For a moment, he debated pushing around the man but decided against it. He felt his face turn to stone as the coach shook his head.

As coach of the track team, Ralston had the look of a man who had never been on the receiving end of a harsh word. He encouraged rather than degraded his young folk. They worshiped him for it. Especially since the results brought a winning strategy and medals to the team. >>How does one look like they've never received a harsh word?<<

“Now, kid, just hang on. You’ve been dodging me for ever since you quit and I want some answers.”

“What kind of answer will get you out of my face?”

Ralston stiffened and Bert could see frustration cracking his forehead into grooves. “I want to know why.”

“Man, I do not have to give you any whys. I quit. That’s it. That’s all. I quit track.” He tried to brush past but Ralston held out his hand without touching Bert. He knew better than to touch him. Everyone knew not to touch him.

“Bert,” he said. “You were good at it, always on time. And you seemed to enjoy it.”

As Ralston spoke, Bert tuned out the speechifying. As usual. He looked past the coach at the trophy case filled with tributes to past athletes, faded photos, and school emblems. The pictures of smiling boys were ancient, the edges curling with the years. In the reflection of the glass, the back of Ralston’s head looked like the beginning a monk’s bald spot. His eyes shifted to the reflection of his face. Hard, stoic, with a veneer of anger clouding them. >>Two sentences doesn't feel like speechifying to me...<<

Nothing familiar there. But I’ve been born twice now. Not many people could say that. >>Ah. Now there's the first line of a story. Could we start here instead?<<

>>I lost faith in the setting pretty early on, as you can see. Didn't feel plausible to me, so as a reader I'm not willing to give you the benefit of a doubt on other aspects. The characters you've introduced have been cast in a very negative light and that makes it difficult for me to take them seriously. Or care what happens to them. 

Your last line, now that's interesting. Also, the fact he's trained everyone not to touch him -- but given that Bert's a jerk I don't know why anyone would want to touch him anyhow. Since we've gotten off on the wrong foot, can we get a do-over?<<  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Critting THE PRINCESS OF TYRONE: flat character

THE PRINCESS OF TYRONE is a NA sci/fi Fantasy WIP. The author says: In this WiP, I can't seem to quite give my antagonist enough... depth, I guess. It's a Sleeping Beauty retelling, and this is a scene with the sorceress who cast the curse. The prince has taken a fancy to a huntress, who is secretly the hidden princess. The sorceress is trying to push the prince to the huntress so he breaks the betrothal with the princess, so sent a griffin to frighten them into each other's arms. The "Whites" mentioned are Snow White's grandchildren.

Bryanna stared at the dark green goblin blood up her arm. She pulled the goblin’s head back, making him whimper. “What do you mean there’s no record of Apolline of Mish? Did you check the Hansel and Gretel family?”

“Yes, my queen,” the goblin answered weakly.

“Urgh!” She tossed him on the ground, pacing. “And you searched for just Apolline?”

“Yes.” He shuffled up onto his knees, bowing before her. “I searched all the Apolline’s in the galaxy.”

She screamed in frustration, black lightning shooting from her fingers. “How is that possible? She can’t be nobody. She can’t…” She paused, seeing the news feed for the day and, as usual, Nathaniel White showed his cruder side. “The White’s.”

She reached over and motioned for the image to enhance. “Nathaniel White’s betrothed is kept secret and they are about the same age.” She spun to the goblin. “Look into it.”

He scrambled up onto his chair to hack into the kingdom archives.

Bryanna marched from the room, her black coat flaring behind her as she went. In the hallway, she paused as she passed a mirror. She stared at herself.

“I’m beautiful,” she whispered, touching a line in the corner of her mouth. Although in her forties, her hair remained a rich dark chocolate, and her green eyes vibrant. Many men had desired her, but only one captured her heart.

She heard a soft squawk from her chambers and rushed in. The griffin limped through, blood pouring from its right shoulder. She hurried over, stroking its head. “What happened?”

The serpent slithered up beside her. “The girl shot it.”

“I said to be careful,” she said, resting her hand over the wound. A soft green glow came from the wound, and she raised her hand to show the single bullet. She examined it closely. “She only left a slight imprint on it. I feel fear.”

She pressed it to her lips. “And a hint of love.” She looked down at the serpent. “How did it go?”

“Their bond is growing stronger. The prince protected her, and she in turn protected him. Then she saw to his wounds.”

Bryanna ran her hand over the griffin’s shoulder. “Go be seen to.”

The griffin limped into the hallway.

She looked down at the serpent. “Find out what fairies live in the town. I want to know who has taught her about magic and if I can use it to my advantage.”

“Yes, my queen.”

Once the serpent had gone, she turned to her mirror, its cloudy grey swirl barely reflecting her image. “I’m beautiful, aren’t I?”

The mirror swirled and showed Cytheria’s face. “Not as beautiful as she.”

Bryanna clenched her fist. “I hate you.”

>>From what you've sent, I would say that Bryanna lacks depth because she isn't personally involved in the story. In this scene, she's just walking around giving obvious instructions, being bitchy, and looking in the mirror. There isn't anything interesting about that, and that's why I didn't write any in-line notes -- the scene is pretty much useless as it is, IMO.

I'd say re-write this scene to show me (not tell me) how Bryanna is personally involved in this. The reader needs to meet her as a real person with motivations and the threat of consequences. Her character arc needs to be as clear as the hero's -- even if the reader does not see all of it.<<

Sunday, February 9, 2014

This week: long form crits

Final call for submissions for this week -- I only have two lined up, so there's room for more. If you have a full scene (or two) that you would like feedback on, email it to unicornbellsubmissions at gmail.com. Up to 1,500 words, any genre, any scene. Please give the WIP's name and genre in the email. All submissions are anonymous.

I like long-form critting because I like to crit on a more macro scale: pacing, character motivations, world-building, voice, things like that.

If I don't get at least one more submission, maybe I'll post a chunk of something of mine. I've got some irons in the fire that could use fresh eyeballs...

Friday, February 7, 2014

Query Critique - Contemporary Romance

Original - 
Tara Stevens is a smart, successful lawyer with a pocketful of humor and a mouth full of sass. But when she finds her husband in their bed with his hands on another woman’s breasts, she is rendered speechless (not an easy task). Her sanity needs a vacation. She settles for a two week excursion deep in the Canadian Rockies--a trip her husband Jack-ass has always dreamed about.

Tara initially spurns her male tour guide--handsome rancher, Brooks Buchanan--but grows to admire his skill and love of the outdoors. His free lifestyle speaks volumes to her about her own life as an overworked attorney. It is while Tara hangs precariously inside a 50 foot glacial crevasse that she realizes how much she trusts Brooks. Which is more than she can say for her own husband.

When unexpected events force Brooks to end the tour early, Tara travels with him to his hometown of Whitefish, Montana. It is out on the Montana range where Tara realizes the steamy attraction she feels for the sexy cowboy and his lopsided grin. She finds new meaning in the phrase, “save a horse, ride a cowboy.” 

When Tara’s determined husband shows up in Montana with a pleading heart and profuse apology, Tara has a choice to make. Will the love and freedom she feels under the Montana sun be enough to free her from her old life? Or will the invisible threads of loyalty to her job and her husband pull her home?

Critique - 
Tara Stevens is a smart, successful lawyer with a pocketful of humor and a mouth full of sass. But when she finds her husband in their bed with his hands on another woman’s breasts, she is rendered speechless (not an easy task). Her sanity needs a vacation. She settles for a two-week excursion deep in the Canadian Rockies--a trip her husband Jack-ass has always dreamed about.
Excellent beginning. On most days, I’d say 68 words in the opening paragraph are too much. But this one really caught my interest. Suggestion: She settles for two weeks in the Canadian Rockies. = 20 words cut to 9.

Tara initially spurns her male tour guide--handsome rancher, Brooks Buchanan--but grows to admire his skill (in what?) and love of the outdoors. His free lifestyle speaks volumes to her about her own life as an overworked attorney. (Examples speak louder, IMO) It is while Tara hangs precariously inside a 50 foot glacial crevasse that she realizes how much she trusts Brooks.

Which is more than she can say for her own husband. IMHO, this sentence isn't needed.

When unexpected events force Brooks to end the tour early, Tara travels with him to his hometown of Whitefish, Montana. It is out on the Montana range where Tara realizes the steamy attraction she feels for the sexy cowboy and his lopsided grin. This sentence seems incomplete. Do you mean to use ‘where’ or ‘when’? She finds new meaning in the phrase, “save a horse, ride a cowboy.”  Not so new actually.
Suggestion: combine the two sentences. Out on the Montana range, the steamy attraction she feels for the cowboy and his lopsided grin turns the phrase “save a horse, ride a cowboy” into reality. (36 words cut to 28)

When Tara’s  her determined husband shows up in Montana with a pleading heart and a profuse apology, or: “...and profuse apologies...” Tara has a choice to make. Will the love and freedom she feels under the Montana sun be enough to free her from her old life? Alliterations: freedom, feels, free. Or will the invisible threads of loyalty to her job and her husband pull her home?

Summary: 249 wordcount seems long for the meat of a query. Whenever possible, cut to 200, or even less. Start out with a logline and build from there. Or strikeout words that aren’t absolutely needed for the storyline. But don’t cut the character traits. IMHO, “...a pocketful of humor and a mouth full of sass...” is an excellent introduction to Tara. It sets her right there in front of me. Love it.

Other places to cut are the echos. “...determined husband...” for an example. Note that he “...shows up...” in Montana so therefore, he is determined.

Western genre, especially contemps, are big right now. The market is wide open. Look for a publisher or agent who specializes in this genre. Definitely a winner.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Query Critique - Forever

Original format - 
First, do no harm. It’s an oath Blake Ryan took to become a doctor. Ironic, given that he spent most of his thousand year life sucking souls out of other immortals.

One of them, Aleria had changed that. They’d spent centuries hunting each other, and the day she had him at her mercy, she gave it. She set him straight and let him loose. Even though everyone she cares about wants him to die. He hasn’t let her down yet. And she never returned to kick his ass.

Thanks to regular shots of morphine to keep his inner monster at bay, he’s led a quiet life since WWII. His thrills now come from saving lives, not taking them.

Then Aleria’s wheeled into his hospital ward after a plane crash, and his carefully controlled life teeters on the edge of disaster. Her life is vibrant. Basically, crack to immortals like him. All it would take for her to be killed is for someone immortal to recognize her. Likely, given that she’s infamous in Ryan’s old circles and there are more immortals in New York City than one would think.

She can’t even remember her name, let alone defend herself. Deserting her when she needs help isn’t an option.

Ryan will have to unleash his inner monster to protect her from those who want her dead. Which is a problem, because his inner monster wants her dead most of all.

FOREVER is an Adult Urban Fantasy, complete at 41,000 words.

I’m a published author of a YA Epic Fantasy novel under the pseudonym M. Gerrick. (The Vanished Knight, published by Etopia Press.)

Critique - 

First, do no harm. It’s an oath Blake Ryan took to become a doctor. Ironic, given that he spent most of his thousandth year life sucking souls out of other immortals.
Oh, heck yeah.
Suggestion: “First, do no harm. The oath Blake Ryan took to become a doctor seemed out of place [or another attribute]. And so ironic given that he’d spent most of his thousandth year sucking souls out of other immortals.”

One of them, the immortals, Aleria had changed that. They’d spent centuries hunting each other, and the day she had him at her mercy, she gave it. She set him straight and let him loose. Even though everyone she cares about wants [I’d change this to ‘wanted’, IMHO]  him to die. [Or, “...his death”] He hasn’t let her down yet. And she never returned to kick his ass. Okay, this last sentence barfed me out of the story. Total confusion.

Thanks to regular shots of morphine to keep that keeps his inner monster at bay, he’s led a quiet life since WWII. His thrills now come from saving lives, not taking them.
*actual chills here. Zowie. Good job*

Then Aleria is wheeled into his hospital ward after a plane crash, and his carefully controlled life teeters on the edge of disaster.
Suggestion: “Then a nurse [orderly?] wheels Aleria into his hospital ward...”

Her life is vibrant. Basically, crack to immortals like him.
Sentence structure needs cleaned up a bit. Suggestion: Her life is vibrant. To immortals like him, her soul is like crack to a druggie.

All it would take for her to be killed death is for someone an immortal to recognize her. Likely, given that she’s infamous in Ryan’s old circles and there are more immortals in New York City than one would think. This last sentence needs a major overhaul. Suggestion: And since she is infamous in Ryan’s old circles, that prospect is more likely than not.

She can’t even remember her name, let alone defend herself. Deserting her when she needs help isn’t an option.

Ryan will have to unleash his inner monster to protect her from those who want her dead. Which is a problem, because his inner monster wants her dead most of all.
*falling down and panting*

FOREVER is an Adult Urban Fantasy, complete at 41,000 words.

I’m a published author of a YA Epic Fantasy novel under the pseudonym M. Gerrick. (The Vanished Knight, published by Etopia Press.)

Summary: A fantastic query with a life all its own. My suggestions are In-My-Humble-Opinion only and not carved in stone. Use accordingly.

Conclusion: hell yes, I’d read more. Sincerely drooling here.