Writing Bloc’s Best Reads April 2019 Edition. Welcome to our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of April, we hear from Michael, Jacqui, Becca, and Robert.
Yes, I know, it sounds strange to recommend a popular series that sold over 23 million copies and was turned into four high-grossing movies, but hear me out. I first read The Hunger Games when the first wave of buzz crested, and when I read it, I lumped it in with the Twilight series (which I don’t personally care for). I think I did this because their popularity and their target audiences seemed to overlap, so I was curious as to what all the buzz was about. The buzz was probably part of what put me off. I think I was expecting a perfect novel the first time—my head wasn’t in the right place. I was ready to criticize the book at every page, and most of my criticism was undeserved, although, I still stand by my opinion that a lot of the names in these books are ridiculous. (I mean, “Peeta?” I keep hearing Lois Griffin’s voice from Family Guy saying this when she’s saying “Peter” in her accent.)
This time around, I picked up the novel because one of the stories I’m writing has a young female protagonist, and I was looking for recommendations for comparison novels. Enough people recommended The Hunger Gamesfor me to give it another chance. And I’m glad I did.
Is it perfect writing? What is perfect writing, really? It’s told in first person present tense from the perspective of a teenage girl in the midst of a cruel dystopia on the brink of an uprising, so it’s written in an appropriate tone. I appreciated the writing this time around, enough to get over the horrible names. (Plutarch Heavensbee…for real?)
All in all, I fell into the story. It’s well-paced, gripping, and, once I finished the second book I realized that it’s also carefully planned out. The Hunger Games series has impressed me like no other story in that I’ll admit that I got it wrong the first time. I wasn’t in the right headspace to appreciate these books, and now I am, which is a much better and happier place to be. I’d much rather be a person enjoying stories instead of criticizing them. Suzanne Collins helped convert me from a critic to a fan. I’m happy to say I was wrong.
“Why is it every time a madman’s prayers are answered, a witch burns?”
I’ll start with full disclosure: J. Danielle Dorn is a fellow Inkshares author, so I may be a bit biased. That said, Devil’s Call is sinister, satisfying, genre-bending read unlike anything I have ever picked up and I highly recommend it.
Billed as “The Revenant with witches,” Devil’s Call is part horror, part western, part feminist revenge soul candy that, if you are anything like me, will have you fully enthralled.
Written as a raw, first person confessional to her infant daughter, Devil’s Call follows protagonist Li Lian, as she avenges the death of the child’s father. I devoured Li Lian’s journey in just a few days, and can’t recommend enough this tale by a truly original voice.
This tiny book is a quick, inspirational read, which started as a zine and sticks to its roots. I purchased this book after hearing Grace speak on the WMFA Podcast on finding balance in one’s life as a creative person. If you read this thinking it will be an end-all, be-all guide, you will be disappointed. If you read this like it’s a conversation with a kind, reflective friend, you will be thrilled.
The book includes some short exercises to help readers reflect on what in their life is work and what is relaxation, as well as the gray areas where those overlap. I found it helpful just to think about, which is Grace’s point– she’s all about the noticing. In line with its origins as a zine, the book includes some things that might seem random to those not familiar with the genre– a section on herbal infusions, an appendix with relevant poetry. I enjoyed all of it, though, as well as the feelings of nostalgia tat the format inspired.
This is a nice read for folks whose work and pleasure are overlapping, as many authors’ are. Come to it prepared to walk away without any conrete “answers” but wth a renewed commitment to self-care and self-compassionate productivity.
Kate Harker and August Flynn’s families rule opposite ends of Verity, a grisly metropolis where violent acts summon real monsters: bloodsucking Malchai; clawing Corsai; and soul-stealing Sunai. The truce that keeps the families at peace is crumbling, and August is sent to spy on Kate. But when Harker’s men try to kill her and pin it on the Flynns, August and Kate find themselves running from both sides, in a city where monsters are real…
This Savage Song is another powerhouse from Schwab and I loved every second of it. Prior to this book, I’d read her Shades of Magic series, which is a stunning urban fantasy trilogy, and I was excited to dive into a different Schwab world. This Savage Song did not disappoint.
Set in a grim world of the future, where the US has separated into independent territories, the story takes place mostly within V-City; a territory divided in two by a shaky truce. It is a city where violent acts give birth to literal monsters. Where some monsters dream of being human. And some humans are… well, monstrous. In the middle of this we meet two youngsters on opposite sides of the divide, who despite everything, forge a connection and must learn to trust each other. The characterizations are deep and wonderful, the world gloriously dark and unique, and the plot sucks you inexorably toward the epic ending.
Good news! I am about to give you permission to sit down, watch movies, and spend time wandering around on the Internet. The best part? You can call the entire time “research.” And I am going to answer the question I am asked more than any other: “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s something anyone can do who is willing to spend that time watching movies and web pages.
Yesterday after lunch, I turned on the television and came across the 60’s movie, “Psych-Out”, featuring a very young Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasburg, and Gary Marshall. Gary Marshall? Yeah, that caught my eye, too, so I opened the IMBD page on my iPad and started reading. One paragraph explained how Strasberg and Nicholas had been nervous about some of their scenes and calmed themselves down by discussing Reichian therapy which they had both experienced. Apparently, it was some kind of cosmic, bio-energy thing, but new to me. I opened a new window to the Wikipedia page for Reichian Therapy.
I read that William Reich was a student of Freud, but had then developed theories about a mind-body energy related to sexuality. My highly oversimplified understanding was that Reich believed that our mental and physical health was connected to a ‘cosmic’ energy that Freud called the libido, or sex drive. Repression of our sexual urges led to illness, mental and physical. It sounded like one of those things that would be in a 60’s movie. Reich built on his theory, identified that cosmic energy as something he called ‘orgone’, and created devices called “orgone accumulators” that would help us decrease our sexual tensions and improve our overall health. He also created a form of therapy called “Vegetotherapy”, which I’ll simply say violated the established ‘distance’ between patient and therapist. His work was banned in Germany, and in the U.S. he was eventually determined to be a fake, was thrown out of various groups, had his books and research confiscated, was arrested, and died in prison in 1957.
No, nothing much so far. Interesting stuff, but not the kind of material that great ideas come from. Then, I opened this morning’s New York Times obituaries.
I read that Mary Boyd Higgins died at age 93, after serving for sixty years as the Director of the William Reich Trust, the William Reich Museum, and the Orgone Energy Observatory that is on the National Register of Historic Places in Maine. As I read the obituary, I recognized things from what I had read yesterday, but there was more detail. For example, it explained that the reason Reich’s material had been banned in Germany was that he explained that Fascism and dictatorships were the result of sexual repression and not at all a healthy thing. Nazi Germany did not agree. And I read that, in 1954 in the U.S., after reviewing Reich’s 789 page FBI file, a Federal Judge wrote: “any journal or pamphlet that mentioned orgone “shall be destroyed,” that all orgone accumulators be destroyed, and that all copies of Dr. Reich’s books that mentioned orgone “shall be withheld” from circulation until such references were redacted.”
My neurons began to fire. I found it interesting that Reich was one of the few men I’ve heard of to be banned and have his books burned in both Nazi Germany and the United States. What bothered me the most was that line in the judge’s ruling that said any of Reich’s books that mentioned orgone “shall be withheld from circulation until such references were redacted.” One word? What was so dangerous about one word that might cause two groups who had completely different worldviews to link arms like that? What was it about “orgone” that made it so important that Dr. William Reich be silenced?
And then my mind said, “What if…?”
And that is how ideas are born. What if Reich was right, and the repression of sexual expression and ‘orgone’ does cause people to be less independent and self-actualized and more open to authoritarianism, Fascism, and dictators? What if encouraging sexual repression does help keep people under control, keep them weaker, more compliant, less likely to resist? What if there are groups ‘out there’ who know this secret and have been the drivers behind the cultural battles relating to sexuality and sexual expression? What if our entire medical health care system could be…What if…?
I may never know the answers to those questions, and honestly, I’ll leave that task to others. My goal was to find an idea to explore. My goal was to find a “What if…?”
Some may say that this experience was all a great coincidence, and I was just lucky to have the movie, Wikipedia, and obituary show-up like they did. Yes, it may well have been coincidence. But I am convinced that the more pieces and bits of information I pick-up and store in my mind, the more frequently those little idea-creating coincidences are going to occur.
Now, I need to go see what’s on television.
John Jamison is a life-long believer in the power of stories. First as a pastor, then educator, creator of Centers for Innovation at multiple universities, Director of a national Game and Simulation academic degree program, a consultant for e-learning and brand development, John has used the power of story to bring about serious change and have some fun in the process. John grew-up in a small river-town in Illinois, and describes his childhood as “kind of Tom Sawyer-ish with a blend of Wizard of Oz.” John says, “I grew up in a family of storytellers and liars, and I spent most of my time trying to figure out which was which.”
Today’s guest post comes from Kimberly Hunt, freelance developmental editor with Revision Division.
Let’s set expectations from the start. I am NOT a writer. Through extensive reading, professional training, and my experience as a developmental editor, I’ve learned the essentials of genres. A novel can contain elements from multiple genres but three components distinguish mystery, horror, and suspense.
They are: Timing, Revealed clues,and the Appeal, of the story to the reader’s emotions.
Any novel needs structural
elements with tension provided by formidable conflict and character growth, but
when you’re ready to pass your manuscript to a beta-reader, knowing your genre
will help you know how best to describe it. Use the following key components to
quickly identify if you’ve written a mystery, horror, or suspense novel.
It’s all about the chase. Drop the reader in after the crime and
let the story unravel – revealing the why and who at a moderate pace.
The hook in the beginning should establish a question that must be
answered by the end.
Solve the mystery in the end or there is no story. Even if the
criminal gets away, you’re expected to solve the crime.
Along the way, your style of writing characters and plot should
make demands of the reader’s brain to figure out the puzzle. To help them, leave
subtle clues so that it all falls into place in the end.
No cheating – waiting until the end to present a tidy wrap up is
not satisfying for readers.
It’s all about fear.
Often, a horror story includes themes of bad people or actions (or
both) and usually leans toward the morbid.
Shocking plot twists are great, but it should be believable. In
fact, that’s what makes it so scary.
Character motivations are still important even if horror is
usually more plot-driven than character-driven. In order to evoke a strong
emotional response, the reader must strongly like or hate the character.
The sought after emotional response is intense whether it be from fear
or shock. Readers should be screaming at the book as they see the evil plot
Many authors embrace disgust head-on without flinching, unafraid
to turn your stomach with graphic depiction, but use grossness sparingly as
this can be perceived as a lazy trick, much like leaning on coincidence to
solve a mystery or fate to wrap up a romance.
It’s all about tense uncertainty. Suspense involves a main
character trying to prevent something from occurring.
A reader of suspense novels should feel tightly wound and worried
about what may happen.
Some authors leverage time limits to increase tension and speed up
If Mystery is about what already happened, and horror is happening
now, then suspense is danger about to happen.
Similar to Horror, the reader is aware of the danger, perhaps even
more aware than the main character.
Use your biggest fears against your
characters slowly and subtly, leaving a little to the reader’s imagination.
New authors often struggle to categorize their work, but these guidelines should help. A blend of genres is great as strict rules are nonexistent. However, it’s beneficial to know early in the publishing process what your target audience hopes you’re about to deliver. And it’s absolutely mandatory later for marketing effectively when you’re querying or self-publishing.
Kimberly Hunt is a freelance
developmental editor with Revision Division, specializing in fiction for
self-publishing authors. She’s happy to answer questions about writing and
editing but beware as she can go on at length about her passions: reading,
running, and volunteering.
I’ve known Vivien Chien since before she got her first contract. It’s been amazing to watch her star rise, from her #ownvoices debut Death by Dumpling to her latest, Murder Lo Mein, which comes out today! I was lucky enough to host Vivien at the library where I work for her first book launch, and since then, our patrons have been clamoring for her new releases.
Vivien brings real Cleveland flavor to her stories. I’m a native myself, and I love that I can picture her protagonist’s journeys through the city as she solves her puzzles. And if you’re reading them, make sure you have your favorite noodle shop on speed dial, because you will get hungry. Vivien is a master at describing the tasty dishes served by the Ho-Lee Noodle House.
I chatted with Vivien to see what she’s up to these days!
Tell us about the Noodle Shop series.
The Noodle Shop mysteries take place in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio and feature Lana Lee, a late twenty-something Asian-American who is trying to gracefully steer her way through life after hitting a severe rough patch. When we first meet Lana in Death by Dumpling, she is at the beginning of her new adventure, working in her parents’ Chinese restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House. Of course, while getting back on her feet, murders ensue. (And wouldn’t that just figure?) The series follows her journey along with a cast of wacky characters who may or may not be considered “dysfunctional.”
What do you like best about MURDER LO MEIN, the third book in the series? What part of it was the most fun to write?
Honestly, I can’t pick just one part of Murder Lo Mein to like best. I have to say this is my favorite one out of the three and I love the story as a whole. (As cheesy as that answer sounds, it’s completely true!) The most fun I had writing were the fortune cookie bits, and the scenes between detective Adam Trudeau and Lana. I really enjoy exploring the dynamic of their budding relationship.
How do you balance a full-time job along with writing your cozies? Do you have any productivity tips?
The balancing act can be a challenge at times, but the end result is completely worth it. I write after work throughout the week and accomplish what I can in about an hour or so. Then a lot of times on the weekends, I’ll have writing marathons that last about 8-10 hours straight. These sessions usually involve mass amounts of coffee and the occasional doughnut.
My best advice on productivity would be to stop making excuses as to why you can’t sit in that chair and write. “Those darn dishes” or “that blasted laundry” will still be there an hour from now. Then once you’re sitting, the next step would be to forget about checking your email, logging into social media, or buying that really awesome bookshelf from Amazon. Those things will also still be there later.
And lastly, I would say, don’t get hung up on perfection. We lose many a minute by worrying how a particular sentence sounds or the problem we find with an entire paragraph. Get it down first, fuss later.
WONTON TERROR is due out in August. What are your plans following that release?
After Wonton Terror, there will definitely be two more books in the Noodle Shop series, and they will follow the same publication schedule of two books released per year. I do also plan on proposing more books in the series to ensure that Lana has a long life in the cozy mystery world.
Aside from these books, I have a few other book proposals up my sleeve. One series involves a female P.I. who will also make a guest appearance in book five of the Noodle Shop mysteries, and the other involves a story-line in the paranormal realm. It will still be a mystery, but it’ll involve a predominantly supernatural cast of characters.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Never give up! I think that is the single most important thing for any writer to know. So many of us can be easily discouraged because writing AND getting published can be a very daunting task. But all you have to do is keep believing in yourself. That is key.
Today on Writing Bloc we have author Annie Ward, whose recent release Beautiful Bad has been garnering attention all over the author-sphere!
Welcome, Annie! Your recent release Beautiful Bad was featured on the Indie Next List for March. Congratulations! Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your psychological thriller Beautiful Bad?
I was born and raised just outside Kansas City, Kansas. I relocated to Los Angeles for college with no intention of ever moving back home. I studied at UCLA and The American Film Institute where I received my MFA in Screenwriting. At that point I moved to Europe and stayed there for six years. Eventually when I came back to the States I ended living just down the road from the farm where I grew up and started my own family. That was an unexpected twist!
BEAUTIFUL BAD is a dark, twisty domestic thriller but it’s also a sweeping romance spanning decades and continents. At the heart of the book is a love triangle involving three badly damaged people who share a fatal attraction to disaster as well as a ferocious bond.
“Harrowing…. Evocative descriptions and strong senses of time and place complement the intricate, intelligent plot, which shocks and chills.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
In the tradition of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train comes
the psychological thriller everyone is talking about, a twisted novel
about a devoted wife, a loving husband, and a chilling crime that will
stun even the cleverest readers.
How long have you been a writer, and have you always known that this is where you would end up?
I would say that I’ve always been a writer but never had a clue where I would end up. I started writing short stories in elementary school and by high school I had moved on to what was probably very bad poetry. Then, while living in Los Angeles, I succumbed to movie fever and switched to screenwriting. I was never able to support myself as a writer until I moved to an inexpensive city in Eastern Europe, so I have a colorful career history including things such as cocktail waitress and PE teacher. If anyone had ever told me that I would one day be the author of a book that had sold to eighteen countries I would have burst out laughing. I never saw any of this coming.
Is there a primary message in Beautiful Bad?
Don’t rush to judgement based on stereotypes or appearances. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Also, trauma untreated is a dangerous disease.
Can you tell us about your protagonist? Are they inspired by someone you know in real life?
In the very earliest draft of this book, Maddie was me. I wrote a memoir about living and working in Eastern Europe, having adventures with my best friend and meeting the man I would eventually marry. When I decided to fictionalize the book and throw in some murder, betrayal and a whole lot of lies I had to change all the characters to the point that they only have a small resemblance to the original characters. I did however, end up with a tragic love triangle that basically involved me, my best friend and my husband, so that was awkward.
When you develop characters do you already know who they are before you begin writing or do you let them develop as you go?
In this particular case, because BEAUTIFUL BAD started out as a true story, I knew all the characters at first. When I changed it to fiction, they started to do and say things that surprised me. Horrible things. They took on a life of their own, argued in my head and surprised me with their cruelty and cleverness. Sometimes I felt ashamed of what they had done at night when I pressed save and went to bed.
Do you have a favorite character out of all the ones you’ve created?
I love them all, which is funny given that one reason some people have said that they didn’t like the book because, “There are no likable characters.” To me, the characters are all real. They have tempers, they make mistakes, they use poor judgement, they sleep around and drink too much. But I love them, especially Ian, who came from nothing and spends his life protecting others. He is mercurial and broken by what he has experienced but he’s also brave, loyal, funny and caring.
What is something you think readers generally don’t know about writing psychological thrillers?
I can only speak for myself, but I was surprised by how difficult it was to write about police procedure. I did a lot of research and had lunch with a number of local cops but in the end, if you’ve never been a police officer, it’s probably going to be a bit forced. I belong to the school of “write what you know” and writing about the running of an investigation was unfamiliar territory.
Are there any writing craft books (either genre-specific or not) that have helped you with the process?
I’ve got the HOWDUNIT FORENSIC GUIDE FOR WRITERS sitting next to me at the moment and the HIOWDUNIT Crime Scene guide has got to be around here somewhere.
Do you find that you have to be in a certain headspace to write your deeply psychological scenes, or are you able to transition between writing and regular life easily?
It’s not that easy for me. I tend to write the most important scenes at night when I’m on my own and I can lose myself. If my kids are around bugging me for snacks I will just stick to moving the plot forward in basic ways. Then I go back and add the “magic” later when I can focus.
Do any of your characters have interesting mannerisms or pet peeves?
Maddie’s neighbor Wayne Randall is a quirky fellow. He traveled to England once many years ago and is a fan of Monty Python movies. Whenever he sees Maddie, whether her British husband is with her or not, he insists on speaking to her in a bad British accent. I would say this habit of his also counts as a pet peeve. Maddie finds it pretty annoying.
Have you ever turned a dream or a nightmare into a written piece?
My dreams are honestly so bizarre that anything inspired by them would be science fiction and I don’t think I would be very good at it. Maybe even worse than poetry. I do have an idea for a book that involves a woman and her son who share the ability to lucid dream, so there’s always a chance for the future.
What do you think is the hardest thing about writing?
First drafts. I’ve never written a great first draft. Usually things start falling together in the second draft but that moment when you are still at the beginning and you’re convinced that your material is terrible can be pretty depressing.
Here is my favorite question that I ask everyone: If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club?
JK Rowling, Otessa Moshfegh, Patricia Highsmith, Caroline Kepnes, Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ann Lamott, Ali Land, Gail Honeyman, John Boyne, Donna Tartt and Brett Easton Ellis. Just off the top of my head. That would be a wild book club party.
What do you do to market your own books yourself? Any advice on that front?
I just do everything I’m asked to do. I try to never turn down an appearance, a question and answer, a blog request, conference, dinner etc. I know what it’s like to have no marketing behind me on a book. This time around, if they want me to put on a funny hat and ride a pony I will be doing just that. As far as my own marketing, I try to stay caught up on social media and respond to people who are interested in me and the book.
For the American publication day of BEAUTIFUL BAD I reached out to a small group of influential people I’ve met over the years and asked them if they could support me by writing reviews and sharing posts. Luckily, I have a good relationship with the karma police and my friends were ready to spread the word.
Most of our readers are indie authors navigating the world of publishing. Do you have any other advice for them?
The best thing that ever happened to me was finding an agent who was also an experienced editor. She guided me through seven months of rewrites BEFORE we ever tried to sell the book to a publisher. It’s easy to jump the gun and go out with a book that’s not ready. My advice is to sit tight and make sure your work is your best work. Sometimes you only get one chance to impress.
When can readers expect another book from you? Any details that you can share?
I’m fifty thousand words into a new thriller, but I’m pretty sure about thirty thousand of those words are malarkey. I have a deadline looming so I’m forging ahead, but BEAUTIFUL BAD took me nearly a decade from conception to publication. As I mentioned in the last question, I don’t want to put out anything that I feel isn’t ready. Hopefully, with the help of my agent and editor, my new book will be ready in a year and a half.
It’s the story of a Natalie, a young woman who happily puts her mundane life on temporary hold to look after her older brother who has been in a serious mountain biking accident. She moves to a remote, affluent Colorado town. It’s the type of place she’d like to fit in. She joins a gym, hikes, explores, visits houses for sale and tries to make friends. When the daughter of a wealthy local goes missing and Natalie was the last to see her, the town turns against her. She realizes that she is a disposable outsider and she can trust no one, not even her own brother.
What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?
I have a website that links to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It also has an option to email me. The website is Annie-Ward.com
So you’re thinking of writing a book, but you keep telling yourself that you shouldn’t. There’s always a thousand reasons not to, so I see where you’re coming from. Writing a book is hard, it takes a lot of time, it’s not a lot of financial reward for the amount of time spent, you most likely won’t get a professional publishing deal that will sweep you away from your day job, people will criticize your work, you might get writer’s block…the list goes on and on and on…
And hey, there is a chance that the book you’re either writing or thinking of writing is objectively terrible. But, even in this case, I am here to tell you to stop thinking that way and just get on with it. Write your book. Get your words down. Create those characters. Forget all the haters and just get it done. Why? I’ll tell you why.
1. Writing is fun.
Really, it is. And it doesn’t matter what you do with it. Want to find out how awful and agonizing the whole process is? There’s thousands of articles on that, but it’s simply not true. If you don’t like your writing, then maybe you’re writing the wrong thing. Try poetry, haikus, or FanFiction. Try writing a memoir of a favorite time in your life. There are endless possibilities, and all of them are equal, as long as you are having fun. It may seem like the novelists complain the most, but that’s only if you go searching for complaints. The trick is to just keep doing it. Don’t let the negativity stop you.
2. Giving up feels awful.
Let’s say you’ve written a few pages of something you like and you are so bold as to show someone else. And let’s say that someone else shows you all of your grammatical errors and plot holes, and even goes so far as to explain to you why your entire story won’t work and tells you to quit. Obviously, that person isn’t a friend. The truth of the matter is that your critic is trying too hard to make themselves feel better. All first drafts will have problems. All stories need editing. Every tale requires a lot of work until you “get it right.” But if you decide to give up just because it’s too hard or you’re afraid of failure, you’re forgetting that you’re writing for fun. Make your grammar errors and spelling mistakes, power through it all however you decide to do it, and get it done. Why?
3. Finishing a story feels amazing.
I wrote my first novel over the course of two months, and when I finished, I felt incredible – abuzz with the accomplishment. I told everyone I could that I wrote a book. And oh man, when I read it again, I realized how terrible it really was. You might think that discouraged me, but it did just the opposite. I tucked that book into a box and it’s still sitting in my basement, preserved. The story was so odd and convoluted that I decided not to rewrite it. But here’s the important part: I made that decision on my own, and the reason I made it was because I had another story idea I wanted to get started writing. And I started writing that story. And that story was much better and far easier to write because I knew, even though my last attempt wasn’t great, I could finish writing a novel. I got over that hump and knew I wouldn’t give up ever again. I realized that I had more to learn, but I was no longer afraid of finishing a project I started.
4. Perfection will never come.
Finding errors is easy, especially when you’re first constructing something. But here’s the thing: you aren’t writing something that has to be perfect the first time around. And what is perfect anyhow? Writing should be a freeing process. Look to the greats. Do they use sentence fragments? Run-on sentences? Odd spellings of words? Poor grammar? Sure they do. But because the stories were so great, these “errors” could be applied to that writer’s style. What would happen to countless stories if everyone obeyed the same rules and wrote the same way? As I’ve said, language is evolving. Write your story using as many acronyms and emojis as possible. If it’s what you’re feeling and what you want to write, just get it out. Story first, rules somewhere way down the line and definitely not second.
5. Because you can.
Seriously. You can do it. Don’t expect to have a bestseller float out of your fingertips on the first try, don’t try to impress anyone, don’t make the process something more than it needs to be. Just do it. You can. If you had the idea to write a book, it was because some part of your brain, a part you should listen to, said you can and want to. There isn’t something magical to it, you just have to keep at it, make it as fun as possible, and push those critics away – especially those in the other part of your brain telling you that you can’t do it. Show that inner pessimist who’s boss and get that story written, even if it ends up being terrible.
Why? Because there are no good reasons not to. Finish what you start. You’ll never regret it.
Need a little extra motivation? Check out the video below.
Writing Bloc’s Best Reads February 2019 Edition. Welcome to the seventh post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of February, we hear from Becca, Jacqui, Cari, and Michael.
In Lipstick Brigade: The Untold True Story of Washington’s World War II Government Girls, historian Cindy Gueli brings to life this important part of World War II history. I have a professional interest in these 100,000 women who moved to Washington D.C. to fill important clerical positions: my novel, Rock of Ages, follows a Government Girl. My interest is also personal. My beloved grandmother was one of them, classifying fingerprints for the FBI.I picked up Gueli’s book as research, hoping to make my own book as historically accurate as possible, but ended up feeling more deeply connected to my grandma, who passed away two months ago.
Gueli explains the political and personal forces which drew the women to the nation’s capital, an important government and military hub. She describes in detail their often monotonous jobs, the crowded and expensive living conditions in the bustling wartime city, the sexual and social traditions the women challenged, and the media portrayal of Government Girls that the real women contended with. She does it all with an eye to the influence of gender and race. Gueli is an excellent historian and an engaging writer.As I read about beauty seminars hosted for Government Girls, I began to understand my grandma’s fascination with Avon products and saw the time she took me for a makeover in a new light. She brought with her the experience of being a 19-year-old woman from rural West Virginia, on her own in a big city for the first time, learning beauty standards.
Reading about the cost of various amenities in D.C. at the time, I was able to make more sense of the letter my grandma kept detailing her raise and of her story about her $25 a month room. My grandma’s independence, patriotism, resourcefulness, and fashion sense all make more sense to me after having read this book. At a time when feeling close to my grandma is especially meaningful, I am grateful. My novel, too, will no doubt benefit from Gueli’s extensive knowledge.Readers interested in 1940s history, labor history, and feminism will certainly enjoy this thorough, readable book.
Jacqui’s Recommendation – Beartownby Fredrik Backman
“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil.” ― Fredrik Backman
Ever since reading A Man Called Ove years ago and absolutely loving Backman’s style, I’ve had several of his books on my to-read list, but they kept getting pushed to the back-burner for some reason. I think because deep down I knew that when I chose to enter another Backman book, I wouldn’t come out unscathed. There are certain authors that you know can wreck you, leave you reeling for days. Fredrik Backman is apparently one of them for me, and he is quickly becomming one of my favorite authors.
It’s hard to explain what exactly it is about Beartown that resonated so deeply. On its surface it’s a story about a hockey team and a devastating event that rocks a small town, but it is so much more than that. It is a story about the many, often contradictory, layers we have as humans. It is a story about the sometimes-toxic world of sports and tribalism. It is a story about snap judgements and self reflection. Highly recommend.
Author Abby Ellin almost married a con man – she tells her story in this part-memoir, part-fascinating fact book about liars. While there are other books out there about liars and their motivations, this one stands out because of its strong storytelling and clear, engaging style. Highly recommended for writers – if you’re looking for a reasoning behind your deceptive character’s motivation, you’ll be able to find it here.
I recently found Octavia Butler’s work thanks to friend recommendation. She was a powerhouse in science fiction, and all of her works are worth praise. Most of her stories feature complicated characters exploring issues that mirror current events, and her characters are rich and diverse, unlike the campy science fiction stories she fought to counterbalance. This recommendation is truly for Octavia Butler’s entire catalogue. From Kindred (1979) to Fledgling (2005), you can’t go wrong with any of her stories.
The reason for specifically pointing out Parable of the Talentsis that it shows some of the author’s uncanny ability to predict future events by exploring her world at the time of her writing. Parable is actually a sequel to Parable of the Sower, and it was written in 1998. Part of the story features a dystopian take on a future America featuring a presidential candidate hellbent on controlling the population by use of virtual reality and shock collars. This power hungry candidate also used an interesting slogan to push his agenda: “Make America Great Again.” Yes, she wrote this in 1998. Now go read her work. Unfortunately, we lost this literary giant in 2006, but thankfully she left a lot of work behind for us all to marvel at and enjoy.
Welcome, Jeyna! The Slave Prince and The Battle for Oz, both deal with retelling well-known stories, with a fantasy twist. Can you tell us a little bit about what that process is like and why you are drawn to this style of writing?
The process often begins with a question of ‘what if’. What if these worlds coalesced? What if there was magic? What if I retold the entire adventure in another place and time? Then, when an idea hits, I give it a go. Honestly, I’m not too sure why I enjoy retelling stories. Perhaps it has something to do with pushing my imagination to the next level—challenging myself to see beyond a well-trodden tale. Or maybe, it might have something to do with how I started honing my skill—Harry Potter fan fiction was my go-to when I first decided to write more frequently. It could also be because I grew up with the original adventure—as with the case of The Slave Prince—that I simply wanted to add my own twist to my favourite childhood story.
Tell us a little bit about your writing routines. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
My routine changes with the season. During busier times, when my day job requires more brain power, I’ll endeavour to complete one chapter a week. In which case, I will write the first half of the chapter on one day, edit that half on another day, write the second half on that same day, then edit the second half before the week ends. Thus, being one chapter closer to finishing the book. On a less mentally taxing week, I’ll try to get in two chapters a week with the same write, edit, write, edit model. As for the word-count, I usually aim for a minimum of 2,500 words a chapter—occasionally pushing over 3,000 if I’m feeling adventurous.
As I have other forms of writing—additional articles and short stories on a weekly basis—there will be some weeks where I don’t write any chapters at all. But then again, on long breaks from work, I find myself on a roll—completing chapters one day after the next. So really, the routine changes with the season.
Have you ever destroyed any of your first drafts and started a story from scratch?
I haven’t destroyed first drafts but I have abandoned some. They have been relocated to a folder of ‘unpublished works’ for keepsake. And whether or not I dive into them again, only time will tell. At the moment, there are more exciting quests to embark on.
How do you think your writing style has changed over the years?
For the better! I’ve learned to build denser worlds, dive deep into character motivations, and steer clear from cliches as much as possible. Through the years of writing, I’ve learned that a story isn’t just a story. I cannot merely write it as it is—I have to truly live it out. And if I cannot see, hear, smell, or feel it, neither can my readers. So whenever I write, I don’t just endeavour to be flowery, I strive to create something tangible in the minds and hearts of every reader too. But honestly, I still have a lot to learn. At the very least, I now know what it means to show and not tell.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your books?
Wow, there are just so many! With The Slave Prince, specifically Alpenwhist, I drew inspiration from Croatia—their stone walls, ember rooftops, and cobbled streets. But with Meihua—a realm from my newest trilogy—I drew inspiration from my travels to South Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan. Thus why I love traveling!
As much as it is about the food, travelling gives me the opportunity to gaze upon the natural landscapes and distinctive architecture. Sure, I can Google them—I frequently do since I can’t time travel—but being ‘there’ allows me to live it out. Furthermore, the out of norm experiences allow for a more in-depth world-building through a recollection of said events. So, if I were to summarize with one consistent real-life inspiration for all my works, I would say… it’s my real-life experiences.
What do you love most about the writing process?
I love finishing it—the feeling of having accomplished something. The satisfaction of pulling through to complete a story. What I love the most about the writing process is the end of writing—when the story is released to the world. So I guess it’s safe to say that one of my favourite sentences—in all of my books—is ‘the end’. After all, the end is but the moment before a new beginning.
What do you do to market your own books yourself? Any advice on that front?
Despite earning a living as a Content Strategist in a digital agency, I’ve yet to find a lucrative way to market my books. So instead, I’m marketing myself. After discussing with a few people in the marketing industry, I’ve realised that authors should spend more time marketing themselves instead of their books. You see, you can only do so much to pitch a story in hopes that it resonates with a reader. But, if you are—as an individual—someone people want to support, you don’t need to exhaust your efforts into pitching your work. If people like you enough, I believe they will naturally buy your books.
My advice to fellow creators is to spend less time selling copies and more time building a brand that people can resonate with. And, do so in a genuine manner. After all, we have the innate ability to spot insincerity. So focus on creating an image that reflects who you truly are and your story, and let your works sell themselves to those who believe in you.
What book(s) are you reading at present?
I recently completed The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Cho. And boy, did I love it! Having only read books set in foreign countries, it was nice to finally dive into a book set in my own. So if you haven’t heard of this book, you might want to check it out. It has an interesting plot—one that had me flipping one page after the next during the Lunar New Year. As for what’s next, I’m eagerly waiting for the Escape anthology to arrive in the mail!
When can the readers expect another book from you? Any details that you can share?
Well… I recently completed Book 2 of my trilogy! But when to expect the launch of this trilogy, I can’t tell. And not because I don’t want to but because I recently uploaded the entire manuscript of Book 1, Whispers Of The Wind, on Swoon Reads. So if you’d like to read it, you can! And guess what? You don’t have to pay a cent—you can read it for free!
Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Robb is the king of Zeruko. He, and his twin sister Myra, ascended the throne after their father’s passing. According to many, King Daemon—arch-nemesis and ruler of Tentazoa—murdered the late king. But despite the claims, Robb believes his father is still alive. With a desire to bring his father home, Robb leaves Zeruko with his trusted friend Spion. The pair travel to the realms of the universe through the magic of raindrops. From the hazardous trip behind enemy lines to the festive East Asian-esque Meihua; from the kingdom hovering above the clouds to the military-driven Bevattna; from the heterogeneous society of a tunneled realm to Robb’s duel with the heir of Tentazoa, every step in his journey uncovers a gem of his past, present, and future. And in one foresight, Robb learns of the daunting fate of Zeruko. (Read Now @ Swoon Reads: https://swoonreads.com/m/whispers-of-the-wind/)
What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?
I frequent all my social media platforms, so readers can get in touch with me on whichever platform they feel most comfortable with. My inbox is also open to anyone who wants to share their thoughts on any of my works or have questions they’d like to ask. But, if you only had to pick one, I would suggest Facebook—it’s where I share snippets of my writings and broadcast personal thoughts through weekly videos!
THE SUBMISSION PERIOD CLOSED AS OF MAY 2, 2019—STAY TUNED FOR FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES TO SUBMIT YOUR WORK!
Below is the process for the submission for your own viewing, as the process will be similar for future submission periods.
Writing Bloc is taking short story submissions NOW!
Writing Bloc’s annual short story anthology is taking off with its second edition, and we’re looking for amazing stories incorporating the theme of “deception” in five thousand words or fewer. The submission period is open now through May 1st, 2019. Announcement of the accepted stories will take place on May 31st, 2019. The non-refundable submission fee is $10 (US) for all writers. To submit your story, use the link below to sign the acknowledgment of the Submission Guidelines and use the other link to pay the submission fee. Once both are received, you will receive a confirmation email within 48 hours. All major questions are answered within the guidelines, so please read them in full prior to submitting.
Additional questions? Ask us in the comments section below.
Fill out the submission form below and submit it with your attachment of your story. (Microsoft Word documents preferred.) Your story should be no longer than 5000 words in length, utilize the theme “DECEPTION” in some way, and have your name and contact information on the front page. You will get a confirmation message when your form has been submitted successfully.
Return to this page and click below to pay the $10 submission fee. Billing information will be kept private and will only be used for the purposes of validating the payment. You will also receive a confirmation message when your payment has been processed successfully.
You will receive an email to the address you provided within 48 hours to confirm that we received both your submission packet and your payment.
Submission form and acknowledgment of official guidelines CLICK HERE: using the form located at (link expired).
On January 1, 2019, Writing Bloc published its first short story anthology, comprised of stories from twenty authors. Writers were given a theme – Escape! – and each submitted a story centered around the theme. The result? An inspiring collection of western, sci-fi, fantasy, and genre-bending stories that demonstrate how vastly different the imaginations of 20 authors can be. You may check out ESCAPE! on Amazon by clicking here.
The publishing process was entirely cooperative, as authors banded together to critique and edit each other’s stories. Everyone involved worked diligently to improve their own craft, as well as provide constructive feedback that spurred the growth of their fellow authors. It is this cooperative editing and publishing process that Writing Bloc would like to build on as we work on expanding our collection.
If you have a short story you would like us to consider for submission in our next anthology, we would love to hear from you. Submissions for Deception! A Writing Bloc Anthology are due midnight PST on May 1st, 2019.
The anthology will be published both in e-book format and in print in January 2020 (subject to change).
Contributors will be offered the opportunity to order print copies at wholesale prices, which they can then resell at retail value for profit. Please review the full publishing guidelines carefully before submitting your short story. This is a cooperative short story anthology, and authors will be expected to critique and edit a group of 3-5 stories other than their own. Only those who are willing to participate in this collaborative process will be considered.
Writing Bloc will be accepting short stories, each related to the theme Deception. The number of short stories will depend on the final editorial staff decision. Though the last anthology consisted of 20 stories, the DECEPTION! Anthology could be any number of stories. If your story is not accepted into this year’s anthology, we encourage you to try again in the future and to request to join our Facebook page and/or Our Newsletter for more collaborative opportunities.
To submit a short story, follow the directions above.
-The Writing Bloc Team (Michael, Becca, Robert, Chris, Jacqui, and Cari)
Public copy of official guidelines:
A. Writing Bloc Indie Publishing Team is publishing a cooperatively-produced anthology of short stories to be released in January of 2020. Contributing authors will have the opportunity to be involved in production, promotion, marketing, and distribution of the finished work. The cooperative nature of the project is intended to be a group effort with tasks assigned and managed by the Heads of Writing Bloc.
A. The stories to be published in this edition of the anthology are to use the theme of “DECEPTION!” in some manner. There is open interpretation to the theme, and the theme is open genre. For a reference, you may look to our last published anthology titled “ESCAPE!” available on most digital formats and also available through physical formats via Amazon, but a link to download the book in both .epub and .mobi formats will be provided upon receipt of the submission fee.
B. Stories submitted should be no more than 5,000 words in length, and an original work of fictional prose. The target audience is adult, and there is no restriction on language or content, aside from the requirements in II.C:
C. Content Guidelines:
No hate speech (language or action that promotes or encourages racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, religious discrimination, ableism, or ageism).
Though sex can be a part of the story, it should not be explicit or the central action of the story. Stories may not glorify or normalize sexual assault or any non-consensual sexual acts. Any questions regarding what would be acceptable can be directed in an email to [email protected]
D. A story can be removed from the anthology at any time during the production process at the discretion of the Heads. Any cause for story removal will be discussed prior to any action taken and reasonable efforts will be made to resolve the issue prior to removal.
A. Stories should be submitted using the form located at (link expired) between now and May 1st, 2019, at which point the selection process for inclusion will begin. If there are any questions about the story and its acceptability as far as content guidelines stated above are concerned, please contact [email protected], but expect at least 5 business days for a response. No one will receive any indication that their story will be accepted into the anthology prior to May 31st, 2019, and no story will be considered without the submission fee paid in full.
B. The process of editing and a schedule for design and publication will be established after the selection process. This schedule will be determined after May 31st, 2019.
C. Any collaboration or discussion of stories with other members of the Writing Bloc on the group Facebook page is encouraged, but copyright ownership of each final story will remain with the individual author and plagiarism will not be tolerated.
A. All stories to be considered should be submitted using the form located at (LINK EXPIRED) starting now but no later than midnight PST May 1st, 2019.
B. The anthology is planned to be published in January of 2020 in both ebook and paperback formats.The schedule may be adjusted to accommodate unforeseen problems related to writing, publishing, or distribution. Contributing authors will be notified of changes to the planned schedule ahead of time through the valid email address they provide through the submission process.
A. The anthology at this time is to be published by Writing Bloc Indie Publishing Team. The book will be available for all major e-readers and available to purchase as a paperback through Amazon. Cost of the end product will be determined at time of publication, and prices are subject to change at the discretion of the Heads.
B. All marketing and publicity is the responsibility of the authors being published within the cooperative. Basic marketing efforts will be made through Writing Bloc’s website (writingbloc.com), Twitter (@Writing_Bloc), and Facebook (facebook.com/writingbloc), and Writing Bloc Indie Publishing Team will direct efforts to market the final product.
C. Each selected author will receive a feature and short interview to be published on the above stated outlets in section V.B of these guidelines.
D. The submission fees and profits from sales of the anthology will be collected into a single account to be maintained by Writing Bloc Indie Publishing Team. The balance in the account will be used to pay all costs associated with publication first. Any remaining balance will be used to offset any management costs of the organization. Contributing authors can purchase printed copies of the anthology for their own distribution and profit. Any profit from physical copies sold directly by the authors are theirs to keep. Opportunities to purchase paperbacks at lower cost than the general public will be presented after publication.
A. The goal of the cooperative press is to have direct control over publication efforts and distribution, and all authors involved are expected to contribute in some way to the success of the publication. While there is no specific guideline for minimum contribution to the success of the publication, exerting no effort toward marketing or success of the published anthology is not in the spirit of the publication, and therefore might affect involvement in future publications. Enthusiastic and cooperative participation in this anthology may influence acceptance of future manuscripts for publication with the cooperative. Enthusiastic and cooperative participation may include helpful and supportive communication within the group Facebook page, assistance with marketing, distribution, project management, finance, and editing as requested by the Heads of these teams, or voluntary financial contribution not to exceed $100.
B. This is not a project with the expectation of high profit. This publication is collaboration-minded with the idea to cooperatively increase exposure and marketing efforts for all authors involved.
C. For this current run with the theme “DECEPTION,” there is a basic non-refundable $10.00 (US) submission fee. This cost is intended to offset the time and effort required to give each and every submission proper attention. For the submission fee of $10.00 (US), the author submitting will have their story considered for inclusion in the DECEPTION! anthology, a place in the closed Facebook community page (subject to obedience of established rules and regulations within that community), and a link to download free ebook copies of the previous ESCAPE! anthology.
D. All authors retain the rights to their work and may publish them elsewhere or use them for other publications and submissions.
E. No profits are to be distributed to any authors at this time. All monies made for the anthology will be pooled into the creation of subsequent publications in hopes of offsetting all costs and creating greater marketing and distribution for subsequent runs.
F. Every effort will be made to market each individual author equally, including access to place their other works into the store on writingbloc.com for extra exposure.
VII. Statement of Inclusion and Diversity
A. Writing Bloc Indie Publishing Team does not exclude any writers for any reason. We encourage writers from all walks of life to reach out and become a part of our community and/or our anthology.
B. The deciding process for inclusion in this anthology is based upon a blind read of all works by our editors. Final decisions will be made purely based upon writing quality, creativity, and inclusion of the theme. There will be no knowledge of the author when making final selections for the anthology. The author’s name will be replaced with a random number prior to assessment by the editorial team.
C. Writing Bloc Indie Publishing Team strives to create opportunities for every writer, regardless of cultural background, skin color, sexual orientation, disability either visible and invisible, religion, spirituality, and/or state of health. We focus on helping all writers embrace and expand upon their passion and their abilities. We insist upon an open culture of equality in all of our dealings and want all writers to feel free and safe to bring their authentic, complete selves to our organization.
D. Should any author or member of Writing Bloc decide to behave with a lack of tolerance or respect for the culture of Inclusion and Diversity we strive to maintain, that author will be met with removal from any contract or publication in process as well as removal from all public groups associated with Writing Bloc. We have a zero tolerance policy on hate speech, both within and outside of the Writing Bloc organization.
F. Any and all questions regarding Inclusion and Diversity at Writing Bloc may be presented to [email protected]
The Kickstarts! Writing Workshop is for: Reluctant writers, stumped writers, writers who think they are blocked, bored writers, writers just looking for some extra practice, even writers who don’t know they are writers…yet. Kickstarts! is for any kind of writer who wants to get some words on paper! And it’s FREE! Bounce on over to Brittney Cassity’s website and visit The Hubbub Blog every Thursday from Jan. 24th through May 23rd for a new, fun writing adventure!