Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday Gifts for Writers

Yep, it’s that time again! The festive season once more is upon us, and depending on which holiday you care to observe, chances are that gifts are going to be exchanged.

It’s also that time of year when you receive a lot of wanted and/or unwelcome advice about what gifts to get for those special people in your life. Gifts for kids, for parents, for significant others, the mail carrier, the guy who cuts your grass or cleans out your gutters, your kid’s teachers, and so on and so forth. We also get a lot of tips on gifts to get for someone based on their chosen vocation, which brings us to why I’ve gathered you all here today.

(Yes, I know that, “Gathered you all here today,” really means, “I posted this and hoped you might read it on your way to something more interesting,” but the other way sounded so much cooler when I read this out loud.)

So, what to get the writer in your life? Maybe you’re the writer in the lives of those around you, and you’re hoping they might see fit to give you something useful or desired as you chase your muse. With that in mind

NOTE: Some of these are “for realz,” and others less so. I leave you to decide which is which:

Books! Every writer loves books, right? We all need to let our mind recharge after a long day at the office or a weekend spent pushing through to meet a grueling deadline. Leisure reading is still a preferred method of relaxation for many people, especially writers. One suggestion I’ve seen elsewhere is giving a book that has a special meaning to you, as a cherished title—perhaps something you’ve loved since childhood—offers insight into your own reading tastes. Meanwhile, an autographed copy from the recipient’s favorite author is usually a guaranteed home run.

Tea, Coffee, or other Favorite Beverage. Whether it’s black coffee, herbal tea, and/or hot cocoa, we all have our fuel; the special elixir that helps get the words moving. I’m partial to vodka, served intravenously, with the occasional diversion toward Monster Energy Drink if I’m really in the zone and want to keep typing until my fingers bleed. Whatever the nectar of choice, just start it flowing. We’ll tell you when to stop.

Water bottle. Carrying on from the previous idea, I’m not talking about those designer bottles with the formed handgrips or the retractable straws or the ones with a compass, survival matches, emergency poncho, lightsaber, and ninja stars packed into the lid. Instead, I mean one of those jobs like they use in hamster cages, with the tube extending from its bottom and the little ball on the end. These should hold a gallon of water (or, again, preferred beverage), and be mounted above the writer’s desk or other workspace. Be sure to follow the instructions for proper cleaning.

Notebooks/writing pads. There’s something about good, old-fashioned pen and paper that almost always gets my creative juices flowing. Many a story has begun as a series of hastily scribbled notes on a legal pad or one of those composition books like we used in elementary school. I still use them today. Something a bit fancier, though, makes for a simple yet elegant gift. Oh, and they’re also handy for making lists, such as things to buy at the grocery store, or household chores you hate doing but suddenly find compelling when faced with getting some actual writing done. Tell me I’m wrong.

Food. Face it: Writers tend to eat like crap, particularly if we’re neck deep in a story and all other considerations and priorities have been rescinded. If we’re not skipping meals, then we’re eating junky snacks. Feed us, for crying out loud. We’re writers, so we’re poor. Take us out to lunch once in a while. This has the added benefit of exposing us to social interaction with other members of our species, which works out for everybody.

Shock Collar. You know the ones I mean: They link with a wire that’s run around the perimeter of your yard, and if you put the collar on your dog it gets a little jolt if it wanders too close to the “invisible fence.” I think something like this is marvelous for writers who are always finding excuses not to write. You can zap them when their fingers stray too far from their keyboards. I have friends who tell me these things can also be used recreationally, but that’s none of my business.

Sweatpants. Because the best writing is always accomplished in a soft, comfortable pair of sweatpants, assuming you haven’t yet mastered the art of writing without pants of any kind.

Chocolate. For better or worse, I think this one’s rather self-explanatory (see “Food”).

Books About Writing. These are always appreciated by serious writers, who are always students and never stop learning how to improve their craft. However, serious writers also tend to hate those plodding, pretentious tomes that spend too much time whining about how writing is art and it has to grow and suffer and be nurtured, blah blah blah. Writers who write want to know how to get on with the writing and finish what they’ve started so they can get on with writing something else, while figuring out how to repeat those first two steps as often as possible. They want books with titles like Get off Your Butt and Write Right Now, which may not be the title of a book anywhere in the known universe except my head. Still, I figure there’s something out there following a similar theme.

Massage. I have to admit, I saw this one on another list and thought it was a great idea. There’s nothing better for working the kinks out of shoulder and lower back muscles after you’ve spent a month or more pounding your keyboard to finish that novel. I happen to be a big fan of Thai massage, which lets the therapist bend and twist me in all sorts of innovative ways while allowing me to retain my clothing (see “Sweatpants”) and therefore some small shred of dignity. Your mileage may vary.

Okay, as you’ve hopefully deduced well before now, I wanted to have a bit of fun with the typical lists of this sort we see every year. However, most of these actually do make great gifts for that writer on your shopping list (I’m still on the fence about the shock collar). Be you gift giver or hopeful recipient, do you have your own suggestions, sincere or otherwise?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Blogs: The Good, the Bad and the Boring

(I wrote this piece for Buried Under Books and Liane asked if I would re-post it over here. I'm glad Liane liked it so much and felt it was worth sharing. Oh, and I gave a shout-out to Novel Spaces!)

The word “blog” is the abbreviated form of “web log.” First appearing in the mid-90's, they became an equal opportunity promoter. Here was a chance to explore one's thoughts and share with the world.

I'm one of these people who holds back when new things appear on the horizon. Unless the idea is of my own concoction, I wait and watch the pros and cons play out. I had a suspicion that writers would burn out quickly if they tried to keep up a daily or even weekly blog. It would suck up time and the well would run dry of ideas.

Yep, that's what happened. Bloggers started reaching out to other writers to fill their pages. I was willing to hop on board that train. When Lelia asked me to be a returning guest blogger, I was more than content to contribute content every 6 weeks. I also committed to blogging over at Novel Spaces once a month and the occasional guest blog elsewhere.

I believe less of me is more than enough. I want readers and fans to look forward to my rants just to see what I'll say next. If I'm going to take the time and energy to blog, I'm going to make it an EVENT. By using compelling titles and promoting with teases, my goal is to lure people over to read what I have to say. Site owners love a hike in readership, which is one way to become a valuable blogger.

The important thing is having something real to say. Before posting, I ask myself “Would I take time to read this blog?” Ego aside, I gear my topics to what is important to my life and career: the writing industry. Not how to write but promotion, social media, reaching fans, helping other writers, sharing my tactics and offering food for thought.

While I'm serious about the subject matter, there's no reason not to have fun. People who follow me know I'm a brat. I don't mince words while making mincemeat out of conventional wisdom. I'm okay with rocking the boat and causing people to squirm. It's just one person's opinion. Write a retort, riff off my thoughts. Let's get a dialog going!

That's what I look for in blogs I read.


  1. Don't water down your words.
  2. Take a stand knowing you will please some and offend others.
  3. A little humor never hurts.
  4. Offer fresh ideas. Give a new spin on old topics.
  5. Don't point out problems without offering solutions.
  6. Don't make observations on the obvious.
  7. Promote compellingly.
  8. Use interesting verbiage.
  9. Attitude is everything.
  10. Keep it short. This article is 457 words. I've said enough.          

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How to Not to Write a Novel #3

And I'm back with the next installment of "How to Not to Write a Novel." So. Word count. When starting out writing a book is a pretty daunting task. Especially for the beginner. There is a lot of pressure to get those words out! Authors post about getting thousands and thousands of words a day and the NaNoWriMo tallies are even worse! 

So what happens when you aren't cranking out 10K a day? Well, feel awful for one thing... But, you aren't alone. Some authors can get two or three books out a year. Some get out one, some maybe one every other year. 

The hardest thing to accept, if you aren't fast, is respecting your process. Maybe you can get 1K a week. Maybe only 250. Maybe you go for a week or two without writing anything then get 3k in a day. 

It's easy to compare yourself to other writers. To feel bad that you aren't doing more, writing for five or six hours with only a fifteen minute lunch break. But not everyone writes the same way. Maybe you edit as you go, working carefully before putting new words down. Maybe you just charge to the end and vow to fix it later. 

No matter how you write, books get written one word at a time. 

Lastly for the interested- I already did the bloghop! It's on my Wordpress Blog!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Blog Hop 4

I'm excited!! I was nominated by my fellow Novel Spaces author, Carol Mitchell, to Blog Hop reading my current work (in this case recent work) - and so here I am, ready to hop, write and roll!!! Thanks, Carol!!

1.   What is the name of the character?
The main character is Mahogany Cooper. She's been with her husband, Julian Cooper, a prominent sportscaster, for ten years, and married for seven. On the first Sunday of the New Year, Julian tells her he's leaving for his side chick, a female friend from college named Golden Thomas, and he's moving out. That is when the drama begins - the first word, sentence, page, chapter.

2.    When and where is the story set?
This story is set in the south, in Atlanta, GA.

3.    What should we know about him/her/them.

Mahogany Cooper is the youngest of two girls, born in Atlanta, GA to a white father and a black mother. Their father died in a car accident, and Mahogany has anger issues with her mother, Aretha, because her mom did not allow them to attend the funeral. Unlike her mother who now only dates married men, Mahogany is determined to be a wife, and have a happy home. Being the side chick, like her mother, is a situation she will never accept, nor understand.

4.    What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

The main conflict for Mahogany is that her husband Julian wants a divorce. Mahogany feels as though their marriage was just fine, and is trying to accept his decision and figure out what went wrong, and also understand how Golden could have stabbed her in the back, when she had been so nice to Golden through the years. After Julian moves out. Mahogany struggles to keep it together, missing work, feeling depressed, drinking, and feeling as though she won't make it without him. At times she's sad and at times she's angry. Her sister, Garcelle, and her best friend, Desiree, try to encourage her to get it together and move on, but in spite of what they say, she prays to God to save her marriage.

5.    What is the personal goal of the character?
The personal goal for Mahogany is to get her husband back and keep her family together so that their 3-year old daughter can grow up with her mother and father in the same home. She believes that getting him back will take her out of her misery. But, there is someone from her past who appears, who could be just the distraction she needs. And, there's something else . . .

6.    Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
Never Breathe Again is the title. You can read more about it on my website, at www.marissamonteilh.com

7.    When can we expect the book to be published?

Never Breathe Again was just released on 12/2/14.

For the next Blog Hop I nominate Velda Brotehrton to take up the challenge - hey Velda!!!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Blog Hop 3

I know there’s been quite a bit of blog hopping first with Sunny, then Liane and Carol.  Two of them were within the past two weeks.  But Liane has extended a challenge to me, and somehow I can’t refuse.

 My last novel, I deviated from my first love and wrote a children’s story, under my alternate name: Jewel Daniel.  This new novel takes me back to my first love: writing romance as Jewel Amethyst.


                    Hurricane of the Heart
                                                                             By Jewel Amethyst

1.    What is the name of the character
There are two main characters that share the spotlight: Alia Graneau and Kyle Robinson and they are both fictional.  Alia Graneau is an indigenous Caribbean woman of Kalinago descent, who despite working at a small hotel is very ambitious and desperate to achieve her lifelong career dreams.  Kyle Robinson is a hard partying American tourist who is satisfied with mediocrity and shuns responsibility.

2.    When and where is the story set

This story is set in the twenty-first century in the Caribbean Island of Dominica, dubbed “Nature Island” for its many mountains, rivers and rainforest that gives it an aura of natural beauty.

3.    What should we know about him/her/them.

Alia:  Alia’s driving force in life is her ambition to be a world class journalist. She tries to achieve her goal at all cost and has no room in her life for men, much less hard partying irresponsible men like Kyle Robinson.  But when Hurricane Harriet destroys her whole world leaving her homeless and jobless, she is forced to make some very tough choices that involve trusting the same person that she shuns.
Kyle: Beneath Kyle’s laisez-faire exterior is a very strong yet sensitive leader.  The only problem is that Kyle doesn’t know it.  It takes the destruction of Hurricane Harriet and being stranded on the island, cut off from everyone else for Kyle to realize his strengths, his leadership qualities, and his need for Alia’s love.

4.    What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

The main conflict for Alia is whether to leave her home in the face of disaster and trust the irresponsible man she was falling for, or stay with her people to rebuild her country at the time they needed her most.

5.    What is the personal goal of the character?
The personal goals for Alia and Kyle are quite different.  Alia wants to escape a past of poverty. Kyle wants to escape the stifling clutches of his family.  How they go about achieving their goals are quite different, but their paths to achieving those goals do overlap in a very intimate and intriguing way.

6.    Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
Hurricane of the Heart is the working title for this novel.  As with most of my books whose final titles came after submission, I suspect this working title may change.

7.    When can we expect the book to be published?

It should be available sometime in 2015.

For the next Blog Hop I nominate KeVin Killiany to take up the challenge.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Blog Hop 2

Never one to back down from a challenge, I am taking on Liane's request that I do a blog hop. I must confess that I'm still a little bleary on the details (it's been that sort of week), but here goes as much as I know about my work-in-progress.
Barberry Hill 
I came across the Japenese Barberry plant (tree? shrub?) in a beautiful garden in Virginia and fell in love. I later found out that it is an invasive plant not recommended for your garden, but even that didn't diminish its appeal. Since then I've been writing a series of books (in my head) set on Barberry Hill, a fictitious place in St. Kitts, and I have several story ideas for the young people who live there. I have actually (and literally) put pen to paper on one of them and I hope to finish it by the middle of next year.

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or historic? 
Marcus is the main character in this Barberry Hill novel. He is fictional.

2) When and where is the story set? 
The story is set in the present day in a fictitious town on the island of St. Kitts.

3) What should we know about him/her? 
Marcus is in his mid-teens. An outdoorsy type of boy. His favorite activity is biking. He has two best friends who really have his back when things get rough during the course of the book.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life? 
When we meet Marcus he is going through a difficult time in his life. His brother and his grandmother have both recently passed away, his brother under suspicious circumstances. The police and the community believe that his brother's death was a result of his involvement in a gang. Marcus doesn't believe this and is determined to find out the truth. He's dealing with a few other issues as well including his relationship with his parents, the social stratification on the Hill, and his changing relationship with one of his friends.

5) What is the personal goal of the character? 
He wants to be independent, make his own decisions, and to be free of the social pressures of living on the Hill.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
In my head it is Barberry Hill, however, since there is another young lady who wants her story on the Hill to be told as well, this will have to change.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?
It should be available late 2015.

I nominate Marissa Monteilh for the next blog hop.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Another (potential) Marketing Resource

This month's column is a few days late because ... Well, insert excuse of your choosing here. Though I'm known for having the organizational habits of a magpie, I hit deadlines – present example excluded – reliably enough to find constant work in the media tie-in and write for hire industries. I'll do a column about time management, deadlines and the hitting thereof in the near future. Right now I want to cue off the second half of that third sentence; the part about writing for hire and media tie-in.

Writing media tie-in, which I usually liken to being one musician in an orchestra, is a specialized field that requires an attitude and skillset quite different from writing original fiction. It also does not require – or teach – skills essential to the career of most writers. Among those neglected skills are self-promotion and marketing; skills I am slowly and awkwardly learning by working with Kevin J. Anderson, his wife Reecca Moesta, and their WordFire Press as they publish – and promote – the novels of my uncle, Allen Drury. (And yes, I know marketing and promotion has more to do with October's theme here at Novel Spaces and that this is November.)

Case in point is Story Bundle, a company that works with indie writers and small publishers to get great books into the hands (okay, e-readers) of people who might not otherwise see them. Rather than sell individual books, Story Bundle, as their name implies, creates "bundles" of novels based around a central theme – whodunit, intrigue, period romance, etc. – that include novels from several authors. Thus followers of one author can discover other writers of similar novels, or someone new to a field can sample a variety of novels and writers for a low price, and in that way broaden both their own reading and the indie writers' market. Pricing is the key, because while each bundle has a "bonus threshold" no bundle has a set price. Readers pay what they think the books are worth and how much they want to encourage and support small publishers and indie writers. They can also designate a charity to receive ten percent of their payment. Pay more than the "bonus threshold" and receive additional books at no extra charge.

I'm a former teacher who worked in community services for decades before becoming a full-time writer, so it's a given that I don't understand how marketing works. I would not expect a business model that depended on the customers' perception of value and sense of fair play to flourish, but Story Bundle seems to be working. At no cost to the writer – other than its percentage of sales that probably would not have been made otherwise – which is important.

I was introduced to Story Bundle by KJA and WordFire when Uncle Al's Advise and Consent was chosen as the political thriller for their 8 Ways to Thrill bundle, but it's a connection I'm going to keep open as I develop my own original and indie writing career. Just as I'm going to be on the lookout for other innovative marketing and promotional opportunities – because none of us knows what might open the doors we want to go through.

(Wait! I forgot the self-promotion bit. Um. "Click on the link above and go buy the bundle with my uncle's book!" How's that? Needs work? Okay. Practice, practice, practice.)