Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published December 11, 2010. Enjoy!

By Charles Gramlich

I did a post quite a while ago on my own blog about "resonance" in writing. It’s been one of the more popular posts I’ve made so I thought I’d revisit the concept for Novel Spaces.

Resonance represents the degree to which a name, term, or subject evokes already existing associations in someone’s mind. Consider this, you hear about two good mystery novels by writers unknown to you. The first features Linda Harmon as the private eye. The second features Sherrill Holmes, a descendant of the great Sherlock. Which book captures your attention first? Which immediately brings thoughts to your mind?

I’m betting it will be the “Holmes.” Resonance is the reason. Whether you liked the Holmes stories or not, you recognize the name. It carries weight. It already evokes thoughts of detectives where “Harmon” is a cipher. “Holmes” impacts like Harmon cannot, at least for most people.

Some names carry powerful resonance even when separated from the historical figures who wore them. Consider “Moses,” or “Jesus.” What personal and physical traits do you automatically assign to a character named Moses? Does “Moses” suggest someone who is strong willed? What about “Morris?” Resonance gives your character “Moses” power the moment his name is put on the page. Not so much for “Morris.”

Resonance can be negative, as well, though. Take “Adolph.” Think very carefully if you decide to give your character that name. Most people will automatically associate “Adolph” with mass murder, concentration camps, and war.

Even fictional names can develop resonance. “Sherlock” has it. “Conan” has it. What do you think of when you hear the name “Homer?” Homer of the Odyssey or Homer Simpson? I bet you thought of one of them. For The Simpson’s fan, the name Homer is going to evoke a certain level of dumbness.

How many thrillers have you seen with Nazis in them? Nazis have resonance. And I wonder how much resonance had to do with the phenomenal success of The Da Vinci Code? Leonardo Da Vinci himself. Jesus. Mary Magdalene. The Catholic Church. The Vatican. Opus Dei. “The Last Supper.” All of these have resonance.

For adults, everyday words already come with varying degrees of resonance. What images come to mind when you hear concrete nouns like “blood,” “snow,” “death,” “lover,” or “child?” When I hear the word “blood,” I don’t just think of the liquid; I think of life itself, and of a color, and of violence. For me, “child” brings thoughts of my son, Joshua, pitching baseball, riding his bike, laughing and playing. Resonate nouns make more powerful engines for your prose.

Some abstract nouns, like “freedom,” or “violence,” can develop powerful resonance, but they are still different from concrete nouns in the specificity of images they evoke. Other abstract words evoke little: “humanist” or “theorist.”

Consciously or unconsciously, many writers in the past have used resonance in naming their characters. Mike Hammer. Sam Spade. Or consider the wealth of fictional characters named some variation of “Cain.” Unfortunately, this has been overused and I’m not sure you want to name your characters “Stone,” or “Steele,” or “Wolfe,” or “Hawke” anymore. Here, resonance has been lost because of overuse, or has been transferred from positive to negative.

Resonance is a writer’s tool just as much as punctuation and grammar. You just need to consider what resonances you’re evoking as you write. Should your character fly the “Stars and Stripes?” Should they be from “New York?” Should they be described with terms that evoke the “tiger,” or those that evoke the “snake?” There’s no real right or wrong answer. There are only resonances: positive and negative, and sometimes both.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Are We Writing Unhealthy Endings?

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published July 14, 2010.  Enjoy!

By Stefanie Worth

It’s come across this blog before: the inherent perils of the “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard” action that separates authors from wannabe writers. However, in recent months, findings have been reported that connect this action – or lack thereof – to greater perils than not hitting word counts or finishing manuscripts:


I’m so dramatic, I know. But the reports are unsettling and maybe the supernatural storyteller in me will weave some creepy tale with the facts one day. For now though, I’ve taken their reality to heart. A news piece on National Public Radio a few months ago stated the following:
"The other consequence that we're starting to understand now is that when we're sitting for prolonged times such as, you know, in front of the television or long hours in front of the computer screen at a desk, there's an absence of muscle contractions. And there's extensive evidence that indicates that muscle contractions are so essential for many of the body's regulatory processes - for example, the breaking down and using of glucose. So when we're remaining idle for prolonged periods, we're disrupting those body's typical regulatory processes.”
That summation comes from David Dunstan of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia. The focus of Dr. Dunstan’s report was the dangers of too much TV watching. But as you can see from the paragraph above, the body doesn’t really differentiate between being a soap opera-loving or crime show-addicted couch potato and a dedicated, page-churning writer.

Who knew these great stories we’re penning are setting us up for more than critical acclaim and personal triumph? Heart disease and – according to this report – an increased risk of death from all causes lurks behind every hour we refuse to budge from our tasks.

The part that got me is that – again, according to the study – even those who exercise regularly are at risk. UGH. So what are we to do?

Simple. Get up.

The study recommends rising from sitting every 20 minutes. How do we do this? Stand up and type? Use my blog colleague Phyllis Bourne’s egg timer technique and force ourselves to stand, stretch and walk around the desk at regular intervals?

I suppose we could also find ways to make our muses more efficient. I read blogs by writers who profess to whip out thousands of words in a single hour. I’ve yet to master that technique, but it would certainly cut my sitting time by about 75 percent.

Mind you, I also have a day job that involves a lot of sitting, so I feel like I’m in a double bind. What I’ve done there is to get out of my comfy desk chair when the phone rings and take the call standing up. I also check my email standing up, maybe rocking from one foot to the other. I’m trying to be more conscientious about drinking my 6-8 glasses of water every day, but instead of chugging from a long-lasting 32 ounce bottle, I use a glass. This forces me to get up and walk to the kitchen area to refill my glass every time it’s empty.

And, yes, I’m working on utilizing my Bally’s membership. I actually attended a spinning class a couple of weeks ago and have forced myself onto the elliptical machines several times since.

Weight gain seems to accompany every manuscript I’ve finished and that’s a cycle I know I need to break. But now, I also know I need to fit continuous motion or, at minimum, twenty minute work stoppages into my day job and the job of my heart. In a perfect world this would be my solution at both places. (Video here: )

What’s yours?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018


Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published September 10, 2009. Enjoy!

By Liane Spicer

The story has been burning inside of you for a long time. It's like a child waiting to be born and you feel all the excitement, the anticipation of wanting to watch it grow up and go off into the world, maybe even make its mark on the world.

Only, there's another part of you that gets in the way of all this, a part that doesn't want to see you sit down and devote a sizable chunk of your life-time to a creative pursuit like writing a novel. You might never finish it, and even if you do it might never be sold. Or it might sell and drift quietly and quickly into the oblivion that awaits the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of other novels out there.

The thing to do is to feed this other part, the part that will stop at nothing, and I mean NOTHING, to get you to NOT write. The key to keeping this non-writing part of you alive and well is distractions. Here are a few easily mastered techniques to help you NOT write the book(s) you know you were meant to write.

  • BLOGS. Own multiple blogs. Write posts everyday. Accumulate masses of blog pals and read and respond to their posts every day.
  • WIDGETS. Welcome to the amazing world of widgets, those neat little gadgets that will allow you to place cute stuff on your blog, website or CPU, from live webcam feed of beaches to colored balls that bounce all over your desktop. Weather updates, clocks, maps, slideshows, a cat that sits on your desktop and does absolutely nothing - they're all available and free, thousands of them, enough to keep you happily NOT WRITING for years to come.
  • RESEARCH. Internet research, specifically. You're a writer, right? So everything is possible grist for your mill. Those hours you spent reading every comment on the Rihanna vs. Chris Brown debacle? Research. YouTube? Research. Porn sites? Research. Gossip columns? ...You get the drift.
  • FACEBOOK. Hell, it's networking, right? Writers need to do that. How else will they connect with other writers and readers? Okay, future readers, then, if the book hasn't been written yet. Which it hasn't.
  • SHOPPING. Take Amazon to heart. Embrace it. Accumulate links to every online catalog you can find. There are millions of items for you to peruse, compare and save to wish lists, gift lists, shopping lists, and carts. Then - proceed to checkout. Amazing what you can do with a few clicks these days...
  • PROCRASTINATION. This is tried and true and it works because it allows you to lie to yourself. You're not sayin' you won't write the damned book. You're just sayin' you won't write it RIGHT NOW.
  • HOUSEWORK. This is a great one because it's legitimate - sort of. And since housework is never done you can fall back on it at any time and have sparkling proof that you were too busy doing 'real' work to write.

Writing is done in solitude so there's nothing to prevent us from distracting ourselves
ad infinitum. We're accountable only to ourselves - and accountability can be put off till tomorrow. ;) Please feel free to weigh in with your own tried and true techniques for NOT WRITING that book of yours that's dying to be born.

Liane Spicer

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Use of dialect

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published December 12, 2010. Enjoy!

By Carol Ottley-Mitchell

Chee Chee isn't going to Jamaica with me, so I'm pretty sure that nothing will happen."

This is an excerpt from my second book, Pirates at Port Royal. The truth is that such a sentence probably would not come out of the mouth of the average child in St. Kitts. It is more likely to look like:

"Chee Chee not going Jamaica wid me, so nuttin' gorn happ'n."

Writing direct speech for my West Indian characters has been an ongoing struggle for me. On the one hand, I do want the books to be an authentic representation of life in the Caribbean. I want my characters to seem realistic and familiar to my West Indian readers. On the other hand, I recall reading books set in Scotland and struggling to understand the dialect speech and wondering to myself how these words actually sound. I have also read books written entirely in Jamaican creole which I have to read out loud to catch the gist of the text. I don’t want to alienate my non-West Indian readers by making them work too hard to figure out what my characters are saying.

There is a little more to the dilemma in my case. While I appreciate the use of dialect, I have spoken out about the way that it is proliferating our English and questioned whether or not it is the right way to go. Many people have responded positively to my suggestions and it does seem a bit hypocritical if I turn around and write a book in dialect!

Have you had that struggle between realistic and understandable speech?

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Comma Abuse

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published September 9, 2010. Enjoy!

By Jewel Amethyst

Back in my days as a middle school teacher, an English teacher shared an exercise that she had given a 7th grade class with the rest of the staff. She gave them this paragraph to punctuate:

Sammy went to the market in his pocket he had grandma’s purse on his back he wore his shirt on his feet he wore his shoes on his face there was a big smile at the market Sammy was very happy
One student punctuated it like this:Sammy went to the market in his pocket. He had grandma’s purse on his back. He wore his shirt on his feet. He wore his shoes on his face. There was a big smile at the market. Sammy was very happy.
You can imagine how hilarious that was to the rest of the staff. But looking back at it, I can understand the student’s error, especially with the emphasis we make on using the active rather than the passive voice.

Grammar is one of those things that are difficult perfect, even as a writer. I, like the student have my punctuation weakness. In my case, it’s the abuse of commas. I recently read through a rough draft of my last blog post and was mortified at my abusive use of commas. While some tend to underuse commas, I over use them. Unfortunately, Microsoft word, the most popular word processing program, doesn’t detect comma abuse in its spell and grammar check. This, sentence, with, commas, after, every, word, escaped, detection, by, the, spelling, and, grammar, check. So for those of us needing a “Commas Anonymous” group there is little help there.

I know I’m not alone on this. I Googled comma abuse and found numerous hits. I found a blog about comma abuse: “
How to use the comma: Simple rules and hints that help you stop comma abuse” by Shane Werlinger. The introduction of the article states, “The comma has to be one of the most abused punctuation marks. It is either overused, placed haphazardly on the writer’s whim, or not used enough. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have been guilty of this at one time or another.”

In the comments, someone even pointed out the comma error that the “expert” inadvertently included in his post. Yes comma abuse is prevalent, but I’m sure there are also other punctuation abuses.

So there you have it: “Hi I’m Jewel Amethyst and I’m a comma abuser.”

What about you? What punctuation do you abuse?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

What I learned from books on writing

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published August 11, 2009. Enjoy!

By Liane Spicer

I sometimes miss that blissful time when I wrote my first novel, unaware that there were dozens of books out there presenting countless rules and recommendations for what I was attempting to do. I've picked up a few things since then, and the advice that has resonated often had little to do with the actual writing and everything to do with the attitudes that might make the difference between being a productive writer or a frustrated one.

On Writing by Stephen King:
I learned from King's recounting of his years spent collecting rejection slips that those little forms are not symbols for "Failed Writer". You place the slip in the appropriate file and move on.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield:
Mr. Pressfield wrote this book for me. He turns a spotlight on writers' block in all its manifestations: fear, resistance, procrastination, obsessiveness, self-dramatization, self-medication, victimhood, self-doubt, toxic relationships, support (yes, you read that right), and rationalization. Then he tells you how to combat it all, and his recommendation is simple: You turn pro. How does a professional approach his work? Apply the same principles to your writing and see the difference.

"A professional shows up every day."
"A professional demystifies."
"A professional acts in the face of fear."
"A professional does not show off."
"A professional self-validates."

There's lots more, and it's all written with the authority that comes only from first-hand experience, aka the school of hard knocks.

Page After Page by Heather Sellers:
Here's another writer who demystifies. She knows that declarations like 'waiting for my muse' are nothing but lame excuses. "It's a matter of sitting down, conjuring a state of complete dedication and complete openness, and writing. Putting pen to paper." No hocus-pocus there.

What else did she teach me? To talk less about writing, and write more. That except for a very few lucky souls, being published (finally!) does not change your life. You won't be rich and famous, loved and admired by everyone, rail-thin and immune to chocolate binges. You'll still have to deal with all your bumps and warts; those don't disappear once you get published.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White:
This book gives great advice on the fine points of usage, common errors, and style. There was little in there I didn't already know after having taught the language for 22 years, but that slim book clarified something vital I had hitherto understood only superficially: the US version of my mother tongue is a very different beast from the UK version I was taught.

I've got two more books on writing lined up: Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, the title of which has just the sort of new-agey tone I'm a sucker for. (Did someone mention the word demystify?) Next to it on my bedhead bookshelf is The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I'll be sure to let you know what I learn from those in a later post.

Liane Spicer

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Guest author Charles Gramlich: Gems

Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published September 18, 2009 by one of our first guests who went on to become a longstanding member of our blog group. Enjoy!

Charles Gramlich grew up on a farm in Arkansas but moved to the New Orleans area in 1986 to teach psychology at a local University. He’s since sold four novels and numerous short stories, mostly in the genres of Horror and Fantasy. In 2009 Charles’s nonfiction book, Write With Fire, was published. It’s a collection of his articles and essays on the craft of writing. He also produces a regular column on writing for the onlinenewsletter, The Illuminata. All of his books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online sites. Charles lives with his wife in Abita Springs, Louisiana, and has an adult son named Joshua. He blogs at Razored Zen.

Thanks to Novel Spaces for inviting me today. I’ve been enjoying the posts, and getting to look at the variety of featured books. Many talented authors live and visit here. I feel at home.

So, let me tell you about GEMS, which stands for GOAL, EFFORT, MOTIVATION, SKILL. I’m a mild mannered professor by day, and usually by night. And I’m always looking to help my students think about their education. As a writer too, everything ends up adapted for my own struggles with story, as well. That’s how GEMS developed, and here’s how I apply it to writing.

Most writers start with one GOAL, to get published. I did. But after you’ve seen your name in print that first goal is superseded and new goals must be set. It wasn’t until recently, however, that I realized the need to interweave my goals to produce the greatest effect. Specifically, I needed to set both long-term and short-term goals, and had to understand the difference between primary and secondary goals.

A primary goal is the highest level and I believe a writer should have only one. Everything else will be secondary, although that doesn’t mean unimportant. These days, my primary goal is to “advance my writing career.” Any other goals I set should work toward that purpose. Some “secondary” goals will be short-term: setting up a signing, improving a website, or even reading a book on writing. Other secondary goals are long-term. Eventually, I want to write a more ambitious book than I have so far, one appealing to a wider audience.

GOALs cannot be met without EFFORT, and the key is “sustained” rather than “acute” effort. Almost everyone “rises to the occasion” when a deadline is due. Such “acute” effort is often necessary in a literary career, but it won’t get a novel written. Sustained effort means doing the work every day; it means making continual progress toward a goal. Many novelists have a set page number or word count they strive to reach every day. That’s sustained effort. At times, when school overwhelms me, I’ve been reduced to, “just one paragraph a day.” But paragraphs lead to pages, and pages to stories. Push forward, and you’ll get there.

An individual’s effort level is affected by what psychologists call “locus of control.” People with an “internal” locus of control believe their own actions control the events of their lives. People with an “external” locus believe chance or “others” control their fates. Writers with an internal locus hold themselves responsible for their success or lack thereof, while authors with an external locus might say they were merely lucky or unlucky. Certainly, both internal and external factors impact a writer’s career. Research shows, however, that people with an internal locus typically work harder toward their goals. They believe effort is directly related to success or failure. From an “effort” standpoint, writers should try to feel in control of their careers, even if that isn’t always the case.

MOTIVATION is the third facet of GEMS, and it comes from two sources, “intrinsic” and “extrinsic.” Intrinsic motivations come from within. I’m proud of myself when I write hard and make progress. I feel guilty when I don’t. No external force applies these judgments to me. The pride and guilt come from inside. Extrinsic motivations come from outside. Rewards like money and praise are examples.

Most writers have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. I enjoy money myself, and I beam when someone compliments my work. But I also write because it engages my emotions. Intrinsic motivations make careers for writers. Extrinsic motivations actually lose their value over time. Would you have been thrilled to earn a few thousand dollars on your first book? What about on your tenth? When behaviors are controlled solely by extrinsic motivations, the payoff has to grow over time or the behaviors stop.

Extrinsic motivations also diminish intrinsic ones. Many writers write their first novel for love. They write their second for love and money. They write their third for money and love. See where the trend is headed? Love decreases; money increases. When it becomes all about money, many writers quit. To maintain long careers as writers, authors need to keep the love, even if that means changing genres or reinventing themselves.

Finally, we come to SKILL. When I started I had a good vocabulary, good visualization abilities, and had read enough to acquire a sense of story. That was it. I was a dialogue virgin, had no idea what a “scene” was, and used atrocious grammar. I could handle periods, but other than some haphazardly placed commas, I had only a nodding acquaintance with other punctuation. I hadn’t the faintest idea of submission format. These were skills I lacked. Yet, I sold a few stories (in the small press), all of which had vivid descriptions, interesting vocabulary terms, and periods. There were only two lines of dialogue in the first four stories I sold. There wasn’t a dash or semicolon anywhere. Fortunately, I knew what skills I lacked and found books to help me develop them. Unfortunately, they’re all still under construction.

Many of my students, and many writers, constantly play to their strengths. As a result, their strengths become crutches. We shouldn’t ignore our strengths, but improving weaknesses often brings the biggest advances in careers.

One weakness I’ve ignored is developing a business sense. I see others doing the same. I hate the business side of writing. I couldn’t sell slop to a hog. I’m not a good people person. I don’t smooze well. But I need to work on these issues if I really hope to expand my audience.

Now, it’s off to check my goals, increase my effort, and find some love in the story I’m working on. I might even read a book on selling. Anybody know a good one?

Thanks for having me!

Friday, June 22, 2018

How It All Started: My First Writing Effort

by Maggie King

As a devotee of Nancy Drew, I wrote mysteries in grade school. In high school I poured my considerable adolescent angst into bad poetry. After that, the only writing I did for many years was journaling. During the last year I lived in Los Angeles, three of my co-workers took creative writing and screenwriting courses at UCLA Extension. I read their work and was impressed by their talent. I also thought “I could do this.” I was a member of a mystery book group (it was the model for the Murder on Tour group in Murder at the Book Group) and felt confident that I could turn out a mystery. When I moved to Virginia in 1996 the first thing I did was to register for a writing course at the University of Virginia. Two women, Margaret and Tristan, taught the course and were extremely encouraging and supportive of their students.

Despite the title of this post, “My First Writing Effort,” I don’t have my first writing efforts, the ones inspired by Nancy Drew in grade school. They seem to have vanished—probably a good thing. But in that class at UVA I started the story that would evolve countless times until its birth as Murder at the Book Group, my debut. 

I called it Death Comes Knocking and intended for it to be a prologue. On October 14, 1996 I submitted a shorter version and got a lot of helpful feedback from the teachers. I added to it and came up with the following a week later (I haven’t changed a word. Honest!):

Deanna unlocked the door of the motel room, flipping the light switch as she entered. She threw her purse down on the chair, sat on the edge of the lumpy bed, stood up, started pacing. Waiting. Clearly agitated. She no longer noticed the holes in the carpet, the cigarette burns on the formica nightstands as well as on the foam-filled vinyl chair cushions, or the steady drip of the shower.

She had been meeting her lover in the sleazy rooms of Marty’s Hideaway many times over the past year, but this time was different. This time they would talk about the future of their relationship, if indeed there was one.

The last time they met, Deanna had hit him with the news that she was pregnant. He didn’t have much to say, in fact he had lapsed into silence for an hour, a silence she wasn’t able to break. Then he said he needed time to think, that he would call her. He was distant.

He didn’t call for several days. Deanna was sure he was going to bolt, that this was the end for them. After a period of fretting, obsessing, and barely functioning, she started to accept his desertion. But then he did call, said he wanted to see her, he’d done a lot of reflecting, “agonizing” was how he put it, about their situation. He had seemed rather excited on the phone, not like his usual subdued self. They arranged a time to meet at “their” place.

So here she was, at Marty’s Hideaway, waiting for him, for his decision. She vaguely resented that he controlled the relationship, but didn’t feel up to addressing that issue now. She knew she couldn’t express her needs, like marriage, family, living happily ever after, etc. she paced some more, drank water from a plastic cup, felt almost desperate enough to peruse the inevitable Gideon bible, a blasphemous joke in this place where the clientele paid by the hour.

She jumped when she heard the knock. As she ran to open the door, she put on a big smile, and tried to pretend that she wasn’t nervous. She was greeted by an enormous bouquet of red roses, so enormous that it totally obscured the face of its presenter. What a nice surprise!—he wasn’t given to relationship niceties like flowers, and this arrangement must have cost him a fortune. So maybe he had decided to take the plunge, and make a commitment to her after all—maybe things were looking up.

Then the bouquet fell to the floor, the beautiful floral arrangement strewn over the ugly, threadbare carpet. Deanna bent down to pick them up, but stopped, startled, uncomprehending at what she saw before her. And she would never be able to reveal what she did see in that moment just before her world went black.

I wish I still had the critique comments from the teachers and the students. It’s not great writing but I don’t think it’s horrible, especially for my first effort. And that’s coming from someone who’s highly self-critical. What do you think? It won’t bother me if you think it’s unpublishable—I’ve typed too many words since this first effort. But I’m toying with the idea of doing something with it, perhaps a short story.

The important lesson for me and one I can pass on to other aspiring writers: look at the first paragraph of this post where I told myself “I could do this.” Well, I am doing this.

This is my last post on Novelspaces for a while, as we’re taking a hiatus for a year. But we’ll periodically select the best posts from the past nine years.

Olive, my muse since 2012

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology.
Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.
Instagram: authormaggieking
Amazon author page:

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Second Time Around

by Linda Thorne

Is writing that second book like the song says? “Lovelier the second time around. Just as wonderful with both feet on the ground.”

My answer is no, nope, nada. None of the above.

With the first book, I felt like Mad Max in Beyond Thunderdome, not knowing what obstacles I’d face until they were there, me fighting to mow them down and keep moving with one major goal, publication. I’d been so forewarned about rejections and criticisms that no matter how many hundreds of them I received, they only fueled me to keep churning toward my most important goal.

I’m no longer scything through underbrush seeking to become a published novelist. I’m already there with a publisher by my side. Yet, this second-time-around experience is more intimidating because others are counting on me to produce a book that is at least as good as my first and hopefully better. This scares me. Almost everyone I talk to about writing and books, asks me the same question: “When is your second book coming out?”

Time flies by and still no number two. This time I recognize when my writing is bad and this time it’s downright mortifying because I should be better just like everyone else seems to assume, presume, or expect. The second-time-around pressure is tremendous in a different way because there is something very tragic-sounding in the words, a one-book author.

I celebrated the first, but I will celebrate big-time when I have number two .

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Refusing to Review

            I’ve been thinking a lot this month about book reviews, a subject near and dear (or maybe not-so-dear) to writers’ hearts. And specifically, I’ve been thinking about reviews for books you don’t like.

            What do you do when you don’t like a book? I think it’s a tough question: as writers, we know the importance of the numbers of reviews we garner for each book. It doesn’t matter if a review is a one-star or a five-star. It counts. We like to support other writers with reviews and we tout the importance of reviews to anyone and everyone who will listen.

            But what do you do when you read a book and you really don’t like it? What if, according to your personal rating scale, it rates two or three stars, or worse? What do you do then?

            My own policy, with one notable exception which I’ll share below, is to leave an online review only if I feel I can give a book four or five stars. On rare occasions, I’ve given books three stars. I struggle with the intellectual honesty of this policy of not reviewing every book I read, but in the end, it’s what I feel comfortable doing.

            Here’s my thinking: I know how much work goes into writing a book. I know how much it hurts to read a review from a person who didn’t like one of my books. I don’t want to be the person who ruins another writer’s day because I didn’t like how he or she told a story.

            When I review a book, I always state what I like about it. When I don’t feel it deserves five stars, I write what I think would make it a better book. That’s what I appreciate from reviewers, so I figure other writers might appreciate it, too.

            But here’s the caveat I noted above. When a book is written by an author of the John Grisham-JK Rowling-Lee Child-Danielle Steel caliber, I don’t mind giving it two or three stars if I really didn’t like it. My reasoning is simple—they have a monumental, worldwide fan base, and one lousy review from me isn’t going to make or break their day.

            I’m curious about other writers’ review practices. Do you review everything you read? Do you review only certain books? Are there circumstances under which you will or will not give a low rating to any book?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Animal Kingdom: For Writers Who Like to Walk on the Wild Side

by Maggie King 

Characters who are so good at being so bad … that’s Animal Kingdom in a nutshell.

On May 29, Season 3 of TNT’s Animal Kingdom premieres. Will I be watching?

I never missed an episode of the first two seasons, based on the 2010 Australian film of the same title.

For the uninitiated, here’s TNT’s blurb for Animal Kingdom:
Animal Kingdom is an adrenaline-charged drama starring Ellen Barkin as the matriarch of a Southern California family whose excessive lifestyle is fueled by their criminal activities, with Scott Speedman as her second in command. Shawn Hatosy, Ben Robson, Jake Weary and Finn Cole also star.
Ellen Barkin is all bottle-blonde magnificence as the controlling and manipulative mom, hell bent on getting her way. She always does. Her sons and grandson are your classic sexy-as-all-get-out bad boys. And they don’t mind shedding their clothes on-camera. Often.
Folks, this ain’t Hallmark fare. No one is nice. It’s even hard to root for the detectives who are trying to bring the family down—they may be on the right side of the law, but just barely. But characters don’t have to be likeable, just compelling.

Writers can benefit from watching Animal Kingdom with its nuanced and layered portrayal of a dysfunctional family. The tone can be ratcheted down, or up, to suit a readership. Glimpses of humanity will surface briefly, only to be quelled. The dark tale contrasts with a sunny Southern California setting, creating a virtual underworld that emphasizes the unsavoriness of the plot and those characters who are so good at being so bad as they walk on the wild side.

A word on the violence: Season 1 of Animal Kingdom started out with a creepy, menacing tone and only a suggestion of violence. By season end, I watched someone get beaten to a bloody pulp, punch by punch, kick by kick. I hesitated to watch Season 2.

But I’ve long been intrigued by scary moms who manipulate their children, especially their sons, and get them to do their evil bidding. It’s a theme that shows up in my writing. Animal Kingdom illustrates this family dynamic to perfection.

And so I watched Season 2. Frankly, I don’t recall much violence. It certainly didn’t approach the level of Season 1.

Circling back to my original question: On May 29, will I be watching the Season 3 premiere of Animal Kingdom?

I wouldn’t miss it.

Cast of Animal Kingdom. Picture courtesy of TNT

More on Animal Kingdom from TNT.  

More on Animal Kingdom from Rolling Stone.

For writers who prefer milder TV fare as writing inspiration, here’s my post from January of this year.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Location Location Location - Fact or Fiction?

I was recently interviewed on a local radio station and one of the questions put to me was “Why did you choose the label A Cheshire Love Story for your books?”

My reason was purely a marketing ploy. Although my stories are all stand-alone, I want the flexibility of offering box sets in the future. Having been in an upmarket magazine, called Cheshire Life, I thought A Cheshire Love Story sounded…lovely. I live in Cheshire in the North West of England. It is a relatively prosperous area with some beautiful mansions, luxurious cars and private schools. Of course ordinary people live here too.

It got me thinking. Does it help the author to know the towns, roads, restaurants, landmarks, etc. that appear in their stories?

An obvious answer to that has to be “Yes.” Many authors set their stories in places they have some connection with, perhaps somewhere they grew up, or where they now live. I know of many who write about a holiday location, some even lucky enough to own a holiday home. But that doesn’t mean you are “stuck” there.

So what tools are available to us in this twenty-first century?

1. Good old local knowledge.

In a novella I’m writing, there is a scene set on the way to Manchester Airport, which isn’t far from me. I needed to get my protagonist from a hotel in a village I know, to the airport, and I needed to know how long it would take. Being able to do that journey, checking out the surrounding area at the same time, meant I could write the scene with confidence. Many readers love it if they know the area you are writing about. Likewise many will be delighted to correct you if you get it wrong.

However, beware. You can get caught out. In Keeping You I wrote about a bookshop near where I used to work. My hero had the nerve to park his car illegally in front of the shop. When I held a book reading in said shop one night, I discovered that there was no longer a road in front of it – it had been pedestrianized. Makes the offence of parking outside even worse J

Another advantage of naming actual places, hotels etc. is the connection you can make with the community. It could be the local library, a bar in a hotel (particularly nice setting for an evening discussing erotic romance) or a book group. Some people love that, and you may be able to use it in promoting your work. For example, I often use #Cheshire in Twitter posts, and can gain retweets and likes from organisations in the vicinity – even getting invited on the local radio station.

Although personal experience is of great value, it doesn’t have to be a limiting factor when it comes to setting scenes. The internet has opened up virtually the whole world. And Google Earth is an added bonus when it comes to an author’s use of location.

2. Google Earth and the Internet

All of my stories have some connection with Cheshire, but they also include additional locations, including London and Manchester, and further afield in Kenya and Australia.

Keeping You takes the reader to White Chapel in London. Even though I have been to London many times, I have never been to White Chapel. But with the help of Google Earth, I was able to locate a high-rise apartment block in a very rundown area, with a phone box on the corner and smaller houses across the road. It was the perfect setting for my hero to be holed up while he sought revenge for the killing of his best friend, and it was a far cry from the luxurious mansion he lived in near Crewe in Cheshire.

Another of my books still to be published by my publisher, Black Opal Books, involves a trip to Melbourne in Australia. I have never been to Australia, let alone Melbourne, but I did my research using the internet and Google Earth. I needed a seedy location where sex workers resided, with a nightclub, and betting premises. Internet searches gave me St. Kilda, and Google Earth helped me house a young woman who never wanted to be a nice one… I was also able to confirm there was a cycling track nearby, as my protagonist was a keen cyclist. I backed up my research with requests to a friend who did live in Australia, leaving me confident enough to write about the area. Further research involved checking local facilities for paternity testing. This was all carried out from the comfort of my own home.

3. Websites selling houses

I confess to being someone who trawls, more nosily than thoroughly, through internet sites offering all sorts of homes to buy. I need to know what type of places exist in the location I have chosen.

On one such site I found the perfect mansion, with its own swimming pool, gym, and amazing grounds, for Lawrence in Keeping You. I named it The Sway. I even used the floor plan to walk my heroine through the house when she was left there alone near the beginning of the book. I find it a great help to visualise the layout of homes in my stories. However, I never use the images on any promotional sites – you have to be vigilant about copyright etc. I purchase all my photos or use Google free “labelled for reuse” images.

So I don’t restrict myself to places I know or have visited. I broaden my horizons and “travel” with no expense spared.

3. Mix and match

Of course, your location doesn’t have to actually exist. (I’m not just talking scifi/fantasy here.)

In The Secret At Arnford Hall I decided to use a fictitious village in Cheshire, and broadly based the Hall on a castle, which was for sale in the Channel Islands. I located Arnford next to a real town called Knutsford, and mention several places that exist there. Again I have been caught out when Gabriel Black takes Grace for lunch in a restaurant in Knutsford, which has since closed down!

Why don’t you share with us the tools you use for the settings in your stories, and maybe confess to the odd faux pas? After all, we are lovers of writing romance and entitled to have our heads in the clouds every now and then J

Images of some of the homes in my books

The Sway, Keeping You 
White Chapel - Google Earth, Keeping You

 Arnford Hall, The Secret At Arnford Hall

The old farmhouse, Guiltless