Talk to the Paw: Weapons of Destruction

by Karen Duvall

Having pets has its advantages and disadvantages. Young pets are like babies. They explore, get into mischief, teethe... Yeah. Well, sometimes they don't grow out of their childhood habits.

I have a full grown cat and a full grown dog who still act like a kitten and a puppy respectively. Days go by without a mishap, and then BOOM, it's massive destruction. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, erupting volcanoes... okay, so I'm exaggerating. I'm a writer and I can't help it. But these two are like furry natural disasters waiting to happen.

The Criminal
The Weapon
The Victim

Sammy (my cat): You are in soooo much trouble.

Kinsey (my dog): Hangs head in shame

Sammy: I can't believe how mad Dad got. He was speechless. That's never happened before.

Kinsey: I wagged my tail to show him I was sorry.

Sammy: You and your stupid ball. You just had to knock over one of Dad's most beloved cactuses, didn't you? You know how much he treasures those plants.

Kinsey: I didn't mean it. It was an accident.

Sammy: Shakes head and looks disappointed.

Kinsey: Hey, don't act all innocent. You've knocked over your fair share of plants yourself.

Sammy: But I'm much, much, much smaller than you. I don't do half the damage.

Kinsey: Oh yeah? Not only do you constantly knock plants over, I've seen you use the pots as a litterbox.

Sammy: Looks left and right. Shhh. No one was supposed to see that.

Kinsey: Well, I saw. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Sammy: Lifts her nose in the air. Not my fault. It was instinct.

Kinsey: Mom is still trying to vaccum all the dirt out of the carpet.

Sammy: I didn't mean to cause trouble. You know I hate sharing a litterbox with my brothers. I simply won't do it.

Kinsey: Yet you have the nerve to shame me for making a mistake?

Sammy: Mutters. Sorry.

Kinsey: What was that? I couldn't hear you. I think I have dirt in my ear.

Sammy: Hisses. I said I'm sorry!

Kinsey: Whips ears back and forth. Okay, okay. I believe you.

Awkward silence.

Kinsey: Well, I'm sorry too.

Sammy: What can we do to make it up to Mom and Dad?

Kinsey: Looks thoughtful. Look cute?

Sammy: Nods. Works for me.


Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her K

night’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

Do You Know Your (Publishing) Rights?

By Susan Spann

The grant of rights to the publisher is among the most important (and trickiest) terms in a publishing contract. Although the paragraph itself is seldom long, it's often connected to several others, not all of which are obvious during an initial read.

Regardless of the length or complexity of the terms, it's critical for authors to understand the rights the contract grants to the publishing house.

The most expansive (and most commonly requested) rights provision grants the publisher "exclusive, worldwide rights to publication and distribution in all languages and in forms and formats now known and hereafter developed."

Although short, the quote above contains the four primary factors authors need to consider in any grant of rights:

1. Exclusivity. Rights granted "exclusively" to the publisher cannot be granted to or utilized by anyone else (including the author) for the duration of the contract (which normally lasts for the term of copyright in the work, unless termination language in the agreement gives other options). It's normal (and not abusive) for publishers to want exclusivity. The publisher is investing time and money in your work, and deserves to profit from that effort (as do you!). Just make sure the publisher has the resources to exploit the rights granted in the contract. A small, U.S. only publisher may not need exclusive worldwide rights. Exclusive North American (or U.S.) rights may suffice. Then again, it's difficult to publish ebooks effectively without the right to sell them on the Internet, and Internet sales often cross borders.

2. Geographical Reach. Since the publisher will normally want exclusivity within its territory, pay attention to the manner in which that territory is described. Options include "worldwide" (formerly "throughout the universe") or any lesser territorial boundaries the parties agree upon. U.S. rights are different than North American rights - so pay attention and be sure to ask if you have any question about the geographic and territorial descriptions in the contract.

3. Languages. The contract should specify what languages the publisher's rights include. Contracts which merely state "exclusive, worldwide rights" are generally deemed to include all languages. If you intend to grant only English-language rights, the contract must say so. If the publisher wants a more extensive grant of language rights, be sure the publisher has the capacity to translate accurately and distribute in those markets. A poor translation is sometimes worse than no translation at all. On the other hand, you shouldn't refuse foreign language rights to a publisher with a proven track record and the capacity to translate and market your work abroad.

4. Forms and Formats. Most publishers will request "all forms and formats"  - author, BEWARE. Does this include film, TV, and gaming too? It shouldn't. Those rights aren't tied to a publisher's right to publish the book in print and ebook formats. Make sure your publisher has the capacity to act on all of the formats you grant, and that you don't give away formats the publisher doesn't need or deserve. It makes little sense to grant print rights to an e-only publisher - and is equally nonsensical to refuse e-book rights to a major brick and mortar house. Be aware that "all forms and formats" now includes mobile devices and potentially also app, gaming, TV, film, merchandising, and many more. A specific carveout is required if you want to retain those rights.

There are other factors that merit additional consideration, too, and which may appear less commonly in publishing deals. These can include film and TV rights, editing, the use of outside "co-authors" and/or editors, and several other issues. These often take a back seat to the "big four" we discussed today, but they remain important, and we'll take a look at a few of them next week.

The "right" clause depends on many factors - there is no "one size fits all" - so be vigilant and pay attention, and make the right business decision for you and your book.

Today's big take-away lesson is this: pay attention to the grant of rights, and know what rights you're agreeing to give your publisher. A proper grant of rights lays the foundation for a positive, long-term business relationship between the author and the publisher - and that, of course, is good for everyone.


 Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author from Sacramento, California. Her debut mystery novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, July 2013), is the first in a series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. The sequel, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, will release on July 15, 2014. Susan blogs about writing, publishing law and seahorses at Find her on Twitter @SusanSpann or on Facebook.

Me? A Procrastinator?


By Kerry Schafer


A fascinating topic -- one I can spend hours discussing, analyzing, and lamenting as a lovely (and valid) evasion from whatever task I’m procrastinating from.

Now, I know procrastination has a bad rap, and a lot of people think its roots lie in sheer laziness. This is a myth that must be dispelled forthwith. Proper procrastination is a skill, indeed an art, which generally requires much more energy and creativity than would have ever been expended on the original project.

Sometimes procrastination makes perfect sense. If the task to be avoided involves removing green food from the fridge (and by this I mean foods that were never intended by nature to be green), or if the bathroom needs cleaning, or a teenager’s room needs to be mucked out with a shovel and a rake - then procrastination makes perfect sense.

But we also procrastinate when the project on the agenda is something that we love. Take writing for example. Most of us who write are passionate about the process. We talk about how we love writing, how we couldn’t live without it.

I asked my writer friends on Facebook a simple question: Why do you write? Here are some of the answers:

“I write because I have stories in my head that need to get out.” ~ B.e. Sanderson

“I’m not right if I don't write...there's some piece of happiness in the process for me. If there's no work in progress, momma ain't happy and if momma ain't happy ain't nobody gonna be happy ~Linda Robertson

“1) I love telling stories and weaving tales. 2) I'll read a book or watch a show and think, 'Not bad, but it could have been better if they'd done this.' 3) There is a story in my head and it will drive me nuts if I don't get it out of me.” ~ Todd Leatherman

“The voices! The voices in my head!!!” ~Trudy Morgan Cole

“It’s what I was put on this earth to do.” ~Aurelia Blue

“I love to paint with words.” ~Judy Phillips

“Because there are still books I want to read that only I can write.” ~James Ray Tuck Jr

You’d think with this level of drive and enthusiasm (and possibly mental instability, given the number of people who mentioned the need to silence voices) we’d all be typing away at every possible moment, getting those stories down on the page with vim and vigor and great enthusiasm.

Alas, this is not so. Writer procrastination would be a national sport if writers were a nation. Come on, admit it. As much as you’re driven to write your story, to get the voices out of your head or the words down on the page, how often do you find yourself doing something - anything - else?

Honest answers now:

Which is your preference :

a) Facebook b) Twitter c) Pinterest d) Other

Which is your default procrastination game: 

A) Spider Solitaire  B) Farmville  C) Candy Crush  D) Other  E) I don’t waste my time on stupid games, I get real with WOW and the equivalent

True or False: I’ve been known to do housework to avoid writing, possibly even cleaning green things out of the fridge.

Bonus Questions: sneaky procrastination activities that look a lot like writing, but aren’t.

Do You:

  1. Engage in IM chats that are supposedly about writing but delve deeply into other inanity?
  2. Engage in plotting that goes on and on and prevents you from writing?
  3. Engage in writing preparation activities like making coffee or other beverages/snacks to consume while writing, setting up music playlists, cleaning off your desk, until your writing time is over?

If you are not a procrastinator, go away. We don't need your overcharged, driven, annoying type here. If you are a procrastinator and you actually took the quiz: good for you! You have earned a cookie.

There are a lot of reasons we might procrastinate on writing, but I think the biggest bugaboo is perfectionism. We care deeply about the story, about the words. We feel a responsibility to the characters we create and want to portray them accurately. We also want readers to love or hate them as much as we do. We want readers to love our work. The whole project sometimes looks too big, too scary, too much. If only a novel could spring fully formed from head to page, as beautiful and complete as we envision it, then all would be well.

But the words come out rough and bumpy, characters fall flat, plots lack in pacing and suspense. It’s damn hard work to fix and polish and bring the story anywhere near the shining thing we want it to be.

And so we delay. After all, if the story is still perfect and lovely in our heads, then we haven’t yet failed to bring it into being.

What is a procrastinating writer to do?

Well, you can suck it up and power through. Install internet blocking software on your computer and lock yourself in a barren room without distractions. Chain yourself to a chair. But where’s the fun in that?

Ann Lamott pretty much nailed it with her book Bird by Bird. If you’re a writer and haven’t read this book yet, click the link, buy the book. Read. Read again. Do it NOW. Yes, I know you plan to do it later. I also know how that will likely turn out.

Some of the best resources for overcoming procrastination and perfectionism come from SARK. She has written a couple of wonderful books for creative people: Make your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day; and Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper.

If you’re anything like me you probably don’t have time to read a book to help you with procrastination right now. You’re busy. (Checking your Twitter feed, cleaning the fridge, etc. These things take time.) So here is a link to what I’ve come to believe is the best cure ever for most varieties of procrastination: SARK's Micro Movements.

The basic idea is akin to Lamott’s advice to take things “bird by bird.” You set yourself a micro task that will require no longer than five minutes of your time. For example, open a new document and give it a title. Write one paragraph. Or even one sentence. That's it. You're done. You can carry on if you feel like it, but you don't have to. You get to feel the satisfaction of crossing something off your list, rather than looking way down the road to a long year of thankless writing…... ahem. Sorry about that. But you do see my point - it's easy to get so mired in the epic scope of what you've undertaken that you can't ever get anything done.

I used to do hour long writing sprints to get my word count in. This was highly productive IF I managed to make myself sit down and do it. Not so long ago my critique partner got me started on 15 minute sprints. You know, I can concentrate for that span of time even on a bad day. And if I do about four 15 minute sprints, it often works out to about a thousand words. 

Here’s an opportunity for you to try micro movements on your own. Come on, give it a shot. All you have to do is click this link to have a look at SARK’s micro movements. Who knows - maybe you'll be inspired to give the method a try.


Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website,, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books

Love Thy Genres

By Nicole Disney

When I was in high school, I was struggling with the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction. Today, I know it is a distinction even the pros can sometimes find difficult to define. A teacher of mine told me that genre fiction is intended to entertainment, while literary fiction should challenge your views and perceptions of the world. And your vocabulary. And let's face it, your attention span. The same teacher told me that the classics are literary fiction, that Pulitzer Prize winners are literary fiction, that anything you might ever be proud to proclaim you've read, is literary fiction.

Taking myself a little too seriously, I knew that was what I wanted to write. My goal has always been to write something that readers will someday say changed their lives. I wanted to tell truths never told and sculpt sentences so beautiful and full of meaning students would dissect them long after I'm gone. That those words would be so pure they would immortalize me. Ego, anyone?

It didn't take long for me to discover the fantasy genre and fall in love with it. There were no limits, no rules, no reasons things couldn't function the way they should, no reasons heroes would fail or love would fade. I had the power to make a world that rewarded bravery, loyalty, and sacrifice. Once my first novel was complete, I allowed my best friend to read it. I was proud and confident that she would agree it was a masterpiece. I had all but forgotten my teacher's warning that it was, in fact, literary fiction that was intellectually valuable. My friend was quick to laugh at my dreams of Pulitzers and Nobel Prizes. But she didn't cite the many faults of my manuscript as the reason it was impossible, only the genre.

I later moved into literary fiction. I admit I did feel I was creating something deeper, something more valuable. The setting was urban, the voice was gritty, the conflict dark, the ending tragic, and somehow that made it more respectable to my peers. I finally felt like the writer who was going to become famous after I die. The peaks of my mountainous writer's self esteem were restored.

I recently began a new manuscript. It's literary and even more depressing than my last story. It's been causing me to crave a bit of carefree writing. I've found myself saying things like, “I just want to write something mindless and fun." At last it dawned on me that this kind of thinking is simply unfair and disrespectful to genre writing. As a lover of fantasy, myself, how could I be so cruel to my own writing? Did my fantasy stories not handle conflict? Did my characters not face choices, fear, loss, love, even death? Did they not have something to say? Something of value to share?

Just as every person has something to offer, every story has something to give. Stories are teachers by their very nature. As long as we give them everything we have, nurture them like children, and love them from our souls, they will give us back truth and beauty.


Nicole DisneyNicole Disney is the debut author of the contemporary lesbian fiction novel, Dissonance in A Minor. She lives in Denver, Colorado where she continues to write dark, edgy novels. She is also a martial arts instructor and teaches Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Karate. For more about Nicole, please visit her website. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

RMFW Spotlight: Bree Ervin

The RMFW Spotlight feature will introduce a few of our RMFW officers and volunteers. We started out with the board of directors, sat them in the hot seat, shined the bright light on them, and channeling our best inner Oprah, plugged them with a few questions. Here’s what we learned from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Membership Chair, Bree Ervin.

Bree Ervin1. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I’m the Membership Chair for RMFW. Mostly it means I help people login to the website and renew/join (Sorry – it’ll get better, I swear!). I’m hoping that as we get the website working better – yes, really, I’ll be able to spend more time reaching out to members new and old and talking about what you all want from a modern RMFW.

I got involved because I have had so many great experiences with RMFW and I am a big fat geek who LOVES to share the things I love. The best way for me to do that was to become membership chair so that I could reach out to others and share the awesome organization that is RMFW.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

I have a couple of works in progress. I tend to bounce around a lot. My kids have told me it’s time to start shopping my picture books again and I have a YA that is in its last round of revisions before I start shopping it. I’m also working on a middle grade fantasy and some non-fiction.

3. We've all heard of bucket lists-- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

The most immediate item on the list is a trip to Paris with my girlgoyels. I’ve promised them a trip and now I have to make good on it.

I also want to sail around the world, but I have to wait until my husband dies because he freaks out when he can’t see land. The upside of that is I’ll probably get to claim the record for the oldest person to sail around the world. So good things come to those who wait, I guess.

Writer at Work4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

Revising. I actually love revising. I’m an editor in my day job, so that kind of work excites me. BUT… I have a hard time motivating to revise my own work. There’s a huge part of me that’s like, “Okay, I finished that story, I know how it ends, moving on…” I have to really struggle to get my butt back in the chair to make it better and make it publishable once the joy of discovery is gone. I need to find a way to flip the switch on that and convince myself that there is still more to discover in the story and in the characters. (And it’s true, every revision reveals a new layer, a missed detail, another key that goes deeper into the heart of the story.)

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

I’ve always been a story teller. My first sentence was a carefully crafted “lie.” I love creating new people, new worlds and new spaces in this world. I love connecting the dots and showing people new ways of seeing old things.

One of my college professors said (speaking about scientists), “The task is not so much to see what no one has seen, but to think what no one has thought about that which everybody sees.” I think that holds doubly true for writers, and artists in general – and that is the real pleasure of writing for me, taking what everyone sees and knows to be true, and then showing the other side. (For the record, I have had that quote taped above my desk as a reminder ever since.)

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Take yourself seriously. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you that you’re a writer, or give you permission to call yourself a writer – that doesn’t come from anyone else, that’s inside you. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you how to be a writer – their process is theirs. Trust your own way. And always, always, always, write your heart.

Cat on desk7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

I’m a bit of a wanderer. My desk is a hot mess, so if the weather is nice I take my laptop out to my tipi. If it’s cold, I’ll work at the breakfast bar – close to the tea kettle! Really, where ever my laptop is, that’s my desk. Except when I write on my phone. Or in a notebook. Hmm… Can I take a picture of my brain – that’s where the stories live, that’s where the work gets done.

It helps when the kitten sits on my lap because she won’t let me get up, even to pee, until I get at least 1,000 words down. It’s like she has a magic way of keeping track of my word count. 1,000 and it’s time to stretch. Then the big cat takes a turn. She’s pretty demanding too.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

For pleasure I’m reading Asphalt Warrior by Gary Reilly (published posthumously with help from RMFW president Mark Stevens.) It’s a fabulous, humorous, spot on commentary on humanity from the point of view of a Denver cab driver.

For research I’m reading Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape Ed. by Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti which is an amazing collection of essays, articles and calls to action. I fall asleep so empowered after reading it. (But hard to read in public, lots of alternating between crying and jumping up shouting “YES!” at inappropriate times.)

My kids and I are reading Double Vision: Code Name 711 by F.T. Bradley, which is a really fun middle grade spy novel, sort of Da Vinci Code for kids. The first book in the series was set in Paris, this one is set in DC. We just started it, but we love this author.

Here’s a picture of my “read next” shelves. Top shelf is research, bottom shelf is pleasure. (There are two more large shelves of unread books off screen, but these are the priority cases!)

To Be Read


Cat on high
This is Bree's tipi and a cat on a hot tipi roof. Or something like that.

Thanks for sharing with us, Bree. I'm happy to hear I'm not the only one whose writing life is scheduled by her cat.

You can cyber-stalk Bree on Twitter and Facebook. Anyone who wants to get ranty with her is invited to stop by her blog Think Banned Thoughts. And, Bree adds, if you're having trouble logging in to the website, drop her a note at

Talk to the Paw: Toys!

By Karen Duvall

If you walked into my house today you'd think I had kids still living at home. There are toys everywhere. Stuffed toys, plastic toys, balls... and lots of indescribable detritus that I wouldn't label as toys but my pets would. On second thought I guess I do have kids, they're just covered in fur and run around on four legs.

Like children, my furkids play with each others' toys and don't always play nice. One in particular can be rather... destructive.

Kinsey   Sammy

Sammy (my cat): I can't believe you ate my spider.

Kinsey (my dog): How do you know it was me?

Sammy: Gives her a baleful look. There were still pieces of it left and you're the only one with teeth that big. I found its legs under the couch.

Kinsey: Not my fault. You shouldn't leave your toys laying around.

Sammy: Whines. I loved that spider! It glowed in the dark and everything.

Kinsey: Well, if it makes you feel any better, the plastic tasted awful.

Sammy: Good. Serves you right.

Kinsey: And like I said. Don't leave your toys laying around and I won't eat them.

Sammy: How can I play with them if they're not laying around? Besides, my spider was inside my petting box on the kitchen counter.

Kinsey: Then it must have been Cody who knocked it onto the floor.

Sammy: Probably. He does that to anything on the counter. He scoots it off with his paw.

Kinsey: You do that, too.

Sammy: It's fun to watch it fall. Especially if it's something that goes splat.

Kinsey: Especially if it's something I can eat.

Sammy: Hisses. You're worse than a goat. You eat everything.

Kinsey: Not everything. And I always leave leftovers.

Sammy: It's not cool what you did to Cody's weasel and his skunk toy.

Kinsey: I can't resist the squeakers. They need to come out.

Sammy: Cody still plays with his weasel and the skunk, though. And only when he thinks no one is watching.

Kinsey: I've seen him carry one in his mouth around the house while he yowls.

Sammy: So have I. It's kind of creepy. Why do you think he does that?

Kinsey: No idea.

Sammy: Searches the floor.

Kinsey: What are you looking for?

Sammy: One of your toys.

Kinsey: Why? You're too little to eat my toys.

Sammy: But I'm not too little to hide them.


Karen Duvall

Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.


Pushing Through The Middle: Tips for the NaNoWriMo Crowd and Other First Drafters

by Lori DeBoer

DeBoerIf you are hitting your daily word count (about 1,666) for National Novel Writing Month, by the time this post is published you’ll be nearly about halfway through your 50,000-word goal and sailing into the middle stretch of your novel.

This is where the story gets complicated. The middle passage is the longest section of your novel. The plot should thicken, the stakes should increase and your protagonist(s) should be thwarted at every turn.  Your narrative arc should be more mountainous than curvy, and climbing steeply.

This is also the point where your story is most likely to stall. If you’ve been "pansting,” the honeymoon with your big idea and great beginning may be over.  Even plotters can lose their confidence and momentum in the middle passages.

If you find yourself bogged down or stalled altogether, here’s a few tricks to get you going:

Look How Far You’ve Come
Instead of contemplating how far you have to go, look at how much you’ve already written. Print out your manuscript to give it some heft.

Don’t Start Revising
There’s nothing more tempting than revising when the path ahead is murky.  After all, rewriting is an important part of writing, right?  Yes, but not when you are drafting.  You’ll have plenty of time to revisit those first few chapters after you plot a course through your first draft.

Create Some Go-Getters
One of the biggest story stalls is characters who are merely responding to events in the story.  If your characters don’t have desires, they don’t have goals and a plan of action is out of the question. The easiest way to figure out what happens next is by giving your character some volition. The hero’s journey only begins by answering the call to action, not by hitting the snooze button.

Raise the Stakes
Now that your characters have a plan, ask yourself what happens if they fail.  If there are no stakes—personal and public—then there’s no reason for your character to keep going.  Until your characters have a real reason to pursue their goals, your writing is going to feel like rolling a boulder up a mountain.

Set Incremental Goals
The end game may be clear to you, but how is your character going to get there? Consider the smaller steps that need to be taken before the story’s climax can occur.  Frodo and Sam don’t just go waltzing to Mount Doom with the Ring; first they need to escape from Orcs, traitors, spiders and other dark creatures and trek through some terrible terrain with a sketchy guide.

Arm the Opposition
If your characters are not thwarted at every turn, if their incremental goals are attained without much effort and everybody in your story world is getting along swimmingly, then you don’t have a novel, you have a really long, typed daydream.  Examine your scenes to see if they are conflict-free or conflict-riddled.  Is your main character only fighting internal demons, or is there some external opposition, a worthwhile antagonist?  Once your characters have someone messing with them, the story will pick up steam. In the Sookie Stackhouse world created by Charlaine Harris, even lovers aren’t a girl’s best friend and bosom buddies can be out for blood.

Get Your Characters Out of the House
If your character is the literary equivalent of a shut-in, get him or her out and about in the world. Or, bring the world busting into the house.  The Harry Potter series would have fell flat had our young wizard sequestered himself in his closet under the stairs.

Give Your Characters a Project
If your conflict is all about the internal world, give your characters a project to externalize the problem. If you are writing in certain genres, you might call this project a quest. Either way, giving your characters something larger to do, something to obsess over, makes the writing less episodic. In The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Pankhurst, the main character is a linguist who spends the book trying to teach his dog--the only witness to his wife’s death--to talk.

Stop While You Still Have Steam
Your writing sessions should end while you still have some steam, not when you are stalled out. That way, getting back to work will seem like less of a chore. As Ernest Hemingway said:  “I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

What other strategies do those seasoned authors among use to push through the middle passages of their novel?


Lori DeBoer is an author, freelance journalist and writing coach whose work has appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, The New York Times and Arizona Highways. She has contributed essays on writing to Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts, Keep It Real: Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Research and Writing Creative Nonfiction and A Million Little Choices: The ABCs of CNF. She founded the Boulder Writers’ Workshop and is a homeschooling mom. She and her husband Michael and son Max live in Boulder.

For more about Lori, please visit her website and blog.

Easy Steps to Polish That Draft!

by Jeffe Kennedy

November 1st signaled the start of a month of intense novel writing for many people: the onset of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

For me, it was Deadline Day for the second book in my Twelve Kingdoms trilogy. I pulled it tighter than I'd like. I finished the draft by mid-September and let it "cool" for two weeks, while I worked on developmental edits for the first book in the series. That worked out great, because I finished revising book 1 and went straight into revising book 2. Terrific opportunity to check my continuity and tighten the overall series arc.

From there it took 18 days to finish that revision - longer than I'd wanted, for reasons that aren't clear to me. It just went slowly. That meant I got the manuscript to my critique partners (CPs) on October 16. Amazingly, they have lives and deadlines of their own, so I didn't get comments from them until October 30. (Although they did send notes in the interim, telling me that it was awesome and they'd have no major issues - always a relief to hear.)

All of this means I spent a LOT of time on the 31st and 1st, incorporating their comments and doing my final polish. I have a list, actually, (which should surprise no one who knows me) of stuff to check for before I send the manuscript to my editor. It looks like this:

  1. Search for []
  2. Search for “now”
  3. Search for “just”
  4. Search for double space
  5. Search for “like”
  6. Search for “back”
  7. Wordle
  8. Replace towards with toward
  9. Search for actions as dialogue tags.
  10. Search for overused dialogue tags.

These are tailored specifically for Jeffe's Writing Tics - the bad habits that creep into my writing. Everyone needs to learn their own tics. Mine are most frequently "now" and "just." As in, "just kill me now." The [ ] are because, when I'm drafting, I sometimes place [words] in brackets to check later. It's usually when I can't think of the word I want, or if I need to go online to research something - which I'm not allowed to do while drafting or revising. The final search is to make sure I got them all.

With "now," you'll see from my note above that I used it 280 times in 382 pages. That's not nearly as badly as I've done on other books. I note the page numbers, then try to break up the clusters. I'm funny that way - I'll go six pages without using it, then sprinkle four on one page. Searching for "just," I found 215 instances - not too bad! But I deleted or altered 134 of them.

Double spaces tend to creep in, so I do a quick s/r (search and replace) for those. "Back" is another of my tics - 244 occurrences were trimmed by 115. This time around "like" turned out to be the monster in the closet. 403 instances! I killed 129 of those.

Wordle: UntitledThen I check Wordle. If you don't know it, it's a fun - and effective! - way to check for overused words. Here's mine for this book (post-polishing), if you want to see. In my first iteration, "know" popped up pretty ENORMOUS. I did a search for it and ended up eliminating 107 of 270 occurrences. It's still pretty big, but at least no longer dominates.

The rest are pretty self-explanatory. I add to the list as time goes on - especially if one of my editors gets cranky about something. One of my editors has fits over me using actions as dialogue tags. Not that I can't, but I tend to punctuate them wrong and, while she corrects them, she worries we'll miss some. Fair enough.

I tweeted some of these as I was working, especially the phrase found in my "like" search that made me want to pound my forehead on the keyboard. The editor waiting for this book chimed in.

I loved his hashtag.  And, I thought, he's right. So I decided to share with all of you, too.


Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.

Her most recent works include three fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns, the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and the post-apocalyptic vampire erotica of the Blood Currency.  A contemporary e-Serial, Master of the Opera, will be released in January. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, will hit the shelves in 2014. A spin-off story from this series, Negotiation, appears in the recently-released Thunder on the Battlefield anthology. Her newest book, Five Golden Rings, comes out as part of the erotic holiday anthology, Season of Seduction, in late November.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website:, every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog, on Facebook and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary.


Top 10 Worst Writerly Advice

By Julie Kazimer

Over my 13 years of writing, I've heard plenty of advice, some good, some bad. At first I sucked it all in, trying to please everyone. That lasted until I learned my voice and some craft. Now I pick and choose the advice I use, and for once, I feel comfortable in my own writerly skin. Here's some of the bad advice I received throughout my career:

10) Avoid all adverbs. This seems to be a standard line from writers. While I don't disagree that when using an adverb you might be weakening your verb or even telling rather than showing, but more importantly, the advice is crap because no writer should avoid all of anything. If your story calls for an adverb, it calls for an adverb. Use it. You surely won't spontaneously combust.

9) Literary writing is the only way to be respected as a writer. In many circles this is true. I've spent five years in academia fighting this bias. But at the end of the day, no matter what you write, you must respect your own work, be it literary, poetry, erotica, mystery or romance. Don't let others define you.

8) "Your writing is too campy. It won't ever sell." Yep. I heard this multiple times during my stint in jail, I mean, critique group. Just because your style doesn't fit someone else, doesn't mean either of you are less of a writer and/or have less of a chance of selling that work. Just as an FYI, all those campy novels, I sold, including the one that started my career.

7) Commercial fiction is about plot, literary is character-based. Ha! Every book you pen should be about both things. Readers want to see a character change, grow, and fully flawed. But they also want a character who does more than stare out the window and internally do all those things.

6) Traditional publishing is the only way to be respected as an author. Now this one's a bit sticky. In a way, other authors are still not as accepting, or even a little disrespectful of, indie publication, even those who make millions. But you know what? Readers could care less. They don't know who is an indie author and who is a traditional one (unless, of course, the editing is very bad). Seven years ago I used to believe in this hierarchy of traditional over indie authors, but now I find the whole idea ridiculous. Which bring me to the next bit of advice:

5) More books published makes you a better writer than someone who hasn't published any yet. Is the guy who wins the lottery a better financial wizard than you? That's almost like comparing Dina Lohan to Mother Theresa for mother of the year.

4) Write what you know. If that was true or good advice would we have Star Wars? Or any book interesting enough to read? Reading is an escape. We don't want to read what we know. We want what we don't know, what surprises us, what entertains us. On the other hand, we want to be able to believe what an author writes is genuine. If it doesn’t fit what we ‘know’ than your reader will have a harder time accepting it. So write what you think your reader knows or maybe what you know or some weird variation. Heck, write anything you want. I'm not the writerly police. Imagination should never be handcuffed by others' expectations.

3) Focus on building a readership with social media, websites and blogs. Yes, all very important, once you have a book finished. Until then, focus on writing the best damn book you can. That will get you a readership (hopefully). Or maybe it won't, but either way, you will have a book you're proud of.

2) You have control over your career. I wish. You don't. You have control over what you write, when you write, how much you market, if you should self-publish or traditionally publish. But you have no control over what happens beyond that. You can't make people love your book. You can't make people give you awards. You can't make people give you money, unless you hit them with your kindle.

1) Don't judge a book by it's cover. Worst advice there is. Books are most often first judged by their cover. Covers can make or break a book. Trust me, I know. I had a very hard time getting distribution to bookstores and engagement because of two frogs having a good time on the cover. Even though it is the best cover ever, it also made it more difficult to promote. Colors also are proven to affect sales. Green for instance has a lower rate of sales. Interesting, right?

Oh, and one last one. Kill Your Darlings. I really don't suggest this. You will spend time in prison, plus, what's your sweetheart really ever done to you?

What's some bad advice you've gotten? Did you follow it?

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include The Body Dwellers, CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming romance, The Assassin’s Heart, and the upcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.