Sunday, February 18, 2018

Different but Good Blog Hop Post

Thanks again to Deb Nam-Krane for suggesting this blog hop topic! I’m excited to be kicking it off today!

I was generally one of those folks who looked forward to remakes. If it was good in its first incarnation, the second should be even better, right? The remake of Dirty Dancing killed that naiveté once and for all. Even with this belief, however, when Disney remade the Parent Trap in 1998, I had no desire to see it at all. My memories of the original were too precious to be trifled with. (We won’t mention the sequels.)

The Hayley Mills comedy came out in 1961; I saw it for the first time in the early 1970s on TV when it ran as part of the Wonderful World of Disney, which aired on Sunday
nights. I loved the movie so much that I spent years looking for its novelization, and it’s the only book I saved from my childhood. I’m not sure I can pinpoint what was so great about that movie, but I think it has to do with discovering that there’s a whole other you out there, and then switching places with her. It’s a plot that worked well in soap operas, too.

When the Lindsay Lohan version came out, I ignored it. I had a four-year-old myself by then, and instead of taking him to see it, we watched the original. It wasn’t until years later, when a friend whose pop culture judgment I respect enormously said she thought the Lohan version was actually better than the original, that I finally broke down and rented the movie.

She was wrong. It wasn’t better. It was different but good. Parts of the original movie were better. And so were parts of the remake. Of course, neither movie satisfactorily answers the question: What kind of monster takes one of their children, leaves the other, and never mentions neither sibling nor other parent ever again?

Where the original is better:

 Hysterical food fight during the dance after Sharon and her friends cut off a part of Susan’s skirt. The remake subtracts two years from the twins’ ages, making dances and boys a little out of reach, so this scene is cut completely.

 Hayley Mills. She’s a better actress than Lohan (older and more experienced), and her Sharon and Susan characters are more distinct than Lohan’s Hallie and Annie.

 Brian Keith. His California ranch owner was hunkier than Dennis Quaid’s vineyard owner.

 Mitch’s ranch house. This personal setting – the house Maggie actually walked out of – was a more emotional setting for a reunion than a hotel.

 Mitch and Maggie’s back story. Not sure what it was, but I bet they were together longer than Nick and Elizabeth’s meeting and marriage on a cruise ship. Also I’m sure Maggie’s tiresome mother had something to do with that break-up.

 No annoying “downstairs” romance. Really, did anyone care about Chessie and Martin, who came across as closeted? (especially in leather…. And that Speedo… UGH.)

Where the remake is better:

 Lohan’s hair. Hayley Mills was adorable and what they did to that poor girl’s hair is a crime.

 Elizabeth’s character. Granted, the original Parent Trap came out in 1961, when it was unusual for women to have careers, but Maggie and Sharon lived with her parents; she dressed up like June Cleaver to attend Red Cross meetings and let her mother boss her around. Elizabeth was a famous wedding-dress designer and an inspiring figure to both daughters.

 The chemistry between Nick and Elizabeth. Sure they got married too quickly and divorced even faster, but there was obviously a lot of love and hurt between these two characters. Mitch and Maggie screamed at each other constantly; she even gave him a black eye. It was hard to imagine them calming down and having a respectful relationship.

 Meredith James. A much more attractive, formidable rival than Vicky Robinson, who was neither as young nor as charming as the character was supposed to be.

 The ending. Nick and Hallie beat Elizabeth and Annie back to England… following her back because he didn’t do it the first time she left. Much more romantic and satisfying than Mitch telling Maggie he missed her hair pins in his fishing tackle box.

Where Both Movies Got It Wrong:

 No explanation of how the twins ended up at the same camp. One giant coincidence is allowed per book/movie, but this one is too big for me.

 No good explanation of the premise of the movie… but would any explanation be good enough? The original ignores it completely (although interestingly enough, there is dialogue in the novelization that never made it into the movie where Susan makes a pretty good guess), while the remake implies that Elizabeth took Annie back to England on an impulse. Still, keeping a parent and twin from a child is monstrous. Perhaps that aspect is ignored because addressing it reveals the parents to be narcissists.

 Mitch and Nick being so old and boring that a young woman could only be interested in them for their money. Sorry, no. Brian Keith was a hunk and Dennis Quaid was nothing to sneeze at either.

 Both Sharon and Annie are as equally at ease on that camping trip as Susan and Hallie are. Maybe life in a Maine camp loosened them up a bit, but honestly they should be almost as squeamish as Vicky and Meredith were.

But the lists above are merely quibbles. Whether you prefer the Parent Trap original flavor or Parent Trap extra spicy (ie Lohan and her red hair), you’ve picked a great movie. The remake is different, but still good. Who wouldn’t want to discover a secret twin… especially one you could switch lives with?

I’m anxious to see what Morgan writes about tomorrow! Check him out here!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Writing to a Prompt: Ten Meaningful Minutes

For the past several years, I’ve run a writers support group that ends (almost) every meeting with a “write to the prompt” exercise. Some days we take too much time with the discussion, some days everyone has to leave early, but usually we try to get in it. There are those who refuse to participate, claiming they get nothing out of the exercise or that they’ve already done enough writing this week, thank you very much. That’s not the point, of course. Writing to a prompt forces you to write about a subject that you did not choose. Many writing instructors use prompt writing as a regular feature of their instruction, and there are dozens if not hundreds of books containing prompts if thinking one up is too taxing.

In last week’s meeting, my friend Diane came up with this prompt: super blue blood moon

I haven’t written poetry regularly since high school, but the phrase scratched something inside me, and this is what came out.

Writing to prompts is definitely worth it.

A shadow long across the lake
A heart that’s broken by its fate
A tidal pull of savage songs
A nightly whisper in the fog
Of all that’s known to mice and men
Is taught and learned and known again
As we reach into the past
To see what’s in the shadow cast
A moon so full, so blue, so much
The universe’s secrets clutch
Within her hand and to her mouth
To stop the truth from pouring out.

Monday, January 22, 2018

How to Be the Perfect Workshop Participant

Many writers, at some point in their careers, get their writing “workshopped” – either in classes they take as part of a formal MFA program, or in writers’ conferences lasting a week or two. It’s a valuable step in learning how readers approach your work cold, and in finding out how it could be improved. Generally with about 10-15 participants, the session is led by an instructor, usually a published author, who keeps the discussion flowing and offers insights of her own.

And it can be tough. Other than a few episodes of Lena Dunham’s Girls, in which Hannah was (briefly) enrolled in the famous Iowa Writers Workshop, there’s no known model of behavior. It’s not a classroom, which is led by a teacher who asks students to demonstrate mastery of knowledge. Sometimes participants just don’t know how to act.

The best workshop sessions concentrate on the material at hand and the writer’s goals for it. It’s not a place to discuss personal life experiences or preferences. Yet oftentimes discussions get derailed by folks who don’t know any better.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep the conversation flowing in a productive way:

If you’re a participant:

 Do be widely read. The subtext of the workshop is comparing and contrasting the work-in-progress to traditionally published, known works. If you’re not up to speed with classics as well as the latest best-sellers, you won’t be able to cite specific books to back up your observations.

 Don’t use real-life examples to complain about fictional character’s behavior. Having a friend who had cancer or being a parent does not mean your background is a more valid experience than the character’s. If a character acts in a certain way or has a specific incident that does not seem believable, the issue is in the set-up. Concentrate on what is or isn’t in the text, not what happened to you in your life. (Note: This does not necessary apply if the writer is writing about gender or racial issues that do not personally impact him.)

 Do be considerate of other participants. If someone is having a tough time getting a word in, say their name and invite them to speak. If someone makes a worthwhile comment, agree with them and repeat it. If you disagree with them, acknowledge their point and be respectful while you articulate your point of view. Sometimes a few loud voices can dominate a discussion… don’t let that happen.

 Don’t raise your hand. No one’s waiting to be called on. Don’t talk over the instructor or have side conversations while someone’s trying to make a point. The room is smaller than you think, and you’re louder.

 Do be aware of gender and racial dynamics. It’s not appropriate to refer to a female character as mentally ill or promiscuous because she has lovers. Trust the experiences of minority writers. Judging characters is not helpful.

If you’re the writer:

 Do keep “the gag” on. Most instructors ask that the writer being discussed not speak until called on. Listen actively as participants debate details in your work. If they have questions, it’s not up to you to answer them. It’s up to you to realize that your writing wasn’t clear.

 Don’t defend your writing. After the gag is lifted, it’s tempting to explain exactly what the participants missed or how great your characters really are. Don’t do it.

 Don’t be petty and vow to “get” participants who were particularly hard on your work. It’s not a zero-sum game, and their work isn’t bad because they didn’t like yours.

 Do take some time before going over the other participants’ comments. If there’s time for you to take a few days, then read their written suggestions, it will help you create the necessary distance to evaluate your work.

 Do take note of which observations are made by more than one participant. If there’s agreement on a point, pay careful attention to it.

And don’t forget to thank and be grateful to everyone involved. Reading the work of 10-15 other writers, taking notes, taking the time to participate in workshop… this is a huge undertaking. Most of the workshop will consist of talking about other people’s writing, not their own. It’s a lot of work!

But it’s well worth it. The most committed writers participate in workshops, and many times the practice of evaluating others’ work leads to breakthroughs in one’s own. If you haven’t done one yet, find a conference and make workshopping a goal for 2018.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Self-Publishing the Second Time Around

While I self-published my first book, KEEPING SCORE, in 2013, I chose a small indie publisher for my second book, THE TIES THAT BLEED. Although the publisher has a good reputation, I felt hamstrung by the inability to set my own price or even put the book on sale, making newsletters such as BookBub that drive sales out of reach. The quality of the paperback left much to be desired as well.

When my agent was unable to sell my third book, HOUSE DIVIDED (originally called THE SEESAW EFFECT), to traditional publishers, I decided to self-publish again because of my dissatisfaction with having publisher control over my second book. I thought I knew what I was doing based on lessons learned with KEEPING SCORE. I was wrong.

In the past four years, the market for self-published books has changed exponentially. In 2013, Publishers Weekly estimated that about 450,000 books were self-published. Although data is not in for 2016 yet, the number of ISBN registrations increased by 21% between 2014-2015. That’s a lot more competition. While readers are growing along with books, a saturated market means it’s that much harder for a single self-published book to stand out.

Here’s what I wish I would have done before self-publishing HOUSE DIVIDED:

Rewritten the book to take advantage of self-publishing trends. Authors who write series have better sales than authors who write stand-alone. With a few minor changes, adding a character or two from KEEPING SCORE, I could have made HOUSE DIVIDED the second in a series about work and parenting in suburban Maryland. This would have allowed me to call it a series on Amazon, make KEEPING SCORE perma-free to drive sales, and take advantage of other opportunities for series.

Taken more time. Once I made the decision to self-publish, I thought the one-year anniversary date of Trump’s election would be a great date to publish. I made this decision in July, thinking I had plenty of time before November. I didn’t. Finding a launch company and overseeing the cover design and layout took more time than I thought. Because of this, I was only able to set up the pre-order barely a month before my November 8th publication date. As many reviewers want to receive the book three months or even more before the publication date, I was unable to utilize those reviewers to get coverage for my book.

Joined more Facebook groups. There are many groups on Facebook dedicated to marketing and reviewing members’ self-published books. Because it takes a while to get established, becoming active on these groups before the book is published is recommended. I didn’t, and as a result only have 8 reviews for HOUSE DIVIDED. KEEPING SCORE has 58.

Researched more blogs, and earlier. I waited until my book was in MOBI form to research blogs and send out the emails, doing the research and emailing together. Had I done the research earlier—much earlier—I would have been ready to drop those emails as soon as I had a MOBI file to transmit, and would also have had a better idea of what was out there and who might be willing to review my book. As writers, this is something we should be doing anyway—stay up-to-date about who’s writing about your genre and what other, similar, books are out there.

Published the paperback through CreateSpace. Amazon makes it very easy to publish your paperback after you’ve uploaded your file to Kindle. What they do not make it easy to do is buy author copies at a reduced rate. While CreateSpace, which oddly enough is owned by Amazon, allows authors to buy their own books at cost at any time, Amazon does not have this option. I found a way around this by setting the paperback price as low as possible, buying my books, and then raising the price back up to a regular paperback option, but it was still twice as expensive as it would have been on CreateSpace.

Considered keeping the book in a drawer and moving onto the next one. My agent did an excellent job getting me read at imprints at all five big publishing firms. Every editor who rejected it said the same thing: Great book; no one will want to read it. And they were right. Trying to sell HOUSE DIVIDED has been an expensive, heartbreaking endeavor. No one wants to read about politics in the middle of the country’s worst political nightmare since the Civil War… even a humorous book about politics. Having to beg my friends on Facebook for reads and reviews has been humiliating and fruitless. Maybe in a few years, when Trump and his friends are in prison and the country has gone back to normal, the book will be an easier sell, but right now, no one seems to want to read it, and I’m frustrated beyond belief.

Yesterday I turned my latest novel into my agent. It’s a psychological thriller, and I hope more palatable to the Big Five than humorous political women’s fiction. If not, I doubt I’ll be self-publishing again, at least not a stand-alone book. Self-publishing seems to be a wonderful option for writers who can churn out series books, but for those of us who prefer not to, the marketing hurdles are just too high.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Unconventionally speaking

At a recent writers conference I attended in Italy, the faculty challenged the participants to write both conventional and unconventional first pages for a “best first page” contest. Entries were read aloud, and pages that were read to their completion without a majority of the faculty raising a hand to indicate where they would have stopped reading were considered winners. This game is called “writer’s idol.”

I had written a conventional first page for a comic murder mystery that I never ended up pursuing. (Not yet, anyway.) I decided to use this as a basis for the unconventional one.

First up, the first “conventional” page of my yet-to-and-maybe-never-will-be-written comic mystery, House Hunted:

The crooked “for sale” sign should have been my first clue.

Later – much later, of course – I’d learn the signs that a property was more trouble than it was worth. Not the obvious ones, like the overgrown yard, the lone photo on the Multiple Listing Service, the days on market that stretched on for months. But the more subtle ones, like a listing agent that doesn’t call back, or tax records that list a property as owned by an out-of-state corporation rather than a resident who lived there.

But right now, standing on the sidewalk next to that crooked sign and waiting for my very first buyer ever, the subtleties of real estate sales were the last thing on my mind. I needed a sale. A quick, easy sale. The house I was standing in front of had been on the market for six months. Its price had been lowered three times. It was a three bedroom, two bath with a water view, built in 1956. The sellers were asking for $389,000.

I crossed my fingers and prayed it looked as nice as the photos.

The buyers were late. I’d give them ten minutes and then send a quick text to see if they were lost. I’d never met them. They had called the office during our morning meeting and Kyle gave me the phone.

“Your first prospect, Rach. Remember, let the ball get deep. Let it get to you.”

Kyle played on our college baseball team. The fact that he was now a real estate broker rather than a professional baseball player pretty much summed up his college career. Now he coached his nephew’s Little League team and insisted on speaking in baseball metaphors that no one understood.

And here’s the unconventional:

VERY MOTIVATED SELLER!!!! INVESTOR’S DREAM!!!! WATERFRONT!!! WALK TO BEACH!!! Three bed/two bath, original terrazzo floors, garage, refrigerator, oven, Florida room. Room for pool. CASH ONLY. $389K. Days on market: 210. Listing agent: Alabama “I’d rather be fishing” Aluetta. Brokerage: Twelve Toes in the Sand Realty. Owner: Mr. X. Title Company: Catfish Warthog Law Offices and Fishing Charter. Email: Text: 727-DONT-CALL.

Five Really Subtle But Very Important Warning Signs that This Property Will Make a Buyer’s Agent Tear Out All Her Hair:
 Only one photo on the MLS – of the water view. (Totally legal, BTW.)
 Listing agent demands all potential buyers and agents have health insurance before entering property.
 No lock box on property, instead door is secured with combination lock that listing agent used for middle school gym class locker.
 Ads in local newspaper declaring that legal owner owes more in back child support than Illinois Republican Joe Walsh.
 Hurricane shutters that have been down since Katrina.

Three Really Stupid Things Buyer’s Agents Do When They’re Absolutely Desperate
 Agree to meet strange men at vacant houses because they are in town just for one day and have to see this house right now.
 Use Washington Post photo of being caught sneaking out of Senator’s house in the middle of the night in ad offering buyer’s agent services.
 Open houses.

Alas, dear reader, I got gonged. Although the person reading the pages aloud did say that the piece was better read than heard. (My “conventional” piece, which is very personal and won’t be shared, made it through.)

Which do you prefer? The conventional beginning, or something that looks like a listicle you’d find on Facebook?

Friday, November 10, 2017

First look at Isabella Louise Anderson's The Hollywood Setup!

Congratulations to my friend Isabella, whose new novella comes out Friday, November 17th! Today, we’re pleased to offer the first look at her cover!


Chelsey Rhodes just landed her dream job in Hollywood working as an assistant to actress, Hattie Marten. Chelsey’s first task is to find someone to accompany the actress to events in the hope of reviving her celebrity social status. When going through the list of potential suitors, one catches her eye and she’s shocked to find he’s someone from her past. As payback for years of torment in high school, and knowing Hattie isn’t the most pleasant person to work for, Chelsey decides to set her up with Bennett Grayson.

What will happen when Chelsey and Bennett come face-to-face again, and will the setup be a success or will Chelsey’s first Hollywood job be her last?


About the Author:
Isabella Louise grew up with a book in her hand, and to this day nothing has changed. Aside from writing, she focuses her time on featuring other authors on her blog, Chick Lit Goddess, along with sharing book reviews. Isabella Louise is also a member of the Romance Writers of America.

She lives in Dallas with her husband, enjoys spicy Indian and Mexican food, margaritas, and red and white wines. She loves spending time with family and friends, and cheering on the Texas Rangers. When Isabella Louise isn’t working on her next release, her attention is also on her Scentsy business, where she’s a consultant.

Contact Isabella:
Chick Lit Goddess Website:
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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Secrets of a Successful Indie Writer: Interview with Margaret (Megs) Lashley

On November 7th, author Margaret (Megs) Lashley will release the final book in her “Val and Pals” series. Comprising five books over all, the romantic comedy series follows Val, a “redneck Bridget Jones” as she navigates life, love and losers on the Gulf coast of Florida. Lashley is currently working on a new series, which will be a science fiction comedy. Lashley is the most successful indie writer I know, and she’s agreed to share some of her secrets with me!

The “Val and Pals” series has been a whirlwind for you. When did you start work on the first book of the series? When was it released?

That’s a bit of a convoluted story. I wrote the first draft of Glad One in 2016. It released April 1, 2017, which is the birthdate of the protagonist, Val Fremden. However, after its release, I felt a prequel was in order, so I wrote Absolute Zero. It released a few weeks after Glad One.

What was your inspiration for your characters?

The characters in my novels are part me, part people I wish I was, and part people I’m glad I’m not! I find inspiration everywhere, but my family and people I’ve met during my travels have given me a wide net from which to draw ideas.

You released a prequel after the first book. What made you decide to write it?

I wrote Absolute Zero because I wanted to not only entertain readers, but inspire them as well. The main character, Val, starts her life at rock bottom in Glad One. But I felt I could offer more insight and empathy for Val if people understood her journey from riches to rags. They might understand her moods, thought processes and actions more, and see her as more than a one-dimensional, funny character.

Tell us something about your writing process. Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am SO a pantser. Every once in a while, I try to plot out things, but more often than not, the characters in my novels hijack my efforts and force me to write chapters full of dialogue before I know what’s happening. Having said that, I feel I many have found a happy medium with “fat outlining.” I just finished a 5,000-word outline for the first book in my upcoming sci-fi series. In it, I outline scenes one by one, and write down any dialogue that comes to me at the time. I’m hoping this will help me keep on track while not getting stifled by the rigid demands of dry, plot-point outline.

How long does it take you to complete a book? What is your editing process like?

Glad One took me almost a year. Absolute Zero, three months. While writing the Val & Pals series, I found a rhythm that helps me write cleaner and leaner. Now I can finish a first draft in six to eight weeks, when I work full time on it. The first two books I hired a professional editor. Her work was extremely helpful in finding a structure that worked. Now I used a dedicated team of BETA readers who provide specific feedback on a wide range of things, such as flow, dialogue, pacing, consistency, satisfaction of endings, etc. Editing is, in the end, one person’s opinion. I enjoy gathering a wide range of feedback from my BETA team of readers who specifically enjoy this genre. I feel it is a well-rounded approach.

Did you begin book one knowing you were going to write a series? If not, what made you decide to expand the idea?

I really didn’t have a series in mind, but Val wouldn’t let me rest. She had a lot to say, and I let her keep talking. The series follows her from riches to rags, then back to riches. But the new riches aren’t necessarily monetary. Val wanted to tell her story of personal growth, too. From jaded victim to finally taking control, assuming responsibility, and learning to love again…especially herself.

At what point did you know you would stop with five books? Did you always plan on having the ending that you did?

I didn’t know how long it would take Val to get to the emotional end of her journey. She surprised me. I thought it would take six books. But she was ready at five. I love the ending of book five. She said her own goodbye, her own way. I have to confess, I miss her already.

You’re one of the most successful self-published authors on Amazon. What do you think is the most important factor to your success?

The most important? Gee. That’s the problem I’ve run into. I realized that EVERYTHING is important. The first challenge, of course, is to write a good book. The second challenge is to climb out of obscurity. On Amazon, that means you’ve got millions of other books to climb over! I suppose the third thing is determination. And fourth? Education. I’ve learned so much about publishing and marketing this year that I should have earned a degree!

How do you balance your time between writing and marketing?

Badly. I write some, market some, read some, network some. I usually start my day by doing any immediate marketing chores. Next, I write for several hours, then I might take a break and read other authors in my genre. If I feel like it, I write some more. If not, I look for other marketing and networking opportunities.

What platforms do you use to reach your readers? Which has been the most popular?

I use Amazon ads, mostly. They work well, when they run. But that in itself is unpredictable. I have done paid promotions like Fussy Librarian and Ereader News Daily. They are especially good for discounting books during a new release. I also have a popular newsletter. People can sign up for it on my website or Facebook page. Speaking of Facebook, I just finished a course on setting up a Facebook store and reaching folks more with interesting posts. I plan to do more of that in the coming weeks.

How do you come up with new material to keep your platforms fresh?

Well, my books are humorous women’s fiction. I’m guilty of reposting things that I think are hilarious. But I plan to beef that up, following the marketing course I just took. Today, for example, I posted a wonderful review I got for Glad One. I also plan to ask my Facebook and Newsletter fans what they’d like to talk about.

Tell us something about your new series. How did you get the idea to delve into sci-fi comedy? What is your protagonist like? What kind of research have you been doing to develop your ideas?

Humor is a great love of mine, but it’s not a huge genre for readers. I LOVE sci fi, which has a big genre following. So I thought, why not blend both of my loves? My series is yet to be officially named. I’m toying around with title ideas and character names at the moment. But my characters will be funny – and flawed – you can bet on that! To get into the sci-fi mindset, I’ve been reading a lot lately. I find John Scalzi’s books like Red Shirts both funny and satisfying. (This is my goal.) I’ve also read silly sci-fi satire like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Space Team books by Barry J Hutchinson.

Do you have a target date in mind for the first book of your new series?

I wish! I’m hoping for perhaps February or March of next year. Knowing what I’ve learned this year, I want to have a lot more things in place before I launch.

For a new writer about to embark on a self-publishing journey, what’s the most important piece of advice you’d give?

Expect to work hard. Read books on your craft. Join writers’ groups for support and critique. Don’t take criticism personally. Learn from it instead. And take as many courses on self-publishing and marketing as you can. Also, find Facebook groups with writers in the same genre as you. They have great advice to share. And, most importantly, they help you remember you’re not alone in the journey. Good luck!

Thank you for spending time with us, Megs! Five books in the same calendar year is an amazing accomplishment. But I wouldn't be surprised if you managed to produce ten books in 2018! Looking forward to the last book in the Val and Pals series, and the funny new sci-fi one!

Check out Megs' books on Amazon:
Absolute Zero
Glad One
Two Crazy
Three Dumb
What Four

And her social media sites:

Sign up for her newsletter on her website

or on her Facebook page

You can also find her on Amazon


and Goodreads