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.

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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

Monday, October 23, 2017

Win a free copy of House Divided!

My book HOUSE DIVIDED is about a married couple who happen to be Democrat and Republican. They have a happy life with good jobs and two well-adjusted kids, until she loses her job and he becomes a TV star. Then the see-saw that is their marriage goes out of balance, and their differences come to the forefront.

It’s a saying that opposites attract, but can they build a life together? As Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof says, “As the Good Book says, ‘Each shall seek his own kind.’ In other words, a bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?”

Politics isn’t the only thing couples might disagree on. These days, partners marry someone from a different religion, someone who roots for a different football team; creatives marry techies; Trekkers marry Star Wars fans.

Are you in a mixed marriage? Would you like to receive a free copy of HOUSE DIVIDED for your Kindle? I’m looking for funny anecdotes about couples who have differing perspectives about life to feature in my newsletter. Please email me your story (fake names are fine!) to and I’ll send you the MOBI!

And if you’re not in a mixed marriage but you’d like to get my monthly newsletter, which will feature funny stories, book recommendations, and other authors, feel free to drop me a line, too.

Here’s a funny anecdote of my own: My Republican husband and I are both very regular voters. We live in Florida now and vote by mail, but when our son was a baby and we lived in Maryland, we would head up to the church or the elementary school or whatever place was hosting the election that year. And we would fight about who got to take the baby into the voting booth! I usually won these fights… but my husband won the war. Our son turned out to be a Republican.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Announcing my new book! House Divided!

I am very proud to announce that my new novel, HOUSE DIVIDED, will be available on Amazon starting November 8th (the one-year anniversary of the worst election in United States’ history.)

Abraham Lincoln warned the country that a house divided against itself could not stand, but Erin Murphy never realized his words would hit so close to home!

When it comes to the work/life seesaw, Erin is a balancing-act expert. True, she works for Democrats while her husband Jack is a spokesman for Republicans, but at home they’re in sync. Their jobs stay at the office. Their children -- 13-year-old animal-nut Jessica and 8-year-old Batman-obsessed Michael – come first. And her career is just as important as his.

But on Election Day 2014, everything changes. Suddenly, Erin is out of a job … and Jack is the new star of The Right Choice TV network! As Erin searches frantically for her next position, Jack begins to practice what he preaches. Their house turns into a battlefield: What’s wrong with saying “Merry Christmas” to their Jewish neighbors? How can there be global warming when it’s cold outside? Jessica takes her mother’s side (her father is a “disgusting planet murderer”), while Michael just thinks it’s cool that Dad’s on TV and he’s making a million dollars.

And Michael’s not the only one impressed with the family’s new money: Who are all these new people floating around Jack, and what do they want? As Erin’s friends take sides about what she should do with Jack 2.0, the only person who understands is a fellow stay-at-home parent: Scott. Scott is easy to look at, and just as frustrated with his marriage as Erin is…

But the biggest battle is Erin’s alone: Should she keep pounding the pavement? Or become a perfect trophy wife and mother that Jack now wants her to be? Without a title and a salary, how can Erin figure out who she really is?

I’m looking for 5-10 book lovers who can read the book between now and November 8th and leave me a positive review on Amazon. (If you read it and hate it, no worries, but I’d appreciate no review in that case.) I have the MOBI available and can send it to you if you have the time! Please email me or leave a comment below if you’re available!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Glory Days

I penned this essay for the Modern Love column in the New York Times, which is more difficult to get into than Harvard. I didn't get into Harvard and I'm not getting into the New York Times, either! So I'm posting it here in the hopes that someone will enjoy it.

In the fall of 2002, my husband Tom took our son “Bear” and me to the baseball diamond behind the local middle school. Bear was eight and in the third grade; he was starting kid-pitch in a few weeks. Tom gave me a bat and crouched down behind the plate, with Bear on the flat pitching rubber. “Whatever you do,” Tom warned me as I squatted in the batter’s box, “don’t swing. You could foul one off on my head and kill me.” Never an athlete, I wanted to close my eyes as the baseball whizzed by, close and fast. I prayed that it would be over soon.

Fifteen years later, it finally was.

On May 20th, my son walked off a competitive field for the final time. His baseball future, once so promising he was written about in Baseball America, is over. It feels like watching the person you love marry someone else. The dreams I had for him over the past few years—of awards, of hearing his name called in the MLB draft—they won’t come true. An ordinary life awaits him, as I look back and wonder what might have been.

I never wanted him to be an athlete. Tom enjoyed baseball and tennis, but I loved stories, and I signed up Bear for acting lessons when he was four. They never took. Soon our lives revolved around soccer, tae kwon do, tennis, swimming, and baseball. Like most helicopter parents in Montgomery County, Maryland, we tried to get him on a travel team. The first two times Bear tried out, he didn’t make the cut. Finally, when he was 10, we put him on a “pay-to-play” squad with other kids who weren’t good enough to make better teams, just so he could play during the summer. That first summer, dominated by the Bush-Kerry election, his team only won one game. Still, rather than being discouraged, Bear just wanted to get better. I took him to pitching and hitting lessons. He was inconsistent, but when he connected, he hit and threw with power. Tom hoped he’d be good enough to make his high school team. Being on a team in high school, he told me, would give him a place to belong.

Bear got better. His teams got better. I found him a pitching coach who tweaked his mechanics and told me he was Division I college or even draft material. He was eleven. But he was also taller than my five-feet six inches, broad-shouldered and barrel-chested, and threw a fastball a good five-to-ten miles an hour harder than his teammates. And he was a lefty.

By the time they reach middle school, most kids are told to put aside their dreams of being a ballerina, an athlete, an actress, and focus on more practical pursuits. For Bear, the childhood dream burned even brighter as he got better and better on the mound. And his success validated my choice, to give up my career so that he’d have one parent fully available to him. I had lost my identity… but Bear gave me one back. I was a Baseball Mom... and he was one of the most well-known travel ball players in the county. In the eighth grade, he was recruited to play baseball for a private high-school powerhouse program. We gave up one of the best public high schools in the country to pursue his dreams. Bear had far exceeded his father’s goal to “be good enough to make the high school team.” The hope and anxiety I had over his future kept me from sleeping.

Even though the coach immediately designated him a “pitcher-only,” it looked like the right choice. He gave up hitting and playing first base in order to become one of the team’s—and the region’s—most dominant pitchers. He gave up friends, parties, and vacations to concentrate on classes, conditioning, and playing. Schools starting calling. The summer after his junior year, as his classmates sweated out college essays and SAT prep, Bear applied to college on the baseball field, pitching in tournaments in front of college coaches from all over the country. Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” blared on the overhead speakers, a warning that life could peak at 17 for those who didn’t get chosen.

Watching him stopped being fun. Every pitch determined his future. A poor outing would mean a small college in a minor college. Strike-outs meant the SEC or ACC; a life on the field rather than in an office. I’d crouch near first base, nauseated as he threw, my hands shaking so hard I could barely take a clear picture of him. No matter – I was too superstitious to take photographs during the actual game, so I only shot his warm-up pitches. I made deals with the universe – if Bear’s baseball dreams came true, I’d happily sacrifice my writing ones.

The first whiff of trouble happened the fall of his senior year. For the first time since we’d starting gunning him, he hadn’t gained five miles an hour in velocity over the year. The top schools he was interested in didn’t offer him scholarships, and he ended up accepting a walk-on offer from an SEC school. He hit the weight room, but rather than helping his velocity, his numbers went down, and he struggled with control in the spring. After a disappointing summer in a wooden bat collegiate league, his freshman fall performance was equally underwhelming. Redshirted, he hit the books and transferred to a junior college for his sophomore year, planning to use baseball to get into the best school possible.

But the junior college had a unique conditioning program, and in five weeks, Bear gained five miles an hour in velocity. Once again, he dominated, winning awards and regional recognition. We crossed our fingers for the draft, but his name went uncalled.

Then, finally, the big schools started calling. I warned Bear that he should go to a school that had the same type of conditioning program, but he brushed off my concerns and accepted a scholarship with a winning ACC program that relied on weights. After a terrific fall, it caught up with him in the spring. He lost his velocity and his place in the bullpen, only pitching when team was losing by double digits. Tom and I found ourselves in the horrible emotional position of silently rooting against our son’s team so Bear would get playing time. Still, he finished that year with 15 innings and an ERA under four. Then a slight injury over the summer took months to heal and rehabilitate, and he only threw three innings his senior year. With a year of athletic eligibility left, Bear signed up to pursue his master’s at a high-profile academic school with a losing baseball program. He thought he’d help the team while strengthening his own profile, maybe play independent ball after the season ended. Instead, he and every other bullpen pitcher threw inconsistently. With his velocity in the basement, it was obvious during his last outing—a scoreless inning in a dismal game—that baseball was finished with him.

It’s hard not to look back at the past several years and wonder how things would have turned out had he made different decisions after his sophomore year. Two schools he’d turned down as not good enough made the top twenty this year. What if he’d remained a starting pitcher rather than going to the bull pen? What if he’d followed the pitching coach who’d had the same conditioning program? What if we’d told him not to go to the big powerhouse school—that he might not be able to compete at that level? But how can you tell your kid that he might not be good enough?

I know he’s lucky just to have played at the Division I level. But several of the kids he played with over the years have been drafted—some in the first round. Hearing about them is so painful, I had to unfollow their parents on Facebook. I couldn’t bear to see their pictures and read their excited status updates. And oh, those Facebook memories. Every day there’s something else. Seven years ago he threw a complete game, two-hit shut-out in the high school championship series. Three years ago he was named relief pitcher of the year by the Florida junior college sports association. Two years ago he got national attention for leading his ACC-team to a come-from-behind win. I used to think my divorced friends were too sensitive when Facebook reminded them of the happier days in their relationships. Now I understand them completely. Baseball broke my heart more than any boy ever did.

On May 21, I took off the baseball schedule from my refrigerator for the final time. Bear came home and watched former teammates on TV, playing in their respective conference tournaments. A few weeks later, his old ACC team made the College World Series, and many kids he played with got drafted.

This will be the first summer since that year of Kerry-Bush that hasn’t revolved around baseball, and I wonder if eventually he’ll resent sacrificing his childhood to a dream that didn’t come true. Right now he’s handling it better than I am, excited about a paying internship and LSAT prep, excited about what the future might hold. It won’t include playing baseball, but perhaps there’s a job he could love just as much. Maybe marriage. Maybe children. Maybe a son he’ll one day take to a baseball field and set up on a pitcher rubber as his wife leans over the plate, a bat in her hands.

If you liked this, please check out my novel KEEPING SCORE, currently (or soon will be) on sale for 99 cents!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Bitter Past is an Easy Cup to Swallow!

My friend and one of my favorite writers, USA Today bestselling author Caroline Fardig, has done it again! Please join me in congratulating Caroline on the publication of the first book in her new Ellie Matthews series, Bitter Past!!

Three years ago, criminalist Ellie Matthews was blindsided when a grisly homicide case suddenly became personal. She abandoned the danger and stress of crime scene investigation for a professorship at a posh private college and never looked back.

Now, Ellie’s pleasant world is shattered when she finds the dead body of a female student. The campus is in chaos, reporters are circling like vultures, and Ellie is trying her best to distance herself from the situation. Not an easy task when her closest colleague becomes the prime suspect.

After the college community is rocked by another suspicious death, Ellie’s mentor, Sheriff Jayne Walsh, convinces her to consult on the case. Partnered with quick-witted Detective Nick Baxter, Ellie reluctantly bottles up her personal demons and dives back into the world she left behind, racing to make sense of the evidence before the killer strikes again.

I was lucky enough to get to read an advanced copy, and the story had me hooked! Unlike her earlier series, Fardig plays the mystery straight here. And Ellie is tough! She can hold her own, whether the battle is verbal or physical. A tough childhood and complicated personal life make Ellie no one’s fool.

And the research Fardig has done to write the book is obvious. Although she weaves the forensic information into the plot seamlessly, by the end of Bitter Past, I felt like I’d taken an introductory course in forensic science myself.

Kudos to Caroline!

Buy links:

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About the Author:
CAROLINE FARDIG is the USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR of the Java Jive Mysteries series and the Lizzie Hart Mysteries series. Fardig's BAD MEDICINE was named one of the "Best Books of 2015" by Suspense Magazine. She worked as a schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in that same town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Bring Back that Lovin’ Feeling Blog Hop!..... Some books are like fine wine…

Glad to be the last stop on this hop!

When Deb suggested a “bring back that lovin’ feeling” blog hop to follow up on her “you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling” series, her timing was uncanny—and not just because as a resident of a town with a median age of 70, I hear that song on the radio all the time. Struggling through the umpteenth draft of my fourth novel, I’d begun looking at books from my childhood to see if I could recapture the feelings that led me to sleep with books as if they were in my collection of stuffed animals. I’d already been wondering whether I’d find them as charming as an adult as I did as a child.

As a pre-teen, I had an affinity for 1950s YA, written by authors such as Beverly Cleary and Rosamund du Jardin. My mother introduced me to these books, and while Cleary is best known for her children’s series about Ramona and her sister Beatrice, she also wrote about older girls. Fifteen had been my favorite; a friend suggested I also take a look at The Luckiest Girl. Du Jardin wrote about twins. At the same time, I was eager to revisit my favorite 1950s heroine – Henrietta “Snowy” Snow, protagonist of Ruth Doan MacDougall’s book The Cheerleader. The latter was actually published in 1973, although it takes place in 1955-1957.

What a difference a life makes. Reading the books made me realize that Cleary and du Jardin were writing fiction for middle graders dreaming about their teenage life. Their heroines were so squeaky clean, they’d date a boy for months and never even kiss him. (This may have been due more to publisher rules at the time about what was appropriate for teenagers than the choice of the writers, however.) MacDougall, on the other hand, may have been writing for adult women who wanted a clear-eyed look back at their teenage years.

Unlike the other books, which I’d merely enjoyed, I was obsessed with The Cheerleader for years. In middle school, I studied it as if it would give me clues as to the type of high-school experience I could aspire to. By the time I made it to high school, I knew that my experience would be nothing like Snowy’s. Still, she was the girl I wished I could be. A hard worker, naturally smart, who pulled all As. A cheerleader who took her school-support duties seriously. And the girlfriend of a boy she crushed on anonymously for a year. As an under-achiever without an athletic bone in my body, the one thing we had in common was the name of the boy we crushed on. But Snowy dated him for a year while my crush only saw me as a friend. In the end, Snowy leaves him behind, eager for a future where she goes forward rather than back.

Revisiting Snowy as an almost-fifty-year-old was a delight. There was so much I didn’t see, but must have grasped on some basic level. Here’s one line that drew me: So she’d sit on the riverbank and watch for a seagull, and the longing for something, she didn’t know what, was as intense as pain.

That sums up the experience of being a teenager better than any sentence I’ve ever read.

I also realized how much MacDougall’s voice had influenced my own writing at the time. Sometimes I wrote short, fictionalized pieces about the life I wished I were living rather than the life I was currently stuck in. I came across these writings not too long ago, and was surprised to find myself writing in a voice I didn’t recognize. It was hers.

The overarching irony in the book, something I couldn’t see as a teenager, was that no matter how hard-working and diligent Snowy was, her 1950s female existence meant her choices were so limited, she didn’t even see the barriers to her future, blaming a lack of imagination because she didn’t want to be a teacher, nurse, or secretary. (Eventually she decided to be a poet.) Relationships and marriage were so important to these teenage girls because they literally did not have a future without a man.

The only aspect that bothered me about the writing was that MacDougall was somewhat guilty of the crime we now call “head-hopping.” Although the book is written from Snowy’s point of view, the author occasionally goes into other characters’ heads to reveal how they see Snowy. As a reader, I found this enlightening, but the writer in me wondered about rule-breaking and the difference between head-hopping and the omniscient point of view.

Finally, the best part of this journey about looking back for Snowy was the discovery that, twenty years after The Cheerleader was published, MacDougall came out with a sequel, Snowy. And eleven years after that, Henrietta Snow was published, taking Snowy’s journey from a teenager to a woman in her 60s. Apparently I was not the only reader obsessed with this character, and enough of them hounded MacDougall enough that she came out with two more books. Perhaps we’ll see a final one this decade. Reading these books, reuniting with Snowy after so long, and getting to know her as a grown-up, was a privilege I hadn’t anticipated and one I appreciated every minute I read those books. But—and not wanting to give away too much unless I’ve inspired you to check out the collection yourself—the feeling I got at the end of The Cheerleader—of Snowy heading full-on into the future, of college and life without her small-town boyfriend with small-town goals—was misplaced. In the end, though, Snowy was a product of her generation, and the future she did earn was perhaps the best one available to her.

Thanks so much to Deb for suggesting this topic! I hope you all check out the Cheerleader books… here they are on Amazon!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Why Writers Should Attend Writers Conferences

Nearly two weeks later, several thousand dollars lighter, several pounds heavier, I’m back from the Southampton Writers Conference. I had planned this to be a one-time thing, a treat to celebrate my upcoming 50th birthday, but it was so wonderful I might have to do it again.

Many writers’ conferences are centered around meeting and pitching to agents, which is understandable. As soon as the germ of an idea hits, many writers split their time between writing their new piece and worrying that some other writer is working on the same thing. It becomes a race to finish the draft and get it out to agents as soon as possible, before Stephen King has a chance to finish his.

It’s easy to say, but… don’t do this.

Instead, attend writers’ conferences where the emphasis is on craft. They will make you a better writer. And better stories will attract the attention it takes to get sold in the traditional marketplace.

These conferences center around workshops, where an instructor—often a well-known author—works with 10-15 writers, focusing on 15-25 pages of their work. These instructors often read from their latest works in the evening. Other conference activities include special presentations from folks in the publishing industry (yes, including agents), a play written by conference attendees past or present, receptions, etc.

Here’s what you’ll get out of attending one:

1. The chance to have your writing treated respectfully by people in the industry. There is no more satisfying kick in the pants than having a well-known writer pore over your words and offer in-depth commentary. If you’re in a rut or just between drafts, this feedback alone can get you writing again.

2. The people you meet. Not only do writers conferences offer the chance to form lasting friendships with folks in the same boat you are, suddenly you have many more beta readers or critique partners ready to read your finished manuscript. It’s a good kind of pressure to get you to finish your project.

3. Writing prompts and exercises. If you’ve been concentrating solely on your work in progress, conferences offer assignments that will get you out of your writing comfort zone. Below I’ve pasted a short story I wrote for an exercise in Meg Wolitzer’s class. It’s not my usual voice—I generally write in first person—but I’m proud of the result.

4. Craft lectures and classes. Many conferences offer learning opportunities in addition to the workshops, bringing in bestselling authors to talk about their processes and answer questions.

5. The break. Just the act of taking time off from work and home responsibilities to focus on your writing life will help you take your work more seriously.

6. Introduction to MFA possibilities. Many of your fellow attendees will be MFAs or will be taking classes toward one. And some of the conferences are affiliated with MFA programs. If you’re considering that degree, a conference is a good first look. Many MFA classes follow the same workshop format.

If I’ve convinced you, Google “writers conferences 2017” to find one that suits your needs. Note the application process and deadlines—most of them limit attendees and require a writing sample to be accepted, so it’s not something you can usually sign up for last minute.

The next conference on my agenda is the annual Writers in Paradise conference held every January just a few miles from me. (I swear I didn’t know about it when I named my blog!) Their application process opens August 1, so if you’re interested, get those pages in quickly!

Here’s my piece from Meg Wolitzer’s workshop. The challenge was to let the action and details tell the story.

# # #

When Jennifer went into the laundry room that morning, Pepper struggled to her feet, her legs slipping almost comically on the slick tile floor. Jennifer squatted onto the floor and gently lifted the dog by pushing up her stomach until her legs straightened. The black lab licked her wrist eagerly, ignoring the empty food dish near the washing machine.

She already had a vet appointment scheduled for later in the week, but while the kids were eating breakfast, she moved it up to that afternoon. After she hung up the phone, she opened the refrigerator for her usual bowl of Cheerios, but somehow both milk cartons were empty.

In the drop-off line at Tuckerman Middle School, she told them, almost casually, “I’m taking Pepper in today. Do you want to go with me?”

Her words hung in the air, seemingly pregnant with meaning, until she turned and saw them engrossed in their phones.

“I have tennis after school,” Nick said. “Matt’s mom is driving us.”

“I have drama club,” Wendy said. “You don’t want us to skip, do you?” She sounded almost indignant.

“No,” Jennifer said. “I wouldn’t want you to skip.”

When she got home, Pepper had made a mess in the kitchen, and perhaps feeling guilty, had tried to eat the evidence, thus making things worse. Jennifer helped the dog into the yard, where she squirted her off with a hose that the landscaper had left lying across the mulch around the bushes. He wasn’t scheduled to return for a few more days, but the grass was already too long.

Pepper fell. Jennifer hoisted the dog back up, getting warm wet dog mess all over her jeans and tee-shirt. Her clothes were nearly as old as the dog – thirteen – and she decided to throw them away after her shower. Unlike other women in the county, she didn’t shop for sport and she didn’t consider her clothes as a competition. Maybe if she’d been a size six instead of a sixteen, she would have enjoyed dressing. But the local boutiques never stocked clothes for her, anyway.

She spent the rest of the morning and afternoon on the computer, proofreading college essays written by other people’s children. Once she’d edited impressive opinion pieces submitted by leaders in government and industry; now she read draft after draft about how building houses in Louisiana changed the trajectory of a life once only devoted to soccer, lacrosse, and chess club. The dog lay under her feet, occasionally lifting her head to lick Jennifer’s bare foot. Jennifer rubbed her fur with her toes.

By the time two-thirty rolled around, Pepper was again unable to get up. Jennifer propped open the door to the garage, hit the garage door opener, climbed into the cab, and moved the mini-van to the driveway. After opening the back door, she squatted next to the dog, put her arms underneath the girl’s stomach, and lifted with her knees. Pepper weighed nearly fifty pounds, but Jennifer was able to waddle back to the mini-van and hoist the dog into the trunk.

The vet was a holistic type, who had told Jennifer to cook for Pepper – ground turkey and vegetables—and who poked her with acupuncture needles once a week while the kids were at their various practices. Today, as Jennifer struggled to open the door with Pepper in her arms, the receptionist gave her a strange look and immediately nodded her into an open room. It was bigger and more comfortable than the other rooms she’d seen, with several couches and tables that sported boxes of tissues.

Jennifer lay Pepper on the fluffy blanket on the floor and scooted next to the dog. Pepper curled her head in Jennifer’s lap.

Dr. Cason came in immediately. She sat cross-legged beside Jennifer and put her hand on her leg. “I heard you carried her in today.”

Jennifer nodded, suddenly unable to speak. The vet took Jennifer’s hand in both of hers.

“It’s time. It’s been time. She’s been holding on for you. She needs you to let her go. Can you do that? Can you let her go?”

When Jennifer nodded again, the vet stood up. “I’ll give you a few minutes together. Then we’ll start the protocol. She’ll be asleep first. It will be fast and absolutely painless.”

Jennifer stroked the dog in her lap. Her first baby. She and David had gotten her from the pound, a stray whose distended nipples revealed she’d recently given birth. Perhaps the owner had kept the puppies but kicked out its mama. The dog had rewarded them with intense devotion. When Jennifer’s own babies were born, Pepper had groomed them as if she’d given birth to them herself.

“Are you ready?” Dr. Cason placed an IV in Pepper’s leg as Jennifer leaned over the dog, the tears flowing freely down her face. Pepper tilted her head and licked the water off Jennifer’s cheeks. When her cheeks were dry, Pepper laid her head down and closed her eyes.

“Such a good girl,” Jennifer murmured. “Such a good, good girl.” The dog was motionless on the carpet.

The vet placed her stethoscope on the dog’s chest. “It’s over,” she whispered. “She only needed a little nudge.”

Afterward, Jennifer filled out the paperwork to have Pepper cremated. There would be paw prints made; fur saved. The package would come in the mail in the next several weeks.

Wendy and Nick were still not home when Jennifer returned. She walked upstairs, shut her bedroom door, and laid down on the bed. A few hours later, she woke when David turned on the light. Stripping off his work clothes, he asked, “Where’s the dog?”

Jennifer sat up. “I had to. The vet said it was time.”

“Good. I’m glad you took care of that.” He disappeared into his walk-in closet, returning a few minutes later in his tennis clothes. “I’ve got doubles. I’ll be ready for dinner around seven.”

He slipped out the door, his tennis shoes squeaking as he hurried down the stairs and into the garage.

Jennifer got up and walked to the top of the stairs. From this vantage point, she could survey the entire house – their bedrooms upstairs; the kitchen, living room, family room and office below. There was nobody there but her.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Everyone Buy Brew or Die! (or at least enter the Raffle)

I’m very excited to announce that my friend Caroline Fardig is releasing the fourth book in her Java Jive mystery series today!!!!

BREW OR DIE! (I know a lot of people who live their lives by this axiom.)
Nashville’s perkiest private eye—coffeehouse manager Juliet Langley—goes undercover in the party-planning industry to solve a suspicious death in this thrilling cozy mystery!

Inspired by her past sleuthing successes, Juliet Langley has officially joined the ranks of Nashville’s licensed private investigators. Her best friend, Pete Bennett, doesn’t worry that her detective work might interfere with her full-time job running his coffeehouse, Java Jive. He just wishes she would spend her free time rejoining the local music scene instead of tailing cheating spouses. But when one of Java Jive’s baristas, Shane, asks Juliet to look into the suspicious death of his fiancée, Pete encourages her to plow full steam ahead.

Since his fiancée died on the job, Shane suspects that her party-planning colleagues are up to something criminal—and will do anything to keep it quiet. After Juliet recruits Pete to go undercover with her at a wedding showcase, she discovers that white lace and black satin have a way of hiding big, fat secrets.

If that weren’t enough to fill her plate, her latest P.I. job has her crossing paths with her ex, Detective Ryder Hamilton. They’re barely on speaking terms, but to solve the case, they might have to cooperate. No matter where Juliet goes, she’s brewing up trouble.

Buy link for BREW OR DIE

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About the Author:
CAROLINE FARDIG is the USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR of the Java Jive Mysteries series and the Lizzie Hart Mysteries series. Fardig's BAD MEDICINE was named one of the "Best Books of 2015" by Suspense Magazine. She worked as a schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in that same town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.



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Monday, April 17, 2017

Goodbye "Girl"… Another writer turns in her pen for motherhood

Sunday night, we said goodbye to Girls, the program that has been as controversial as its star, Lena Dunham, since her character Hannah Horvath said those famous words, “I think I might be the voice of my generation. Or a voice of a generation.”

I loved Girls, and I’ve written about it before. In 2014, I appreciated Hannah’s body acceptance. When the show first came out, I applauded its accurate look at the job prospects for millennials.

That realistic look is the main reason I was so disappointed with the show’s conclusion. As a writer myself, I found Hannah’s efforts at making a living through the written word illustrative and realistic. When the show debuted, Hannah was working at an unpaid internship. Later, she got a contract for an e-book that was then locked up after her editor died. She was successful as an advertorial writer for GQ, but so spooked by how that job channeled her creativity that she quit. After teaching high school English, this season she parlayed a "Modern Love" essay into some high-profile assignments. But rather than going after a staff writing position, somehow pregnant Hannah ended being offered a teaching position at an upstate New York college, complete with benefits. Here’s an article about how unrealistic that is. And it doesn’t even mention that Hannah, who dropped out of Iowa’s highly regarded MFA program, only holds a bachelor’s – one of the many reasons she’s unqualified for the position. But it does allow the series to wrap up nicely, implying that it’s not a career that turns a girl into a woman, it’s a baby.

It’s the same conclusion that Gilmore Girls’ Rory achieved at the end of the Netflix series revival. Although Hannah had often been compared to Sex and the City’s writer Carrie, that comparison never worked for me. Yes, both characters were New York writers, but SATC was always intended to be a fairy tale, and much was made over the value of Carrie’s apartment and shoe collection versus her probable salary at a staff writer at the New York Star. (Later Carrie published a book of her columns, which may have made her lifestyle slightly more realistic. Being bailed out by millionaire boyfriend Big also helped.) Rory, at least in the revival, was also trying to piece together a life in between writing assignments, before throwing in the towel to become the (unpaid) editor for the Stars Hollow paper.

The famous last words of the revival were “Mom, I’m pregnant,” thereby completing Rory’s de-evolution from a college graduate taking the job of a lifetime (seriously, covering candidate Obama’s presidential campaign is a direct path to the White House press corps and Rory’s dream of becoming the next Christiane Amanpour; what the hell happened to that?) to a self-absorbed, floundering millennial whose unintended pregnancy might force her to grow up as it apparently did Hannah.

I understand that the life of a writer isn’t nearly as compelling as other professions portrayed on TV and in movies, such as doctor or lawyer or fire fighter or lifeguard. But for those of us who are writers, seeing the profession realistically portrayed is heartening. When you’ve spent your childhood being applauded for your pithy turns of phrase, only to reach adulthood and find out that your creativity and self-direction are worth only a few freelance gigs on Fiverr, it’s shaming. It’s now impossible for a writer to support herself in today’s gig economy, with articles worth fifty dollars and copy editing maybe ten bucks. We’re the ones who are told to write for free because the exposure will be so helpful. Exposure doesn’t pay bills. I’m lucky my husband does. Seeing Hannah flounder, then succeed, sent a message to every writer that if we just keep writing, eventually the New York Times will publish that "Modern Love" essay. (And yes, we are all working on "Modern Love" essays. All of us.)

Hannah’s mother yelled at her for being a quitter, telling her the one thing she cannot quit is her son. But before last night’s episode, Hannah had never quit at being a writer. With her teaching job and single parenthood, is there any room left for Hannah to be the voice of her generation? Or, like Rory Gilmore, has the voice silenced herself because writing and “adulting” just no longer mix? And how many real-life Hannah Horvaths have made the same decision?

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Skin of a Writer

A few years ago, when I was editing a manuscript for the agent I worked for at the time, I came across a line that described the protagonist as “standing taller in her high heels.” I laughed and flagged the description with: “It’s not like she’s going to stand shorter in them!” Then I advised the writer to either cut the line or expand it (“Her heels made her an inch taller than her date.”)

My joke earned me a terse note from the agent: “Don’t ever make fun of the writer!!!” She went on to say that writers were very sensitive creatures and I must take special care with every suggestion I made, thus I break their tender little hearts.

I found this surprising for two reasons. One, had I written the line myself, I would have appreciated the editor’s joke and admonished myself for writing such an obvious description. And two, because ever since I started writing, I’d been told over and over again that writers needed thick skins.

I’d certainly spent years developing one. Otherwise, I’d never been able to survive the years of harsh notes (like the friend who told me over and over again how much she hated my protagonist), the hundreds of query rejections, and, even more painfully, the dozens of manuscript rejections I’d received after the initial query had garnered requests. It takes a thick skin to keep going when all the signs around you point to taking a different direction.

Yet I also think it’s possible for writers to have skins that are too thick. After all, it’s our deep empathy for our characters and the world around them – and us – that allows us to create stories to begin with. If our skins are too thick to feel what our characters feel, then they won’t feel. And neither will our readers. And our thick skins may make us oblivious to changes we need to make. We all know writers who greet notes by disagreeing with every point their readers make.

And our skins need a certain amount of thinness during the editing phase as well. While it’s painful to hear that our stories don’t work, we need to feel that pain. How else will we know when a note is worth following? Many writers I respect – and this is true for myself – know that a note is the right one when they feel it in their guts. Although Stephen King advises writers to show their work to three readers, and only take the note if all three mention the problem, most writers I know prefer more than three. And they know the note is right when they get that gut check. For me, the right note lands in my stomach like a plummeting broken heart. It’s not only the right note, but deep down inside I feel like I knew all along it was a change I needed to make. Other “right notes” land more lightly, like fluttering wings on my arms. These are changes that I did not know all along were necessary, but insights from the editor that open up new possibilities in scene work or more. For instance, in a draft of my fourth novel, the developmental editor I hired questioned the location of a first date scene. I realized this tied in with a nagging feeling about the climax, which took place at a new location. I changed the location of the first date and made it the location of the climax as well. All thanks to those fluttering wings, which I would not have felt had my skin been too thick.

When rewriting our own work, our skins need to be something Goldilocks would appreciate – not too thick, not too thin, but just right. Thick enough not to burst into tears at rejection, but thin enough to appreciate the changes that need to be made. And we must always have a sense of humor. If we can’t laugh at our own mistakes, someday they will make us cry.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Everybody does it… don’t they?

In proof that language evolves as people do, the Associated Press – the first and last word for newspaper, magazine, and other non-fiction editors on questions such as “when should numbers be spelled out” and “Do question marks go inside or outside the quotation mark?” – has thrown a wrench into the “they/their/they’re” wars. While purists will insist that “they” can only refer to plural nouns, AP has voted to make “they” and its siblings correct for singular usage as well.

To wit: (article quoting Gerri Berendzen)

The Associated Press Stylebook says it is “opening the door” to use of the singular they.

The new entry in the stylebook starts: They, them, their In most cases, a plural pronoun should agree in number with the antecedent: The children love the books their uncle gave them. They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and-or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy. However, rewording usually is possible and always is preferable. Clarity is a top priority; gender-neutral use of a singular they is unfamiliar to many readers. We do not use other gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or ze.

That’s compared to the AP Stylebook’s previous “their, there, they’re” entry, which read: “Their is a plural possessive pronoun and must agree in number with the antecedent. Wrong: Everyone raised their hands. Right: They raised their hands. See every one, everyone for the pronoun that takes singular verbs and pronouns.”

(Note that in the above example, AP pretty much admits this usage is faulty, as “everyone” is much more specific than “they.”)

Interestingly enough, AP seems to justify the change by citing the need for a genderless pronoun, rather than the need to be able say “Everyone loves their mother” without being arrested by the grammar police.

Grammar geeks like myself have used construction such as “his or hers” “he or she” “s/he” etc. to make sure we never use a singular noun with a plural pronoun. Even though we know, in our hearts, that “Nobody takes their time anymore” sounds so much better than “Nobody takes his or her time.”

While the time has definitely come for a genderless pronoun, is it right to ask “they” to do that work? Does its usage imply that a person who identifies as neither male nor female is actually more than one person?

Gerri Berendzen wrote that Froke said clarity is key when using they as a genderless pronoun. “We specify that you need to make clear in the context that the ‘they’ in question is just one person,” Froke said. “We don’t, among our own staff, want to open a floodgate. But we recognize a need for it, so we want to open it a bit. The whole issue is difficult. We worked very hard to come up with a solution that makes sense.”

Personally, I am thrilled that I now have the AP’s permission to use “they” when writing “Everyone and their mother agrees Trump is a Russian spy.” But I’m perturbed they weren’t open enough to see that true, singular, genderless pronouns like xe and ze are the true wave of the future, and solve an actual problem deeper than: “Everyone and their mother” just sounds better. When quoting a gender-fluid individual, give xe the respect of using the pronoun xe prefers.

As a novelist who edits fiction, though, this development doesn’t affect me as much as I’d like. The Chicago Manual Style dictates which numbers get spelled out, and unless it adopts this change, I will continue to write, “Everyone raised his/her hand” and “Xing, who was born male but does not identify as either gender, says his parents have been supportive of his transition.”

Come on, Chicago. Everyone and their mother wants this change!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Losing that Lovin’ Feeling Blog Hop!

Thanks to Deb Nam-Krane and Caroline Fardig for putting together this Blog Hop! And thanks to Kerrie Olzak for the previous installment!

Most people who know me really well know that I tend to get a little obsessive over my entertainment options. High school and college saw me glued to and completely obsessed with General Hospital. That was killed by the mob – both my obsession and the show. As a grade-schooler, it was the Little House books and TV show. As an adult, I revisited General Hospital (with the same sad result), shared a Harry Potter addiction with my son (a series that never disappointed me), and fell in love and had my heart broken by Laurell K. Hamilton’s vampire hunter series, Anita Blake. (which inspired me to write my own vampire book, The Ties that Bleed.)

But none of those compared to my obsessed with the TV show M*A*S*H. As a middle-schooler, in the days before VCRs, I would record episodes on my tape recorder, listen to them over and over again, type them up and distribute them to my friends, whom I pretty much bullied into sharing my obsession. Thanks to the world of syndicated reruns, I was able to watch my favorite show over and over again. I “shipped” Hawkeye and Hot Lips before shipping was cool (and before Sam and Diane on Cheers made sit-com couples a thing.) I wrote fan fiction.

The series ended in 1983 (with a big goodbye kiss between my favorite non-couple that warmed my heart) and so did my obsession. However, with the advent of DVD players and ubiquitous cheap DVD collections, I was able to buy the entire series (plus the movie that started it all) and keep it with me forever and forever.

Other things happened between then and now. For instance, I got old. I also tried juggling a career and motherhood for a while. I became more politically aware. I started paying a lot more attention to current events. I became addicted to other series.

A few months ago, I returned to some of my favorite episodes of the series. I tend to circle back to the earlier ones, which were long on comedy and short on life lessons, especially the ones that featured lots of scenes of my favorite non-couple together. What I saw broke my heart. Sexism and even misogyny disguised as humor. Actions that illustrate what is now called a “hostile work environment.” What I had taken for sexual tension was hostility over female power.

One episode, “Check Up,” centered around the camp all getting physicals, with the result that Trapper John is diagnosed with an ulcer. Hawkeye assigned himself the task of evaluating Hot Lips alone in her tent. He makes several sexually suggestive remarks during the exam. (A similar scene happens in an episode where everyone in the camp gets the flu, and he insists on giving her a flu shot in the derriere.) When she turns him down, he tells her she needs to lose 10 pounds (the character is obviously at a normal weight) and makes fun of the shape of her legs. Later, Hot Lips’s insecurity over her looks drives her to get drunk at Trapper John’s farewell party and throw herself at him. After watching the episode, I felt sick.

Although Hawkeye aggressively flirts with Hot Lips in many episodes during the earlier part of the series, it obvious he doesn’t like her. She’s a major and he’s a captain, so even though he’s a doctor and she’s a nurse, she outranks him. She’s career army and believes in the mission of the war; he’s a draftee who believes everyone in government and military is a clown. There’s no real attraction between them at this point –he uses sex and humor to keep her in her place. She’s a woman and a nurse; he’s a man and a doctor; when she pulls rank on him, he (figuratively) pulls out his dick.

I’m not the only one who ships this couple, and I and the other shippers cling to the episode “Comrade in Arms,” when the two actually get together, as nirvana. It’s a two-part episode; they hook up at the end of part 1; in part 2 Hawkeye wakes up with Hot Lips in his arms, already regretting the assignation even before she regains consciousness. In most of this episode, Hot Lips plays entirely against character, trying to build a relationship with Hawkeye, who’s desperately trying to keep her at arm’s length. It’s the ultimate insult to the character (and written by Alan Alda, the actor who played Hawkeye). This episode has always made me angry (I even wrote a fan fiction version of part two that was more in line with Hot Lips’s character several years ago; if you read it, please note that I wrote it many years before I had taken a single screenwriting course!), but not until I took another look at the earlier dynamic between the two of them did I pinpoint the reason why. This two-parter shows that sex, rather than a culmination of passionate feelings, was more about Hawkeye finally taking his place on top of her. (His “let’s be friends” speech at the end of the episode is a continuation of this dynamic.)

I’m not 11 years old anymore, but these realizations broke my heart. I’d often wondered if M*A*S*H had lasted a year or two longer, if the two would have gotten together in the manner of other sit-com couples. And while later episodes of the show toned down the sexist humor (and one episode, guest starting Meryl Streep, even called out Hawkeye on his sexism), Hawkeye never really saw any of his potential love interests as more than a one-night stand. His most enduring relationships were with Trapper and BJ – other male doctors he respected as equals.

That M*A*S*H collection still has a place of honor on my bookshelf of DVD collections. But I think the next time I want to revisit my past obsessions, I may pull out some of my old General Hospital DVDs instead, which showcased female doctors in the 1970s.

Don’t forget to “tune in tomorrow” to see what’s disappointed Caroline Fardig!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ten Copy-Editing Tips

I’ve been overwhelmed with copy-editing work lately, which has been good for my bank account but not so good for keeping up with the blog. Copy-editing helps me as a writer, because when I notice issues in other people’s manuscripts, they stand out in mine as well. Here’s a quick list of ten tips I picked up while evaluating work. These are in no order; I’m just going through a manuscript I recently finished and picking them out. I hope it helps you in your next go-round!

1. Fire the gun. Anton Chekhov famously wrote that if you refer to a gun in act one, it has to go off in act three. The corollary is also true: If a gun fires in act three, you have to place it in act one. But even objects less important than guns and gun shots need to be established before they become important. If a character throws a phone at her boyfriend, make sure you’ve placed the phone in her hand before she throws it.

2. Suddenly, last summer. Everything happens suddenly. Get rid of this word every time you see it. “The door opened” is more effective, and less Snoopyish, than “Suddenly, the door opened.”

3. Be careful to distinguish your narrative voice as the author from your characters’ internal narration. If you’re writing in third person, you’ll need to describe things dispassionately, while your characters will have their built-in biases in their voices. Don’t mix up the two.

4. Structure your sentence around your strongest possible verb. Don’t write “He gave her an angry look.” Write “He glared at her.”

5. Don’t over-explain. Readers don’t need to be told that a character got up from the couch, walked across the room, grasped the door knob, turned it, and pulled open the door. “Got up to answer the door” is fine. They will fill in the blanks.

6. “and then” are not a couple. “He took off his shirt, and then she pulled off his undershirt.” Delete “and.” “Then” will be fine without her.

7. Use vocabulary that matches your characters’ backgrounds. A high-school drop-out would not use Latin phrases. A PhD candidate would not make subject/verb errors.

8. Don’t repeat yourself, or say the same thing twice. When we edit our own work, we’re usually aware when we repeat the same word. But phrases can be repetitive without being duplicative. For instance, “There were no discernable bullets that she could see.”

9. “At” and “to” are not your friends. “He whispered to her.” “She smirked at him.” The reader knows who those gestures are for. Getting rid of your “to”s and “at”s cleans up your copy and brings down your word count.

10. Whether or not you agree with me, you only need “whether.” “Or not” is understood.

Ten tips, and I only scanned the first twenty pages of the last manuscript I turned in. I’ll do the next twenty if this is helpful!

Monday, January 30, 2017

How to write when the world is falling apart

It’s been a tough few months to be a writer.

Artists in general tend to be on the liberal side. It’s not a coincidence that most of Hollywood – bar a Scott Baio or Mel Gibson – is up in arms over the current Administration. Painters, dancers… anyone who utilizes creativity on a daily basis, anyone whose own empathy is the foundation of their work, generally tends to be progressive.

And so much so for writers.

While there are definitely some well-known voices in fiction that lean conservative, most folks tasked with creating stories and characters out of nothing have an uncanny ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. And that ability usually leads to a liberal outlook.

It’s been a tough few months for me.

Ever since the election, rather than being able to concentrate on the voices in my head that propel my stories forward, I’ve been consumed with consuming news about politics. Nothing’s been good, except the marches, and every day since the election, things have gotten worse.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this. When I scroll through my Twitter feed, I find that most of the writers and publishing professionals I follow are retweeting news articles and commenting on Trump’s latest actions. In fact, the occasional blurb about a new book seems sadly out of place.

Undoubtedly, writers are being inspired by current events. Novels are being plotted and pantsed as I type this, starring intrepid teenagers and women fighting with the resistance against Trump. Stories featuring minorities, refugees, transgender men and women.
These writers are more productive than I am. Over the past few weeks, I’ve done little more than plan my rewrites and rewrite the outline for my fifth novel. My head is so filled with worry about what’s going on that there’s none of the peace I need to create.
I don’t think I’m the only one. I wonder if, two years from now – assuming we still have a recognizable society – there will be a dearth of new books because the people who would have been writing them were spending hours on Facebook, reading, sharing and commenting on articles.

I’m torn between wanting to give myself permission to be as informed as possible even if that takes away hours from my writing time, and wanting to kick myself in the pants and get the work done, regardless.

But it’s a much better position to be in than the refugees from Syria have.

And as for the question I posed as the title for this piece... I don't have an answer.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, Old You

Writers like new years, because new years come with resolutions, and resolutions come with lists, and writers like to make lists. Also there’s that word “new.” Is there anything that gets a writer’s heart pumping more than that brand-new idea? That shiny, sparkling new character? Typing the words “fade in,” putting in that fresh piece of typewriter paper (okay, haven’t done this since the 1980s but I still remember the feeling), new new new!!

I love resolutions, and I’ve started many a new year making lists of what I was going to accomplish, writer and life wise. Many of these resolutions were familiar because I’d made them the previous year, and the year before that… and the year before that….
But most of the resolutions around writing centered around new projects. My latest idea for a screenplay. A short story. Two novels. So many exciting beginnings, so much promise, so much fun.

Many writers don’t have a problem starting new projects. We have a problem finishing them.

And while it’s true that some ideas honestly aren’t as good as the writer originally thought they were, others could have been workable if the writer had barreled her way through. Too often, though, while we’re in the middle of the muck, another new shiny idea pops into our minds, and we abandon what we’re working on to play with the new toy.

I admit I’m guilty of this myself. Several months ago I abandoned a YA project when I read of very similar projects being purchased by major publishers. I was also very aware of the issue of cultural appropriation, and I feared I wasn’t the right writer for this story; the authors who had sold their stories mirrored their protagonists, and I did not.

However, in a few weeks (once I get the notes back from the developmental editor I hired), I plan on starting the 10th draft of a manuscript I’ve been working on for over two years. I’ve worked on other projects in the meantime, and several times I’ve thought of just chucking the whole thing when I couldn’t figure out how to solve a problem. But I think the concept is appealing, and timely, so I’m not going to give up on it. Even though I’m 70 pages into a book that also has an appealing concept.

Ultimately, it’s up to the writer to decide for herself whether a project is worth the hours, days and even years it might take to get it up to publication standards. Having a writers group is a great place to share these dilemmas. If other writers tell you not to give up, you should listen.

In my own writers group, though, there are several writers who’ve been working on great ideas, only to set them aside to play with the next great idea. Sometimes I want to shake them when they report they spent the week researching Next Great Idea, when the Last Great Idea was something that was marketable in a number of ways.

For 2017, let’s put away the shiny new toys and dig up some old, abandoned projects. Yes, the blinking cursor on a blank screen is always exciting, but so is finding the first several chapters of a book that was begun two years ago.

My 2017 writing goals are:
 Update my latest novel and self-publish it if my agent can’t sell it;
 Rewrite the first ten pages of an old screenplay and enter it in the contests;
 Rewrite another screenplay and enter it into the contests;
 Rewrite and polish the novel currently out to the developmental editor;
 Finish the first draft of my latest novel.

I’m not starting anything new. But if I’m successful, 2017 will have a lot of endings.