Justice (Deck of Lies, #1)

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The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

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Death (Deck of Lies, #3)

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Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4)

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Hope's Rebellion

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Hope's Rebellion: Now Available!

Hope's Rebellion is now available! 

Their friendship will test the fabric of tradition, duty and destiny...
There are only two seasons in Godenor: summer and winter. Weather brings the only surprises to a society where everything is planned, and everyone's status is determined at birth...by the color of their hair.

Rinna has the right hair, Drexi the wrong, and Prelly is almost too ordinary -- in every way but one. Small mistakes bring them together, creating ripples in a pond that knows nothing but serenity. If they reach their goals, they can't help but shatter the world they know.

Love of any kind, even the bond of friendship, isn't allowed in their world...but then, the heart can't always follow orders.

Writing 101: Writing Responsibly

The end of the year is an excuse to celebrate, to let go a little, to start all over again tomorrow. New Year's Eve is the biggest party of the year for many people, but it's not the only party. And if your characters are going to be mixing with dangerous activities (like heavy drinking) in your stories, you have to make sure you're writing responsibly. ...Don't you?

What's Your Poison?

As a YA writer, I've often pondered the responsibilities of authors. Shouldn't a YA writer avoid writing about characters who have unprotected sex, for example? Shouldn't a children's book author shy away from themes like murder and torture? A character who goes about breaking rules and acting wild and yet faces no consequences could be seductive, in a way. 

I'll use Breakfast at Tiffany's as an example. I saw the movie when I was still fairly young, and to me it was all about Audrey Hepburn's glamor and the majesty of New York City (and eating Danish in front of the Tiffany & Co. window). To me, at that time, it seemed that Holly Golightly had an amazing life. So what did I want to do with my life? I wanted to be a professional dater, like Holly. It was a few years later that I learned Breakfast at Tiffany's is based on a book, and Holly is actually a hooker (high-class, but still). So there you have it. Had I followed Holly's steps, I could be living in a barren New York walk up with a nameless cat right this minute.

Writing 101: Was It 'Inspired By,' or Was It Ripped Off?

The topic of plagiarism came up the other day while I was writing a Books on Film post, and I got to thinking about it again while I was watching an old movie the other night. As an author, you are an observer of life. But where is the line between writing what you've observed...and stealing someone else's story? 


I've mentioned before that I'm a bit of a Wikipedia buff (or maniac). I get caught up asking myself random questions (like whatever happened to the little girl from Uncle Buck?) and I learn things. Most things I learn aren't of any use, and sometimes all I get out of is more questions. That's the case with the anecdote I'm about to present, and the problem of ethics it's created for me.

I was thinking about plagiarism anyway because I'd just written about Doc Hollywood, a 1990s movie that many critics have accused of being the inspiration for Disney's Cars. The plots are startlingly similar, but I've noticed similar mirror plots in other films (check out The Cutting Edge and Blades of Glory, for example). When someone writes something and publishes it and someone else writes something very close and publishes that, it's plagiarism -- and it's a hard-and-fast rule. But ripping off a story that isn't written down...this is a little harder to define.

I started thinking about it while I was watching Goodbye, Mr. Chips. It's a lovely little story and a surprise Oscar winner from 1939 (competing with the likes of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz), and one of my favorites. It tells the story of an inspirational teacher, and back then it was still a fairly new story to tell, and after one of my crazy Wikipedia benders I found that it was largely based on a real person. It was a teacher that the author had when he was a boy.

And at first blush, that sounds nice. A teacher inspired a student not just to write, but to write about himself. And one step more, the movie became a beloved production that's still watched by the likes of me today. But it begs the question: what the heck did that inspirational teacher get out of the deal, other than a tiny comment in the middle of a big Wikipedia entry? And why is it okay, and totally accepted, that in this scenario the teacher doesn't get a thing?

The real question is this: when does inspiration cross the line and become theft? It's hard to answer, and that's why it's hard to prove in court. Many authors have faced lawsuits based on this issue. So perhaps the line is crossed when the person who inspires the story says it has. To play it safe, talk to your inspiration before you publish -- and avoid messy legal issues later.

Indie News: The Format Wars

So you want to self-publish for the New Year. After you write the manuscript and edit the story, after you pick the cover and start the promotions, before you publish you've got to format. And since there are so many different ebook formats, you're going to be doing that for a while. The format wars are on, indie authors...and ereaders are going to make DVD vs. Blu-Ray look like child's play.

How Do I Read Thee? Let Me Count the Ways...

Simply going through the list of available ebook formats is completely exhausting. Among your main formats, you've got two that stand out: ePub and Mobi. These are the formats used by the Nook and the Kindle, respectively. Some evidence suggests that ePub is the most widely-used format across all types of ereaders, but all the numbers show that Amazon sells more ebooks than anyone.

And as an indie author, you want to appeal to the widest possible audience. So you format your books for both file types. But if you really want to spread the love, you're going to have to change your novel for a lot of other formats as well. 

Books on Film: Doc Hollywood

I've seen Doc Hollywood about 15 times, because I've seen every Michael J. Fox movie at least that many times, but this is one of his best. And if you're a fan of Disney movies, then you're probably already familiar with the plot. They've been widely accused of totally ripping it off. 

The Book

Doc Hollywood became a movie in 1991, but before that it was a book called What? Dead Again? about Dr. Benjamin Stone (Fox). He's going from Miami to LA to complete his residency. But before he can make it across the country, Dr. Stone breaks down in a rural area of Alabama. 

That's when things get interesting. The town really needs a doctor, and Stone is compelled to help. What unfolds is a funny and touching story that pokes fun at small town life while still paying homage to it. Shulman is well-qualified to write the story because he is an actual doctor. What? Dead Again? was his second novel, and he's still writing today. But this is his only story (so far) that became a Michael J. Fox movie, and that's why it makes my list.

Writing 101: Exchanging Favors

The indie author community is getting bigger all the time, and it's important that you get some sort of edge or advantage in order to stand out (and keep selling books). So it becomes necessary to work with other indies and book bloggers who are part of the community. But be wary of exchanging favors. When you trade gifts, you may not get something of equal value in return. 

Swapping Stuff

You know how it works: you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. What's in it for me? What do I get out of this deal? Nothing comes for free. There are a thousand cliches all about how you have to give in order to get, and that's kind of how it works when it comes to exchanges within the indie author community.

Writing 101: Presentation

For hundreds of years, clever salesmen made a great living by selling water in bottles and telling people to rub dirt on their wounds. Scoff if you will, but this is the absolute truth. You see, it usually isn't about what you're selling. It's about the presentation...and that goes for self-published books, too.

Snake Oil and Novels

We've all heard the jokes and seen the satires of the old-fashioned hawkers and hucksters who used to sell people magical potions and miracle medical remedies, when really the bottles are filled with things like cow dung and cat urine. You've probably heard of the expression "snake oil" and "snake oil salesman." Well, that used to be a real thing.

People will buy snake oil if the presentation is right, so they should certainly be willing to buy your books. It's all about how you present those books to the rest of the world. Once you get past the obvious factors, it comes down to salesmanship. How good is yours? 

  • Cover.  A great cover is a given in self-publishing. You want to catch the eye and you want to stand out, but you also want a book that looks like a readable book. Remember to check the cover on several device sizes to make sure it's easy to read across platforms.
  • Price. Set the right price, or all the salesmanship in the world won't help. You've got to price your books according to their competition, not necessarily according to their worth.
  • Trailers. If you want to present your book in an exciting way, create a trailer. Visual imagery works better than text, and this medium allows you to combine them. Tell the story in the trailer, just enough to make people want more.
  • Tweets. Tweet about your books every day, at least once. But don't tweet "go buy this book" because that won't work. Give readers a reason to click that link. Ask them a question, give them a compelling quote, write something shocking -- compel them to buy, and they will.
  • Extras. Give your book even more depth by offering extras. Start giving out free samples, create images and maps to show off, write blog posts about it and present

The way you present is important, but remember it only matters if you're actually doing it. Promote, and keep promoting, and you'll get better and better at it.

Writing 101: Do You Believe?

I'm not one of these people who puts a whole lot of stock in faith, even during the holiday season, but I do know this: you've got to have it to be a writer. So today I've got to ask you: do you believe? 

Gotta Have Faith

In the past, I've said that you have to be a little bit foolish in order to be an author -- and that's still true. But beyond foolishness, you need faith. Once you learn more about the business, and foolishness fades, all you have to rely upon is your faith. Some days, belief is all you will have. That, and a bunch of rejection letters and negative reviews. 

And once all that negativity piles up, it's going to be darned difficult to continue believing in yourself, your writing and your stories. You're going to have days when you're totally convinced you are actually a hack and a failure, that it's all been nothing but a waste of time. Believing in yourself is going to be hard, nigh impossible. 

Hope's Rebellion: Free Sample

Visit the Free Stuff tab to get a sample of my newest book, Hope's Rebellion!

Writing 101: You Don't Have to Be Gifted

There are those who say that writing is a talent. I say that it's a job. And to be an author, you don't have to be gifted or talented or even lucky. But you do have to be a hard worker, even if you've got all the other stuff already.

Talent Might Be a Myth

I'm not sure I believe in talent (perhaps because I haven't got any). Some of the most divine natural actors may never step off the community theater stage, and amazing singers are wilting away behind cash registers all over the country. It's fine to have talent, to be gifted, but at the end of the day it's a gift that gives you very little. 

The highly gifted fail every single day at all sorts of things. The talented fall down and make missteps and struggle, and some of them flounder and never succeed at their dreams. But those who do achieve success usually have the same thing in common: they work hard.

Indie News: Mac App Aims to Serve Indies

Self-publishing a book? There's an app for that...now. Mac owners can make use of Vellum. If the functionality is as good as the name, writers are sure to be delighted with it. There's just one question: what the heck does a self-publishing app do

Because if an app can do all that tedious promotion and editing, count me in. But that's not exactly what Vellum does. Two former Pixar designers came together to create the app, which is designed to make it easier for writers to format and distribute their work. 

Books on Film: The Polar Express

Electric train are a modern symbol of Christmas, so what could be more seasonal than a story about a train that takes kids to the North Pole on Christmas Eve? I'm talking about The Polar Express, of course, and if you've got a TV in December you've probably seen it. But have you read the book? 

The Book

Chris Van Allsberg wrote and illustrated The Polar Express, which was published in 1985. It's won several awards and it's a highly popular holiday book among kids and parents. If you've seen the movie, you already have a idea of what the illustrations look like. 

The story in the book introduces us to a young boy who does not believe in Santa Claus. This begins to change when the Polar Express arrives on his front lawn, all set to take him to the North Pole.

The Film

The Polar Express finally became a film in 2004. The project had big names attached to it early (Tom Hanks, Robert Zemeckis), so it was pretty much a guaranteed hit. Live action capture was used to make the animated characters look and move more realistically. The realism of The Polar Express sets it apart from many other animated holiday films.

The film centers on a young boy who is just on the crux of no longer believing in Santa Claus. As he goes to bed on Christmas Eve, he questions whether or not Santa actually exists. Before he drifts off to sleep, the peaceful night is interrupted...by the sound of a train.

It's the Polar Express, a train that takes children to the North Pole. Our hero waffles, but eventually he does jump onto the train. There is a lot of adventure, and he meets several other children, before the journey is complete. And when he does get to the North Pole, does he meet Santa Claus? You'll have to watch the film to find out.

What Got Adapted?

The Polar Express is a short children's book and frankly there isn't enough material for a feature-length film. So lots of stuff got added to the film that builds upon the original story. The know-it-all kid (voiced by Corey Feldman), the hobo ghost, the little girl and several other characters are added out of whole cloth. 

Entire scenes were added to the film to create more story. The roller coaster moment, the rebellious journey through the North Pole, and all the ticket-punching business was fabricated for the sake of the movie.

The original book is beautifully illustrated and the short story will delight kids of all ages. The film has beautiful animation and Tom Hanks voices no less than 6 roles, so you want to see that for sure. Enjoy them both, and happy holidays! 

Writing 101: Authors and Substance Abuse

"Write drunk, edit sober."

 – Ernest Hemingway

I giggled when I first saw that quote from Hemingway. I stopped smiling when I remembered that alcoholism eventually destroyed him...and lots of other great authors. When it comes to authors and substance abuse, this profession seems to have more than its fair share of drunks. And no matter how amazing these addicted authors are or were, no one should attempt to follow their soggy footsteps. 

Losing the Battle

Start looking for authors who spent too much time looking at the bottom of a bottle, and you're going to find them. Hemingway battled alcoholism (and lost) for much of his life. He eventually took his own life despite his success and fame. Edgar Allen Poe, often regarded as the master of modern horror, had a serious alcohol problem. He died mysteriously, and the substance abuse definitely didn't help to prevent his untimely demise.
Hunter S. Thompson was famously an addict. You can see something of what his life was like in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. There was probably no drug he did not try, and one day he shot himself in the head with a gun. Is the substance abuse linked to the suicide? Fans can only speculate, but going though the highs and lows of drug use surely did not help him with any emotional problems he may or may not have been experiencing.

Playwright Tennessee Williams, famous for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and a whole host of other stories, also had issues with alcohol. Even Stephen King indulged, and things got so bad his friends and family staged an intervention to bring him back from the brink of substance abuse.

Authors and substance abuse have been linked a lot throughout history, and it's not a pattern that should be repeated. All due respect to Hemingway, but writing drunk or otherwise compromised is never a good idea. You're likely to spit out a bunch of words and plot that make no sense, and wading through that nonsense later will be a huge headache. Always write clear-headed. It's fine to indulge in a little alcohol with friends during a special event, but if you feel that you need to drink on a daily basis then you have a problem. Please get help for it. There is lots of help available.

Many of the authors who suffered from substance abuse died with very little money or happiness, often all alone, in very undignified ways. You don't want to leave that sort of legacy behind, to be a sad footnote in someone's blog post, to spend your talent swimming around inside of a whiskey bottle. Authors may turn to substances in order to combat the loneliness and the strong emotions that come with the job, but there are better ways to cope. Substance abuse will destroy you in the end, just as it destroyed so many other talented writers.

Justice, by Moonlight

"Varden sure does know how to tell a story and keep you intrigued."

"If you like a book that will surprise you and keep you in suspense, pick up Justice by Jade Varden."

Moonlight Reader has reviewed Justice (Deck of Lies, #1). Read the full review to see the final rating!

Writing 101: Should You Be Using Matchbook?

Amazon has blazed a trail for today's indie authors. Their KDP program made it possible for millions of books to be published and sold. Amazon's newest invention for indies is the Matchbook program, and it could help the mega-site sell even more books. Should you be using it to sell more of yours? 

Amazon's Matchbook

If you haven't heard about Amazon's new program, it's no big deal. It's still pretty new. But you'll probably start hearing more about it soon. The Matchbook programs sells itself. Customers who buy a print copy of a book receive a free or highly discounted Kindle copy of the same. It's a great deal for the consumers, who may want their book in both print and electronic form to easily read between locations.

Writing 101: How a Manuscript Becomes a Book

You can write and write and write, and until you take certain steps you still haven't created a book. Until a manuscript becomes a book, it's just a bunch of words. And in the main, there are only two different routes you can take in order to turn a manuscript into a book. 

The Beaten Path: Traditional Publishing

There's a common misconception among authors that traditional publishing is less work than self-publishing. It's not true. When you traditionally publish, unless you're already well-established as an author, you have to complete lots and lots of steps.

Writing 101: Book Banning Still in Fashion

Since mankind first figured out a form of writing, there have been stories and books. And for as long as there have been stories and books, there have been banned books. 

Burning Down the Books

You might think Mark Twain when you hear about book bans and book burning (his stuff has been known to be controversial), but history shows us that the Romans were banning certain source material back before Jesus Christ walked the Earth. That means human beings have been trying to control the reading material of other human beings for at least 2,500 years.

Book burnings have been going on for just about as long, sometimes on a massive scale. Many ancient works that were controversial in their day have been irrevocably lost. And many people believe that today, thanks to things like the First Amendment, book banning no longer happens. Those people are wrong. 

It's a tradition that's still being carried out all around the world, even in the United States. Cesar Chavez wrote a book in 2002 that was widely banned. Go back to the 1970s and you'll find plenty of books that were being banned in America. And some indie authors believe they're being banned, or at least blacklisted, even today. 

Indie News: Self-Pubished Authors are BROKE!

Forbes is the authority on money, and according to their findings indie authors aren't getting rich with the self-publishing boom. In fact, some of them aren't making any money at all. If you're in the indie game for the bucks, you've got some re-evaluating to do.

Money Matters

After examining data from Digital Book World and Writer's Digest, Forbes found that self-published authors are pretty cash poor. Their median income is under $5,000 per year. Almost 20 percent of self-published authors get no money from their writing.

Authors who use the traditional publishing route aren't faring that much better. Their median income ranges from $5000 to $9999. The hybrid authors are the ones making the most money, as a matter of fact. Their median income range is $15,000 to $19,999...which, for the number-crunchers out there, is still very close to the national poverty line.

But not every author out there is eating salad. According to the report, almost 2 percent of self-published authors made over $100,000. Almost 9 percent of traditionally published authors reached this level, while over 13 percent of hybrid authors made a 6-figure income.

The study was compiled through October and November 2013. Almost 9000 authors participated in the study.

Books on Film: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is one of my favorite Christmas stories. I've read the book many, many times. But I balked at featuring this story as a Book on Film...because every adaptation I've seen has been worse than the one before. 

The Book

Barbara Robinson wrote a completely iconic holiday tale when she penned The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. It has all the right themes, a compelling cast of characters and so much humor it's impossible not to laugh the whole way through. 

The story is told through the eyes of someone who isn't exactly a featured player, which is one of the things I find most compelling. You see, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is actually about the Herdman kids, but we're hearing about this from someone else who is only observing them. That makes me feel more like I'm there, watching it all unfold. It's just the first thing I love about this book. 

The Herdman kids, by the way, are the worst kids in the world. Imogene, Claude, Ralph, Leroy and Ollie are all terrible. Buy little Gladys, the youngest? She's the absolute worst. They're a pack of thieves, and liars, and bullies and just all-around wretched people. Even their cat is evil, a mangy creature so terrible it terrorizes the mailman.

One day the narrator's little brother makes the mistake of telling the Herdman kids that the church offers snacks, so of course they show up and end up being present for the meeting about the Christmas pageant. The church puts it on every year, and every year children from the congregation play every part. 

One church member, usually one of the mothers, is in charge of the production. This year, it's our narrator's mother. Producing the Christmas pageant is a huge responsibility. And for those of you who don't know, a Christmas pageant basically tells the story of the birth of Jesus Christ as told in the Bible. Traditionally, this means you'll see shepherds keeping watch in their fields and noticing a star. You'll see weary Mary and Joseph being turned away at the inn and banished into the stables. You'll see the three wise men arrive with their gifts, and you'll be listening to a choir sing the whole time (the heavenly host). So you can see how important all of this would be, seeing as how the Christmas pageant occurs in front of a group of church-going folk on Christmas Eve. 

That's why it's a huge problem when the Herdmans bully their way into the production, and get all the main roles. Right away it becomes obvious that this is going to be the worst Christmas pageant ever. The Herdmans have never before heard the story of Jesus's birth, and they become fascinated. The religious aspect of this book is not at all oft-putting. In fact, the Herdmans ask some pretty intelligent questions about the Biblical story -- stuff that's funny but also thought-provoking. 

The Herdmans do change the Christmas pageant, invariably, but instead of making it the worst the production actually becomes the very best. It's a sweet story, and really funny, and it's perfect for the holidays. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a short read, so you really don't have an excuse not to dive in.

Unless you're afraid you'll want to watch the adaptation afterwards. 

The Movie

It's one of my favorite books, but The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has been freely adapted on stage and I've rarely enjoyed it. I certainly didn't like the TV movie made in 1983. Loretta Swit plays Grace Bradley, who has been put in charge of the church's pageant. Some of the kids are rotated around, to look like more kids, but the story does follow the book pretty faithfully. Some of the dialogue is cut back and the narrator does not seem to be present at all, but this movie exists.

That's about all I can say for it. The adaptation really isn't a memorable one, and the story is much more often seen as a theatrical production. I'm waiting for someone to make a great adaptation of this book. If someone ever does, I'm convinced it will become a holiday classic.

Writing 101: Waiting

People ask me what I do for a living, and I tell them I'm a writer. They always think that's interesting, because these people who are asking don't actually know what it's like. What is it like to be a writer? It's like you're waiting. Every day, every second, you're always waiting for something. You're in suspense all the time, and you're worried half the time and the rest of the time...you're just exhausted. 

Patience Isn't a Virtue (It's a Chore)

You work and you work on a manuscript, until finally you manage to turn it into a book. You read it, admire it, worry about it and obsess over it. Finally, you work up your courage and you start sending out letters to agents and publishers. Or maybe you decide to go it alone, and you format your book so it can be self-published. Your heart races, and your adrenaline pumps and your fingers fly across the keys. Finally you hit that submit button. And then...you wait. 

If you write, you're going to be waiting a lot. Some agents and publishers take weeks to answer you, if they do at all, and if they actually ask you for a sample of your book then you're going to pacing the floors for up to a month or more. And waiting for reviews to come in? I still feel a little anxious every time I check my Amazon pages. Waiting is part of being a writer, and that's difficult for me because I am not a patient person. 

But through the years, I've managed to get used to playing the waiting game in all aspects of my career. Start preparing yourself now to wait after every bit of writing you do and you'll get used to it sooner. Even in the digital age, when you can trade emails with people instead of waiting for an envelope, you're going to have to wait. And unfortunately, a longer wait isn't always a better one. So start waiting now...because if you're serious about being a writer you're going to be doing it for the rest of your life.

Writing 101: Shock Value

A long time ago, people who wanted to sell papers would stand in the streets and shout the headlines. Sounds a bit crazy, sure, but just envision it for a moment. You're on your way to work, head still in a bit of a morning fog, and you hear someone cry "Killer Bees Heading This Way! Read all about it!" You're totally going to stop, right? Like, what's the point of rushing to work if you're going to potentially be fatally attacked by bees? What I'm really trying to share is this: shock value can be used to sell things. 


It happens all the time, as a matter of fact. Remember the "your brain on drugs" commercials? How about the anti-texting commercials that make you feel terrible? The sad dog commercials where someone sings a horribly depressing song? Shock value. Certain ads are designed to shock your senses. They want to show you something so frightening, so depressing, so surprising that you react and you remember it. You can use that same technique in order to sell more books. 

Writing 101: We Can All Make Money with Self-Publishing

Being an indie author usually means eating a lot of noodles and salad for dinner, putting in long hours and maintaining a "day job" to boot. But if you aren't making money selling a lot of books, you shouldn't necessarily resign yourself to a life of noble poverty. There are many different ways to earn an income with self-publishing, and you never even have to write a word. 

Money, Money, Money

Self-publishing has been going through a bit of a boom in recent years, and the authors definitely aren't making all the money. As the number of independently-published books has grown, so have the amount of services available to authors. There's a huge market out there for indies. Tap into it, and you can also make money in this newly-rediscovered industry. 

Writing 101: Responding to Reviews

Lots of indie authors who like to give advice will tell you not to respond to reviews when you get them, particularly the negative ones. I'm not one of those authors. Responding to reviews isn't just a good idea -- it's your duty. 

Thank You Cards

When I was little, I had to write thank you cards for everything. Birthday, Christmas, Easter baskets -- I was told to say thanks for it all. I hated it, and swore I would never deal with that nonsense again once I became adult.

And now, I'm going to tell you to do the same thing I hated to do when I was a kid. I want you to write your reviewers, and say thank you. Because you do have to respond, even to the really ugly reviews, and the response is always the same: thank you

Books on Film: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

 Rudolph is probably the most popular reindeer in Christmas culture. He's the only one with his own song, and it's a pretty popular one, to boot. You can't get through the holiday season without seeing Rudolph's special on TV or hearing his song. But both were actually based on a book. And here's the surprising part: Rudolph isn't even 100 years old yet.

The Book

Rudolph wasn't even a part of Christmas until 1939. The original story was written by Robert L. May, and today his little tale of a red-nose reindeer has become a part of the holiday celebrations around the globe. Pretty heady stuff, right?

Writing 101: Is It Ever Okay to Stop Writing?

You know those websites that feature trite advice from famous authors? I invariably end up focusing on the quotes where the authors say that you have to write every day to really be a writer. I don't do that. Does that mean I'm not a real writer? When is it okay to stop writing, to take a break from creating new books? 

Writer's Block in Rebel's Clothing?

So what if you're not just not feeling your story one day? What if you're just not inspired? Or maybe you're very busy, or sick, and you don't manage to get anything done. Suddenly now you're not a real author? 

I don't think so. Sometimes I don't want to write a thing, not even a tweet, so I don't. Since I spend about 8 to 12 hours a day at my keyboard, I think I have the right to do that. But I also think there's a line to be drawn. 

Writing 101: How Scary is Your Search History?

It’s possible I’ve been flagged as a serial killer.

I’m really not one of those conspiracy theorists who believes the government is secretly behind every major event, but sometimes I do worry about my search engine history. I know that Google keeps track of the stuff I’m looking up, so it feels totally within the realm of possibility that the government may also have this sort of power. The government probably doesn’t have as much money as Google, or anything, but I’m pretty sure they can make Google give them information. 

Getting Weird with Google

And if they can, it’s possible that my name is on somebody’s list somewhere…because I look up extremely strange stuff on Google.

I got to thinking about it the other day when I looked for authors who committed suicide, the same night I was searching for information about electronic toys. I've searched for information about legal proceedings, how to get blood out of leather, Christmas decorations, and Will Ferrell in the same week.

Writing 101: Is It Hopeless?

You know those completely delusional singers on American Idol who are the worst of the worst, yet they think they're totally amazing? Have you ever wondered...if that's you? Sometimes questions pop into my mind, and they give me new story ideas. Sometimes they pop into my head and I wonder...is it hopeless? 

Where's Paula Abdul When You Need Her? 

Wouldn't it be great if there was an American Idol for authors? You could go in and read your blurb, maybe the first page of your novel, and Simon Cowell could tell you that you're fantastic and you're going to Hollywood. What for, I don't know. I haven't worked out all the details of the show yet (American Writer), but that's not the point. The point is this: when you're an author, everyone is Simon Cowell.

Emily Dickinson was a recluse who, literally, sat in her room and wrote about death. I'm not just writing that to be colorful. Sylvia Plath achieved a fair amount of success as a poet, wrote a popular novel, and stuck her head in the oven one day. Ernest Hemingway, well-known in his own lifetime, put a shotgun to his own head. Virginia Woolf put rocks in her pockets and walked into the River Ouse. 

Here's what I'm saying: writing is dark sometimes. You have to wallow around in the ugliest part of the human condition, in some cases, really dive into terrible thoughts and emotions. Every good story needs a villain...and it's always you. You're the one who tortures the characters, you're the one who kills them, you're the one who creates it all...and you're the one who will feel all the criticism with terrible keenness.

Writing 101: Reinventing Yourself

You know how they say that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget? Writing a book is like that. Once you know how, you can always write another book. That's why when you're an author, reinventing yourself is easy. Well, sort of. My point is this: you can always reinvent yourself. 

Starting Over

When you're an author, you can always start over if need be -- especially if you're going to be an indie. As an indie author, you control everything. You're in charge of your pen name, your social media accounts, all the stuff you put on the Internet and every image you share. And at any point, you can decide to start all over again if you want.

It's not easy to start from scratch, and it will take months and even years for you to build up a fan base from nothing at all. But you're an author, so you know how to build a new character better than anyone.

Books on Film: Christmas with the Kranks

It only takes four words to get me excited about a film: Tim Allen holiday movie. Even if he's not putting on the big red suit, I'm totally there. So I've seen Christmas with the Kranks like 8 times. What I just discovered recently is that it's a story...and it was written by John Grisham!

The Book

To be technical, the book is called Skipping Christmas. The title was changed for film; no one knows why. But in story form, this one's about Luther and Nora Krank. And yes, it was always written as a funny story. It became a bestseller when it was released during the holiday season of 2001.

Writing 101: Writing About the Holidays

The holiday season makes people feel excited for something, anxious and happy. It's a thrilling time, and it's a time when everyone's wallet is a little more open than usual. So writing about the holidays is tempting. After all, doesn't the Hallmark channel need new movies about Christmas every single year? Obviously holiday stories are in demand. So why shouldn't you write about them? 

Don't worry -- I'm going to tell you why. 

My Thanksgiving with YouTube

Let me start by telling you a story, since I am a storyteller. I was planning a pretty big event about three years ago, and I was so into it I was barely sleeping at night. So a few days before Thanksgiving, I found myself cruising forums at 3am. It's not as bad as it sounds -- it was a party-planning forum. And there was a link to a YouTube video, and I'm a sucker for those. 

It ends up being a video diary of this Australian guy who was getting the wrong email. Apparently, he had the same name as an American and he was on the family mailing list in lieu of the correct person. This is how he became aware of an intriguing discussion about Thanksgiving. He read about deviled eggs, and turkey, and stuffing and gravy and all sorts of different back-and-forth. It was fascinating stuff, so much so that he launched a YouTube campaign in order to find this family. 

Writing 101: Self-Publishing as a Stepping Stone

In the main, there are two different types of indie authors (and I'm being broad here, so no one has to send me emails about this). There's the indie authors who self-publish because they've already been on the Merry-Go-Round and now they want to take charge. Then there's the indie authors who self-publish because they're hoping it will lead to something more: a book deal with a major publisher. There's nothing wrong with using self-publishing as a stepping stone. Just make sure you're going about it the right way, or you could step right into the lake. 

Stepping Out

For some authors, self-publishing is merely a stepping stone to another type of publishing -- small press, or mass market maybe. But if that's your end game, start working on achieving that goal right now. As an indie who wants to move on to something else, there are some things you have to focus on: 

Writing 101: Flexibility

In the past few days, I've come to realize that I'm extremely rigid. I tweet at the same times, I eat at the same times. I follow the same schedule every day of the week. Pick a day, pick a time and I can tell you what I'm going to be doing. And then I became frightfully ill over the weekend...and I realized that a little flexibility is always good. I think this can apply to all writers...not just us ill ones.

What Doesn't Bend...

Read through my blog, and it's obvious that I'm in favor of being organized. I believe in sticking to a schedule, writing to-do lists and maintaining regular patterns. But I believe in all that stuff just a little too much. When it becomes an obsession, it becomes a problem. 

It became a huge problem for me when I got sick, because suddenly I couldn't get off the couch long enough to complete my to-do list. I found out, the hard way, that it pays to be flexible because you don't exactly know what's going to happen from one day to the next. When you try to schedule everything, you're going to find yourself in a position of not getting anything done -- at least one day. And that one day can mess up an entire week, or an entire month, if you're as rigid about your schedule as I am. 

And when you're that rigid, you aren't doing yourself any favors as a writer. Creativity needs a little room to breathe. It needs space to play and cavort and have fun. The mind needs to wander. Time should be wasted, at least every once in a while. How else can new ideas come rushing into your mind? How else can new discoveries be made?
How else will you rest when you really really need it? There's an old saying that tells us what doesn't bend will break, and I absolutely know this to be true. I'm going to be more flexible, try to take a little bit more time to breathe in-between tasks, and maybe not schedule myself for every available minute of the day. 

All authors need time to relax, or else the creative juices will dry up. So on that note, I'm going back to the couch.

Writing 101: Emotionally Involved

There are probably a few Greek myths about some sculptor who fell deeply in love with his creation, to the point of pure madness. I think every author has experienced this type of insanity at least once. Right now, it's my turn. I made a mistake with my newest book. I became emotionally involved.

Heart of Stone

To be a good writer, you must connect with your characters. You must care about them. You should laugh at funny scenes, cry during sad ones and root for the hero to win the day. You have to pour your heart on the page, bleed over every word, wrest all emotion from your soul and spit it out in whole sentences.

Then, you have to turn it all off. You should absolutely care about the story you tell...but under no circumstances should you feel emotional about the book that results.Walking this tightrope can absolutely drive you insane if you let it.

Writing 101: Story Starters

Inspiration has a funny way of choosing not to strike when you decide it should. When authors want to write, but don't have anything to write, they may turn to story starters to get those creative juices flowing again. So what the heck are story starters? 

Starting a Story...

There are lots of reasons why it's hard to start writing on a blank page. You may not have any ideas that you feel wild about. You may find yourself feeling restless, unable to settle on a single idea. You may keep re-writing an opening line, only to erase and try it again.

Once, when I was participating on a writing panel, another author told a story about someone who had writer's block. He wanted to write but didn't know what to write, so he just sat down and started describing the house he was staying in. It was a friend's. He began to describe and write, and this is how the novel Ragtime was born. Time magazine rated the book in one of their Top 100 lists, and it's highly regarded among readers and critics. 

I realize now that this act was a story starter. E. L. Doctrow didn't have any ideas, but he was inspired by what he saw...so he started to write about it. Inspiration doesn't always take the form of a whole story. Sometimes, that comes later.

Writing 101: The Anti-Hero

Great stories are about great characters...but that doesn't necessarily mean those characters are good guys. Sometimes, the main character is an anti-hero. 

Look, No Hands!

I believe that writing about an anti-hero is some of the toughest writing anyone can do. Anti-heroes do not have a lot of redeeming qualities. They aren't just flawed, they're almost impossible to like.

Almost impossible. There's a delicate balance to writing an anti-hero, a virtual tightrope walk that authors must undertake. Will you cross safely to the end of the book...or fall on your face? 

Writing 101: Don't Hold Back

It's really hard to be an author when people know you're an author. If you're really going to write that book, you're going to have to face some uncomfortable moments. Here's the piece of advice you really need if you're really going to do this: don't hold back. In other words, when you're writing you have to stop worrying about what your mother might think. 

Well, I Can't Write That...

I've been pretty forthcoming about my rampant inability to write sex scenes. It's a problem I've always had with my writing, because the inevitable thought always creeps in: one of my parents might read this. This thought is so daunting, so overwhelming, so completely terrifying that I always end up wimping out. Euphemisms are where I live. But this is a horrible flaw...and I implore you not to repeat it with your own writing. 

Writing 101: The Danger of Classic Literature

Jane Austen. Herman Melville. Charles Dickens. Believe me, I could go on and on. These authors, and many others, created books in their lifetime that would go on to become classics -- books that are so good they're assigned reading in schools. I pretended to read most of them during my own school days. 

And by "pretended," I mean that I didn't read them but I paid attention during classroom discussions. You see, I love classic literature as much as the next bookworm. But I think there's a also a danger in it, and I'm here to warn you about it. 

And You, Sir, Are No Mark Twain

I didn't read those books in school for one reason: those books are really hard to read. The poetic language is magical it's true, but it's also cumbersome as all get-out. The lyrical, multi-syllable words are incredibly outdated and the long-winded, musical dialogue no longer rings true. Reading those words aloud will transport you to another time and place...because those books were written in another time and place.

Indie News: You're Living in a Self-Publishing Boom

According to a new report from Bowker, self-published books in the marketplace increased by 59 percent from 2011 to 2012. That means we're all living in a bona fide self-publishing boom.

All By Themselves

Bowker used ISBN data from the United States to compile the report, which shows that more than 390,000 books were self-published in 2012 alone. Of these ISBNs, 40 percent of the titles were ebooks. 

The total report shows the self-publishing trend over the past 6 years. Amazon CreateSpace, Smashwords and Lulu were at the top of the list for having the most self-published ISBNs. CreateSpace led with the most print books, while Smashwords was tops for ebooks.

Books on Film: Now, Voyager

I came to know Now, Voyager as a pretty famous Bette Davis flick. I adore Bette Davis, and in this film she's truly at her best. But this fantastic story of an Ugly Duckling is actually based on a trio of books by Olive Higgins Prouty. Now, Voyager is the third installment in the story.

The Book

Charlotte Vale lives in a big, fancy Boston house and she comes from a very well-known and well-to-do family. But Charlotte Vale still has every reason to feel miserable. She's under the thumb of her overbearing, domineering mother. Charlotte is overweight and under-groomed, dresses like a dowdy housewife and barely socializes outside the austere Vale family home. 

In this book, Charlotte has suffered a nervous breakdown. She's now under professional care, and she is blossoming. She's shed the extra weight and she's gone through a makeover. Finely-sculpted eyebrows now frame her thin, finely-boned face. Her upswept 'do is the epitome of style, and her clothes are fashionable, tasteful and expensive. In a word, she's fabulous.

The title of the story comes from a Walt Whitman poem, as the book will you tell you. Before going back to her rigid Boston home, Charlotte goes on a cruise to cap off her treatment. She makes many friends on board and truly enjoys herself. Best of all, Charlotte falls in love. He's debonair, he's polished, he's passionate...he's married.

Life is always a rocky road for Charlotte Vale. But all things must end, even her cruise, and Charlotte soon finds herself returning to Boston...and to her mother. Will Charlotte fall back into her frumpy ways? Will she ever see the handsome man from the cruise again? Where will her voyage end? You'll have to read it to find out.

The story is truly wonderful, but you can thank a different story for turning Now, Voyager into a feature-length film. 

The Movie

The year was 1942, and the 1939 success of Love Affair was still impressive to execs at Warner Bros. The movie would later be re-made as An Affair to Remember, but in this version it's Irene Dunn and Charles Boyer who star in the leading roles. They fall in love on a ship, and filmmaker Hal Willis hoped that Now, Voyager would remind moviegoers how much they love paying to see that sort of watery romance. 

So Prouty was given $40,000 for her book and Irene Dunn immediately sprang to the top of the list for the role of Charlotte. But Norma Shearer was also interested in the role. The two had the same manager, who performed a balancing act until both actresses moved on to other projects. Already a screen legend, Bette Davis was having a huge fight with Jack Warner at the time, and wasn't taking any of his calls. A director friend told her about the movie, and Bette immediately changed her mind. She began to campaign to get the role, and the producer talked the studio into casting her.

She wore padded clothing and heavy eyebrows for the early scenes, hiding her face behind ill-fitting glasses and letting her unkempt hair hang all over the place. Davis quite successfully made herself frumpy and unattractive for the start of the film, making her later transformation all the more miraculous. She's truly stunning when she arrives for her cruise, every inch the glamorous woman of mystery and polish she's meant to be.

What Got Adapted?

The movie follows the book quite closely, and it's made all the more lavish by the presence of Davis in the leading role. Paul Henreid is the perfect love interest, and Claude Rains is the best possible father figure in his role as Dr. Jaquith. Gladys Cooper is perfectly chilling as the mother, and everything about this film is perfect. Davis's wardrobe is perfectly fantastic throughout.

The final line, which appears in the book verbatim, was rated number 46 on AFI's list of top 100 movie quotes. It deserves it. Watch Now, Voyager and read Charlotte's trilogy to explore the story even further. You won't be sorry!

Writing 101 Q&A: Small Press Instead of Self-Publishing

Today I'm pleased to host Jac Wright, author of The Reckless Engineer. He's a little different than the other authors I feature on the blog: he's not self-published. I decided to pick his brain in a Q&A session, and learn how different he is from the indies I've known.

Q&A with author Jac Wright

JV: I see that the main character of The Reckless Engineer, Jeremy Stone, has an educational background similar to your own. How much of the character is modeled after you?
Jac Wright: Great question.  A lot of Jeremy’s character is modeled after me and my good friend, but even more is modeled after what I should like to be.  Jeremy lives the ideal life I should like to live and I live it through him.
JV: You’re an engineer, like your main character. If I don’t understand the first thing about engineering, will I still be able to enjoy and understand the book?

Jac Wright: Of course you will.  You will understand and enjoy the books just like you would enjoy the engineer Barney’s role in the old Mission Impossible series; like you would enjoy Indiana Jones movies without knowing much about archeology; and like you would enjoy Star Trek without being a physicist.  Everything is detailed in terms that a non-engineer would understand. The thing you would enjoy is his courageous and adventurous nature. Engineers are very good inventors and problem solvers. You will therefore enjoy his versatility and resourcefulness like that of MacGuyver, and his ingenious skills and problem solving abilities. 

JV: Your books contain a lot of drama and conflict. When you want drama, which authors or TV shows do you turn to?
Jac Wright: I grew up watching Tales of the Unexpected which is based on Roald Dahl’s adult books, the old Mission Impossible series, the Perry Mason series, and MacGuyver. My father and I had our favourite seats in front of the TV for the shows every week. At one time, I used to read Roald Dahl and Erle Stanley Garner as if I were possessed.
I also love more modern series like Columbo, Monk, Dexter, The Good Wife, and the new BBC drama Death in Paradise. As you can see, they are mostly suspense and legal drama, like my books.
The authors I adore are Patricia Highsmith, Roald Dahl, and Charles Dickens.  Secondly I also like Ian Rankin, Benjamin Black, and Michael Connelly.
JV: You’re also a published poet. What inspired you to start writing full-length novels?
Jac Wright: I studied poetry, drama, and literature for 14 years at weekend Speech & Drama school my mother enrolled me in when I was 3. Poetry was the first thing I wrote that was not for some coursework; and I started writing poetry when I was at university at Stanford and kept writing over the years. I called the collection "Shades of Love.Later on I started adding short stories to the collection.  I have about half a dozen short stories written ,which I separated out to a new series under the title "Summerset Tales."
It just occurred to me that I should write a full-length series about 2007.  One requires some level of maturity and life experience to write with impact, and I felt I was ready about this time. I knew I wanted the series lead to be an electrical engineer like me, and I knew I wanted the series to be suspense-driven psychological thrillers.
Then I knew I wanted the first story to be based in Portsmouth, Charles Dickens’ birthplace, as a tribute to the author whose works taught me how to tell a tale early in life. I have loved English literature since I my mother enrolled me in weekend Speech & Drama classes when I was 3 years old.  My mother had this rack full of books like The Pickwick Papers, The Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Lorna Doone, The Animal Farm, etc. stacked on it along with piles of Readers’ Digests. She used to read to me from them when I was too young to read; and soon I was reading them myself.  That sparked my interest as a reader and a spectator very early and Dickens’ stories were a large part of those childhood tales.
That was how The Reckless Engineer series was born.
JV: Your publisher, Soul Mate, specializes in romantic fiction. Do you consider The Reckless Engineer to be primarily a romance?
Jac Wright: Soul Mate Publishing is expanding out to other genres.  There are romantic undercurrents in The Reckless Engineer, but it is primarily suspense fiction.  The Reckless Engineer and The Closet each examines a lead protagonist who is driven by romantic love and passion; each tale examines how it can blind the protagonist and how much trouble it can get him into.  Hence, both stories are strongly romance-driven.
JV: How did you find Soul Mate Publishing, and did you ever consider self-publishing?
Jac Wright: Once the manuscript for The Reckless Engineer was finished, I had to send out about 60 letters enclosing the first fifty pages of the manuscript and a SASE (a self-addressed stamped envelope) in each.  Then it was a long process of answering responses to the queries and protracted negotiations. It was not a difficult process, but it was lengthy and time-consuming. I got offers from 6 publishers and I know I have picked the best because of the instant rapport I felt with my editor.

JV: How much impact did your agent and/or publishers have on The Reckless Engineer series?
Jac Wright: The main story was already written and the plot and characters have remained the same in essence.  However, there was about a 2 month long editing period with my editor, Debby Gilbert, from Soul Mate Publishing.  That process transformed the story by adding depth to it.  Debbie guided me to add more visceral emotion and scenes that engaged all the senses, and not purely vision.  One editing note she put on the manuscript has stuck to my mind. She had crossed out the last sentence in a chapter and had edited the one before, adding the note: "You never and a chapter on your protagonist going to sleep.  It is a cue to the reader that he or she can do so, too."  That’s right, reader, we intend to keep you up at the edge of your seats all night long.
JV: What’s your next project?
Jac Wright: Two more – The Bank Job and Buy, Sell, Murder – are half-written.I have started the fifth, In Plain Sight, with just the plot and the main characters designed and only the first chapter written. I hope to finish writing at least two of them in 2014.

Love is a battlefield. Who will come out of it alive?

Harry Duncan Wood runs a hotel in the historic city of Bath with his beautiful young wife. When he falls in love with Mill House, an old greystone farmhouse on the banks of river Avon among the soaring hills of Somerset, and sets about moving his family there, the first appearances of the cracks in the marriage take him by surprise. Is his wife seeing another man? Duncan needs to get to the bottom of the affairs for his own sanity. Sometimes, however, ignorance is bliss and will also keep everybody alive.

Jac Wright is a published poet, a published author, and an electronics engineer who lives in England. The Closet is the first in Wright's collection of literary short fiction, Summerset Tales, in which Wright explores characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances in the contemporary semi-fictional region of England called Summerset, with an added element of suspense. The collection is published as a series of individual tales in the tradition of Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers and Thomas Hardy's Wessex Tales. The first Summerset tale, The Closet, accompanies the first title in the author's full-length literary suspense series, THE RECKLESS ENGINEER, published by Soul Mate Publishing, New York.

About the Author

Jac Wright is a published poet, a published author, and an electronics engineer educated at Stanford, University College London, and Cambridge who lives and works in England. A published poet, Jac's first passion was for literary fiction and poetry as well as the dramatic arts.

Jac also writes the literary short fiction series, Summerset Tales, in which Wright explores characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances. 

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