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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Writing 101: The Adverb Debate

If you spend any amount of time reading writing tips, you'll be exposed to the adverb debate. Some authors, like Stephen King, say don't use them at all. But are they really that bad?

What's an Adverb?

Before you know if adverbs are evil, it's helpful to figure out what they are. To put it simply, an adverb is any word with the -ly suffix. Mightily, oddly, fervently -- these are adverbs (ugly isn't one; there are exceptions to every rule). Adverbs are a well-used part of speech, and you're very likely to find them in all forms of writing.

So what makes them evil?

The Root of All Bad Writing

Those who dislike adverbs argue that they're cheap. A little too easy, a cop-out that's used in place of real descriptive writing. Instead of saying that Marie's voiced trembled, you write that she spoke fearfully.

Don't think there's anything wrong with that? You aren't alone. Many writers use adverbs happily, myself included. I've made no special effort to add them here, but I have put them in bold for easy identification.

The adverb debate is a losing argument. Writers should use every available word in their arsenals, and not limit themselves when it comes to descriptive text. Writing without adverbs is a difficult challenge, and a silly one.

Writing 101: Feelings of Resentment

It's not easy to admit, even to oneself, but many indie authors experience feelings of resentment...toward each other. 

This Market Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us

It's really not difficult to see how this might happen. Wouldn't it be a whole lot easier to sell books if there weren't so many books? Wouldn't it be easier to market if there wasn't so many other indie authors marketing? Wouldn't it be nicer if they would just  go away

And when you find other indie authors who publish books that get bad reviews and get a reputation for being error-riddled...well, it's sort of easy to start having feelings of resentment. I've resented other authors in the past, and my meanness isn't even limited to indies. I have a practically lifelong obsession with disliking Stephen King, for reasons we don't even have time to get into.

It's completely normal to feel dislike, even some hatred, for the competition. What you have to realize is that other authors, in all forms, are not your competition. They're your colleagues.

Scratch That, We Can Work This Out

Readers read, and writers write. It's an endless cycle, and it means there are plenty of readers to go around. People who read books don't read just one book, they read many. Some readers read several books a week, to the tune of hundreds of books a year. There are always going to be enough readers no matter how many self-published books are out there. Though, naturally, the scales will balance. Well-promoted and well-written books will sell more copies than those that are not promoted and poorly written. 

It's natural to resent other books that seem to be taking readers away, but you have to remind yourself that this isn't the case. Other indie authors can help you take your career further, in fact, because there's a strong sense of community and supportiveness among those who self-publish. Use the indie community, instead of resenting it, and you'll find that you can gain a lot from your fellow authors.

Writing 101: The Brave New World of Self-Published Comics

More ebookstores are appearing on smartphones, and even the public library is starting to distribute Kindle books for lending. Now, comic book writers get to join in on the fun, too. Got a great idea for a comic book? It's time to start self-publishing.

Self-Publishing Comes to Comics

Comixology has developed Submit, a comic book publishing platform designed for indies.  Beta trials began last year, and now the system is ready for the general public.

It's a pretty simple system. After content is uploaded and approved, it's added to the catalog. Authors get their own strorefront and have their work formatted for Comixology mobile apps. The app converts the comic book into panel-by-panel view screens. 

It costs nothing to self-publish through the platform, but you only get to keep half of what you earn. The rest goes to Comixology. This is the newest platform for comic book writers, but not the only one. It's possible to publish graphic novels with iBooks Author, and Graphicly is a well-established self-publishing platform for indies.

If you create comics and you haven't already joined the ranks of self-published indie authors, now is just as good a time to start as any, right?

Writing 101: Can You Write a Story with Many Main Characters?

It's happened very rarely, but it has been done. An author comes forward with a style or an idea that's so unusual, so outside-the-box, they distinguish themselves for ever. Lewis Carroll invented words. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote about what it was really like to be a black American...in the 1860s. And Jane Austen, single and never married, wrote so beautifully about love that girls still flock to read her boots 160 years after the fact. So can you do something unusual and interesting, too? Can you write a story with many main characters...or with no main character?

Thinking Outside the Box

The first time I saw The Neverending Story, I thought it was the most amazing movie ever made. I immediately loved it and wanted to watch it again and again (and I did). Now, ask me why.

Because I identified with, and immediately liked, Bastian. He's the little boy who's reading the book. I also read books! I'm not a little boy, and I didn't live in a big city like him, and I sure as heck would never have gone into any scary school store room by myself with a piece of fruit in the middle of a storm...but yeah, I know what it is to get swept up in a story, so carried away that it becomes the most important thing. Bastian was a main character, and he was the glue that held that whole story together. Eliminate him from The Neverending Story, and you've just got a weirdo in a loincloth talking to rocks. I definitely can't identify with any of that.

I like a single main character, and this is what works for a goodly amount of stories. But there are other ways to write a book.

  • Many main characters
If your story has no main character, maybe it's because you have several main characters. Maybe you're telling several seemingly separate stories revolving around small casts of characters, and in the end these disparate plots merge into one mind-blowing experience. But here's the problem: I'm not a group of people or an entire cast. I am one person. I want to read about one person that I can latch onto. I want to love them, or hate them, cheer for them or actively root against them. I'm an individual, and I want to put my focus on an individual in your book.

If you divide my attention between several main characters, I may be unable to adequately drum up enough big emotion for any one of them. The worst thing you can do for your book is to create any sense of ambivalence. Get me passionate, get me laughing, get me crying -- get me feeling anything but apathetic. If you stretch my attentions and my emotions too thin among a big ensemble cast, the end result is that I won't really give a crap about any of them. So tread lightly if you're taking a many-character approach.

  • No main characters
Taking a we-are-the-world approach, are we? Maybe you envision a brave new world of writing with no main character. Maybe you're detailing a catastrophic event in your story, and switching POV to different people with every new chapter. I visit with each, but never really linger. It's a bold plan.

Once again, I need someone to latch onto in order to develop the necessary emotion. If I know that you're just going to introduce me to someone new soon, what difference does it really make to me that Carol just died in Chapter 5? Now I'm hearing all about Jim, and he's pretty cool, so that's a do-over. You're basically hitting the reset button on your story over and over, and my emotions are getting engaged only briefly or not at all. If there's no longevity and no character development, what difference does any of it make? 

There are pitfalls to this approach, but if it's done well you can get me to care about something to make your story stick. If the people aren't touching me, maybe it's the setting that holds the story together. It's very possible to make human readers care about an inanimate object -- I wasn't the only person who cried when Wilson drowned in Cast Away, I know I'm not. 

  • A small group
It's very common to see stories that revolve around a small group of main characters; two to five is just about right for a small, close-knit cast of characters. If these characters are linked in some way, this is an interesting way to show different sides of your characters. The reader gets the chance to see each character through the other's eyes, and the changing perspectives can add a rich new dimension to the story. 

Building a story around a few main characters is a good way to make your book identifiable to a broad range of readers. Think Sex & the City. Women of all ages love deciding which one of the four women they are (clearly I'm a Carrie) -- and you can see how it goes.

The answer to the question is yes. You can do whatever you like in your own book, and you should do whatever feels right to you to tell the story that you need to tell. A character doesn't have to be a stand-alone star, and you don't have to write your book using a certain formula. No matter how many characters you write, they simply need to be strong, well-crafted characters. Make them fully dimensional, real people, and that will make them more identifiable.

Praise for The Tower

"If there's one book that deserves to be in the bestsellers list I think it's this one because Jade Varden did an absolutely flawless job in executing the story."

"While the previous book was good, this one was excellent, brilliant and honestly? I can't praise it enough."

The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2) has been reviewed at Reading 24x7 by friend of the blog Josheka Chauhan. Read the whole thing before you get your copy of the book!

Review: Empire Zero Act I: Tinder and Tear

I didn't know what Empire Zero (Act I: Tinder and Tear) was about when I began reading it, and after the first few paragraphs didn't care. It was written so well, I was ready to just go along for the ride.

But it wasn't always a smooth journey. At the beginning the story threw me into the life of a young man on a quest, going through a strange world. Dangers abound here, in a land where humans, dwarves and ogres dwell...but do not really coexist. The races are at odds, and the journey is fraught with peril.

I'd have happily stayed with that tale, but the author began to introduce different, concurrent storylines. Three main stories create Act I of Empire Zero, and it gets pretty confusing pretty quickly. The author makes it easier by naming chapters after each main story, dividing them into Brother, Monster and Thief.

The Brother story revolves around Castor, who must travel across the dangerous world to procure medicine. Monster tells us the story of two ogre brothers, and Thief introduces us to Maeve.

The chapter names made it easier to keep the divergent stories sorted, but didn't improve the disjointed feeling of the narrative. I wanted to stay with Castor and the somewhat motley crew he assembled around himself. I wanted to know if he would complete his mission. I did get some answers, but lots of extra stuff also.

And as for Castor...there's not much resolution. It's clear that his adventure will continue in the next book, and I'm anxious to see what else will happen to him. Others stories do find more of an ending, though not necessarily satisfaction.

The writing itself is descriptive but not overly so. It flows well and has a perfect pace. I was hoping something less tragic would develop between Castor and Raine, but perhaps there's still time for that. Left without much of an ending, there's not much else to do but wait for more of the story and see what else will develop. The narrative was a little disorganized and hard to follow, but the quality of the writing makes Empire Zero's first act a totally worthwhile read. I'll definitely stick it out for the next book.

"He decided he would write not of the future, but of the present, and how lost he felt in this world—but he was relegated to committing everything to memory..."

Get the book free at Smashwords with the coupon code UM57K.

Writing 101: Are You Really Ready to Self-Publish?

You've studied the craft of writing. You know all about formatting. You know how to edit. You've got a great blurb. You're a born storyteller. But are you really ready to self-publish? The job is about a lot more than writing, and it can be very overwhelming.

My Other Job is Not Sleeping

It takes a lot of time and study to write a book, any book. You've got to think about the plot, figure out the ending, complete the research, develop the characters, decide upon the setting...well, you know it takes a lot. When the book is finished, you have to edit it and format it for mass distribution. 

Once that's all done, the real work begins. It's not enough to put a book out there into the world, even if it's a great book. Even if it's the greatest book ever penned by the hand of man, it's not enough to simply self-publish it.

Now you have to market it. You have to slip into the role of indie author. And the problem with that is, it's a full time job. 

Once you decide to make a go of self-publishing, you have to start marketing. It's never too early to start. As an indie author, you should use all the available tools at your disposal. You need to get active on social media. You need to establish a presence in reader and writer forums. You should blog, and establish a brand for your audience to identify with. Oh and by the way, you need to publish more books. The more you publish, the more credible you become as a self-published author. 

And when you aren't doing all of that, chances are very strong that you're also working a normal "day" job in order to continue putting food in your mouth, maybe attending school to broaden your horizons, tending to a family that you love and attempting to maintain some sort of social life on top of it all. 

Your free time is going to be spent working on your next book, or answering Tweets, or combing through your author inbox. I work 7 days a week, every week, on some project or another. I count myself lucky to get a full 6 hours of sleep a night. I am an indie author. And that means I've got two full-time jobs.

So are you ready to take all of that on? If so, then go ahead and self-publish. It's rewarding to see that first review, and all the reviews after that. It's thrilling to get a tweet from someone who's read your book. It's exciting...but it's very hard work, and it's going to consume a huge chunk of your life if it's going to work. So are you ready? Only you can find the answer.

Writing 101: Social Marketing

Social marketing serves a lot of different purposes. It's a great way to stay connected with friends and family, or to re-connect with them. It's wonderful for learning more about people, for getting the inside scoop on celebrities and TV shows, it's a great distraction when you want to be entertained. But social media sites are popular, and that makes them good for something else: marketing. As a self-published author, you pretty much need to do it. But as a self-published author, you've got to play to your own strengths.

Socially Spamming

If you can get a lot of followers on Twitter, you have a great platform from which to tout your books. It's a good idea to post snippets of text, pieces of reviews and parts of your blurb to pique the interest of potential readers. But you can't do that too much, or else you'll be regarded as a spammer.

And it's not really the most effective means of social media marketing, anyway. Social media is supposed to be social, so that's where you've got to put your focus when you want to hawk more books. 

Social Social Media

Unless you are already an established personality in some medium, you are not going to build a fan base as a self-published author overnight. It's a very slow and steady process, especially where social media is concerned. The best marketing you can do is to simply be active. Show them you're a real person. Comment on other people's posts, make random comments of your own, give out likes and always respond when someone has something to say to you.
As a self-published author, being an everyday person is your strength. Show it off, show your personality, and reach out to others through social media. Join in on discussions, and get involved. This is a slow way to build your fan base, but you'll be building a strong one.

Writing 101: Add Your eBooks to the Library

How do you know you're a "real" author? For some, it's seeing their book or books available at the public library. Now that many libraries have added ebook collections to their spanking-new virtual shelves, it's a possibility. Add your ebooks to your local library's database, and join all the other big-time authors who loan their books out for free.

Amazon at the Library

Amazon released many of their electronic titles for lending at libraries all over the United States, and you can join the list of available books.  Many of the ebooks available at local libraries can be found on a central database which distributes the books.

From the OverDrive site, readers can type in their zip code to find the ebooks available at their local libraries. It's even got an app.

To get your books listed on OverDrive, and subsequently at libraries across the country, you'll have to apply for a publisher account with the site. If you're with a small press, contact them about potentially becoming publishers with OverDrive to offer your titles for lending. 

Listing your ebooks at local libraries makes them more available to readers, and free books are much easier to share. Run promotions to share lending links, and get more readers.

Writing 101: What Makes a Story Great?

Everyone who wants to be an author thinks about writing a great novel, not just a massive bestseller but something that lasts through the ages. Think Pride and Prejudice, Gone With the Wind, A Christmas Carol. Then you start writing...and realize you'll settle for just getting the damn book finished. But after you write three or four, it might not be out of line to try and reach for greatness again. So I've got to ask: what makes a story great?

All the Earmarks of a Great Novel

We've all read great books...and we've all read bad books. The differences between the two can be very minute indeed -- the wrong word, the wrong ending, a missed opportunity can be the determining factor in a brilliant story and a horrible one. But truly great stories do tend to have a few things in common. Master them, and you may find your greatness.

  • Strong main character: Notice the adjective. Great main characters do not have to be good, and they do not have to be heroic. They do not have to be beautiful. They don't even have to be likable. But they have to be strong. Make that character come alive and leap off the page. You don't necessarily root for Scarlett O'Hara to get what she wants, but you can't stop reading about her. 
  • Clear narrative: You don't have to tell a linear story, and you don't have to tell it in the past tense. You do have to tell me a story that I can understand. Make sure I can follow it.
  • Plot: Stuff has to happen. Make sure you're adding love scenes, action sequences, other exciting stuff to keep readers engaged. Remember that all these plot developments should serve the story; each scene should be taking us closer to the end.
  • Flow: The way the words flow is arguably the most important aspect of any book. The writing should be smooth, and it should be easy to understand. You don't have to pull out the five-syllable adjectives or wow me with the most uncommon irregular verbs in the English language. Simple words allow the story to shine through. 

And that's about it. The setting, the genre, the theme -- all that stuff is important, but it can be changed at will and won't make your book any less great. Weak characters, confusing wording, a messy story and a boring plot are things that will kill your story. Put your focus where it matters, and write a great one.

Jumping into the Tower

"Thrilling sequel. I can't wait to read the next book!"

The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2) has been reviewed at Counting in Bookcases. Go read it if you're all caught up on book 1, Justice. If not, go buy both right now!

The Best Story Starters are Nearby

Need a good story starter? Feeling lost at the beginning of  a book project is common, and many writers find themselves staring at blank screens (I do it all the time). Start your story with the right tools, and you'll see it through all the way to the end.

I visited Lisa Fantino's blog recently to write all about the best story starters you can find. Visit her blog at Amalfi Blue to find out what they are!

Writing 101: Find Your Motivation Again

Writer's block takes many forms. Sometimes you just lose interest in a story, or writing in general. Maybe you suffer from a lack of focus, or you just feel the well of ideas has run dry. There's an easy way to find your motivation again, and get yourself back to writing. 

Writing for Writing's Sake

When you're having trouble writing, it's often because too many thoughts are getting in the way. Over-thinking it is a common problem, and it's also common to feel sort of "blah" about writing. When you need to motivate yourself, think about your favorite movie. 

What's your favorite scene from the movie that you like best? If it's really your favorite, chances are good that you know at least one scene backwards and forwards. So, write it. Describe the scene with your words, using as much of the real dialogue as you can remember. Think about every little detail, and put it on the page. Just start writing it, and get into the rhythm of punching the keyboard. Notice how nicely the words flow. It's not your scene, but they are your words. So write out the scene and go back and re-read it.

When you're done reading, you may find that you're ready to write something else. Maybe it's time to dust off one of those neglected stories, or maybe there's a new idea in your head all of a sudden. Try it, and see what happens.

Writing 101: Write What Interests You

I watched crime shows and court shows all day, every day while working on the final book in the Deck of Lies series. They inspired me, and helped me stay in the right head space to get the story together. Also, I really like those shows...it's why I like to write mysteries. I've found that if you write what interests you, you write better.

What the Heart Wants

Suzanne Collins got the idea to write The Hunger Games while watching news and reality TV. She watched politics and brutal competition, so that's what she ended up writing about. She wrote about what she likes, what interests her, and it became a hit.

It's a pretty simple formula. If you're interested in something, and passionate about it, your story is going to be much richer. Your love of the topic itself will enhance every aspect of your tale. Research will be easier and the words will flow more freely. So now all you have to do is figure out what interests you...and parlay that into a bestselling book.

Should be no problem.

Wait...What Does it Want?

Pay attention to the things that interest you. Are there similarities in the TV shows you watch, your favorite movies? Certain themes or ideas that strike you?  Maybe it's a setting that grabs you the most. Do you like movies and TV shows about life near the beach, in the snow, in fancy mansions or maybe in the mean streets of the city? Figure out your interests, and you might find some story ideas in there.

For example, maybe you watch a lot of cop shows and shows that are set in high school. You like movies that take place in big cities with plenty of singing and dancing. Why not write a story about a high school girl who moonlights in the city as a private detective -- and she's in the school glee club? It could be a zany comedy filled with hijinks as she tries to balance these two seemingly disparate interests (something you could write well if you share these interests), or a romantic drama in which she helps apprehend a ring of vicious criminals and wins the heart of the lead singer in the rival glee club. 

Play the game with your own interests, plucking out various pieces of them and putting them together in a plot. Who knows? Maybe you'll find your own Hunger Games.

Writing 101: Limit Your Characters

Have you ever forgotten someone's name that you went to school with, someone you met a few times, that neighbor who lives down the street? If it's possible for you to forget the name of real human beings who are standing directly in your face, just think how I must feel when I'm trying to memorize the 52 characters you put into your book. As an author, you have to limit your characters. Otherwise, I'm going to start forgetting them...so why should they be in the book in the first place? 

Bob and Jim and Nancy and Fred and Donna and Phil and Becky and...

Frankly, I'm lucky if I can accurately remember my own address and two phone numbers. I walk around all day with several of my own characters rattling around in my head, plus I'm juggling storylines from like a dozen different totally interesting shows at any given time. So honestly, it's just cruel for you to expect me to keep track of the 30-plus characters you've added to your 200-page book. Give them names that are any more complicated than Jill and Bob, and I'm in danger of getting a short circuit in my brain. 

Here's the rub: I've got way less stuff going on than the average reader you want to target. That's because I only read one book at a time, and I do it pretty darned slowly. The readers you want to target? They devour books by the day, absorbing and picking apart plots for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What are the odds that they're going to remember all your multi-faceted characters three weeks from now?

The odds start to get better if you focus on creating just a few really great characters. In every book, there are three basic character types. It's in your best interest to keep the names in each column down to a reasonable level. 

  • Main character: Your protagonist is, clearly, the most important character in the book. I should get to know everything about the way this character works, how they think, what they want, and so on. Make sure you give me the chance to do that by keeping the focus on this character. Don't dazzle me with 17 love interests or 7 best friends, along with 12 siblings and 34 cousins. I want to know this character. Don't be afraid to put this person in a room, alone, with only their own thoughts. You don't have to have additional characters in every single scene to make scenes interesting.

  • Supporting cast: Of course, every main character does need to have some sort of plot to follow. Your supporting cast might be made up of close friends, family members, love interests, fellow students and/or co-workers. These are the people the main character interacts with most frequently. I want to get to know these characters, but only well enough to figure out their relationship to the main character. That's who I care about. They're called a supporting cast for a reason -- they're here to complete the protagonist's story, not to tell their own. Keep the supporting cast simple, focusing only on the key players, and make each one of them distinct enough for me to tell them apart. I shouldn't have to re-read every name and ask myself "wait. Who the hell is that person, again?" Continue to remind me who the hell that person is, because if you don't I will forget.

  • Extras: There are going to be background characters in every story. Teachers, background co-workers, the parking lot attendant, a grocery store clerk -- into every life, random faces flit by constantly. I don't care about background characters. Give me a name and a little bit of description, so I can picture the scene, but don't give me their whole life history. I just don't care, and it's too much to memorize. Let background characters enter the scene and then leave; that's their job.

Too many characters only clutters up the story. It becomes a distraction and forces me to constantly question and double-check. If I'm looking back through chapters to figure out what's significant about Cathy, I can hardly focus on the plot you've so carefully constructed. You don't need a lot of people or a lot of extras to create a great story -- you just need the story. Highlight the characters who count, and let the others linger in the shadows. I don't need to know them all, and I'm not going to love them all. Put a spotlight on just a few of them, and they'll be a lot more meaningful to me...and all your readers.

Dramatic Justice

"This book throws you into the drama and it NEVER.STOPS. The writing is spectacular!"

"I loved it! It was exciting, crazy and full of twists and turns you never see coming. I highly recommend it!"

Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has been reviewed at Lily Bloom Books. Read it to find out what the reviewer found jaw-dropping about the book.

Writing 101: What You Should Know About Taxes

It's March...do you know where your income is coming from? Before you break the federal law, figure out what you should know about taxes as a self-published author. 

Two Sides to Every Coin

Once you sell a certain amount of books through any venue, from Amazon to Smashwords, you will receive a check in the mail or an automated payment of some sort; it all depends on the payment information you've submitted. When this happens, it's an amazing day. You earned money as an author, and you are a success.

And you are liable for it as a taxpaper. Because here's what you may not know about self-publishing: you're doing it as an independent contractor. What does that mean?

It's pretty simple. You have sold something, a product, on Amazon (or B&N, or whatever). Amazon has taken their cut of the profits and now they are giving you what you have earned as the author. But they have not taken taxes out. Amazon is not your employer. You didn't fill out tax paperwork with them, they are not filing for you with your state or federal agencies. You are an independent contractor.

And you're responsible for claiming your taxes yourself. As a citizen of the United States or any other country (and I am assuming you are), you must pay income taxes. Everyone who lives and works in any country must pay taxes to the central government. The government uses this money to build roads, pay teachers in schools and put cops on the streets -- your basic public service stuff. Amazon isn't claiming your income for you because you do not work or Amazon. You have to claim your income yourself.

When you earn money as an independent contractor, you are technically self-employed. And you're in luck, because so am I.

In the United States, this is how it works: when you earn income as an independent contractor, self-employed professional, freelancer or a self-published author, you must claim this income in order to pay income taxes. Your income taxes are based upon a percentage of what you earn; it's roughly 25% unless you earn more than $200,000 a year but if you earn more than $200,000 a year you probably already know what you need to know about taxes. Here's the fun part: you must also pay self-employment taxes. This is about 15% of your total self-employment earnings. The SE tax pays for Social Security, Medicare and other programs that are usually covered by payroll taxes. As a self-employed professional, you do not pay payroll taxes, so that's why.

Confused yet? The good news is, you are only liable to claim your income and pay self-employment taxes if you earn more than $400 as an independent contractor. More good news: the money you spend on your books is tax-deductible. That cover you bought from that artist? The editor your hired to help clean up your words? That tester Facebook campaign you launched? Yes, even the cost of the official copyright -- it's all tax-deductible, because it's a direct business expense. Claim all your expenses, and this is deducted from the independent income you've earned. That means your tax payment is lessened.

Due to new tax laws taking effect in this year, as a self-employed professional you can no longer claim your taxes and pay them only once a year. In the past, many independent contractors have managed their taxes this way. This is no longer allowed. If I'm reading all the information correctly, which is admittedly questionable, self-employed professionals are now obligated to make quarterly tax payments -- the means every three months. This April 15, you must claim all the self-employed income you earned in 2012, and pay all associated taxes. You must also claim all the self-employed income you have earned in 2013 up to April 1. You must claim your taxes, and pay them, again every three months for the remainder of 2013...and for the foreseeable future, until the tax laws change.

It's pretty frightening, I know. Tax forms are pretty much impossible to understand. If you're confused about it, don't be afraid. Call the IRS and get help. They're always there and they will absolutely help you, even if the problem is that you can't pay the taxes you owe. They'll work out a payment plan with you and they're very flexible, so don't be afraid. I've called them several times, and their customer service is far better than what most private corporations are willing to offer.

Get Addicted to Justice

"This fairly addictive, well written novel is a must read for people looking for something fresh, quick, and mysterious." 

"The plot is wonderful and the characters are amazing. I am addicted to the mystery and lies!"

Counting in Bookcases has reviewed Justice (Deck of Lies, #1). Read the spoiler-free review before you get your copy of the book.

Movies on Paper: Star Wars

I've written many posts about books that became films. Much more rarely, this happens in reverse: people write books inspired by movies. The best example you're likely to find is Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope. It was on film first. Now, it's in everything.

The Film

I'm certain there's nothing I can tell you about Star Wars that you don't already know, except maybe that I find Family Guy's to be the definitive spoof and I'm sorry, Mel Brooks (Spaceballs reference). 

It's basically your classic heroic tale, only set in space. The story, to paraphrase, goes something like this. A pretty young and untried filmmaker named George Lucas got an epic idea for a movie, so he wrote it all out. He started showing it around, and movie studios were overwhelmed. They told Lucas he didn't have a movie in his hand -- he had several movies. So Lucas selected the middle chunk of his epic sci-fi fantasy story and said, let's make this into a movie. The studio said, let's make it three.

So they released A New Hope, technically the fourth chapter in the epic story but the first movie made in the franchise, in 1977. 

It blew everybody away. The special effects were mind-boggling and the story so good, everybody pretty much overlooked the fact that three unknown actors were playing the leading roles. Star Wars has it all: romance, mystery, space battles, scary soldier guys, a creepy villain with an amazing name, a little weird guy who's surprisingly wise, a princess, swordplay...and a Bigfoot. It hits all demographics. 

This was a sci-fi movie to end all sci-fi movies, and the franchise has done nothing but grow for the past thirty-five years. A New Hope spawned (so far) 5 more movies, comic books...and dozens of novels.

The Books

There are way, way too many Star Wars books to list, and the authors are numerous as well. Suffice it to say that a great many authors have been inspired by the first film and its subsequent sequels and prequels. Read them to learn a great deal more about different periods in time and all your favorite characters from the films.

Moved to Write

A good story is a good story in any medium. My Twitter followers might know that I'm a big fan of The Walking Dead, which was inspired by a series of graphic novels, and I am not a fan of comic books. There aren't a lot of movies that have inspired authors to create books, but it is proof that inspiration to write can come from anywhere. 

If you can't find your own story to tell but the words inside you are clawing to get out, why not try an adaptation? Many successful, and wonderful, books have been written as adaptations or re-tellings of other stories. Shakespeare and Jane Austen remain favorites in the adapted classics department, but your inspiration may come from anywhere. Tell us the untold story of someone from one of your favorite movies, or books, or poems or even songs. It's still an original idea if it's something that hasn't been seen before, a twist perhaps on something we have. 

Who knows? Maybe you'll write something so interesting, others will be inspired by you.

Writing 101: Getting an Agent

So, you want to get a literary agent. You've written you book, and it's good. Good? It's great! Agents ought to fall over themselves for it. ...If only you knew how to get to the agents. I can tell you how to do it, but I can't promise you'll be happy with the results.

How to Get an Agent

First, don't bother querying any agents until your book is done, done, done. I'm talking it had better be edited and polished to the nines, or you're only doing yourself a huge disservice. Once it is, I want you to put together a list. Do whatever you can to make sure it's a big list

  • The List
Let me preface this by saying that this is going to take some time. You increase your chances if you take the time to follow these steps, and even then your chances are slim. That's the nature of the business. Go to Agent Query first. This is a reputable site that contains listings of literary agents. Use the search feature to seek agents who accept your genre. Select other criteria as desired. It goes without saying that if you can't pigeonhole your genre, don't bother doing this. If you want to get yourself an agent, you have to got to sell it. You can't sell it if you can't define it. Again, this is just the way the business works. 

Get out your Writer's Market next. If you don't have one, get one. It's really one of the best tools for writers, and I'm pretty sure it's now available in an e-version so that might be the best way to go. Either way, you have to go through the agent listings (and the book has many; it is quite thick). Copy the relevant information for all the potential agents you find. They will be listed by genre and a good deal of additional information will be offered, so this will take some time. Put the list together and save it. You will need it again. Take care not to get repeats; you will find many of the same agents in the Writer's Market and on Agent Query. 

  • The Letter
You've got a nice juicy list of agents -- great! Now, you have to write a great pitch letter, also known as the query. First rule: five paragraphs, no more, and make them short and sweet. Agents receive hundreds of letters every day and they will definitely skip yours if you decide to wax poetic for 9 meaty paragraphs. 

Get right to the point, but let your natural voice shine through. The first line of the letter should be your hook. Ask a question, make a strong statement, say something crazy. The name of this game is to write whatever it takes to get their attention, though I do suggest you relate it in some way to your book. For example, if I wanted to pitch a book based off of this blog, my letter might begin with something provocative like What do most authors get wrong when they're writing books? Then I'll go on to answer that question by pushing my agenda.

The opening paragraph is your hook and your brief intro -- sort of a hey look at this! It's my book and my name is Jade, only much more professional. The second paragraph goes into more detail. Answer basic technical questions by telling them the length of the book, how many chapters, and the basic plot. Again, get right to the point. You don't have to be flowery, just compelling. Show that you have a good understanding of your own material by describing it in a succinct, interesting way. 

The two following paragraphs should go on to explain the book in more detail, and detail your own qualifications and your target audience. Tell them who this book appeals to, and why. Tell them why you're the best to write it, and anything else you can toss in there. Have you self-published already? Do you have a big blog following or lots of fans on Twitter? As the saying goes, if you've got it, flaunt it. Don't pull your punches in this letter. 

In the closing and final paragraph, quickly sum it up. State that you're seeking representation for this project and thank them for their time and consideration. Always include your contact information at the bottom. Do not send anything else. Send only the query until and unless you are instructed to do otherwise. 

And All the Rest

Fifty percent of the time, you will hear nothing back from any agent either way. Of those who do respond to you, most are likely to be rejections. However, if you have written a strong enough query letter you will get at least one response. Write a brilliant query and you may get more. Read the email they send you more than once and follow all instructions to the letter. Good luck! 

Writing 101: If You Don't Know About It...

Then why are you writing about it? As some of you probably know, I spend much too much time reading forums. Often, I'm wading through endless questions about setting, animal husbandry, types of vegetables, head trauma...one guy sincerely wanted information about bear attacks, because the animals aren't native to his geographic region. It's a pretty thin excuse for practicing a really bad writing tactic: overreaching...and I could make an argument for laziness, too. Either way, it's bad - so stop! There are alternatives to asking random questions about the secret life of onion bulbs in open, public writer forums. 

 Totally Unfamiliar Territory

I find it incredibly mind-boggling that so many writers would use plot devices with which they are utterly unfamiliar -- particular when so much stuff could just be changed to fit something about which the author is more knowledable. Let's go back to bear guy, shall we?

In the book he was creating (and this is a general "he," I can't possibly know the sex of the person who posted the question but bear attack feels like a masculine choice to me), one of the characters was going to get attacked by a bear. Yet he knows nothing about bear attacks, so why not ask a public forum group at large for help?

Why not, indeed? Allow me to count the ways.

  • Anonymous answers are always the wrong answer: You're writing a book that's meant to be published. The minute you put some incorrect information in there about the habits of bears, I promise you that one of the people who reads your work will be some sort of ranger, zookeeper or animal expert. They will call you out on Amazon and you will feel bad about it. You don't know who's answering your forum questions or what the heck they know about bears or any other subject. Until you get it from three respectable sources, it just isn't true. That's it.
  • You should do your own work: I'm an indie author like you, not your personal research assistant. It's rather unfair for anyone to go around on forums asking random research questions. Why? Because I already know you know how to use the Internet; you're posting on forums. Clearly you can find this out yourself, so why are you asking? In the same amount of time, you can discover the info. I touched on this very thing in another forum-related rant (thinly disguised as a blog post), but it bears repeating because it keeps happening.
  • You don't know what you are talking about: If you have to look up bear behavior and attacks to finish a scene, maybe change the scene. Why? Because reading text about how bears attack and looking at pictures of grizzlies just isn't the same as facing a pissed off one in the woods, that's why. You haven't been in that situation, and maybe you've never even seen a bear. Why put one in the story? Write the scene to describe an event that maybe you are a little more familiar with, and you'll be able to add so much more to it. Writing what you imagine is great, but it adds a lot more depth when you write what you know

As an author, you will have to explore totally unfamiliar territory a lot. You have to think about characters and feelings and motives and settings and events. Don't make it any harder on yourself than you have to. You get to choose the plots and the setting, so try to choose something that you're comfortable with. You can create a scifi world that still resembles your geographic region in some ways. You can invent animals that are similar to the pet rabbit you had as a kid. Interject real memories and knowledge of your own into your stories, and you'll see that you write much better stories.

Writing 101: What Should You Blog About?

I must admit, I've been avoiding this topic for a while, though I see it crop up constantly. Many self-published authors are told to start blogging to build a fan base, which sounds simple enough. Doesn't everybody offer free blogs these days? Isn't design easy thanks to built-in templates? So you create your blog and pick a pretty design...and then horror strikes. What the heck are you supposed to blog about?

Blogs, Books and Writing...Oh, My

It seems like there ought to be a simple solution, right? After all, you're a writer...shouldn't blogging be a breeze? In truth, maintaining a blog can be pretty hard work, especially when you'd rather be hard at work on your next book. It's especially hard if you aren't committed to your topic. So...what's your topic?

In the world of self-published author blogs, there are a few different types of blogs you'll see a lot.
  • The author blog: This is a blog dedicated to telling readers about your work as a writer. What are you working on now? What happened today? Allowing readers into the process of your writing can be a very effective blogging style, but make sure you've got stuff to write about. This is why I personally have avoided writing a full-on author blog of this sort; I can't find a way to make typing for 12 hours day sound at all entertaining. Molly Snow's is one of the really good author blogs out there.
  • The book blog: If you're a writer, it follows that you love books. This is why a great deal of self-published authors have book blogs. A book blog is a great choice because there's always something new to write about and lots of interesting recurring features you can add. Book reviews, cover reveals, excerpts, sneak peeks and author interviews are all common elements on book blogs. You'll find a good example at Aside From Writing.
  • The personal blog: If you're an interesting person, or capable of writing blog posts that make you sound as though you are, you can always maintain a personal blog that features a mix of all your activities and snippets of daily life. Here, you'll talk about your writing, your reading and other aspects of your life. If you're naturally open and lead a pretty interesting life, this may be a perfect choice. A good example of this type of blog can be found courtesy of Annalisa Crawford.
  • The niche blog: If you are an expert or an enthusiast in any particular topic, and it happens to pertain to any aspect of writing or reading or books, you should use it. Parlay this interest into a blog, as I have done. Look to Redwood's Medical Edge to find a much better example of a writing-related niche blog.
If you don't want to blog about your own writing, blog about other people's. Or maybe blog about writing in general, books you love. Whatever you choose, blog about something that you are interested in and something you can write about with some degree of knowledge or skill. Make sure the information you blog is correct, or you will lose credibility with readers. And stick with it. Many self-published authors are discouraged by very slow progress, but if you continue to blog and strike up professional relationships with other bloggers you will slowly build up a base of readers.

Writing 101: Hooked on an Ending

Sometimes the end is the first part of a story that reveals itself. When you get stuck thinking about it, you may never have the chance to write it. 

A Love Story

Once, just once, I fell in love with a story. I was so besotted, I couldn't stop thinking about the characters and setting even after the book was done. I imagined new plots, new events, new characters and brand-new jokes. 

I started the sequel almost as soon as I finished the book I so loved. I knew exactly how it would start, the time period I wanted to cover...and I knew just how it would end. With tears, and a poignant moment next to a tree. It's really much better than it sounds.

I was in love again. So I started my sequel, and blazed through the first few chapters like this was the story I'd been born to tell. I was so excited I couldn't type fast enough.

At first. Then I got through all the setup chapters...and realized I was very far from reaching my oh-so-dramatic ending.

I'd forgotten all about the middle part of the book. I knew how to write the ending...I didn't know how to get to the ending.

Beginning at the Beginning

The trouble with falling in love with an ending is clear: it wont ever love you back. I never did finish writing that book, and there's a whole long story about me and writer's block that happens before I resolved that particular issue. There were lots of reasons I couldn't finish that story, but since then I have managed to finish several others. 

Don't think too far ahead. I advocate writing an outline, and figuring out every single step it takes to get all the way to the end. But after that, begin at the beginning of the story...and write it. Don't think about the next chapter, or the final scene. Just focus on the one you're writing in that moment. The end of the story may evolve as you write it, so you have to be flexible. Treat every scene like it might be the last you write; as far as you know, it is. If you're thinking too far ahead, you're not giving the right amount of attention to the rest of the story.

Books on Film: The Help

The Help shot to fame after its 2009 release, becoming one of those "must-read" novels on everyone's book club list. After the novel rocketed up the bestseller list, the subsequent film became a surprising blockbuster. In either medium, the story is fantastic...but if you've only experienced one version, you're missing an awful lot. 

The Book

Kathryn Stockett wrote her debut novel The Help just a few years ago, but the book takes place in entirety in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. She wrote the book for 5 years and got rejected by more than 50 agents before finding someone to represent her. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 100 weeks.

Primarily, the story is told through the eyes of Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. Aibileen is a maid of African-American descent who cleans house and cares for the children of white families. She is currently working for the Leefolts, her first job after the death of her son. Aibileen keeps the Leefolt house and cares for their young daughter Mae Mobley. Minny is Aibileen's closest friend who has trouble keeping a job -- she's been fired from 19 of them. She worked recently for Hillly Holbrook's mother, Mrs. Walters. Hilly is known to one and all; she's the head of the Junior League and the de factor social leader of the community.

Skeeter, whose name is actually Eugenia Phelan, grew up on a successful cotton farm. She's returned home from college with ambitions to become a writer, though her mother hopes Skeeter will marry. Upon returning home, Skeeter finds that the maid who raised her, Constantine, has mysteriously departed. No one will tell her what has happened.

It gets her to thinking about what it's like to be an African-American maid in Mississippi, and she starts asking questions. For the first time, Skeeter is paying attention to how other white families treat their maids. But the maids are reluctant to talk to Skeeter about their working lives in any way, until one of them reaches a breaking point. Aibileen and Minny eventually open up to Skeeter, and the book is created.

In many novels, this is where the story would end. This is not the case with The Help. In this book, the reader gets to see the ramifications of Skeeter's efforts. The results are pretty hilarious, and touching.

The Film

The big screen version of The Help came to theaters in 2011 and made a huge splash. Awards were passed out and hype was everywhere, for good reason: it's a darned good movie. Skeeter is played by Emma Stone on film, a casting decision that some lovers of the book have criticized. Stone did a wonderful job as the young, would-be journalist, but she is very petite with a slender 5-foot-4 frame. In the book, Skeeter is a big woman. Bryce Dallas Howard wonderfully portrays bitchy Hilly Holbrook, and Octavia Spencer earned an Oscar for her turn as Minny Jackson.

Skeeter initially approaches Aibileen for help with her "homemaker hints" column, the only writing job she's landed. But the more time Skeeter spends with Aibileen, the more she sees the deplorable way Hilly Holbrook and others treat "the help" in their household. After Minny is fired from the Holbrook household, Aibileen helps her find a job working for Celia Foote (played by Jessica Chastain in a highly-praised performance). Still, Aibileen and Minny are the only two willing to share stories with Skeeter. The New York publisher that Skeeter is speaking to urges her to get stories from more maids, and to do it quickly before the Civil Rights "fad" passes. 

When Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers is killed in Jackson and Hilly's maid is subsequently arrested, the other maids start to come forward. Minny tells Skeeter her most secret story, the "Terrible Awful," to make certain none of the white families will admit to having any involvement with the book. Skeeter also learns the truth about Constantine at long last. The book is released, and becomes a huge success, though it does ruffle a few feathers.

The story ends happily enough, as happily as it possibly could. The Civil Rights Act did make things a little better for African-Americans in the United States, and the women's movement made things better for African-American women in particular, but the world would wait 50 years before an African-American landed the highest job in the land.

What Got Adapted?

The movie understandably glosses over some of the harder facts that are openly shared in the book. At the top of the movie, Aibileen mentions that she has raised 17 children for white folks. In the book, we understand that she eventually left them all because they all broke her heart. Though she loved them, these white children she raised learned how to be racists at the knees of their parents...and all began to see Aibileen as something less than them.

Minny's last scene with Celia Foote has been changed considerably on film. Celia, who has been trying to learn how to cook from Minny for months, has prepared a gigantic meal for Minny to tell her that she may always work in her household. In the book, Celia doesn't learn how to cook or to clean and really can't do much of anything useful. She does promise Minny a lifelong job, more or less, telling her that Hilly can't get her fired from this household...but Celia doesn't have a lot of options, either.

Skeeter's mother is also softened for the film. In the movie it is discovered that she has fired Constantine because of some embarrassing behavior committed by Constantine's daughter during a meeting of white society women. On film, Charlotte Phelan's public embarrassment more or less forces her to banish Constantine from the house.

What actually happens is this: Constantine's daughter Rachel is half-white by virtue of the fact that Constantine was raped by a white man before she came to work with the Phelans. Charlotte doesn't even know Rachel exists until the girl turns up at the society meeting applying for membership to the club. Charlotte learns that Rachel is actually Constantine's daughter, and in her eyes the girl is infiltrating white society. This is why Constantine is fired, and Charlotte never feels sorry about it. Rachel's offense is just too great.

Smaller changes are made on film that defeat the message and realism of the book. Skeeter and Aibileen sit at a table together in one scene, for example. This would not happen in reality, and did not happen in the book.

The violence of the times is greatly softened. In the film, Skeeter's book is scandalous. Writing such a book was potentially fatal, however. Sympathetic whites were hanged and killed in the deep south as surely as blacks who fought for Civil Rights.

The ending is also changed on film, something that causes many critics to cringe. You'll have to familiarize yourself with both versions to find out how the ending was changed! The Help is definitely worth the time to read and to watch, so don't miss either version.

Grabbed by Justice

"I didn't know then that it would make me fail my philosophy test coming up due to the fact that it was not a book that was easily put down once started."

"I was definitely not disappointed. This book quickly grabbed my attention and became impossible to put down."

Visit The Schwartz Reviewz to see the newest review for Justice (Deck of Lies, #1), and find out which quote from the book the reviewer liked best.