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: Studying the Humans

Want to be a writer? First, pretend you're an alien. You're on Earth, far from your home. And you have to study these strange creatures. Because if you want to write, you have to study humans.

It's best if you do it objectively...as though you aren't one of them at all.

Take Me to Your Leader

It helps if you know some stuff about grammar, and it's a good idea to keep a thesaurus on standby. But if you're going to write, you have to be able to get inside someone else's head. To make a character real, you have to give them hopes and dreams. They're going to need motivations and explanations for why they're doing whatever it is they're doing. They have to feel like real people...so obviously it helps if you know a little something about how real people think, and react, and what drives them.

Don't panic. You don't have to put on a wig and start following people around. I'm not advocating that you act like you're in a film noir. You shouldn't sit around and just observe your group of friends and family; this is creepy, and it isn't going to get you very far. It's best if you observe life across a variety of social classes and economic levels. Before you buy biker leather and attempt to infiltrate a gang, however, try basic research.

It's a skill that every writer has to have, and when you're researching the human condition it's actually pretty fun (not like looking up the history of writing utensils or silverware). For starters, try watching reality TV. This is sort of an extreme version of normal human behavior -- think of it as shock therapy. For example, I make no secret of the fact that I watch a lot of true crime shows. Since I write mysteries, this makes sense for me. If you're writing about romance in your books, see if you can stomach watching a dating show like The Bachelor. A lot of feelings get explored and exposed on reality TV, and it's much more helpful than it sounds.

Look at past historical figures to learn more about human nature. Who interests you? Look them up in the encyclopedia, start checking names that strike your fancy, and read bios. History can show us a whole lot about human nature, the good and the bad.

Observe life in all its forms, from the flowery historical accounts to the made-for-TV histrionics, and expose yourself to lots of different attitudes and personalities. Studying the humans is going to make you a better writer in the end, and if you have fun with it you'll learn a whole lot that can help you in your work.

A Tornado of Lies

"As she learns more and more about her past, everything she knows changes forever. Can she come out of the tornado unscathed?"

The Bibliophilic Book Blog has reviewed Justice (Deck of Lies, #1). Read the review to find out why so many details are left unwritten!

Writing 101: The Truth About Motivation

In school, some smartypants always starts a paper with the definition of the word that encompasses the subject of said paper. Some teachers hate it so much, they tell their students not to write that way. So here's your warning: this is a post about the definition of motivation...at least, the one I've decided to use for the word when it's applied to authors. Because I've discovered the ugly truth about motivation, and I know the dark secret no dictionary is ever going to tell you.

Synonyms and Staying Focused

You've got to stay motivated. You've got to be motivated. As long as you're motivated, you'll be able to write!

If this sort of advice has ever made you physically queasy, then you understand the dark pain that some writers are forced to face. Because the truth about motivation and writing is this: you can have it, and still not do anything about it.

I'm motivated to write -- clearly, I am doing so right now (real time for me, in the past for you). And like any good writing soldier, I'll whip my manuscript out when I've got free time on my hands. I'll grab that bad boy and scroll all the way to the bottom. And I'll stare at it. Maybe, just for fun, I'll put my hands on the keyboard. And even when I'm feeling fired up, and eager to spend my time getting another scene down on the page, I don't always produce words.

The truth about motivation is this: that's not the main attribute authors need. Much deeper than motivation lies simple hope. Now, you're not going to find that word hope listed in the thesaurus among synonyms for motivation (I checked), but you can bet your best typing hand that motivation without hope isn't going to get you anywhere in that novel.

And you can force writing, if you've really got to -- but nothing says it's going to be any good. You can turn off your heart to write...but you can't turn it on. And if you're not feeling in any way positive or hopeful about your book project, you're not going to have an easy time of writing it. You can still have the motivation to write, you can still have the ambition, but if you're feeling despair, or exhaustion, or helplessness or any other emotion that eats away at your hope...well, it's going to get messy.

So my advice is this: forget about motivation. Keep thinking about your stories. Keep hoping. When something bad happens, you get an ugly review or that 200th rejection letter, hope that next time you'll get a better review or a more positive answer. Keep hoping, and motivation will come naturally. Your writing will be better for it...and the words will come more easily.

Jade's Thoughts on Justice

"A few flawed characters, a dash (or more) of romance, some (or many) secrets, a bunch of character growth, and a few surprises spell out a pretty good recipe."

"Through circumstances she couldn't control, she was taken from the world she was already comfortable in and shoved into a cold, superficial one."

Read the latest review of Justice at Reading is My Treasure, and go to the end to find an interview with me where I talk about writing the Deck of Lies series!

Writing 101: Books and Race

I've avoided writing about this subject in all possible ways, and believe me I could have kept my head buried in sand much longer. But the question cropped up recently during a standard interview, and I've been thinking about it ever since. So today we writers have to ask ourselves a question: where does race belong in books?

This Land is Your Land

Some literary characters are very clearly defined when it comes to race. James Patterson has never made it a secret that Alex Cross, his main protagonist, is a black man. Tony Hillerman writes about Native American heroes. But did any of the Harry Potter books implicitly state that he's a white boy?

Race is often implied in books, more than stated, and that's my personal approach. Through descriptions, it's possible to convey race without stating it outright. A pasty or pale-skinned character can be a presumed Caucasian. The phrase "coffee-colored" appears a lot with African-American characters. Someone whose ethnicity is stated, a Peruvian for example, clearly has a skin tone to match their origins.

But usually, race goes unstated. This allows the reader to envision whatever they want, to think about the characters in a way that's comfortable for them. But it also doesn't do anything to bridge cross-racial relations, or show people of different races that they aren't so dissimilar from each other. By the same token, a book featuring a character whose race is clearly stated may alienate some readers. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where some readers may avoid a book written about an African-American hero.

When it comes to race, there's always a very fine line between acceptance and prejudice -- and that's what makes it so difficult to write. Every author has to find their own way to address race, but remember this: if you can't do it without stereotyping, discriminating or judging, don't address it at all. If you think you can't write objectively about the topic, don't. 

Race is a dicey subject, but it's the writer's job to figure out a way through all those difficult situations. Sometimes, complete avoidance may be the most successful writing technique. But if you feel you're ready to address race in a non-offensive and potentially eye-opening way, go for it. Making people think is part of a writer's job, too.

Writing 101: Insecurity

Every time you sit down at your keyboard to write a book, and actually do it, you've won a battle. Writing a book isn't just about finding a pretty way to put the words down on the page. It's not just about entertaining, or educating, or agenda-pushing. It's about defeating that little voice inside yourself that tells you you're crazy for thniking you can write a book. 

Every writer faces insecurity. And when you keep writing anyway, you're winning the battle...but you're not ever going to win the war. 

Fooling the World

It takes a certain amount of bravery to put a book out there for someone else to read, whether you're self-publishing and inviting the world at large to judge your words or you're asking your closet friend to take a look at some chapters. It's frightening to put yourself in another person's hands like that. 

Insecurity stops lots of would-be writers from pursuing their dreams, and it trips up even the most established of authors at the worst possible times. Everyone gets insecure about their writing. I can't count how many times I've thought that maybe I'm a hack, but I don't let it get to me. Because here's the thing: even the most famous authors have felt that way. 

It's not your fault you're insecure about your writing. The industry has helped make us this way. Rejection is common, bad reviews are a matter of fact, and explanations are rarely forthcoming. When you don't know what you're doing wrong, it's easy to start second-guessing everything you've done and everything you ever will do, writing-wise. It's easy to start feeling a little like a hack. It's easy to be afraid.

So go ahead and feel afraid, and insecure, and unsure of yourself...but don't let it keep you from writing. If you write and you put something out there for the public to read or for an agent to read, you will experience negativity. That happens to all writers who let anyone read their work at any time. But you will have positive experiences as well, and you'll learn from them all. You'll keep writing, you'll get better, you'll establish a fan base and you'll move on to bigger and more exciting projects. And you'll probably always feel a little like a hack.

Being insecure about your writing is a good thing. That shows a desire to keep improving, to produce something that's great. Fear keeps you motivated and detail-oriented. Use it, work with it, and keeping trying to improve your work so it doesn't meet "hack" status. The day you stop being insecure about your work is the day you ought to worry. Until then, keep on writing.

Writing 101: Professionalism

In the world of the theater, a term developed to describe the invisible but very real barrier in front of the stage. A classic stage is made up of three sides -- a back, and two wings. The front of the stage is open, but that doesn't mean it's passable. This part of the stage is protected by the invisible barrier that puts the audience on one side, and the performer on the other. 

This is what's known as the Fourth Wall. And when you're in indie author mode, you're on one side of it. Everyone else in the world is on the other. In other words, you have to learn how to maintain your professionalism -- and that means holding some of yourself back from the world...maybe even most of yourself.

I'm Rubber, and You're Glue

Now, the phrase Fourth Wall is generally used to refer to movies and television. The Fourth Wall separates us, the viewers, from those who are entertaining us on the screen. They're acting something out for us to see, and usually those magical people onscreen interact only with each other.

But sometimes, quite rarely, actors on the screen will directly address us, the viewer. You'll see a good example of it in the movie Mary Poppins, actually, near the beginning when Dick van Dyke looks into the camera and talks right to you. This practice is known as breaking the Fourth Wall. It's very rarely done. When it is, one of two results is pretty much inevitable: it's either spectacular and clever, or it's just plain creepy.

The wall of professionalism is similar to the Fourth Wall, and for the sake of this post it's an able metaphor. The point is, you've got to erect a barrier (albeit invisible) between you...and everybody else. This is how you maintain professionalism.

What is professionalism? It's much more than using the formal tone of address when you're writing an email letter. It's a lot more than proofreading your Tweets and status updates to make sure they're well-written. It's more than giving yourself a schedule, and sticking to it. And it even goes beyond the amount of time you spend polishing your writing. Professionalism is an attitude that you've got to inject into your every interaction while you're in your indie author persona.

What does that mean, exactly? It means not getting too personal, for starters. Tell people a little about yourself, because you're a real person. If you're mad for ice cream and water polo, feel free to say so on your Facebook page. But all your followers don't want read about your recent breakup, and you shouldn't be bumming people out when your beloved cat dies (sorry if your cat has died). There's personable, and then there's personal. Guess which one you're supposed to be.

Being a professional also means being able to take criticism, no matter how unkind, and suffer it with a smile. As an indie author and a public figure (so to speak), you're going to take some shit. It'll come at you from unexpected places. A random tweet, a scathing review, a few choice comments on your author blog -- heck, you might even get an email in your inbox titled "hey shit head." And you should suffer all of it with a smile. For the most part, you just ignore it (an act which truly requires greatness and personal strength). But when it's appropriate and necessary, laugh it off. When someone points out a spelling or grammar error in one of my tweets, for example, I'll congratulate them for passing a secret test -- all in a tongue-in-cheek manner, of course. Ignore it when you can, laugh when you can't and don't take it personally. It feels personal, maybe it even is personal, but you don't get personal.

After all, you're a professional now. Wear it well, and you'll find it much easier to take the slings and arrows that are bound to come your way.

Writing 101: Sell, Sell, Sell...On Your Blog

Indie authors should always have their own space on the web, and a blog is the easiest option. But if you aren't using it to sell books, you're wasting your own time.

Always Selling

Authors are salesmen (or women). Yes, all of them -- that includes you. It's your job to think about selling books, or finding ways to give them away for free, at all times. You're not doing this to make money, because you're probably not going to make a lot of money so don't waste time on that ambition. You're doing it so that you get read, and that's the ultimate goal of any author. You want people to read. 

To facilitate that, you've got to get them to buy. So use your blog, because it's yours. You've got to pay money for Facebook ads, and you've got to spend a lot of time with Twitter to get big results from that. You put a ton of work into being an indie author because you write your books, and edit them and put them together beautifully. But adding some stuff to your blog to sell more books? That's the easy part. There are lots of ways to do it; use any or all of them. 

  • Links: It's the easiest thing in the world to add links to your blog. Create widgets to place them permanently on the page. Make them attractive and colorful. Include pictures of your book covers and other interesting elements. 
  • Quotes: If you've got some good reviews, add a few quotes to your blog. After all, if Reader Stacy enjoyed the book, why won't Blogcrawler Molly?
  • Shopping cart: Get fancy, and add a shopping cart to your blog so readers may buy the book directly from you. PayPal, Google and many other websites allow you to do this for free.
  • Widgets: Many sites, including book-centric Goodreads, have widgets that make it easy for you to add your books to your blog. Amazon and many online bookstores have widgets you can use as well. Explore the options to create a layout that pleases you.

Your blog isn't just or selling your books. It's also for selling yourself. Remember that as an author you are a brand. If you are likable and readable on your blog, readers are much more likely to take a look at your books. All you really have to do is make it easy for them to do so.

Writing 101: Write Forward, Not Backward

When you need to move a story forward, it's tempting to start looking backward. But this is a slippery slope, and it might keep you from finishing that book. 

Don't Look Down

You know that moment in the movies when Character B is walking across some narrow piece of something-or-other over a dangerous chasm of doom -- and they're just one freefall away from being at the bottom of it? Character C, like an idiot, always hollers out "don't look down!" Inevitably, Character B looks down. More than half the time, it makes them fall or otherwise screw up what they're attempting to do. 

So the last thing I want to do is tell you not to look back when you're writing a book...but don't. You have to keep writing forward. Remember that it's just a first draft, and doesn't have to be perfect. It's not going to be perfect in the first draft anyway, no matter how long you take to write it. In the first draft, you may not have all the logistics worked out. Certain plot points may not be cohesive yet. Certain scenes might be too short, or too long. But that's okay, because when it comes to the first draft your only job is to write

You can always work out the details later. Always be moving forward in the first draft. If you get stuck, you may want to go back and read that last few chapters just to get yourself fired up again. But don't start correcting errors, or you'll ever stop. It's okay to read the first draft before it's finished -- but don't start editing. Write, write, write until the first draft is done. You've got all the time you need to perfect that writing, but you've got to get the writing done first.

Writing 101: Sacrifice

Hobbies are fun. They're what you choose to do when you don't have anything you have to do. But when you make the leap to indie author, writing is no longer your hobby. It's not your job (in most cases, it's only one of the jobs you have). And to be good at it, you have to learn how to sacrifice.

Your Books, Yourself

When you work all day at a job, and I'm going to go ahead and assume that you don't get to write novels all day at your job, you're going to be tired when it's finally over. You might be frustrated, grumpy, all sorts of stuff. You might be looking forward to some relaxation time, maybe doing a little unwinding with some video games or a movie. 

Forget it. If you're an indie author, your second work day just begins when the regular work day ends. You can't play games or watch a movie, because you have plots to imagine and pages to type and paragraphs to edit -- so get to it.

And when the weekend rolls around? Well, you worked all week at your job-job and you worked on your book in your spare time. So clearly Saturday is a great time to sleep in, maybe enjoy a round of golf with the guys or a day of shopping with the girls (or vice versa, because there are no sexists here). Nope. The weekends give you the chance to really get some work done on your books, uninterrupted time that you don't have to snatch here and there. So close the windows, shut the door and start typing. 

Just when you think you might be able to snag some time off, that's about the time you're going to have to answer your author emails, maybe write some tweets. You need to post on your blog, get active on Facebook and catch up to the forums you've been neglecting. In other words, there goes your Sunday, too. You'll need that whole day just to catch up to your responsibilities, and it's very likely you'll fall into some sort of sleep coma for a few hours. 

If you work full-time and keep up any sort of grooming routine, and eat and sleep on top of it, there's no way around it: you have to make sacrifices to be an indie author. You have to be promoting daily to sell books and you've got to work on new projects constantly to keep readers engaged. It's a lot of work, and that means you have to pass up on fun events, free time and stuff in general that you want to do.

But you can't pass all the time, no matter how full your plate may be. If you don't spend some time relaxing and take a few moments to yourself, you won't be able to write at your best. Sacrifice, but don't completely deprive yourself. Work, but don't over-burden yourself daily. Be disciplined, but not unreasonable. It's hard to find the right balance, but it's easier when you know what it takes to be an indie author.

Books on Film: Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Too many people have no idea that Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a book before it was a movie. Those who have read it largely agree that it's even better than the famous film, yet the book is currently out print. If you haven't been exposed to it, you've truly missed out on one of the most authentic high school stories ever told.

The Book

Cameron Crowe is a talented writer who got an early start (the film Almost Famous is loosely based on his life). While working for Rolling Stone, Crowe went undercover at a high school while in his early twenties in order to research Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He attended for an entire school year, and a very memorable book and movie were the result.

The book itself very closely resembles the movie, but the story has much more depth. Linda and other characters become less shallow on the page, and there's much more dialogue and interaction. Since it's out of print, you'll have a hard time finding a copy (it's not available digitally). But you can watch the film to get a sense of the story.

The Film

Fast Times tracks a key group of high school students through one year. At the center of the story is Stacy Hamilton, a sophomore who has spent the summer working at a hip burger joint in the mall. She's friendly with Linda, who is a senior. Brad Hamilton, Stacy's older brother, is also a senior and he's pretty much got it made. He's got a great job, a cool car and a steady girl. He's the opposite of Rat, the shy movie usher who works across the mall from Stacy's summer gig. He has a huge crush on her, and under the coaching of his too-cool-for-school friend Damone, asks her out on a date.

Stacy is being coached through High School dating by Linda, who is purportedly very knowledgeable about sex. With her encouragement, Stacy makes a date with a much older guy. She lies to him about her age, sneaks out of the house, and the two have sex on their date. He sends her flowers the next day, which she asks her brother Brad to get rid of. He does so by giving them to Lisa, whom he's planning to dump so he can date other girls. 

Stacy uses her newfound sexual confidence to put the moves on Rat during their date, but it freaks him out. She ends up putting the moves on Damone instead, and he's happy to comply. But when he doesn't help Stacy deal with the resulting pregnancy, Linda steps up to get revenge. Rat confronts him, too, and we see that Damone isn't the totally cool guy he pretends to be.

Brad isn't the totally cool guy he thinks he is, either. He loses his job after blowing up at a customer and decides to hang onto his girl, but she doesn't want to hang onto him. He eventually gets a job at a convenience store and, with help from school stoner Jeff Spicoli he becomes a hero.

Jeff is the best character in the film. Played by Sean Penn, Spicoli is that perpetually-stoned slacker who exists in every high school. But he meets his match in the form of Mr. Hand, the school's toughest and sternest teacher.

Stacy learns that Linda isn't really so experienced, and things immediately get better when she stops taking her advice.

What Got Adapted?

The film is more streamlined than the novel, the stories around each character more neatly arranged. On film, distinct main characters emerge, while the book is a bit more scattered and unfocused. And some things did get lost or changed in translation. In the book, Stacy is much more aggressive with her older date. They go on more than one date, and finally she puts the moves on him to get him to make love to her. It happens in one date on film, and he is the aggressor. In the book, he continues to ask her for dates until she reveals her true age to him. 

Spicoli isn't nearly so likable in the book, though some of this is no doubt due to Sean Penn. He makes Spicoli one of the bright spots of the film, but on the page he's more of a buffoon. Many of Penn's memorable film lines aren't even in the original book. Forest Whitaker's character is much more developed on the page; he appears only very briefly in the movie. One fairly prominent character from book, Steve, was deleted from the film entirely.

Search for a copy of the book if you will, but you'll have much better luck finding the now-iconic film. If you've seen it, see it again with new appreciation. If you haven't seen it, what are you doing? Go watch it right now.

Writing 101: A Little Weirdness Inspires Greatness

If you've got strange writing habits, don't worry. Many great authors did lots of weird things while they were writing. Maybe one day, your weird habits will become the stuff of literary legend. 

Getting Weird to Write

Do you have any of the strange habits of brilliant authors who have come before you? If you write lying down, you've got something in common with Truman Capote. The Breakfast at Tiffany's author said he had to write horizontally. He wrote in longhand, and began every morning sipping coffee as he wrote. By the time evening rolled around, he'd moved to martinis. 

T.S. Eliot wanted to be called "Captain Eliot" while he wrote in a room above a publishing house in the 1920s. He had another writing hideaway in the city where he was known as "The Captain." According to legend, he wore green powder on his face to look "cadaverous" while he wrote.

Dan Brown, who penned the Da Vinci Code, wakes daily at 4 am. He writes for 60 minutes at a time before getting up to exercise. Victor Hugo did something even stranger to write Les Miserables. To keep himself from procrastinating, he ordered his valet to take away all his clothes. This left him stuck in the house, with nothing to do but sit around and write naked.

Some authors need weird rituals and odd habits to keep those creative juices flowing. Ernest Hemingway, Virgina Woolf and several other authors famously wrote their works standing up. Hunter S. Thompson could only write after midnight, and a very full evening of substance sampling. Maya Angelou checks into a hotel room where she tells the staff to remove stimulating colors and artwork. Then, she writes a certain amount each day and edits the pages later. 

So anything you're doing while you write can't be that weird. Maybe it takes a little weirdness to find one's writing greatness. Next time you get stuck, try laying down or standing up. Maybe it'll help you create something you never expected.

Writing 101: Everything You Need to Know About Character Names

It's not always great fun to come up with character names. In fact, for many authors it's more of a hassle. The protagonist is one thing, but when you have to come up with names for that guy in the hallway, that random next door neighbor and everybody's brother, of course you're going to get a little cross-eyed. Figure out everything you need to know about character names, and make it easier on yourself. 

By Any Other Name

Pretty much every character is going to need a name, but the most important belongs to your main character.  With every main character, keep a few points in mind: make it easy to remember, easy to spell and unique enough to stand out. You want your main character to be memorable and sharable, and for that you've got to have a name that trips right off the tongue. 

The same rules don't apply to all the other characters in your books, with the exception of the main supporting cast. Love interests should also be fairly easy to spell and remember, yet still interesting. Nicknames are a good way to make names more original. In The Neverending Story, the character Sebastian is often called Bastian as a nickname. Get creative with your nicknames, and your characters will be more unique and much more memorable. 

Using celebrity names is dicey business. If it's somehow relevant to the character, you might want to name your hero after a celeb. Use the first name only and at all times avoid using a celebrity's name unless you're simply referencing them (example: "Don't you love that new Katy Perry song?"). Never use a celeb's name negatively. Otherwise, you're risking a lawsuit.

Look for names through baby naming sites. You'll find hundreds of them through a general Internet search, and I swear by them. They're especially good if you don't have any ideas for names. Try searching by meaning, by origin or by first letter, and you're sure to find some likely candidates.

Writing 101: The Secret Life of Social Media

Indie authors need social media to promote. You hear it all the time, but what you don't hear is that sometimes it's a waste of time. What you don't know about the secret life of social media could be hurting you. Or at least, it could be wasting all your best efforts.

Sunday Always Comes Too Late

When you tweet links, do you know which ones get clicked? Or do you just post and post, waiting for it to work? Do you write Facebook statuses, and can't figure out why they don't trend? And what about that YouTube channel that looks as desolate as a ghost town in a Western movie?

You aren't a bad marketer. You just don't know the secret of social media: it's different every day. Focus your efforts and tailor your links not to your audience and not to your genre. Let the day of the week determine how you're going to promote.

Because here's what you don't know: it already does.

Monday, Monday

Start out every work week strong, and start driving traffic to your YouTube page on Mondays. Why? This is YouTube's biggest day for traffic. If people are already going, get them to go check out your trailers. Debut new videos on Monday, because this is your best chance to get clicks.

Include links to your blog, your book pages and your Twitter in every video description. Otherwise, what's the point?

Terrible Tuesday

Spend a little more time on Facebook every Tuesday, because everyone else is. Tuesday is the most popular day for Facebook, so you should post status updates and drive your Twitter followers to your profile. Be more active on the site every Tuesday as well. Check out your feed and comment on the posts that others make. 

In the Home Stretch

Social media activity is normal on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so spread your efforts out however you like. But if you're going to tweet, do it between 3pm and 5pm. This is when Twitter is most active every day, so this is when you want to focus your marketing efforts. 

Friday, I'm in Love

And Friday? Well, if you're going to choose a day to take a break make it this one. Twitter gets the least amount of traffic on Friday, TV gets the lowest ratings, even the Internet is relatively quiet. Don't launch a new contest on this day, or post your best blog, or spend a bunch of time marketing on Twitter because it won't be at all successful as doing it on Monday instead. 

When you know what's really going on with social media, you'll know how to customize your marketing plan. It's a lot easier to sell your message when you know the secret life of social media.

Writing 101: An or A?

There are 9 parts of speech in the English language, and all sorts of rules about how you ought to use them. But when it comes to a and an, maybe we could use a few more...because sometimes, knowing the rules won't help you pick the right article.

Articles...And Other "A" Words

A or an? This seemingly simple question plagues all writers at some point. 

There is a rule (isn't there always) that is meant to be followed: use a before words beginning with a consonant; use an for words that start with a vowel.

So if you write An antique chair would best suit this room, it's right. So is A contemporary chair is the only option.

But if you say A hour ago, you're wrong.

Yes, I know that h is a consonant...but it's not pronounced in hour so it stops existing (not really, just grammatically). The same thing happens when you ask for an honest opinion, but normal rules apply when you want a ham sandwich. Yes, it's confusing. 

The easiest way to tell if you're supposed to use a or an is to say it out loud both ways. If it sounds harsh to your ears, it's probably wrong. Most grammar problems can be solved by reading out loud, and a or an is a perfect example.

Writing 101: Do You Over-Use Pronouns?

"You've been following me," Ariel looked at Sheila, and she smiled.

Who am I talking about up there? When you over-use pronouns, you confuse readers. Learn the tricks of spotting excessive pronoun usage, and eliminate it from your writing.

He Said, She Said, They Said

Eliza looked at Mary. She shuddered before she spoke. "They're coming for us."

There are so many pronouns in the example above, no one can tell what's going on. Did Eliza both shudder and speak, or did Mary? Maybe Eliza shuddered, and Mary spoke. Or it could be the other way around. Maybe there's a third she involved in this mix. 

The point is, I don't know. And you know what? I'm not going to try to sit here and figure it out. When I'm reading a book, the last thing I want to do is play the Match the Pronoun game. If I have to stop reading to ask "wait -- is that 'he' Marcus or Dave?" then you aren't doing your job as an author.

Grammar is always difficult to figure out, and the best way to keep your pronouns in check is through careful editing. But there is a hard-and-fast rule that I like to use that does help: don't repeat the same pronoun in a sentence. If there's a she, use it just once. Same with he and all the rest. And if there is any confusion at all, use a proper name. Sometimes, you might need to add pronouns to once sentence and take them from another. But I like to eliminate pronouns entirely when there's confusion.

Eliza looked at her. Mary shuddered before speaking. "They're coming for us." 

Eliza looked at Mary, who shuddered before she spoke. "They're coming for us." 

You have to be particularly careful of pronouns when two or more persons of the same gender are interacting, because tracing all the he and she stuff shouldn't be difficult. Make your book easy to read, and don't make reader play the pronoun game.

Real Justice

"The characters were so rich and real, I felt like I was watching a movie."

"It was so well written, the plot lines flow beautifully and the characters are so real."

Find out why the reviewer at Eastern Sunset Reads loved Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) when you visit the blog!

Writing 101: Mixing Metaphors

You know that expression you're mixing your metaphors? For a long time, I didn't know what it meant. It's totally okay if you don't know what it means, either, because I made it a point to figure it out...and now I do. 

 Mixing It Up

By its very definition, a metaphor is a little ambiguous. Basically, it's a figure of speech. Metaphors do not make literal sense. For example, writing love is a rose in full blossom is a metaphor. When you say learning is a journey, it's a metaphor. To apply a word or phrase to something that doesn't really fit is to create a metaphor.

So what the heck does it mean when you mix metaphors? You've heard the phrase we have to tighten our belts. It means that you're going to be cutting back on expenses to save money. You've also heard the phrase empty pockets. Even if your pockets aren't literally empty, this metaphor means they're empty of money. So if I were to say we have to tighten our belts because our pockets are empty, I'm mixing metaphors. It comes across as being nonsensical when you mix metaphors like this. Other examples are even more comical: 

I smell something rotten here, and we have to nip it in the bud.

If we cut off our noses to spite our faces, we won't have a clear avenue of escape.

It's sink or swim. You'll either stand on your own or you won't. 

The three mixed metaphors above just don't work. In the first example, we go from smelling something foul to cutting something off. You can't nip a smell, so it just comes across as silliness. In the second mixed metaphor, everything is tangled. First you're bringing up an image of noseless faces, and now we're suddenly scrambling along paths with no end in sight. Why? And the third example is the most ridiculous. Are we swimming or sinking or standing or what? 

Mixed metaphors are unclear, and sometimes they end up reading as pure nonsense. Unless you're writing Mother Goose-style or Dr. Seuss-inspired books, I suggest you shy away from mixing metaphors. A single metaphor per sentence is more than enough. When you try to use two metaphors in the same thought, you're going to get in trouble. 

So look over your writing, look at your metaphors...and eliminate the ones you don't really need. Metaphors are best when used in moderation.

Writing 101: No, It's Not Easy

I've made mention of the fact that I read a lot of forums and other blogs...and it's no secret that I am frequently frustrated by what I find there. But I've noticed a certain theme cropping up, again and again, to which I must (once more) take exception. There's an idea out there that writing books is easy, and it's really the promotion that's hard. I beg to differ on both accounts.


Anyone who's ever had writer's block knows that it isn't easy to write a book. Some have even said that it's something anyone can do.

That's wrong. Some people do not have the imagination to create a brand-new story out of whole cloth. Others haven't the vocabulary. And still more cannot write in a way that's comprehensive to others. Some people have great ideas for stories but never finish them, while others run out of ideas so they can't finish either. Writing a book takes a certain degree of stubbornness that just isn't present in 100 percent of the population. 

It also takes a great deal of time. It's much more fun to watch that TV show or go out to that party with your friends. It's much less fun to sit home on a Friday night behind a computer screen, but that's where you're going to find me. Some people don't want to make that sort of commitment, so they don't. 

And let's say you do want to take the time to write the thing. Now you've got to know about sentence structure, and formatting, and whether or not you should give your chapters titles. And let's not forget coming up with like, a thousand names for all the characters and places that are going to appear in the book. It's bloody hard work, is what it is, and lots of people aren't willing to put that much work into something that always starts out as a hobby. 

So no, writing isn't easy. You have to research and you have to study. You have to imagine and you have to create. You have to stay motivated to stay with it, and you have to make it all run together smoothly. And then you've got to edit the darned thing, which is miserable and tedious and practically neverending (and I'm just trying to make it sound good).

Promotion isn't hard, and I know because I manage to get that done on a daily basis. What don't I do on a daily basis? Work on my new book. Because sometimes the mood isn't right or the time isn't, or maybe I'm stuck on a scene and I'm not done thinking about it. Promotion is writing tweets and blogging and interacting, and it's a whole lot easier than sweating over whether or not the title character should slap the guy or kiss him back. I find it a lot easier to tweet about the show I'm watching than to sit and stare at my outline for the fiftieth time this week. And sometimes, marketing is mercurial. Sometimes it doesn't work and you don't know why. Sometimes you screw up and people notice. Sometimes you forget, and you notice a change in sales. There are a ton of things that can go wrong. 

It's not ever easy, and it isn't going to be easy. Even if you get that big book deal and all those fans, it's going to be hard because now you have something to live up to. There's going to be more work because you have to answer letters and answer to other people. So when you see someone say that it's easy to write a book, they're wrong. It's not easy, and it certainly isn't supposed to be easy. The harder it is to write, the better the book.

So you keep sweating over the keyboard...not what the other authors are saying about writing.

Writing 101: Leaving Clues

As a writer of mysteries, I have to drop clues into my books. But in any genre, authors often include clues deep inside stories that hint at certain plot points. It's not hard to add clues to a book. What's difficult is hiding them.

Elementary, My Dear Watson

I'm a lifelong fan of mysteries, which is where you're supposed to find the most clues in stories. I am not a fan of Sherlock Holmes, perhaps the most famous literary investigator of all time. Why? Because the author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, didn't leave clues. Holmes mysteries are invariably solved on the last page, when Holmes reveals all the keen observations he made throughout the story.

I always started shouting every time I finished. If I had been told about the muddy pants on page one, maybe I could be Sherlock Holmes, too. But that's not the way it was written...ever.

You need to give your audience clues, because half the fun is in guessing at what's coming, what's really going on, what's that person thinking and where is this all going. It's always fun to try and guess at the end, so give the audience clues that allow them to do just that. 

It's okay to make them hard to find (nigh impossible, even). I like to add them in with dialogue. Have the characters mention a book or a movie, maybe a song or a place, that is really a clue. Bury the clue in a letter or a diary entry that also contains other information, or a long monologue with a lot to digest.

There are lots of ways to leave clues in your books. Use them, and keep readers guessing. They'll keep reading for the fun of seeing if they're right.

Going Around with Justice

"Within a few chapters, I found myself hooked and couldn't put it down."

Find out what Roundtable Reviews had to say about Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) before you buy your copy of the book!

Blogger Book Fair is Back

Check in to the Blogger Book Fair, and book your trip to far away places!

July 22-26, 2013

Authors and Book Bloggers, Sign ups for the July 2013 Blogger Book Fair will close on June 15 at midnight central time, so get your registrations in to participate!

As of 5/31/2013, we have:

Authors: 89 Books: 233 Bloggers: 14 If you haven't yet registered, you can find all of the information on the Blogger Book Fair page.
  1. Check out the Code of Conduct
  2. Fill out either the Author Sign Up form or the Blogger Sign Up form (Deadline June 15)
  3. Kayla will match everyone with hosts and send out this information to you after sign-ups close
  4. Check out the events--all authors are eligible to participate in the events, and if you have an event you'd like to host, just fill out the simple Event Sign Up Form--all of this information can be found on the Events! page (Deadline July 8).
  5. If you're interested in hosting a giveaway to drive traffic to your site, sign up via the Giveaway Sign Up form (Deadline July 15).
  6. And if your book will be FREE or $0.99 for the duration of the Fair, you can sign up on the Free and $.99 Book Sign Up Forms (Deadline July 15).



as of 5/31/2013

Art Fiction Gala hosted by Lucie Smoker

Does your fiction promote the visual arts--through featuring an artist, painting, sculpture, performance art, etc? Then, consider entering Lucie's Art Fiction Gala. The Art Fiction Gala is a virtual celebration of fiction that highlights the visual arts. Dress up in your finest, pick up some friends--a bottle of wine--and sample mind-blowing fiction that crosses the line between literary and visual art. Plus a gallery of art featuring reading. More information & entry instructions


Three Wishes hosted by Kirstin Pulioff

Introduce your characters to the world. Kirstin Pulioff invites you to ask your main character, "If you found a magic genie lamp, what would be your three choices?" More information & entry instructions


Flash Fiction Challenge II hosted by Thomas Winship

Get ready to exercise your flash fiction muscles. For the Flash Fiction Challenge II, Thomas Winship will provide an opening line. From there, entrants will craft a flash fiction piece of approx 500 words. Entries will be displayed on Thomas' blog Vaempires during the BBF, spread out evenly across the five days, in order of receipt. More information & entry instructions
Snapshot Synopsis Contest hosted by Fel at The Peasants Revolt
Challenge: chisel your synopsis down to 50 words or less. Voting will be open throughout the fair for visitors to vote on their favorite Snapshot Synopsis. More information & entry instructions


Reader's Choice Awards hosted by Sherri at Shut Up & Read

All books registered for the Blogger Book Fair are automatically entered into the running for the Reader's Choice Awards. Voting will be open from July 22 to July 25. More information


Indie Soap Box Files hosted by Shah Wharton

Take a turn on the Soap Box. Shah invites speculative fiction writers to write a guest post about being an indie (or hybrid) writer. More information & entry instructions Restrictions: Speculative fiction writers only


Monster Menagerie hosted by Noree at Trip the Eclipse

What's your favorite monster or supernatural creature? Feature your creature in a flash fiction piece (500-800) words to be featured on Trip the Eclipse. Visitors will vote on their favorite piece. More information & entry instructions
Ways to Help:
Blogger Book FairDonate to the Blogger Book Fair via the BBF Donation Fund. To help get the word out about BBF, we would like to place ads on Facebook, Goodreads and other places, but to do, so we need a little help. We'd also like to have some BBF sponsored giveaways, so money donated would also go toward prizes. NO MONEY WILL BE KEPT BY ANY ORGANIZER OR PARTICIPANT. Spread the word! Share the Fair on your social media accounts and show off the Blogger Book Fair logo in your blog's sidebar.

Join us on:

Books on Film: Terms of Endearment

Terms of Endearment is one of those movies that everyone's seen, or heard about, or wanted to watch. But before Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger made it an iconic film, it was a pretty popular book...and it was a different story. 

The Book

Larry McMurtry published Terms in 1975. It begins with Aurora Greenway, an attractive and very controlling woman. She has many boyfriends, but her life is thrown into crisis when she discovers that her young daughter Emma is pregnant. Emma married the wrong man, and will now bear his child. This makes Aurora a grandmother, and this is upsetting. After a date with a gentleman caller known as The General, Aurora hits Vernon with her car.

He becomes another boyfriend, and he becomes as besotted with her as the others. She won't marry him, or any of them. The novel follows Aurora's various dates and love affairs, as well as drama with her maid Rosie. Emma goes into labor the same night Rosie's husband is stabbed. This first part of the book takes place over a 6-month time span.

Then, shockingly, the novel fast-forwards a decade...and suddenly switches to a different point of view. Emma is now the focus, and her marriage to Flap has degenerated terribly. She's had many affairs, but won't leave him. Then, Emma gets cancer and suddenly dies.

It's a strange way to end the plot, and a bit meandering. Why did we go see Emma's death? Why does the tone of the story change? One can only guess, but it's worth reading the novel because it is well-written. McMurtry is particularly good with dialogue, and Aurora is an inherently likable character.

But the book is not much like the movie. The movie is based on, perhaps, the first quarter of the book...and it's got Jack Nicholson. 

The Movie

Terms of Endearment became a movie in 1983, and it still appears on cable at least once a year. It's still talked about, and spoofed, and referenced. It's that good.

Viewers are introduced immediately to Aurora Greenway, who seemingly drives her husband to despair because she is so over-protective of their infant daughter, Emma. Many years later Emma is a young, somewhat rebellious and fun-loving girl who will do anything to escape her smothering mother...even marry Flap, whom Aurora despises. 

Emma is very happy to marry him, and even to move into a miserable shack of a home with him. Flap is a scholar, a teaching professor, and he's never going to make a ton of money. Aurora is heartbroken when he gets a job far away from their Texas home, and Emma is forced to move away.

They begin to talk on the phone every day, and the years pass. Flap and Emma have a son, then another. But marital problems make life difficult. Much of the trouble seems to stem from their lack of money; they borrow often from Aurora. Emma gives birth to a daughter, but nothing gets better for the family.

She meets a very nice man, also married (played by John Lithgow), and has an affair. This she tells to Aurora, because she tells Aurora everything. But when Emma discovers that Flap has been having an affiar of his own -- and much more serious -- she goes back to Texas. Flap calls to coax her back to their new home in Nebraska, and Emma and the children go. 

Then she gets cancer and dies. That part remains the same. While Emma is living her life, Aurora is living hers. The General becomes the Astronaut instead, actually Garrett Breedlove (Nicholson), Aurora's new neighbor. He alone seems immune to her charms, and he alone seems to ruffle her feathers where other suitors cannot. Nicholson's character is nothing like The General from the book. He dumps Aurora after seeing Emma and the three grandchildren, but unexpectedly flies to Nebraska while Emma is sick with cancer. 

Aurora forcibly explains to Flap that she will be raising the three children henceforth. At the wake following Emma's funeral, Garrett assumes a fatherly role toward Tommy, Emma's oldest boy.

The film was highly successful and went on to become a modern classic. It won 5 Oscars and great acclaim for strong performances from the principle and supporting cast. 

What Got Adapted?

When the book begins, Emma and Flap have already been married for two years and he's already a total jerk. In the movie, we get to see Emma right after graduation. We get to see her marry Flap, and smiling, and totally in love. They're passionate for each other. None of that is in the book. 

Also not in the book is one of Shirley MacLaine's most famous scenes in her epic body of work. In the scene, Aurora Greenway gives everyone in the hospital hell because they've forgotten Emma's pain medication. It's wrenching...and it's original to the movie.

So you should watch the movie. If you love Aurora and want to know much more about her, read the book. Otherwise...well, watch the movie again.