Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Guest post: Do You Need a Business License? with April Gardner

Note: this post originally appeared September 12, 2012 on Reflections in Hindsight. Used by permission.

The short answer to that question is—I have no idea. Every city, county, and state has different laws, but it’s your responsibility to know what those laws are. A quick call to your town’s city hall should answer the question for you.
My particular Georgia city requires me—author and editor—to have one. This is a recent discovery for me, but one I didn’t mind making. Obtaining one actually moved my career forward in a way I never would have expected.
Today, let’s talk nuts and bolts. Before getting into how to get a license, let’s discuss what it IS. defines a business license this way: A business license is a type of legal authorization to operate a business in a city, county, or state. Typically issued in document form, a business license gives a business owner the right to conduct entrepreneurial activities as set forth in the license application. In most cases, there is a fee charged to obtain a business license. Requirements for a business license vary by state and municipality. Some locations require anyone conducting a business to obtain a business license. On the other hand, some areas allow smaller home businesses to operate without the need for a business license. Such small businesses could include consulting, web design, or typing services.

When I set out to get a license, I had no idea what the process involved. You might be in the same boat, so let me share with you how MY town does it. After making a call to my local city hall and discovering I did indeed need a license, I made my merry way there to collect the necessary paperwork. On the same visit, my name was put on the books for my license to be discussed at the next town council meeting. I had a week to fill out the paperwork, which consisted of some basic, personal information and a section requiring me to describe what I do.
The part I did NOT expect was having to visit seven of my immediate neighbors asking them permission to conduct my business in my home. The conversation went something like this… “Hi, I’m here asking if you wouldn’t mind signing this form giving consent for me to sit at my desk and type on my computer.” "You're kidding, right?" To the last one, they laughed, shook their heads in wonder, and happily signed. Of course, if I was a machine repairman who wanted to fix washers and fridges in my garage, they might be thanking the city for making people get their neighbor’s permission…
Forms complete, I turned them in and waited for the city to deliver my lawn decor. Yep, lawn décor. The city placed a “public hearing notice” in my yard that had to remain in place for three weeks—until the actual hearing. This was to inform the rest of the neighborhood that they were welcome to come to the town council meeting and protest, if they so desired. The evening of the council meeting came, and I made my obligatory appearance. Just like they do at such meetings on TV, I was asked to come to the podium and speak into a microphone. Way cool. The chairman asked me to state my name, address, and give a brief description of what I do. After that, he asked if anyone wanted to object to the town allowing me to conduct "said business" on "said property." No one did. Shocker. I was allowed to leave the meeting and advised to pick up my license in two days. I did. But not before forking over the pro-rated fee of $64.00. Come January, along with the rest of the business owners in town, I’ll renew my license. It should be around $120/year. It feels like a lot for someone who earns as little as I do, but when I swiped my little business debit card, I did so on the faith that, soon, $120 wouldn’t be a suffocating, drain-your-account kinda number.
Give your city hall a buzz and ask what your local laws are. What did you learn? I'd love to know!

--April W Gardner is an award-winning author, an editor,
and the founder of the literary contest site, Clash of the Titles
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Monday, January 28, 2013

Historical Accuracy

I'm a reader and writer of historical novels. I'm also one who enjoys history and when different technologies were invented. As a reader it bothers me when facts are incorrect.
Recently I read or started to read a book by a traditionally published author. I never finished it because the author had two critical, in my view, and horrible errors. One item used had not been invented yet. The other was in what would be in a field at the time of the year and how the field would be tended. Neither of these would have been difficult to learn about to make them correct or change the story so they would not be wrong. I never finished the book.

I contacted the author detailing the problems. The reply was that the editor didn't say anything so it was all right.

I'm sorry, it is not the editor's job to fact check the author's work. Historical accuracy is the responsibility. We have at our fingertips the possibility to find out the facts so errors are not included in our work. While writing Healing Love, Cottonwood Series #1 I checked out a number of things. Set in 1875 I learned that stethoscopes were in use but medical thermometers were not. So the main male character, a doctor, had a stethoscope yet laid his hand on the forehead to check for fever. I made sure wringer washing machines were in use and Singer was making sewing machines. None of this took much time but made the novel historically accurate.

Can an author fudge the details a little. Sure, in needlework this is called a design decision. No one needs to know you changed the design. For writing any fudging of history should be made clear. In Lord's Love, Cottonwood Series #2 the detail of a law of Great Britain was noted since I needed the law still in effect which it wasn't. An author's note was added explaining the law and why I had used it when it wasn't still in effect in 1876.

As authors we owe it to our readers to do the research and write historically accurate books. It gives credibility to what we write and shows that we care about our work rather than simply pumping out stories. Besides, you can learn interesting facts which can be added deepening the story.
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Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: The Harbinger

I must confess, after hearing so much about this book on various news websites that I frequent, and catching the first chapter at a book signing I participated in some time back (it was on the shelf, and no one was stopping by my table), I was quite excited to finally get my hands on a copy of The Harbinger, by Jonathan Cahn.

Now that I've had a chance to read it, I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I found the concept behind the novel intriguing--this notion that the leaders of the United States have brought down judgment upon us all by their defiance of God's chastisement. Certainly the idea that 9-11 was allowed to happen to us for our sins is not new, and Jonathan Cahn does a great job in laying out the ways in which America has been paralleling the attitudes and even the actions of the ancient Israelites in their response to the assault of the Assyrians. On this count alone, the book is worth reading.

On the other hand, however, this book represents to me the worst kind of Christian fiction, because it isn't really a novel. It's more akin to a parable. The story is preachy. The narrative lacks any distinctive style. The characters lack development or depth (or even a description!). The book reveals nothing about the human condition, other than the interpretation of recent events in light of scripture. In many ways, it is the antithesis of what I personally believe Christian fiction should represent - ie: the best in story-telling.

I have no objection to communicating a biblical message of one kind or another in the midst of a novel, but it cannot come at the expense of the essential elements of a story: setting, characterization, plot, description, conflict, etc., and I think The Harbinger fails on this account.

A better example of a Christian message encapsulated in a novel, in my opinion, is C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength, or even the first two books of the Space Trilogy. I pick out the third book because a) it is my favorite, and b) because in this book, a deeply theological and cultural critique is offered, but none of it at the expense of the story. To me, this is what Christian writers ought to aspire to.

And yet for all that, I still enjoyed The Harbinger, found it's message interesting, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a friend. But just not as a great novel.

Three stars.
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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Writing Boo Radley

Boo Radley brought my husband and I together. Well…sort of.

We were at a singles get-together many years ago (I will not elaborate on the number of years) and, according to Steve, he’d been trying to find an opening in the conversation to start chatting with me. Once he heard my roommate and I discussing her cat named “Boo,” he seized the opportunity.

“Boo Radley?” Steve finally interjected a comment.

That caught my attention, since the character from To Kill A Mockingbird was a favorite of mine. Rarely had I heard anyone speak the name. Between the impish grin on Steve Cooper’s face and the fact that he knew Boo, well, the rest is history.

What is it about Boo Radley that generates such feelings in a reader, I often wonder. Is it because he was so alone and different? People were afraid of him? He turned out to be a hero? I think there are many factors that place him in a permanent position of affection in my heart. Regardless of the reasons, I know one thing: I will always love the character of Boo.

I also know another thing. Harper Lee was not only a creative writer in her solo and successful novel of To Kill A Mockingbird, she was a brave and sensitive one. She chose an odd and unusual character on the fringes of society to play a major role in her story. I commend Miss Lee her courage. In doing so, she challenged not just racial prejudice in her brilliant book, but also the fears and insensitivities so prevalent in our hearts when someone is “different.”

Thinking of other memorable and vulnerable characters, one might venture to Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. How much did this crippled, sickly child influence the change of heart in the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge? In fact Charles Dickens’ novels are filled with unusual characters who are both entertaining and insightful.

The character of “Charley” in Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes shows the plight of a developmentally disabled adult who becomes the guinea pig for scientific research. A heartbreaking story of love and the essence of what makes us human.

It seems that often the “different” characters in our missives turn out to be somewhat dangerous ones. Perhaps it is more of a challenge to portray the wounded, the handicapped, the unusual people in our lives who so enrich our society, despite their seeming inadequacies.

I remember when I worked as a nurse with developmentally disabled children how my view of “normal” began to change. I quickly realized that it is the less than perfect bodies in this world that can teach us what it means to be ambassadors of God’s love.

When I think of Boo Radley, I think of the impact he had on the lead characters in the story. Besides revealing the obvious heroism of this lonely man, the story made all the other characters richer in their understanding of the world. That is a goal that I have in my novels. Because ultimately, I want to see my characters change for the better. And sometimes that metamorphosis occurs when the caterpillar is allowed out of the chrysalis.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Writing Crap II

Previously we explored writing work unfit to publish as exercise. (Writing Crap I, January 2, 2013.)
Brace yourself, we're going somewhere that most people dare not tread. 
What if you've written your book, rewritten it, gotten feedback from critique partners, you've read it yourself, and being honest, realize... it's crap. What do you do? What if your publisher gave you platitudes, like, "It's okay... not great. We can sell it." 
First, let's be clear. We're not talking about masochism, where you treat yourself much worse than an unbiased reader. This would be a genuine revelation that it ain't so great, baby.
Baseball players strike out (in fact, they miss more than they hit), New Coke fizzles, and actresses star in films they later regret. Can't a writer produce a swing and a miss? And continuing the analogy, most writers produce their first book believing they are ready for the Major Leagues. No matter if this is book number one or six, what if it reads like a whiff and the ball smacking the catcher's mitt?
The issue no longer is the quality of writing, but integrity. Are you willing to break out the red pen, attack it once again, or- horrors- pull the plug? Does it struggle in places, or is it time to walk it back to the dugout?
When I first began writing, I wrote a three thousand word short story, entered it in numerous contests and submitted it to a plethora of publishers. Soon the rejection letters came in, and worse, no responses. But it was great prose! To be honest, I still love the story. However, reality raised it's hideous head and it became time to move along to other stories. 
It's funny how schizophrenic we writers treat our work. We can be our most ruthless critic, yet other times refuse to see our shortcomings. Our writer's group meets every Monday and people get the opportunity to read their work. I shake my head as some of them argue with a roomful of critics that point out a blatant shortcoming of their work. What about you? Can you walk the tightrope of honesty, look at your work and appraise it well? 
It can be worse for published writers, as the publisher sends emails reminding you of the upcoming deadline. You can get caught up in word counts and punching out another book while the quality erodes. Of course, if a deadline looms and the work needs a rewrite, sleep is for the weak, correct? And hopefully you've got good support from your agent and publisher to get that bat swinging and hear the crack as your bat connects with the ball. 
Sometimes, hopefully seldom, there are two options; one painful, one horrific. A big fix, or kill it. 

Stay tuned for Writing Crap III: Standing Out From the Crowd February 20, 2013
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Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Review: Jen Turano's A Change in Fortune and setting up parallel stories

A Change of Fortune
Jen Turano

Bethany House
c. November 2012
ISBN 978-0-7642-1018-1
Print: $14.99
E-book: $9.99

Finally, a historical romance not set on the prairie. It’s 1880, New York City, but it’s still the aristocratic side of town – Park Avenue, balls, dinners, carriages, the El, and shopping. Glasses and padding under her corset help Eliza Sumner hide in plain sight. She’s come across the ocean from her home in England when her late father’s fortune is stolen and no one, not even her fiancé in London, will help her get it back.

Eliza can’t pass as a peon for long, however, when she lands a job as a governess. Agatha, the eldest sister of her current charges, forces her to come clean, and the two of them embark on an adventure to recover Eliza’s inheritance and for Agatha, write an articles for the newspaper. They encounter the Beckett brothers along the way who have their own troubles with a man associated with Eliza’s thief, a charmingly chauvinistic investigator, and Hamilton Beckett’s scheming mother who may be the most dangerous of all.

Turano’s debut is as predictable as the genre is supposed to be, the fun is in the journey, and Turano doesn’t disappoint. From the moment Eliza puts on glasses in a disastrous dinner, loses her skirt in a break-in attempt and goes to jail in a prostitute round-up, to meeting the Beckett children, I enjoyed the twists and turns of the characters. Mrs. Beckett is an absolute hoot. The others were personable, with enough background subtly strewn about that their current actions and inactions made sense.
Mostly historically accurate with the exception of some pet phrases, if a bit rambunctious and occasionally over the top, the story line is emotionally satisfying, and thoroughly entertaining. A Change in Fortune is a sweet debut novel.

Setting up parallel stories

Parallel stories, not just sequel or prequels, are hot these days in grouped novellas, as well as series like the Women of Justice and Deadly Reunion series from Revell.
Unlike a prequel or sequel, parallel stories use side or peripheral characters or events from one book and turn them into the protagonists in another book of similar genre and setting. The protagonist from one book is not the protagonist in the parallel book. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series was grouped in parallel stories in specific generations, exploring her fantasy world from multiple aspects of society, weaving familiar characters through each novel, though focusing on one main character or group of characters at a time. Fan fiction is famous for this technique as well.

Parallel stories are developed either with familiar characters or events. For example, the partner of the main character detective who plays a supporting role in one book may get his or her own role in a following book with either new or the same characters in support of him. If using an event as a parallel story, something like a group of stories revolving a natural or man-made disaster uses a similar template to explore the effects of the experience on individuals during/before/after.
To set up a future story, an author must

·        plant suggestions

·        use subtle innuendo

·        leave enough question or wonder but complete the current story

·        leave room for the reader to want to know what would happen if we were to follow that particular story line

·        must not overshadow or interfere with the current story arc, which also must come to a satisfactory conclusion for the reader

·        The hinted-at story line must leave enough question, but not too much that the character cannot complete his or her supporting task in the current story line.

·        The hinted-at story line must also fit like a puzzle piece in order to avoid being contrived.

Although Turano seemed to lose a bit of control toward the end of A Change in Fortune when a surprise character turned up, here’s where we sit up and take notice of how possible future parallel stories to explore are planted. NOTE: I don’t know that A Change in Fortune will birth parallel novels; I’m simply speculating at this time.

SPOILER ALERT: I’ll try not to give the story away, but if you haven’t read this book and don’t like to know what happens before you read, you might want to stop here and come back after reading the book.

The Male and Female Protagonists in A Change in Fortune were Lady Eliza Sumner, newly broken engagement, following her stolen family fortune, and Hamilton Beckett, widower with young children, investigating threats to his family business. It’s a romance, so the genre must follow particular devices and come to a happily ever after conclusion—no secrets there. However, these supporting/peripheral characters were introduced with “issues” of their own. Some were more developed than others.

Character/ Possible story to explore:
Zayne Beckett, Hamilton’s brother/mysterious fiancé alluded to by Hamilton, but had definite sparks with supporting character Agatha

Agatha Watson, Eliza’s friend/wanted a career in 1880 New York City, sparked with Zayne and with Theodore, a chauvinistic but charming investigator

Arabella Beckett/suffragette sister who didn’t make an appearance but was much referred to

And the last and most obvious is—
Grayson Sumner, mistakenly deceased brother of Eliza/his sojourn in China.

In this case, the side story was not necessary to satisfactorily complete the arc of Eliza/Hamilton and threatened to overshadow their romance. His appearance was not necessarily a shock since the character had been briefly referred to; however it did little other than cause the reader to speculate on his story instead of advancing and bolstering the main story.

How to avoid making your parallel story plant not look contrived? By planting a few more subtle clues along the way and make the plant somewhat necessary to the story. It could have easily been insinuated that the brother was not dead but missing and somehow involved in the missing fortune/Eliza’s freedom to marry someone she could freely choose instead of the idiot she had been tied to. That’s just one idea of many, and fun to think about.

Any of these characters and the accompanying storyline would be a delight in other accompanying books to A Change in Fortune.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Are You Sick?

"I have an answer to your question," he announced as he walked into the Sunday school classroom that then served as my "submissions station." I was working the Bayou Writers Group conference in Lake Charles, Louisiana, taking queries for Port Yonder Press and Hartline Literary agent Terry Burns.

The man surprised me. Not only had he carefully followed my instructions for submitting to me--amazing in itself--he had read a few posts in my (currently dormant) blog, 777 Peppermint Place.

I'd written one piece during a period when I thought I was coming out of a Crohn's disease flare-up (I was wrong. I'm still fighting it), and was wondering how other authors who suffered from chronic illness managed to keep writing. Even now, I find more solace in editing than in writing. My creativity seems to have abandoned me--I can't develop a scene that doesn't get axed upon the reread. So I asked my readers what tricks they used to keep writing.

The young man who faced me in my submissions station has a chronic illness that is in the same family as mine. Getting "well" isn't in his future. Like me, the best he can hope for is a series of short-term remissions punctuated by surprise flare-ups. He knows his condition is going to get worse, so he has a pragmatic view of his writing career now: "I don't want to look back at these times when I'm not as bad and be angry that I didn't take advantage."

His carpe diem attitude is a great response to the question I posed. It encompasses other responses I received, particularly one by "mlfables":
I am a habitual writer. I sit down in the same place at roughly the same time of day, so my writing is automatic. It's been the most effective way (that I’ve found) to keep myself writing, no matter how else I may be feeling.
For an hour each morning, I can let go of the stress of life and disappear into the imaginary world of my story's characters. 
This takes self-discipline. Writing regardless of how ill you are or what you're facing in your daily life takes will and determination. Professionals don't wait to write when inspiration hits or when they "feel like it"; they don't wait until they have time or can make time. Writing is their job, and like anyone else with an eight-to-five schedule, they work at their jobs and "make time" for everything else. Sick leave is reserved for serious illness.

My inspirations are Diann Hunt, who has been battling cancer for quite some time and still managed to publish one book and several short-stories for anthologies last year alone, and Debbie Macomber, who wrote through her grief after her son's suicide in 2011 and continued to meet her deadlines. These women, and others like them, are amazing. What they've accomplished isn't easy, but they are professionals. They take their jobs seriously.

Of course, there will be days when working is physically impossible, but when you can, seize the day. Disappear into your story world. You may find you feel better when you re-emerge, or at least feel a little more light-hearted. If, like me, you can't seem to work on your WIPs, work with writing prompts, work on your journal, write for your blog, or start something entirely different. Don't lose the habit of writing.

Be a professional.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Two Points on Point of View

Much has been written on Point of View (POV), but I would like to add two minor comments as codicils.

First, I recommend consideration of first-person POV, minor character, despite the fact that Robert Meredith and John Fitzgerald (in STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL) recommend against it. For a novel, they're probably right. But for short stories, that POV makes several interesting effects possible. The very limitations of the minor character can become a strength for the story. In Ring Lardner's classic story "Haircut," for example, the barber who narrates the story is almost totally a spectator. He provides the reader with enough information to conclude that a murder has been committed, yet the unthinking barber never questions the official verdict of accidental death. This gratifies the reader with knowing more than the narrator does. Since the unperceptive barber typifies the attitudes of the town he lives in, I suppose one might argue that he's a major character. In any event, Lardner's use of POV adds an interesting complexity to the story.

Second, I'd like to recommend the objective POV for satirical short stories. This goes directly contrary to what is often said of fiction--that one should create interest by portraying intense emotion. In satire, part of the fun can be the absence of appropriate emotion in outrageous circumstances. The interesting complexity here is that the reader's normal response to outrageous events contrasts with the characters' apparent acceptance of those as part of the everyday world.

In the commercial novel, objective POV can be used effectively for short scenes which present important narrative information but which (for the sake of the overall plot) must remain short. For example, the reader may need to know that two villains have made a decision that will endanger the hero or heroine. The quickest way to provide that information is to show the two villains in conversation—without the complication of showing what either is thinking. Space permitting, of course, one could write such a scene from the POV of one villain, showing the contrast between what he says and what he thinks. My point is that the objective POV may be the most efficient technique simply because it is lean and spare.

One word of warning, though: objective viewpoint is extremely hard to maintain. For an example, try Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants." The POV is almost totally objective, but near the end of the story the author (whether intentionally or otherwise) allows the male character to perceive that everyone in the station except the woman is acting reasonably. Is this an artistic lapse? I don't know. I do know that Hemingway got by with it, while we lesser lights could not.

In most cases we should follow the conventional wisdom in choosing POV. But the skilled writer will consider these variations to add spice to his writing.

Posted by Donn Taylor (

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Review: Claiming Mariah by Pam Hillman

Claiming Mariah is one of those novels that grabs your heart and does not let go. Even after ending the last page, I pressed that lever on my e-reader, hoping for more. Hillman has a gift of creating characters that feel like your friends, as she spins this romantic tale amidst the gritty, western scenery of Wyoming Territory in 1882.

The heroine, Mariah Malone, has been struggling to keep her family’s cattle ranch above water financially since her father became ill. When the rancher died following that lengthy illness, Mariah was left alone to support her grandmother, her sister away at school, and the ranch that just seemed to keep losing money year after year.

Just before her father died, Mariah carried another burden as well—discovering her father had swindled a business partner years ago. On his deathbed he told Mariah he wanted to ask the man’s forgiveness. In an effort to honor her father and hopefully make amends, she sends a letter to his former adversary. But it is too little, too late. Her attempts to rectify the situation only bring the man’s sons to her doorstep, demanding justice—as well as ownership of the ranch. Even worse, the oldest brother, Slade, informs Mariah that her father is responsible for his father’s death. The humiliation of her parent’s past sends Mariah into an emotional and spiritual tailspin.

She faces leaving the only home she has ever known. Has God deserted her as well as her family?

Claiming Mariah is such a well-crafted tale of the Old West that I often felt as if I was watching a movie. Hillman’s descriptions are intricately detailed: I could practically feel the heat, smell the hay, and hear the squeaking of leather saddles. The author’s palette of words paints with vivid strokes.

The romance between the characters is a painstaking journey of forgiveness and overcoming emotional and spiritual obstacles. And the filament of faith and healing weaves throughout, not just with the main characters, but with the cast of personalities both young and old that fill out this novel. Like thread woven on linen, it becomes a memorable piece of artistry that leaves me hankering for more. I earnestly hopes this is the first novel in a series.

Author Bio:

Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that’s the kind of life every girl should dream of! Claiming Mariah is her second novel and was released on January 1, 2013. Her digital books are published through Tyndale House. 

From Reviewer Elaine Marie Cooper: I’ll ignore the fact that author Pam Hillman chose the name “Cooper” for the antagonist in Claiming Mariah. The wonderful protagonists in this gripping read of the Old West more than make up for this apparent lapse of judgment on Hillman’s part.  :)

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

How Long is Too Long

Since I’ve been writing I’ve been reading many more blogs. I’ve learned a lot about writing, I’ve commented on posts, and some posts I’ve skipped. Why skip posts on topics I’m interested in? In a very few words: length and format.

I read a lot so I’m not afraid to read. The blog topics I’m interested in should encourage me to read the posts. The fact that I skip some without reading past the title is telling. The length is the first item that is off putting, and how the paragraphs break, if there are any, are the second.
We should all want to write tight, using as few words as possible to convey the idea or concept. If a blog is 1000 words long followed by a 200 word author bio, it’s not tight writing.

A blog is rejected if the opening paragraph is 300 words long. I’ve written posts which were not much longer, and broken it into different paragraphs. Formatting posts so they are eye friendly is an important consideration for the writer.

Many people are not strong readers. They read slower and may have very little confidence they can read, or understand what they read. If the writer formats the post with long paragraphs, the insecure reader may skip an article. They have then missed a post they might have enjoyed, possibly learning something. The author has lost an opportunity for a repeat reader.

The same is true for lengthy posts. To a ‘weak’ reader a long post, just like a poorly formatted one, will scare her off before she even begins. By writing tight and keeping the posts well structured, hopefully readers of any strength will choose to read the posts. With reading comes greater reading strength. With the strength comes more confidence, and thus more reading.

Time is another consideration. Everyone is busy, and trying to find time to read all the blogs we follow or discover can lead potential readers to skip posts that are overly long.

In setting a loose limit on the length of blog posts a writer imposes concise text without extra words. It makes the writer come to the point of their blog by not allowing deviation of focus. A loose limit forces the writer to carefully choose the phrasing. This will help combat awkward sentences. These skills will translate to other forms of writing into which the author delves.

Five hundred words is a good loose limit because some topics will not need that many words. Others will need more, but not too many or the writing probably needs tightening up.

If the topic does require more than the limit consider dividing it into more than one post. By making the topic into a series three things are accomplished. The topic is completely covered, a weak reader isn’t frightened away, and the blog author gets repeat readers.
More and repeat readers of blogs. Isn’t that what we all want?

Photo of typing hands by hisks; woman reading by arinas74. Both found on
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Monday, January 7, 2013

Hanging From a Cliff...

A man foolishly goes hiking alone in the mountains, when suddenly he becomes surrounded by fog, loses his footing, and stumbles. He grabs a branch at the last minute and holds on, but he lacks the strength to pull himself up. Looking down, all he can see is fog, and he knows he's in a particularly steep area of the mountain. With nothing else to do and no other resources to call on, he starts to pray, "God, please get me out of here."

A moment later a voice comes out of the fog, "Do you trust me?"

"Who are you?"

"I am an experienced climber. I'm here on the mountain with you. Do you trust me?"

Not sure what else to do, the man says, "Sure."

Then the voice replies, "There is a ledge five feet below you. Let go of the branch, and you will land safely."

After looking around and thinking about it a moment, the man says, "Is there anyone else down there?"

I am a big fan of cliff-hanger endings. Whether it comes as a hook at the end of a chapter, or a hook at the end of a story that leads you into another series, I like to keep the reader hanging on for dear life until the story comes to its breathless conclusion.

That being said, I learned a somewhat painful lesson the other day, and as big a fan I am of cliff-hangers, I'm an even bigger fan of learning from my mistakes and sharing them with others.

The lesson came in the form of a one star review from one of my readers. The reviewer wrote the following:
I've found the end extremely unsatisfying, evil, cruelly hopeless and not worth all the reading I invested. Very, very disappointing, like a slap in the face.

I feel betrayed and I don't think I will ever read anything from that author again. If I could give no star at all I would. I've got it for free, and I think it wasn't even worth THAT.
Ouch! What could have prompted such ire? I'd received many kudos for the book, the story, the writing--you name it. No, the problem was the cliff that I'd left this poor reader dangling from was shrouded in fog. I did not give the reader a ledge to land on, and simply expected him to keep hanging on to that branch of an ending without any hope that the story would continue, that the conflicts would resolve and all would be right with the world.

In this case, that could have simply been resolved by providing a sample chapter of the second book in the series, so the reader would know there's more to come. Since then, I've gone back and added the sample chapter into the book and kindle file, and even posted a "mea culpa" on my blog with the sample chapter included for those who felt similarly betrayed. The irony is that most of my serial books include a sample anyway, but for some reason, I neglected to include it in this one.

Regardless, the point is simple: if you're going to leave your reader on a cliff, give them a place to stand while you finish the next book.

Don't leave them hanging from a branch.
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Friday, January 4, 2013

Friday Book Review - Jan Watson's newest Troublesome Creek addition

Skip Rock Shallows
By Jan Watson

Historical romance
Tyndale House Publishers
June 2012
ISBN: 9781414339146

Reviewer's note: Jan Watson won the very first Operation: First Novel contest back in 2004 for Troublesome Creek the first book of this series. I was fascinated by her work because I had made the top ten in that contest with my very first novel.
Coal mine country of early twentieth century rural America is no place for a single woman. Certainly not for Lilly Corbett, even if she is the new doctor who is interning at Skip Rock coal camp. When Dr. Jones, Skip Rock’s old doc, passes away, Lilly is the only physician in the area. What does she have to do in order to be accepted? An accident that requires her surgical skills helps break the ice.

The death of Dr. Jones isn’t the only problem Lilly has. She was raised in a near-by community, but while years in Boston with her wealthy aunt and medical school might have changed her outside, but inside, she’s as much a daughter of the mountain country as they are. Fears and memories long-forgotten nightmares begin to reappear as she settles into the area and begins to feel at home. Not even a visit from her fiancé entices her to leave her internship early.

A certain miner has caught not only Lilly’s attention, but the suspicious mining crew. They’ve had it with dangerous working conditions and little pay. Who is this drifter, Joe Repp, who’s gained the trust of the foreman? Is he a government man or a company man? Neither are welcome. In a community so dogged that the school will stand empty rather than let a married woman teach, the old ways don’t step over the line into the twentieth century. Faith in God deep as suspicion; tracking every man’s marker; leaving no one behind, ever—these are the ways of miners and their families.

One secret’s revelation makes one of Skip Rock’s new residents welcome; the other secret may tear the community apart.

Jan Watson’s sixth novel is a beautifully detailed edition to the Troublesome Creek saga. Told in perfect period description, colorful colloquialism and costuming and setting will have you saying “forevermore!” in exasperation and looking around for Timmy, the Skip Rock scamp, long after the story is finished. For those who love historical America, the Kentucky coal-mining country, and faith-based romance from the heart, Skip Rock Shallows will satisfy each condition.


reviewed by Lisa Lickel

What kind of books do you plan on reading this year?

Mostly fiction?
A lot of non-fiction?
New authors?



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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Writing Crap I


Have you ever gotten stuck in your novel? Your protagonist has overcome numerous setbacks, but then the story just seems to fall flat. You stare at the screen, go for a brisk walk, check your notes from the last conference... and hang there, your hands poised over the keys, and... nothing. 
Time to write some crap. 
Go ahead! Just go with it. With modern computers, it's no problem to cut, paste or even (shudder) delete. I know, you love those words. You've slaved over them, those lovely tidbits of prose that your readers simply must read. Chop, chop. 
Take your character to the edge of a cliff. Oh, go ahead and push him off. What does he think about during his last moments? It never has to be a part of your book, but you could learn about what makes him tick. 
Get her arrested. Shoot him in the leg, or go ahead and stick him in a coma. Who knows? You may stumble onto something. Take comfort that the words you write don't necessarily need to be read by anyone- ever. 
Think about football players. In practice and scrimmages, they run plays without pads, doing their patterns at half speed. Those guys are no good. Not so, they're just practicing. Why not practice yourself? Forget about the word count, take your protagonist on a hike and interview him. Or visit her in the hospital. Talk to her sister, who isn't even in your story, but has a great perspective of her. Take your antagonist to a bar and get him drunk; listen to what he has to say about your protagonist. What if he has very reasonable perspective on why he hates him? Now you've developed some great tension.
Change up the story. Your protagonist is supposed to trip up the guy who's bent on stealing his girl. Let the guy win. Write a different ending. You may come across something better. If not, highlight, delete. Go ahead, be brave.
We could learn from Hollywood. They shoot hours of film and turn it over to a heartless editor who slashes it up and leaves bunches of very expensive scenes on the floor. What about you? Your tome is supposed to be 85,000 words. Write 100,000, then go back through and tighten it up. Ask your critique partner what should get the axe. Now the book moves at a better pace for your readers, those people with the attention span of an amoeba.  
I struggle with love scenes. Killing, maiming, chasing, sure- but a guy slobbering over the girl he met at the supermarket? Not so good. So I read romances, then write. And rewrite. Good writing is good rewriting. Do you limit your rewriting to once or twice? 
Still frightened of the delete button? Save your story, copy it, rename it and take it in a different direction; write without worrying whether it will sell or not. Write for yourself. 
Perhaps through all your chaos a better story may appear through the fog. 

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