Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hockey Season

It's hockey season! And that's a good thing.

Not that I am a particularily huge hockey fan. Oh, don't get me wrong, I don't dislike it, but for me it's more of a take it or leave it situation, and I usually leave it. However, my husband is a huge Chicago Blackhawks' fan. Which has worked out quite nicely for me lately.

Two to three times a week, he settles in on the couch to watch the puck drop, and I have fallen into the habit of settling down at my computer during these times to do some writing. It's really become a very productive routine. Last week I wrote over 20pages. Which for some of you may not seem like a lot, but given the fact that it's been months (like six) since I've put pen to paper (er...fingers to keyboard), I was pretty darn proud of myself.

And it's gotten me thinking about my latest sotry-line, so even when I don't have time to write (It's also the middle of basketball season, and being a cheerleading coach, this does directly involve me.), my mind is still going. I'm in that wonderful place where I'm jotting down notes and ideas here and there at various times so I don't forget them. I keep paper and pen in my purse and on my bedside table at all times now.

And I need to get moving on this manuscript. I recently sold my third book to The Wild Rose Press (entitled "This Can't Be Love"), so once that one is edited and ready to go, I need to have something new to pitch to my editor. And I'm meeting her in April. So that's my goal. To at least have a finished (although perhaps not completely polished) manuscipt by then.

So I'm rooting for the Hawks to make it into the playoffs and beyond. The longer hockey season lasts, the more time I have to write.

Until next time,

Happy Reading (and writing)!


Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Island of Delos by Margot Justes

About a thirty minute ferry ride from Mykonos is the island of Delos. And what an island it is. Uninhabited, that is not exactly true,there are approximately 25 people living there, but they are either archeologists or security personnel.
The island is bare, there are no snack shops, no hotels, no restaurants, the wind can whip up in a quick frenzy, it is in fact quite desolate. There is a museum where you can buy books and other Delos souvenirs, but that is the extent of the touristy trade.
What makes this island unique are the ruins. Amazing ruins. The whole island is covered with them. It is an immense site and one not easily forgotten.
Delos is said to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Archeological traces indicate the island was inhabited as early as 3000 B.C. Some of the ruins are so well preserved that you can actually imagine what the structures looked like and how they were utilized.
From the Doric Temple of Isis to the Archaic Lions, the mosaic floors, the sites are truly inspiring.

Off the beaten path, I observed an archeologist crouched on a low portable chair, a pad and pencil in hand as he meticulously measured something on the ground and then put it on paper. I snuck up on him and watched as he quietly continued his research. Time stood still and the serenity on the island was disturbed only by the fierce wind.
If you ever find yourself in Mykonos, do take the time to visit Delos. I promise, you will not be disappointed, you will in fact be enthralled. However, do wear comfortable shoes, the terrain is brutal.
Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Friday, January 29, 2010

On Becoming An Artful Writer by Robert W. Walker

Martin Scorscese was awarded a special life's work Golden Globe award for directing films, and his acceptance speech was a long eulogy to all those who came before him, all those he learned from and built upon. Ever watch a young artist at work? Go to any museum and you will find a young painter at an easel set up before one of the Masters—Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso, Rembrandt. A look over the student's shoulder shows that she's not painting just anything, but rather she is attempting to duplicate the master artist's method, trying to determine precisely how the artist in question used line, shape, light, shadow, brush stroke, color, medium, pick, pencil, charcoal—the whole of it. A student of art learns skills, tools, and techniques via mimicry and imitation, or if you prefer stealing—focusing so closely on how Renoir did it to learn it and own it. The how and why of the masters has to be harnessed. Even if one doesn't care for Picasso's art, one needs to know how he pulled it off.

Writers do the same, but they do so via voracious reading. As a writer reads, so shall he reap. Learning the art of establishing shots, openings, dialogue, settings, character, plot, props, symbols, metaphor, simile, texture, depth, color, tone and the marriage of all the parts amounts to working on a PhD in Letters. Steinbeck liked to say, "I'm just a storyteller" and that's all well and good, but he was also an artist to learn from—a writer's writer in other words.

Writers who succeed in finding their own brush stroke(s) or style do so by closely examining and trying their hand at crafting words in the "voice" of various writing masters—either consciously or unconsciously. All artists in all fields build on the backs of those who came before. Even the genius Shakespeare built upon playwrights who came before. For the struggling, thrashing young writer mimicry and imitation is the wisest form of flattery if one is to eventually learn from the masters and succeed. This success is measured in how far the young writer then moves on to find his own voice.

In short, read it, study it, steal it, own it, and use it. As a crime writer, thievery comes easy. Look at E.B. White's description of the barn and later the rope in Charlotte's Web. The method he uses—simple, straightforward, making a singsong of the verb WAS—has become for me a tool I use when called for. I read those depictions and studied White. I can now move others with a simple description when I need it, where I need it in my own work. Does it harm White that I stole his method for my purposes? No, not at all, and I have no reason to apologize. My first novel was to be the sequel to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and I never looked back.

Whether you plan to write literature or genre fiction, it behooves one to challenge oneself to learn the tools and skills of the masterful hand at work. The student writer has to set up his easel before the master, be it Dickens, Dumas, Austen or Dean R. Koontz, and put that understanding into actual practice—as in writing a chapter of Twain or Hemmingway, or Faulkner, trying out all the various ranges from simplicity to complexity and back again: the serpentine sentence to the hammer blow of a two-word declaration. Try out the extremes. Test and challenge oneself with the two-step of an O'Henry or the beauty of a Chekov. If it's Stephen King you wish to unseat, you do a chapter of King. It's your story in Kingly style. The point is any struggling writer can and should learn from the classics and the masters just as painters, sculptors, poets, and film directors learn. I for one am still learning, but thanks to those who came before me, I have learned a great deal, and I owe homage to them all.

Thanks and do leave a comment, and find my 8 Free chapters of Children of Salem at and Dead On at a bookstore near you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Going to the Dogs by Morgan Mandel

You may see more Rascal pics on my blogs off and on. That's because I'm going to the dogs, well, kind of.

I'm trying to piece together a children's lesson book with Rascal as the star. It's slow going since I've never done a children's book before. I need to learn such basics as how large the pages are, and all kinds of other not-as-much-fun things that drags down the process.

Since I'm not as organized as I'd like to be, I've had to hunt down all my Rascal photos. They've been hiding in all sorts of digital photo albums on two computers. Anyway, I think I may have them all, or close to it. I've copied them onto a memory stick, so I can pick and choose from them for illustrations.

Most of my videos of her are on Youtube, so at least I know where they are, thank goodness. Tonight, I was working in Microsoft Publisher, Adobe CS4 and Adobe Elements 7. As you can tell, I was all over the place, trying to get my bearings. It's got to get better. Well, at least I hope so. I'll keep you apprised of my successes and obstacles in the project.

What about you? Have you written either a children's or a book about a dog? Or, maybe you've included a dog in an adult novel. Please share.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Brainstorming by June Sproat

This past week I had the pleasure of dining with fellow Acme Author Margot Justes. Not only did we have a wonderful meal, but we had a great gab session. Writing is a very solitary occupation so when we get to chat it’s great.

I was stuck on my historical. I knew the basic plot. I had the hero’s conflict/problem, the heroine’s conflict/problem, the overall story plot, but how was I going to make it all work?

Yep, that’s right. I had a great idea; I started to expand on it and bam – brick wall! So I met with Margot, who’d read what I’d written so far and didn’t think it was awful. (Thanks again for that, Margot.) Here’s how the conversation went:

Margot: “So what’s the problem?”
Me: “I have no idea how the hero finds out the secrets.”
Margot: “Oh, yeah, so what are you going to do?”
Me: “I have no idea! That’s why we’re here.”
Margot: “Right. Do you want some bread?”

Okay, it wasn’t exactly like that, but we did talk about the book for about an hour and you know what? We figured it out. Between the two of us, tossing ideas back and forth, we figured how my hero learned the secrets from his family’s past. We also discovered two new characters that would assist with the plot. By the time I got home the characters that are living in my head were chattering so much I couldn’t sleep!! Now I just have to find the time to get it all down on paper.

We chatted about Margot’s next book too; A Hotel in Bath which I was allowed to read and it is fabulous. She also let me in on the third book in the series – she is so good at romantic suspense. I am so fortunate to have a friend like Margot. I couldn’t do it without you.

Brainstorming – it’s a great thing.

Thanks Margot and everyone else -- thanks for reading


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Beating the Winter Blahs

Okay, I realize we're only a month in to it, but winter is starting to depress me. All of the beautiful while snow is just about gone, leaving dirty, yucky black snow in its aftermath. The holidays are over. And the sun is rarely seen these days. Today it's raining.

To be honest, it's getting me a little down. I'm starting to feel grey like the outdoors.

So to beat those winter blahs my hubby and I have been using that most traditional of all cures...laughter.

At the moment, we are hooked on the hit comedy series "The Office". If you've never seen it, I highly recommend giving it a try. There are some episodes that make us laugh until we cry. It's that good. We started by DVRing all of the reruns as they're on several times a day, but over the course of the last month (Gotta love Christmas and birthday gifts!) we've obtained the first five seasons on DVD. Now we can watch whenever the mood strikes us...without commercials. I think one day over Christmas break we watched 12 episodes. Whenever we need a pick-me-up, we pop a disc in, and for 20 minutes (or those bonus 40 minute editions) we can lose ourselves in the healing power of laughter. The exploits of Jim, Pam, Michael, Dwight, and crew certainly do that for us.

TV, books, and movies often work like that. Whether we need a good laugh, a good cry, a good scare, some pulse-pounding action, or simply a heart-warming story, immersing ourselves in the world of fiction can help to brighten our day, no matter what the weather is like outside.

Wouldn't it be great if someday, when asked, "What do you do to beat those winter blues?", people all over the world would say, "Oh, I curl up with a Debra St. John book and lose myself in the story."?

A girl can dream, can't she?

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mykonos by Margot Justes

The water lapping the shore, the beaches along the coast primed for tourists, the cafes and restaurants all facing the deep blue water, the caress of a gentle breeze, the radiant sun warming your soul; all is well with the world. At least the world of Mykonos.
I only spent about three very short hours in Mykonos, but they were memorable hours. I walked the length of the beach in the center of town and of course stopped in the obligatory shops, just because you have to stop, it's the touristy thing to do, and never let it be said I'm not a tourist. Nor were the cafes neglected, just in case there were any questions about my coffee addiction, I happen to love Greek coffee, sweet. Very sweet.
It has been said that Mykonos is one of the most beautiful islands of the Cyclades. It's history is vague, but somewhere around 1207 and 1390 the island was ceded to Ghisi family. There is also a record that at some point in time the inhabitants turned to piracy. By the 18th century the island established an economic presence and today tourists provide a great deal of economic prosperity. Of course there is more to the rich and vibrant island, but I'm only writing a blog.
There are some 400 churches on the island, the most renowned is the Virgin Paraportiani, and of course let's not forget the famous Windmills, as they beckon the ferries, boats, ships and anything else floating in the water. Up close and personal they are huge and oddly welcoming.
Next week, the reason I only spent three hours in Mykonos-the island of Delos-an island like no other.
Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Friday, January 22, 2010

Taming the Online Marketing Animal by Robert W. Walker

Online marketing is an entirely different animal than “real world” marketing. Doing blogs, blog tours, some his and her blog tours with my writer wife, Miranda, and am ever online at all the “usual” places building relationships. And even online, you are seldom successful in selling your book so much as selling a laugh or a philosophical point you wish to make, and engaging in give and take, so in effect you’re selling your self—or rather getting folks to care about you or your point of view or that of your dog, Pongo, in the photo with me, or that photo of me with Will Smith or Captain Jack Sparrow—even if they are cardboard cutouts…. Sad truth is that Pongo sells far more books than I ever could. However, if people like you and what you have to say, they eventually will go find a copy of your book.

Recently, a dear friend I met online named Ann Charles said this to me: “There are some questions I’d love to hear the answer to if we were kicking back at the bar at a writers’ conference and these are: What do you mean that you don’t sell your book so much as sell yourself? I thought that after you have an actual book to promote—something besides just air and a name (which is what I have to try to promote)—that you could focus on selling that book and not worry so much about selling yourself.”

The book jobbers who sell to the bookstores say it best; if they like me, they will buy my stock. If students like and respect their teacher, they will buy what the teacher is selling. Online be as likeable as you can be; use humor, exaggeration, have fun with it and know it takes time to create online relationships.

“But what precisely are you doing to sell yourself online? Are you just trying to be entertaining with fun stories to get the blog readers to like you? Are you throwing cover quotes and details about your books at them? Are you telling how you came up with the idea and talking about what you are currently working on? And what is the impression about Rob W. Walker that you are hoping/trying to leave in your wake online?”

Excellent questions. Short answer is YES to all of the above. Spread it around, have cover art and photos do double and triple duty. Blog on humorous events in your life, childhood moments, any behind the book stories you can safely share. Mix it up and do not always post about your books. Let signature lines do that for you. Give advice, give help, give of yourself and be gracious with your knowledge and humor. Lots of humor. Leave ‘em laughing. Spend time answering the tweets and facebook comments of others. It requires time and commitment but what relationship doesn’t?

Below is a list of exciting links that all writers should be aware of and visit often, so I will slip it across the bar to you.

A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing/ JA Konrath: A free download 250,000 words worth of tips, hints, tricks, and advice. Over 750 pages long. And it's free

Book Promotion

Happy Writing and Marketing!
Rob Walker

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haiti Relief by DL Larson

If you are looking for ways to help with the Haiti Relief programs, a good one in the Chicago area is Feed My Starving Children. My daughter Amber asked me to join her and her friends this Sunday to help pack food supplies that will be sent to Haiti.

Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) needs thousands more volunteers in the next six weeks for its food-packing site in Aurora IL. Daytime volunteers are needed most. They want volunteers to sign up in groups, ten people to a group. The group I will be joining is scheduled for this Sunday, January 24, 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.

Feed My Starving Children is a non-profit Christian organization committed to feeding the starving children of the world. They send food to 60 countries. For more information on this group visit

The point is we all feel the devastation of the Haiti earthquake, the utter helplessness and the urge to reach out to those in need. FMSC is simply one of many wonderful organizations that have raced to help the people of Haiti. My local church gathered close to a $1,000 last Sunday in a special offering. More money will come in the continuing weeks.

More than one million meals have reached Haiti, and through volunteer efforts more than three million meals will arrive in the days ahead. FMSC relies on local and national support to provide the food needed.

For information at your local area, visit the FMSC website. If you have a favorite charity helping the Haiti crisis, please share it with us.

Til next time ~

DL Larson
PS: volunteers wanting to help in the Chicagoland/Aurora area, call 630-851-0404.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rituals - What are Yours? By Morgan Mandel

Today, I saw a feature story on Yahoo about a 60 year old ritual that appears to have been broken, but no one knows why. Some man would come every year to visit Edgar Allan Poe's grave to leave roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac. For some reason, he didn't make it this year. All kinds of speculation is happening about why. Here's the link to the story:

Reading the account made me think about the importance of rituals in our writing and how they're indicators of a character's personality or station in life.

There are tons of rituals. They can involve religion, hygiene, family, work, sleep habits, holidays, you name it.

Here are some of my own rituals, involving food:

Popcorn at movies
Hamburgers with ketchup and mustard on a hamburger bun or on rye bread
Mustard, never ketchup, on hotdogs
Pepsi, with ice at my evening meal - Never Coca Cola
Eating dinner from a TV tray while watching television
Going to a Chinese restaurant for Chinese New Year
Going to a Mexican restaurant for Cinco De Mayo
Turkey at Thanksgiving

In my romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams, my main character and her love interest share a Friday night ritual of eating pizza while working late.

What about you? Have you included a ritual in one of your books? Or maybe you'd like to share a personal ritual. It doesn't have to be about food. It can be anything.

Morgan Mandel

Monday, January 18, 2010

Michelle's First Blog by Michelle Sproat

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day I am taking the day off. So I’m taking a page from cartoonist Bill Keane of Family Circus and letting my daughter blog for me.

Enjoy! June

Michelle’s First Blog

Hello people! My mom is taking a break from blogging! I get to replace her for today! I’m excited…I hope I get AT LEAST 2 comments on this blog saying how awesome I am! HAHAHA I AM LAUGHING!

Guess what?! My mom’s not the only author in this family! Now guess who’s the other author. Come on….GUESS! Okay…I’ll tell you. IT’S ME! I published a poem in a book. It was through a club I was in during school last year. Here is my work of art;

The Poem
I sit here writing this poem
A pencil in my hand
Not sure what’s going to happen next.

Unaware of what surrounds me
Silence fills the room
Confusion floats around me.
I freeze.
Where did everyone go?

Oh wait!
No need to worry.
I am facing the wall,
The answer to my puzzlement.

Everyone is behind me,
Sitting doing their work
I was oblivious to what surrounds me
Writing this poem.

Okay…so I’m in 8th grade and I am psyched for graduation. Yeah, I’m going to miss my school, but I heard high school is pretty fun. We already got placements for some classes…and I got put into the “dumb people” math class. Well…actually I put myself in that class by not being good at math…but blame my dearest mother for my lack of mathematical skills! (I’m just kidding mother!)

So my mom and I were watching Mary Poppins on Friday night (I have no life! just kidding!) and we were singing along to like every song. It was funny. HA HA HA I’M LAUGHING AGAIN!!

Casey just walked into the kitchen where I am working, and she is jealous that I am writing a blog for my mother. This just proves that I AM the favorite child.
Well, that’s all I have for this time. Maybe my mom will let me write again! Or maybe…I will write my OWN blog. Eh…that’s a project for another day.

Michelle (Queen of Ninja Awesomeness) Sproat

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Burt Wolf and Me by Margot Justes

It would appear I have wonder lust, or better yet travel lust. There is that itch begging me to go somewhere exotic. To be sure cruising the Mexican Riviera will be pure vacation, visiting the ports, relaxing, swimming, all the great stuff. But I wouldn't mind living out of a suitcase on a more permanent basis. And more to the point, in my next life I would love to come back as a female version of Burt Wolf.

This very elegant man who travels all over the world, has a terrific sense of humor, stays in the best hotels, eats in the best restaurants, writes his own stuff, seems to have a marvelous time and he gets paid for doing it. What a career.

I have watched his shows for many years and have greatly enjoyed every one. He provides a glimpse of the local culture, food, art, places to see and things to do, and everything is done with great style.

So, while in this life I'm preparing myself for future possibilities and during the cruise I will write a daily blog while on board with Royal Caribbean, the ports we'll visit and of course the ever present food on board ship.

But in the meantime, next week I'll start writing about the Greek Islands, starting with Mykonos, purely to quiet down the yen to pack and go somewhere. Maybe it work.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Friday, January 15, 2010

Where to go w/Your Set Piece…SETTING the Stage…Setting is Character

Setting quite often is not only what entices a reader to open a book (“Oh, look…it is set in my home town of Seattle!”) but it is often what entices a writer to begin a novel (“Fascinating place…think I will set a book down here, and why not?”). Setting is as important as the author or reader want to make it, it would seem. In fact, if an author’s attitude toward his setting is that he simply wants or needs a generic city – any city of a given size and population will do, then that surfaces in the story; and some authors do quite well with quick few broad strokes to construct their metropolis or countryside or small town. I admire those who can do this well, immediately place you into middle America or a village in Tanzania or Mexico and get on with the plot and characters. I also admire those who can take a village, a town, or a city, or an entire island nation or country and delve deeply into its complex character – thus making it a separate but equal character in the cast of characters in the novel. The former takes as deft a hand, but the later takes a deft hand and a good deal of research and/or experience with a place.

James Lee Burke’s novels come instantly to mind when one thinks of the New Orleans area, in particular New Iberia, LA. Mark Twin leaps to mind for Life on the Mississippi and for Missouri in particular. Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens for 18th Century London and environs. Some authors are so closely associated with a given geography that we must know it is due to their depiction of that area in such intimate terms due to their intimacy with place.

Setting does not always take such prominence in a novel, but when it does get “captured” like a running film with all its quirks, pimples, darkness, and light, it becomes a character in a sense, one the main character interacts with, relates to, is fascinated with and loves and often protects, or detest and is often at odds with and will decry its ugliness for instance. And true sometimes the protagonists has terribly ambivalent feelings about his or her surroundings—be it Chicago, LA, New York, Miami, Houston, etc…etc…

In Pure Instinct, I became so enamored with Hawaii that I provided a complete character of it, but in the novel it is my interpretation, the place having been put through the prism of Dr. Jessica Coran’s eye—sifted through the mind and heart of my protagonist. This makes the character of Hawaii in that novel uniquely mine, yet it is based on facts and research and having visited the state, and having come away with a powerful, moving impression that the place made on me, the author. Until then, I had never so thoroughly engrossed myself in presenting setting as character, but here was a setting that informed all the characters in the story and shaped them as well. After writing Pure Instinct, I began a concerted effort to always “characterize” my settings; to make setting equal out to character. As a result, that plan has served my novels well from my depiction of 1893 Chicago in my Inspector Alastair Ransom series to modern day Atlanta in Dead On, Houston in my Edge Series, and a variety of major cities in my Instinct Series as well as Early New England of 1692 infamy in Children of Salem.

Whether an author chooses to use quick and generic brush strokes or fine and detailed brush strokes regarding setting, the attitude an author strikes about this extremely important element in story is all important. In short story, I feel, the quick, generic strokes are needed due to space limitations, but in a novel, I look to do the finest detail work I can muster…but that’s just me.

Let me know what you think of Character is Setting. Would love to hear from you! I imagine that I have sketched a city near you at one time or another.

Happy Reading and Writing,
Rob (free 8 chapter peek at Children of Salem)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A- A- Auh- CHEW! By DL Larson

I'm not one to catch a cold easily, but this remodeling in the children's department at our library stirred up dirt from the last century. I dodged, I skipped, I tore out the rooms like a speeding bullet. I even wore a mask when cleaning up after the carpenters! But those dust mites were determined to cause havoc. Their efforts proved fruitful! I caught a cold!

I can't smell the fresh paint. I can't smell the new carpet. But my eyes have seen this new, improved children's department. My hands are rough and chapped from washing every shelf, chair and table with Murphy's soap. I started out with gloves, but that didn't last long. It's ridiculous to blow ones nose while wearing rubber gloves.

Tomorrow the rest of the shelving and tables will be returning. Much has been in storage off premises at our local golf club. Everything has been covered with plastic just as all the other pieces of furniture we stored at the library, but dirt has a way of finding its way in. I can only hope the Murphy's won't run out.

There have been many volunteers through this process and I appreciate all their time and effort. But when I pull the bucket of cleaning supplies out everyone seems to disappear. Or is it my cold they are running from?

In the solitude of cleaning it's just been me and the sunshine streaming through the windows I'm scrubbing. My mind wanders not to the mountain-size task of replacing thousands of books, but of my WIP. I've learned to edit without a computer, a trick I learned long ago. I know I will have to fix the story physically later, but in my mind the problem is solved, the resolution better than I had anticipated. The monotonous simplicity of scrubbing has let my mind wander to my real life's work.

That fuzzy feeling twitches my nose so I climb from my ladder and reach for a tissue. The sun makes my eyes water, the sneeze is close to blowing my head off, but I'm really quite happy multi-tasking. Another window is clean and I've fixed a hot spot in my manuscript.

The cold, ah, well, that has proved quite stubborn. Another few days and I will succeed in booting it out with the other dirt I'm dealing with. Til then, the tissue stays close.

Til next time ~

DL Larson

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book Signing Pics - Barnes and Noble DePaul Center - Jan 13

Busy day at a Killer Career book signing at Barnes & Noble DePaul Center, in Downtown Chicago.

So, today, I'll just leave you with a few pictures from the event.

I had a great spot, right in front of the Bestsellers.

Hope that's a sign of things to come.

Until Next Time -
Morgan Mandel

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Life Resolutions

While everyone else seems to be making those pesky resolutions for the New Year, I'm working on some life resolutions instead. It's just going slightly slower than I expected. I have some good reasons for this but then everyone usually does because they generally fall into the category of life happens.

Mine include an unexpected business trip, my 16 1/2 year-old dog is ill and may not recover, the pace at work seems to continue to increase, and - well, you get the point. Life Happens!

I did write down some goals, or resolutions, such as: write more, travel more, better organization at work and home, yoga everyday, enjoy life wherever possible, and so on, and so on. I've come to the conclusion, however, over the many years of making New Year's resolutions that what I need is Life Resolutions - in other words, add/subtract things from my life that make sense for the rest of my life.

One of those "things" is yoga. I like the philosophy of yoga and the opportunity for growth and awareness. With New Year's resolutions, a very small percentage, including me, are able to keep them. I've always felt like a failure by February because for the most part, the resolutions weren't reasonable and didn't take into account that life happens.

With yoga and it's many forms of practice, the fact that life happens is part of the process. Besides, it's more workable to fit my goals above into the rest of my life instead of a year.

Happy writing everyone.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hyde Park, London

Hyde Park was a must see when I went to London. Particularly since I have scenes from a historical set there. Here is one of the scenes (Remember this is a VERY rough draft):

Elizabeth sat in the park running her gloved hand over her cat, Saffron.
"Do you think we will ever find him Saffron?” she asked the cat rhetorically.

Saffron opened her mouth and a loud “meow” came out.

“I agree,” Elizabeth sighed.

“Agree with what?” A male voice said from behind her and she felt a lurch of excitement. She had only spent a short time with Lord Clauster and already she recognized his voice.

“Oh, um, nothing, just admiring the weather,” Elizabeth answered as Saffron fidgeted in her lap. “Oh, please be still Saffron,” Elizabeth scolded. “I have no idea what possessed me to bring a cat out to the park,” she said looking at Daniel.

Squatting next to Elizabeth, he reached for the cat. “Here, let me have her, I have an incredible appeal to animals.”

Saffron hissed her response.

“It appears she does not share the same sentiments my lord.” Elizabeth tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a laugh.

“Apparently not.” Daniel stood and held out his hand. “Come, let’s walk.”

Although she ached for his warm touch she ignored his hand opting instead to use both her hands to firmly hold the cat as she rose from the bench. Daniel took her elbow, sending a quiver up her arm, and led them toward the Serpentine. Elizabeth’s maid followed slowly behind.

“I’m surprised to see you in the park my lord.

“Oh, I frequent the park regularly. I very much enjoy the fresh air, and the scenery.” Daniel’s eyes examined her from head to toe. “Today the scenery seems exceptional.”

I took this pictures thinking it would be a great spot for that scene.

I hope you've enjoyed my pictures from London.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Day to Relax

This is going to sound odd.

But I'm not sure what to do with myself today.

Yesterday was busy. We finished taking down the rest of the Christmas decs(two trees and some outside lights and wreaths), did about seven loads of laundry (How is that possible with only two people living in a house?!), cleaned both bathrooms (Ugh), worked out, and went and visited an old friend.

Today I feel a little at loose ends. I know I should get some writing done. I'm almost at the end of the book I'm reading. I need to run over to Wal-mart and pick up a few things. But without a specific schedule or deadline in mind, I'm not sure what to tackle first. Or what I want to tackle first. Or if I want to tackle anything at all. Because none of these things absolutely have to be accomplished today. What is it that Scarlett says, "Tomorrow's another day."?

So, perhaps today will just be a couch day. A day to hang out with my hubby and relax. Maybe watch some football (Although our team has been way out of the play-offs since the beginning of the season.). It's another busy week coming up, so maybe some R & R before it starts is a good idea.

I guess we'll just have to see what happens.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Saturday, January 9, 2010

An Invitation to Librarians & Booksellers by Margot Justes

This is for Librarians and Booksellers and friends of the above mentioned, this way if you know a Librarian and/or bookseller, you can extend an invitation to the Bookseller-Librarian Appreciation Reception at the Chicago North RWA Spring Fling 2010. (That is a mouthful).

I volunteered to help with this event, and somehow wound up chairing it. Odd, that.

Below is the information you will need:

Chicago North Chapter of RWA Spring Fling 2010 Conference
Bookseller-Librarian Appreciation reception
Friday, April 23, 2010
7:30-9:30 pm
Hyatt Deerfield
1750 Lake Cook Road Deerfield, IL 60001

Sign up for this FREE event at the conference by visiting
then fill out the RSVP form.

Our guest of honor is Cherry Adair and Julia Quinn, and the warm welcome will include our fabulous chocolate reception, we know how well chocolate and romance go together.
And if you register by March 30th you will receive a goody bag full of books and other surprises.

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at

Till next Time,
Margot Justes

Friday, January 8, 2010

OMG Technology is Making Writing Fools of Us All By Robert W. Walker

We finally manipulate our character into the deep morass that could be her demise…ratchet up the senses, the sound effects, the atmosphere, the creepiness when suddenly she fumbles for but of course drops the cell phone she’s reached for so as to call for backup or help or hubby. Sometimes the darndest things happen at the most inconvenient of moments in the story—just like real life sometimes. There have been grumblings among readers about characters misuse of this, that, or the other gizmo in mysteries of late. Mysteries have always incorporated the latest in technology and sometimes even employ science fiction when the story calls for a device not yet invented but needed to move the story along. Does it make sense? Is it playing fair with the reader? It likely depends on the reader and the number of times a device has not worked or worked to save a protagonist in the nick of time.

I have always worked to incorporate current gadgets, gizmos, and technology in my stories; in one I made a case for any nutcase with a PC can set himself up as a Religion of the ONE—and like facebook and twitter, wow, the nutcase gets followers. What easy prey are our young. I have had serial killers logging in, setting up websites, enticing victims. Technology as a means to evil ends. But I have also kept up with police science, forensics, the cutting edge means to good ends.

In Absolute Instinct for instance, I had Dr. Jessica Coran use a cell phone with a built in live GPS camera pinpoint her whereabouts when the killer and Coran face off in the final scene. But this is nothing new as in my first published novel, SubZero, set in the distant future of 2010 was jam filled with interesting technology like a climate control wall unit to escape the stress of a new Ice Age as well as a nuclear powered building. This was a book published in 1969 and is today an ebook for Kindle readers.

A writer using technological marvels in his or her book must treat them like any other prop; they can’t just pop up and not be put to use, for instance—they should be in the scene for a reason, and that reason may come clear twenty chapters down the road. If you give a character a cane that also acted as a phone for instance, the cane-phone has a reason for being in the story to begin with. Rent the Kevin Bacon horror spoof film TREMORS to see an absolutely perfect use of props from a pogo stick to a pair of pliers and an old Coca Cola machine. Every prop, big and small, is in the “frame” for a reason and is put to use if not then and there then in an upcoming scene. Go see the new Holmes film for use of props introduced – almost to a one, every prop that pops up is put to use either then and there or in the next scene or the last scene, but it gets used and has a reason for being on hand. Some films are so heavily invested in current technology as part of the ongoing story as in Hackers. It had to use technology, but Holmes uses the technology of his day.

Techno gadgets can become a nuisance rather than a help, however, if you spend three, four, five pages discussing their inner workings; this is tedious and unnecessary. It is the downfall of most young people who want to write science fiction, some who write an entire scene just to explain how a machine works. Do any of us know how a microwave works? Do we need to in order to use the machine? If there is a reason for the reader to take a lesson on gamma rays? Ifffff so, by all means explain them but do so in dialogue and with characters engaged and in action. Never allow fat paragraphs to build up; never stop your story to describe a person, place, or thing, no matter what sort of fascination you may find in the gizmo. If it is essential describe it while at the same time keeping your characters in action and in movement. “Rip those copper pipes out and bring them to me, now!” shouted Simone.

“What’re you doing?” he asked.

“The pipes! Now, damn it!”

And for goodness sakes if you have a dog or a cat or an infant in your story, don’t forget the fact; no disappearing animate creatures who come and go only when you need them. As for a cane or a flask of whiskey, be sure they are not forgotten once remarked upon. In my Children of Salem, the 1692 postal system in Early New England is not so reliable, and I pepper in clues to that effect, and it comes back to bite our somewhat na├»ve character who believes anything he places in the mails is a private matter (nothing like emails of today, eh?).

So watch your props and your technology, no matter the time period you are writing about, and Happy New Year and Happy Writing one and all – and do leave a comment!


Dead On Writing – paper from and ebook at

Thursday, January 7, 2010

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! by DL Larson

I've spent this first week of 2010 working on sending out a query to an agent. Sending out are the important words in that sentence. If I don't send my work to prospective agents, it won't get noticed, it won't become published. Actually I've been working on this for some time.

I used the Writer's Market book quite a bit to get started. The process was simple, but slow. I came up with a dozen names/agents who seemed interested in the type of books I write. Checking for agents from the web or from other author's acknowledgement pages worked great too. Once I had a working list of names, I visited their sites. I spent a great deal of time making my own check list of "this one might be interested, this one is a definite no." Some of the things I looked for: genre interest, book lengths, other books they sold, and their comments were very important as well. I don't go for personalities that are sarcastic or have a biting edge to their humor. I considered it a personality conflict and moved on. The other thing I did was kept a list of YES/NO prospects in this stage. No sense researching the same names a month from now because I simply forgot I'd already checked into them. So keeping records of the paths I've ventured down work well for me.

With my list of prospective names, I chose my top three, then the one I wanted to send to first. I revisited their website paying particular attention to the submission requirements. Most of my top ten preferred e-mail queries. It was now up to me to put my work before them in a professional way.

I'm not sure which was more challenging to write, the query letter or the brief synopsis. The query needed a hook, while the synopsis required straightforward details. When I wrote my snyopsis, I first listed the five most important things that happened in my book. Once I had the backbone of my story, I addressed each in a simple telling of point one through point five. What emerged was a concise outline in written form. With a little more tweaking, the outline became my synopsis.

I wanted my query to explain my book in a few intriguing words or sentences. I pondered my characters personalities, trying to decide what made them unique. It took awhile, but I finally realized my characters all had a common trait: fear. One was afraid for his family, afraid of his own actions, and another feared her past would be discovered. Even the minor characters feared being unloved and forgotten. I used this knowledge to form my elevator pitch, my hook for my query letter.

I made sure my Bio was updated and critiqued my first dozen pages of my manuscript to be sure I hadn't missed something. I put everything in a format to send to the email address of the agent. I rechecked the submission requirements and decided I'd done what I could on this end.

Pushing the SEND button was thrilling and sickening at the same time. I don't know if sending my material out will ever become easier. I've been doing this for several years. I'm used to rejection notes. I remind myself I want only an agent who is truly excited about my work. Mediocre interest is worse than no agent. It's a waste of time and no one accomplishes anything. Rejection slips serve the purpose of "don't dwell here, move on!" Many agencies stated if one does not hear from them within a certain amount of time, the writer may assume they are not interested. I actually like this policy. I hate waiting around for someone to find time to read my material. My time is important too.

So, deep breath here; I have started down the path of finding an agent. I'll keep you posted on how things go. I'm realistic enough to know it may take awhile. But the dreamer in me hopes for a miracle. A little of God's favor would be really nice. It would be awesome!

Til next time ~

DL Larson

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The All Important First Graphs by Morgan Mandel

When I'm at book signings, people glance at the front of my book. If they like what they see, they pick it up and also check out the back cover.

They then flip over to the first page. That's the real test. If you don't hook the reader right from the beginning, there's small likelihood you'll get another chance. That's why those first few paragraphs and the rest of the first page are so important.

I'm mentioning this today because my romantic suspense, KILLER CAREER, is featured at Chris Verstraete's blog today in FIRST GRAPHS at

I'd really appreciate your coming over there to read Killer Career's first paragraphs and leave a comment.

Morgan Mandel

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Parks, London

I didn't get to spend as much time as I would have like to in the parks of London, but I did get to stop in St. James park, Green Park and Hyde Park.

I posted St. James's Park pictures here, so now I'll show you some shots of Green Park.
So, yes, Green Park is very green! I read that there were no flowers in Green Park, unlike St. James's that is overabundant with flowers, because the Lepers were buried there from when there used to be a hospital on the site of St. James's Palace. Don't know if they just don't plant flowers because of this or they just don't grow, but it sounded very interesting!

My Next post will have my pictures from Hyde Park - which was beautiful!!


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ringing in the New Year

Happy 2010!

I'll have to admit, I'm not much of a resolution person either. But I've read lots of posts this past week about setting goals...and I think that's the way I'm going to go this year.

In my writing life, my goal this year is to finish my WIP. I really should get more specific with that, as in setting a number of pages for each week, etc. But I don't always have consistent time to write. So a broader goal is much more realistic for me. Hopefully it won't take me the whole year, but who knows?

In my personal life, my goal is to continue to exercise on a regular basis. When I first started working out, I was motivated, I was excited, I was eager. Somewhere along the line, those things faded out. So, I still do work out, but it's not quite as much fun as it used to be.

My mom always said that whatever you do on New Years Day will be the things you spend a lot of time doing in the upcoming year. So I packed a whole lot into January 1 this year. I rang in the new year and spent time with family and friends. I worked out. I wrote a little bit. I organized some scrapbook stuff. I cleaned my house. I sat on the couch and watched a movie with my hubby. I took a nap. I read. I made a great dinner.

So, maybe I do have some resolutions after all. Those are the things I really want to accomplish and do more of in the new year.

Until next time,

Happy Reading! (or whatever it is you enjoy most)


Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year Resolutions by Margot Justes

I tend not to make resolutions because I never keep them, usually by the third day, it’s gone. The most common one is a diet…I wonder how many of us after the non-stop eating during the long holiday season are saying that at this very moment. Our family holiday season starts with Halloween and ends in the New Year. Two long months.

Okay, I’ll admit it’s on my list. Not a resolution exactly, but I brought the South Beach Diet book from my office to the kitchen table. And I started this morning, but still have Chinese food left over and tomorrow we’re taking our son-in-law for his birthday celebration and it is a delightful and delicious buffet at Pinstripes in Glenview. There goes the diet.

I also booked a ten day cruise to the Mexican Riviera, and if you have cruised, you know that food is available practically round the clock and it is plentiful. Absolutely no diet. But to offset the food, there is plenty to do, walking and swimming which I love, lessons in ballroom dancing and even belly dancing; there are activities to keep the pounds at bay however, there are also deck chairs, a library and a couple of books I plan to bring with me, not exactly a strenuous exercise but absolutely necessary.

Back to resolutions, this year I hope to keep the only true one I made; to learn more about this fascinating world of internet promoting, our very own Morgan Mandel is a mistress, and I plan to learn from her.

I know I’ll keep this one after all I have a novel and a novella to sell.

Till next Saturday,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris ISBN 978-1-59080-534-3
Art brought her to Paris, then a stranger’s death changes her life.
Missing ISBN 978-1-59080-611 1
available on

Friday, January 1, 2010

There's Editing & There's Editing...What's Your Process? By Robert W. Walker

The business of editing your story once you’ve got it going is an important consideration, and the first consideration is precisely WHEN do you do your editing; what is your best choice of processing the process? Do you edit as you go, line by line, or afterward altogether at once? I imagine some folks do it scene by scene, chapter by chapter as they go—which I do nowadays, but in my youth, I used to do my serious editing only AFTER the manuscript was completed and entirely out of my head. Some say you can’t do two jobs at once—create and edit—in the same breath as each job requires the opposite side of the brain, but as I have matured as a writer, I have come to discard that notion. I edit much more as I go nowadays than I once did, and I will consciously be editing a line as I write it, a scene as I write it, a chapter as I write it. I will also re-read and edit two or three scenes and chapters before I continue on to the next scenes and chapters, rather working in a parabola fashion, like a wave action, back and forth.

I won’t catch every misplaced modifier or weak metaphor or missing comma or apostrophe, but I know for a fact that I am too close to the trees to see the forest, or too close to the forest to see the trees, or both since like a client in a courtroom who represents himself, I have a fool for an editor. I know it needs a judicious second and even third eye; in fact, better than most, I know I need all the help I can get. To this end, I have cultivated close friends whose advice and editing eye are spot on—folks I can rely on. Such friends can drive you insane as they are so detail conscious, but they are, as I said, spot on.

I have seen errors in my finished books, however, and this after I have written and rewritten the story to exhaustion, and it has been vetted by my readers, and it has had a thorough going over by my editor and a copy editor as well, and guess what – still typos and words like Lamb for Lame filter in or are crammed in by the ink gremlins (creatures that abound in magazines, playbills, brochures, how-to’s, and novels). Still we try and try and try.

No novel in the history of novels has been rewritten more than my Children of Salem and yet my hero, Wakely gets spelled as Wakley at least once, and tomb should have been tome in the first chapter. So it goes, but we must strive to make the version that goes to an editor’s desk as clean and error-free as we can possibly make it, as this is a major part of the job at hand.

TEN items I edit for as I write (in fact both sides of the brain can work in tandem with experience)

1 - Edit for LY words and other modifiers, adjectives, adverbs to hug the word they ‘modify’.

2 - Edit to catch pronouns that are ‘fuzzy’ or confusing for whatever reason and in need of being replaced by naming the person, place, or thing the pronoun is standing in for. Constantly ask who are they…what is it…who is he/she.

3 – Edit out as many prepositions and prepositional phrases as possible as in switch: ‘stood up from the chair’ with ‘stood’ – and such phrases as ‘out of the back of the car’ with ‘from the car’ and excise so many sentences that unnecessarily end with ‘to me’. Anytime you can replace two or three prepositional or directional words with a single word that is a WIN.

4 – Omit as many of the word VERY as you can find along with many another qualifier in the narrative; look up the part of speech that is called a qualifier and avoid them like the plague; they are related to adjectives, adverbs, and modifiers and are often meant to emphasize but instead they manage to de-emphasize the otherwise strong subject and strong verb they qualify or modify.

5 – Put in as many ‘absolutes’ as you can, often replacing the qualifier with an absolute word or phrase. Instead of VERY replace it with an absolute as in: ‘The swiftly flowing wind roared very loudly’ with ‘A swift bearlike roaring wind peeled its anguish’.

6 – Edit out trivial matter in both narrative and dialogue. Trivial matter is such material as is metaphorically spinning wheels and not moving the story along. That is description that serves no purpose or has no connection to your character(s), and/or dialogue that fails to illuminate character or push the story along.

7 – Make sure that all description of people, places, and things are filtered through the five senses of the characters.

8 – Make sure that all description of people, places, and things come about as thought and speech while your characters are involved in some action or actions. Avoid whole paragraphs of simple passive description or thought or inner monologue.

9 – Edit for whole paragraphs and scenes that fall into telling only and no showing; rewrite these by dialoguing the same information, spreading out these “telling” lines to various characters who may speak them aloud inside quotation marks. In other words: Dialogue dull scenes into walking, talking, doing scenes that involve the five senses of your characters rather than the speechifying of your narrator.

10 – Make certain each character has his/her own speech patterns, mindset, psychology, props, ticks, and anything that sets each apart. The worst thing your novel can do is have every character working in similar tone and attitude. No two can walk or talk alike unless you’re doing twins.

It’s not by any means an exhaustive list but these are major items and issues editors will be dealing with when autopsying your book, and the worst sin of all is the sin of being unclear. All of these steps help me in self-editing even before they are dealt with by your first readers, critique group, agent…editor. I hope the list is helpful; I use it all the time with my own work and when I am acting as an editor for others when wearing my freelance editor’s cap. Bringing this back around full circle, if you are first starting out as a writer, you may well prefer and want to get the entire book out of your head before you begin a serious, all encompassing rewrite – unless you find it easy and fulfilling to edit scene by scene as you go. Find what works for you as we all must find our own working methods.

I welcome your comments and we at ACME have made making comments a walk in the park; it’s that easy, so don’t hesitate. Meanwhile, find me on facebook, at Twitter, on Myspace and for details about my editing service visit me at

Happy New Year of Writing and Reading,

Robert Walker, author of Dead On & Children of Salem, the INSTINCT and RANSOM series and find me on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and Google me!