Don’t Embrace The Boulders – Keep Chasing Your Dreams

The highway of life is filled with mole hills, bumps, potholes, and occasionally boulders. Big, fat, road-blocking boulders that fill all six lanes of your highway and stop forward momentum at fatal velocities.

Potholes are someone else’s choice interfering with your forward progression, like the CEO embezzling a few billion dollars and your company going bankrupt. You have no control over this, and it’s definitely going to throw you off your stride for a bit.

Mole hills are little things that may look big, like losing those last three pounds or remembering to get birthday cards in the mail by Friday. At the end of your life a mole hill is a trivial thing that’s easily forgotten. Bumps are also small. They rattle you, but they won’t kill you.

Boulders… those are a different beast entirely. Boulders are huge things that stop you from moving. Career-ending decisions. Dead end jobs. Addictions that throw you out of the loop of life and down to the sidelines.

Boulders take many forms. Sometimes they’re an addiction. Sometimes they’re a lifestyle choice. Sometimes the boulder is something we have very little control over, like a cancer diagnosis or clinical depression. Sometimes the boulder is something entirely of our own making.

Whatever the case, don’t embrace the boulders.

I see too many people who see a boulder on the road of life and assume it’s the end of the road.

The teen mom who’s life came to a screeching halt because she had a kid, and fourteen years later she’s never dated, never left home, never done anything but let one choice dictate her entire life. She’s embraced the boulder and refuses to move on.

Or my alcoholic uncle who has lost his family and friends to his abusive drinking, who lives on the edge of poverty because his paycheck goes straight to the liquor store, and who doesn’t understand why no one is excited that he’s decided to try home brewing. Alcoholism is his boulder. He’s embraced it. He has decided that alcohol is more important than anything else in life, and that he can’t cut back on it because being an alcoholic is what he is.

The author who throws in the towel because on publishing house rejected their novel that came over the transom. ONE. Not hundreds of rejections. Not dozens of rejections. ONE REJECTION, and the author wants to quit because Sad Author wrote the book with that publisher in mind.

It makes me want to set my hair on fire!

I get it, I really do. Some of these are very hard things to deal with. Addictions aren’t something you can always handle alone. Certainly a cancer diagnosis isn’t something you can shrug off. Depression sucks, I know, I’ve got it. But, Dude! YOU ARE NOT DEAD.

It’s a boulder. It’s blocking your way. But it is not the end of the road.

Don’t embrace the boulder. Don’t sell yourself short and let a mistake or a low point in your life define you. You are so much more than the obstacles you face. You have infinite potential to do good and help others. You have the unrivaled ability to create something wholly unique and wonderful. Don’t throw that all away because of a boulder.

Previously Published November 2012

How To Be A Good Critique Partner (reprint)

Critique groups abound, especially as NaNoWriMo wraps up. The crisp, cold weather of winter combined with the frenzy of writing a novel in a month spawns writing groups like there is no tomorrow. New writing groups are wonderful, but not all critique partners are created equal.

The horror stories about bad critique partners turning a book into a chimera are all over the place. If you have nothing better to do one day, ask me about it on Twitter when I’m in a talkative mood. I have stories. But this post is about how to make yourself a better critique partner.

1) Know the Expectations
Before you start any editing project you need to know what the author wants. The wrong critique at the wrong time will kill many a good book before it’s finished. Ask the author before you start what they want. I offer levels…
— “Just a look” where I read it over and give a thumbs up or down. This is perfect for rough drafts and cheering on an author struggling to complete a project.
— “Look for plot holes” where I read and point out inconsistencies in the plot line, plot holes, and correct basic spelling and grammar errors with a note (ie – note: comma before proper names in DL)
— “Shred it” where you nitpick every single word and flaw. This is an edit for a final draft. Every word and movement is under the microscope for nuance and meaning, and I only do this with an author who is subbing the piece in the next 6 months. I wouldn’t attack a first draft like this ever.
— “Final Edits” reading the piece out loud and looking for grammar and spelling errors exclusively. This is for a clean copy that’s days away from being submitted. It’s not uncommon for authors to add a spelling error while editing.


2) Know the Audience
Before you can critique you need to know where the manuscript is headed. As a critique partner the book isn’t written for you, it’s written for a reader somewhere out in the great, big world. You need to be the reader’s advocate and make sure the book turns out well enough that someone who doesn’t know the author can enjoy it.

3) Know the Market
Fuss all you like about artistic rights. If an author wants to publish a book they need to know the market expectations (word count, content, common tropes, ect) and so does their critique partner. A good critique partner is going to red flag a mid-grade manuscript that goes over the 60,000 word limit. You also need to be familiar with the genre your partner writes in. What happens if you and your buddy both write horror and then, one day, your partner decides to write epic fantasy YA? You either start reading epic fantasy YA, or you find your buddy a new critique partner who knows the genre. Trust one who has been mismatched with critique partners before, it’s not pretty when someone edits a sci-fi manuscript with YA expectations. *shudder*


4) Trust The Author -or- Don’t Cut To Early
Never tell an author a scene doesn’t need to exist until you’ve finished the book. There’s a habit in writing groups to rip and shred before reading, and it doesn’t work. Yes, that opening line needs to be amazing, but the only legitimate comment you can give about the validity of an opening chapter is, “This works, I’m hooked.” or “I’m not hooked yet, I’ll keep reading and maybe there’s a better opening.” (Hint: check chapter 3)

5) Leave The Voice
The novice mistake of critiquing is to rewrite the book in your own words. Resist the urge. Every author has a unique voice, don’t squish it into oblivion because you’d compare love to a summer’s day and the author compares love to a rosy sunset.

6) React
Ninety percent of the notes on a good critique are reaction notes. “Oh My Gosh!!! I can’t believe Character just did that!” … “Love it!” … “I laughed here.” … “I’m picturing him naked, which I know is wrong. Rewrite.” Reactions let an author know if things are working. A large, and often overlooked, portion of editing is leading the reader down a path of emotions and reactions. If the author wanted a scene to be warm and cuddly and it’s coming off with a stalker vibe, the author needs to know. Don’t get caught up in the But-The-Author-Told-Me trap. Readers are not going to have a two hour conversation about this scene with the author. They won’t know that the author wanted the guy to be authoritative and demanding. The reader will see a stalker scene, not an authoritative male being Alphahole-ish but sweet.

Do you have anything to add? What makes a critique partner great? Hit the comments and tell me all about it.

Previously published December 2012 on www.lianabrooks.com

Mother of Teens: How To Write With Little Kids At Home

On one of the writing forums I belong to someone asked how anyone could possibly write with little kids around. What they really wanted to know was: CAN YOU WRITE WITHOUT PUTTING YOUR KIDS IN DAYCARE? Not everyone has a partner, nearby family, or the money needed to create a kid-free environment when they want to write.

There is a myth that you can’t write while you have little kids around. Or that you need to have a partner who will take care of the entire household while you sequester yourself with your muse to commune with pen and page.

And, like all other myths, it’s a big, fat lie told by some author desperate to get out of watching Frozen for the fifteen-millionth time.

You can write with kids at home. You can write with kids in the room. You can write with kids on your lap.

My first story (Even Villains Fall In Love) came out the same year my son was born. That means my two youngest kids have never known a time when Mommy wasn’t a published author. I wrote a trilogy between the time my daughter was born and the year she turned four. Four kids, three cross-country moves, and three books. If I can pull that off, so can you.

HOW TO WRITE WITH KIDS AT HOME
1 – Set reasonable goals and set acceptable reasons to miss writing. If you stress out because of impossible goals, or because you’re trying to write with a newborn, you’ll make yourself miserable. Don’t.

2 – Steal what time you can. When the baby naps, while CARS is playing for the 3rd time today… I’ve finished novels with babies nursing or a toddler on my lap. Use a boppy pillow and run spellcheck.

3 – As kids hit the Needy Years (3-5) where they nap less and need attention, make a writing space for them. My 5yo isn’t in school yet, but she’ll give me a quiet 30 minutes if I give her a dry erase board, markers, paper, and a place to sit near my desk. Thirty minutes usually means 500-1000 words. Thirty minutes daily means a novel is finished in 3 months.

4 – Prep to write so that when you sit down to type that is all you need to do. Outline, use note cards, use sticky notes, whatever… just make sure that computer time is spent writing, not trying to think. Check out the plotting session I did to get you started. 

5 – Give yourself 30 minutes a day. You might get 300 words, you might get 1000, but with 30 minutes a day (weekends off) you can write a novel in 6 months.

How To Write A Synopsis

One of the things I’ve noticed while editing for clients and helping with Son Of A Pitch is that many authors are intimidated by the synopsis. This is a standard part of most query packets and something that many authors hate writing.

A synopsis is just that: a brief summary of a book. It’s usually between 2-5 pages in length and dull as dirt. Because it is very challenging for authors to summarize their book, and because the synopsis is a very dry read, many people dismiss it as unimportant. They’ll dash off a synopsis, run spellcheck, and call it a day. That’s not the way to get an agent or sell your book.

WHY A SYNOPSIS?
The synopsis allows agents to see a summary of your book without reading the full manuscript. It’s a shorter time investment, which is better for business, and it allows them to see if your plot jumps the shark thirty chapters in. It also tells an agent where your marketing skills are at.

If you can make a synopsis with few adjectives and limited description exciting, you’ll be just fine. If you can’t, well, the agent has to decide if they want to invest the time in helping you learn.

WHY DO AUTHORS NEED SYNOPSIS WRITING SKILLS?
Here’s the dirty little secret most querying authors don’t know… your query and synopsis writing can make or break your career.

I don’t mean in terms of finding an agent either. A query becomes the basis for your back-of-cover blurb, i.e. that thing that actually sells your books to readers. The only difference between a query and a back-of-cover-blurb is you add the word count to the query. Even Indie authors need to know how to write one well.

A synopsis becomes the basis for selling your second book. After you’ve sold your debut novel it is common for agents to try and sell your next novel on spec. That means you write the blurb, the synopsis, and the first three chapters/30 pages of a new novel and try to sell it on that alone. In the case of a multi-book deal like the one I had for the Time and Shadows series, I had THE DAY BEFORE written and I sold the other two after I sent a synopsis in for them. The synopsis was the basis for the outline when I was writing. It was how I proved to my agent and editor that I had some idea where this series was going.

The sooner you learn to write a good synopsis, the better off you’ll be.

HOW DO YOU WRITE A SYNOPSIS?
– Finish the book
– Summarize each scene with one sentence
– Add additional information that is relevant for understanding character choices (fears, motivations, goals)
– Read through to make sure the plot and motivations are clear
– Add any words necessary to tie the sentences together (next, then, after)
– Edit for typos and grammar errors

One thing I have found DOESN’T work is trying to explain the book’s backstory in the first chapter of the synopsis. Case in point, the original synopsis for THE DAY BEFORE vs the synopsis that I sent to Marlene Stringer.

Synopsis 1: This was before the R&R that killed Sam’s fiancé. Notice how dull it sounds. This isn’t the opening chapter either. This is just filler.  

Samantha Rose is a junior agent with the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation, the main government body responsible for investigating violent crimes. While the Commonwealth borders stretch from the Panama Canal to the Arctic Circle, the bureau doesn’t see a reason to station Sam anywhere fun after she took personal leave to care for her father within six months of being hired. For her sins, she’s stationed in Alabama District 3 with a misogynistic boss who still thinks the United States shouldn’t have joined the Commonwealth.

Sam is bound and determined to handle every case with cool efficiency, no mistakes allowed. If Senior Agent Marrins had nothing to complain about, he can’t deny her promotion and the transfer to Washington DC where Sam’s fiancé lives. When she’s told to wrap up a Jane Doe case that looks like a dumped clone to investigate the vandalism at a government-funded lab, Sam thinks she’s found her way out of the rural south.

 

Synopsis 2: Written over a year later. It incorporated advice from agents, workshops, and fellow authors. It gets to the book right away, focuses on the plot, and shows the agent what the story was. 

When a trucker finds a dismembered body on the side of the road junior agent SAMANTHA ROSE is the one responsible for finding a name for Jane Doe. Senior agent ROBERT MARRINS thinks the dead woman is clone. The coroner, LINSEY MACKENZIE thinks Jane was tortured to death but her fingerprints don’t match anyone in the database. MacKenzie’s fingerprints were found on the body, but this is dismissed because everyone believes he forgot to put his gloves on when Jane first arrived at the county morgue.

Sam is also assigned to look into the break-in at Novikov-Veltman Nova Laboratory by her boss, Senior Agent ROBERT MARRINS.

At the lab, DETECTIVE ALTIN walks Sam through the crime scene. Sam is introduced to DOCTOR EMIR and to Doctor Emir’s assistant HENRY TROOM. Sam is concerned by the disappearance of the two security guards, MORDICAI ROBBINS and MELODY CHIMES. It looks like the lab break-in is an inside job.

 

Can you see the difference?

A good synopsis may be dull in places, but it still sells the story. Happy writing!

Need more help? A query packet critique costs $25 and includes a full synopsis critique. 

Impulse Buy Book of the Week: GRAND MASTER’S PAWN by Aurora Springer

One young woman challenges the super psychics ruling the galaxy, and finds an impossible love.

Young empath, Violet Hunter, dreams of exploring exotic planets as a Grand Master’s pawn. When life-threatening cracks appear in the teleportal web, Violet is tasked with investigating the disruption. Suspicions point to the twelve Grand Masters, and she must penetrate their curtain of secrecy to identify the culprit. Her challenges escalate when she meets the enigmatic man behind the griffin avatar. Armed with only her erratic powers and a mishmash of allies, she must challenge the most powerful beings in the galaxy.

Alone of necessity due to his deadly psychic emissions, the Griffin guides his pawn from his castle on an isolated planet. He suspects she bears a prohibited talent. His suspicions grow with each mission until he decides to meet her in person, tightly shielded and disguised as another pawn. The outcome of their meeting will reverberate in the ranks of the Council and propel Violet along the path to her destiny.

$0.99
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Aurora Springer is a scientist morphing into a novelist. She has a PhD in molecular biophysics and discovers science facts in her day job. She has invented adventures in weird worlds for as long as she can remember. In 2014, Aurora achieved her life-long ambition to publish her stories. Her works are character-driven romances set in weird worlds described with a sprinkle of humor. Some of the stories were composed thirty years ago. She was born in the UK and lives in Atlanta with her husband, a dog and two cats to sit on the keyboard. Her hobbies, besides reading and writing, include outdoor activities like gardening, watching wildlife, hiking and canoeing.

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Upcoming Events And Release Dates And a New Series!

Hello, Lovelies! There are 72 days and counting until I start packing for my wild adventure traveling from Alaska back to the Lower 48 via ever-neighborly Canada. And some of you have been asking when my next book is going to be available to read. Here’s the summer release line-up and, good news!, it includes some free reading!

UPCOMING RELEASES

April 28 – cover reveal for BODIES IN MOTION (book one in the Newton’s Laws SFR series)
June 12 – BODIES IN MOTION released on the blog as a summer serial…. new chapters will go up Monday, Wednesday, and Friday throughout June and July.
September 26 – BODIES IN MOTION will be available in ebook and print
December – LAWS OF ATTRACTION (book two of Newton’s Laws)

UPCOMING EVENTS

April 10 – I’m writing something special for the HarperVoyager Science Fair! Details will be forthcoming… Look for #HVsciencefair on Twitter.
May 30 – Last Impulse Buy email before the hiatus
June 10 – I pack up my desktop and house. I will have spotty internet for the remainder of the summer but won’t be widely available. I’m hoping to keep Twitter updated as I travel.
July 15 – With luck, and if the stars align, I move into the new house and start unpacking.
August 1 – With luck, and if the stars align, I will be back, the Impulse Buy will be back, and regular blogging will resume.

 

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS I KNOW YOU ARE DYING TO ASK

Where are you moving? I’m leaving the frozen north and moving to the gloomy northwest… the Seattle/Tacoma area to be specific. Where exactly in that area, I don’t know, I haven’t found a house yet.

Are you really going to be offline for a whole month? Possibly. I don’t know exactly when the movers will arrive but last time it took over four weeks for our boxes to make the trip. We were going Kansas -> Alaska in the winter, and this is a shorter boat ride to Seattle… but I still don’t know when the boxes will leave or when I’ll be able to move into the new house. Even after we move in, we have to wait to get the internet hooked up and the list of problems goes on. Four weeks is not that long when you consider I’ll be driving for about eight days.

What do you mean “Summer Serial”? There are a number of ways to release new books. There’s the classic big-ad-push that comes with big presses, there’s the targeted releases you find at small presses and from indie authors, there are soft release, and there’s serials… Serializing a story isn’t a new idea. It’s what comics do. It’s what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did to publish Sherlock. It’s a format that appeals to devoted fans and casual readers alike because you get to try the story for free. If you don’t want to read all the chapters, you don’t need to. If you want to wait until it’s all available for free, you can. If you want to buy the book, that’s an option too.

I’ve never tried serializing a story before, and I knew I wanted to do something to make up for my online absence this summer. A serial story sounded like a good way to bridge the gap between houses. You’ll have something to read, and I’ll have your comments to look forward to when I get back. If this goes well, I may launch future series this way. If it doesn’t, that’s life. This is an experiment and you get to participate! Yay! Science!

Wait… a new series? When did this happen?  The Newton’s Laws series started while I was working on CONVERGENCE POINT and was originally intended to be stand-alone short story. Once I started world building a whole new universe unfolded and I couldn’t say no to giving these characters new novels.

 

How romance-y are we talking here? The Newton’s Laws series will not be a radical departure from my previous books. All the things you love from the Heroes and Villains series (snark, flirting, beautifully intelligent people) and Time and Shadows (murder, mystery, mayhem, tech) will be featured in this series. The romance and the tech are equally important to the plot, so the series is a Science Fiction Romance. These kinds of stories appeal to readers who love SF and don’t mind kissing, and to Romance readers who are willing to give spaceships a try.

Are you going to give us an actual blurb for this book? Yes! In April there will be a full work up with a chance to read the blurb, meet the major players, and explore this new galaxy.

What about that other title I heard you talking about? BODIES IN MOTION is my next release, but it isn’t my only project. You’ve probably heard me talking about FOUNDATION STONES (fantasy) and FREE FALL (SF). Those projects are still being worked on. FREE FALL is almost ready to shop. FOUNDATION STONES would have been finished if BODIES had stayed a short story instead of a novel. You’ll get to read them eventually.

Are you still editing for clients? I am taking editing jobs in April and May. The absolute last turn in date for full manuscripts is May 15. The last day I’ll take smaller projects (query and blurb critiques) will be June 5th. Because of the unpredictability of traveling I won’t be taking editing clients until sometime After August 1st. I will make an announcement on the blog and social media when I reopen. If you need an editor over the summer and don’t know who to turn to, feel free to email me for a list of recommendations based on your genre and budget.

I’m Alive! And writing over at Unbound Worlds…

 

You may have noticed that blog posts have been a little thin on the ground lately. That’s because 1) it was spring break last week and I was AFK (away from keyboard) a lot and 2) because I’ve been using my blogging time to write cage matches for Unbound Worlds.

If you want to catch up with my takes on some of your favorite fandoms I have so far written.

The Luggage vs Ky Vatta
The Luggage vs Tom Bombadil
Tom Bombadil vs Mr. Wednesday
Devi vs Harry Dresden

DARKNESS AND GOOD Release Day!

The DARKNESS AND GOOD ANTHOLOGY is officially in the world and ready for you to read!

This is a collection of 35 fan favorites taken from the Darkness & Good website, edited, finished, and polished for your reading pleasure. Included in the book are short stories from the universe of FEY LIGHTS and SEVENTY.

Buy direct from Inkprint Press to receive both the .mobi and .epub files at no extra cost!
Amazon | Book Depository | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Scribd

 

From the ‘Darkness and Good’ blog comes a collection of fans’ favourite stories, all in one convenient volume. Come read about gods and monsters, unicorns and shapeshifters, magical worlds and galaxies far, far away!

Head to our website, http://darknessandgood.blogspot.com, for free weekly science fiction and fantasy short stories.

PLEASE NOTE: This volume contains stories with both Australian and American English spellings.

Impulse Buy Book of the Week: REGENERATION by Stacey Berg

The world is ready to be reborn…

Protected by the Church for four hundred years, the people of the City are the last of humanity—or so they thought. Echo Hunter 367, made to be faithful to the Church and its Saint at all costs, embarks on what she’s sure is a suicide mission into the harsh desert beyond the City. Then, at the end of all hope, she stumbles on a miracle: another enclave of survivors, a lush, peaceful sanctuary completely opposite of anything Echo has ever known.

But the Preserve has dark secrets of its own, and uncovering them may cost Echo more than just her life. She fears her discoveries will trigger a final, disastrous war. But if Echo can stop the Church and Preservers from destroying each other, she might have a chance to achieve her most impossible dream—saving the woman she loves.

$3.99
Harper Collins
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Stacey Berg is a medical researcher who writes speculative fiction. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for many of her stories. She lives with her wife in Houston and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. When she’s not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons. She is represented by Mary C. Moore of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. You can visit her at www.staceyberg.com.

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Impulse Buy Book of the Week: THE WHOLE TRUTH by Jody Wallace

A human lie detector is hired to unmask a mole but discovers her powers can’t protect her when even the bad guys are superpowered.

Cleopatra Giancarlo is different from your average twenty something career girl. For one thing, she knows when people lie because she can see the truth in their shadows. For another, she doesn’t use her power for good. Or evil. After repeated failures to help others, she mostly just uses it to get deals at Bloomingdale’s. She fears what the government would do if they discovered her ability, yet she longs to find out if there are people like her out there. If there’s anything more she could be.

She gets her wish when two strangers whisk her away from her old life and introduce her to the world of suprasensors. John Arlin and Samantha Grooms represent an organization called Y
uriCorp, one of many privately-owned firms that employ supras like Cleo to increase their profit margin. Any of these firms would be thrilled to have Cleo on staff, and their methods of recruitment aren’t always friendly.

But even in the world of supras, Cleo doesn’t get to be normal. Her new boss wants her to go undercover and seek traitors in the company ranks. Her new friends know what she can do and how to work around it. And her new assignment might end up with her in a coma-or worse.

$4.99
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Jody Wallace grew up in the South in a very rural area. She went to school a long time and ended up with a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. Her resume includes college English instructor, technical documents editor, market analyst, web designer, and all around pain in the butt. She resides in Tennessee with one husband, two children, one Grandma, six cats, and a lot of junk.

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