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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ten Things Writers Need to Know

This is a guest post by Heather Weidner.
I was asked recently what advice I would give to someone who wants to write. Here’s my list…

1. Read. Read. Read. 

Read everything you can get your hands on. Learn about the genre. Learn about techniques and style. See what works and what doesn't.

2. Seek out writers like you. 

Find a writers' group. I write mysteries, so Sisters in Crime was a perfect fit. I am also in the online community, Guppies. They have tons of resources and advice. And they are so supportive and helpful. 

3. There are a lot of books out there on the craft of writing. 

My favorite is Stephen King's On Writing. Invest in books that help you. But use your library too. FREE is good.

4. If you are serious about writing, find a critique group. 

It's an investment in your time to read the submissions. Make sure that the feedback is helpful. Critiques need to be constructive and not personal. My critique group specializes in mysteries and crime fiction. And that works for me. I don't want to have to provide feedback on other genres that I don't read or enjoy. It takes a lot of courage to put your writing out there for comment. Be brave!

5. Your first draft is never your final manuscript. 

Very few people get a polished work in the first few drafts. My author friend, Mary Burton, calls this your “sloppy copy,” and she’s right. You’ve got a lot of work ahead to get your manuscript ready for publication. (I rewrote chapter one in my novel, Secret Lives and Private Eyes, six times.)

6. Start thinking about your social media platform. 

When you work with a publisher, he/she wants to know where you have a presence. I started with Twitter and my blog. Since then, I've added a Facebook author page, website, Pinterest, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Amazon Author page, and Instagram.

7. Make sure that you carve out time for writing. 

Work, life, and everything else vies for your time. You need to write regularly.

8. Google and your library are your friends. 

You would be amazed at the FREE resources available.

9. Learn to use the basics of your word processor. 

Many agents and publishers reject manuscripts that don't fit their submission requirements. Each agent, publisher, and contest have different preferences. Make sure that you always review the submission requirements and follow them.

10. Don't give up. 

Rejections are hard, and they hurt. Learn from the criticism, but don't dwell on the rejections or negative reviews. Keep writing.

Author Biography: 
Heather Weidner has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew.  Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather lives in Central Virginia with her husband and pair of crazy Jack Russell terriers. She is President of the Sisters in Crime, Central Virginia Chapter. Heather’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series. And her debut novel, Secret Lives and Private Eyes, will be published on June 20. Visit Heather at, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads.
Author Links:

Secret Lives and Private Eyes

Secret Lives and Private Eyes is a fast-paced mystery that will appeal to readers who like a strong, female private investigator who has a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations. Business has been slow for PI, Delanie Fitzgerald, but her luck seems to change when a tell-all author hires her to find rock star, Johnny Velvet. Could the singer whose life was purportedly cut short in a fiery car crash still be alive? And as if sifting through dead ends in a cold case isn’t bad enough, Chaz Wellington Smith, III, a loud-mouthed strip club owner, hires Delanie to uncover information on the mayor’s secret life. When the mayor is murdered, Chaz is the key suspect. Now Delanie must clear his name and figure out the connection between the two cases before another murder – probably her own – takes place. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Night Circus | Erin Morgenstern

"The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.” 

Genre: Fantasy. 
Number of Pages: 387.
Perspective: Third Alternating. 
Location: Various.

The Night Circus is a fantasy novel about a mysterious traveling circus. It is run by two dueling magicians who are in a competition that was set up for them when they were just children. For a complete summary, you can go here.

This was a hard one for me to get through just because of its length and the amount of detail. Once I could focus on it, I could appreciate the detail and the world-building that the author did. But it was definitely tedious at times. I felt like I could have used more story and less description. 

Don’t expect an action packed adventure. This is a very slow-building, slow-moving book that takes place over many decades. Some cool things happen, but the best part of this book is the details. You can really picture every event and setting. That truly takes writing skill. 

I would recommend to someone who really enjoys descriptive books and world building. I'm more of a plot person, not a description person. I think I would have liked it a lot more if there was more substance to the plot. But I actually did really enjoy it. It was a change from the types of books I usually read. If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

“People see what they wish to see. And in most cases, what they are told that they see.” 

4/5 Stars

After you read the book, make sure to check out our book chat about The Night Circus!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Nightingale | Kristin Hannah

“It is easy to disappear when no one is looking at you.” 

Genre: Historical Fiction. 
Number of Pages: 440.
Perspective: Third Alternating. 
Location: France.

The Nightingale is a story about two sisters during World War II. They play very different roles in the fight against the Nazis, but both are forced to show extreme acts of bravery to survive and end the war. For a complete summary, you can go here.

So I want to start out by saying that I usually do not like historical fiction books. I have read a lot of World War II stories, and sometimes it can feel redundant, but this was different. I thought it was more about bravery and how that can be portrayed in different ways. Isabelle is originally known as being immature, but she is quickly seen as being very brave. Whereas Vianne does not think of herself as brave at all until the very end.

This book reminded me a lot of The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. But I thought The Storyteller was much more depressing, even though it didn't make me cry. I guess I just felt more invested in The Nightingale's characters, and I was rooting for them a lot more. I also feel like this book had a lot more hope. The Storyteller just left me feeling...icky (for lack of a better word). 

For being a historical fiction book and outside of my reading comfort-zone, I actually really enjoyed this book. It was long and took awhile to get through, but I think it offered a new perspective on a very common genre of fiction. If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

“But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us.” 

4/5 Stars

After you read the book, make sure to check out our book chat about The Nightingale!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

My Favorite Place: The Library

It’s rare that someone can easily find a free place where they can be surrounded by their favorite hobby and item at the same time. For me, that place is the library. When I walk into a library, I usually feel joyously overwhelmed. The selection of books and genres can engulf even the most avid reader. I try to put blinders on and quickly walk to the shelf neatly packed and labeled with books on hold. I urgently find my last name, but I cannot help but be persuaded by the table of one dollar used books. Some are brand new with crisp spines, some are torn and ragged. 

After picking out a book or two to make my own, I am enticed by the elaborate color-coded or themed displays of books to check-out. I pick up books to examine one-by-one. They are covered in crinkly plastic that helps protect the books from any disasters in the homes of the borrowers. Some smell musty or smoky, others smell like freshly cut paper and book glue. There is no doubt that these books have been loved by many people; each person leaving a mark on the book, whether that be a Cheetos stain, a ripped page, or a dog-eared corner. When I finally leave with a stack of books that I will never finish, I feel a sense of accomplishment and adventure. The library is only slightly better than a bookstore because I don’t end up leaving with a fifty dollar or more receipt tucked within the pages of a book, only a receipt of a promise to return the books. When I come back to return the books, the cycle will definitely start all over again. That’s fine by me because the library will always be my favorite place. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Book Chat: The Night Circus | Erin Morgenstern

**WARNING: This is for people who have already read this book. There will be spoilers! If you do not want the book's wonderful surprises to be ruined, read my review of the book, read the book, then come back to read our chat. Thank you!**

Amber: So let's start with overall thoughts of the book. It was a hard one for me to get through just because of its length and the amount of detail. Once I could focus on it, I could appreciate the detail and the world-building that the author did. But it was definitely tedious at times. I felt like I could have used more story and less description. What were your thoughts?

Melissa: I agree with that completely. I'm really not super into tons of words. Even my own writing I seem to be pretty concise. So some of the details in a long drawnout descriptions are tedious for me as well

Amber: I was also confused at first about what was happening. We aren't really given background information. We experienced things as the characters did. What did you think of that writing approach? To me, it felt like I was an observer of all of these events over the course of a century.

Renee: What was confusing to me was the jumping all over the place in the timeline. I think that was increased by the fact that I was reading it as an ebook where it's not as easy to flip back and forth between chapters to keep track of the dates.

Amber: Yeah, I had to flip back and forth a lot too. But even with that, it was still confusing.

Renee: And then it kind of left you hanging at the end too.

Amber: I thought it was interesting that at the end they had an email address, which showed me that it was at least close to the present day, even though the last chapter doesn't have a date with it.

Renee: Yes I found that interesting too.

Amber: I’m curious what you both thought of the man in the grey suit. I thought he was a jerk until one of the last chapters when he talked with Widget. Then I could see why he did some of the things that he did.

Renee: I still think he was jerky. He got mad because his student had differing opinions and so he ruined all these lives. I don't know, I think that's crappy. Who knows how many challenges they had and at the very least one person dies in each challenge. Not to mention the collateral damage like the one sister.

Amber: That's very true. But I thought that Celia's father was always much worse though. He would cut Celia's fingers over and over so that she would perfect her healing skills!

Renee: Oh yeah that was awful. They were both awful.

Amber: What did you think of the relationship between Marco and Celia? It was the exact opposite of a love at first sight type of romance. It took several decades for anything to start...

Renee: Yes, but I love how they like can't help but be together. I love that kind of love. I'm upset they didn't let us know what happened with them really.

Amber: Yeah, me too. All we know is that they are in a weird state similar to Celia's dad and that they are tied to the circus. Do you feel bad for Isobel at all?

Renee: Yeah I wanted to know if Celia and Marco were able to be together in that state. Could they undo it To me, I didn't really see where Marco led Isobel on. I mean he took her in but there wasn't ever anything physical between them. I didn't get any vibes other than close friends.

Amber: I think in Isobel's eyes, everything she was doing was for him. I thought they did kiss and were a couple until the circus started?

Renee: I must have missed the kissing. I did get the sense she had feelings for him but I don't ever remember getting the feeling that he was leading her on or even that he returned her feelings.

Amber: I wonder if it was because of the "charms" he could put over people. I got the impression that he could kind of persuade and manipulate people's thoughts and feelings. That's why Chandresh was so messed up. Marco was always messing with him.

Renee: Yeah, I got that sense. I definitely feel like he used her for gain in the game but I didn't see the romantic part.

Amber: She’s like that crazy girl that thinks after a hook-up they are together forever. Then when she finally realizes that's not the case, she loses her mind and ruins everything, haha.

Renee: Yes! Exactly.

Amber: What did you think of Bailey? I could see where the story was going with him, but I didn't see him as an interesting enough character to take over the whole circus. Maybe its just because there were so many characters, it was hard to really get to know any that well.

Renee: I liked him, actually. And I liked his thing with Poppet. I wish they had expanded more on that because the parts with him and her and with Celia and Marco are the ones that piqued my interest the most. What I found kind of discordant is how he could take it over without having magic. And who was going to run all the attractions? Marco's were powered by the bonfire but Celia powered hers herself so that was confusing to me.

Amber: I think Celia was teaching Poppet and Widget how to control some of the things.

Renee: Yeah, I think so too.

Amber: So who do you all think would win if the competition hadn't ended through a loophole?

Renee: I don't know. Part of me feels like they were too evenly matched. And the other part saw that Celia was getting tired and couldn't last much longer, whether she gave up and let him win or just gave out altogether.

Amber: But it was interesting that she actually had magic and it seemed like Marco just learned his by using charms. To me, that seems like Celia's power was stronger. Plus, I felt like she was controlling so much more. However, it was impressive that Marco could control things without even being near the circus

Renee: Yeah, they definitely had different types of magic.

Amber: So what are your final thoughts on this book? Would you recommend it to someone else?

Renee: While parts of it were interesting it was very hard to get into and I probably won't read it again and wouldn't recommend it to someone.

Amber: I would recommend to someone who really enjoys descriptive books and world building. I'm more of a plot person, not description. I think I would have liked it a lot more if there was more substance to the plot. But I actually did really enjoy it. It was a change from the types of books I usually read. Thanks for joining me! I am looking forward to next month’s book chat!

Have something to say? Feel free to comment below to add to our discussion!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl | Jesse Andrews

“One thing I've learned about people is that the easiest way to get them to like you is to shut up and let them do the talking.”

Genre: Young Adult. 
Number of Pages: 295.
Perspective: First. 
Location: Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is exactly as the name suggests. A high school senior, Greg, is forced to become friends with Rachel because she has cancer. Greg and his “coworker” Earl love to make horrible movies. So they decide to make a movie for Rachel. For a complete summary, you can go here.

There has been a trend of death and dying in young adult fiction lately, especially cancer. Books like The Fault in Our Stars made it big and to the cinemas. In order for a young adult book about death and dying to be successful, it needs to be funny and emotional. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl attempted to be only funny and not emotional, which caused it to fall flat. 

I liked that the formatting resembled a movie script since the narrator loves to make no-budget films. That was probably the most interesting part of this book. I just didn’t like how he tried so hard to not be invested in anything. It just made the whole book feel emotionless and dry. 

Earl was by far the best character. All of the characters in this book are pretty eclectic, but Earl was described the best. I liked his no-nonsense attitude. Honestly, I didn’t realize how interesting all the characters were until I watched the movie version. All of the characters really came alive in the movie. Usually I don’t like movie versions of books, but I think that the movie version of this was actually better than the book (Gasp! I never thought I’d ever say such a thing). 

Some parts were interesting and its worth a read. If you want a different type of death and dying young adult book that doesn’t get all sappy, then this book is for you—even though I can’t help but get emotional when cancer is involved. If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

“The best ideas are always the simplest.”

3/5 Stars

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Wonder | R.J. Palacio

“I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”

Genre: Children’s Middle Grade. 
Number of Pages: 315.
Perspective: First. 
Location: Upper Manhattan, New York.

Wonder is the story of Auggie, a young boy who has been homeschooled his whole life because of his severe facial deformity. At the age of ten, he decides to go to public school. He is called a freak and shunned, but all it takes is a little kindness to turn things around. For a complete summary, you can go here.

I have heard so much about this book. All my elementary teacher friends read this book aloud to their fourth or fifth-grade classes. One of my younger sisters also read it in her class. Simply put, this book is a phenomenon. So I had my hopes up pretty high for this book. 

I was a great book, so I was surprised how long it took me to get through. I figured that I should be able to get through a middle-aged children’s book in a day, maybe two. Nope. It took me about three months to finish. Granted, I kept getting sidetracked by books with a more pressing deadline, but I was not expecting this to be such a time commitment. A lot of schools also spend a good chunk of the entire year reading this book, since they read a few chapters a week. For a children’s book to be this long, it needs to be able to hold a child’s interest. I think it does succeed in doing that. 

This book is important. I think a lot of children say and do things without thinking about how it affects other people. They may run away from the “weird” kid during recess, or laugh and whisper about someone who looks a little different. A few weeks or months later, those bullies, will forget the “little” actions or remarks they made. The person being bullied, however, will mentally replay certain moments of their childhood for the rest of their lives. I think this book teaches children to be aware of their actions and to be kind. 

This book is probably most effective as a read aloud. There are a lot of things that happen in this book that could be inappropriate for elementary kids…unless it is discussed. It would be great to look at topics like bullying, breaking the rules, etc. and discuss them with kids so they can decide how to act in certain situations. There were a few times while reading this book that I was shocked that so many elementary students are reading this. It is definitely more appropriate for middle schoolers. So my final suggestion is this: this book is okay for middle schoolers to read independently, but for elementary schoolers, it should be read with an adult.

This book is also great because of the character development. Middle childhood is a time of a lot of changes. This book can help kids make the right choices and changes. I also liked that this book has a lot of boys as the main characters. It can sometimes be hard to find good quality children’s books with male leads. 

I do highly suggest this book. I just caution everyone to be aware of the big time commitment, especially for slower readers. If you are interested in buying the book, you can buy it here. After you have read it, leave a comment and let me know what you think! 

“Now that I look back, I don't know why I was so stressed about it all this time. Funny how sometimes you worry a lot about something and it turns out to be nothing.“

 4/5 Stars 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

It’s a Writer Thing -- Let’s Talk About Feedback

This is a guest post by Jessica Bayliss.

Anyone notice all those pitch contests taking over Twitter lately (”Pitch Madness”, “Pitch to Publication,” etc.)? They’re hard to miss, and who would want to miss them? They serve as awesome opportunities for authors to advance their careers, plus they’re super fun. In contests like these, along with hashtags like #tenqueries, little hints of feedback are tweeted as the agent or editor reads the submissions, and these little hints can be very helpful. Plenty of authors stalk the #pitchmadness, #p2p16, and #tenqueries feeds for gems that can enhance their work. And now that I’m in the “Pitch to Publication” contest, feedback is on my mind more than ever.

Receiving feedback is an essential part of being a writer, but it’s not necessarily the easiest or the most intuitive thing to learn. How did this inspire today’s blog post? There are way too many things that can knock a writer off the path. The only way to succeed is to keep going, to practice our skills, to put ourselves out there, and feedback has the power to usher us along or to put an avalanche in our road. In the hopes this will be helpful for other writers, whether newbies like me or long-time veterans, today’s article is the first It’s a Writer Thing post in a series that I hope will be a sort-of primer for receiving feedback, to help others get the most of out of it and to hopefully avoid the unintended pitfalls.

First, a little background on me. I wasn’t a literature/writing major in college. I jumped into this writing stuff just because I had a pull to do it. In other words, I started off with absolutely no idea what I was doing. I’ve been writing for five years, but I still have to ask friends what stuff means and without Google I’d be lost. The reason I share this is because for new writers, especially folks like me who are brand new to the entire scene, receiving feedback in those early days can feel very much like trial by fire.

I, personally, wasn’t ready for the kind of feedback I got at first. The problem was, I had no idea what kind of feedback I wanted or needed. It took time and reflection to understand what I was looking for back then. Unfortunately, what I was looking for and what I got didn’t match up. At all.

Let’s start with the givens.

Remember geometry class (I know you don’t want to, but it won’t be too bad, I promise)? The teacher started off each problem with some givens, the rules you could use to structure your efforts and eventually arrive at your desired solution. So, for today’s post, I’d like to focus on the givens of receiving feedback.

1. We asked for this.

Getting feedback on our manuscript can be a little bit like picking one of those ‘chance’ cards in Monopoly. We think it will be something really good—maybe a couple extra hundred bucks or a get out of jail free—but, instead, we’re forced to pay back taxes. So, the first step in receiving feedback is simply self-preparation. In other words, we asked for it, so get ready because here it comes. If we know ahead of time that it will be a mixed bag, it’s a little easier to bear. Not a lot easier, but a little.

2. This is good for us.

And this is important to remember, because at the end of the day, this is good for us. We can’t get a book shelf-ready, or query-ready, or editor-ready without the valuable insights that can only come from other pairs of eyes on our manuscript. Failure to seek (and failure to implement) feedback results in one thing. Rejection. No one likes that. We simply can’t do it alone.

3. We’ll be happy later.

Though it’s not true that all critiques are worth implementing (more on that later), many are. Plenty of examples have been shared out there on the internet, and there’s not a single one where the author said: “Yeah, my CP came up with some important points that made my book way better, but you know, I really regret making those changes now. Dang him.” Facing and implementing feedback is a goal like any other, just part of prepping an MS; anytime we reach a goal, we need to give ourselves a little pat on the back for growth we’ve accomplished. Same with facing those edits that just showed up in our inbox.

In upcoming posts in this series, I’ll discuss types of feedback, the many faces of critique partners, my basic process of dealing with feedback, and some tips for evaluating the merit of the input you’ve been given.

Until then, "You can do it. You can write!"


This article was also posted on as a part of the "It's A Writer Thing" series. 

Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially her husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease an ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand.