Thursday, August 27, 2015

Writer's Block Tutorial by Em Hacker

If you were intrigued by the Writer's Block I featured in my post two days ago, then you are lucky because Em wrote up a tutorial so you can make one for yourself! Check it out!

Writer’s Block sounds like a disease.

“I’m sorry; I can’t go to work today. I have Writer’s Block.”

Writers would probably agree that it is a disease. A disease brought on when Creativity decides to disown you and you stare at blank pages with a blank mind and feel as blank as both.

So what does a writer do when Block knocks on the door and then smothers Creativity right there in front of your face? Convulse a little? Probably. Scream? Definitely. And then write!

“But my page, mind, and self are all blank right now,” you reply.

Well, of course they are. Creativity just died right in front of you. Blank is an appropriate response. But Creativity is a curious creature, and has more lives than a cat. Or a few hundred of them. So revive it. And get yourself a Writer’s Block. To fix . . . Writer’s Block.

Commence dazed expressions now.

A Writer’s Block is a life-saving device I use on a regular basis. The idea of it was first introduced to me by a teacher. I took said idea . . . and ran with it. Seriously, I had to make myself a new Block just for this tutorial because mine was so beat up. I had to. Yeah. We’ll go with that.

What I got from my teacher was an extremely tiny box that contained a few foil-wrapped items.

I nicknamed it Writer’s Block – because irony has a place in my life. But a few bouts of actual Writer’s Block later, and . . . the foil objects were gone!

Duh, duh, duh!!!

So I made myself a new, much more official Writer’s Block. And I decorated him with the desiccated remains of an old book.



I guess I forgot to warn you that a book died in the making of this Writer’s Block. But calm down, I already own a fully-functional copy of said book. This one was rather haggard, a bit stained, and rescued from the free section at my local public library. Rescued, and then tortured at the hands of yours truly, true. But my Writer’s Block looks fabulous.

And while we’re at it, I craft with books frequently. You should see my book pumpkins. But not right now.

SOOOOOO, let’s get started.

(1) Go to the dollar store and buy one of these.

Lovely. And now that it’s yours, it is no longer a box. It is a Block. Guard it like a dragon hoarding treasure.

This is my Writer’s Block.

(2) Now you need to rescue a little victim to torture. Don’t worry, it will only hurt a little. On the inside. Way down deep. In your soul! Now, tear out some pages. Just close your eyes and do it. Do it! Don’t worry, you’ll feel okay again eventually. Maybe this will help: tear the pages into smaller pieces.

If you passed out, I’ll give you time to recover. Oh, who are we kidding? You’re reading. I don’t have to give you anything. Hey, you’re conscious again! Welcome back. I’m still here.

(3) For this next step, you will need Mod Podge. Mod Podge is awesome. Or, make your own DIY Mod Podge at home. Using a paint brush – that has never before befriended a jar of paint, nor has intentions of doing so in the future; aka, brand new – spread a thin layer of Mod Podge across a portion of your Block. Then place a few of your crying book page pieces on the Mod Podge.

This process is called decoupage. Keep going.

And going.

And going.

If you just pictured the Energizer Bunny, then you’re awesome. Keep going.

Hey, look, you’re done. I was totally done first, but no one’s keeping score. This is like Preschool Soccer. Just kick the ball.

Besides, you’re not actually done.

(4) Let your block dry. All the way. Don’t get antsy. Be patient. It doesn’t actually take very long. Oh, and rinse your brush, or the Mod Podge will dry on it, and it will be good for nothing . . . but the trash can.

(5) Spread a thin layer of Mod Podge over the entire Block, and let it dry again. If you do this step before Step 4, your Writer’s Block will suddenly look like an old man who loves the sun (wrinkled!) so don’t do it. Also, don’t set your wet Block down on anything, or it will be sad. And stuck. Do it in stages. Or do something like this:

This would also be the stage where you can personalize your Writer’s Block. You have to re-do Step 4 if you get fancy, though, so be warned! Add some of your favorite quotes. This one’s my favorite, and a must for me. It goes around the top of my Block. Because it’s funny. And oh, so true.

Okay, now let it dry.


I’m messing with you, it still isn’t done.

(6) Fill the box. Only you can’t fill the box!

“Excuse me?” you say.

Sorry, but you can’t.

Recruit family and friends. Ask them to gather random things for you. They can be items from around the house, or lost things found on the road, or in the parking lot at work, or at the grocery store. Anything is game, so long as it fits inside. And is legal. And isn’t alive.

Sometimes I send my kiddos outside with small sheets of foil.

It’s not weird. Seriously, neighbors. Not. Weird!

Seeing an object through the eyes of a child is like being handed a freshly-baked character on a cookie sheet: deliciously perfect. The kind of character you can practically hear, smell, see, touch, and even taste . . . if you’re into that.

My husband has also been tasked with the lifelong thrill of sneaking random goodies into my Writer’s Block. And some of the best “objects” that have ever been wrapped for me are pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So write them down!

Look! My family and friends love me.

But . . . oh, dear. This won’t do at all. These things are naked. Don’t let your friends and family give them to you like this! That would be scandalous! Make sure they know to wrap each item in aluminum foil. You don’t want to see them before you need them, or the Writer’s Block will lose all magic.

Much better! These lovely, foil-wrapped mysteries may now be placed inside your Writer’s Block. And let everyone know that they can give you foil-wrapped offerings at any time, on any day . . . for the rest of your life!

And now you’re set! Forever. When Creativity is murdered at your feet and you find yourself Blocked, grab your Writer’s Block. Take a deep breath, reach inside, and pull out a foil of mystery. Open it up.

And then WRITE!

Write the first thing that comes to mind. And then keep writing! The surprises in your Writer’s Block are like tiny defibrillators for Creativity. They shock it to life again, and before you know it, your fingers will be flying across the paper. Or keyboard. Or phone, as is usually the case for me. Writer’s Block thusly banished . . . by a Writer’s Block!

Happy Writing! 

This is me.


I have been writing since I could wield a pencil. The thrill and magic of that pencil is that it can be anything - a sword, a wand, or even a crutch. Stories skulk through my skull. They live in my veins. They permeate the air I breathe.

If I didn't let them out, I'd probably be strapped down in a mental institution. And not the kind we have today; the old ones, that have succumbed to time, and have seedy pasts. My bed would be the moldy one in the corner.

Except that I write! So I'm insane, but not clinical.

And I'm me! Mom to three. Wife. Quirky and proud of it.



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: A Clear Solution by Eric McFarlane

Today's Wednesday Debut Interview features Eric McFarlane and his humorous adult crime novel, A Clear Solution, which is now available from Accent Press.

Tell us a bit about yourself, Eric!
First, Wendy, thanks for having me on Operation Awesome. Ignoring the writing, I'm a chemistry graduate who worked for the same company for many years in the Pharmaceutical industry, latterly as laboratory manager. After redundancy I had several other jobs in the sector before throwing in the towel and starting a business selling stamps over the internet. This is how I currently find an income, not, sadly, through my writing.

Tell us about A CLEAR SOLUTION!
The book’s unlikely hero is Daniel Dreghorn, chemistry technician, a man with the knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A series of deaths are incorrectly attributed to him and as a result a clutch of his crazy colleagues and acquaintances believe he may be able to help them with their own nefarious schemes. These to include unwanted spouse disposal, exam paper theft and drug production.

In a single sentence: If it can happen it will.

The main character of A CLEAR SOLUTION is a lab technician — have you had experience working in science labs?
Most of my working life has been spent in laboratories. It was a natural background for my first novel.

Between chemical labs, homicidal bank managers, and crime... what part of this book required the most research?

I must admit to always keeping research to a minimum in anything I write. I knew I was ok with the setting. Homicidal bank managers? – well, who doesn’t know one of those? I did some research into the effect of cyanide poisoning but for the most part I just made it up as I went along.

Let's talk a bit about your publishing journey. How long as this process taken for you, from the first draft until publication date?
A long time! The novel was started more than 15 years ago as an antidote to redundancy. I also began to write short stories. Then I read a comment somewhere to the effect that there was no market for comedy. So why am I writing comedy? I dropped A Clear Solution and started writing a thriller. This in turn was dropped when I had an idea for a novelisation of an SF short story I had written. Then, unbelievably to me now, I launched into yet another novel length project. At this point I stopped and gave myself a shake. You’ve got to finish something. So A Clear Solution it was, being the project nearest completion.

After more months of editing I finally found enough courage to send out to a couple of agents with the inevitable result. Over the next few years it was turned down by more than 50 agents and publishers. Although there were a few positive comments it was dispiriting and I put A Clear Solution aside. During this time I had completed my crime thriller and started to concentrate on finding a market for that. Then I heard about Accent Press in a writing magazine and that they were looking for crime novels. A Clear Solution is firstly a humorous novel but crimes happen in it so why not. I sent it away and forgot about it.

I remembered about it during a holiday in Australia when checking my e-mails. There was a note from an Accent Press editor who was reading my submission and liked it. Could I send the rest?

Could I? Well no, I couldn’t, not until I returned to the UK three weeks later but that didn’t seem to be a problem. The surreal element was that this editor, working for the Welsh Accent Press, was currently living not 50 miles from where I was staying in Melbourne. Now it’s on the shelves. As I say, a long time!

Wow! That is quite the journey! Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
If you’re going to write for publication then you’re going to be rejected. It’s harsh but that’s how it is and every writer has to find their own way to cope. Personally I’ve never had a problem with coping. It’s your fiction that’s being rejected not you. If you try to understand the writing industry as it is now and the economic situation you’ll learn not to take it personally.

What makes Accent Press and your editor(s) there a good fit for you and your book?
Accent Press are I believe among a growing number of smaller publishers who are able to take a chance on novels which are not mainstream and would be turned down by the larger companies.

Tell us about your cover. It's been awhile since I took chemistry, but I like how the title is written a bit like a chemical equation. Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell your readers about your story?
The cover came from Accent Press, I had no hand in it but thought it was great as soon as I saw it. It includes many aspects of the novel; humor, chemistry and murder.

Was A CLEAR SOLUTION the original title you'd had in mind for this story? If not, tell us about how it came to be titled that.
A Clear Solution was my title for the book from the start although I didn’t think of it until the first draft was finished. Accent were happy with it. It has several meanings which are combined by the end of the novel. To say any more would be a spoiler.

Can you tell us about some of the things you been working on between signing a contract for A CLEAR SOLUTION and its release? What about the post-book-deal process been most surprising for you?

I had already completed a sequel to the novel when it was taken up so am doing final edits on it.

I also have an SF novel I’d love to see published and have been tweaking that. I’m also in the middle of a comedy crime novel with a female lead character. I’ve been surprised at how much time book promotion has taken up, seriously digging into writing time.

How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers?
It feels fantastic. I always believed in the book, the friends who had read it liked it but now I know for sure it was good enough to be published and that’s a great feeling

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
Don’t give up! See my comment above about rejections. But DO listen to advice. Actively look for criticism and if several people say the same thing they are probably right so act on it. When you’ve finished something don’t concentrate exclusively on looking for publication. Write something else. The more you write the better you get at ANY stage of your career from beginner to best-seller.

And, just for fun, since the blurb mentions a particular doughnut that may not be all it seems to be, what's your favorite type of doughnut?
Coated with sugar and oozing cream of course. Ah that reminds me, coffee break.

Thanks so much for joining us!

Readers of crime & humor -- pick up Eric McFarlane's book here:


If you are an author looking forward to your debut sometime between December 2015 and June 2016 and are interested in being part of our Wednesday Debut Interview feature, please contact me at wendynikel at gmail dot com with your book title, category, genre, publisher, and release date.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday = Museday

I have a really crafty writer friend named Em. She used to live around the corner from me, and when she moved she gave me an awesome present: a writer's block! No, no, hear me out. It's a good thing. She took a box and modge-podged pages of an old book (sacrilege, but we'll make an exception because it looks cool) all over it. Then she wrapped little things in tin foil to go inside the box. The idea is that whenever I am not feeling creative, or need a writing prompt, I can take something at random out of the box and work with it. What a cool gift for a writer!

So this is my virtual writer's block. Take the prompt below, and incorporate it into your WIP (work in progress). Or write a flash fiction story about it. Or think about something completely unrelated and use that to fuel your writing.
For fun, put an excerpt from whatever you do with the prompt on your blog, and link to it in the comments. One random person will win a query critique from me! If you want the critique, include your Twitter handle so I can contact you easily (and so I know you are interested in the critique).

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Monday, August 24, 2015

Beta Readers

Do you ever look back on yourself from the early days of your writing journey and just think, "Aww... I didn't know a thing back then!"
I remember when I first decided that I would make a real effort towards getting my work published. I knew it would be important to have other people read my book and give me feedback, but I had no writer friends at the time. So I put out an open call on Facebook, and sent it off to a few friends, my little sister, and my grandmother. Grandma, who pretty much only reads mysteries, never made it past the first chapter of my New Adult contemporary.

This is my grandma. I will love her forever for introducing me to Agatha Christie. If you need a beta reader for a cozy mystery, she's your woman.

The feedback from most of my friends was "This is really great! It's like a real book!" You can imagine what that did for the ole ego.
So, like the overeager fool I was, I started querying. Fortunately, I also got involved in the writing community on Twitter, and discovered the importance of having both critique partners and beta readers.
A critique partner is exactly what it sounds like: a partner. Usually there is an exchange of work. Critique partners are people who write and are familiar with the publishing industry. You don't feel guilty about nagging them over and over about your first paragraph because they get it.
But what about a beta reader?
As the "beta" part implies, a beta reader is not your first pass reader. A beta reader should be reading the most polished version of your manuscript, one that has been edited several times and already been seen by your critique partners. Don't waste your beta readers on picking up typos (though I always tell mine to mark it if one jumps out at them). Have them read your manuscript as if it were a book they picked up off the shelf.
Find beta readers with expertise in the areas of your book that stretch you, and have them help you make those scenes more realistic. For example, my sister is in her fourth year of vet school, so she helped me immensely with the vet clinic scenes in the book I'm currently querying. The book I'm working on right now is set in the area of upstate NY where I went to elementary school. I don't know what it's like to live there as an adult. So when I'm done, I'll reach out to one of my friends from elementary school on Facebook and ask her to evaluate that aspect of the book. Beta readers are great tools for developing diversity in your work as well. Be bold! Write that character with a different race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status than your own! Then have a beta reader (or two!) from that group help you with accuracy and sensitivity.
Beta readers are a valuable tool in the editing process. When you receive feedback from one, thank them graciously. And don't forget to include them in the acknowledgements when you finally get published!

After I initially wrote this post, I read an article in the October 2015 issue of Writer's Digest on beta readers. It's by Amy Sue Nathan, and it really goes in-depth on the topic of finding and keeping beta readers. I'd really recommend it to anyone interested in learning more!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Please Welcome Melinda!

Greetings writer folks!

I’m Melinda Friesen, one of the new kids here, and I’m super excited to get to know you all.

About Writer Me:
Most of my novels are young adult sci-fi, but I’ve also ventured into young adult contemporary, middle grade fantasy and new adult paranormal romance. In addition, I write literary and genre short stories. I’ve been querying novels and sending out short stories for four years and have well over a hundred rejections on file. Do I get a trophy for that? I think I should get a trophy.

In November of 2014, I finally got to hold, caress, snuggle my first published novel, Enslavement (YA sci-fi/dystopian). It was surreal. I didn’t cry. I did, however, feel like throwing up.

About Day Job Me:
Like most writers, I have a day job. I’m Marketing Director and Acquisitions Editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc., a small Canadian publisher. I love fishing jewels out of the slush pile, getting to know authors and sharing great books with the world.

About Regular Me:
I have a husband and four kids. Three of the kids are teenagers, an age group I absolutely love. I’d take teens over toddlers any day. Writing is my favourite thing to do, but I also jog to keep my butt from looking too writerly. I belong to two writers’ groups, both of which are awesome. I can recite all 50 states in alphabetical order in under a minute. I’m originally from Oregon, but have lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada for 21 years now.

Question of the day: Should having oodles of rejection letters to your name be a badge of honour or a dunce cap of shame? You know how I feel about it, but I'd like to hear what you think. Please leave a comment. 

I love to interact on social media. Twitter: @melindafriesen  Facebook: MelindaFriesen1 Find me and we can swap rejection stories.

This is my official author picture. I was informed by some fourth graders I was speaking to that it doesn’t look like me. 

This is my book. Forgive her, she stares.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Introducing Kara Reynolds

Hi all!
I'm Kara, one of the newest regular contributors to Operation Awesome. I write light-hearted women's fiction and am currently in the query trenches. Can I get a solidarity fist bump from anyone?

I'm a stay-at-home mom to three kids of varying degrees of sweetness. My husband and I just bought our first house, which can affectionately be called a "fixer-upper" and not so affectionately called a "headache." I have a Master's degree in Genetic Counseling, so feel free to hit me up if you use genetics in your work and have a question.

Besides writing, I like to geocache. And bake things. And also watch American Ninja Warrior. I don't believe in "Never" or "Always" rules when writing, especially the one that says "Never start a sentence with And."

This is me:

But this is also me:

You may picture me however you choose while reading my posts; to be honest I am usually somewhere between the two.
I look forward to getting to know you all better!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: NOT AFTER EVERYTHING by Michelle Levy

This Wednesday, we're welcoming Michelle Levy with her new YA contemporary novel, NOT AFTER EVERYTHING!

Hi, Michelle! First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
I grew up in Littleton, Colorado but moved to Los Angeles as soon as I graduated from high school to pursue a career in entertainment. I’ve been a casting director for the past fifteen years and have been lucky enough to work on projects such as Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Bruce Almighty, My Name Is Earl, Mr. Poppers Penguins, Vampire Academy, and much more. I didn’t start writing until I was thirty-two because I stupidly let a few people telling me I wasn’t a writer stop me from writing. Now I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Tell us about your book. How would you describe NOT AFTER EVERYTHING in one sentence?
It’s a gritty but hopeful love story about a seventeen-year-old boy coping with his mother’s suicide and his father’s abuse with the unexpected help of an old friend turned loner goth girl.

*takes a big breath*

This book touches on some really serious issues — suicide and abuse. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to write on these topics?
I didn’t really know I was going to write about such heavy issues, it just sort of happened. I’m one of those crazy writers who “hears” her characters. I remember out of nowhere one day having this angry seventeen-year-old guy in my head. He was so pissed at his mom for killing herself and I absolutely had to know more of his story.

Let's talk a bit about your publishing journey. How long has this process taken for you, from the first draft until publication date?
This book’s journey was a little less than three years from draft to publication. My journey as an author was much longer. Not After Everything was my fifth completed manuscript and the third I queried agents with. I probably racked up over 150 rejections over all my years of querying. But my book sold really fast—my agent pitched it on Wednesday, on Friday she got a call from the editor at Dial that she was going to be making an offer on Monday after the acquisitions meeting, and then the offer came in on Monday as expected—so I guess that makes up for all the previous rejection. Okay it totally makes up for all the previous rejection.

Wow! Sure does!
So now that you've told us about some of your rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?

I got very lucky and found an amazing writing group very early on. If I didn’t have such a great support system of friends and fellow writers cheering me on, I don’t know how I would’ve made it through 150+ rejections.

Was NOT AFTER EVERYTHING the original title you'd had in mind for this story?

Far from it. My agent, my editors, and I ended up with a list of 245 titles before we finally settled on Not After Everything, which was a line in the book and my editor’s brilliant idea.

How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about?
It feels awesome and scary! I hope they fall in love with Tyler and Jordyn as much as I did. I’m doing a book launch in Littleton, Colorado at the Tattered Cover Bookstore at Aspen Grove on August 15th at 2:00pm. I’m particularly excited about doing a signing in Denver because the book is set in a fictionalized version of Highlands Ranch (a suburb of Denver near Littleton). It’s also where I’m from.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
You have to put yourself and your work out there. I highly recommend joining a critique group and/or finding a few trusted critique partners. You have to get used to taking the ego out of the work and seeing the things that you can make better without taking it personally. I know I’m usually way too close to see the problem areas in my own work and I depend heavily on my honest critique partners. I admit it was hard to take the criticism at first, but it only made me stronger for when I faced any professional rejection. If I knew then what I know now, I would have waited to query my first manuscript until after I had done a few rounds of revisions with critique partners.

And, just for fun, what recent movie would your two main characters Tyler and Jordyn have gone to see together this summer?
Ooh, I love this question! I’m going to say Jordyn would’ve probably dragged Tyler to San Andreas to scare him before he moved to California. Also for a good laugh.

Awesome! Thanks for joining us, and congrats on your debut!


If you are an author looking forward to your debut sometime between December 2015 and June 2016 and are interested in being part of our Wednesday Debut Interview feature, please contact me at wendynikel at gmail dot com with your book title, category, genre, publisher, and release date.